1. News

East Lake sword slaying suspect fled to reunite with ex-wife

Authorities say Teresa Sue Compton was stabbed several times with this 35-inch sword, later found in a bedroom. Inset: James Quilliams had moved in with the victim in March.
Authorities say Teresa Sue Compton was stabbed several times with this 35-inch sword, later found in a bedroom. Inset: James Quilliams had moved in with the victim in March.
Published Jan. 17, 2014

EAST LAKE — Lindsy Carson had concerns about the man her mother, Teresa Sue Compton, met through an online dating service about two years ago.

James Quilliams never interacted with their relatives, she said, and he often drank.

"He was actually very weird from the first time I met him," said Carson, 26.

And when, in a drunken rage, he slashed the couple's mattress in their East Lake home the day after Christmas, Carson hoped her mother would end the relationship.

But she didn't.

On Monday afternoon, deputies discovered Compton's body inside her home at 4761 Stoneview Circle in East Lake Woodlands. Three days later and about 700 miles away, authorities found Quilliams in a Tennessee cabin and arrested him on a first-degree murder charge.

"My mom had the biggest heart," Carson said through tears Thursday. "She always believed that people could change and she always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt."

Last year, Compton was transferred from Tennessee to Florida by Gerdau, a steel production company with a facility in Tampa. Compton, 48, purchased the home in East Lake and she and Quilliams, a paramedic who worked in a Pasco medical office, moved in together in March.

On her birthday May 25, he proposed.

Carson, of Columbia, Tenn., was visiting her mother during Christmas when Compton discovered text messages on Quilliams' phone to his ex-wife. In the messages, the pair talked about getting back together, the Sheriff's Office said. On Dec. 26, Compton confronted him, placed his belongings outside the front door and asked him to leave.

Later, when he returned to pick up more belongings, he started cutting into their mattress with a knife, Carson said.

Quilliams left, but about 1 a.m. Dec. 27, Carson was smoking on the screened patio when she spotted him outside with a knife, she said.

"He was completely intoxicated," Carson said. She called the Sheriff's Office.

Deputies arrived with dogs but couldn't find him. They did not have enough probable cause to arrest Quilliams because he had not harmed or threatened to hurt anyone with the knife, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Thursday.

After Carson left for Tennessee, Quilliams moved back in.

"I was very worried about her," Carson said of her mother. "She was my best friend."

Compton reassured her daughter that things between them were great, that it was just the alcohol that triggered his temper. But on Sunday night between 11 p.m. and midnight, neighbors heard yelling at the home.

At 6 a.m. Monday, neighbors saw Quilliams in the driveway. One later told deputies Quilliams seemed "weird." Another neighbor said he heard glass shattering and saw Quilliams tossing something in the trash.

Then they noticed blood on the driveway and called the Sheriff's Office.

Deputies arrived about 5 p.m. and discovered Compton face down in the garage. She had been stabbed with a 35-inch sword, later found in a bedroom, between five and 10 times in a particularly brutal attack, Gualtieri said. Her arms were also sliced, likely from fighting for her life, he added.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every weekday morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Detectives later learned that at 4:21 a.m. Monday, Quilliams had booked a 5 p.m. flight on Allegiant Air from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Knoxville, Tenn.

From Pinellas, deputies tracked his cell phone to Pigeon Forge, Tenn. On Wednesday, his ex-wife, Kristi Quilliams, drove him close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After dropping him off, she was arrested on a DUI charge. When officers asked if her ex-husband could pick up her car, she told them he couldn't because he was running from police for killing a woman in Florida.

Authorities received information that Quilliams might be hiding in the national park Wednesday. For hours, rangers searched. Visitors reported seeing a man with short gray hair and a goatee, wearing black pants and a trench coat, a park spokeswoman said.

But on Wednesday night, someone called police and said Quilliams was staying in a cabin in Wears Valley, about 20 miles from the park. The U.S. Marshals Service arrested him.

Quilliams does not have a criminal history in Florida. He was once arrested for disorderly conduct in Tennessee, Gualtieri said. He remains at the Sevier County jail awaiting extradition to Pinellas County.

Times staff researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Laura Morel can be reached at (727) 4454157 or


This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge