Missouri man charged in killing of woman 3 decades ago

MOUNT VERNON, Mo. (AP) — Thirty-one years after Cynthia Smith was found dead at a rural Missouri cemetery, a suspect is now charged in her death. Meanwhile, a published report said investigators are trying to determine if the man is responsible for two other killings.

Lawrence Gene Timmons of Pierce City, Missouri, was charged Friday with first-degree murder in Smith's 1988 death. The Springfield News-Leader reported that Timmons, 65, also is under investigation in the 1990s deaths of his first wife and his daughter's 11-year-old friend in Oklahoma.

The Associated Press could not independently verify that Timmons was being investigated in the 1994 death of Deborah Jean Timmons and the 1998 drowning death of the child. Messages seeking comment from the Lawrence County, Missouri, Sheriff's Department on Monday were not immediately returned.

"We call him an opportunist," Lawrence County Sgt. Melissa Phillips told the News-Leader. "He does not target on sex or age. He has little boys in his past. He has little girls in his past. He has women in his past."

Timmons does not have an attorney listed in online court records who could speak on his behalf. He is jailed on $250,000 bond.

Smith, 31, was reported missing by a babysitter in August 1988 after failing to pick up her 4- and 8-year-old sons. She was last seen leaving a Mt. Vernon, Missouri, bar with a man. Her body was found a week later at a rural cemetery near Pierce City, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Springfield.

The crime went unsolved, though Timmons was among those questioned at the time. He wasn't charged in Smith's death, but was arrested separately on suspicion of raping another woman at gunpoint on the way to the now-defunct bar where Smith was seen shortly before she died. He was acquitted on the rape charge in 1989.

The sheriff's office said in a news release that the investigation of Smith's death was reopened after a private investigation firm came forward with information several months ago. The department didn't specify what evidence led to the arrest of Timmons.

Timmons already had a criminal record before Smith's death. He was convicted in 1976 of felony kidnapping and assault. Prosecutors said he brandished a shotgun at an 11-year-old boy, took him to the basement of the Springfield home where Timmons was living with other men, tied him up and dunked the child's head into a cooler filled with water. The child passed out but awoke and was able to escape.

Timmons was imprisoned for that crime from December 1978 to June 1981, a Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman said.

Timmons eventually moved away from Missouri and lived in Oklahoma and later New York state, the News-Leader reported.

In March, Timmons became the subject of a new investigation by Lawrence County authorities. He was arrested last month on forgery charges. Prosecutors said he falsified employment applications.

Bond in that case was unusually high — $250,000. A probable cause statement in the forgery arrest states that Timmons emailed two women at the Monett, Missouri, YWCA about sex. Prosecutors also cited the violent nature of the 1976 Springfield kidnapping case.

Timmons' wife of 24 years, Mechele Timmons, filed for divorce in August.

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Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com