By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - Police in St. Maarten have arrested a suspect in the stabbing death of an American couple in the Dutch Caribbean territory of St. Maarten, officials said on Monday.
Michael and Thelma King, a couple in their 50s who lived near Charleston, South Carolina, were found dead on Friday in their condominium at the Ocean Club Resort in St. Maarten, the Dutch half of the Caribbean island shared with France.
Thelma King, 57, was tied to a chair and her husband, 53, was lying on the floor and partially over another chair, local officials said in a statement. The motive of the crime was unclear, the statement said.
St. Maarten Prosecutor General, Taco Stein, said the suspect's identity was being withheld pending further investigation. "We hope to arraign him before a judge on Tuesday if we have sufficient evidence," he said.
Terry Tamblyn, a longtime friend of the Kings who lives on Isle of Palms, South Carolina, near Charleston, said he had talked to King family members who are now in St. Maarten.
Police called the family on Sunday at 5 a.m. to say they had arrested a suspect in the killings, Tamblyn said. He said the suspect worked for a security company at a gated condominium near the Kings.
"They had just put in security cameras, not in the condo, but on the grounds. And they'd just added an iron gate that you had to have a card to get in after 11 p.m.," Tamblyn said.
The Kings owned restaurants in St. Maarten and Polliwogs, a sports bar in Columbia, South Carolina, Tamblyn said. Michael King was also in the process of starting a rum distributorship in St. Maarten, Tamblyn said.
The killings stunned residents of the tiny eastern Caribbean territory of about 50,000 residents.
"St. Maarten is and will always be a nation that is close-knit and where people from all over the world come to visit and live. Therefore I am in deep distress upon learning about the horrible acts which have tainted our country," Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams said in a statement.
"Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the couple found murdered."
(Additional reporting by David Adams in Miami; Editing by Doina Chiacu)