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By CHRISTOPHER BROOKE and LARRY CHAMBERS, Staff
SPARTA, N.C. — An Alleghany County Sheriff's Office investigation into an Oct. 26 murder in Ennice has led to charges being placed against a Cana, Va., couple and a Surry County man.
James Bradley Upchurch, 41, and wife Rebecca Jane Wright Upchurch, 39, of Cana and Wayne Thomas Lawson Jr., 39, of Surry County have been charged after the seven-week investigation that involved multiple law enforcement agencies from two states, according to a news release from Alleghany County authorities.
Alleghany Sheriff David "Squeak" Edwards said that, on Oct. 26, the sheriff's office received information about a possible murder that had occurred at a mobile home at 1136 Mountain Lake Road in Ennice," the release said.
The victim was identified as Michael Thomas Hawks, 40, of Mount Airy.
Edwards said Lawson was arrested Monday night and the Upchurches were arrested Tuesday. The Upchurches and Lawson have been charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder.
The sheriff said the investigation involved dozens of interviews. Edwards and his deputies have been exceptionally tight-lipped about the probe, saying only that more information will come out as the case makes its way through the courts.
Edwards said officers determined through interviews that the alleged killers were "just acquaintances" of the victim, but would not say for how long they had known each other or describe the nature of their relationship.
He also would not say if Hawks' body had been found.
The Alleghany Sheriff's Office had cooperation from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the Surry County Sheriff's Office, the Mount Airy Police Department and the Carroll County Sheriff's Office in Virginia.
The Upchurches are being held in the Ashe County Jail in West Jefferson, while Lawson remains in the Alleghany County Jail in Sparta. All are being held without bond.
All three suspects are scheduled for a first appearance hearing Dec. 14 and will be bound over to Alleghany Superior Court.
Deputies with the Carroll County Sheriff's Office assisted with getting several search warrants and carrying out the searches of two vehicles and a home on Speas Mill Road in Cana, described as the known residence of Rebecca Upchurch, according to court papers.
They searched the home on Oct. 26, the same day as the alleged murder, for "any firearms, ammunition or bloody items in connection to a possible murder that occurred at a residence in Alleghany County, N.C."
From that search, deputies seized "a map on a white piece of paper" and a pink quilted bag and its contents.
Under the material facts contributing to probable cause for a search, the Carroll investigator wrote "that in the past 12 hours information and evidence has been gathered... that a possible murder has been committed in Alleghany County. N.C.
"Rebecca Upchurch's… voice has been identified by an Alleghany, N.C., deputy on a 911 recording, screaming that she had been shot," the court papers said. "Blood and shell casings were discovered at the residence in Alleghany County, N.C."
A warrant obtained on Oct. 31 also resulted in the search of the home on Speas Mill Road, as well as a cream-colored camper, for any firearms, ammunition or photographs, notes or video depicting use of a firearm.
On this occasion, deputies found a green ammo case with assorted ammo, along with several clothing items.
This search came about because the Surry County Sheriff's Office was contacted about a person there being in possession of a firearm that had been hidden behind a washing machine. The court papers say that investigators obtained the search warrant under the probable cause of a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
A third warrant from Nov. 22 requested permission to search a yellow Ford dually utility truck in Lambsburg for any trace hairs, fibers, blood stains and electronic equipment that could have been used in connection with a murder in Ennice.
From this vehicle, deputies seized a black hammer handle, a bottle of bleach, a blue rope, a rope with dark stains and a white rope.
Investigators wanted to search this vehicle because of statements given by James Bradley Upchurch that implicated himself in a crime, court papers stated.
Deputies retrieved the most evidence from a Chevy Impala, also after hearing statements given by James Bradley Upchurch, the court papers say. From this vehicle, deputies took 18 swabs from the truck, the driver's side door well, the passenger door and the inside passenger door handle.
Deputies also found live .25-caliber rounds, a knife with a brown wooden handle, a piece of carpet fiber, a black gasket from the truck and a latent print, the court documents say.