By Valerie Reddell
HILLISTER — Friends of Onalaska resident Susan Morris recall her as the sweetest person ever.
They struggle to come to terms with the news that Morris’s body was found hidden in a Hillister residence after a man called 911 shortly after 6 a.m. Friday, Dec. 21 and told Tyler County deputies that he was being held against his will.
Responding officers found the male caller near the front door of the house with his hands bound. Another man, Christopher Blake Paulette, 34, was armed with a shotgun when he was taken into custody.
Officers secured then scene and obtained a search warrant for the property, which appears to belong to relatives of the suspect.
During the subsequent search, officers found Morris’s body.
Paulette has been charged with capital murder and District Judge Delinda Gibbs Walker ordered him to be held without bond.
Sheriff Bryan Weatherford said an autopsy has been ordered and took place at Southeast Texas Forensic Center in Beaumont, but a cause of death had not been released as of Friday.
Federal ATF agents and the Texas Rangers are assisting in the investigation.
Paulette has also been charged with felon in possession of a firearm, a third-degree felony.
Tami Saxton and her husband Wes have been neighbors and friends of Morris for many years.
News reports about Morris’s death posted online included mentions of recent arrests, which the Sextons and other friends say are retaliation.
They describe Morris as a wealthy woman who, since her husband’s death in 2013, has been repeatedly victimized by relatives and friends she was trying to help.
She was arrested by Onalaska Police Department for sexual assault of a child, an incident that friends say never happened. Wes Saxton picked Morris up from the Polk County Jail when she was released on bond. He said the arrest came the morning after Morris began an action to recover thousands of dollars missing from bank accounts after one or more juveniles learned her credit card and PIN numbers.
She was also released on bond after two felony drug charges were filed.
Narcotics were found in her home, but they were among the personal possessions brought into Morris’s home by a family member she was trying to help. That family member then invited another couple to stay at the home as well.
In addition to the criminal charges, detectives seized a large amount of cash from a safe in Morris’s home. The status of those charges as well as the status of the money could not be determined before county offices closed on Friday.
Longtime friend Gina Parker said Friday that Morris’s three houseguests made her uncomfortable.
Parker met Morris at a tanning salon in Onalaska.
“I didn’t know her real well, but we had a continuing friendship,” Parker said.
Morris attended Parker’s church once or twice.
Parker recalled that Morris had paid for the funeral of one of her late husband’s relatives.
“She didn’t hide the fact that she had money, and people took advantage of her because of that,” Parker said.
Parker adheres to many of the teachings of her Pentecostal church regarding how female members should dress and behave. She eventually had to distance herself from her friend out of concern for her own safety.
“(The houseguests) made me feel weird. They watched every move (Susan) made,” Parker said.
Houston attorney Mike DeGuerin is representing Morris on the pending charges.
“Those cases will be dismissed as soon as I get a death certificate,” DeGuerin said Friday.
DeGuerin added that due to the current status of the investigation into Morris’s death, he did not yet have full details.
“There’s much more to the story,” DeGuerin said.