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'Only in Marion County'

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

FAIRMONT -- Ask Marion County Sheriff Ron Watkins about the strangest case he's been involved with, and it may take him a while to answer.

"It's like we always say, 'Only in Marion County,'" Watkins said. "It seems like we are a drawing card for violent crimes; strange, violent crimes."

This week's arrest of two people who are accused of abducting and terrorizing a man, and then plotting to kill him because they believed he was going to expose their interstate credit card scam is just the latest in a seemingly endless list of bizarre, yet very violent crimes, in Marion County.

"The more of this that comes out, the more that this is like a True Detective magazine story," Watkins said. "Marion and Monongalia counties are well-known because of celebrities like Mary Lou Retton and Don Knotts, but I don't think that has anything to do with it. For some reason, people just seem drawn to Marion County."

Watkins remembered a case from a few years ago when a man killed his girlfriend in New Jersey and then began driving around various states with her wedding dress-clad body in the car.

"He got here and stopped and asked someone to marry them," Watkins recalled. "He said that he had killed her and her body was in the car."

Residents of Marion County are very much aware of the county's reputation, especially since the national attention that has been focused on North Central West Virginia after two boys were arrested for allegedly beating and then running over a gay black man in Grant Town earlier this summer.

"I don't think about it too much, until something else happens that's in the papers or on the news," said Maxine Walsh. "It's not like I worry about it every day, but it's like we're cursed or something. You don't see the weird stuff down in Clarksburg or even in Morgantown."

Some say the mix of a college town, with thousands of people in their teens and early 20s, and a rise in drug use is a cause for the high rate of violent crimes being committed in Marion County.

But Watkins doesn't think either of those things is a contributing factor.

"It's not the kids and it's not the college; it's not anything like that," he said. "We've got elderly people committing violent crimes as much as the younger kids. I don't think there's any good explanation for it."

While Watkins did say that the high rate of crime is a concern for all law enforcement officials in the county, there is one statistic of which he is very proud.

"I am pleased and honored to say that we've never had one major violent crime go unsolved in at least the last eight years," he said. "All of the police agencies work together and investigate very hard to make sure that they get solved."

That fact tempers the county's reputation, Walsh said. Bill Higgins agreed.

"You know that something major is going to happen every few months or so, it's just a given," he said. "Sometimes we shake our heads at how strange they really get, but it's not like there's some crazed ax murderer out there that they can't catch.

"It really makes it easier to sleep at night knowing that these guys aren't going to sleep until it's solved and the guy's in jail," he said.

Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com

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