BELTON — The Bell County Sheriff’s Department arrested two Killeen-area men suspected of shooting and burning a Copperas Cove man.

The sheriff’s department believes Owen Thomas Free III, also known as “Tommy Knocker,” and Dana Francis Walcott Jr. were involved in the shooting and burning death of Michael Vanlandingham, 30.

A funeral service for Vanlandingham is set for Oct. 11 in Copperas Cove. Burial will follow the service at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.

Vanlandingham served in the Army. His murder was drug related, Sheriff Eddy Lange said.

The Southwest Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas identified the badly burned body through dental records from Fort Hood.

Free, according to Walcott’s arrest affidavit, told a resident of the nearby trailer park that he and Walcott had brought Vanlandingham to the area to kill him.

They suspected Vanlandingham was “cooperating with the police,” the affidavit states.

Free and Walcott brought Vanlandingham from a hotel to the area where he would ultimately die. The room was registered under Vanlandingham’s name, the affidavit states.

Surveillance footage from the hotel showed Free and Walcott guiding Vanlandingham who had his hands restrained, according to the affidavit.

Witness account

A resident told the sheriff’s department he heard a gunshot as he was getting dressed to help Free, who had asked the resident to assist him. The affidavit does not indicate what Free needed help with.

The resident told deputies he saw a human body in a nearby burn pit and men’s clothing on the road.

A DPS public records search shows Free and Walcott have criminal histories.

Free was convicted of burglary of a building — a state jail felony — on Jan. 4, 2005, in the 264th District Court. Free also pleaded guilty to driving with a suspended license, a class B misdemeanor, on March 26, 2004.

Walcott pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily injury, a class A misdemeanor, on Dec. 5, 2017.

Vanlandingham’s burned body was found on Sept. 17 at 1600 Farm-to-Market 1670, just outside Belton city limits.

That area, Cruz explained, is known to be an active drug hotspot for years.

The preliminary autopsy found Vanlandingham was shot at least twice in the head. Vanlandingham’s family did not report him missing, Lange said.

“The day the body was discovered, it (Vanlandingham’s murder) probably happened early that morning,” Cruz said. | 254-501-7553

Herald staff writer

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