Missing Alabama wife, mother found dead; mechanic charged with capital murder

By Carol Robinson

Michelle Whitaker Hough

The body of Michelle Hough, a southeast Alabama woman missing since Sunday, has been recovered, and the owner of a Phenix City body shop is charged with capital murder in her disappearance and death.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Hough Family,’’ a Russell County Sheriff’s Office statement on Friday read.

District Attorney Rick Chancey told WSFA Hough’s body was recovered off Zion Hill Road in Hatchechubbee, which is about 20 miles from where Hough was last seen.

The discovery was made about 3:30 p.m. and Hough’s body is being sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences for autopsy.

Hough, a 54-year-old wife and mother, was last seen leaving her Seale home about 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5, in her 2016 Chevrolet Equinox. She has not been seen or heard from since then.

On Friday, Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor announced the arrest of Kenneth Eugene Lawhorn, 58, on a capital murder warrant. Lawhorn earlier this week had been charged with theft of property and arson in connection with Hough’s Equinox.

Taylor said Hough was last known to be at Lawhorn’s body shop, as she was in the process of trying to find a car to buy for her son.

“He has done work on her vehicles, and she was engaged with him about finding a vehicle for her son,’’ Taylor said. “The extent of their relationship we’re still looking into, but they did know each other.”

“We know that she arrived at his job, and never left,’’ Taylor said.

Kenneth Lawhorn
Kenneth Lawhorn(Russell County Sheriff’s Office)

Hough’s husband, Steven Hough, on Monday morning reported his wife missing to sheriff’s officials. He said he had not seen her since the previous afternoon, and an investigation was immediately launched.

Taylor said they quickly determined that a car fire to which they had responded Sunday night on Carver Road in Seale was linked to her disappearance.

Though burned, investigators found a hidden VIN and determined the torched car was Hough’s Equinox.

Investigators “pinged” Hough’s cell phone and it showed her last location to be in the area of 10th Avenue South and 12th Street in Phenix City, court records show. That location is about 100 yards away from Lawhorn’s body shop.

Detectives were able to obtain surveillance video from a nearby business and that footage showed Hough’s Equinox pull into Lawhorn’s business at 1:41 p.m. Sunday.

The video also showed Lawhorn loading up Hough’s vehicle on a trailer that was hooked up to a white Chevrolet 2500. The truck then pulled off with Hough’s vehicle in tow.

Michelle Hough Disappearance and Death
Russell County sheriff’s investigators are asking for the public’s help in the disappearance and death of Michelle Hough.(Russell County Sheriff’s Office)

Taylor said Lawhorn was driving the truck that was towing Hough’s vehicle.

“We were able to determine that he actually took the vehicle and went out into the county,’’ the sheriff said. “Within an hour, the vehicle was found burned.”

On Tuesday, authorities arrested Lawhorn on charges of theft of property and arson.

“Since then,’’ Taylor said, “the investigation has taken a different turn.”

Late Thursday, sheriff’s officials charged Lawhorn with capital murder during a kidnapping and capital murder during a robbery.

“We still are missing Mrs. Hough. We believe she is deceased,’’ Taylor said at the time. “We believe that Mr. Lawhorn has done something with her body.”

He said they have evidence to believe she was killed, and said her remains were not inside the burned vehicle.

Taylor on Friday released photos of Lawhorn’s vehicle taking Hough’s Equinox away, and his vehicle that he showed up with later back at his body shop.

“This is an ongoing case and it’s a difficult case because right now we still don’t have a body,’’ Taylor said. “We believe he’s disposed of the body, and he was uncooperative with us when we put him in the county jail.”

Michelle Hough Disappearance and Death
Russell County sheriff’s investigators are asking for the public’s help in the disappearance and death of Michelle Hough.(Russell County Sheriff’s Office)

Taylor described Lawhorn’s interactions with investigators as “combative,” and said he as violent criminal past.

“We’re hoping that we’re able to close this door that open for the family,’’ the sheriff said. “Families in circumstances like this need closure and closure comes in several ways.”

“Part of closure is to bring the person who committed the crime to justice,’’ he said. “We believe we have the person who committed the crime.”

“The other part, in this particular case, is finding the body and being able to give the family closure with a proper burial and proper memorial for their loved,’’ he said. “We’re hoping to do be able to do that in the coming weeks.”

The photos released Friday are of Lawhorn’s red For Expedition and white pickup truck with a trailer.

Investigators are asking that anyone who saw those vehicles on Nov. 5 or Nov 6, or with any information about the case, to call sheriff’s Investigator Ramon Ortiz at 334-664-9846 or Lt. Jarrod Barr at 334-664-9851.