Authorities came so close to Neldon Neal at one point during an eight-day manhunt for the suspected killer that he ducked behind a log and hid after seeing the officers’ badges, Texas County Sheriff Carl Watson said Thursday morning.
Details of how Neal eluded authorities – from hiding in a hollow log to showering and eating at a woman’s trailer in Evening Shade – after he allegedly murdered his common law wife March 13 have been revealed since three women were arrested Tuesday for aiding the notorious Neal.
Facing charges of hindering prosecution are Evelyn Lansdown, 32; Mary E. Thomas, 37; and Erica Moore, 31. Watson said Lansdown posted $25,000 bail Wednesday. Thomas and Moore remain at the Texas County Jail.
Neal told the women that he hid as three officers riding four-wheelers passed him down a service road in the Mark Twain National Forest. Watson said the officers, who did not see Neal, were from another county and unfamiliar with the area.
“We know they were close enough to him that Mr. Neal saw they were deputies and observed their badges,” Watson said.
One of the women arrested took Watson and other officers to the location Wednesday in the northwest corner of Texas County. Less than one mile down Sante Anna Road and a few hundred feet into the rugged woods, officers found an abandoned log with trash and other debris from Neal’s stay there.
Watson said officers have recovered a tent that one of the women purchased for Neal from Bass Pro Shops in Springfield. A sleeping bag is missing.
The women confessed to providing Neal many of the items – beer, soda, water, chips, crackers – that were stuffed deep inside the log. They spent about $400. But the women said they didn’t buy a fifth of whiskey and another 12-pack of beer that was found inside the log.
Watson said he wasn’t surprised that Neal, who has eluded authorities for more than a month, was being helped.
“We knew there was no doubt he was being helped, and there’s no doubt as we speak that he’s being helped,” Watson said Thursday morning. “With the temperatures the way they are, he’s not in the woods. He’s somewhere in a building where it’s warm, getting food and so forth.”
After weeks of dry leads, authorities got their first big break in the murder case Monday night when Roby firefighters responded to a blaze east of Evening Shade. There they found three juveniles who set fire in an outbuilding to keep warm because the furnace inside their double-wide trailer was not working properly. Their mothers – Thomas and Landsdown – were nowhere to be found.
The fire department notified Watson of the bizarre circumstances and Tuesday morning he interviewed the juveniles. During a videotaping, the children stunned authorities when they revealed details of Neal’s log hiding place. Authorities were skeptical of their story, but soon began to believe it as more emerged.
The juveniles’ interview led officers to Neal’s three women accomplices. Moore, who once lived in Houston, has children with Neldon Neal’s son, Nalin. She once resided in the trailer where the murder occurred. Lansdown and Thomas are sisters.
Watson said a residence in the northwest part of the county was searched Wednesday, but yielded no signs of Neal. He said authorities know Neal is being aided and will continue to check every lead.
“We know somebody is helping him out today,” Watson said. “Whenever we get the information someone has helped him out, they’re going to be charged with it and pay the price.”