'A GOOD NEIGHBOR'

Friends recall slain great-grandmother

Court documents: Billings man killed great-grandmother over comment about father
2013-07-23T11:10:00Z 2014-03-27T16:18:05Z Friends recall slain great-grandmotherBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Shirley Lawrence told her great-grandson, 19-year-old Robert Alan Thompson, that he was going to turn out like his father.

The remark on Friday cost Lawrence her life, according to court documents filed in Yellowstone County District Court on Monday.

"(Thompson) said that his grandmother made a comment that 'he was going to be just like his father,'" according to the documents charging Thompson with the deliberate homicide of Lawrence, 77.

"Thompson said that the comment made him angry and that he retrieved a metal object and struck his grandmother in the back of the head as she sat at the kitchen table."

The documents state that Thompson told police in Denver, where he was arrested on Saturday after Billings police found Lawrence dead in her South Side home, that he then grabbed a knife from his great-grandmother's kitchen and stabbed her in the chest.

Thompson is being held at the Denver County Jail on a $250,000 bond on a Yellowstone County warrant accusing him of deliberate homicide. He is awaiting extradition to Billings.

Police began investigating Lawrence's death after a relative stopped by her home, at 4434 Murphy Ave., on the evening of July 19 and found her body.

“She’s been a good neighbor. We knew her well,” said Charlie Duenow, who has lived with his wife, Mary, next door to Lawrence’s house since the early 1970s. The neighborhood sits a few blocks north of Sam's Club and Cabela's on King Avenue East.

Public records show that Lawrence had owned the home since 1958.

The simple, gray, clapboard house has a well-kept yard. Pink, purple and white flowers were growing underneath the windows in front of the now-quiet home on Tuesday.

At about 4 p.m., some of Lawrence’s family members arrived at the home, but they declined to comment.

Duenow said that Lawrence was a refined, hardworking and caring woman. She took very good care of her yard and had a passion for antiques.

“I’ve never seen her raise her voice at anyone, including her great-grandson, so, yeah, we’ll miss her as a neighbor,” he said. “I think she was trying to take care of the great-grandson any way she possibly could, and I don’t know what took place.”

He said Murphy Avenue is generally very quiet.

“It was a shock (for) the whole neighborhood. It’s something we never thought would happen here. This is a good neighborhood," Duenow said. 

"I just don’t think it should be called a bad part of Billings.”

Duenow also thanked the Billings Police Department for their excellent handling of the investigation.

Court documents state that the early investigation led police to believe that she'd been bludgeoned. At a press conference Monday, Police Chief Rich St. John said the cause of Lawrence's death was blunt-force trauma and multiple stab wounds.

Police identified Thompson early as a person of interest after learning that he'd been staying with Lawrence and that her television and car, a 2004 Buick Century, were missing.

They put out an attempt-to-locate notice on both Thompson and the car.

The next morning, police in Denver stopped the Buick after running the license plate and learning of its connection to Lawrence's death.

In the car, police found Thompson and three teenage Billings boys, with the youngest 14 or 15 and the oldest 17 years old.

One of the Billings teens told an investigator that when an officer turned on his flashing lights to pull over the car, Thompson "told them that he forgot to tell them something, 'I killed my grandmother.' He said: 'You guys should run,'" the affidavit said.

After speaking with Billings police detectives, investigators in Denver interviewed Thompson and the three boys, according to the court documents.

Billings police Lt. Kevin Iffland said police in Denver released the three juveniles to their parents after determining they weren't involved in Lawrence's murder.

The affidavit goes on to say that Thompson told investigators that he arrived at Lawrence's, where he'd been living, at about 7 a.m. on July 19 and that they began talking about concerns over him finding a job.

He became angry after she told him "he was going to be just like his father," and struck Lawrence in the back of the head with a metal object before stabbing her, the affidavit states.

Thompson then took her car keys, loaded up his belongings and drove to Denver after calling the three teens and picking them up.

"He decided that he was going to Denver and that his friends wanted to come along," the affidavit states. "He said he didn't tell them the real reason why he was going to Denver. He said that his friends were under the impression that they were coming to Denver to buy marijuana."

The Yellowstone County Attorney's Office is working to return Thompson to Billings. County Attorney Scott Twito said he had not been told when Thompson will arrive in Billings or when he will next appear in a Denver court for an extradition hearing.

Gazette reporter Eddie Gregg contributed to this story.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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