Family, friend: marriage, money issues may have driven murders - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Family, friend: marriage, money issues possible motives in Dawnville murders

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WHITFIELD COUNTY, GA (WRCB) -- Jessica Neal's father and stepmother have firm ideas why they believe her husband, Sonny Neal, murdered her and her grandfather, Donald Shedd, at the couple's home in Dawnville early last Thursday morning.

"I think his world was crumbling, and I don't think he could take it," Cindy Miller says.

"He was abusive, very abusive physically," Billy Miller says.

She told us (last Wednesday), at lunch ,they were getting a divorce," Cindy Miller continues.

"She was trying to keep him calm, she told him he could see (his nine year old stepdaughter) Maddie when he wanted."

Sonny Neal, 49, is 22 years older than his late wife.  She was the 'face' of Dazzle, the tanning salon and boutique the couple owned, but her stepmother says she really didn't want to work there.

"She just wanted to own it," Cindy Miller says. "And be a dental hygienist. She was studying for it at Dalton State."

"(Sonny) was content to be behind the scenes," says long-term acquaintance Steve Haley.

"Money was what drove him. He's a salesman, let's be honest! It was his background!"

So much so, Haley says, that Neal did "hundreds of hours legwork" for un-named business partners in the 'Coliseum Sports Bar' set to open in the Walnut Avenue commercial district off of I-75.

"A few weeks ago, he told me those partners froze him out," Haley says.

The partners are his in-laws, Cindy and Billy Miller.

Jessica Neal and Donald Shedd were laid to rest Tuesday. During their funerals, Whitfield County detectives search Dazzle again.  What they took, and why, they won't say.

Wednesday, detectives returned to the murder scene, the Neal's house on Green Springs Road in the Dawnville.

Sonny Neal's daughter, Miranda Buckner, appeared to be leaving as our Eyewitness News crew arrived.

She declined to answer our questions as to why she was there, and left without commenting. Last Friday, she, her husband and two of her aunts had pleaded, tearfully, for her father to return to his family and to surrender to police.

"It (the murder) was pre-planned," Cindy Miller said Friday.

"No scent in the woods; the dogs and the helicopter didn't find anything. "He waited until his daughter was asleep."

Emergency crews and Whitfield County deputies found the bodies just after 7 o'clock last Thursday morning, after Jessica Neal's daughter Maddie ran to a neighbor's house, crying that her great-grandfather was dead, and that she couldn't find her parents.

"Jessica was in the pool-house," Billy Miller says. "They told me she put up a hell of a fight. Don (her grandfather) was found in the kitchen.

Sonny Neal's van, Jessica's Neal Hummer, Donald Shedd's pickup, and another vehicle, belonging to Sonny's stepfather all were still in the garage or driveway.

"Somebody had to have picked him up," Cindy Miller said Friday . "They may not have known what he'd done."

This past weekend, the Millers say, they passed along a name to Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood.

The name is one of Sonny Neal's friends, whom they've learned, may have been in the house right before the murders, based on a text message Jessica Neal may have sent to one of her friends after 10:45 Wednesday night.

Sheriff Neal had this answer Tuesday night when Eyewitness News asked him, specifically, about whether investigators are seeking an accomplice or believe more than one person may have committed the murders.

"Certainly, Mr. Neal is the suspect, and he's the one we're following on right now."

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