By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON S.C. (Reuters) - South Carolina child protection workers visited the family of a man accused of killing his five children at least a dozen times since 2011 in response to reports of abuse and neglect, state records released on Thursday show.
The children, aged 1 to 8, said father Timothy Ray Jones Jr., 32, spanked them and made them do push-ups for punishment, but they did not appear afraid of him, according to workers, who did not remove the children from his care.
In notes about their most recent visit on Aug. 7, social workers said Jones, a divorced father with legal custody of the children, seemed overwhelmed. However, after investigating a report that he was beating the children and not feeding them enough, workers did not find them to be in immediate danger.
Police say the children were already dead by the time South Carolina authorities learned on Monday that the children's grandmother in Mississippi had reported them missing after they did not show up for a planned visit.
Following his arrest on unrelated charges in Mississippi on Saturday, police said Jones confessed to the slayings and led them to his children's decomposing bodies, which he had wrapped in garbage bags and dumped near a rural logging road in Alabama. Authorities have not said how the kids were killed.
Jones is expected to be arrested on murder charges after being returned to South Carolina on Thursday.
He likely killed the children soon after he picked them up from school and day care on Aug. 28, Lexington County Sheriff Lewis McCarty has said.
Jones, who worked for Intel at its office in Columbia, South Carolina, was also possibly accused of other unrelated criminal acts before.
In 2002, a Timothy R. Jones with the same birth date was sentenced in McHenry County, Illinois, to prison time for charges including possession of a stolen vehicle, theft, burglary, forgery and unlawful possession of a controlled substance.
He served 18 months behind bars, including time spent in county jail, before getting released on parole from prison in 2003, according to Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer.
Records from South Carolina's Department of Social Services, which has been criticized by lawmakers in the past of mishandling child welfare cases, show the agency had long been aware of the Jones family.
Child welfare workers began visiting the family at their Leesville home in fall 2011 when there were only three children, and continued through their mother's last two pregnancies, as well as after Jones reported his wife had left him "for a younger man."
The visits stopped for a time after fall 2012, when workers said Jones took the children to Mississippi, where he had relatives.
The state resumed contact in May after a report that Jones was beating the children, records show. Jones said he had grabbed a child by the back of the shirt and lifted him up because he destroyed his brother's toy.
Caseworkers concluded there was not enough evidence to arrest Jones.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman)