A heavily tattooed man is accused of killing a father who had been missing for a month and then hiding his body under a pile of brush in Lancaster woods, deputies said on Friday.
David Adam Pate, 24, has been charged with murder and remains at the Lancaster County Detention Center without bond, according to a Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office news release. He had been in jail on a public disorderly conduct charge since Nov. 11.
Last Saturday, a group of children playing in the woods near Mullis Circle found the decomposing body of Rickey Wesley James, a 33-year-old man who family members said had been missing since Oct. 18, deputies say.
Authorities say Pate and Rickey James went into the wooded area alone. There, Pate killed Rickey James, deputies say, and hid his body under a pile of brush.
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James, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., had been living with his brother in Bennettsville but spent his weekends in Lancaster, said his brother, Antwan James. On his most recent trip, he left his brother’s home early in the morning and never returned. Attempts to reach him on a cell phone were unsuccessful.
His brother, Antwan James, said Rickey James last sent a text message to his girlfriend saying he was with an acquaintance drinking Moscato wine.
Antwan James on Monday said his brother had been found only 20 feet away from his house. He claimed that there had been a persistent foul odor in the air. Once his brother was found on Saturday, he realized he was smelling his brother’s decomposed body.
He said attempts to initiate a search for his brother were unsuccessful after police said Rickey James’ disappearance did not meet the criteria for a missing persons case because nothing appeared suspicious. Rickey James had also disappeared in the past without telling family only to resurface days later.
Lancaster County Coroner Mike Morris said the way Rickey James died is still under investigation. Autopsy results have not returned, and officials still have not determined a preliminary cause of death.
Coroners are planning more tests, he said, and will send Rickey James’ body to an anthropologist at North Carolina State University who might be able to help officials discern how he died.
“He was so badly decomposed, you couldn't tell,” Morris said, adding that forensic pathologists would be unable to really determine a manner of death because there was little evidence that could be recovered from the body.
The anthropologist, Morris said, will look at Rickey James’ bones to determine if they had been hit by a bullet or cut by a knife.
Deputies have not released a motive.
“Our deepest condolences go out to the family of Mr. James,” Sheriff Barry Faile said in the news release. “We suspected Pate almost immediately but had to wait on lab results to prove it. We are thankful he is in jail where he belongs.”