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Suspect in Ax Murders Picked Up but Later Freed

October 1, 1986

LANCASTER, Texas (AP) _ A man sought in the hatchet slayings of three women was picked up for alleged drunken driving the night of the killings, but was freed before authorities realized the car belonged to one of the victims, officials say.

The man spent two nights in police custody after being arrested Saturday night in Leon County, about 100 miles from this Dallas suburb where the women lived. Authorities said he was driving a station wagon.

He was released at 10 a.m. Monday, about an hour after the discovery of the bodies but before an all-points bulletin could be released with a description of the stolen car, authorities said Tuesday.

The Leon County sheriff’s department didn’t know about the triple slaying when it freed the man, dispatcher Bob Gresham said.

The man, described as the only suspect in the triple killing, was believed to have hitchhiked to Houston after his release, officials said.

The bodies, hacked to death with a hatchet and a knife, were discovered in Lancaster about one hour before the man’s release, but the statewide alert on the killing and the stolen car wasn’t released until later.

The three women, who were believed killed between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday, were identified by authorities as Donna Sue Jester, 37; her cousin, Dalpha Jester, 64, who was blind and bedridden; and Laura Lee Owen, 20, a transient whom Donna Jester picked up hitchhiking and took to the house.

Officials said all suffered multiple knife or hatchet wounds on the head and neck.

Authorities said the suspect apparently was a transient who had been living at the house since early September.

A diary kept by one of Donna Jester spoke of a romantic relationship that had developed between the man and Ms. Owen, said Police Chief John Whitehead.

Officials speculated the three women were killed a quarrel between Donna Jester and the man.

″We feel like Laura was not at the house at that time, that only Donna Sue and Ms. Jester were there. We believe that Laura was coming into the house after they were killed and confronted the killer, that she turned to escape and was caught outside,″ Whitehead said.

The Jesters were found in a room inside the house and Ms. Owen was lying on the back porch, Whitehead said.

Donna Jester received 14 blows, Dalpha Jester five and Ms. Owen received 21, officials added.

Whitehead said Donna Jester often brought stray dogs home and often picked up transients and wanderers.

Originally, police sought a second man, identified by Donna Jester in her diary as her ″common-law husband,″ but they later determined he was in Georgia when the murders occurred, Whitehead said.

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