published Saturday, December 1st, 2012

Alabama slaying suspect caught in Cookeville

The suspect in the death of a North Alabama woman was arrested Friday morning in Putnam County, Tenn.

Vennie Keaton, 36, was hiding in an old ambulance in the Aenon Auto Recycling yard in Cookeville, Tenn., Deputy U.S. Marshal Danny Shelton said.

"We had information that he was in the Cookeville area in the past 24 hours prior to his arrest," he said. "We weren't able to get him last night, but Friday our guy spotted him in an inoperable ambulance, and we got him out."

He said Keaton was not armed and did not resist the arrest.

"They had to pull him out of there, but nothing major," he said.

Authorities started searching for Keaton after finding the body of his co-worker, Melissa Hudgins, 32, Wednesday in a mechanical room under bleachers at Gadsden State Community College in Centre, Ala.

Her death has been classified as a homicide, Sequatchie County Sheriff Ronnie Hitchcock said.

Sequatchie County deputies found Hudgins' car abandoned on state Highway 27 on Tuesday, hours before Alabama authorities discovered her body.

Sequatchie investigators found her purse, credit cards and cellphones near the car -- as well as Keaton's ID badge.

Sequatchie took out felony theft warrants on Keaton, passed out "Wanted" posters and offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

Cherokee County, Ala., Sheriff Jeff Shavers said some of Keaton's relatives live in the Cookeville area, which is about a three-hour drive from Centre.

Putnam County, Tenn., Sheriff David Andrews said he couldn't say how Keaton was found.

"I can't tell you how we got him; I don't want to compromise anything we might do in the future," he said.

Keaton was taken back to Cherokee County on Friday night, Shaver said, where he will face additional charges related to Hudgins' death.

He'll be in custody in the Cherokee County Jail until he's arraigned in court. A bond could be set during that court appearance, Shaver said.

The Putnam County Sheriff's Office, U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Fugitive Task Force and detectives from Cherokee County, Ala., assisted in Keaton's arrest.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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