Local man shot, burned was killed for ‘cooperating with police’

Michael Vanlandingham (left) was found dead on Sept. 17. Dana Francis Walcott (center) was...
Michael Vanlandingham (left) was found dead on Sept. 17. Dana Francis Walcott (center) was arrested on Sept. 25. Owen Thomas Free III (right) remains at large.(KWTX)
Published: Sep. 27, 2018 at 11:04 AM CDT
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Two men are in custody in connection with the drug-related murder of a Central Texas man whose burned body was found on a property along a rural road in Bell County.

Michael Vanlandingham, 30, of Copperas Cove, was shot to death because his killers suspected “he was cooperating with police,” according to an arrest warrant affidavit released Thursday.

Warrants charging murder/intends serious bodily injured causing death were issued last Friday for two men, Owen Thomas Free III, 37, who’s also known as “Tommy Knocker,” and Dana Francis Walcott, 39 in connection with the deadly shooting.

Walcott was arrested on Tuesday.

He was taken to the Bell County Jail after his arrest, but his name did not appear on the jail's online roster Thursday.

Free was arrested just after 3 p.m. Thursday on a tip that the Bell County Sheriff’s Department received following a news conference Thursday morning.

Firefighters found Vanlandingham’s burned body on Sept. 17 after dousing a brush fire off FM 1670 near U.S. Highway 190/Interstate 14 just west of Belton.

He had been shot twice in the head.

Dental records were used to identify the victim.

The property on which the victim's body was found is known as “The Compound” and drug activity has occurred in the area, authorities said.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit released Thursday, a resident who lived on the property told investigators that three men had come to his trailer earlier in the day on Sept. 17.

He said he knew the three only as Tommy, Dana and Mike, but through a photo lineup, the man later identified Tommy as Owen Free and Dana as Dana Walcott, the affidavit says.

He did not know Mike, the affidavit says.

“Tommy asked for his help,” the affidavit says.

The man told investigators he while he was dressing in order to assist Tommy, he heard a gunshot.

“He then left his trailer and walked to the back of the property where he observed male clothing on the road and smoke coming from a burn pit,” the affidavit says.

The resident told investigators he saw a human body in the burn pit, the affidavit says.

The man told deputies “that ‘Tommy’ had told him they had brought Mike from a local hotel to ‘the compound’ to kill him and that they did so because they suspected he was cooperating with police,” the affidavit said.

A surveillance video obtained from the hotel where Vanlandingham was staying showed Free and Walcott escorting a man from a room whose hands appeared to be restrained, the affidavit said.

Hotel records and the vehicle associated with the room showed that Vanlandingham was that man, the affidavit says.