Man Sought in Slayings of Homestead Resort Supervisors in Bath County, Virginia

Beacher Ferrel Hackney is seen in an undated handout photo.
Beacher Ferrel Hackney is seen in an undated handout photo. (AP/Bath County Sheriff's Office)
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By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 23, 2009

HOT SPRINGS, Va. -- Beacher F. Hackney had long been a mystery to co-workers at the Homestead, a luxurious resort here that has entertained presidents, the wealthy and other VIPs for more than two centuries.

Now Hackney, a kitchen worker who spoke so infrequently that some thought he might be deaf, has become a fugitive, wanted in the killing of two supervisors in this remote and picturesque area of Virginia where people strained their memories to recall the last such crime.

Bath County Sheriff Larry Norfleet said Hackney, 59, of Covington, Va., walked into the fourth-floor kitchen in the center of the sprawling complex about 8 p.m. Saturday, shot two supervisors to death with a .380 semiautomatic handgun and left on foot.

Norfleet said there was no known history of disagreements or disciplinary problems with resort officials or between Hackney and the victims, who were identified as Ronnie Stinnett, 60, of Ashwood, Va., and Dwight Kerr, 39, of Covington.

Townspeople, however, said they had heard that Hackney's hours at the resort had been reduced. Norfleet said that about 700 guests were in the hotel and that they gathered in the ballroom as law enforcement officials searched the area.

Yesterday, as Virginia state troopers stopped and searched vehicles on the main street here, residents expressed shock at the killings, in a place where little out of the ordinary seems to happen.

Authorities used dogs and a helicopter to search for Hackney immediately after the slayings, and a fleet of cars and sport-utility vehicles from the sheriff's office, unmarked vehicles and blue State Police cruisers patrolled the winding two-lane highways in and out of town yesterday. The sheriff told residents to lock their doors and windows. The search failed to turn up any sign of Hackney.

"They weren't really ready for this, because we never thought anything like this would happen," said Ashley Perry, 20, an employee of the Duck In deli. "It's really devastating."

Nestled in the heart of Bath County, in the Allegheny Mountains of southwestern Virginia, the Homestead and the town it overlooks are the portrait of serenity. Established in 1766, the Homestead grew around the warm baths that drew luminaries including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John D. Rockefeller. Today, it employs about 1,000 people. Golfer Sam Snead grew up here and later returned as a club pro, helping to make its championship courses a golf mecca. State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), who served as county commonwealth's attorney in the late 1980s, said there had not been a homicide in the county since 1983.

Yesterday, police cars made up most of the traffic in a quiet town that is even quieter on a Sunday afternoon in early spring. Bath's population has dropped since the last census by about 400 people, to 4,635, and out-of-towners come to visit the resort or dine at Sam Snead's Tavern, which is stuffed with artifacts belonging to the smooth and stylish golfer who was one of the best players of his day. Young people drive to Covington for fun, often winding up at the Wal-Mart.

"There's nothing really to do," Perry said. "It's like a retirement place, not a place for a kid to grow up. It's just a small, small, small county."

Kathleen Barden, 31, a server, described Hackney, who collected trash and washed dishes, as "strange" and "almost painfully quiet." Not long after new corporate owners took over the resort, there was a staff meeting at which people were asked to take partners for training, and Barden was paired with Hackney. Trying to strike up a conversation, she asked him how he thought the takeover might affect him. Hackney looked straight ahead, as if he had never heard her.

"I thought he was deaf and mute," Barden said.

Claudia Bell, also a server, was one of the few people whom Hackney talked to, although not often. On Saturday, about 15 minutes before the shootings, Bell greeted Hackney as he passed in a corridor below the kitchen, his hands thrust deep in his jacket pockets and with a look of determination on his face. Bell said she said hello, and Hackney, who was just below the kitchen, ignored her.

"I said, 'Well, you're not talking to me. What's wrong?' I thought, well, he's having a bad day. I'll talk to him later. He didn't look mad. He just kept on walking."

Norfleet said little was known about Hackney.

"My understanding is, his favorite hobby was to go get the newspaper and go home," Norfleet said. "He was like a hermit."

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