Police: Woman held in box for months found dead, man sought

Thursday, May 21, 2015
FILE - This file photo provided by the Missouri State Highway Patrol shows James Barton Horn Jr., of Sedalia, Mo.

SEDALIA, Mo. -- Police surrounded a house Thursday looking for the ex-boyfriend of a woman found dead, along with her teenage son, less than a month after the man was charged for allegedly holding her captive in a wooden box for months in western Missouri.

Sandra Kay Sutton, 46, and her son, Zachary Wade Sutton, were found dead early Thursday in a relative's home in Clinton. Both victims appear to have been shot overnight while Sutton's relatives were at work, Clinton police Lt. Sonny Lynch said.

Police have been searching for her former boyfriend, James Barton Horn Jr., since he was charged earlier this month with kidnapping. Investigators allege he kept Sandra Sutton in a wooden box off-and-on for four months at the home they shared in Sedalia, about 45 miles northeast of Clinton.

Horn, a registered sex offender who served time in prison for a kidnapping and sexual attack, disappeared before police could arrest him on Sutton's kidnapping allegations. Lynch said Horn is "absolutely" a suspect in the deaths.

Lynch said Sedalia police have surrounded a home where they believe Horn may be hiding, but that authorities have not made contact with anyone inside. The Sedalia school district canceled all outdoor activities and evacuated an alternative high school nearby.

Lynch warned that Horn was an "extremely dangerous, violent person," and that anyone providing him shelter could face charges if they were aware of the pending kidnapping charges.

Sutton told police in late April that Horn had threatened her in a car with a "tire jack" after an argument in January. When they returned home, he began building a wooden structure, and she had to help with its construction, according to a probable cause statement filed by Sedalia police.

Sutton was allowed to leave the box in the evenings when Barton returned home from work, according to court documents.

Police said the box was kept in a bedroom and contained a bucket full of urine and feces. The box, which investigators said was 100 inches long, 48 inches wide and 52 inches tall, also contained several layers of insulation, padding and sleeping bags, and a small air hole.

Horn served about three years prison in Tennessee in the early 1990s in connection with a kidnapping and sexual attack. Records also show that he pleaded guilty in 1997 in Mississippi to unlawfully kidnapping and abducting his estranged wife. He was sentenced in that case to 12 years and 11 months in prison, plus five years supervised release.

He was released from custody in December 2011, and his probation jurisdiction was transferred in 2012 to Missouri, according to online court records. It was unclear Friday if he was still under federal supervision.

Messages left for the federal probation office in Jefferson City, which was handling his case, weren't immediately returned. His attorney in that case declined comment Friday.

The Missouri Sex Offender registry shows that Barton is 5 feet 11 inches and weighs 175 pounds.

Lynch said Clinton authorities weren't aware that Sutton had moved to the area.

"As far as I can tell from checking, she has never even sought an order of protection against James Horn," Lynch said. He said authorities are "still investigating those types of issues."

The Pettis County prosecutor's office did not immediately return messages seeking information about the case.


Sudekum reported from Kansas City, Missouri.