Authorities investigating the stabbing death of nursing assistant Candice Piper, 29, say she met her killer online and he could be involved in other crimes across the country.
Deandre Davoughin Hightower, 20, has been charged with murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault and two counts of false imprisonment in connection with the Tuesday incident at Alexandria Landing apartments.
"There's some hallmarks here that tell us it could be connected with something else," Chief Thomas "Tommy" Culpepper said, adding his department will consult with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, which analyzes violent crime for possible links across state and local jurisdictions and includes behavioral analysis units, such as the one portrayed in TV's Criminal Minds.
"It just seems that the circumstances surrounding this lend itself to that type of investigation," Culpepper added. "We have no evidence right now saying it's connected to anything else. We'll be sending out nationwide information trying to illicit some other information from agencies that may have similar cases."
Culpepper said investigators believe Piper met Hightower on the Internet, likely via a dating website. He had been in Cartersville a short time and had stayed at Piper's apartment about four days prior to her death.
"What someone says on the Internet might not be exactly the package you find when they arrive," he said. "We caution people to be very careful [online]."
Authorities say Hightower began stabbing Piper in her bedroom after she returned home and some type of argument between the two ensued. Piper was found in her living room with multiple stab wounds following the 9:50 a.m. call to 911.
During the altercation, Hightower allegedly pushed against a wall a second woman in the apartment.
Rosa Williams, a CNA at Starcrest according to her Facebook page, was sleeping on Piper's couch when the altercation began and in fear fled the apartment to seek help from neighbors, police said.
Piper sustained multiple stab wounds, mainly to the upper body, both front and back, Capt. Mark Camp said. Police recovered several knives from the apartment and two suitcases containing Hightower's personal belongings, which he apparently carried into the woods behind a nearby church as he fled on foot after the alleged killing.
"There's some information that's been revealed through interviews and through looking at the crime scene that tell us this might not be just an act of passion," Culpepper said. "...I don't want to go to sleep at night thinking there's an unsolved case out there somewhere and we've fallen short of trying to find out exactly who it is that done this."
Authorities said Hightower has been cooperative, but described his behavior as "fairly reticent" or reserved and calm. A drifter, Hightower has ID's in 10 other states, according to CBS Atlanta, and stayed in an Atlanta homeless shelter before coming to Cartersville, where he allegedly used four knives in the stabbing, Fox 5 reports. Police said he could be a native of Florida, Kentucky or New Jersey.
"One of the reasons we want to get some analysis on his behavior through ViCAP is to determine is that an indicator of anything else. Is there something we've yet to uncover?" Culpepper said. "He has made some statements to investigators about his involvement" in the local incident, but there is no clear motive.
As the picture of an alleged killer comes together, Piper's family and friends mourn the loss of a woman described as sweet and helpful.
"Candice was one of the most sweetest, kindest, nicest, women I've ever known, she would have given you the shirt off her back if you needed it," Candice's mother, Debbie Piper of Dallas, said in a Facebook post. "I don't know how I'm going to make it with out my Candice. It feels like we have a black [cloud] hanging over my family."
Piper was a certified nursing assistant employed by Cartersville's former Starcrest nursing home, Townsend Park, a co-worker said.
"My mother and I worked with her for the past 3 years," commented Cartersville Patch user Aubrey. "She was a very sweet woman and had a big heart and full of the Lord's Spirit! May she Rest in Peace. I love you!"