Polk County Sheriff’s detectives late Saturday arrested Todd Michael Jackson after a brief manhunt for the man they say brutally murdered a married couple and dumped their bodies in a swamp.
Jackson, 34, of Lakeland, was booked on two first-degree murder charges for the shooting deaths of Raymond and Crystal Cline.
Detectives say Jackson had likely fled the area sometime after the night he shot both husband and wife to death while they slept in their bed then dumped their bodies in the swampy, low-lying woods behind their home at 3500 Windy Hill Road, just outside of Haines City.
But that was about two weeks ago, Judd said. The last time anyone saw 33-year-old Raymond Mark Cline alive was on February 21, when he was scrapping metal, and neither he nor Crystal Ann Cline, 37, have been heard from since.
The alleged murders might have never been discovered if several tipsters hadn’t called into the Sheriff’s Office Friday, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.
“They went above and beyond, but that’s what good people do in Polk County,” Judd said. “They right wrongs. And our witnesses were trying to right a wrong.”
The investigation began with the strange reports about a suspicious woman at a Haines City home who was trying to sell a truck for $200, Judd said. At least one caller told the Sheriff’s office that Amberlyn Nichols, 19, told potential buyers that she was selling the truck because man who bought it didn’t need it any longer.
“Well, do you know why the owner didn’t need the truck any longer,” Judd asked reporters Saturday. “Because he was dead. He was murdered. And she was actually telling people that the victim had been shot in the head and was dead and they needed to get rid of his truck.”
The caller sent investigators to the Clines’ home, where Judd said Nichols quickly confessed to her part in the murders and led investigators to “two badly decomposed bodies” she and her boyfriend had helped Jackson hide in the backyard.
Jackson is her stepfather, Nichols told investigators, and was also friends with Raymond Cline. But the friendship turned deadly after Jackson claimed that Raymond owed him $30,000. When the debt was never repaid, Jackson broke into the Clines’ home in the middle of the night, crept into their bedroom, drew his handgun and fatally shot both Raymond and his wife in the head.
According to Nichols’ confession, Jackson then called his stepdaughter and her boyfriend Larry “L.J.” Waters Jr., 19, to the house for help cleaning up the scene and disposing of the bodies.
Jackson removed a small air conditioning unit from the couple’s bedroom window so he could push the bodies out onto the lawn, Nichols told investigators. Then he and his two accomplices piled the bodies onto a furniture dolly and pushed them from the home to the wooded swamp.
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Nichols told deputies she usually lives in a tent in Saddle Creek Park but had been living off and on in the Clines’ home since the night of the murders. She admitted that the truck she tried to sell for $200 belonged to Raymond Cline.
Neither Nichols nor Waters, her boyfriend, claimed to have seen or heard from Jackson since that night, and deputies initially thought he’d fled his home at 1020 Plateau Avenue in Lakeland.
But they arrested him near the address late Saturday. Jackson will make his first court appearance Monday, according to a news release.
Nichols and Waters were arrested Saturday on felony charges, including two counts each of “failing to report a death,” and “accessory after the fact.” Nichols also faces a charge of “dealing in stolen property,” Judd said. They’ll appear in court Sunday morning.