Timothy Ray Jones Jr. appeared increasingly overwhelmed with caring for five children as a single parent, and he was accused of beating one son so hard last month that he left extensive bruising, records from the S.C. Department of Social Services state.
DSS investigated three complaints about the Jones family beginning in September 2011. The first time a caseworker visited the home, records show, the biggest concern was that the house was under renovation and cluttered with tools that might endanger his young children.
By August, the allegations had turned ominous: that Jones often beat one son and was not properly feeding the children.
“He will bring home a 20 piece Chicken Nugget dinner to feed all five children,” the report said. “It is reported that Mr. Jones does not want to send his children back to public schools because he does not want the school to report the beatings.”
Three years of DSS records portray the disintegration of the family. Jones had been in trouble before, serving nine months in prison for cocaine possession, stealing a car, burglary and passing forged checks when he was 19. But after getting out of prison in 2003, he earned a degree from Mississippi State University and was making more than $70,000 a year as a computer engineer with Intel Corp. in the Columbia area.
Records suggest his final unraveling began when Jones, now 32, discovered his wife having an affair with a younger man. Afterward, DSS investigated reports of escalating abuse, ending with the deaths of the five children, ages 1 to 8.
Investigators believe Jones killed the children in Lexington County, S.C., in late August, drove with their bodies in his SUV for a week or more, then dumped them on the side of a rural Alabama road.
He was arrested Tuesday in Mississippi, where he was supposed to be taking the children to visit grandparents. Authorities suspect he was high on drugs. They said he confessed to killing the children.
Jones was returned to South Carolina on Thursday to face five murder charges. Arrest warrants allege he “willfully and maliciously” killed his children at his home in Red Bank, west of Columbia. His first court appearance is Friday, the same day a memorial for his children was to be held in Mississippi.
In a notice filed in court, Jones said he will no longer talk about the deaths of his children without a lawyer present.
Preliminary results of autopsies conducted on the human remains found in Alabama confirmed that they belonged to Jones’ five children, authorities announced Thursday night.
Children dirty, not in school
DSS first became involved with the family in 2011, when Timothy and Amber Jones were still married. They had three children then and were living in the town of Batesburg-Leesville, S.C. They had moved from Mississippi a few months earlier when Jones got a job transfer.
Someone complained that the children were dirty, were not attending school and that their yard was filled with trash.
A DSS caseworker made multiple visits to the home, counseling Amber Jones about making sure tools were put away, air vents covered and rooms cleaned. Amber Jones told the caseworker that she planned to home-school her 5-year-old and that the two younger children were not old enough for school, according to DSS records.
On the fifth visit, the records show, Timothy Jones confronted the caseworker over the phone, blaming DSS for ruining people’s lives. He became so hostile, DSS records show, the caseworker called a sheriff’s deputy for assistance.
Jones seemed calmer when he arrived home, the caseworker wrote. He agreed to take the children to a hotel until the house was clean. Ten days later, the caseworker returned and described the home as “VERY VERY VERY CLEAN.”
The caseworker visited a few more times over six months. By the end of April 2012, DSS records show, Timothy and Amber Jones had separated. According to divorce records, Jones discovered his wife was having an affair with a 19-year-old neighbor.
The Joneses had four children by then, and Amber Jones was pregnant with a fifth. The children were living with her.
Three weeks later, Amber Jones told the caseworker that Timothy Jones took the children to live with their grandparents in Mississippi. Though DSS records do not provide details of any domestic violence, the caseworker said she advised Amber Jones about a program for battered women and their children.
DSS alerted social workers in Mississippi and closed the case in South Carolina. Timothy and Amber Jones eventually divorced, and he was awarded primary custody of their children.
Two years passed before a second DSS complaint was filed this May. Though records don’t indicate who brought the allegation, the caseworker went to the school one of the boys attended to investigate. The boy had a circular mark on the side of his neck, records show.
Jones admitted grabbing his son by the back of his shirt and spanking him. But Jones said the boy was clumsy and bruised easily.
The caseworker made several visits to the mobile home in the town of Red Bank where Jones had moved with the five children. One day, when the caseworker arrived unannounced, Jones and the children were all at home and seemed happy, and Jones had bought cupcakes to celebrate a birthday, according to DSS records. Jones told the caseworker the children had not seen their mother in four months.
Law enforcement concluded that Jones didn’t intentionally harm his son, DSS records state. The case was closed July 24.
Two weeks later, on Aug. 7, DSS received a third complaint, this time that Jones had beaten his son.
A caseworker and two sheriff’s deputies went to the home and examined the children. The boy had a bandage over his eye but said his sister accidentally hit him with a doorknob. A baby sitter confirmed the account. She said Jones had just returned from taking his three sons and two daughters to Disney World.
A month later, the children were dead. Staff writer Ames Alexander and The Associated Press contributed.