CARBON HILL - Carbon Hill City Councilman Robert Warren, who was taken into custody Saturday after his missing's wife body was found in Greene County, may now face a manslaughter charge.
Lisa Benton Warren, 51, had been reported been missing since Monday, Feb. 24. An emotional candlelight prayer vigil was held at Carbon Hill City Hall on Saturday, Feb. 29, with her husband standing at the entrance of Carbon Hill City Hall. He appeared to break down and cry at times.
Near that same spot a week later, Carbon Hill Police Chief Eric House, Walker County District Attorney Bill Adair, and Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith held a Saturday afternoon press conference to announce events had taken a turn after the councilman approached police to talk and authorities discovered the body.
Warren was still being questioned that afternoon, House said, adding he would later be taken to the Walker County Jail.
Adair emphasized anyone taken into custody is innocent until proven guilty.
"Right now, we plan to ask the court system today with manslaughter and abuse of a corpse. That may be upgraded obviously after we get results in from the Department of Forensic Sciences and the injuries to Lisa's body are examined," Adair said. "We'll have a further update on that shortly."
A preliminary report from the state lab should come within 48 to 72 hours, Adair said, noting he gave approval for an autopsy at approximately 1 p.m.
Asked if he thought the death was not premeditated, Adair said he was going to wait on the autopsy first by the state lab to make a determination. "We expect the grand jury will hear the case probably in the coming weeks," he said.
House said Warren had not been formally charged as of that afternoon "but he is in custody."
House noted the missing person's report was filed on Tuesday after Lisa Warren went missing. "Mr. Robert Warren came in to report his wife missing from their residence here in Carbon Hill. She came up missing, from what he tells us, on the 24th. That was on a Monday, somewhere early in the a.m., somewhere around 8 o'clock," he said.
Many interviews have been conducted since then. "We've put in a whole lot of man-hours on this - and not just our department, but the sheriff's department, the DA's office as well," he said. He later estimated all the departments have probably put in "literally hundreds" of man-hours.
Between his office, Adair's office, the Sheriff's Office and the Greene County Sheriff's Department, "we found out it is not just a missing person." After "a pretty good turn of events" on Saturday, a body was recovered in Greene County.
"We think that to be the body of our missing person," he said. "At this time we are conducting a homicide investigation to try to rule the true cause of death and to positively identify this person."
The body is being sent to the state forensic lab for further examination for a cause of death and maybe a timeline on death, as well as to identify the person, House said. Adair said it was probably sent to the state's lab in Montgomery due to the location.
House said the body was found around County Road 220 in Greene County, probably close to Eutaw. "It was dumped (in water) and it floated. It was in like a small creek, like a little branch. But it was deep enough that it was actually able to float and move."
Warren came to House's office that morning and spoke to House and to District Attorney investigator Frank Cole that day, House said.
A search planned for Saturday and announced by the police department on Facebook was cancelled. House posted Friday on Facebook that there were "no new leads or information" in the case and that police would do a "precautionary search with Equusearch," a search organization that recently announced in Winfield it would be helping with area searches. At the press conference, House thanked volunteers and law enforcement, including some from Winfield and Hamilton, who showed up that morning to help.
"We were just trying to rule out an area - either you're there or you're not - and all this transpired before that, so the search was actually cancelled this morning by me," he said.
Officials initially thought this was a medical issue because they were told initially Mrs. Warren was a diabetic and supposed to take insulin twice a day, House said.
"Some of that is true and some of that is not true," he said. "We're still trying to verify medical records for what her true condition was."
House said he and locals are taken by surprise by the turn of events. He said Lisa Warren was a "very open, a very outgoing type of person. I haven't found anybody yet who didn't like her. She was a hairstylist from what I can understand. At one point in time she had her own business, her own shop."
House said she had an older daughter who lived in Canada and has two daughters still in school. Robert Warren said in August he and his wife had twin 15-year-old daughters.
"I'm pretty sure this is probably going to devastate all three of those, among other family members, House said.
Adair said Walker County Coroner Joey Vick, after talking that morning with House, Cole and Carl Carpenter of the Sheriff's Office, then spoke to family members of the victim Saturday to tell the family what was discovered in Greene County.
House said Carbon Hill police and the Walker County District Attorney's Office found the body that morning, noting he was also in Greene County that day. Adair added officials have been in contact that day with Greene County District Attorney Greg Griggers to tell him "about the possibility that Lisa's body would be found."
Griggers helped local officials get in touch with the Greene County Sheriff's Office and the Greene County Coroner's Office, as well as get help from local police in Greene County, Adair said.
House said he was not ready to release any possible circumstances of why Mrs. Warren was killed as it is an ongoing investigation.
Asked if the body could have been dumped one place and floated to another, House said Warren "actually told us where it took place. We just had to walk a little bit and travel a little bit through the woods to locate." He said the body traveled a quarter mile from where it was dumped.
House said Warren's demeanor was "calm, to start with" when he approached House that day. "We kind of thought he might have something he wanted to tell us about. He came in, we sat down, and we started talking, and he basically told us what took place," he said.
He said there are no other suspects at this time. "From what I found out today, I believe it was him alone, by himself," he said, although he emphasized the investigation was continuing.
Smith said, "Obviously our prayers are with Lisa's friends and family. Obviously this is not the outcome that we wanted. Carbon Hill has done an outstanding job. Chief House has put in a lot of man-hours, and so has the District Attorney's Office and Carl Carpenter, which was the investigator I assigned from the Sheriff's Office. He's done a lot of forensics evidence. He is currently on his way back from Greene County."
He said the results show what happens when teamwork is employed. Adair agreed about a "unified approach," saying that is what "part of what the sheriff and I have been talking about in having a major crime unit here." He said Cole, Carpenter, House and Vick have been helpful in working together in a unified approach," which has been a goal in the county to address issues, including missing persons. "I think this is one that has been successful."
House said Warren had not resigned his District 4 council position, which he only took seven months ago.
Warren and was approved Aug. 12 and sworn in that night. Carbon Hill Mayor Mark Chambers said at the time Warren was the only person to apply to fill that seat. The vote was held without discussion. Warren took the seat held by Chandler Gann in District 4, after Gann had resigned.
Warren, who was 50 at the time, said after the meeting he was born and raised in Carbon Hill. "I've been in Carbon Hill all my life," he said. He said he was a truck driver who once worked for Boren Explosives, but retired five years ago.
"I'm just trying to make Carbon Hill as good as it used to be when I was growing up. When I was growing up this was the place to be. I just want to see it back where it was," he said.