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Suspect who died in Smith County standoff suspected in mother's disappearance

(Source: KLTV Staff) (Source: KLTV Staff)
Search warrant (Source: Smith County) Search warrant (Source: Smith County)
Search warrant (Source: Smith County) Search warrant (Source: Smith County)
Search warrant (Source: Smith County) Search warrant (Source: Smith County)

A man who died in a standoff with Smith County officials was suspected in his mother's disappearance, officials said Wednesday.

Kenneth Barton, 61, died during the standoff when law enforcement officers attempted to serve a search warrant at a residence on Highway 31 West and County Road 1238. Officers believe Barton was connected with the disappearance of his mother, Frances Barton, who was reported missing three years ago. She was 78 at the time of her disappearance.

“Whatever he did. Whether he committed suicide or whatever, he had something to hide, so I think that speaks for itself,” said Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith.

Officials said they believe Frances Barton is dead and said they are now trying to locate her body. They believe she is most likely on the property.

“We got a positive alert outside the residence with the cadaver dogs. But we will not know until tomorrow when we start sifting the area whether it’s going to be a good alert or not,” Smith said.

Smith said during an afternoon conference that units immediately set up a perimeter when they arrived on scene. Smith said officials believe Barton may have killed himself and his pet goat but could not yet confirm he committed suicide.

Earlier in the day, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith confirmed two shots were fired by Barton after authorities attempted to serve the search warrant. 

“We took a defensive posture and just contained the residence to make sure he didn’t get out without us knowing it,” Smith said.

While Barton was barricaded inside of the home, contact was made by phone. During that call, a shot was fired, Smith said. Barton claimed that it was accidental, and then another shot was heard. Smith says after the second shot, flames were seen in the second story of the home.

The home was a total loss. The Smith County Fire Marshal's Office responded to the scene and the ATF will also be investigating the case, according to Smith.

7onScene: Suspect dead following Smith Co. standoff

According to a search warrant, Frances' other son, Clifton Barton, filed a police report in November 2015.

Clifton said he had been trying to contact his mother but was unable to reach her. He told police he called her cellphone, but Kenneth answered the phone and told him she was in Europe with Schambach Ministries. When he contacted the group, they told him no one was in Europe on a mission trip from their church.

A deputy then attempted to contact someone at the residence and was unable to reach anyone. The deputy was able to contact the neighbor, who said she had not heard from Frances since April or May of 2013.

The affidavit states that the neighbor told the deputy that she had been friends with Frances for 30 years and that the behavior was not normal for her. She expressed a desire of wanted to ask Kenneth about Frances, but said she was afraid since she felt uncomfortable around him.

The neighbor also told the deputy that Frances received meals from Meals on Wheels. The deputy then contacted a representative with the program, who told them that the organization had been informed she would be out of town for a while and her service was discontinued in May 2014.

On Feb. 5, two deputies went to Frances' residence. They were able to make contact with Kenneth, who told them that he last spoke with her via satellite phone in August 2015. He said he thought she was in Florida with her friend on vacation or on a mission trip but didn't know what church she was affiliated with.

According to the documents, when officers asked about the friend she allegedly left town with, he told them no one knew about her and that she was a multi-millionaire from Minnesota. Kenneth told officers his mother was last seen at the residence in May 2015 before she left for Florida.

He appeared to be nervous, the report showed, and told deputies, "I know things don't look right."

Officials questioned him several more times in the following days.

On Feb. 8, a detective contacted a representative with Frances' church, who said she had stopped attending services in 2014 but kept in contact with them through summer of 2014.

Detectives then determined that Kenneth was not being truthful about his mother's whereabouts and that she might be dead. They requested a search warrant for the residence, which was filed Feb. 9.

Timeline of events from Feb. 10, 2016

  • 7 a.m.: officers arrived on scene
  • 9:44 a.m.: officials made contact with Kenneth Barton and held a conversation through a window
  • 9:48 a.m.: Barton told officials all the doors were barricaded
  • 10:09 a.m.: Barton stopped communicating with officers
  • 10:22 a.m.: Officers made contact by phone with Barton
  • 10:33 a.m.: Barton told officers he was coming out and had to tie his goat up
  • 10:41 a.m.: Barton told officials on the phone that he would come out after using the restroom
  • 10:54 a.m.: Officers heard gunshots inside the residence
  • 10:55 a.m.: Officers re-established telephone contact and Barton told them the gunshot was accidental
  • 11 a.m.: Officers heard a second shot from inside the house and had no further contact with Barton
  • 11:05 a.m.: Smoke began to fill the house
  • 11:06 a.m.: Fire began showing in the upstairs part of the home
  • 4:30 p.m.: Smith County Sheriff's Office holds a news conference

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