Police receive hundreds of tips on Mississippi killings

Reuters News

5/18/2012 4:19:07 PM - Reuters News

By Emily Le Coz

OLIVE BRANCH, Mississippi (Reuters) - Mississippi authorities are sifting through hundreds of tips concerning two recent highway slayings that may be the work of a killer posing as a police officer.

"Some are more credible than others, and we're still running them all down," Mississippi Bureau of Public Safety spokesman Warren Strain said on Wednesday.

Residents have been on edge since officials said on Tuesday the shooting deaths in the rural northern part of the state of Thomas Schlender, 74, on May 8, and Lori Anne Carswell, 48, three days later, could involve a fake policeman.

"I'm kind of freaked out," said Katelyn McCammon, a resident of Southhaven in DeSoto County, the county in which Carswell lived. "You're supposed to feel safe in your own area, and it's hard with this going on."

Officials say they are not certain a phony policeman is involved because there were no witnesses to the murders, which happened in the early-morning hours. It is also possible the killer could be posing as someone with car trouble.

Still, officials have asked motorists throughout Mississippi and in parts of Arkansas and Tennessee to call 911 if they are being pulled over and it is unclear whether a real officer is making the stop.

If a driver does not have a cell phone, it is OK to drive with the car's hazard lights on until he or she reaches a safe, well-lit area, Strain said.

"Everybody in this area knows what's going on," he said, so drivers will not get ticketed for failing to pull over immediately.

In DeSoto County, authorities have stopped using unmarked police vehicles for traffic stops, said county Sheriff Bill Rasco.

David Hepburn, a resident of Olive Branch in DeSoto County, said he will make sure to stay aware of his surroundings and remain in well-lit areas.

But if he were to see blue lights flashing in his rear view mirror, he said during a stop at an Olive Branch gas station on Wednesday, "I'd feel uncomfortable."

(Editing By Corrie MacLaggan and Xavier Briand)