Winston-Salem police detectives believed that Jason Michael Mitchell murdered a 61-year-old man who went missing four years ago and that he and his wife buried the man in their backyard in Pfafftown, according to search warrants a Forsyth County judge unsealed Wednesday.
On Feb. 6, 2015, two days after Gordon Reid went missing, a private investigator recorded a video of Jason and Mary Mitchell digging a deep hole behind their house at 3555 Brookbank Drive, the search warrants said. Two pickup trucks and two large sealed bags were outside the house that afternoon. And dirt was piled 2 feet high, the warrants said.
Five months later, Winston-Salem police and Forsyth County sheriff’s deputies would find a small collection of human bones in the area where Jason and Mary Mitchell were digging. The couple would be charged with felony destruction of human remains to conceal a death. They were never charged with murder. Forsyth County prosecutors dropped criminal charges against the two at the end of August after the couple’s attorneys filed motions to dismiss.
Jason Michael Mitchell, 38, shot himself to death on Sept. 23.
The charges were dropped because a DNA profile could not be obtained from the human remains that could identify them. In other words, prosecutors may have believed the human remains belonged to Gordon Reid but they couldn’t prove it. And without identifying the human remains, it would be impossible to prosecute Jason and Mary Mitchell on the criminal charges.
Michael Grace, attorney for Mary Mitchell, and John Bryson, attorney for Jason Mitchell, did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Wednesday.
Reid’s name became publicly associated with the criminal cases of Jason and Mary Mitchell because it appeared on a June 29, 2015, order sealing a search warrant in the case. Over the past four years, authorities have been tight-lipped about what connection there was between Reid and the Mitchells. All that was publicly known was that Reid lived in a van at 158 Motor Road. Jason Mitchell owned the rental house next door, at 152 Motor Road.
According to search warrants, Gordon Reid did odd jobs for Jason Mitchell and that the two men may have had a disagreement over allegations that Reid was stealing power from Mitchell’s rental house.
Video recorded couple digging hole
The investigation into Reid’s disappearance began March 12, 2015, when his niece reported him missing. She told police that she and other family members had not heard from him in six weeks.
Winston-Salem police detectives talked to the owner of the house at 158 Motor Road and searched the property. They also talked to Tim Wooten, who formerly worked at the Winston-Salem Police Department and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. He served briefly as chief deputy of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office last year before abruptly resigning. He currently works as a private investigator for his company, Triad Investigations.
According to the search warrants, Wooten was investigating Jason Mitchell on allegations of identity theft. Wooten said Wednesday that he learned that Mitchell had been contacting former employees of a company that was suing Mitchell and impersonating Wooten.
LPI Inc. and RecDirect filed a lawsuit in Forsyth Superior Court in 2013 that accused Mitchell of breaching a contract that required him to sell 320 space heaters. During the litigation, LPI Inc. alleged that Mitchell broke into one of their facilities in Kingsport, Tenn., and gave false statements in court documents. LPI Inc. also accused Mitchell of not turning over specific documentation.
A Forsyth County judge awarded $168,454 in compensatory damages and attorney fees to the two companies.
The search warrant said that on Feb. 6, 2015, Wooten went to the couple’s house at 1:30 p.m. and recorded the two digging a hole in the rear section of their property. A red pickup and a white pickup were backed up to the property. Two large orange-colored sealed bags sat in between the front of the two trucks. At one point in the video, according to the search warrants, Jason Mitchell is seen standing in the hole. At another point, Jason Mitchell is shown getting what appears to be a crow bar or another tool.
“In another portion of the video Jason Mitchell and Mary Mitchell can be seen digging and putting the dug up dirt to the side,” the search warrants said. “The dirt pile appears to be approximately 2 feet in height...”
Dispute over stealing power
After getting information from Wooten, police Detective Michael Ognosky went back to the owner of 158 Motor Road. The owner told Ognosky that Reid had used an extension cord from the van to get power from the rental house Jason Mitchell owned. That resulted in higher power bills for Jason Mitchell.
The owner said that just before Reid went missing, Reid and Jason Mitchell got into an argument over the issue. Cell phone records showed that on Feb. 5, 2015, Jason and Mary Mitchell were in the area of Motor Road. Reid’s cell phone records indicate that he was in the Motor Road area around the same time, according to the search warrants.
Search warrants said that the couple remained in the Motor Road area until before 5 p.m. Reid’s last phone call was at 6:04 p.m. that day. And at 6:55 p.m., Jason and Mary Mitchell’s cellphones showed them at their Brookbank Drive house.
On June 25, 2015, the day authorities searched the couple’s property, Jason Mitchell told police that he never had a disagreement with Reid, that he didn’t know anything about power-bill increases and that he digs holes on his property to burn wood. He would not give authorities permission to search his property.
In court papers, Grace and Bryson argued that prosecutors never produced any evidence that Reid was dead or any link between Reid and Jason and Mary Mitchell. Lt. Gregory Dorn said that the missing person case on Reid is inactive. But detectives are still investigating.
Efforts to reach Reid’s family members Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Prosecutors have the option to refile charges against Mary Mitchell if new evidence is found. The human remains have been sent to the University of North Texas. A final report of that testing won’t be available until March of 2020.