ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Photo contributed by the Marion County Sheriff's Office / William S. Whited

An Alabama man has been arrested in a missing person case in Marion County, Tennessee, that goes back to spring of 2016.

Marion County authorities arrested William S. Whited, 38, of Bryant, Alabama, on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder and aggravated robbery in connection with the March 8, 2016, disappearance of Marion County resident Wesley Ridge, according to 12th Judicial District officials.

Whited was taken into custody in Chattanooga late Wednesday and is being held without bond, authorities said. He'll be arraigned next Friday. Officials in Marion County Circuit Court said Whited did not yet have an attorney on record.

Marion County Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett said Friday that he and detectives met with prosecutors about three weeks ago on information collected in the case and presented that information to the grand jury.

"Last Monday, the grand jury issued an indictment for first-degree murder," Burnett said Friday of the primary felony charge against Whited.

Burnett said investigators believe Whited was the last person to see Ridge alive on the day he disappeared but the sheriff wouldn't elaborate further since there's been an arrest in the case.

Ridge, 39 when he was last seen alive, had most recently lived at a home near Hales Bar Marina on U.S. Highway 41 in Guild, Tennessee.

Whited had not been named in 2018 as authorities continued the probe and search for Ridge. Burnett said at the time that a female friend told authorities that Ridge walked into his home and then left in a car with another man on March 8, 2016. That man told investigators in 2016 that he had given Ridge a ride to a bar in nearby Jasper, but authorities said no one at the bar remembered seeing him.

The man who gave Ridge the ride was considered a "person of interest" at the time, but only because he was the last to see Ridge, Burnett said during the initial investigation. In 2016, authorities said cellphone records showed Ridge's phone was used the afternoon of his disappearance, but not since.

Although the slaying has been tied to the person of interest now identified as Whited, Ridge's body has never been found, according to authorities.

Twelfth Judicial District Attorney General Mike Taylor said the murder case against Whited, who was the person of interest early on in the investigation, will proceed without a body.

"There's quite a bit of legal precedent in Tennessee to prosecute cases where the ... body of the victim has not been recovered, and basically, most of the cases revolve primarily around circumstantial evidence," Taylor said Friday.

"The detectives in this case I feel have built a substantial and solid case so we were able to present it to the grand jury and I think we'll be able to move forward with it," Taylor said. Taylor said he couldn't talk about the evidence presented to the grand jury.

The Ridge family in Marion County had a tragic 2016.

Wesley Ridge is the nephew of Jerry Ridge, the 72-year-old owner of Valley Pawn in Whitwell who was the victim of a homicide in May 2016.

Jerry Ridge's body had been found inside his business after it was damaged by fire, and the suspect in that case, Angela Kilgore, was convicted in August 2018 of first-degree murder, felony murder and associated lesser felonies. A first-degree murder conviction in Tennessee carries an automatic life sentence with the possibility of parole, which is calculated to be 51 years in prison, but Kilgore was additionally sentenced to a combined 80 years in prison on her convictions in that case for aggravated arson and especially aggravated robbery, making her sentence a life term plus 80 years.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT