By Monica Land
JACKSON – Officials believe two people – a 74-year-old man and a 48-year-old woman – found shot to death in their vehicles, may have been the victims of a person posing as a police officer.
Tom Schlender of Raymond, Nebraska became the first known victim when he was shot on Interstate 55 near Batesville on Tuesday, May 8.
Lori Anne Carswell of Hernando, Miss. was the second victim when she was shot and killed a few days later on May 11 on Highway 713 near Tunica.
WREG reported that the same gun was used to kill Schlender and Carswell.
Authorities said the shootings took place about 55 miles apart, and the victims didn’t know each other, but the motive in both slayings may have been robbery.
Family members told police that Schlender was headed to Pensacola, Florida, to pick up his grandson from college and bring him back home to Nebraska for the summer.
Schlender’s daughter, Tracy Anderson, said she called her father around 6:30 that evening, while he was on the road between St. Louis, Missouri and Memphis, Tenn. Anderson said they had a “nice conversation,” and Schlender didn’t indicate that anything was wrong.
Highway officials said hours later, around 1:30 a.m., five shots were fired into Schlender’s truck and he was found on the median.
Authorities later learned from his family that Schlender had withdrawn about $600 from the bank for his trip, and that his wallet and cash was missing when he was found.
Lori Anne Carswell had left work at the Fitzgerald Casino around 2 a.m. and was headed home on Highway 713 – a popular route for people traveling along the interstate to and from work in Tunica.
Carswell was later found outside her car on the shoulder of the highway.
She too, had been shot to death.
“There are some similarities between the two incidents, mainly the fact they happened alongside a Mississippi highway,” Mississippi Bureau of Investigation director Lt. Col. Larry Waggoner told The Commercial Appeal. “The concern is that someone is posing as a law enforcement officer and that is how these vehicles end up on the side of the road.”
Investigators said both victims were randomly picked and possibly pulled over by the killer using fake police lights in a light-colored Ford Crown Victoria.
As a result, the Mississippi Highway Patrol is warning drivers to be on alert when pulling over for flashing lights.
“If someone attempts to pull you over with flashing lights and you feel unsure of stopping, DON’T PULL OVER,” The Tate County Sheriff’s Department posted on their website. “Use your cell phone and dial 911 and if it’s a real officer then the dispatcher will confirm it for you and if it’s not a real officer they will send help to you.”
The MBI said motorists can also turn on their hazard lights, continue to drive slowly to a well-lit area and call 911 if they feel they are danger. The dispatcher, again, will verify if the pursuing officer is legitimate or send help.
Investigators said during this investigation, no law enforcement officers will be using unmarked their hotline at 1-888-8CRIMES.