HEFLIN — Monday marked 17 years since the fatal stabbing of a Heflin mother and son, and local police are still looking for their killer.
Heflin police Chief A.J. Benefield said law enforcement agents have conducted a plethora of interviews, offered rewards for information, narrowed down the list of potential suspects and still follow up on tips, but have never made an arrest in connection with the case.
Police said they can’t release many details, but have gotten a clearer picture in the past five years of what happened, thanks to new information.
Even after all this time, officers and family members said, the murder cast a shadow on the small, quiet and peaceful town of Heflin.
Family members said they are hopeful they will see the case resolved, but are hurting just the same.
A grisly scene
Benefield said he remembered being called as a young officer to a mobile home on Sugar Hill Road on the morning of Sept. 16, 2002, after receiving a report of two deaths.
Benefield said he arrived at the home around 10:45 a.m. that day to find the bodies of 23-year-old Monica Rollins and her 5-year-old son, Dalton. Benefield said they found Rollins’ 3-year-old son, Aaron Rollins, alive inside.
Earlier reports from The Star stated Monica and Dalton Rollins had died from stab wounds within a few days to the discovery of their body. Monica Rollins was seven months pregnant at the time, and her unborn child was found partially delivered.
“It’s a really bad scene,” Benefield said.
According to Benefield, police were called there after a relative who hadn’t heard from them in a few days went to check on them and discovered Dalton Rollins’ body.
After the slayings, Benefield said, Heflin police turned the case over to the Alabama Bureau of Investigations and Cleburne County sheriff’s deputies became involved.
‘People are still emotional’
Benefield said Heflin police work on the case weekly. He said he doesn’t like to call it a “cold case.” To him, it’s simply a case that’s taken a while longer to solve.
“This case hasn’t been forgotten,” Benefield said. “It’s frustrating when you run into certain situations where you want things to happen a little faster than they are happening.”
According to Benefield, police get new tips or leads monthly. When a lead comes in, Benefield said, they follow it as far as they can.
“People are still emotional about it today,” Hendrix said.
Recently, Benefield said, he and Hendrix came into the police station around 2:30 a.m. a few weeks ago to interview someone who sent in a tip.
Because of the way Dalton and Monica Rollins lost their lives, Benefield said, he can’t promise the family peace, but he can try to give them closure.
Benefield said police interviewed “lots and lots” of people during the investigation, but have few potential suspects today.
Remembering the victims
Jeremy Rollins, the boys’ father and Monica’s ex-husband, said he may never find closure or peace.
“We don’t know what happened, so you don’t have an ending to it,” Rollins said. “Even if I knew who it was, I don’t know if the hurt is going to be different.”
Rollins said it didn’t feel real when police broke the news to him. Rollins and Monica Rollins had divorced a year earlier and were living separately.
Rollins said he had ended his night shift at Forte Power Systems, where he’s currently employed, around 6 p.m. and police came to his house several hours later and asked him to come into the station.
Once there, Rollins said, he waited around 30 minutes before police told him how his son and ex-wife had died. He said he became sick to his stomach when it finally sunk in.
“You just don’t think it could happen to you and your family,” Rollins said. “It was a loss I didn’t know how to accept.”
The last time Rollins saw Dalton alive, he said, was the weekend before his death. Nothing was out of the ordinary about that weekend, Rollins said. According to Rollins, they had played outside and hung out around the house. Rollins recalled Dalton as a quiet and obedient child.
“He was two-and-a-half when Aaron was born,” Rollins said. “He was a good big brother to Aaron.”
Despite his differences with his ex-wife, Rollins said, Monica Rollins was a good person. Rollins said he and Monica Rollins dated in high school and had a stable relationship until after Aaron was born.
“We had fun together,” Rollins said. “I don’t think we understand what life was about until we were married and had kids. We realized we weren’t meant for each other.”
‘I wanted to know everything’
According to Benefield, police quickly ruled Rollins out as a suspect and have received Rollins’ full cooperation throughout the investigation.
After the murders, Rollins said, many in his community, from staff at Dalton’s school to the men who dug the graves, rallied around him in support.
“Everybody seemed like they kind of went out of their way for me,” Rollins said.
The downside to all of that support, Rollins said, was that it was hard when he went out in public and everyone he saw wanted to talk about the case. Rollins said people still approach him about it. At first he listened. Nowadays, he said, he directs those people to the police.
Rollins said he’s developed plenty of theories over the years. At several points, Rollins said, he had heard things about a man who had lived with Monica Rollins after their divorce who may have fathered her unborn child, a couple who lived nearby and a man who dated Monica Rollins’ mother.
Every time he spoke to police with a new potential suspect, Rollins said, they would tell him they had already been ruled out.
“I wanted to know everything, but I didn’t always want to ask questions,” Rollins said. “Because when I asked questions, I didn’t always like the answer.”
At one point, Rollins said, police told him they knew who the killer was, but didn’t have enough evidence to arrest him. He begged police to tell him who it was.
If that happened today, Rollins said, he hopes police would make sure the suspect was in jail before they let him know.
“I guess I was raised with ‘it’s an eye for an eye,’” Rollins said. “If I knew who did it, I’d get in my truck and kill him right today.”
‘All I saw was my son’
Ultimately, Rollins said, it was Aaron who helped him overcome his grief. After his mother and brother were killed, Rollins said, he was all Aaron had.
“I was hurt. I’m sitting here trying to figure out what would get me through and all I saw was my son,” Rollins said. “I had to be strong. I couldn’t fall apart.”
Rollins said he put Aaron in counseling, but Aaron couldn’t remember what happened. Still, Rollins said, raising Aaron alone was difficult at times. The sudden deaths of Monica and Dalton Rollins had stripped him of a sense of security that most parents have as their children grow up.
“I was always nervous about sending him somewhere,” Rollins said. “I always thought, ‘what if he suddenly realizes who it was,’ and they be right there?”
Luckily, Rollins said, Aaron turned out fine. Rollins said Aaron recently turned 20, has a girlfriend and works at a nursing home.
Still seeking answers
Despite the case being unsolved, Rollins said, he appreciates all of the law enforcement agencies and the officers who investigated the case over the years. He said he’s comforted by how many of them are invested in seeing the case resolved.
“They seem like it hurts them when they can’t find anything,” Rollins said. “I don’t wish hurt on anyone, but when I talk to them and they get teary-eyes, it means they care.”
Benefield said he didn’t know the Rollins family very well before the murders, but he was friendly with them.
“My kids were the exact same ages as their kids,” Benefield said. “When we’d pass, we’d speak.”
Benefield encouraged anyone who may have information on the case to contact them at 256-463-2291. Many times, Benefield said, those leads don’t lead to anywhere, but that’s OK.
“That’s our job. That’s what we get paid by taxpayer money to do. We’re public servants,” Benefield said. “It may be that small piece of the puzzle that connects two big pieces together or it may be something else.