Horrific Crime In W. Virginia Involves WNY Native

January 23, 2012 Updated Jan 23, 2012 at 12:37 AM EDT

By WKBW News

January 23, 2012 Updated Jan 23, 2012 at 12:37 AM EDT

INSTITUTE, W. VIRGINIA ( WCHS - WKBW ) Authorities in West Virginia say a 54 year old man was suspected of killing his girlfriend, Medina native Carol Ann Rhim, and then dismembering her body with a hacksaw.

However the suspect shot himself, committing suicide Thursday when police were executing a search warrant. During that process they found the head and hands of the woman in the trunk of the car owned by the suspect.

Police are now searching a stretch of roadway in Ohio where the suspect was believed to be earlier this week, in hopes of finding the rest of her body.

Here is more from the WCHS website.

Police are combing through two states for evidence in a gruesome murder-suicide.

Murder suspect Nathaniel Roy Lawton, 54, allegedly committed suicide while deputies were at his door to serve a search warrant.

They had gone to Lawton's Barron Drive apartment to look for evidence after hearing he had killed a woman, and cut her to pieces with a hacksaw.

Deputies now have reason to believe that the body parts were strewn across West Virginia and Ohio. Investigators spent most of Friday searching for answers in a likely crime of passion that's shaken everyone who knows the couple to their core.

A murder, a dismemberment, and a suicide...a chain of events that's left even the most veteran police in shock.

"This is one of the worst cases we've seen," explained Chief Deputy John Rutherford of the Kanawha County Sheriff's Office. "We have a task in front of us now to try and locate the rest of the remains," he said in a news conference on Friday.

Deputies say Lawton killed his girlfriend, Carol Ann Rhim, 53, sometime on Tuesday, then dismembered her body in the bathtub of their Institute apartment.

An informant went to police, and deputies soon learned that Lawton bought a hacksaw and tarp from Advance Auto Parts in Dunbar.

Armed with a search warrant, they closed in, but deputies say Lawton shot himself in the head as they knocked on his door Thursday night.

"He just was extremely jealous. Obsessed with her," explained her brother, Teddy Rhim. Sitting in shock after hearing the news, he is unable to cope with the horrific way his sister was murdered.

"Mad comes first, helpless...to the point where she was probably calling out for me for help," he told Eyewitness News.

"This was a total shock," said Wayne Gherke who worked with Lawton for over a decade. Lawton worked for nearly 20 years as a custodian at the mail processing plant at Southridge in South Charleston.

He was described as a "gentle giant," and a man with no criminal history. Co-workers said he was a "happy" person.

"It's like the sun rising in the west, and setting in the east. Totally out of character for what happened," said Gherke.

Deputies found Rhim's head and hands in the trunk of Lawton's car, which they believe was an attempt to conceal her identity if the rest of her remains were discovered.

"What type of person, against someone they love goes out and shops for tarp, saw, and have the conscience to get an extra blade to hide what they've done?" said Rhim's brother.

Lawton's 87-year-old mother also lived in the apartment, but she is nearly comatose and unable to provide police with any information. Lawton left a hastily written note for police on how to care for her, but that was all it said.

As we start to learn more of the unspeakable horror that took place behind an apartment door in Institute, the woman who says she was forced to watch it all is trying to cope with the ordeal. She's hopeful she can somehow, someway find closure.

She says she had to watch as Nathaniel Lawton dismembered his girlfriend, Carol Rhim in front of her.

"I was just hysterical. I mean I was shaking. I didn't let him know because I didn't know what he would have done to me you know what I'm saying and everything? So I had to go along with it," explained the witness.

She is a former friend of Lawton and agreed to talk to Eyewitness News. She is working with police and asked that Eyewitness News not release her identity.

She says Lawton lured her to his apartment earlier this week. She thought he needed help taking care of his elderly mother who also lived with him. But when she got there she watched as the unimaginable happened.

"I had gone down there and he said, "it's bad news", and then the girl was in the kitchen dead."

The woman says she feared for her life.

"I seen him cut her head off, her whole body and everything. It was bad, it was. I was afraid. I didn't say anything, I just went along with it. I had to play it to the "T" because if not, he was going to hurt me too," said the witness.

Afraid of what Lawton may do to her, she eventually got away on Thursday when Lawton allowed her to go work. That's when she reported the gruesome crime to police. A crime she says was even more shocking because she says Lawton was a good man and she never dreamed this would happen.

"He took care of his mother and he really was a good person and everything he really was. So I don't know what led him up to do what he did."

Now she is left in fear and hopeful she'll somehow shake the painful memories and hopeful she can help investigators in the case. "He said that she provoked him...is what he told me. It was horrible. So horrible."

The woman says she's hopeful the Rhim and Lawton families will find peace.