Small-town Ky. mayor shot dead, suspect surrenders

By Adrian Sainz

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 23 2012 3:20 p.m. MST

City Hall in Hickman, Ky., is seen Monday, Jan. 23, 2012. The mayor, Charles Murphy was found early Monday shot to death at his home on Clay Street in Hickman. A man turned himself in for the shooting.

Stephen Lance Dennee, Associated Press

HICKMAN, Ky. — A small-town Kentucky mayor was shot dead early Monday in his home in what the police chief said was a dispute with the stepson of a woman the mayor had dated.

Hickman Police Chief Tony Grogan said 30-year-old Thomas Joseph "Tommy" Lattus walked into the police department around 1 a.m. CST and said that he had just shot Mayor Charles Murphy. An officer went to Murphy's home and found the mayor's body in the bedroom.

Grogan said Lattus broke into the side door of Murphy's house and killed him with a shotgun. Multiple shots were fired, but Grogan wouldn't say how many times Murphy was hit.

"As far as clear motive, I would assume that it's just that he didn't like him," Grogan told The Associated Press.

Lattus has been charged with murder and is being held at the Fulton County Jail, where records do not indicate whether he has an attorney. He is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.

The mayor's brother and neighbor, Fred Murphy, said his nephew told him Monday that the mayor had been concerned when Lattus visited his house in recent days. The mayor asked his son to call periodically to check on his welfare, Fred Murphy said.

The mayor had dated the suspect's stepmother, Carole Lattus, on and off for years, according to the police chief and other friends and family.

"Sometimes they broke up, sometimes they got back together," Grogan said.

The police chief added: "From Tommy's point of view, I think he might have had some friction, from things that happened in the past."

Carole Lattus was out of the country and couldn't immediately be reached. Thomas Lattus had been adopted by Carole Lattus when he was a boy, said Gerald Harris, whose niece is married to the mayor's son. The suspect's father, Carole Lattus' former husband, died years ago.

Another neighbor who had known Tommy Lattus since he was young said his behavior led her to believe that he was unstable. Melissa Somerfield, who has lived near Murphy for 22 years, said that behavior included once when Lattus had a singing outburst at a church service.

"He just got up out of the blue and starting singing aloud. People went and started telling his mother that things were not right with him," she said.

Somerfield said she didn't hear any gunshots Monday morning. She was awakened by her sister at about 2:30 a.m. with the news that the man who once served as her elementary and junior high principal had been killed. Authorities were at Murphy's home until around 4:30 a.m.

"It's been really hard to wrap my head around this," Somerfield said. "He will be greatly missed in the community."

Harris, who owns a tractor business in town, said he's known the popular mayor since grade school. Murphy's family is devastated by the shooting, Harris said.

"They're tore all to pieces, all of them are," Harris said.

Jason Sipes, pastor at West Hickman Baptist Church, told a reporter from The Associated Press that family members gathering at a house would not comment on the shooting.

The city of about 2,500 people in the extreme southwest corner of Kentucky is known for the Hickman-Dorena Ferry, the only connection for automobiles over the Mississippi River between Kentucky and Missouri. Violent crime there is rare.

"We have speeding tickets and running stop signs, but to have something of this magnitude, we may have something like this happen every five to 10 years," City Manager Larry Myatt said.

Morrison Williamson, manager at Hickman Hardware, said he first heard about it early in the morning from his wife.

"Next thing I know, people started calling the store, saying 'Did you hear what happened?'" Williamson said.

Murphy, 68, was in his second term as mayor. He previously served on the city board of commissioners. City Commissioner Charles Choate described Murphy as a small farmer who loved to spend time on his property.

Murphy was also proud that recent audits showed the city's financial situation was improving.

"He was very proud that the city was turning the corner and being more financially responsible," Choate said.

A search of online court records in Kentucky showed that Lattus had no pending civil cases or criminal charges against him in Kentucky.

Associated Press reporters Dylan Lovan and Brett Barrouquere contributed to this story from Louisville, Ky.

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