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Six in Rural Ala. Family Murdered

August 29, 2002

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RUTLEDGE, Ala. (AP) _ An unemployed man and the 16-year-old mother of his child were sought for questioning Thursday in the massacre of six members of her family, whose bullet-riddled bodies were found at their isolated farm.

Pictures of Westley Devone Harris, 22, and his girlfriend, Janice Denise Ball, were displayed on ``Wanted For Questioning″ posters around the south Alabama crossroads community where the six bodies were found.

The couple’s 1 1/2-year-old daughter, called Shea Shea by family members, also is missing. State investigators said a nationwide alert was put out for a red Pontiac Grand Am in which Harris and Ball were believed to be traveling.

The car belonged to Ball’s father, Willie Haslip, 40, whose body was found near a hog pen after deputies were summoned to the rural homestead Tuesday night, according to relatives.

Law enforcement officers Thursday were at the home of Harris’ mother, blocking traffic at one point on a road that passes by her residence. Coleman Ball, whose mother and sister were among those killed, said someone talked with Harris on Wednesday ``but they did not pinpoint where he was.″ He did not know whether phone contact was made by law enforcement or a family member.

Maj. Ken Hallford, chief of the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, would not comment on whether phone contact had been made with Harris.

Harris, a high school dropout who associates said has not held a steady job in months, has a marijuana possession charge pending against him.

Gail Perdue, a store clerk who attended Luverne High School with Harris before he quit, described him as ``strange.″

``He could snap on a dime,″ she said.

But Timothy Foster, who lives across the road from Harris’ mother, saw Harris differently.

``He was cool. He was laid back. Ain’t nobody ever had any problem with him,″ said Foster.

Authorities have not identified anyone as a suspect and said they are looking for Harris and Janice Ball for questioning as potential witnesses.

Dorothy Maye Haslip, sister of the slain Willie Haslip, said Harris once worked at a bakery in nearby Luverne but had not been employed lately.

The crime, one of the worst multiple-victim homicides on record in the state, shattered the tranquility of this farm community about 40 miles south of Montgomery after the first bodies were discovered Tuesday night.

Relatives of the dead said the family matriarch, Mila Ruth Ball, 62, was found with a grandson in the tin-roofed wood home where she lived. Her daughter, Joann Ball, 35, and another grandson were found in the closet of a nearby mobile home on the property. A third grandson was found in the trunk of a car, and Willie Haslip, the common-law husband of Joann Ball, was found near the hog pen.

The three slain grandsons _ Jerry Ball, 18, Tony Ball, 16, and John Ball, 14 _ were the children of Joann Ball and Haslip.

``It just annihilated this family,″ said Hallford.

Update hourly