BELTON — The Bell County Sheriff’s Department arrested two Killeen-area men who are suspects in the shooting and burning of a man outside city limits.
Owen Thomas Free III, also known as “Tommy Knocker,” was arrested Thursday afternoon near Killeen on a murder charge, Maj. TJ Cruz said in a news release.
The Sheriff’s Department received a tip about Free’s location on Thursday. The U.S. Marshal Service's Lone Star Fugitive Task Force brought Free into custody.
The other suspect is Dana Francis Walcott Jr., 39, of Killeen. Walcott was arrested and charged with murder, a first-degree felony. He is currently in the Bell County Jail, and has a bond of $1 million.
The Sheriff’s Department believes Free and Walcott were involved in the shooting and burning death of Copperas Cove resident Michael Vanlandingham, 30.
Vanlandingham served in Army, Cruz told the Telegram. 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 that 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.
The resident told the Sheriff’s Department that he heard a gunshot. He heard it as he was getting dressed to help Free, who had asked the resident to assist him. The affidavit does not elaborate what Free needed help with.
The resident told deputies that he saw a human body in a nearby burn pit and men’s clothing on the road.
A DPS public records search shows that Free and Walcott have criminal histories.
Free was convicted of burglary of a building — a state jail felony — on January 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 FM 1670, just outside Belton city limits. That area, Cruz explained, is known to be an active drug hotspot for years.
The preliminary autopsy found that 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.