COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina man accused of killing his five children was an ex-convict whose homes were visited by social workers a dozen times in the last three years.
The children seemed happy and well-adjusted despite occasional spankings, and the family took a summer trip to Disney World and the beach, according to documents released by the Department of Social Services on Thursday. Authorities never found anything serious enough to take the children away, but the documents show Timothy Ray Jones Jr. as a single father and computer engineer struggling to raise his children.
In the social worker's last visit — two weeks before the children's disappearance — a social worker summed up Jones' life: "Dad appears to be overwhelmed as he is unable to maintain the home, but the children appear to be clean, groomed and appropriately dressed," wrote the case worker, who name was blacked out, on an Aug. 13 report.
On Aug. 28, Jones picked up his children, ages 8, 7, 6, 2 and 1, from school and day care. Acting Lexington County Sheriff Lewis McCarty said the three boys and two girls were likely killed soon after that, with Jones loading their bodies in trash bags in his Cadillac Escalade, driving around the Southeast for days with the decomposing bodies.
An intoxicated and agitated Jones was arrested at a DUI checkpoint in Smith County, Mississippi, on Saturday, and authorities said he had a form of synthetic marijuana on him. Officers found children's clothes, blood and maggots in his SUV.
Three days later, he led police to the bodies on a remote hillside in Alabama. Authorities said they still don't know his motive, how the children were killed and why they were buried there.
Jones was returned to South Carolina on Thursday to face murder charges. His first court appearance was Friday, the same day a memorial for his children was to be held in Mississippi, where other relatives live.
In South Carolina, social workers in Jones' hometown of Lexington released their entire 50-page file on Jones. Names of everyone except the father were redacted.
In October 2011, Jones confronted a case worker who demanded he clean up the clothes and blankets scattered on the floor, boxes of food on top of the counter with tools scattered around them where the children could be hurt and an open air vent, where a kid could step and break a leg. The argument got so heated the case worker called deputies, and Jones calmed down when they arrived.
Three days later, the case worker returned and wrote: "observed the home to be VERY VERY VERY CLEAN."
Case workers made follow up visits over the next several months as Jones' marriage fell apart amid allegations his wife cheated on him with a neighbor.
Jones' wife talked being lonely and what a mistake the couple thought they made moving from Mississippi, where Jones' family lived. They moved after he got a degree at Mississippi State University and was hired making $71,000-a-year job as a computer engineer at Intel.
In May, about seven months after the couple's divorce was finalized, social workers talked to the children's teachers after a complaint that Jones made his kids do exercises for punishment. A mark was found on a son's neck, and Jones said it happened when he yanked the boy by the collar. At an unannounced follow up, the case worker found Jones and the children celebrating the oldest child's birthday with cupcakes.
In the August complaint, social workers were told Jones beat his children and left bruises and would often bring home 20 chicken nuggets for all of the children to split for dinner. Deputies joined a case worker in interviewing Jones and the children. The kids could recall what they ate the night before and appeared to be well fed. They all agreed a cut above one boy's eye happened when he hit a doorknob. Jones suggested a former baby sitter was angry about being replaced and made up the allegations.
Social workers planned a follow up visit, but Jones and his children disappeared.
More than a decade earlier, when Jones was 19, he was arrested for cocaine possession and a crime spree in the suburbs of Chicago, where he grew up. He was convicted of car theft, burglary and passing forged checks on his father's account, ranging from $4 to $62.
For the crime spree, he received concurrent six-year terms, and had a year tacked on for the drug possession.
"Typical teenager doing stupid stuff, that's about it," Jones' father, Tim Jones Sr., told The Associated Press by phone from his home in Amory, Mississippi.
Jones Jr. was an exemplary student and then decided to go into the Navy, his father said.
"After that he started hanging in the wrong crowd and got himself in trouble," his dad said.
Jones Sr. said his son was discharged early from the Navy.
Associated Press writers Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi; John O'Connor in Springfield, Illinois and Rogelio Solis in Raleigh, Mississippi, contributed to this report.