MCDUFFIE COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF) – More than six years ago someone murdered a McDuffie County man just as he was arriving home to his wife and child. It was five days before Christmas and loved ones say he had just picked up his check from work to celebrate the holiday.
“COVID has happened and so much has happened to put everything else on the back burner and I did not want Jonathan to be on the back burner,” said Candice Starbuck, Jonathan Gurley’s cousin-in-law.
A resounding message of never forgotten could be heard on April 3 from the McDuffie County Courthouse to Thomson’s Main Street. It was all in the name of justice for Jonathan. Someone shot and killed the 28-year-old husband and father in front of his home on Shadowmoor Circle. Now, with his cousin-in-law leading the charge, family and friends take to the streets hoping to be heard and seen.
“For the first five years this happened, I prayed for the Lord not to give any kind of mercy. I said give them no mercy God,” Starbuck said. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to pray for that but give them no mercy. This last year, it’s been harder. I’ve been praying for them.”
Six and a half years grieving. But mom Sharon Gurley remembers her son’s birthday like it was just yesterday.
“Nine pound and eight-ounce little boy and he came out running, let me tell you,” Sharon Gurley said.
And dad, Greg Gurley, can’t forget a touching childhood with his boy who loved driving.
“Power Wheel cars. It was about 200 yards from my house to his grandparents’ house in a field,” Greg Gurley told us. “He just rode that thang up and down that field, wore him a path look like a racetrack going up and down through there.”
And whether it was a sport or music, Sharon Gurley says her son did his best.
“When he got into elementary school, he was in the band and he could play any instrument they gave him,” his mother told Cold Case Project. “The Red Coat Band at University of Georgia wanted him. They told him, ‘boy when you get through with high school, we want you up here.’”
While Athens was not his stop after graduating, Augusta Tech was and because his mom said he was good with his hands, he began working toward a career in heating and air.
“The day before he got killed, he had graduated college with a 4.0 (grade point) average and had a job interview the Tuesday after he got killed,” she added.
Working to support his family in the meantime, he became a cook at Angie’s Steak and Seafood in Thomson.
“He cooked steaks and all kind of stuff for them. He also helped them with taking the deposits because he closed up at night. So, he would take the deposits to the bank for them.,” Sharon Gurley recalled.
December 20. The night Gurley was killed, his mother said he did something unusual, took off work on a weekend. She said he wanted to Christmas shop for his 6-month-old daughter. That same day, most of the family was in Augusta celebrating the holiday season.
“We got a phone call as we were leaving the restaurant and we were told that he’d been shot and we needed to get home,” Sharon Gurley said. “I felt something wasn’t right.”
“So, I raced down I-20 with the blinkers flashing to get there just as fast as I could, hoping I could see him. But then deep down knowing that he was gone,” said Greg Gurley.
Their son died before they reached University Hospital McDuffie. He was buried the day after Christmas and a few days later, more details about his killing emerged.
“He was text to meet a friend or somebody he knew. He left the house to go pick up his check. He stopped at the little curb store, on the way, to pick up a drink. Then he went out to the restaurant to pick up his check. He picked up his check, then he made another stop somewhere, we’re not sure where. Then he came back to the house,” his mom said.
The Cold Case Project learned from Jonathan’s father that his son sold marijuana, and said investigators found a substantial amount at his Shadowmoor Circle home. Thomson Police Department’s incident report verifies the murder is drug related, indicating there was marijuana involved. Greg Gurley says he believes that stop his son made at the curb store was to complete a sale before going home.
“They came out from behind his trailer shooting. They shot five times. They hit him twice. He fell, face down. They ripped his necklace off of him, took his wallet. He had a gun. They took it. They left him laying there on the ground, stole his truck,” his mom added.
NewsChannel 6 also sat down with Pat Morgan, Special Agent In Charge of the GBI’s Region 7 Office in Thomson. The agency has been investigating the case since the beginning.
“We could tell that there had been some type of altercation at the scene,” Morgan said. “His vehicle, which was a pickup truck, had been taken from the scene. His wife at the time was there.”
“My suspicion is they were waiting behind that trailer, it was a landscape trailer, 12, 16 foot enclosed,” Greg Gurley said. “Had all his stuff in there. I feel like they were waiting behind that trailer. When he backed up and he turned to get out, that’s when they come out from behind and (shoots with hand).”
Sharon Gurley said her son crawled to his back door and his wife Patrice, who told us she was not in the right mental state to interview for this story, found him there. Gurley said her daughter-in-law held her son, but not without attempting to call 911. Since her cell phone battery died, she told family that she began to yell for someone to assist and a man walking down the street rang emergency crews. Jonathan Gurley’s 2002 Dodge Dakota truck was stolen along with a gun.
“I believe that this was a robbery of Mr. Gurley that ended up causing and ending his life,” Morgan added.
Law enforcement recovered the vehicle five days later on a dirt road near Happy Valley and Wrens Highway. It’s a truck Greg Gurley remembers getting when his son needed more money for a down payment.
“If y’all take me on as a cosigner on that note, I’ll do it. He got up from the chair and gave me a big old hug,” his dad said.
But the family is left with questions, such as did the dog bark? A Pitt Bull that was protective of Jonathan. Also, did anyone see the truck around town?
While one neighbor told us he heard a few gun shots that night and a car leaving, the trail has turned cold. But police said the case remains open.
While Sharon Gurley said her son’s life was ahead of him, so was someone else’s, his young daughter.
“He only had a short time with her. She was 6 months old. He’s dead, but they’re out here living their life,” she exclaimed.
And his parents are left behind too.
“I just feel like I got a hole ’bout like that in my heart that can’t nothing fill up,” Greg Gurley described.
Toombs Circuit District Attorney Bill Doupe said while there may be some evidence, there needs to be enough of it to convict.
He said, “We only get one shot and we don’t want to go off on a case where we don’t have all our evidence in a row and then the person is acquitted. Then something happens down the road and we could prove the case, but then our shot is over with. You get one chance at a prosecution.”
DA Doupe, who joined loved ones and friends during the recent march through town to where Gurley is now buried, remains hopeful.
He added, “There’s a possibility or probability that at some point additional evidence could develop that would help us bring this case successfully to court. I firmly believe that in this case, there will be those developments.”
Pat Morgan added, “We have good information and good leads in this case that is leading us toward who we feel the people that are responsible for his death.”
Until the suspect or suspects have their day in court, the family hopes someone steps up to pay for the crime.
“We’re willing to give a reward if we get pertinent information that will bring somebody to justice.”
Anyone with information about Jonathan Gurley’s case should contact the GBI. You can contact the GBI several ways. You can download the See Something, Send Something mobile app, submit tips online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, by calling 1-800-597-8477, or by calling 706-595-2575.
Information can also be given to the Thomson Police Department by calling 706-595-2166.
Next time on the Cold Case Project, we take you to Aiken where Moses Williams was shot and killed in the parking lot of his girlfriend’s apartment. What the family and law enforcement need to get justice and close the case.