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'Best man on this road' slain in Statesville; suspect charged


STATESVILLE Lindsey Stikeleather would do anything for anybody.

In the winter, the 88-year-old man helped residents by plowing the snowy roads of his Statesville neighborhood with his tractor.

In the spring, he mowed lawns for elderly women who couldn’t do it themselves.

When a young couple moved in next door, he helped them fill their driveway with new gravel.

“He was a prince of a man,” nephew Danny Pope said. “If there ever was a role model, he was it.”

Relatives believe one last act of generosity brought his life to an unfortunate end this week, when police say a former tenant called him for help then robbed and killed him, leaving his body under a bridge.

The murder of Stikeleather, a businessman well-known and respected in his community, left residents stunned and his family grief-stricken.

Bobby Joe Jackson, a 45-year-old with a lengthy criminal history, is charged with murder, kidnapping and robbery.

Iredell County sheriff’s deputies began searching for Stikeleather on Monday night when Ruth, his wife of 69 years, reported that he never came home after going to meet Jackson.

Authorities found his body late Wednesday, on the rocks under a remote Eufola Road bridge about six miles west of Statesville.

Some family members gathered by that bridge Thursday, hugging each other as they stared at the large, blood-spattered rock they say Jackson used to kill Stikeleather.

Two of Stikeleather’s nieces helped 83-year-old Jeanie Stikeleather pick her way across the rocks to the scene of her brother-in-law’s death.

Niece Jill Stikeleather cried silently.

“It’s senseless,” Pope said.

Family members said Stikeleather agreed to meet Jackson on Monday after Jackson called for help fixing a broken scooter.

Relatives said Stikeleather owned several properties across the area and rented them out. Jackson was a former tenant.

Even though Jackson owed him more than a year’s worth of rent, the elderly man still wanted to help, Jill Stikeleather said.

When he did not return home for dinner that evening, family members immediately knew something was wrong.

“It was so unlike him to leave and not come back,” Jeanie Stikeleather said.

Stikeleather had planned to meet Jackson at a bank on West Front Street in Statesville, according to family members.

Investigators say video surveillance cameras at the bank show Stikeleather arriving about 3 p.m. That was the last time he was seen alive.

Shortly after deputies began their investigation, they found Stikeleather’s white 1990 Jeep Comanche truck, abandoned at Lewis Ferry and Lamb roads, south of Interstate 40 and west of Statesville.

That touched off a search for him.

“We called on Iredell Search and Rescue, the N.C. Highway Patrol’s helicopter, and other people to aid in the search,” sheriff’s Capt. Rick Eades said.

Detectives questioned Jackson and a number of other people Tuesday and Wednesday. Eades said investigators also used search warrants to gather evidence, and that eventually led to the discovery of Stikeleather’s body late Wednesday night.

Throughout the day Thursday, hundreds of family members and friends arrived in a steady stream to offer condolences to Stikeleather’s wife at the brick home on Jurney Avenue they lived in for decades.

Stikeleather was well known in Statesville – not just for his kind heart but for his long career in the grocery business and the properties he owned throughout the area, family and friends said.

Pope said his uncle was one of 12 children. He started out as a poultry farmer but then opened a grocery store with some of his brothers. They eventually sold Stikeleather Grocery to Harris Teeter and Stikeleather stayed on as assistant manager for several years, Pope said.

“He gave me my first job at Harris Teeter,” Stikeleather’s nephew remembered.

Neighbor Jimmy Myers, 57, said Stikeleather and one of his brothers built many of the ranch-style brick homes in the quiet neighborhood west of Statesville.

“He was the best man on this road,” Myers said, recalling how Stikeleather kept up the yard for Myers’ ailing mother.

Other neighbors also offered stories of Stikeleather’s kindness.

Decota Walls, 21, her boyfriend and their young son moved into the house next to the Stikeleathers in August. Walls said Stikeleather was always helping them with odds and ends around their house – he even rescued her 5-month-old puppy when it ran away a couple of weeks ago.

Two houses down, 83-year-old Lavette Nickel said she relied on Stikeleather to mow her grass and sweep up her leaves because she couldn’t manage it anymore.

“He was a nice, quiet man,” Nickel said. “It’s unbelievable what happened.”

Records show Jackson has been arrested at least nine times in the past 10 years, mostly on misdemeanor charges. He served three months in prison in 2007 for a motor vehicle theft conviction, and records show he served 2-1/2 years in a Georgia prison in the early 1990s for burglary.

But records show only one non-traffic arrest in the past five years – a misdemeanor charge of assaulting an officer last May. However, he was convicted in 2011 of driving with a revoked license.

Jill Stikeleather said she didn’t think her uncle knew about Jackson’s criminal history.

Sheriff Phillip Redmond said detectives are still investigating. Authorities were at the crime scene for a brief time Thursday afternoon, taking pictures and canvassing the area.

Before Stikeleather left to meet Jackson Monday, Pope said, he made an off-hand remark to his wife that the former tenant would probably never pay the rent money he owed them.

“But he still went to help,” Pope said. “He was that kind of man.”

Staff writer Steve Lyttle and staff researcher Maria David contributed.

Steele: 704-358-5067 on Twitter: @steelecs
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