By Bill Montgomery STAFF WRITER
Cedar Bluff, Ala. - Bill Spivey of Lithia Springs, Ga., feared the worst seven months ago when Alabama authorities, without explanation, told him to meet them immediately at a campground on Lake Weiss in northeastern Alabama.
When he arrived, his wife, Eloise Powell Spivey, 59, and daughter, Debra Spivey Barton, 36, lay dead in their camper, blood spattered across a bathroom mirror and on the floor. They had been hacked to death with a sharp, heavy blade.
The killer dumped the older woman's purse and took two rings but ignored other jewelry, credit cards and an envelope containing six $100 bills. Also untouched was Mrs. Spivey's .32-caliber revolver, left on the kitchen counter.
"The killer tried to make it look like a robbery by taking the rings and dumping the purse, but a thief wouldn't ignore the other things," said Jerry Wynn, a Douglas County, Ga., sheriff's investigator. "The motive here was a lot of anger: kill, kill, kill."
Although the murder weapon has never been recovered and no one has been charged, investigators said they are looking closely at Debra Barton's husband of 15 years, Mark Orrin Barton.
Barton, 39, who has custody of the couple's children, Matthew, 5, and Shelly, 3, declined to comment.
"Until the murders, Mark was the perfect son-in-law," said Spivey, a retired Federal Aviation Administration supervisor. "Since then, we have cooled tremendously toward each other.
"He and Debra had their ups and downs, like any couple. But as far as we knew, their relationship was fine. He treated me with respect, and my wife loved him."
Spivey and his wife bought the lot at the Riverside Campground on Lake Weiss several years ago. The lake, a 25 minute drive west from Rome, has long been popular with Georgians for its crappie fishing.
"The girl loved to fish more than anyone I ever met," Spivey said of his wife. "She wanted a place we could fish, and we were at the stage of life where there was no reason not to."
Eloise Spivey and Debra Barton departed Lithia Springs in Douglas County for Lake Weiss on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend in Mrs. Spivey's red Thunderbird. They left Barton's small children at the Lithia Springs home with her husband. Spivey, recovering from a heart ailment, also remained behind.
The women had planned to return home early Sunday.
Neighbors at the campground suspected something was wrong when they saw the Thunderbird still parked behind the camper late Sunday morning. They discovered the bloody crime scene and called the Cherokee County, Ala., sheriff's office.
Spivey said he suspected that his wife and daughter were dead when police refused to give details over the telephone. He immediately drove to the campground with his son Jon and Barton, a traveling salesman for a Macon chemical company.
"When Mark got out of the car, he didn't ask, `Where is my wife?' He said, `I've never been here before,' and I thought that was odd," Spivey said.
Spivey said investigators separated the three and questioned them for hours. "I felt treated like a suspect myself at first. They talked to me from before dark to about 11 p.m. . . . I offered to take a lie detector test, told them `whatever it takes to get you off my back and look for who did this, let's do it.' "
Spivey and Jerry Wynn, the Douglas County sheriff's investigator, said Barton refused a polygraph test. "I offered to go with Mark and said that I would take one too," Spivey said. "He said no, emphatically, that he didn't trust them."
Wynn said he has evidence that Barton was having an affair and had taken out a $600,000 life insurance policy on his wife last July.
But Alabama investigators are unable to place Barton or anyone else besides the victims in the trailer after sundown Sept. 4. "We haven't given up . . . hopefully, we're going to get a break," said Sheriff Roy Wynn, who is not related to Jerry Wynn.
Alabama authorities acknowledged that Barton is a suspect. But they said they lack conclusive evidence for an arrest. Sheriff Wynn said he is awaiting results from laboratory tests on a floor mat seized from Barton's Ford Taurus.
Meanwhile, Spivey has appealed to Georgia Gov. Zell Miller and the Alabama attorney general's victims assistance office, demanding action from the Cherokee County sheriff and district attorney to solve the slayings.
"I'm having trouble keeping myself together," Spivey said. "My wife was my best friend, and I'd known her since she was a little girl."
Sheriff Wynn sympathized. "There's nothing I'd rather do than nail the killer, but we have to do things right."
Mark Orrin Barton
1955–1999 (m. 1979)
Sponsored by Ancestry