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Investigation into suspected murder/arson incident continues

March 25th, 2014 3:45 pm by Max Hrenda

Investigation into suspected murder/arson incident continues

GREENEVILLE – Greeneville authorities are investigating a weekend house fire that they believe was set to cover up a murder and assault.

On Sunday morning, emergency crews responded to the scene of a house fire at 1117 W. Main St. and found one woman, Elizabeth Cooter, 78, dead, and another man, Roger Aiken, 47, injured.

Greeneville Police Chief Terry Cannon and other authorities have since said they believe the fire was set to cover up the assault on Cooter and Aiken.

“The evidence of the crime is what we’re basing that (theory) on,” Cannon said.

In a previous interview with the Press, Greeneville Fire Department Chief Mark Foulks said that evidence concerned the injuries to the two victims.

“The injuries the victims sustained were inconsistent with fire-related injuries,” Foulks said. “It’s believed there was foul play involved on the front end of it, and the arson was actually there to cover up the crime.”

Authorities did not release details concerning the nature of those injuries, however, citing concern that public knowledge of those injuries could hamper the investigation.

“That’s information we’re not giving out,” Cannon said.

The fire was spotted at 9:13 a.m. Sunday by GPD Officer Eddie Key, who was out on patrol that morning. According to the incident report, after moving closer to the house, Key noticed gray smoke coming from an open window and that the front door was hot to the touch.

At that point, Key said, he saw Phillip Alexander, who lives in an apartment at the house’s rear, come into view. Key asked Alexander if anyone was home, to which Alexander replied the 78-year-old woman who lived there was in the back bedroom.

Key then opened the front door and saw a man - who would later be identified as Aiken - lying approximately six feet away from the front door. Key said Aiken was covered in blood and taking small breaths.

By that time, GPD Capt. Tim Ward had arrived at the fire, and the two of them grabbed Aiken and pulled him to the front porch, just as flames began to enter the living room where he had been laying. Shortly afterward, the GFD arrived and, upon entering the house, found Cooter dead in the back bedroom.

Aiken was taken to Johnson City Medical Center and was listed in critical condition, but, according to Mountain States Health Alliance Director of Communications and Marketing Shane O’Hare, he was not listed as a patient on Monday. Cooter’s body was taken to the William L. Jenkins Forensic Center at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine for an autopsy.

Anyone with any information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact the GPD tip line at (423) 783-2868.

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