Daily photos by John Godbey|
Murder suspect Geneva Lenox Denson with Morgan Chief Deputy Mike Corley after her arrest Thursday.
2 female caretakers, including aunt of victim, charged in murder of mentally challenged man buried in cave
By Seth Burkett
SOMERVILLE — Morgan County investigators said they pieced together a 6-year-old murder case based on what little remained of Ronnie Lee Goree, whom they said was strangled by his caretakers and left rotting in a cave while his aunt collected his Social Security checks.
Goree’s aunt, Geneva Lenox Denson, 43, and a friend, Martha Routh, 44, returned to collect Goree’s bones, crush them with a sledgehammer and dump the pieces in Eagle Creek, but they overlooked bones from Goree’s hands and feet that gave investigators the DNA needed to make the case, said Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett.
Social Security checks
Goree, who was mentally challenged, apparently lived with Routh in a mobile home next door to Denson, who cashed about $20,000 in Social Security checks to Goree in the years following his death, Bartlett said.
“Denson was on his Social Security as his caregiver,” Bartlett said. “It appears he died sometime in March 2001, and she kept collecting his checks for about 36 months.”
“According to Routh and Denson, Ronnie was physically sick to the point of death. Instead of calling medical assistance for him, he was killed,” Bartlett said.
Goree suffered from acute seizures and a mental defect. He would have been 32 when his mother, Eva Goree, reported him missing in April 2004 after repeated attempts to visit him at his 1853 Cain Road home in north-central Morgan County.
“Every time that I went over to visit, they wouldn’t let me see him,” said 49-year-old Eva Goree.
“They told me he wasn’t there. They told me he was at a friend’s or something like that. They kept telling me that he’d gotten married and that he’d been living with a friend. ... They told me he was at Falkville, and they told me he was at Flint. They were telling me different stuff every time that I talked to them.”
Martha Routh, who deputies said was Denson’s accomplice in the murder and disposing of the body of her mentally challenged nephew, Ronnie Lee Goree.
“I cried day and night hoping that I’d see him,” she said. “I finally put out the missing persons report on him.”
The report put a stop to the checks, investigators said.
The case remained a missing-person case until about a year later, when investigator Kyle Wilson had exhausted leads from family members indicating Goree might be in Tennessee, Georgia or other parts of the county. Wilson said he received an unexpected phone call that led him back to the area where Goree had lived.
In a chamber of a small cave about 400 yards from the mobile home, investigators unearthed bones they suspected might be Goree’s. The find turned the missing-person case into a homicide investigation.
After killing Goree, Bartlett said, Denson and Routh wrapped him in a blanket, carried him to the cave and buried him.
“Later,” Bartlett said, “after his body decomposed, they dug him up, crushed his bones and dumped them in the creek. Lucky for us, they didn’t recover all the bones.”
The FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., compared the DNA in those bones to Goree’s mother’s DNA and found a match, Bartlett said.
Bartlett said it’s unlikely more of Goree’s remains will surface.
“The creek was deep enough and swift enough that it would be pointless to try and search for them,” he said. “It’s my understanding they crushed the bones up into such small pieces before putting them in a bucket and dumping them, they would have just been swept away.”
By the time The Daily, with an article announcing the DNA results landed on doorsteps around the county Thursday morning, authorities were making their move.
Photo Courtesy Morgan County Sheriff’s Department|
The cave where Goree’s bones were found in April 2005.
Wilson said deputies caught Denson during a traffic stop and brought her and others they rounded up in for questioning.
By close of business, investigators had charged both Denson, of 1853 Cain Road, Somerville, and Routh, of 204 Green St., Huntsville, with murder.
Each remained in Morgan County Jail late Thursday on no bond.
Bartlett, who wasn’t even in office when Goree disappeared, said he and his team feel good about bringing a case this old to closure.
No further arrests?
Wilson, who has been on the case since the missing person report came in, said he’s not through investigating but he does not anticipate further arrests.
Denson and Routh could face more charges, however. The U.S. Secret Service and Office of Inspector General for Social Security helped with the case and are still probing the matter of the government checks.
In a telephone interview the day before the arrests, Eva Goree voiced suspicion that a relative might have been involved in her son’s death.
Goree said she wanted whoever killed him “brought down hard.”
“I’ve been hurt for a long time about this,” she said.
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