A warrant for a first-degree murder charge has been issued in an investigation stemming from the death of a Mount Airy man whose body was found Monday in the remains of a burned house.
The suspect, Matthew Ray Lawson, 29, of 142 Soldier Lane, Ararat, was still at large early Tuesday afternoon, when Surry County Sheriff Jimmy Combs announced that development during a press conference at his office in Dobson.
“We consider this person armed and dangerous,” Combs said of Lawson, who is accused in a warrant read by the sheriff of killing Nathan Corey Atkins, 27, of 109 Starr Memory Trail, Mount Airy. Atkins lived in a house owned by his parents at that location, just off U.S. 52-North near Fancy Gap Road, which was destroyed in a fire Monday morning.
The discovery of a body in the burned-out house prompted a massive investigation by Surry County Sheriff’s Office personnel and an arson investigator from the State Bureau of Investigation.
“We actually had a break in the case last night,” Sheriff Combs said during Tuesday’s press conference in announcing that the investigation had generated sufficient probable cause to issue the murder warrant against Lawson.
His name has been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a computerized database that will inform law enforcement personnel nationwide of Lawson’s status as a wanted fugitive.
Anyone with information about his whereabouts or about the case itself is asked to contact the Surry County Sheriff’s Office at 336-401-8900.
The sheriff added Tuesday that a motive for the alleged slaying is “not developed so far” and he declined to comment on the relationship between Atkins and Lawson.
Combs said that after the man’s body was located in the burned house, Atkins’ family was notified and pointed out that two vehicles which should have been at the residence were not there, which raised suspicions. Included was a car that later was found burned in a field in the Ararat area and a motorcycle discovered wrecked in another location.
Other charges are pending against Lawson, according to the sheriff, who said the murder probe was still in an early stage. “There’s a lot more people that have to be interviewed at some point in the investigation.”
Combs also supplied a list Tuesday of previous outstanding charges against Lawson, including three felony counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, felonious possession of stolen goods, felony breaking and entering, two felonious safecracking charges, three counts of felonious larceny of a firearm, failing to appear in court for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, injury to real property, a felony probation violation and a misdemeanor probation violation.
Surry Emergency Services Director John Shelton, who also attended Tuesday’s press conference as part of his additional capacity as county medical examiner, said the body found in the home was being sent to Winston-Salem for an autopsy. No preliminary cause of death has been determined.
Dental records of Atkins’ will be used to help confirm the identity of the victim, Shelton said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.