As Northeast Florida kept a wary eye on a Macclenny couple whose 21-month-old son hasn’t been seen since July 24, Baker County sheriff’s investigators were keeping an eye on them as known drug users and sellers.
And before Christopher Barton, 41, and Lonna Lauramore Barton, 25, were arrested the evening of September 16 on numerous drug-related charges, local investigators had the advantage of numerous tips and leads, courtesy of family members and even other members of the local drug culture.
The reason? Widespread anger at the couple and the belief that both individuals along with Ms. Lauramore-Barton’s boyfriend William Ebron Jr., 32, of Jacksonville know what happened to young Lonzie Lauramore and are keeping it secret.
“I will say that the scrutiny and watchful eyes of the public made it difficult for the couple to hide their activities and made the investigation much easier for us,” commented Investigator Matt Yarborough, who along with colleague Clements Leo spearheaded the surveillance and subsequent arrests of the couple and Shawn Hall, 32, of Glen St. Mary for possession and sale of the synthetic drug MDMA (also known as Molly) at two locations earlier that day.
Investigator Yarborough also indicated Mr. and Mrs. Barton were both known to be involved in the local drug culture prior to Lonzie’s disappearance and presumed death, but that “tips and complaints” accelerated after late July and surveillance began about a month ago.
“A network of confidential sources provided detailed information several days before their arrest and finally allowed for controlled buys to be made,” explained Mr. Yarborough, adding “no special attention” was attached to the case because of the couple’s notoriety.
“It was treated like any other narcotics investigation,” he said.
Police closed in on the three the evening of September 16 after a confidential informant who went to the Motel 6 on South 6th St. in Macclenny became concerned about Mr. Barton’s threatening demeanor and contacted officers stationed nearby.
When police entered the motel room, only Mrs. Barton was there and she was arrested. Numerous syringes and other drug-related items were seized as evidence.
The informer reported witnessing Mrs. Barton injecting the synthentic meth with her husband’s assistance while they were all in the motel room, and affirmed that Mr. Barton and Mr. Hall did so as well while he was there.
Investigator Yarborough’s report quotes the informant as saying he declined to inject the drug, and that both Mr. Barton and Mr. Hall left the motel ostensibly to obtain more Molly to complete the transaction.
Officers earlier that afternoon witnessed Mr. Barton take delivery of the drug from a person in a red pickup truck that had pulled into the motel parking lot. The same informant earlier went with the accused to a residence on Madison St. in Glen St. Mary to make arrangements for the purchase of one gram for $100, which was then to be delivered to a motel room procured by the informant.
Two drug transactions occurred at the motel less than five hours apart.
The day before, a buyer working for the sheriff’s department allegedly purchased Suboxone, used to treat opiate addiction, from Mr. Barton across the street from the Glen Church of Christ on Aunt Mary Harvey Rd. The $60 transaction was for four doses.
Shortly after Mrs. Barton was taken into custody, her husband and Mr. Hall were stopped on Interstate 10 and arrested by Investigator Trey McCullough and Cpl. Chris Walker, who were tailing the suspects in Mr. Hall’s white 1999 Chevrolet Suburban.
Jacksonville media, which has closely followed the drama surrounding the disappearance of Lonzie Barton and the arrest of both Mr. Ebron and Mrs. Barton for lying to police in Duval County, were on hand Thursday morning when the suspects made a first appearance in front of County Judge Joey Williams.
The next day two more counts of possession of meth with intent to sell were filed by the state attorney’s office and bond amounts were raised further. Mr. Barton is now held in lieu of $950,000 bond, his wife $700,000 bond and Mr. Hall $650,000.
Officials in Duval County indicated last week they will seek to revoke the $50,000 bond granted earlier for Mrs. Barton for lying to authorities and child neglect.
In yet another example of what many believe is the overt callousness that the Bartons and Mr. Ebron have evidenced since Lonzie’s disappearance and the resulting massive search for his body in Jacksonville, the couple earlier on the day of their arrest here were in court in Duval County seeking custody of their 5-year-old daughter who has been staying with relatives.
At that hearing, they agreed to drug testing and addiction counseling to get their daughter back. She has been staying with a grandparent in Baker County.
Mr. Ebron is believed to be the last person to see Lonzie alive when he was left in charge of the boy and the sister while Lonna Barton worked her shift as an exotic dancer at a Jacksonville night club.
The boyfriend and Ms. Barton moved to Jacksonville’s southside after she was kicked out of the Baker Manor Apartments following a drug-related arrest in May. Hope faded that Lonzie would be found alive as the days following his disappearance passed, and there is witness evidence that he may have been suffering from a head injury when last seen.
Mr. Ebron is tentatively set for trial in early December on original counts of lying to police and child neglect. Since then, he is in Duval County jail charged with escape, criminal conspiracy, unlawful possession of a handcuff key and smuggling contraband into jail.