BOONEVILLE • The man accused in the murder and rape of two women in Starkville 28 years ago was mostly unknown to law enforcement.
The arrest of Michael Wayne DeVaughn, 51, for the 1990 Labor Day Murders in Starkville came as a shock to local law enforcement. While DeVaughn’s County Road 8340 residence has a Rienzi mailing address, it is actually in Prentiss County, just outside of Jumpertown.
“I have known his family all my life and known him ever since he was a child,” said Prentiss County Sheriff Randy Tolar. “His extended family comes from the same area where I was raised.
“Not a soul around here ever suspected anything about him (in connection with such a brutal crime). He comes from a good family but sometimes people make bad choices. You can’t always tell.”
DeVaughn is charged with the capital murder of Betty Jones and the sexual assault of Kathryn Crigler. He is accused of entering Crigler’s Highway 182 Starkville house on Sept. 3, 1990 and stabbing Jones, 65, to death. He then allegedly raped and assaulted Crigler, 81. She lived a few months before dying of her injuries.
But DeVaughn managed to stay off the law enforcement radar for the most part for the next 28 years. He apparently used cash most of the time to avoid a digital profile.
“When we tried to look him up, we couldn’t find a credit history,” Tolar said. “He seemed to stay very low key. He kept a low profile.”
DeVaughn spent some time in Florida working for a Tampa contractor but the exact timeframe is hard to nail down. Tolar said his history has an eight to 10 year gap “where he was out of pocket.”
He was arrested on a felony drug charge more than 15 years ago and spent some time in the Prentiss County Jail. Things started going downhill in June. On June 20, he was pulled over in Iuka for improper equipment. During a search of the car, Tishomingo County deputy sheriffs discovered methamphetamine, and DeVaughn was arrested.
While he was out on bond on that charge, he was arrested on July 3 in Booneville for felony possession of methamphetamine.
Because of the second charge, his bond on the Tishomingo County charge was revoked, and he was taken into custody and returned to the jail in Iuka.
Tishomingo County chief investigator Greg Mitchell and Booneville Police Chief Michael Ramey both said they had no run-ins with DeVaughn before the arrests this summer.
Starkville police and advances in DNA testing caught up with DeVaughn last weekend. In genetic genealogy, a computer compares a suspect’s DNA against the millions of profiles in a massive public genealogy database, looking for DNA profiles that might belong to close relatives of the suspect.
Starkville Police Department cold case detective Sgt. Bill Lott will not reveal exactly how DeVaughn came on their radar, but said genetic genealogy played a part. He said the investigation looked at the DNA of more than 60 potential suspects before signing an arrest warrant for DeVaughn.
DeVaughn is currently being held in the Oktibbeha County Jail on an $11 million bond. District Attorney Scott Colom has not announced whether the state will pursue the death penalty in the case.