Incest, murder emerge as factors in Guthrie Center arson case

In a story of incest and murder almost rivalling a Greek tragedy, a Story County man was arrested in Ames Wednesday in connection with a May house fire in Guthrie Center that took the lives of two children, and the man’s stepfather was arrested by the Greene County Sheriff’s office on charges he sexually abused one of the fire’s victims who was his own daughter.

Patrick Ryan Thompson, 26

Patrick James Thompson, 26, of Nevada was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree arson in connection with the May 15 fire that claimed the lives of Melanie “Paige” Exline, 12, and her cousin, Shakiah Cockerham, 16, both of Guthrie Center.

The girls’ grandmother, Shirley Exline, 74, and their uncle, William Long III, 54, were also injured in the blaze that killed the cousins and destroyed the house at 1005 Main St. in Guthrie Center.

Noah Exline

Noah Duane Exline, 19, of Jefferson, the elder brother of Melanie “Paige” Exline, was arrested April 3 on charges he sexually abused his sister between 2014 and 2016. Exline pleaded not guilty May 22 to the charges, and his trial is pending on seven counts of second-degree sexual abuse.

James Exline Jr., 46, of Jefferson, the father of Noah Exline and Melanie “Paige” Exline and the stepfather of Thompson, was arrested Wednesday on one count of second-degree sexual abuse and one count of third-degree sexual abuse in the alleged molestation between 2016 and 2017 of his daughter.

Melanie “Paige” Exline was the victim and only witness to the incidents of sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by her father and brother.

James Exline, Jr., the father of Paige Exline, a 12-year-old girl who died in a Guthrie Center fire on Monday, May, 15, 2017.

James Exline was previously convicted in 2009 in Guthrie County District Court on one count of third-degree sexual abuse and one count of lewd and lascivious acts with a child.

Guthrie County Sheriff Marty Arganbright announced the arrests Wednesday in a 4 p.m. press conference in Guthrie Center. Arganbright was joined by Guthrie County Chief Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Bennett, Greene County Sheriff Jack Williams, Greene County Chief Deputy Sheriff Dave Kersey and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Special Agent in Charge Mike Motsinger.

According to affidavits filed in Greene County District Court, “in the days prior to the arson, law enforcement had informed James Exline that he would be arrested for (sexual abuse) the following week.”

Fatal house fire in Guthrie Center

At the time of the arson fire in May, James Exline was living at 2264 M Ave. near Jefferson with his wife, Christine Exline, son, Noah Exline, and stepson, Thompson. The family spent the evening of May 14 at the M Avenue house.

Law enforcement investigation revealed Thompson left the James Exline home about 10:30 p.m. May 14 and returned about 3:45 a.m. May 15. The house fire on Main Street in Guthrie Center was reported about 12:30 a.m. May 15.

According to the affidavits, “In the course of the investigation, multiple persons who originally told law enforcement that they were with Thompson at the time of the arson have now admitted otherwise.”

The investigation of cell phone records revealed Thompson made “threatening comments” April 16 in a text message “with his mother, Christine Exline, stating, ‘Kill all the bitches with their head games,’ and ‘Yeah, it’s the killing that entices me, sounds so good sometimes.’”

Thompson made statements to law enforcement after the fire that were later contradicted by “independent witnesses and evidence obtained from surveillance cameras,” and Noah Exline told law enforcement “that Thompson told him that if he was questioned by law enforcement, to provide an alibi for him that he had returned home much sooner than he had” on the night of the fire.

Additional physical evidence was also collected during the course of the investigation.

Wednesday’s arrests “were the result of good policing,” the DCI’s Motsinger said.

“We have circumstantial evidence and probable cause,” Arganbright said. “It’s been a long process. This has been since May 15, so without the help of all the agencies working together, we probably couldn’t be where we’re at right now. It’s where I wanted to be as far as getting arrested on such a tragic thing like this. It’s been a long process.”

The Guthrie County Sheriff’s office was assisted in the investigation by the Iowa DCI, the State Fire Marshal’s office, the Greene County Sheriff’s office, the Jefferson Police Department, the Ames Police Department, the Nevada Police Department and the Iowa State Patrol.

Thompson is being held in the Guthrie County Jail on $1 million bond. James Exline is being held at the Greene County Jail without bond.

“This is not a closed investigation,” Motsinger said.

Anyone with information related to this investigation is asked to contact the Guthrie County Sheriff’s office at 641-747-2214.

Incest, murder emerge as factors in Guthrie Center arson case