published Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Dead woman's truck found near Dunlap

The woman who was found dead Wednesday morning in Centre, Ala., owned a vehicle that authorities found abandoned just south of Dunlap, Tenn., Sequatchie County Sheriff Ronnie Hitchcock said.

Alabama authorities found the body of Melissa Hudgins, 32, in a mechanical room under the bleachers at Gadsden State Community College on Wednesday, hours after Sequatchie County authorities found her vehicle abandoned on state Highway 27.

"We found a car Tuesday night sitting on the side of the road here in Dunlap," Hitchcock said. "The tag came back to a person who was missing. This morning [Alabama authorities] called and said they had found her body at a college in Alabama and she had been murdered."

Sequatchie deputies searched the area around the abandoned car and found Hudgins' purse, credit cards and cellphone, Hitchcock said, as well as the ID badge for a man who was Hudgin's co-worker.

Authorities are searching for that co-worker, Vennie Keaton, 36. He is a person of interest in Hudgins' homicide investigation, Hitchcock said, and is wanted on a felony theft charge because of the abandoned car.

Hitchcock said geographically widespread crime scenes are not uncommon.

"We've seen this a time or two," Hitchcock said. "The lead investigators will be the Alabama people because the homicide took place there. We just found some of the stuff leading up to the homicide."

Keaton is believed to be traveling with his 7-year-old son and may be heading to Crossville, Tenn. He is white, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, has green eyes and may be armed with a knife.

Hitchcock asks anyone with information on Keaton's location to call the Sequatchie County Sheriff's Office at 423-949-7750.

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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