The South Carolina father accused of killing his five kids was investigated twice for child abuse in the months leading up to the horrific crime, most recently after an allegation that he regularly beat one of his sons, state officials revealed Thursday.
Caseworkers noted that Timothy Ray Jones Jr. appeared "overwhelmed" but found no reason to take the children away from the divorced dad, who is now being brought to South Carolina to face murder charges.
Police believe that Jones, 32, a computer engineer who did prison time more than a decade ago, murdered them sometime after Aug. 28. He allegedly drove their remains across three states, dumped the bagged bodies in the Alabama woods, and then went to Mississippi, where he was busted for driving his blood-soaked Cadillac Escalade while high on synthetic marijuana.
Jones arrived at the Lexington County Sheriff's Department on Thursday. His first court appearance will be on Friday at 10 a.m. local time. A coroner was performing autopsies Thursday on the children, identified in court papers as Merah, 8, Elias, 7, Nahtahn, 6, Gabriel, 2 and Abigail, 1.
The South Carolina Department of Social Services case file says the first contact child-welfare workers had with the family was in September 2011 when a complaint for neglect was lodged. In Family Court papers, the mother, Amber Marie Jones, was named as the target of the complaint.
The investigators who visited found the home in a state of disarray. After a series of follow-up visits, the case was closed after Timothy Jones took the children to Mississippi, where his parents live, the documents show. During one of the last contacts, Amber Jones discussed a domestic violence situation with the caseworkers but shrugged off their recommendation she go to a battered-women's shelter.
Family Court records show that as the marriage unraveled, Timothy Jones told a therapist that he believed his wife was having an affair with a 19-year-old neighbor. A custody fight ensued, and the court awarded him physical custody of the children, with visitation for their mother — a scenario endorsed by his therapist, who called him "highly intelligent and responsible."
She noted that he had completed a very challenging undergraduate engineering program. Not mentioned was his conviction in Illinois for a series of crimes — drug possession, check-forgery, car theft — in 2001 that landed him in prison until 2003.
Repeated attempts reach Amber Jones were unsuccessful and she has not spoken publicly about the death of her children or her ex-husband.
The case file shows that after the father returned to South Carolina with the children, he was twice accused of abusing the youngsters.
The first report was filed May 5, and during the subsequent investigation, one of the children told a caseworker that his father spanked him with a belt and made him do exercises as punishment. The caseworkers reported that they didn't see any bruises on the children, who appeared happy, and they found the home cluttered and filled with religious items but not unsafe.
Just two weeks after that case was closed, social services got another report of physical abuse.
"It is reported that Timothy Jones beat his son...leaving extensive bruising," the case file notes. "Reportedly Mr. Jones beats the child often leaving bruising. Mr. Jones does not feed the children adequately...It is reported Mr. Jones does not want to send his children back to public schools because he does not want the school to report the beatings."
The case worker wrote that the children said that while they get spanked, they had no visible injuries. "Dad appears to be overwhelmed as he is unable to maintain the home but the children appear to be clean, groomed, appropriately dressed," the file says. That case was still open when the youngsters were killed.
Vivian Glover contributed to this report.