published Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Whitfield County double homicide suspect eludes manhunt

A Georgia state trooper checks the back of a mini-van at a checkpoint along Hwy. 201 in Varnell, Ga. on Wednesday.  Adolph "Sonny" Neal, who is suspected of killing his wife and her grandfather last week, was spotted by a motorist on Wednesday which prompted a large-scale search of the area and involved multiple law enforcement agencies.
A Georgia state trooper checks the back of a mini-van at a checkpoint along Hwy. 201 in Varnell, Ga. on Wednesday. Adolph "Sonny" Neal, who is suspected of killing his wife and her grandfather last week, was spotted by a motorist on Wednesday which prompted a large-scale search of the area and involved multiple law enforcement agencies.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

VARNELL, Ga. -- After the sun went down, dozens of officers packed their assault rifles, bullet proof vests and tracking dogs and left.

But some remained within a mile radius near Varnell to keep watch over the neighborhoods where Adolph "Sonny" Neal was spotted Wednesday afternoon. And authorities said there was a possibility he could be found during the night.

More than 60 law enforcement officers spent all afternoon and evening combing acres of woods and set up an officer every 200 yards near where the suspected killer was reported being seen.

A customer at the Neals' tanning salon said she spotted the 49-year-old walking down state Highway 201 in a red shirt and blue jeans, authorities said.

Neal, who is wanted in the death of his wife, Jessica, and her grandfather, Donald Shedd, has been on the run since last Thursday.

Police believe he brutally killed them early that morning. But until Wednesday there were few traces of where he went or if anyone has been helping him, police said.

But even after Sonny Neal was seen walking north toward Varnell, dozens of officers scoured the woods for more than six hours and couldn't find him as of 10 p.m.

Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood said he doesn't know if anyone picked Sonny Neal up and drove him away, but he said it's a possibility.

After the air began to cool in the evening, a helicopter was sent back up in the air to look for any trace of human life using the infrared camera.

Larry Crider, who cuts grass for the Neals, said Sonny Neal is well-liked and has lots of friends in the area.

Chitwood also confirmed that Sonny Neal has family in the area but wouldn't say if they had been in touch with their relative.

Meanwhile, residents in the small community packed the Dollar General parking lot where a command post had been set up. Some said they were afraid to go home.

Crider said his wife was at home and had locked the doors with their 6-year-old daughter inside. But he said he wasn't afraid to see Sonny Neal; he was just confused and shocked by the man he thought he knew.

"I really don't look at him like that," he said. "[But] I don't know where his mind's at."

Family members have said the Neals were going through a difficult time in their marriage.

But police haven't said why they believe he killed his family, only that the slayings were one of the goriest they'd ever seen.

The Neals, who have been married for about eight years, worked at a tanning salon called Dazzle that Jessica Neal owned. They have a 9-year-old daughter, who found her great-grandfather dead in the kitchen.

She was taken by the Department of Children Services and placed with relatives for her protection, authorities said.

Sonny Neal's family said he was a lovable man, but he did have a drinking problem. He has been arrested multiple times on misdemeanor charges.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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