Police: Homeless man killed elderly Dothan woman who hired him

Police: Homeless man killed elderly Dothan woman who hired him
Joe Nathan Duncan is charged with capital murder in the homicide of 91-year-old Mabel Fowler of Dothan. (Source: Dothan Police Department)

DOTHAN, AL (WSFA) - Dothan police say a homeless man killed the elderly woman who had recently given him a job. Joe Nathan Duncan, 58, is charged with capital murder in the death of Mabel Fowler, 91.

Fowler's body was found at her home Saturday, located off Hodgesville Road. Police say they believe she was killed that morning, though her body was discovered around 8 p.m. by her caretaker who had been trying to reach her.

During a press conference Monday, Dothan Police Chief Steve Parrish confirmed Fowler had hired Duncan to help with yard work about three weeks before her death.

"She was never married or had any kids,"Chief Parrish said. "What she did have was a giving heart."

The chief said surveillance video at a nearby business captured Fowler checking her mail Saturday morning, then showed Duncan entering her home not long after. Parrish said the video was a key piece of evidence in charging the man with murder.

"I know the question is going to be asked, did he confess?" Parrish stated. "The answer is, by the lies he told us we've got our man."

Dothan Mini Storage South is located directly across the street from Ms. Fowler's home. They installed their surveillance system just days before she was killed as a way of providing security for their business. The decision ended up being key in the investigation.

One of the cameras at the front of the business faces the elderly woman's driveway.

"To know if for no other reason that these cameras stopped somebody from ever doing the same thing again," said manager Gary Frederick. "If he had not been caught, if he did this, it's a good chance he'll do it again. Just to know that helped catch him, it makes us feel real good."

A preliminary investigation shows Fowler may have died from blunt force trauma, and an edged weapon was possibly used.

"This is a difficult case," the chief said. "It's one that resonates throughout our community and reminds us how violent people can be and how little value they have for life."

Fowler's family says knowing how she may have died has been one of the most difficult parts of coping with her death.

"This type of death is entirely different. I have been in that room with her, symbolically speaking, and walked through that thing, seeing what she went through. It's just about more than you can take. It was a gruesome, gruesome thing," said Marvette Holland, the victim's cousin. "We love her. We miss her."

Holland says he would visit her at least once a week but never encountered Duncan.

Police say robbery was the motive. They are also looking for more evidence, a black book bag that belonged to Duncan.

According to police, the suspect has an extensive criminal history dating back to the 1970s that includes drug charges, assault, and burglary.

Police also urge anyone looking to hire help to feel free to contact the department to get a cursory check on potential hires. It provides some details about the person's background.

Police credit the Houston County Sheriff's Office, the Houston County District Attorney's Office, and Dale County Sheriff's Office with help in the investigation.

Suspects convicted in capital murder cases could face the death penalty.

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