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Local man’s claim to be killer a prank
Caller indicated he played role in death of Marshall County woman

By Seth Burkett · 340-2355

A caller claiming to be the killer of a 70-year-old Marshall County woman led Fort Payne police and U.S. marshals to Morgan County, where they arrested a Decatur man, authorities said Thursday.

Fort Payne Police Chief David Walker said that after his capture, 22-year-old John Vansteenis admitted to making the phone call, in which he “indicated he was who we were looking for in the murder and that there would be another” killing.

Vansteenis now denies being the killer or ever being in Fort Payne, Walker said, and “we believe he is telling the truth.”

Terrorist threat charge

Vansteenis is charged with making a terrorist threat, a Class C felony. He was placed in Fort Payne’s city jail Thursday, awaiting transfer to DeKalb County Jail.

“It was stupid,” said Vansteenis. “It was a prank call. It’s stupid, and I want to apologize to the families. I apologize to this community, to the people of this community, to the Police Department. It was an ignorant mistake. It was stupid.”

Shirley Sumrall left Guntersville for Gadsden on a shopping trip Saturday but never returned.

Police discovered her beaten body in the trunk of her car in the parking lot of DeKalb Regional Medical Center on Monday. Her purse was missing.

Police took seriously the call that came shortly after 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, Walker said in a statement.

After determining that the call came from a cellular phone in Decatur, police enlisted U.S. marshals in tracking down the phone and the caller.

At about 6:30 p.m., less than 13 hours after the call was made, police took Vansteenis into custody.

Walker said U.S. marshals, who participated due to the significant threat posed in the call, helped tremendously.

“It did tie them up for the entire day, and we are very grateful they were able to provide their assistance,” Walker said. “It probably would have taken us several days to track down the individual, and this would have had a more significant impact on the direction of the investigation.”

Investigators not looking into the call spent the day following other tips and leads, and police feel they are making progress, Walker said.

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