UPDATE: Three charged in quadruple homicide

by Jo Anne Embleton news@thecherokeean.com
CCSO Sheriff Brent Dickson CCSO Sheriff Brent Dickson

CHEROKEE COUNTY – Three Jacksonville-area residents were charged in connection with a July 20, 2021, quadruple homicide in New Summerfield, according to Cherokee County Sheriff Brent Dickson, who made the announcement Wednesday during a press conference.

Jesse Pawlowski, 20; Billy Phillips, 37; and Dylan Welch, 21, are being held on $1 million bonds each at the Cherokee County Jail, awaiting arraignment on capital murder charges, based on warrants issued by 2nd District Court Judge Chris Day.

Names of the victims also were released during the press conference: Jeff Gerla, 47; John Clinton 18; Ami Hickey, 39; and Amanda Bain, 39.

“I want to start by giving my condolences to the families and friends of the victims of this tragic, sense-less killing,” Dickson said, then provided a quick run-down of events from the initial 911 call made to CCSO dispatchers about 7:50 a.m. Tuesday, July 20.

The call came from the owner of a residence located 2.0 miles north of New Summerfield on Texas Highway 110, who “was coming out to pick up her paper and located the deceased person in the drive-way,” he said.

Deputies arriving on the scene discovered Clinton, who was deceased from an apparent gunshot wound. As officers began searching the property, they discovered three additional bodies inside a second residence at the rear of the property, all with apparent gunshot wounds.

The department’s Criminal Investigation Division and the Texas Rangers were called in to process the scene, with the U.S. Marshal’s office sending agents from its Tyler office to help follow up on tips com-ing in from the public.

The case began coming together about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, when three individuals were located at a residence in the 200 block of Devereaux Street in Jacksonville.

As officers observed the residence, two men who were were persons of interest in the case “left in a vehicle that was subsequently stopped by patrol, and taken into custody on unrelated charges,” the sheriff said, adding that while officers were making the traffic stop, U.S. Marshals and members of the CCSO special investigative unit made contact with a third person of interest at the Devereaux Street residence, arresting him on unrelated charges.

Subsequent interviews with the three men resulted in the issuance of search warrants at a site in the 1000 block of West Rusk Street, also in Jacksonville, where a vehicle – a red and black 2017 Dodge Challenger – stolen from the crime scene in New Summerfield was located.

A search warrant also was secured for second residence, in the 9000 block of U.S. Highway 79 west of Jacksonville; there, additional items stolen from the New Summerfield residence were located, the sheriff said.

“We know they stole the vehicle, and (learned) through the investigation and interrogation, they stole clothes and guns from inside the residence,” Dickson said, adding that the motive is believed to be robbery. “Everything is leading up to robbery. I think they showed up with the intent to rob them, and then it escalated.”

The weapon used in the homicide is a 9mm handgun believed to be owned by one of the victims.

Assisting in the investigation are the U.S. Marshal Service – Tyler, the Texas Rangers, the East Texas Anti-Gang (unit) out of Tyler, Homeland Security, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith and Jacksonville Police Chief Joe Williams.

The case remains under investigation.