Local News

Suspected killer commits suicide; children found safe

Posted January 2, 2009 5:14 a.m. EST
Updated January 2, 2009 3:51 p.m. EST

— A man still sorting through a divorce committed suicide early Friday after killing his ex-wife, a renter and neighbor and abducting his children, according to the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office.

The children – Haley and Hayes Heatwole, 10 and 6 – were safe in police custody Friday morning.

Richard Douglas Heatwole, 45, took his children to a cousin's house in Alexander County, where authorities found him early Friday. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a standoff with police, detectives said.

Investigators began their search for Heatwole on Thursday night after finding his ex-wife, Angela Heatwole, 49, dead in a Candler home. Authorities said he also killed Divina Gracia Agulto, 44, who was renting a room at the home, and Lesley Curtis Moore Keogh, 43, who lived next door.

Lt. Ross Dillingham, a spokesman for the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office, said Heatwole and his wife had been divorced for about a year and were in the middle of settling property issues. But he said it still wasn't clear what drove him to kill.

"Who knows what could possess someone to do something this crazy?" Dillingham said. "I don't even want to speculate on any motive, and I don't know that we'll ever know now that they're both deceased."

Dillingham said Heatwole fled Buncombe County with the children to a cousin's house near Taylorsville in Alexander County, about 90 miles northeast of Candler. An

Amber Alert plea for help from investigators triggered a public tip, and authorities surrounded the home early Friday. When deputies asked Heatwole to surrender, authorities heard one gun shot.

It was another four hours before the cousin and two children came out of the home. Dillingham said he didn't know why it took the cousin so long to come out, but authorities do not believe he was involved in the killings.

Dillingham said deputies went to a home on Old U.S. Highway 19-23 in Candler looking for the children’s mother, Angela Heatwole, after a family member reported her missing around 3 a.m. Thursday.

Her car was parked outside the residence when deputies arrived around noon, but no one answered the door.

"Based on the victim's vehicle being outside, they made entrance," Dillingham said.

Dillingham said once inside, deputies found Angela Heatwole and another person dead. The second victim isn't being identified until relatives are notified, Dillingham said.

Through their investigation, officials found another person dead in a nearby home. Dillingham said that person also is not being named until relatives are notified.

Dillingham said Richard Heatwole was the only suspect in the slayings.

Neighbors said Richard Heatwole operated a golf driving range. Clyde Curtis lives across the road from the homes where the bodies were found and said Richard Heatwole "seemed friendly enough."

"You never expect anything like this in your neighborhood," he said.

Investigators had said they considered Heatwole armed and dangerous when they were hunting him and the children. He was on probation for drug possession in Pinellas County, Fla., records show.