UPDATE | Suspected Grindr killer captured in metro Atlanta

The three men charged with killing a metro Atlanta gay man lured him to a trailer park using Grindr before beating him, stabbing him and leaving his body under an abandoned house. 

The gruesome details of how Lester Roy Jones, 44, was kidnapped and killed on Sept. 2 came out during a preliminary hearing Thursday for one of the three men charged with the murder. Malik Mayer, 20, faces seven counts related to the homicide, including murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, theft by taking and financial transaction card fraud.

Mayer (top photo) and Stephen Crowe (second photo), a 16-year-old student at Sandy Creek High School, were arrested Sept. 9 after they surrendered to MARTA police. Mayer is being held without bond in the Fulton County Jail. Crowe, charged with murder and financial transaction card theft, is being held in a juvenile facility and received a $150,000 bond on Thursday. A third suspect is on the lam and being sought by the U.S. Marshals Service.

On Thursday, Union City Police Det. Franciso Cedeno described during the court hearing how the three men used Grindr to lure Jones to a trailer park on the border of Fulton and Fayette counties. Jones was kidnapped, beaten and bound with duct tape, forced into the trunk of his car, and driven a few miles to an abandoned house in Union City where one of the men stabbed Jones in the neck, Cedeno said. 

"Mr. Mayer advised that [Jones] was dragged behind the house and that's where he was killed," Cedeno said. "The [medical examiners] advised that he was killed by a sharp object to the throat and then he choked on his blood."

Then the trio tried to use a debit card they stole from Jones to withdraw cash from two nearby ATMs, pawned a ring given to Jones by his grandmother and fled to Chicago in the stolen vehicle "for a vacation," Mayer told Cedeno, the detective testified.

The three suspects are neighbors in a trailer park on Club Drive in Fayette County, a few miles from where Jones' body was found in Union City in southwest Fulton. It's also near where Jones lived with his partner, Patrick McDonald. 

Jones encountered the three men after a Grindr chat on Sept. 2, Cedeno said. Jones had met another man on Grindr about noon that day, but left after 30 minutes when he didn't feel comfortable with a third man at the residence. That evening, he chatted with another man on Grindr that wanted to meet inside the trailer park. Cedeno testified Thursday that police aren't yet sure which of the three suspects was communicating with Jones on Grindr and later with text messages to set up the sexual encounter. 

But shortly after Jones arrived at the trailer park about 8:30 p.m., he encountered at least one of the men. That's when police allege that Jones was beaten, bound with duct tape and his body moved into a wooded area about 1,500 feet from the mailboxes where Jones was supposed to meet one of the men.

A few minutes later, the third suspect appeared and told Mayer to drive Jones' car to the wooded area.

"[The suspect] goes into the wood line, takes something out and drops it into the trunk," Cedeno said Mayer told police. 

It was Jones.

 

'Don't kill me. I need help.'

 

The men then drove the car to the third suspect's home in the trailer park and that man changed clothes. Then the trio began the 15-minute drive to the Cotter Road house but stopped at a convenience store on the way, Cedeno said.

"Mayer told me he could hear Mr. Jones in the trunk calling for help and shuffling around," Cedeno said. "[Mayer and Crowe] both said they didn't know he was back there until he started making noise at the gas station."

When they arrived at the Cotter Drive house, Mayer backed the vehicle around the side of the house and the third suspect got out, Cedeno said. Mayer and Crowe stayed in the vehicle, Mayer told police.

The third suspect pulled Jones out of the trunk and dragged him to the rear of the house. That's when police say he killed Jones by stabbing him in the neck with a sharp object.

"Mr. Mayer told me they heard Mr. Jones say, 'Don't kill me. I need help,'" Cedeno said.

The killer then stuffed Jones' body into a crawl space underneath the house. It remained there for a week until Mayer told police where to find it, Cedeno said.

The next morning, on Sept. 3, the three men went to an Atlanta pawn shop with the ring and Crowe's PlayStation. They received $230 for the items and then drove the stolen car to the suburbs of Chicago, police said. That's where the men allegedly committed an armed robbery – attacking and robbing a pizza delivery person. But that victim chased the men, who crashed the stolen car and they fled on foot, Cedeno said.

Police in Harvey, Ill., found blood, duct tape, a tarp and bloody clothes in the trunk of the crashed vehicle, Cedeno said. 

Mayer and Crowe returned to Atlanta on a Megabus. After Crowe saw himself on television identified as a suspect in Jones' disappearance, he and Myer surrendered to MARTA police, Cedeno said.

After the hearing on Thursday, Magistrate Judge Jessy Lall ruled that probable cause existed for the seven charges against Mayer. Crowe waived his preliminary hearing.

McDonald launched a Go Fund Me campaign to help with funeral costs. By Friday, 44 people had donated $2,219 of the fund's $8,750 goal. A private memorial service is being planned to bury Jones next to his grandmother in Picayune, Miss., McDonald said.