Caretaker, elderly woman slain in Central Texas

March 27, 2012 7:18:55 PM PDT
Carl Pressley was unreachable for hours Saturday night, and when he finally surfaced the news was not good.

"Man, I'm not trying to avoid you, but my grandmother passed away. I'll talk to you later," the Texan said in a phone message left for a friend who was trying to contact him.

Now, Pressley is accused of kidnapping his 87-year-old adoptive grandmother, Bonnie Harkey, who was later found dead, and killing the woman who cared for her. His common-law wife, Lillian King, also faces a kidnapping charge for the grandmother and murder for the caretaker.

The body of 50-year-old caretaker Karen Johnson was found by her 12-year-old son Sunday at Harkey's home in the farming community of Harkeyville in San Saba County in Central Texas. A day later, authorities found Harkey's buried body, nearly 200 miles east in Leon County.

Pressley and King had not been charged with Harkey's death as of Tuesday evening. Leon County sheriff's officials did not return phone messages.

The 28-year-old Pressley, of Leon County, remained in jail on $500,000 bond and King on $250,000 bond. It was not immediately clear if the two had hired attorneys.

Authorities would not comment on a possible motive or weapon used. San Saba County Sheriff Allen Brown wouldn't say how Harkey's body had been concealed but said there were signs of foul play.

"She was taken from the house," the sheriff said. "She had to have been because she couldn't drive herself."

Harkeyville is little more than a village of deeply-rutted dirt roads running between pecan tree groves and farms. What little traffic passes through the area often has to yield to goats, which sometimes roam freely outside fenced-off enclosures. Pressley's relatives say the town was named for the Harkey family, but that the family now owns less than 500 acres of land fertile for growing pecans.

Court records indicate Pressley had worked as a machine operator on his family's pecan farm.

Harkey's stepson, Bruce Harkey, told The Associated Press that Pressley was adopted by the woman's stepdaughter. He said Bonnie Harkey took Pressley in as a teenager and supported him with "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in spending as an adult for purchases including a truck, dozens of new tires and legal expenses.

In 2006, Pressley was convicted of misdemeanor assault for allegedly choking his estranged wife -- not King. He was sentenced to probation.

His legal troubles mounted: He served multiple jail stints during the last several years for harassment of his uncle, driving with an invalid license and violating probation when he allegedly threatened his mother.

Through it all, his grandmother continued to support him, Bruce Harkey said.

"Carl ran through money like water," he said. "She's the only woman who ever nurtured, ever cared for him, provided for him, gave him everything in the world that he wanted."

Meanwhile, he said, Bonnie Harkey had declined in health considerably, though she still lived in a home at the family pecan farm. He said she was suffering from dementia and could not recognize him or his wife when he visited her about a month ago.

"We knew that Bonnie was in horrible physical and mental condition," Bruce Harkey said.

He said he saw Pressley last week in San Saba, about four miles west of Harkeyville and 190 miles southwest of Dallas.

Jason Sandlin, the friend who received the Saturday night phone message from Pressley about his grandmother's death, said Pressley was living in Leon County in recent weeks. He said he was trying to help Pressley rebuild his life and start anew.

Sandlin helped Pressley get a trailer in Hilltop Lakes, about 125 miles north of Houston. He said he also tried to line up job interviews for him and gave him gas and rent money.

"I feel like I got stabbed in the back," Sandlin said.

King's mother, Priscilla King, declined to comment.

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