07/20/2009

Tenn. man accused of killing wife, five others in brutal rampage

By Kristin M. Hall
Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee man beat an acquaintance to death in Alabama before continuing his rampage across the state line some 30 miles north, where he killed his wife, three of her relatives and a neighbor, authorities said Monday.

The first victim of the six victims was Sidney Wade Dempsey, 50, who worked at Hall Cultured Marble Granite and was allowed to live there, Huntsville, Ala., police Sgt. Mark Roberts told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

Roberts said Dempsey apparently died from blunt-force trauma. Police haven't yet said how the Tennessee victims were killed, nor have they released a full chronology of the killings.

Shaffer, 30, was arraigned Monday in Fayetteville, Tenn., where five of the victims were found Saturday.

Shaffer is charged with killing his 38-year-old wife, Traci Shaffer, her father, brother, teenage son and a neighbor. Shaffer also is charged with the killing in Huntsville, at a company that a friend of the victims said was owned by Traci Shaffer's family.

Shaffer appeared by video link between the Lincoln County Jail and a courtroom.

Visible on a video screen, Shaffer wore an orange prison jumpsuit and was handcuffed, answering the judge's questions by saying only "yes" and shaking his head in response.

General Sessions Judge Andy Myrick appointed two assistant public defenders to represent Shaffer.

Tennessee investigators have said the motive was "domestic," and family friend James Wilson said he had seen fights between Jacob and Traci Shaffer. He said police told him Shaffer spared the couple's 4-year-old daughter, who was home at the time, but investigators haven't yet confirmed that.

"As far as seeing him do something like this, you just can't see it," Wilson told The Associated Press. He said he is dating Traci Shaffer's sister, Jennifer.

"She's not handling it and I can't blame her," he said. "What can you say to someone who has lost everybody?"

Traci Shaffer was found dead Saturday in her home in rural Fayetteville along with her son, Devin Brooks, and neighbor Robert Berber, both 16, said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Kristin Helm. The bodies of Traci Shaffer's brother, Chris Hall, 34, and father Billy Hall, 57, were found in a home across the road.

The Shaffers were no longer sharing a home but had not filed for separation, said Wilson, who was gathering belongings from Traci's house in Lincoln County. Wilson said he met Jacob Shaffer when they were installing drywall, but they had stopped being friends about a year and a half ago.

Shaffer was still installing drywall around Huntsville, and Billy Hall had been driving him back and forth to work before the couple split, Wilson said.

"Her dad done everything he could for Jacob," Wilson said. "I have no idea why he walked across the street to her daddy and her brother. Her daddy never done anything wrong."

Traci Shaffer's slain son and a 9-year-old daughter who wasn't home at the time were from a previous relationship, Wilson said.

Helm said that the family died Friday night or early Saturday, and that Jacob Shaffer was sitting on the porch of one of the houses when authorities first arrived. Huntsville police said information from him led them to the body at the granite business.

Fayetteville is a town of 7,000 people about 90 miles south of Nashville near the Tennessee-Alabama line.

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