HENDERSON COUNTY, N.C. - Warrants related to Henderson County's investigation of Phillip Michael Stroupe II, who is accused of kidnapping and murdering a 68-year-old Mills River man, reveal how Thomas Bryson died.
Warrants state Bryson was shot in the head with a single projectile. No caliber was specified in warrants, but Stroupe was spotted several times during the manhunt carrying a silver .38-caliber revolver. A revolver was also located near where Stroupe was captured in McDowell.
Warrants also state Stroupe tried to instruct his father how to move Bryson's body during a prison visit.
Stroupe reportedly wrote directions to where the body was located on his hand in pen and tried to covertly show them to his father, Phillip Stroupe Sr., 68, of Burnsville, during the visit.
According to warrants, a nearby officer wasn't able to make out the two men's discussion, so he pulled the recording of the conversation.
"I need you to uh, I don't have nobody else and I need you to do this, OK?" Stroupe reportedly instructed his father July 29 while showing him his hand. "You can read it. Now take your time and read it. You got to get close cause they'll see it. Closer. Look behind you, look behind you."
"Do you get this? Do you know where it's at? She's (Stroupe's lawyer) saying that as long as they don't have him, they don't have nothing. Bottom line," Stroupe told his father later in the conversation.
After a McDowell County sheriff's deputy realized the interaction was taking place he tried to look at Stroupe's hands, but he resisted. Officers later photographed the word "exit" printed on the other side of his hands but the other words had been smudged out, warrants state.
After the meeting, Stroupe Sr. was arrested for accessory after the fact of first-degree kidnapping. In an interview with an SBI special agent, Stroupe Sr. said he had been given directions to Bryson's body and that he had been asked to conceal it further, but said he wasn't able to understand the directions, according to warrants.
Warrants also say Stroupe Sr. was on the Blue Ridge Parkway flashing his lights and honking his horn while he evaded police capture, attempting to give his son a waypoint to locate him.
Bryson's body was found the night of July 30.
Stroupe later told authorities that he had kidnapped Bryson at gunpoint at his mailbox, warrants state. Security camera footage from the Valley Ag store observed the truck turning onto N.C. 280 from South Mills River Road.
Stroupe was charged with a similar robbery committed on June 21. Stroupe reportedly tried to steal a man's truck at gunpoint, but the man instead gave Stroupe a ride to another location. A day later he stole a Honda Civic and was caught by a Buncombe County Sheriff's Officer after he was seen speeding and driving recklessly.
Warrants also say Stroupe was picked up on security camera footage at a Walmart in Sevierville, Tennessee. New clothes, food, drinks, camouflage netting, camping gear, bungee cords, soap, a knife and a Gerber machete were all found in the truck belonging to Thomas Bryson that Stroupe was captured in.
Brittany Badgero and Timothy Shelton, neighbors and relatives of Frederick Badgero, one of the three people charged with assisting Stroupe at a house in Barnardsville, reported seeing Stroupe at the Barnardsville home. Larry Jay "LJ" Hawkins told authorities Stroupe had introduced himself under a different name but LJ Hawkins knew who Stroupe was, warrants state.
LJ Hawkins then informed Jennifer Hawkins, who cooked for Stroupe, allowed him to shower and then cleaned the shower with bleach. LJ Hawkins told authorities that Stroupe said he had robbed and shot someone and stolen the truck.
Warrants state LJ Hawkins and Badgero followed Bryson's truck in Jennifer Hawkins' silver 2015 Toyota Carolla, which officers speculated was an attempt to get rid of the truck. Soon after they had left, Brittany Badgero sent a picture message to Jennifer Hawkins asking her if the man she was with was Stroupe.
LJ Hawkins and Badgero reportedly lost track of the truck and then caught up and asked Stroupe to stop for gas and cigarettes. Stroupe gave them cigarettes and they continued on, warrants state.
Warrants say Yancey County law enforcement spotted Stroupe on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Bryson's truck. A chase ensued, and Stroupe was later caught in McDowell County near the intersection of N.C. 80 and U.S. 70.
Police issued search warrants for several cellphones in the case including for Stroupe; Stroupe Sr.; Bryson; Stroupe's mother, Patricia Fender; and Jennifer Hawkins. Police also searched Stroupe's two Facebook accounts for clues in the case.
Stroupe resides in custody of the N.C. Department of Corrections in Raleigh facing charges of first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping in Henderson County, which he could face the death penalty for.
He also faces several other felony charges in five other counties in Western North Carolina. Stroupe Sr., Jennifer Hawkins, LJ Hawkins and Badgero have all been charged with accessory after the fact of first-degree murder.