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Murder-suicide a mystery to family
Athens woman allegedly shoots sleeping husband and self; police find notes

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — The cousin who stood smoking cigarettes, the neighbor who came home to pick something up and other bewildered family and friends could not say what led an Athens woman to shoot her sleeping husband and then take her own life.

None knew of domestic trouble, sickness or financial concerns between Billy Wayne Putman, 64, and Ronda West, 57.

When Billy Wayne Putman did not show up for work at Watkins Oil Co. on Tuesday, his boss called a relative. Because he was out of town, the relative called a state trooper he knew, Athens police Capt. Marty Bruce said.

The trooper found an unlocked door at the couple's Rogers Street home, went inside and discovered their bodies, Bruce said. The trooper called police at 9:46 a.m. Tuesday.

Ronda West apparently shot her husband Monday night or Tuesday morning in the left temple with a .38-caliber handgun while he slept partially on his back and side in bed, Bruce said. She then went to the kitchen, still in her pajamas, where she shot herself in the head.

She still held the gun in her hand, Bruce said.

The captain said there were notes left inside the home, but he would not reveal the contents.

"We don't usually give out information left in a note," he said, "so I'm not going into that."

No history of violence

Bruce said investigators do not have any indication of domestic violence between the couple. He said they have lived together for 20 or more years.

They were married and at some point divorced, but got back together. Bruce said he did not know if they remarried. Bruce said investigators found items in the home where she used Putman as her last name and others where she used Putman West.

The couple did not have children together, but she has a daughter, he said.

Putman checked gas pumps and changed gas prices on store signs for the oil company, family and neighbors said. She was a respiratory therapist at Athens-Limestone Hospital. She got off work at 7 a.m. on Monday, said Assistant Coroner Andy West. She has worked for West at the hospital since the 1980s.

News of the murder-suicide reached neighbors, family and friends who watched the activities behind the crime-scene tape surrounding the couple's home.

The husband's first cousin, Bob Putman, 71, arrived in his Liberty overhauls and "Old Dude" cap after he received a call about their deaths. He smoked cigarettes and talked to officers as he tried to piece together what happened.

"They had no problems that I know of," Bob Putman said. "They've been together a long while."

Next-door neighbor Bill Wilkes came home from his job at Athens State University and was shocked to see patrol cars and the coroner's van blocking the road. At first, he thought someone broke in and killed the couple.

Wilkes discussed the news with fellow neighbors, sipped from his glass and remarked that, "It's turned out to be an unusual day."

Wilkes described the couple as quiet and said they "never bothered anybody."

"I didn't know them that well," Wilkes said, "but I would see him mowing the yard or outside and speak. He was a strong Alabama fan, and I like LSU, so we would kid around."

Bruce said investigators still are looking into what led to the murder-suicide, such as whether either of them had a terminal illness. There will be no autopsy on the bodies, he said.

Spry Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.

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