After conducting more than 700 interviews and a lengthy analysis of forensic evidence, police criticized for their inability to catch a killer who shot two rural Iredell County couples to death have arrested a 65-year-old woman with no known criminal record.
"I'm never surprised who a suspect might be," Sheriff Phillip Redmond said Wednesday, the day after deputies arrested Barbara Ann Evans in the deaths of the two couples, both found dead in their homes and both current or former owners of convenience stores.
At a brief court appearance Wednesday afternoon, Evans was ordered held without bond pending an Aug. 14 hearing or a grand jury indictment, which could come sooner.
Shackled at the wrists and ankles, and dressed in orange flip-flops and a black-and-white striped jail uniform, the diminutive Evans told the court she had enough money for her own attorney. But District Judge April Wood said she would appoint Evans a public defender, as she faces potential capital charges.
The slayings caused great concern in Iredell County, a mostly rural community about 40 miles north of Charlotte, and authorities had offered $45,000 in rewards for information leading to an arrest.
Two of the victims, James and Ruth Powell, were found in their Union Grove home on Jan. 21, 2005. Don and Sue Barker were discovered Sept. 15 in their home, about six miles north of Statesville. In both instances, police said there were no signs of forced entry or that anything of value had been taken.
James Powell was a retired convenience store owner, while Don Barker ran a store in Statesville.
Marlene Barker, who is married to the Barkers' son Allen, said she did not know Evans but recognized her as a customer at the store her in-laws ran in northern Iredell County.
"She was in there last Thursday, after the sheriff's department had been to her house," Barker said.
Lowell Harmon, whose wife was Sue Barker's sister, said he also recognized Evans from her visits to the Barkers' store. He praised the sheriff's investigation of the killings.
"They have done a super job and kept the immediate family informed," he said.
Little is known about Evans or any additional connection she may have had to the victims. An arrest report said she was a retiree who was born in Troutman, a town in the southern part of the county, in 1941. It listed her as 5 feet, 2 inches tall and weighing 130 pounds.
A man who answered the phone at the home of Evans daughter, Rhonda Jones, said the family had no comment on Evans' arrest.
"I'm at a loss as to why she would do something like this, if she did," said Charlotte Frye, who lives next door to Evans in Statesville. Charlotte Frye's husband Harry said police were at Evans' home about a month ago, and that she knew investigators considered her a suspect in the killings.
Harry Frye said Evans' husband, Bill, died in 2003.
Redmond declined to discuss a motive or the specific nature of the evidence against Evans at a brief news conference Wednesday morning, although he said no one would be eligible to claim the reward money.
"She knew all four victims," Redmond said, adding that Evans was the only person interviewed by investigators who knew all the victims.
The sheriff's office has said previously that the same gun was used in all four killings, and Redmond said Wednesday that investigators "have quite a bit of forensic evidence."
Relatives of the Powells attended the news conference but declined to speak with reporters afterward.
"We all are glad that they have gotten somebody," Marlene Barker said. "I was afraid that I might not live to see it, that it could be 20 years from now" before an arrest was made.
"Even though there is somebody in custody, it doesn't change what happened," she said. "Our question is why, because they were two great people."