By Jean Cole and Kim West
Athens Police believe Sharon Wellington likely knew the person who fatally stabbed her in her East Elm Street apartment last week, and they have a person of interest under questioning.
Chief Floyd Johnson said Tuesday a preliminary autopsy shows the 32-year-old victim — who had no local family but was active in her church — died of multiple stab wounds to the upper body, likely fewer than five. The chief declined to say precisely where the wounds were inflicted. He also declined, at this time, to release the estimated time of death.
Johnson said investigators do have “a person of interest” in the case.
“We have interviewed the person of interest already and we’re still interviewing and collecting information as we go, following all leads and going back and following up to make we sure get everything right,” Johnson said. “Our belief, right now, is that the victim and the offender did know each other.”
The chief declined to reveal a possible motive for the crime, divulge any information about the crime scene or say when a suspect might be charged in the killing. Investigators are still gathering evidence and disbursing it to the forensic labs and are continuing the investigative process, Johnson said.
A fellow church member discovered Wellington’s body about 7 p.m. Friday in the second-floor apartment at 1410 E. Elm St. where she lived alone. The church member had gone there to see about Wellington after not hearing from her for a couple of days. Wellington, who had worked in the past but was not working currently, came from South Carolina, where she still has family, the chief said.
Wellington joined Southside Church of Christ in Rogersville about a year ago and church members have said she enjoyed writing poetry.
A neighbor of Wellington, who sometimes gave her rides, said the victim was a trusting person but not too much so.
“She was very nice — a very trusting woman, ” said Joanne Thompson, who has lived at Elmwood Apartments for several years. “You didn’t see her around many men. I know for sure she wouldn’t have let someone in her apartment that she didn’t know.”
Johnson described the apartment complex as safe, well lighted and home to people with disabilities, families and elderly people, though, she said, more young people had moved in recently.
Thompson said she last saw Wellington on the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 28.
“She was coming from downtown,” Thompson said. “We talked about how nice it was outside, we talked for about 20 minutes. She was happy, nothing seemed out of the way.”
Nicholas Thompson, the 15-year-old son of Joanne, said residents in the apartment complex have been “paranoid” since the murder.
“It’s always been quiet,” he said of the apartment complex.
Neither he nor his mother had heard any sounds of distress from Wellington’s apartment between Wednesday and Friday.
“That’s what freaked people out (no noise),” Nicholas said. “It wasn’t a stranger.”