By Daniel Silliman
A 41-year-old man has been arrested on charges of murder and arson, after his DNA was positively matched to evidence found on a dead woman's body at a burning Jonesboro home.
Timothy Alan Booth, a Hampton felon, who has been in and out of prison since 1985, was not a suspect in the murder of 68-year-old Geneva Strickland until a DNA test, last weekend, connected him to the scene, GBI agents said Wednesday.
GBI investigators and Jonesboro Police detectives were attempting to identify two men seen leaving the scene shortly before the Oct. 31 fire was discovered, but an analyst working overtime ran the DNA through the state's Combined Index DNA System (CODIS) and the sample matched the sample taken from Booth when he was incarcerated in 2002.
"Mr. Booth was not known as a suspect to the GBI or the Jonesboro Police until there was a positive match," said Vernon Keenan, GBI lab supervisor. "We still don't know the full story about what happened in the victim's residence."
Strickland was found in an upstairs bedroom in her home, at 614 Fayetteville Road, early on Nov. 1, when firefighters responded to the blaze. It was immediately determined that the fire was intentionally set and the 68-year-old woman, who lived alone, had come into contact with her killer before the fire began.
"Her body was found bound in the house," said GBI Special Agent Sherry Lang. "There was no way she could get out of the house."
Investigators believe the murder was motivated by robbery. Family members reported that Strickland was known to keep large amounts of cash in her home, cash that was missing when authorities searched the house. Nothing else, reportedly, was taken.
Booth knew Strickland through a previous, romantic relationship with her niece, according to Lang, and knew she normally kept a large amount of cash in the home. Booth had done some handyman work for her, in the past, and was once bailed out of jail by the older woman.
The DNA was reportedly found on evidence on Strickland's body, but Lang did not release any more details, except to say Strickland was not sexually assaulted. Her death was ruled a homicide and attributed, by GBI medical examiners, to both smoke inhalation and smothering.
Booth was arrested in his Hampton home on Tuesday night. He did not speak to investigators, Lang said, and though the investigation is ongoing, there is little additional evidence connecting him to the crime.
"We're going off the DNA, which is sufficient for now," Lang said. "We've got a positive match."
Keenan said the state agency has solved more than 800 cases, using DNA evidence, but most were sexual assault cases and only 28 of those, including the Strickland case, were homicides. Georgia only started collecting DNA samples from convicted felons in 2000. Without that practice, Keenan said, Booth's DNA sample would not have been one of the 143,000 DNA samples in the state's CODIS, and the case might have gone unsolved.
Booth, also known as Karl E. Funk, has a long criminal record, including eight prison terms for felonies committed in Clayton, Henry, Fayette and Fulton counties. Most of the charges are driving-related, with a spattering of theft and forgery charges. He was last released from prison in 2004.
Booth is now being charged with arson and murder, and could face the death penalty. His first court hearing has not yet been set.
Jonesboro Police Chief Wayne Rowland said the arrest and the emerging details of the case should reassure the city's residents that there is no truth to rumors of a serial killer.
"I just want the citizens of Jonesboro to know they can sleep at night," the chief said. "This is not a random act. There's not a serial killer out there trying to assault people in their homes."