NEWS- Widow maker? Replacement husband held in 1988 murder
Police and some family members had long believed that Alvin Lee "Butch" Morris took not only the wife– but also the life– of Roger Lee Shifflett, but it took nearly 20 years before an arrest was made.
Morris, 67, was taken into custody May 15 and denied bond in a hearing the next morning. Present at the hearing was Barbara Shifflett Morris, there to show support for the man accused of killing her first husband. Butch Morris stands charged with first-degree murder, robbery, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
This bizarre saga goes back to June 20, 1988, when 38-year-old Roger Shifflett, a father of five, was found dying from five gunshot wounds shortly before 6am at the Southwind Gas and Grocery he and his wife owned.
Shifflett was known to stop by the now-demolished store, located on Route 20 south near Avon Street Extended, to open up before heading to his job with Norfolk Southern Railroad. Initially, police said robbery was the motive because $135 was missing from the cash register. 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 a 2006 cover story, in which relatives pleaded for a new look at the case. "It was probably someone who knew or was acquainted with Mr. Shifflett," Teixeira said.
Morris, then an assistant manager at the Safeway on River Road, took a polygraph 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, now working at Stone-Robinson Elementary.
The couple live at 1699 Lindsay Road near the Louisa County line, a 5.68-acre property Barbara H. Shifflett purchased for $35,000 in March 1989, less than a year after her husband's murder, according to county real estate records. Barbara H. Shifflett, c/o Barbara H. Morris, is listed as the owner.
Former Albemarle Sheriff Terry Hawkins says his sister was married to the suspect before he left her for the widow, and Hawkins now reveals that Butch Morris was suspected "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."
Because of the in-law connection, Hawkins was asked to stay out of the investigation, but he notes that his two nephews– 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 amid a "love triangle" and that his brother talked to him a week before he was killed, recalls Earl, and confided marital problems. Earl Shifflett further alleges that widow 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, the couple had planned a rare vacation to celebrate their 13th wedding anniversary. That vacation never happened.
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.
"Those boys didn't get a chance to know their daddy," says Earl, who says 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 United Parcel Service employee, Jody was driving to the UPS building May 15 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 suspicions go further than Butch Morris. At first, he says he didn't believe his stepmother was involved 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.
"I can't believe someone would live with someone 20 years and not know about it," says Dot McAllister, Roger's older sister, about her former sister-in-law. McAllister disputes reports that Butch Morris was a friend of her brother. "[Roger] was a good man," she says. "He didn't deserve this."
An acquaintance of the Morrises describes Barbara as "very devoted" and "very protective" of her three children, and says Butch Morris seemed friendly, waving to neighbors as he mowed an estate on Route 22.
"It seems odd," says the acquaintance, who asked not to be named. "Why would you connect with a man even brought up as a suspect in the first place?" Barbara did not return a new wave of Hook calls to home and office.
According to Commonwealth's Attorney Denise Lunsford, Butch Morris voluntarily provided a DNA sample and fingerprints in February, but she won't comment on specific evidence. She does, however, note 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," says Lunsford, who adds she does not anticipate additional arrests in the case "at this point."
"If we don't find a person right away, police keep working on it, and new evidence comes in. It shows a case is never over," says Lunsford.
"These cases don't go away," says Albemarle County police Lieutenant Greg Jenkins. "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," he says, "like justice is being served."
Correction 7/12/2009: Barbara Morris' middle initial was wrong in the original version of this story and has been corrected.