Although Jordon Ross Lowdermilk has been charged with murdering an elderly Mount Airy woman early Wednesday, it was his criminal past that provided a key link to Lowdermilk’s apprehension.
At the time of the slaying, Lowdermilk, 28, of Briar Patch Lane, Dobson, was on probation for a 2015 conviction on two counts of possession of stolen goods in Stokes County. He was wanted by local corrections officers, who had alerted the public of his status in a mid-April newspaper report.
“He was an absconder,” Mount Airy Police Chief Dale Watson said Thursday in regard to Lowdermilk, who has a lengthy criminal history. Being an absconder typically involves failing to report to a probation officer as required after a conviction.
While already being sought by authorities, Lowdermilk allegedly broke into Claudia Smith’s apartment at 409 Franklin St. in the early morning hours Wednesday, murdered the 80-year-old woman and fled in her Nissan Altima. Blunt trauma has been identified as the cause of death, which can include a severe impact or physical attack.
Lowdermilk subsequently was located by bail agents while walking on East Pine Street a few blocks away from the murder scene, according to city police, who announced Lowdermilk’s arrest shortly before 2 a.m. Thursday.
However, this occurred only after a series of crimes he allegedly committed in the Pine Ridge vicinity west of town upon fleeing Smith’s home and wrecking her vehicle there, including stabbing a motorist on Interstate 77.
Meanwhile, Mount Airy detectives — assisted by the State Bureau of Investigation — targeted Lowdermilk as a person of interest in the elderly woman’s slaying, through interviews with various individuals and information generated by citizens.
“We had a lot of tips and a lot of people who provided valuable information,” Chief Watson said Thursday. “We were able to identify him as a suspect.”
The investigation shows that Lowdermilk apparently broke into the elderly woman’s apartment between 2 and 3 a.m. Tuesday before killing her.
“We do think that they had met previously,” the police chief said, but he described Lowdermilk as “only an acquaintance” of the woman.
After being turned over to investigating officers by the bail agents who apprehended him, Lowdermilk was charged by the Mount Airy Police Department with first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and larceny of a motor vehicle.
He is being held in the Surry County Jail without privilege of bond and had a first-appearance hearing in District Court in Dobson Thursday morning.
It was unclear Thursday what if any property might have been stolen from Smith’s home, in addition to the vehicle.
Smith’s Nissan Altima was found shortly after 6 a.m. Wednesday by Surry County Deputy Sydney Alderman along the northbound portion of Interstate 77 south of Exit 100.
Around the same time frame, Lowdermilk allegedly engaged in a mini-crime spree in that vicinity. This included the stabbing of an I-77 motorist heading to Ohio from Florida, according to a sequence provided Thursday by Sheriff Graham Atkinson and members of his department.
After Bryan James Mace pulled off the roadway for a brief stop near Exit 100, he was approached by a man matching Lowdermilk’s description, who asked Mace for a ride. After Mace said he couldn’t do give him one, Lowdermilk then asked the motorist for a cigarette.
“He reached in and got the cigarette and he got stabbed,” the sheriff said of the victim.
Despite being badly injured, Mace was able to escape his attacker and drove to the intersection of Pine Ridge Road and N.C. 89, where emergency personnel responded and transported him to the hospital in Mount Airy and later to Winston-Salem.
The Surry County Sheriff’s Office charged Lowdermilk with assault with a deadly weapon, inflicting serious injury with intent to kill in that incident.
A man matching Lowdermilk’s description also was linked to a burglary call on Union Cross Road during the same time frame, along with an attempted larceny of a vehicle from Hollar and Greene Produce on Oak Grove Church Road. Charges are said to be pending in those crimes.
After Smith’s damaged Nissan was found by Deputy Alderman and she checked the tag number to identify its owner with an address in Mount Airy, city police were contacted and went to her home on Franklin Street for a welfare check.
“That’s when they found out they had a homicide,” the sheriff said of Mount Airy police.
The investigative effort in the city also produced a description of Lowdermilk that matched the others, including from the man who was stabbed, Atkinson said. This led to Lowdermilk later being taken into custody in Mount Airy.
Returned to city
Chief Watson said Lowdermilk was able to find his way back to Mount Airy after abandoning Smith’s vehicle as the investigation heated up — a move that was unexpected.
“I was surprised,” Watson said of Lowdermilk electing to return here rather than attempting to flee the area altogether.
But the chief believed that after Lowdermilk was identified as a suspect and other information was assembled, “it would only be a matter of time before we would locate him.” Watson described the arrest as a situation in which everything came together for a positive outcome.
Such a crime is rare in Mount Airy, and causes devastating effects when it does occur, he said.
“It shocks the conscience of the community and it creates fear, it really does,” the police chief said.
Thankfully, the community rallied together as it always does in crisis situations and provided information that helped lead to the alleged perpetrator’s arrest, Watson added.
In the wake of Lowdermilk’s capture, Mount Airy is mourning the loss of a beloved resident.
“She was a kind soul,” Chief Watson said of what he learned about Claudia Smith during the course of the investigation, “well-respected in the community.”
This was echoed by Michelle Leftwich, a former neighbor of Smith’s in the small, well-kept apartment building that contains four units altogether.
“She was always very friendly,” recalled Leftwich, who moved from the Franklin Street location in 2013 after living near Smith for several years. “She would do anything for you if you asked.”
That included being willing to frequently watch after Benji, the dog of another neighbor, Ashley Moorefield, while his owner was at work.
“She walked a lot — she was always outgoing,” Leftwich added of Smith, who got along well with everyone.
“Not a harsh word out of her, and we were neighbors for four years.”
Lowdermilk’s criminal record, as documented by the N.C. Department of Public Safety, includes a long list of violations dating to 2005.
In addition to possession of stolen goods, these include breaking and entering, larceny, damage to property and multiple counts of driving while impaired, among others.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.