December 18, 2013

Man who ran errands for Fort Worth woman charged in her death

Less than a month before her reported disappearance, the victim had told Fort Worth police that the suspect had not returned her car.

A 22-year-old family friend of a Fort Worth woman who was reported missing in June and later found dead in the trunk of her car was charged Thursday with capital murder in connection with the woman’s robbery and slaying.

David Dominque Rhone, who had previously run errands for the victim, 59-year-old Adrian Denise Thornton, remained in the Mansfield jail Thursday awaiting tranfer to the Tarrant County Jail. He is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Thornton was reported missing June 15 by her longtime friend, O.W. Petcoff. She had last been seen alive around two weeks earlier, according to police.

The missing woman’s purse and identification — slightly burned but still legible — were found by a passerby in mid-June off a state highway in Falls County, southeast of Waco.

Three months later, on Sept. 22, a man spotted Thornton’s Lincoln Continental Town Car in high weeds several hundred yards off County Road 414, off Texas 7 between Shelton and the Brazos River. Decomposing remains found inside the trunk were later identified by the Dallas County medical examiner’s office as belonging to Thornton.

Homicide Sgt. Cheryl Johnson said Rhone’s name surfaced in the investigation after homicide detectives Jerry Cedillo and E. Pate found a previous unauthorized use of a motor vehicle report made by Thornton accusing Rhone of not returning her car.

According to that police report, filed less than a month before Thornton’s disappearance, the woman told officers that Rhone was a friend of the family who had been running errands for her for some time.

She said Rhone had left her home in the 5600 block of Oakmont Lane around 5:35 p.m. May 8 to run to the bank for her and then the store. But shortly before 6 p.m, she told police, Rhone called, telling her he’d just been pulled over and that he was “worried.”

She told the officer that as she talked to Rhone, she could hearing a dinging noise in the background indicating the car’s keys were still in the ignition before the phone cut off.

Rhone didn’t return with her car, money or identification, Thornton told police that she checked the local jail for him and the pound for her but to no avail. She filed the police report the next day.

Rhone later returned the car and no charges were filed in the case, Johnson said.

Johnson said further investigation by the detectives developed probable cause to arrest Rhone in Thornton’s slaying. She declined to release Thornton’s cause of death.

“We’re glad they have a suspect,” Thornton’s nephew, Walter Williams, said Wednesday.

A ‘spiritual person’

Thornton had lived alone in the Woodhaven neighborhood.

Although Thornton had never married or had children of her own, longtime friend O.W. Petcoff said the woman raised, in part, an adopted son. He died in recent years, also from violence, Petcoff said.

“She had taken in other children too, though the years, kind of off and on,” Petcoff added. “She was a very spiritual person but also very loving and kind, very direct.”

Petcoff had met Thornton at church 13 years ago and quickly struck up a close friendship.

“We were sisters. We did everything together,” Petcoff said.

Petcoff said she had last spoken to Thornton a couple of weeks before she reported the woman missing. Petcoff was not immediately concerned when she couldn’t reach Thornton by phone because the woman was an intercessor.

“She would pray a lot,” Petcoff said. “She would have periods where she would shut in and she would pray and she would not answer her phone during those times.”

But about two weeks later, a neighbor called Petcoff concerned that Thornton was gone but her cat was still in the house.

“He was the one who actually reported first that something was amiss,” Petcoff said. “The police came out and did a welfare check. They realized she was not in the house. They thought at that time, maybe she had gone to a rehabilitation hospital for her knees or maybe some type of medical facility.”

Petcoff made the formal missing report on Thornton and notified Thornton’s nephew, who helped care for Thornton’s home while the search for the missing woman went on.

But checks with hospital and rehab facilities turned up no sign of Thornton.

As the investigation went on, Petcoff said, it began looking like things weren’t going to end well.

“It didn’t like she had taken off and gone anywhere,” Petcoff said. “It looked like something had happened to her.”

‘It’s a tragedy’

A month after Thornton’s disappearance, Rhone was jailed on accusations that he had sexually assaulted a child under the age of 17 in Grand Prairie back in February 2012, court records show

That charge, however, was dismissed on Aug. 27 due to insufficient evidence, court records state.

Rhone was sentenced in September to 7 months state lock-up after a judge revoked his deferred adjudication probation that he’d received in 2011 for unauthorized use of motor vehicle out of Arlington.

The revocation came after prosecutors alleged Rhone violated several conditions of his probation, including using marijuana, not paying ordered fees, and not reporting in with his probation officer, court records show.

In an affidavit requesting that he be given a court-appointed attorney and dated in July, Rhone listed Thornton as a previous employer.

Rhone was released Dec. 12 from state prison and was immediately taken into custody by Fort Worth police, Johnson said.

Petcoff said Wednesday she was speechless to learn that police had arrested a man that Thornton had helped out.

“It’s a tragedy,” Petcoff said. “I don’t know David a whole lot. She would talk about him to me. I met him once, I think.”

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