VARNELL — A woman who knows fugitive Adolph Ray “Sonny” Neal — wanted in the deaths of his wife and her grandfather a week ago today — said she shouted, “Oh my God, it’s him!” as she and her husband traveled south on Ga. Highway 201 Wednesday afternoon.
“He was walking and had on a red T-shirt and dirty blue jeans and he was covered in sweat,” she said, asking not to be identified until Neal was “found or killed.”
“He was covered in sweat, but didn’t look like he’d had the clothes on for four or five days,” she said. “We turned around and went back and he looked straight at us.”
The woman’s husband said they got within eight feet of Neal, and then his wife began crying and told him to take her to the Varnell Police Department. The husband drove back after dropping her off and said he saw Neal run into the woods behind an abandoned house when he recognized the vehicle as the one that had just stopped.
“He didn’t look like he’d been out in the woods for days,” the man said. “He had about a day’s growth of beard. I’ve never met the man but I could tell it was him from the photos.”
Authorities have been searching for Neal, 49, for a week now in the alleged murders of Jessica Neal, 27, and Don William Shedd, 69, in Dawnville. Special Agent Daniel Sims of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation called the couple’s tip “extremely credible” and Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood said investigators were “99.9 percent sure” the man the couple saw was Neal, who reportedly was walking north on Highway 201 about a quarter-mile below the Dollar General store at the intersection with Ga. Highway 2.
The tip came in at about 3 p.m. and set off an intense manhunt. Law enforcement officers from more than a dozen agencies began arriving in a steady stream on a broiling late May afternoon until some 200 people were in the woods or in support roles. Officers with automatic weapons strapped over their shoulders stopped cars to peer inside and check their trunks. Others went door-to-door to talk to residents, telling them if they saw anything suspicious to call 911. Bloodhounds were being used to track Neal.
Sims said officers were setting up a perimeter about a mile in diameter for the search, which eventually involved a helicopter and a bloodhound.
“We haven’t sighted him yet, but we have every resource available to law enforcement out here,” he said. “It takes a long time to head through the woods in this heavy vegetation and undergrowth.”
Chitwood said a helicopter would be brought in after nightfall Wednesday with infrared sensor capability that can detect heat.
“We’re leaving a presence of law enforcement and want residents to feel safe,” he said. “Even if residents hear a dog barking after midnight they shouldn’t ignore it but contact us.”
Chitwood said officers would not continue to search for Neal in the dark but a perimeter would be maintained and there would be constant patrols through the night Wednesday. Chitwood said Neal may “still be holding a grudge” and could explain why he was in Varnell where relatives of the victims lived.
The woman who spied Neal said she had been to the Dazzle Tanning Salon and Boutique owned by the Neals to use the tanning bed.
“He would usually joke around with me when I was in there,” she said. “But the day before the murders he just said, ‘Which bed you want?’ and didn’t act the same.”
A reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of Neal, Chitwood said on Friday. Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff’s office at (706) 278-1233 or 911.