McRAE, Ga. — Three days after Bud Runion posted an ad on the website Craigslist that he was seeking to buy a 1966 Mustang convertible, he and his wife set out for a small farming community in southern Georgia to meet with a potential seller. Then they vanished.
In Telfair County, where cotton and peanut fields meet dense woods a three-hour drive south of the Runions' suburban Atlanta home, days of searching by authorities and volunteers ended Monday with a grim discovery and an arrest.
Sheriff Chris Steverson said the couple's SUV had been found in a lake a few miles outside McRae, a tiny city of 5,700 about 80 miles southeast of Macon. Searches discovered two bodies — a man and a woman — nearby.
"This is not the outcome we had hoped for," the sheriff told reporters at a news conference. "But obviously it's what we have to deal with."
The same day the authorities found bodies, investigators arrested 28-year-old Ronnie Adrian "Jay" Towns of McRae on charges of giving false statements to authorities and criminal attempt to commit theft by deception.
Towns had not been charged in the deaths or disappearance of 69-year-old Elrey "Bud" Runion and his 66-year-old wife, June Runion, of Marietta. But the sheriff said a cellphone used to make the last known contact with the Runions had been traced to Towns. He said the young man turned himself in Monday accompanied by family members.
"For now, he's the only subject we are seeking," Steverson said.
The arrest stunned Towns' family. He grew up on a farm beside a long dirt road where his father grew soybeans, cotton and peanuts. The property isn't far from where the bodies were found.
Towns lived in neighboring Wheeler County with his family — a wife and a young daughter that he supported doing construction work for a local homebuilder, said his uncle, Buddy Towns.
"He's a good kid, and very smart," said the uncle, who often saw his nephew's truck pass his McRae business as Jay Towns headed to work. "It just doesn't make any sense why this would even go down. It's hard for his parents. They're not understanding."
On Tuesday, investigators were still waiting for the bodies to be identified, and no additional charges had been filed against Towns, though he remained the only suspect, said Jimmy Johnson, chief deputy at the sheriff's office.
"We still have questions and will probably have questions for quite a while," Johnson said.
And much remained unknown about what happened to the Runions from the time the couple left home Thursday until authorities found their SUV Monday.
The sheriff did not say how the man and woman found nearby appeared to have died. The bodies were being sent to the Georgia state crime lab for identification and autopsies, and the sheriff said he planned to keep some details of the case under wraps until it goes to court.
The only potential motive offered by authorities has been theft. The sheriff said investigators found no evidence that Towns owned the sort of classic car Runion was seeking.
The Runions' daughters reported them missing last week after they didn't show up to babysit their grandchildren. They told WSB-TV their parents left home with their cellphones and chargers, but no one had heard from them since 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
"If someone has taken them, we have forgiven that person, because God tells us to love and forgive," daughter Virginia Owens said before her parents' vehicle was located.