ARKABUTLA, Miss. (AP) — A gunman authorities say killed six people in Mississippi busted into his ex-wife’s home and smashed her boyfriend in the head with the butt of a gun before shooting her in the head, her boyfriend told The Associated Press on Saturday.
The fatal shooting of 60-year-old Debra Crum in the home she shared with boyfriend George Drane in Coldwater, in rural northern Mississippi, came a little more than four years after her divorce from the man authorities identified as the shooter, Richard Dale Crum, 52, also from Coldwater. Drane said the murder of his girlfriend — whom he often called his wife — “didn’t seem real” as he lay on the ground of their home, bleeding and dazed.
Drane said Richard Crum had come straight from a convenience store in nearby Arkabutla, Mississippi, where, according to Tate County Sheriff Brad Lance, Crum had shot Chris Eugene Boyce, who was sitting in the driver’ seat of a pickup outside. The sheriff said deputies arrested Crum at his home after the shooting of his ex-wife and then found the bodies of two fatally shot handymen outside, as well as the bodies of his stepfather and the stepfather’s sister inside a neighboring home.
Drane hadn’t seen Richard Crum in years before he broke or kicked down the door of the home he shared with Debra Crum, he said Saturday outside the same convenience store where the previous shooting occurred. Drane, 64, wore a bandage on his head and over his left ear and said that when Crum left the convenience store, he came straight to Drane’s house, ran up to the porch and busted in. The shooter was armed with a shotgun and two handguns, authorities said.
Drane said he fought with Crum, got smashed in the head, and Crum fired at his ex-wife, after telling Drane not to make noise or move or he would be killed as well. Drane said Crum went outside to get a second shell.
“I couldn’t get up to do anything,” Drane said. “He reloaded, come back in the house, and shot her at point-blank range in the head, killing her instantly. Right between the living room and the kitchen.”
Investigators still were looking for clues Saturday for what motivated the rampage in Arkabutla, a town of 285 people about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Memphis.
“Without being able to say what triggered this, that’s the scary part,” Lance said in an interview Friday.
The U.S. has seen a deadly start to 2023, including six mass killings in a three-week period in January, according to an Associated Press/USA Today database. It defines a mass killing as four or more people dead, not including the perpetrator.
There have also been a number of mass shootings in which fewer people were slain, such as Monday’s shooting at Michigan State University in which three people were killed and five were wounded.
Crum was jailed on a single charge of capital murder over the first killing outside the convenience store, of Boyce, 59, of Lakeland, Florida. Boyce’s brother was in the truck with him at the time and fled, according to the sheriff. Lance added that Crum chased the brother through a wooded area before he escaped unharmed.
Besides Crum’s ex-wife, authorities identified the others killed as Charles Manuel, 76; John Rorie, 59; George McCain, 73; and Lynda McCain, 78. Drane said he didn’t know about the first shooting when Crum burst into his home.
Ashley McKinney, a 38-year-old from Memphis, Tennessee, dated Debra Crum’s son, Sid Furniss, when the two were teens and recalled when Debra Crum started dating Richard Dale Crum. At first all was well, but then signs of Richard Dale Crum’s mental illness became apparent, with him suddenly imitating the moves of Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan. Sometimes he even had swords.
“He ain’t never been right,” said McKinney, who has remained friends with the family.
She said Debra Crum was hopeful that the psychiatric facilities could fix him. But eventually she grew uncomfortable working her overnight shifts at the Waffle House restaurant alone, unsure what Richard Dale Crum would do, and asked McKinney to keep her company.
She said that Richard Dale Crum largely worked odd jobs, like cutting firewood. McKinney said he told Debra Crum that when he qualified for disability that he would leave her. And that is exactly what happened, said McKinney.
Online court records show that Debra Crum filed for divorce in Tate County in September 2018, and a judge granted one a little more than two months later. A case summary listed the grounds as irreconcilable differences, but her complaint and the property settlement agreement were not available online Saturday.
Drane said the two had been separated for five or six years before they divorced. Drane said she had a stroke in October and the two of them had been at a physical therapy session Friday morning. Drane said she also had a daughter living nearby.
Drane said he hadn’t seen Crum in seven or eight years.
“I thought it was a random act. I don’t know about the rest of it,” Drane said. “He left us alone. We left him alone.”
Crum and his stepfather lived on 7 wooded acres of land owned by the stepfather on the west side of Arkabutla Lake, north of Arkabutla, which has 285 residents. The Rev. Dr. J.Q. Wooten Sr., pastor of the nearby Ella Green Missionary Baptist Church, said he shook hands with Crum two weeks ago after a conversation, and “I never would thought that I was shaking hands with a murderer.”
Wooten said McCain, the stepfather, would watch for problems with the church building or grounds so that they could be fixed. He said Crum was nice but “seemed a little weird” because at least once every couple of months, he’d spend hour sitting in his black SUV, listening to country music.
“It’s beyond explanation or imagination,” he said of the shootings.
In the lobby of the Sheriff’s Office, Norma Washington told The Associated Press that Boyce was her nephew. She said he and the brother, Doug, who lives in Alaska, had been in town cleaning up a property they inherited from their deceased uncle.
It was unclear whether Crum knew either of the brothers.
The sheriff, who has lived in the area his entire life and served in law enforcement for 25 years, said he could recall no prior problems with Crum.
Hanna reported from Topeka, Kansas. Also contributing were Heather Hollingsworth from Mission, Kansas; Emily Wagster Pettus from Jackson, Mississippi; Jeff Amy from Atlanta; and Russ Bynum from Savannah, Georgia, and Heather Hollingsworth, from Mission, Kansas.