SNELLVILLE — Eight days before the bloodbath, Robert Bell took to Craigslist.
“Hi,” the 33-year-old amateur bassist wrote. “My wife and I are wanting to relocate to New Orleans Asap.”
Bell asked for help finding a band and a church in the Big Easy that he and his wife — a “natural lead” vocalist — could perform at regularly. They were available separately or as a pair, he said.
“My name is Rob, im originally from Chicago but been in Atlanta for three years now,” Bell wrote. “I’ve been playing bass for 12 years. I got that real strong Chi-town groove and can funk some stuff up.”
That was Sept. 7.
On Sept. 15, Gwinnett County police believe Bell was lying in wait, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, as 34-year-old Angelina Benton, 12-year-old Joseph McDonald, 19-year-old Raynard Daniel and 23-year-old Justin Cato returned to their home on Anderson Livsey Lane near Snellville.
Bell and his wife — who reportedly knew Benton through a mutual connection, possibly church, in Albany — were living there at the time too, a result of hard times and Benton’s goodwill. By the end of the night, though, Benton, McDonald (her son) and Daniel (her godson) were shot dead. Cato (her boyfriend) was shot in the leg but survived.
A 911 caller that night identified the shoot as her neighbor.
“He was chasing her,” the caller said. “He just kept shooting, he kept shooting. I’ve seen him, I watched him do it.”
Police believe Bell fled on foot, leaving the murder weapon and his SUV behind — the latter because Benton still clutched his keys.
A five-week manhunt began with officials surmising Bell might be headed for Albany, Chicago or Cookeville, Tenn., a former home where his wife, Danielle, was at the time of the murder. But on Oct. 2, four days before Bell’s 34th birthday, a pickup truck stolen about half a mile from the Gwinnett scene was recovered in New Orleans.
Bell’s own Craiglist postings “solidified the theory” that he was in Louisiana, Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said, but don’t necessarily hint that he planned the Snellville ambush and his escape that far in advance.
Thanks to intel from the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Marshall’s Service, a fugitive task force in New Orleans descended upon a local homeless shelter Thursday.
Bell was there and reportedly fled on foot but was detained. He was taken to the Orleans Parish Temporary Detention Center, where a soot-faced mugshot was snapped and posted online.
Smith said GCPD detectives drove to New Orleans to follow-up but got nothing from Bell himself, who retained a lawyer and declined to speak with them. A possible motive is still unclear.
Regardless, Bell awaits extradition to Gwinnett, where original warrants charged him with three counts of felony murder and a single count of aggravated assault.
It’s all a far cry from the hopeful bassist with his own Youtube channel and dreams of going to New Orleans — as a musician.
“I can play all styles and my ear is phenomenal,” Bell wrote. “I have great gear and transportation.”