During a press conference Wednesday morning, Cartersville Police Chief Tommy Culpepper said Deandre Hightower, 20, of Cartersville appeared to have left signs that he could be connected to similar incidents somewhere else. Hightower was arrested Tuesday morning and charged in connection with the stabbing death of 29-year-old Candice Piper.
“We believe him to be from areas of Florida, New Jersey, Kentucky and perhaps other areas. We have some information that he has identification from those areas,” Culpepper said. “We also are consulting with the FBI’s ViCAP [Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program] unit on this case. There are some hallmarks in here that tell us that it could be connected to something else. We don’t know that for a fact. We have no evidence right now that says it is connected to anything else.
“It just seems the circumstances surrounding this lend itself to that type of investigation. We are pursuing all the possible avenues that we can to clear this up and see if it’s connected to anything else.”
Piper was stabbed multiple times in the upper body and back following an altercation with Hightower just before 10 a.m. Tuesday at her Alexandria Landing apartment, according to information from Cartersville police. It is unclear how many times Piper was stabbed and if the killer may have used more than one knife. Several knives were collected from the scene.
Authorities said Hightower had met Piper on the Internet and had been staying with the victim and a second female for four days.
Although the name of the website where the two connected has not been released, Culpepper suggested it was a dating site.
“It is my understanding it was an Internet connection of some sort. I don’t know the name of the site ... I don’t know what the arrangements were. I don’t know if they had prior knowledge of one another, how long that had been going on,” he said. “That would be the caution out of this that we would tell people, to be very cautious about those sites. I don’t mean that they’re all bad sites, but certainly people need to exercise caution. What someone says on the Internet may not be exactly the package you are buying when they arrive.”
The second female — identified as Rosa Williams of Cartersville — had fled the apartment during the struggle between Piper and Hightower. She was located on Old Mill Road and told police Hightower ran into the woods behind the complex. Within 20 minutes of arrival, officers located Hightower in the woods behind a church near the apartments.
“She saw the argument going on is my understanding and perceived the danger and left and went to seek other help through the neighbors,” Culpepper said of Williams.
“It was also mentioned to me this morning that, in capturing this individual, there was a citizen that came upon the scene and encountered this individual and it appears that he assisted the police by detaining this individual in some shape, form or fashion,” he added.
Hightower was in possession of two suitcases when he was captured, which Culpepper said are believed to contain his belongings. An inventory of those bags was not available Wednesday.
According to a press release, Piper had not stayed at the apartment Monday night, returning sometime Tuesday morning. The altercation between Hightower and Piper began in a bedroom, with Piper found lying in the living room when police arrived.
“Apparently whatever argument transpired didn’t just remain in one room. Like anybody I guess, as the argument increased or decreased, they moved around the apartment,” Culpepper said, adding that there was evidence of assault but nothing of a sexual nature. There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol involved.
The two were sleeping in the same bed but the exact nature of Piper’s relationship with her alleged killer is unknown.
“One could draw that conclusion [that the relationship was an intimate one], but we don’t have any real clear understanding of that right now, if it was just — I hate to use the term — a one-night stand or if it was a long-term or if this was just somebody looking for a place to live and using the Internet to make that connection and he’s a drifter. We are pursuing all those avenues, trying to determine what brought him here, why would he come here as opposed to somewhere else,” Culpepper said.
CPD Public Information Officer Capt. Mark Camp said the victim had relatives in Paulding County but her demographic details were limited.
Culpepper said Hightower, who had not requested a lawyer at the time of the press conference, was cooperating and appeared “fairly reticent” and did not appear “to be swinging extreme one way or the other.”
The lack of a clear motive and Hightower’s behavior have police concerned the suspect may have a history. Camp said Tuesday evening that a criminal check of Hightower’s name had returned no criminal history. It was unclear Wednesday whether a check of Hightower’s fingerprints had returned any further details.
“Without going too deep into the ongoing investigation, there are just some things and some information that have been revealed through interviews and through looking at the crime scene that tell us this might not just be an act of passion. You know, there again, I could be wrong in that. It could just be a one-time incident,” Culpepper said. “We just want to make sure that if that is, in fact, the case that we know that. If it’s not, we also want to know that, too. I don’t want to go to sleep at night thinking that there’s an unsolved case out there somewhere and we have fallen short of trying to find out exactly who it is that has done this. If that person is this individual, then we want to know. Then we want to be able to solve that.
“One of the reasons we want to get some analysis on his behavior through ViCAP [is] to determine, is that an indicator of anything else? Do we need to look further? Is there something we are yet to uncover? ... He’s not running around like his hair’s on fire, which, quite honestly, if I were in that situation that would be me. But that’s not him so that makes me think that perhaps this is not unusual or perhaps he’s somewhat catatonic over this incident happening. We don’t know. Time will tell.”
Although he did not say Hightower had confessed to killing Piper, Culpepper said, “He has made some statements to the investigators about his involvement, but we are not yet at the point where we can release that information.”
Hightower has been charged with murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery and two counts of false imprisonment. The date for a bond hearing has not been set.