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TV leads FBI to suspect in murder

Published Oct. 25, 1991|Updated Oct. 14, 2005

The morning after the TV show Unsolved Mysteries told the story of a Manatee County woman who was physically abused and then murdered, FBI agents captured the prime suspect _ her husband _ in a shootout at an Alabama flea market. A tipster who saw the show led them to the man they had sought for three years.

Police said they had been looking for James E. Burnside, 54, since February 1988, when Annette Burnside was stabbed to death outside a Bradenton shopping center and a co-worker was shot several times. She had recently filed for divorce and had said her husband had threatened to kill her.

In Bradenton, Mrs. Burnside's family was joyful when they heard of the arrest.

"We knew he would get it; we didn't know when," said Rick Schappacher, her brother. "In the beginning, everybody was scared to death because he had threatened us all."

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Burnside was fixing the roof at the U.S. 280 Flea Market in Chelsea, Ala., about 18 miles southeast of Birmingham, when sheriff's deputies and FBI agents approached him around 9 a.m. Thursday, special agent Larry Curtin, a spokesman for the FBI's Tampa division, said.

Burnside leaped to the ground, grabbed his .357-magnum revolver from his truck, and pointed it at police.

An FBI agent shot him once in the torso and once in the hand. He was in stable condition Thursday night at an Alabama hospital. He will be held without bail on a charge of first-degree murder for the slaying of his wife and on a charge of attempted murder for shooting a man with whom she worked at a Buick dealership. He will also be charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, Bristow said.

Mrs. Burnside and the co-worker, David Otteni, were on their way to lunch on Feb. 17, 1988, when, police say, Burnside confronted the two. He shot Otteni, several times, police say, and then stabbed his estranged wife several times.

David Bristow, a spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff's Department said Burnside apparently heard he was on Unsolved Mysteries Wednesday night. He commented to a co-worker Thursday morning that "there may be some trouble today," Bristow said.

In addition to the charges of murder and attempted murder, Burnside will be charged with assaulting a federal officer for pointing a gun at the arresting officers. The crime carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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Lawrence Trott, a co-worker of Burnside's at the flea market, said he knew Burnside as "Al Williams." Burnside had been living in a trailer at the flea market for two months and did odd jobs.

Bristow said that Burnside also used the name "Al Wilson" as an alias. An FBI poster said Burnside smoked Pall Mall cigarettes, drank Old Milwaukee beer and liked downing shots of bourbon. His tattoos included a flower, dagger, scepter, eagle and butterfly.

The murder case had been featured on the America's Most Wanted television show in July 1988, five months after the killing occurred. Manatee sheriff's deputies received 400 leads but none panned out.

Sheriff's deputies once spent a week in Oldsmar, staking out a bar at which Burnside reportedly had been seen. Another person said Burnside had visited his wife's gravesite in Manatee County, Bristow said.

"A lot of credit goes to Unsolved Mysteries," Bristow said. "If we hadn't gotten him from Unsolved Mysteries, I don't know if we would have."

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Jean Schappacher, Mrs. Burnside's mother, spent the afternoon calling friends in Ohio, where the family is from, to tell them the news, Rick Schappacher said.

"She was happy, teary-eyed . . . it was really good to see that," he said. "When I went to talk to her, she was breathless, trying to speak."

Annette Schappacher was 19 when she married Burnside, a twice-divorced carpenter. Members of her family said he once choked her, wouldn't let her go out with her sisters, and threatened to take the couple's two children away from her.

Mrs. Burnside left him twice, filing for divorce. According to a friend, Burnside became obsessed with getting her back. If he couldn't have her, he told some people, he would kill her.

He had also threatened members of his wife's family, 30 of whom live in Manatee County.

The couple's children, 6-year-old Tara and 9-year-old Stacy, watched Unsolved Mysteries with Jean and Roy Schappacher, Mrs. Burnside's parents, who have custody of the girls, David Schappacher said.

"Stacy very much wants to see her dad," David Schappacher said Thursday night. "She was really happy he got caught, but at the same time she was saying to my mom, "They won't kill him, will they?' "

_ Information from Times files and from the Birmingham (Ala.) News was used in this report.

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