UPDATE 2: East Ridge death officially ruled a homicide
EAST RIDGE, HAMILTON COUNTY (WRCB) – East Ridge Police have released new details in a homicide investigation on Hardin Drive. Authorities say 70-year-old Jane Stokes appears to have been the victim of a robbery.
Investigators found her Wednesday morning on her bedroom floor. Her hands were bound together with plastic over her face.
Yellow crime scene tape and police cars are an unusual sight in the quiet East Ridge neighborhood, especially roped around the home of longtime resident Jane Stokes.
"Officers, including myself, have been out talking to neighbors," says police spokesman, Eric Hopkins. "We're just trying to get every detail we can about that night."
Neighbors declined to comment on-camera, but tell us they are shocked by the news. They say the victim was a widow who lived alone. Out of town family members visiting Stokes earlier this week had just left the day before her death.
Those who knew the victim describe her as a very private person.
The 70-year-old worked as a bookkeeper at Henderson Hutcheson & McCullough PLLC., an accounting firm on Market Street. Thursday the company released a statement saying, "We have suffered a great loss this week in the tragic death of our loyal friend and co-worker, Jane Stokes. She was with our firm for over 20 years and was a devoted employee who will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and the many friends she had, both personally and professionally."
"The family is very supportive of the investigation and eager to see it move forward," says Hopkins.
East Ridge Police remained tight lipped about the circumstances of the death, but late Thursday afternoon released details of a brutal robbery scene. In a news release authorities say the victim was found lying in her bedroom, hands bound together with plastic around her face. Police also released a picture of a man they call a suspect. It was taken by an ATM camera where the 70-year-old's credit card was used.
"It's still very much an ongoing investigation," Hopkins says. "Three investigators, including myself, are currently assigned while other officers are canvassing the neighborhoods."
Stokes' co-workers tell Channel 3 her daughters were visiting earlier this week, and are back in town Thursday. Police haven't said what led them to check the home Wednesday morning, only that they responded around 11:00.
The victim's credit card is being used in the Chattanooga area. If you recognize the suspect in the photo, contact East Ridge Police at 423-867-3718 or 423-622-1725. A confidential tip line is also available at 423-867-0016.