Replacement husband charged in 1988 murder
Police and some family members had long believed that Alvin Lee "Butch" Morris was the killer in the murder of Roger Lee Shifflett, but it took nearly 20 years before an arrest was made.
Morris, 67, was taken into custody Thursday and denied bond in a hearing this morning. Present at the hearing was Barbara Shifflett Morris, there to show support for the man accused of killing her first husband. Butch Morris is charged with first-degree murder, robbery, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
On June 20, 1988, 38-year-old Roger Shifflett, right, a father of five, was found bleeding from five gunshot wounds shortly before 6am at the Southwind Gas and Grocery on Route 20 south near Avon Street Extended that he owned with his wife, Barbara. He usually stopped by the store, now demolished, before heading to his job with Norfolk Southern Railroad.
Initially, police said robbery was the motive because $135 was missing from the cash register. But that theory changed.
"We do not believe it was a random robbery and shooting," then-Lieutenant John Teixeira with the Albemarle police told the Hook in 2006. "It was probably someone who knew or was acquainted with Mr. Shifflett.
Morris, then an assistant manager at the Safeway on River Road, took a polygraph later in 1988. A few weeks after the murder, he left his wife of 25 years and eventually married Shifflett's widow, a long-time school secretary, Barbara Shifflett.
Former Albemarle Sheriff Terry Hawkins' sister was married to Morris before he left her for the widow, and Hawkins now reveals that Morris was a suspect "from day one."
Hawkins heard that Morris had beaten his sister, and he interceded one time. "I did not interfere with their personal lives," says Hawkins, "but one thing I absolutely detest is physical or emotional abuse."
Hawkins says due to the in-law connection, he stayed out of the investigation, but his two nephews, he says– as one might expect upon having their father charged with first-degree murder– are "emotionally very upset."
"I never gave up," says Earl Shifflett, brother of the slain man. The two were the youngest in a family of 11 siblings, and Earl and Roger worked together on the railroad. A month ago, another brother, William Shifflett, died. "He told me,'" says Earl, "'Don't let it drop.'"
Earl Shifflett says he's long believed that Butch Morris killed his brother and that Barbara was involved in a "love triangle." His brother talked to him a week before he was killed, recalls Earl, and confided marital problems. Earl Shifflett further alleges that Barbara had told people she was going to leave Roger and take their three kids– Roger had two more from a previous marriage– but in an attempt to work things out, Roger and Barbara were planning a rare vacation to celebrate their 13th wedding anniversary. Barbara Shifflett Morris did not return a call from the Hook.
What pains Earl most is that Roger's three sons with Barbara, twins Randy and Rodney, and Roger Lee Jr., who was three when his father was murdered, won't have anything to do with their Shifflett kin. "Roger's youngest boys have been brainwashed," says Earl. "Those boys didn't get a chance to know their daddy." Randy Shifflett was in court with his mother, but the Hook was unable to reach him to get his response to this allegation.
According to Earl Shifflett, his brother was a "hard worker" who supported his wife and five children.
"I'm living a time I never thought I'd see," says Jody Shifflett, who was 15 when his father was murdered. A UPS employee, Jody was driving to the UPS building yesterday when he got a phone call from an Albemarle investigator, who asked, "Are you sitting down? Butch Morris is in jail," he says.
"I still know there's a chance he won't be convicted," says Jody Shifflett. "But there's no doubt in my mind that Butch Morris did it."
Jody Shifflett says he didn't believe his stepmother was involved in his father's death until two years ago when the Hook was working on a story about the unsolved case, and Barbara Shifflett Morris didn't return phone calls. "When she didn't want to participate, I thought, why wouldn't you? Why wouldn't you want to help Daddy?" Shifflett says.
Morris voluntarily provided a DNA sample and fingerprints in February, according to Commonwealth's Attorney Denise Lunsford. She won't comment on specific evidence, but notes that over time people tend to come forward or see things said by a suspect in a new way. "We feel like we have a very good case," she says.
Lunsford says she does not anticipate additional arrests in the case "at this point."
"It shows a case is never over," says Lunsford. "If we don't find a person right away, police keep working on it, and new evidence comes in."
Albemarle County police lieutenant Greg Jenkins agrees: "These cases don't go away. We're not going to stop trying to bring justice for victims and their families."
Jenkins refuses to discuss the investigation of Albemarle Police Department's oldest, coldest case, but says of the arrest, "I'm glad there's some sort of resolution. We still have a long road ahead."
Morris will be in court again June 26.
"It's easy to solve a case with a confession or eye witness," says former sheriff Hawkins. "These, when you need to put together circumstantial evidence, are the tough ones."
Jody Shifflett congratulates Albemarle police. "It finally feels like justice is being served," he says.