UPDATE (7:37 p.m.):
A 52-year-old Baldwin County man, who formerly worked as a supervisor with the Baldwin County Road Department, was being sought by authorities in connection with the abduction of a woman from her home Wednesday afternoon.
Shortly after the victim was punched in the face and forced into the trunk of a car, the suspect abducted the woman from her Harrisburg neighborhood residence shortly before 2 p.m.
A short time later, an alert Wilkinson County Sheriff’s Office deputy, Kenny Morgan, spotted the trunk of the car open up and saw someone inside it while traveling along U.S. Highway 441 bypass.
Once spotted by the deputy, the suspect, later identified as Willie Wilkerson, reportedly jumped out of his car and ran into a wooded area, according to Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee.
In an exclusive interview with the newspaper at the scene, Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Meagan Pearson said the victim told her that she was abducted from her home on Harrisburg Road.
“She said she didn’t know where they were going,” Pearson said. “She said she started praying and started pulling a couple of latches in the trunk before the trunk finally opened.” When they got to the intersection of U.S. Highway 441 and Irwinton Road, Deputy Morgan was on the bypass headed northbound, Pearson said.
“He (Morgan) saw the vehicle turn with the trunk open, and at that point saw the victim,” Pearson said.
Morgan turned on his blue lights and attempted to stop the driver of the car, who drove about a quarter of a mile along the bypass back toward Milledgeville.
The suspect drove off the shoulder of the roadway and stopped at the woods line, the deputy said.
“All Deputy Morgan could see was that the man was a black male and he was wearing all black (clothing),” Pearson said. “And then the lady, the victim jumped out of the trunk.”
The victim was checked for injuries and then released.
Pearson said the victim told her that she has known the suspect for at least five years.
“She ran into him this morning (Wednesday) at Walmart around 11:30,” Pearson said.
During a conversation at the store, the victim mentioned she needed to have some sheetrock work done at her home.
Wilkerson reportedly said that was what he was in business for, so the victim allowed him to come to her residence about 1:30 p.m., Pearson said.
“Then from there, she said he replaced the sheetrock, but didn’t want any payment,” Pearson said.
A manhunt for Wilkerson remained underway for nearly three hours Wednesday and involved searches in densely wooded areas along Irwinton Road near the Royal Inn, as well as along the U.S. Highway 441 bypass.
Wednesday afternoon’s search failed to turn up the suspect, however.
Wilkerson, who was wanted on outstanding misdemeanor theft warrants before the crimes on Wednesday, now faces felony kidnapping and robbery charges, Detective Robert Butch told The Union-Recorder at the scene of the manhunt shortly after 5 p.m.
Butch said it was his understanding that Wilkerson was doing some repair work at the victim’s house when the abduction occurred.
Two bloodhounds, one from the Wilkinson County Sheriff’s Office, and another one from the Georgia Department of Corrections assisted local law enforcement officers in the search for the suspect.
Butch said the manhunt was challenging simply because of the density of the area being searched.
More than 25 law enforcement officers from the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, Milledgeville Police Department, Wilkinson County Sheriff’s Office, Irwinton Police Department, Georgia Department of Corrections, Georgia State Probation and Georgia State Patrol, participated in the manhunt.
Wilkerson is described as an African American male of medium complexion. He is about 6-feet-1 inches tall and weighs between 220-240 pounds.
Wilkerson worked for the county for several years.
“And to be honest with you about him, he was our go-to person,” Massee said of Wilkerson. “He knew everybody and just did a heck of a job, and then just sort of got dysfunctional.”
“We’re very lucky we don’t have a victim somewhere dead and we’re working a sure enough who done it case,” he said.
Anyone that sees or knows of Wilkerson’s whereabouts is asked to call Baldwin County 911 or the sheriff’s office tip line at 478-445-5102.
UPDATE (4:54 p.m.): A manhunt is underway for a kidnapping suspect in Baldwin County.
Baldwin County deputies, detectives along with Wilkinson County Sheriff’s Office deputies, the Georgia Department of Corrections and a K-9 unit are canvassing a large wooded area off of the bypass in Baldwin County near Gordon Highway.
They are searching for Willie Wilkerson, who is the suspect in the kidnapping of a woman who was accosted earlier today, according to Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee.
The woman has been found and has been examined by medical personnel. The extent of her injuries is still unknown.
Anyone who knows of Wilkerson’s whereabouts is urged to immediately call 911.