Howard County sheriff credits 'dedication and perseverance' for arrest in 2011 slaying

Thursday, March 13, 2014 | 5:57 p.m. CDT; updated 9:56 a.m. CDT, Friday, March 14, 2014

CORRECTION: Mike Neal is the Howard County sheriff. He was misidentified in a headline on a previous version of this article.

FAYETTE — When Mike Neal became sheriff of Howard County in January 2013, he decided to make the unsolved homicide of Jon Spurling a top priority.

More than a year later, Zack Jefferson, of Excello in Macon county, has been charged with armed criminal action and first-degree murder in the shooting death of Spurling in his rural Harrisburg home on Aug. 15, 2011.

"Through dedication and perseverance and long hours and lots of interviews and such things, yesterday we felt that we had enough information and enough reason to put Zack Jefferson in custody for the murder of Jon Spurling," Neal said at a news conference Thursday afternoon in Fayette.

Jefferson, 34, was interviewed as a suspect Wednesday morning at the Moberly Police Department and arrested afterward. He was being held without bail in Howard County.

Neal said that investigators are following other leads but that he has no reason to think others were involved in Spurling's death.

"Whether you're coming at this angle or that angle, it keeps coming back to this one person," Neal said.

Spurling, 39, was found dead in his home by his father, Harold Spurling, who received a call from Spurling's boss, Jerry Campbell, when his son failed to come into work on Aug. 16, according to a probable-cause statement. He was found shot once in the abdomen and once in the head with a 9 mm gun.

Jefferson's former spouse, referred to as S.J. in the probable cause statement, was Spurling's wife before she married Jefferson. She reported that Jefferson was jealous of Spurling, and she described him as "controlling" and "possessive," according to the probable cause statement.

When Jefferson was interviewed by investigators in 2011, he admitted he didn't know Spurling but had contacted him on Facebook and asked him about his previous relationship with S.J., according to the probable cause statement.

S.J. also reported that she had been contacted by "Josh Duncan," a fake Facebook account created by Jefferson, who admitted during Wednesday's interview with investigators to creating the account in order to question S.J. about their relationship. Jefferson questioned S.J. about her relationships with him and Spurling through the fake account.

When investigators revealed to S.J. that Duncan was actually Jefferson, she became upset, according to the probable cause statement.

On Wednesday, Jefferson said he might have possessed a Pontiac Grand Prix, a car similar to the one that neighbors said they had seen near Spurling' s home the night of his death, according to the probable cause statement.

The car, Neal said, "is one aspect of it, but there's a lot of other things that were not actually put in the probable cause. There's a lot else to it."

After the arrest was made on Wednesday, Neal said he contacted the family personally to notify them that a suspect was in custody.

"This was somebody's father, and this was somebody's son," Neal said at the news conference. "This was a person. This was a human being, and I made it a priority. And I would want somebody to do that for me if I had a family member who was killed."

Capt. Jeff Glandon of the Howard County Sheriff's Department said at least 25 investigators worked on the case, interviewing more than 50 people.

Glandon and Neal said they have made a commitment to make sure all procedures following the arrest are done properly.

"It is not over," Glandon said. "There's a lot of work to be done here."

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