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Crimes near wildlife area led deputies to James Horn, Jr.

Suspicious activity and stolen items from a car helped deputies pinpoint the location of a suspected killer, a county sheriff said Sunday.

Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond told ABC 17 News the “pieces began coming together” Friday night and Saturday morning, as law enforcement searched for 47-year-old James Horn, Jr. Police suspected Horn of keeping his former girlfriend, 46-year-old Sandra Sutton, in a wooden box at his house in Sedalia, and then killing her and her son, Zachary, in Clinton weeks after she escaped.

A Pettis County deputy shot and killed Horn in an empty home at the Kearn Memorial Wildlife Area Saturday morning. The deputy discovered Horn inside a closet, armed with two guns, Clinton Police Lieutenant Sonny Lynch told reporters Saturday. Bond said Horn did not listen to the deputy’s orders to leave the closet, and then pointed a handgun at the deputy.

The sheriff’s office began searching the area after some calls of suspicious activity from people living south of the wildlife area. The “key”, according to the sheriff, was a reported theft from a car on Eldorado Road in Pettis County.

Bond said someone stole a comforter and a bag of buns from an unlocked car.

“If you have someone who is on a mission to steal things from a vehicle, they’re going to be looking for money, or cell phones or electronics,” Bond said.

The report reminded him of a near-similar instance nearby. A couple days after Sutton escaped from Horn’s home, Bond investigated a break-in at a church on North Eldorado Road, located near the border between Pettis and Johnson counties.

“There really wasn’t anything taken, other than, maybe, some food was eaten, maybe a place to stay for a little while,” Bond said.

Knowing the Department of Conservation owned a house and garage near Eldorado Road, Bond contacted a local conservation agent Saturday morning about the property. The agent told investigators the house was empty, formerly used as a place for the wildlife area’s caretaker, Bond said.

“Our intent was to do an area canvas, make contact with the residents in the area to see if they had seen anything or knew anything about Mr. Horn,” Bond said. “But we did not get to that. Obviously, we encountered him in this vacant house.”

Bond said one of his deputies found Horn when the deputy opened a closet door in a back bedroom of the house, located on SE 650th Road in Johnson County. When Horn would not comply with the deputies orders to surrender, Bond said he pointed a gun at the deputy. Both he and the other deputy that assisted in searching the house, are on paid administrative leave, and have the option to receive counseling.

“It was unfortunate what transpired, but, obviously, the dealt with what they were faced with,” Bond said of the deputy’s actions. “Investigation is being done, but I’m confident that it will be identified as being a correct action.”

Bond said Horn lived in “sparse” conditions in the house, doubting he stayed the entire month Sedalia police wanted him for kidnapping charges. The unfurnished house featured little, other than the items found in the closet with Horn, which Bond described as “just enough to be able to live and get by.”

“What assistance he had, given the items that we found at the scene, he was not getting a large amount of help, I would say,” Bond said.

The Major Case Squad is still investigating whether Horn received help from family or friends. Bond said Horn spent parts of his “elementary and high school years” in the Green Ridge area, more than eight miles from the Kearn Wildlife Area.

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