Search continues for Vennie Keaton, person of interest - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Update: Vennie Keaton, person of interest in Gadsden State murder, in custody

Posted: Updated:
Vennie Keaton is considered a person of interest in the homicide investigation of Melissa Hudgins. Vennie Keaton is considered a person of interest in the homicide investigation of Melissa Hudgins.
Investigators collected evidence from a dumpster outside of Gadsden State Community College on Wednesday, November 28, 2012. (abc3340.com) Investigators collected evidence from a dumpster outside of Gadsden State Community College on Wednesday, November 28, 2012. (abc3340.com)
Laura Hudgins, stepmother of Melissa Hudgins. (abc3340.com) Laura Hudgins, stepmother of Melissa Hudgins. (abc3340.com)

Update Friday 2pm:

According to information released from Cherokee County Sheriff Jeff Shaver and Centre Police Chief Kirk Blankenship, murder suspect Vennie Leroy Keaton is now in custody. Keaton was taken into custody this morning at approximately 10:30 am by members of the Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force. Keaton was located in Cookeville Tennessee and surrendered to police without incident.


Sheriff Shaver states that there are a team of Investigators from the Sheriff's Office, Centre Police Department, and the District Attorney's Office already in Tennessee assisting with the investigation. Keaton is currently being transported to a detention facility in Tennessee and is expected to be extradited back to Cherokee County. Sheriff Shaver and Chief Blankenship wants to extend their appreciation to everyone that is involved in this investigation and a special thanks to the members of the Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force.

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The manhunt for a person of interest in connection with the death of a Cedar Bluff woman continues to heat up in Tennessee.

Melissa Hudgins was bound, gagged, strangled and left for dead inside an arena on the Cherokee County Campus of Gadsden State Community College. A former co-worker, Vennie Keaton, is being called a person of interest. His identification card was found in car abandoned in Dunlap, Tennessee, but the investigation has moved to a community roughly 55 miles to the north.

Wanted flyers are being passed out in Crossville, Tenn. Authorities found Keaton's son and Hudgins' car keys there, but not Keaton. Investigators believe he may have fled in Hudgins' car to the area with his son, because he has ties to the area.

Right now, Keaton is also wanted in Cherokee County and Tennessee on theft related charges.

We're learning more about the connection between the person of interest and the suspect. Hudgins' family says their loved one trained Keaton at work. They did housekeeping at Gadsden State through an Anniston-based contractor. The family says while they did not know Keaton, they know they were not dating. 

Cherokee County Sheriff Jeff Shaver confirms Keaton was recently fired, but dismissed rumors that may be connected to this case.

The victim's father, Gary Hudgins, described his daughter, a mother of two girls ages 7 and 11, as sweet, honest and hard working.

"She's a hard working girl, quiet. She took care of her babies," Hudgins said.

"The babies were her life," added her stepmother, Laura Hudgins.

The family has established a bank account to help cover funeral expenses and to assist Hudgins' children:

Generations Bank
1285 Chestnut Bypass
Centre, AL
C/O Gary Don Hudgins

Good Fellas Pizza in Cedar Bluff is also taking donations for the family.

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