WILLIAMSON, W.Va. – The motive in the murder of well-known coal executive Ben Hatfield appears to be a botched attempt at stealing his Denali vehicle when it was parked at a local cemetery on Sunday afternoon while Hatfield was visiting his late wife’s gravesite.
Mingo County Sheriff James Smith held a press conference Thursday morning after the arraignment of the first suspect in the case was held. Anthony Arriaga was extradited back to Mingo County after he was arrested near his hometown of Delphos, Ohio earlier this week.
Deputies believe that between 1:00 and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 22, Hatfield was at the cemetery located at Maher, which is about 12 miles north of Williamson. Smith said Hatfield was cleaning his wife’s and in-laws grave plots. He had parked his Denali SUV nearby.
“We believe the suspect –Arriaga – and the other suspect Brandon Fitzpatrick – pulled into the cemetery and pulled up behind Mr. Hatfield’s SUV,” Smith added. Deputies believe the two thought they could steal the SUV and get about $10,000 for it at a “chop-shop.”
“They apparently didn’t want any witnesses, so we believe Anthony walked up behind Hatfield and shot twice at him hitting him once in the back,” Sheriff Smith stated. “At this time we think Mr. Hatfield ran for cover toward the river bank. We believe Anthony (Arriaga) panicked and also ran over the river bank.”
At that time it is believed that Arriaga did not know for sure Hatfield was dead.
“At this time we think Fitzpatrick pulled out and left the scene,” Smith added. Smith said Fitzpatrick believes Arriaga would get the keys and meet Fitzpatrick later.
“We think this was a random act – that Hatfield was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Sheriff Smith continued. Deputies believe the two suspects were just driving around the region looking for a way to rob someone.
Fitzpatrick is being held in a Kenton County, Kentucky jail awaiting extradition back to W.Va.
Smith said the investigation is ongoing, but they feel like robbery was the motive.
Arriaga did not take Hatfield’s wallet, but removed his clothes and traveled down the river bank to a nearby residence. He told that person that he had fallen in the river and needed some clothes. At some point it is believed he dropped the hand gun on the river bank. Arriaga had also left his wet clothes along the river bank in the heavily weeded areas. He offered the Maher resident $45 for a ride to Wayne County where he was dropped off at a Rite Aid. From that location it is believed that Arriaga walked to a friend’s house.
He then hooked up with Ricky Peterson, a friend who lives in Wayne. Smith said the two were friends from junior high school.
From that point the two apparently hooked back up with Fitzpatrick, who had Arriaga’s phone, Sheriff Smith added.
On Monday, Fitzpatrick and Arriaga fled back to his home in Allen County, Ohio. That is where Arriaga was arrested on Tuesday.
When Peterson was first questioned by the state police, he allegedly lied to the troopers.
Peterson denies any knowledge in Hatfield’s murder.
“Nobody’s life should be taken for no reason, especially a person that has family and kids,” Peterson told a local TV station.
He said he has been friends for years with Arriaga. Peterson will likely be charged with accessory after the fact and lying to police after the murder. He could be charged with aiding Arriaga.
“During our investigation, Anthony’s phone was pinged and that is how we found out he was in Allen County,” Smith continued. “We sent the warrants up to the Allen County Sheriff’s Office where they picked him up.”
Fitzpatrick, who lives in Louisa, Ky., was picked up Wednesday morning in northern Kentucky on drug charges. He faces conspiracy and murder charges once he is brought back to Mingo County. Arriaga’s mother was reportedly with Fitzpatrick at the time and was also arrested on drug charges. Fitzpatrick and Arriaga had gotten together with Arriaga’s mother when they fled back to Ohio.
Chief Joe Smith said that the law enforcement agencies in Ohio were extremely helpful. He mentioned the Delphos City Police Department, who assisted in the arrest.
Chief Smith added that it is believed that once the suspects saw on the news that Hatfield had died from the gunshot wound on Monday, that is when they fled back to Ohio.
Hatfield’s body was sent for an autopsy to the state medical examiner’s office in South Charleston.
Chief Smith said the WVSP bomb dog helped find the alleged murder weapon on the river bank.
“I would like to thank all of the agencies that have been involved in this case,” Smith stated. The West Virginia State Police, along with police agencies in Kentucky and Ohio, a total of eight, have assisted in the complex case.
“This has been hectic,” Smith said of the complicated investigation. “I don’t think these two were connected to Mr. Hatfield in any way.”
(Kyle Lovern is the Managing Editor for the Civitas Media Mountain District including the Williamson Daily News and Logan Banner. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or on Twitter @KyleLovern.)