DOUGLAS, Arizona - Police in a border town, nearly 700 miles from Abilene, have arrested a 24-year-old Albany man wanted in connection with the August 2016 kidnapping and murder of Ronald Michael Varner.
Matthew Thomas Struble was taken into custody after a traffic stop Friday in Douglas, Arizona. Police in Douglas told KTXS that Struble had a “false ID.” His fingerprints were then scanned at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection office, where it was determined he was wanted in Texas.
Douglas is a city of about 17,000, roughly 225 miles west of El Paso and 118 miles southeast of Tucson.
Struble and four other suspects have been charged in connection with Varner’s murder. Varner's body was found lying on CR 347 south of FM 1082 in Jones County. The 32-year-old Abilene man had been shot multiple times.
Three other people have been charged with capital murder in the case:
MUGSHOTS OF THE 5 -> http://www.ktxs.com/553090435
The case is being prosecuted as capital murder because the shooting occurred during the course of a kidnapping, according to the Taylor County District Attorney's Office.
The crime scene was southeast of Hawley, west of Lake Fort Phantom and north of Abilene.
According to court documents, Struble said he saw Varner tied up, naked at Pine and Cooper's house in the 1500 block of Sycamore Street, one day before he was found murdered.
Ordway admitted being at the home and said Varner was beaten at different times. According to retired Texas Ranger Danny Crawford, Varner tried to escape but Ordway and Pine chased after him. After catching Varner, they brought him back to the house, took off his clothes and tied him up.
Struble said Cooper told him that Varner needed to be killed and that they couldn’t turn him loose because they would be arrested for kidnapping. Cooper then handed Struble a gun, documents show.
Struble also said he and Jackson drove out to a “county road in Jones County” where Struble shot Varner multiple times “until he (Varner) fell on the ground.” Struble said Jackson then shot Varner in the head.
Following the murder, Struble and Jackson drove to a motel at Grape and I-20 where Pine ordered them to take a shower. Their clothes were put in a trash bag that was then disposed of, according to court documents.
Jackson also told police that she shot Varner in the head and that she and Struble were the only two at the scene of the murder.
In addition, Varner’s girlfriend told investigators that she went by Pine and Cooper's Sycamore Street house -- on Aug. 1 -- where Varner was house sitting. He didn’t answer the door. But she said he called her that night and told her that he had been tied up and beaten, but that the suspects were going to let him go. She said she then heard a man in the background saying, “We’re taking you home.” He never made it there, she said.
Meanwhile, a witness said she saw Varner on top of another man, striking him, a few days earlier. This occurred at a Sycamore Street home with all four suspects present, according to documents. She also said Jackson and Struble came by her house the day before Varner was found dead. She said Varner was in the car but didn’t come inside with them. Later that night, she said Pine, Jackson and Cooper came to her house and that Pine told her he was looking for ammunition.
Varner was found with gunshot wounds to his left lower back, left forearm, right chest, left chest and right side of his head, according to court documents. Spent .380 caliber shell casings were found in the road where his body was found.
Pine was arrested in December on multiple charges after a man told police Pine brought him a gun and asked if he could make it “disappear.” The man said Varner gave him the frame, barrel and slide from a Denali .380 ACP.
The same man also told police that Pine claims to have killed Varner because Varner was an informant and was “building a case on Cooper.”
Pine, Jackson and Cooper were booked into Taylor County Jail on Monday. Pine and Jackson’s bonds are $100,000 each, while the bonds for Cooper total $148,000.
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