Woman Kidnapped, Buried Alive, Was Victim Of Murder- For-Hire-Plot

Bonnie Harkey (Courtesy photo)

SAN SABA (March 28, 2012)--Bonnie Harkey, 85, whose body was found Monday night in a shallow grave in the bottom of a drainage ditch in Leon County, nearly 200 miles from her San Saba County home, was the victim of a murder-for-hire plot that also claimed the life of her housekeeper, Karen Johnson, according to affidavits released Wednesday.

A preliminary autopsy report released earlier in the day said Harkey was likely unconscious, but may still have been alive when she was buried.

The affidavits say that Harkey’s stepson, Bruce Harkey, 59, who was arrested Wednesday on a criminal solicitation of capital murder warrant, offered the woman’s grandson, Carl Wade Pressley, 28, $500 on March 22 to “make her gone this weekend” and said Pressley would receive $55,000 after Harkey’s death.

Pressley told investigators the plan he hatched was to have his common-law wife Lillian King, 25, drop him off at Harkey’s home where he would hide until King signaled him by ringing the doorbell, the affidavits said.

After a practice run on Friday, King dropped Harker off on Sunday, then later called Harkey’s home phone and rang the doorbell, which was the signal for Pressley to emerge and ‘take out” the caretaker, the affidavits said.

Pressley said that when the doorbell rang, he went to the front door, grabbed Johnson from behind and pushed her down.

“Pressley advised me he did not ‘give a second thought’ to Johnson and he proceeded with his plan to kill his grandmother,” the affidavit said.

Johnson’s 10-year-old son found his mother dead Sunday in the doorway of Harkey’s home at 3799 W. U.S. Highway 190, where he often stayed when his mother was working there.

Johnson may have died of a heart attack, according to the affidavits, but a preliminary autopsy report said a ruling on the cause of death is pending.

After killing Johnson, the affidavit said, King drove Pressley and the kidnapped woman off.

Pressley, who also confessed to killing Harkey, according to the affidavits, led authorities to his grandmother’s shallow grave Monday night in an RV Park in Hilltop Lakes in Leon County where Pressley had a trailer.

The preliminary autopsy report released Wednesday says Harkey died of a combination of “homicidal violence comprising blunt force head injuries and probable asphyxia including drowning.”

Water was found in Harkey’s lungs, which indicated she was still breathing when she was buried, Leon County Justice of the Peace Doug Preston said Wednesday.

The fully clothed body was exhumed Tuesday morning, Preston said.

Pressley and King remained in the San Saba County Jail Wednesday, charged with murder in connection with Johnson’s death.

Pressley’s bond was set at $500,000 and King was ordered held in lieu of $250,000 bond.

Harkey was being held in lieu of a $500,000 bond.

San Saba County Sheriff L.A. Brown said he would also seek kidnapping charges against Pressley and King.

No charges had been filed Wednesday evening in Leon County.

Harkey was the owner of Harkey Pecan Farm.

A check of district clerk records in San Saba County showed Harkey's children and stepchildren have filed multiple court documents in a fight over who should be listed as Harkey's guardians and what should happen to her considerable fortune.

Bonnie Harkey’s estate, which appears to be at the center of the alleged murder-for-hire plot, is valued at must more than $1 million, according to Darrel Spinks, the lawyer who serves as guardian of Harkey’s estate.

The estate includes a pecan orchard. When Harkey’s husband Riley died, portions of the orchard were willed to Harkey and to Riley’s sons, John and Bruce, who were Bonnie Harkey’s stepsons.

Bonnie Harkey’s estate was originally willed to her daughter Connie, the adoptive mother of Carl Wade Pressley but when Connie died, Pressley became the beneficiary, Spinks said.

Pressley, however, sold the inheritance rights to Bruce and John Harkey who are the sole beneficiaries of their stepmother’s estate, including the orchard.

A memorial service for Karen Johnson will be held at 2 p.m. at The Father’s House church.

Services for Bonnie Harkey are at 2 p.m. Sunday at the First Baptist Church of San Saba.

Visitation is from 1 p.m. until 2 p.m. Sunday at the church.

(Paul Gately, Josh Wucher and Megan Fleetwood contributed to this story)

Bruce Harkey (Jail photo)