Parents of local man who was shot to death, burned, want justice

BELTON, Texas (KWTX) The parents of a Central Texas man who was shot to death and then burned because his killers suspected “he was cooperating with police,” want justice for their slain son.

Wayne and Karen Rourke say they want justice after the murder of their son. (Photo by Brandon Hamilton)

Firefighters found Michael 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.

Vanlandingham, 30, of Copperas Cove, had been shot twice in the head.

“It seems like a dream and we haven’t woken up from it yet,” his father, Wayne Rourke, said Tuesday.

Owen Thomas Free III, 37, who’s also known as “Tommy Knocker,” and Dana Francis Walcott, 39, have been charged in connection with the deadly shooting.

Walcott was arrested on Sept. 25, and Free was taken into custody two days later.

“I know they are cowards. The way they did my son, I just pray to God they get the death penalty. Give them lethal injection; they don’t deserve to live after the crime they did to my son,” Rourke said.

Rourke and his wife Karen say they still don’t understand how something like this could happen to their son.

“I want justice for my son, it’s going to be hard living without him,” Rourke said.

A funeral service for Vanlandingham is set for Oct. 11 in Copperas Cove.

Burial will follow the service at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.

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.