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Motive for slaying of Goree?
Years of neglect, not Social Security money, was reason behind killing, Morgan investigator says

By Seth Burkett 340-2355

SOMERVILLE — A relative of Ronnie Lee Goree says she believes his murder covered up years of neglect.

Geneva Lenox Denson didn't kill Ronnie Lee Goree simply for the $20,000 in Social Security checks she collected after his death, a Morgan County sheriff's investigator said.

Investigator Kyle Wilson said Denson was scared to take her mentally challenged cousin to the hospital when he became deathly ill.

Wilson said Denson feared she would get in trouble for his condition being so severe.

Caregiver on check

Pam Goodwin, a cousin to both Denson and Goree, said Denson was on Goree's check as his caregiver and already received his money.

"Geneva was the type of person that controlled people, and Ronnie had the mind of a child," Goodwin said. "There was no point for her to kill that boy if she wanted his check. She was getting his money anyway and neglecting him.

"They had neglected him to where he was so sick he was dying," Goodwin said. "She didn't want to go to jail for neglect."

At the time, Goodwin said, other family members were unaware Goree was ill.

Denson, 43, and a woman for whom she was also caregiver, Martha Evelyn Routh, 44, are charged with murder in Goree's death. Routh shared the mobile home with Goree next door to Denson and was supposedly his girlfriend, Goodwin said.

Left in cave

The women apparently strangled 29-year-old Goree in March 2001 and left his remains to decompose in a cave, said Sheriff Greg Bartlett.

They later returned to the cave, crushed the bones with a sledgehammer and dumped them into a creek, Bartlett said. A few bones remained buried in the cave, and investigators unearthed them in April 2005. DNA comparison recently confirmed they belonged to Goree.

Goodwin said Denson went to great lengths to conceal Goree's disappearance from family members before the bones were discovered.

"From the get-go, she was lying," Goodwin said.

"One night, we had went out and ate dinner and were over there (at Denson's) playing cards," Goodwin said. "It was dark and we heard a big racket outside and my husband asked, 'What's that?' She said, 'Oh, it's probably just Ronnie.' She had been lying for so long, I think she was making herself believe it."

All along, Goree's remains — at least some of them — lay in a cave a short distance from Denson's mobile home.

"How could you sleep each night, knowing he was buried right there? You'd have to be demented," Goodwin said.

Goodwin said every time someone asked about Goree, Denson told them he was in another town or visiting a friend.

"Ronnie was the type of person you would see out and about," she said, and his extended absence raised suspicions.

"Every time that I went over to visit, they wouldn't let me see him," Goree's mother, Eva, told The Daily in an interview last week. "I cried day and night hoping that I'd see him."

Eva Goree said she finally heard enough conflicting excuses for her son's absence. She reported him missing in April 2004, which stopped the Social Security checks Denson received.

As Denson's stories became more tangled and investigators began to probe the case, she began to talk of moving to Wyoming, Goodwin said.

Investigators revealed Tuesday that tape-recorded conversations containing incriminating evidence comprise part of their case against Denson and Routh.

Goodwin said investigators listened to phone conversations between her and Denson in 2005.

"She wasn't talking to anybody in the family except me. She felt she could trust me, and I was doing what I could do to get my aunt (Eva) justice," said Goodwin. "If she (Denson) hadn't done it, it would be off her. But she did do it."

Goodwin said she believes others had knowledge of Goree's death but helped keep it secret, and that they should face charges as well.

Wilson said that while the case isn't closed, he does not expect further arrests.

Denson and Routh remained in Morgan County Jail on Wednesday in lieu of $200,000 bond each.

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