Jul. 30—SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A federal grand jury has indicted six people in the kidnapping and murder of 41-year-old Michael James Hall, whose badly decomposed body was discovered a year ago on a property southwest of Joplin.
Joplin resident Freddie L. Tilton, 48, who answers to the nickname "Ol' Boy," is accused of having fatally shot Hall in the head after the victim was abducted and beaten with the assistance or complicity of the other five defendants.
The others named in the indictment handed up Thursday in U.S. District Court in Springfield are Carla Jo Ward, 47, of Joplin; Amy Kay Thomas, 38, of Webb City; James B. Gibson, 39, of Neosho; Lawrence W. Vaughan, 49, also known as "Scary Larry," of rural Newton County; and Russell E. Hurtt, 49, who goes by "Uncle," of Greenwood.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri said in a news release Friday that Ward allegedly picked up Hall a year ago and took him to Vaughan's residence on Route HH.
Tilton, Thomas and Gibson arrived at Vaughan's place in the early morning hours of July 15, 2020, and handcuffed Hall and duct taped his mouth and other parts of his body, according to the release. Vaughan and Ward were present as Thomas began cutting Hall with a knife and Gibson beat him with a club, the U.S. attorney's office said.
Tilton is believed to have then delivered the fatal shot to the victim's head, according to the U.S. attorney's office. The defendants purportedly rolled the body up in plastic wrap after the killing and transported it to property Hurtt owns at 3517 Cherry Road.
Newton County deputies showed up at that address with a search warrant on July 28, 2020, acting on a tip that there was a body in some woods there. Joplin police were assisting on the call due to the size of the property when someone inside the house started shooting at the officers on the porch.
The officers ducked for cover and a standoff ensued, during which SWAT teams called to the scene shot tear gas into the house to force its lone occupant, Tilton, to come out and surrender.
Law enforcement had been looking for Tilton and an accomplice for a prior alleged abduction and assault of Tilton's estranged wife on July 19, 2020, at the Boonslick Lodge in Neosho. They knew that the suspect had been to the address on Cherry Road in the past but did not know he was there when they went to search the property, according to Sheriff Chris Jennings.
The shooting and standoff ended without any officers having been injured. A search of the property subsequently turned up Hall's remains.
In addition to charging each of the six defendants with one count of conspiring to kidnap Hall, the indictment charges each of them with a count of kidnapping resulting in death and a count of using a firearm to commit a crime of violence.
Tilton, Thomas, Gibson and Ward are charged with an additional count of being felons in possession of firearms on July 14, 2020. Tilton also faces a fifth count of being a felon in in possession of multiple firearms on the date of the standoff. A .25-caliber pistol, two .22-caliber rifles, a 12-gauge shotgun and two 9 mm handguns were seized in the course of his arrest.
Tilton remains charged in Newton County Circuit Court with discharging a firearm from a habitation.
He and Alvin D. Boyer, 36, of Rogers, Arkansas, remain charged in federal court with conspiring to kidnap and kidnapping his wife. Tilton also faces a third count of using a cellphone or instrument of interstate commerce to facilitate a crime of domestic violence.
His wife, who had taken out a court order of protection against him at the time, went to the Boonslick Lodge to meet Boyer, who had paid for a room there. She instead ran into Tilton there and tried to turn and leave, but he dragged her back into the room and hit her with a handgun she was carrying in her waistband for protection, according to a prior release from the U.S. attorney's office.
An employee of the hotel who saw her get dragged into the room called police, and an officer went to the room and knocked on the door. She came to the door in a bloodied and injured state as Tilton climbed out a back window with the gun and tried to slide down a rain gutter.
The gutter broke and he fell to the ground but managed to escape until he was discovered at Hurtt's property nine days later.
Jeff Lehr is a reporter for The Joplin Globe.