Investigation turns from fire to homicide
An Atmore woman described by family and neighbors as a “sweet woman” died in a house fire early Saturday morning — and on Monday Atmore police arrested and charged a convicted felon with her murder.
Collis McCaster, 40, of Atmore, confessed to the crime, police said Tuesday, after the suspect volunteered for and took a polygraph test. He was charged with capital murder in the death of Mildred Jackson Morris, along with first-degree arson and first-degree sexual abuse, police said.
After a neighbor reported smoke early Saturday morning, Atmore firefighters and police responded to Morris’ home at 227 Adams St. at about 5:20 a.m.
Police said the neighbor attempted to enter the home, but all entrances were locked.
Atmore Fire Chief Gerry McGhee said the fire was extinguished within 10 to 15 minutes of firefighters’ arrival on the scene.
Police said the state fire marshal was called to the scene to help determine the origin of the fire. When Mrs. Morris’ body was moved, police said, it became clear that officers were working a crime scene.
The Department of Forensic Science in Mobile is investigating the cause of Morris’ death.
Police said McCaster was identified as a person of interest and was taken into custody later in the day Saturday on a felony warrant from Conecuh County. McCaster was transported to Foley Police Department after he volunteered to take a polygraph test, police said.
Atmore Police Chief Jason Dean said Tuesday the Foley Police Department was used because of the convenience and accuracy of their polygraph program.
Polygraph tests are not admissible in court in Alabama unless both sides agree to it.
Morris’ younger sister, Martha Henderson, said Morris moved to Atmore around 20 years ago following the death of her husband and quickly became known in the community as a mother figure, despite having no children of her own.
“She didn’t have any children, but she would have barbecues at her house and the whole neighborhood would come and they all called her aunt, or mamma or grandmamma,” Henderson said. “She was a sweet person. She would give you the clothes off her back if you needed them.”
Family and friends on the scene of Saturday’s fire said Morris will be greatly missed.
“She was just a real sweet lady,” Morris’ nephew, Patrick Finley, said.
Carlton Johnson lives in the same neighborhood as Morris and said she was a generous woman who loved to cook for her family and neighbors.
“If she had it, you had it,” Johnson said. “She was a sweet lady and a good cook. We’re going to miss her groceries.”
“She was just very sweet and we’ll miss her,” neighbor Tameka Johnson said.
No details have been released as to what evidence led police to naming McCaster as a suspect, and Henderson said she did not know why anyone would harm her sister.
“I don’t know him,” she said of McCaster. “But I don’t know why anyone would want to hurt my sister. She was just a sweet woman.”
McCaster was arrested in 2004 after leading Atmore police officers on a high-speed chase. He was taken into custody and accused of robbing Country Store on Highway 84 in Evergreen at gunpoint. In that case, McCaster was charged with robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Dean said McCaster had been in trouble with local law enforcement in 1990s and told officials Saturday he had been convicted of the 2004 robbery in Concecuh County.
McCaster has been transported to the Escambia County Detention Center in Brewton, where he is awaiting a bond hearing.
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