Selma man arrested in Perry County cold case

Published 7:38 pm Saturday, March 10, 2018

An arrest has been made in a Perry County cold case involving a man that went missing on New Year’s Eve in 2014.

According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s State Bureau of Investigations, agents arrested 48-year-old Willie Thomas, of Selma, Wednesday and charged him with abuse of a corpse.

Thomas was booked into the Dallas County Jail on a $15,000 bond and has since made bail. His arrest is related to the disappearance and death of 50-year-old Samuel Lee Payne.

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The circumstances of Thomas’ arrest have not been released, so it is unclear what his alleged involvement is in Payne’s case.

Payne’s uncle, Larry Strothers, said his nephew, who lived in North Carolina, returned home to Perry County around New Year’s Eve 2014 to visit his father, who was dying.

“Samuel came home to see his father. We had called him and his wife, who had just gotten married in July, and he came home to see his father,” Strothers said. “We told him the situation … and he knew his father was dying.”

Strothers said Payne spent the day before New Year’s Eve with his father and other family members and decided the next day to ring in the new year with a friend, who Strothers would not identify by name.

“They decided they were going to go over to this little place called the Pink House or whatever and just see people and have fun to bring in the new year,” Strothers said.

But Payne never returned home.

“After that, we knew something was not right because there was no way he would have been like that and not called anybody to pick him up or anything,” Strothers said.

Payne was reported missing, and his father passed away a few days later not knowing where his son was.

“We started looking because he hadn’t shown up in a day or two,” Strothers said. “We went around and started looking. No Samuel.”

Three months later, in March 2015, Payne’s body was found near a creek in Dallas County just over the county line.

The cause of Payne’s death has still not been released.

Former Gov. Robert Bentley signed a proclamation in 2016 offering a $5,000 reward to help crack the cold case.

A representative with the SBI said no further information is available, and the investigation is ongoing.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call the SBI Hotline at 1-800-392-8011 or call the SBI office at (334) 418-8852.