As the Faulkner County Sheriff's Office continues its investigation into the death of a 60-year-old Little Rock man, investigators have sent off a DNA sample to be evaluated at the Arkansas State Crime Lab.
Online records show that investigators requested a circuit judge's OK to collect a DNA sample from Joe Bernard Nowell Jr. after learning Nowell was possibly the last person to see William Ray Holt alive before he was found dead, floating in the waters of the East Fork Cadron Creek in late July.
"It is known through investigation, that Joe Nowell was the last person to see Mr. William Holt before his body was located," an affidavit filed last week in Faulkner County Circuit Court states.
Also, online records show Nowell was smoking a similar cigarette to one that was found at the crime scene when sheriff's deputies previously conducted a search warrant looking for clues and other information regarding Holt at Nowell's residence.
"While on scene serving a search warrant on William Holt's residence, Mr. Nowell was on scene and spoke with investigators. It was observed that Mr. Nowell was smoking the same kind of handmade, hand-rolled cigarette that was located at the crime scene the night Mr. Holt's body was located," the affidavit reads in part. "The Arkansas State Crime Lab notified [FCSO] that the DNA from the homemade, hand-rolled cigarette located at the crime scene did not match the DNA of the victim and was identified as a foreign male DNA [sample]."
Investigators previously requested in this case a search warrant to review historical cell phone data from AT&T Mobility, noting the victim's Arvest bank account had Nowell's phone number listed as the account's primary phone number.
The sheriff's office initiated its investigation into Holt's death after being alerted there was a body floating in the waters under the bridge in the 420 block of Highway 287 over the East Fork Cadron Creek shortly before 8 p.m. July 24.
Authorities believe Holt was killed about 24 hours prior to being located.
His body was not immediately identified. However, he was identified the next day via a fingerprint scan at the Arkansas State Crime Lab. AS the investigation continued, authorities learned the 60-year-old homeless man had been living with Nowell at a residence on Berry Gap Lane in the Eagle Township community in eastern Faulkner County.
Holt’s body was discovered on a Tuesday evening. Nowell reportedly told authorities he last saw the 60-year-old the Sunday prior to his discovery in the creek.
As a search warrant was executed at the Berry Gap residence in July, “several items were seized.”
While at the residence, investigators spoke with Nowell, who said Holt began staying with him “on and off” about six months prior, noting he’d picked up the 60-year-old homeless man in Little Rock. According to the affidavit, Nowell told police the two attended church together. On Sunday, July 22, Nowell said he was saved at the church and later got into an argument with Holt the same night regarding Holt’s drinking problem. According to Nowell’s statement, Holt packed all his belongings, including $700 and a red wallet, and left walking that night.
It was the last time Nowell said he saw Holt.
After speaking with others in the area, investigators learned Nowell and Holt had a close relationship.
"A neighbor of Mr. Nowell told investigators that Nowell put up a mail box for Mr. Holt, which we later found to be a requirement to get his Social Security benefits," the records state.
FCSO also learned Nowell reportedly had a reputation for picking up homeless man and having them collect money for him.
“Investigators discovered that Mr. Holt had a homeless friend in Little Rock by the name of James Martin who stayed in the Butler Park area,” the affidavit states. “James Martin was interviewed and disclosed that Joe Nowell frequents the homeless people in the area and drives them to various areas to panhandle for him locally. Mr. Martin said Nowell kept most of the money for himself that they made.”
According to the affidavit, investigators believe historical cell phone data will help show investigators where Nowell and Holt were in the days leading up from Holt leaving on July 22 to being discovered dead on July 24.
Authorities have since obtained a sample of Nowell's DNA. Samples of Nowell's DNA have been sent to the Arkansas State Crime Lab for comparison to DNA traces found on the hand-rolled cigarette that was located at the crime scene.
FCSO Chief Deputy Matt Rice said while this case remains an open investigation, he encourages anyone with information regarding Holt's death to contact authorities.
Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to call Investigator Johnny Fowlkes at 501-358-5906. Tips can also be submitted anonymously online under the Crime Tips tab on the sheriff’s office website at www.fcso.ar.gov.