SEVIERVILLE — The man who allegedly overheard the murder of Carolyn Bartles told a judge Wednesday that Jonathan Seth Stalcup killed her after a quarrel, possibly worried that she would tell authorities where to find him while he was wanted on other charges.
Dustin Justus was the first witness called to testify Wednesday afternoon during Stalcup’s preliminary hearing on first degree murder charges related to Bartles’ death.
He told Judge Jeff Rader that he’d been letting Stalcup sleep on the couch of the apartment where he’d been living, which was attached to a one-time mechanic’s garage at 3115 Old Newport Highway.
Stalcup and Bartles, who was married to another man, had been in a relationship for some time before they argued on Feb. 15, Justus said.
“It was a little rocky,” he said. “They always came together and left together but they were always arguing.”
At some point Stalcup had actually been living with Bartles, he said, but he’d returned to stay at the apartment before the killing.
Bartles came to the apartment between 3 and 4 a.m., awakening Justus when she knocked on the door and his dog started barking.
He heard Justus let her in, and heard them start to argue.
“It was something pertaining to how they didn’t go do anything on Valentine’s Day,” he said.
He heard Bartles say she was going to leave at some point, and heard Stalcup tell her she couldn’t, saying she knew too much about him.
Then he heard the sounds of a fight, lasting about a minute.
“I heard some fighting and it was very short and after it I heard a gurgling sound,” he said.
Bartles called out to him for help, he said, but he said he was too scared of Stalcup, especially knowing he was armed.
He kept a revolver around constantly, Justus said, and had two more guns around the house.
Law enforcement and bail bondsmen were searching for Stalcup, he said, and he would often use a log to bar the door and keep the windows of the apartment covered.
Stalcup would constantly say he was worried about someone snitching on him. “He had mentioned it quite a bit,” Justus said.
Justus said he knew what happened in the room based on the sounds and later saw Bartles’ body, but he refused to help Stalcup move the body beyond letting him have a blanket he used to wrap up her body.
Stalcup put her body into the car she drove to the scene and left, but returned with it still in the car, Justus said. Justus said Stalcup said he’d tried to find a place to dispose of her remains but there was a tree blocking the road to his destination.
The body would remain hidden in her car, which was placed out of sight, for several days until Stalcup found another person to help him move it, Justus said.
That man, Jonathan Cole, was the next to take the stand Wednesday.
He and Stalcup knew each other from working at a local mountain coaster and had become good friends but they hadn’t seen each other in a year.
A mutual friend got them in contact with each other, and Stalcup asked him to come and help with something. Cole told the judge Stalcup never went into specifics, but he agreed to get a ride from Greeneville, Tennessee, and come back here.
It wasn’t until he got into the car and tried to move the passenger seat back that Stalcup told him there was a body in it.
Even then, he said, he didn’t ask questions.
They drove to his home on Treebeard Way, where they shot up meth and discussed a plan to bury Bartles’ remains on the property.
“I was high and it seemed like a good idea at the time,” Cole said.
They took Bartles’ car to Gatlinburg, and he stayed a few more days before going back to Greeneville.
Eventually, detectives found the car and evidence from it led them to Cole, who said he spent two days denying any knowledge of the case before finally telling them where to find Bartles’ remains.
The testimony did not cover the specific cause of her death. The autopsy was entered into the record without much comment, although at one point special prosecutor Gene Perrin said there were injuries consistent with strangulation.
Perrin, who is from the Second Judicial District, is prosecuting the case at the request of District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn, due to a relationship between one of Dunn’s staff members and the victim.
Rader sent the case on to a grand jury with little comment, saying Perrin had provided sufficient evidence to advance the case.
Stalcup was sent back to the Sevier County Jail, where he is being held without bail. In addition to first degree murder, he is also facing charges of abuse of a corpse and especially aggravated kidnapping.
Several friends and relatives of Bartles attended the hearing, but declined to speak to The Mountain Press after the hearing concluded.
Contact Jeff at email@example.com or Twitter at @jeffmtnpress.