Rowan Oak canvass
On Friday, February 15, 2019, Sheriff's Officers Steve Harding and Kennon Winters interviewed the witnesses at the scene including the groundskeepers assigned to Rowan Oak the day of the murder and the Rowan Oak curator. They also spoke with the University's Physical Plant Office Manager, who placed the 911 call.
These witnesses were questioned regarding any information they might have about the homicide of Rolf Warner and/or circumstances leading to the homicide. The interviews summarized are some of the most typical or relevant to the investigation and are representative of all interviews conducted.
NOTE: The Rowan Oak building known as "The Servants' Quarters" is also sometimes called "The Tenant House" or "Mammy Callie Barr's house."
Name: Pilar Adams
Title / Address: Groundskeeper / 119 Chestnut Street, Oxford.
Adams said she arrived for work at approximately 6:55 a.m. and clocked in at the Physical Plant office. Adams said she then went directly to the building known as the Servants' Quarters to oversee the renovation of cabinetry.
At approximately 9:30 a.m., Adams requested assistance from co-workers Ben Moreland and Steve Potter in loosening a door which had swollen shut and was jammed. The door apparently had water damage from a leaking pipe in the wall. The three worked on the door until approximately 9:50 a.m., at which time Moreland and Potter departed to their own areas of responsibility on the grounds.
Adams stated that, shortly afterward, she heard sirens and rushed out of the building toward the commotion. When she arrived, she saw Potter and Moreland as well as two sheriff's officers standing near the victim. Adams said that Potter and Moreland appeared quite distressed. Adams added that one of the sheriff's officers prevented her from approaching the body or entering the immediate vicinity.
When asked if she had witnessed anything unusual on the Rowan Oak grounds that day, Adams said she saw nothing at all. She said she did not see anyone other than Moreland and Potter on the grounds. She did not recognize the victim and is sure she would have remembered him if she had ever met or seen him before.
When asked if she saw Joe Swift that morning, Adams replied that she saw him when they both clocked in that morning. She also recalled seeing him sometime after she arrived at the crime scene, but she didn't know exactly when that was.
Name: Linus Broadwell
Title / Address: Rowan Oak Curator / 3063 Davis Drive, Oxford.
Broadwell arrived for work at approximately 8:45 a.m. and said he heard the sirens approaching Rowan Oak approximately one hour later. Broadwell said he looked through an upstairs window of the Rowan Oak house and saw sheriff's officers talking with two groundskeepers near a man lying on the ground. He went to their location to find out what was happening but was not permitted past the crime scene tape.
Broadwell said he did not recognize the victim, saying he was certain they'd never met. When asked if he had seen anyone or anything unusual in or around the grounds lately, he replied that he was not a security guard and wouldn't have had the slightest idea if anyone was out and about up to the devil's work or not. When asked his opinion of groundskeepers Adams, Moreland, Potter, and Swift, Broadwell replied that they were good, reliable, hard-working folk and "whatever they say I'm sure is the truth."
Broadwell was concerned about the negative press that Rowan Oak might get and asked if he could contact the newspaper and explain things to them himself. He was informed that the Sheriff's Department did not control the newspapers and he was free to contact anyone he liked.
Name: Shelly Chapman
Title / Address: Physical Plant Office Manager / 1304 Elliott Drive, Oxford.
Chapman said she was not present on the Rowan Oak grounds when the body was found but was at the main Physical Plant office on the University campus, which the employees refer to as "Base." Chapman said that the following employees were assigned to groundskeeping work at Rowan Oak on February 15, 2019: Pilar Adams, Ben Moreland, Steve Potter, and Joe Swift.
Chapman said she contacted Ben Moreland via radio at approximately 8:00 a.m. and asked him to come to the office to complete paperwork for employee insurance. She verified that Moreland did present himself to do just that. He arrived at approximately 8:15 a.m. and was in the office for about one hour.
Chapman confirmed that she placed the call to 911 to report the incident after Steve Potter contacted her via radio and told her of the discovery. Chapman said she could hear Moreland talking in the background while she was talking to Potter over the radio. When shown a picture of the victim, Chapman said she did not know or recognize him.
Name: Steve Potter
Title / Address: Groundskeeper / 1756 Jefferson Avenue, Oxford.
Potter said he clocked in at approximately 7:00 a.m. and began work at approximately 7:15 a.m. He was scheduled to apply glazing compound to the windows in the upper floor bedrooms in the House and assist Adams in the Servants' Quarters.
Potter said that, after working on the windows for a few hours, he went over to the Servants' Quarters to see how Adams was doing. When he arrived at the Servants' Quarters, he noted that there was a problem with the door and assisted Adams with unjamming it. Shortly, they realized they needed more assistance and called upon Moreland to help also. The problem with the door was handled by approximately 9:50 a.m. at which point Potter left the area and returned to his work on the windows in the House.
Potter said that, while he was in the House, he heard Moreland "screaming his head off" approximately five minutes after his departure from the Servants' Quarters. Alarmed that Moreland might have injured himself, Potter left the building and ran in the direction of his screaming co-worker. When he arrived at the site, he saw the body and Moreland extremely distressed. Adams said he cautioned Moreland not to touch anything and radioed to base that there was an emergency and to contact 911.
Potter said that neither he nor Moreland touched the body or anything else in the immediate vicinity. When asked if he noticed anything or anyone unusual in or around the area, Potter replied that he saw only his co-workers. He said he did not recognize the victim and was certain he had never met nor seen him before.
When asked if he had seen his co-worker Swift around or near the victim, Potter said he believed Swift did arrive at the site after he, Moreland, Adams, and sheriff's personnel had been there several minutes. When asked if he could explain why Swift arrived later than the others, Potter replied that Swift was working a good deal further from the scene than the three of them had been and he may not have heard the commotion at first. According to Potter, Swift did not touch the body or anything in the immediate area.
Name: Joe Swift
Title / Address: Groundskeeper / 1614 Garfield Avenue, Oxford.
Swift reported for work at approximately 7:00 a.m. and proceeded to the area known as the Faulkner Rose Garden to begin work. Sometime between 7:45–8:00 a.m. he observed co-worker Pilar Adams drive a University-owned pickup truck, heading north toward the outbuilding known as the Servants' Quarters and park the truck at end of the driveway near the Servants' Quarters.
At approximately the same time, Swift observed co-worker Ben Moreland come from the direction of the tool shed, carrying a pickaxe in his hands. Moreland paused not far from Swift, appearing to answer a call on a walkie-talkie. Moreland then stuck pickaxe into the ground and headed north in the direction of the main office. At this point, Swift moved to the area known as the Original Garden. Swift continued his work there until approximately 10:15 a.m. when he heard sirens nearby and went to see what was happening.
When Swift arrived at the site, he observed two sheriff's officers and his three co-workers, Adams, Potter, and Moreland, standing in the vicinity of the body. Swift said his co-workers all appeared to be upset. Swift said he was not admitted past the crime scene tape into the immediate area of the body.
When asked if he saw anyone or anything unusual on the Rowan Oak grounds that morning, Swift said he had noticed no one other than his co-workers, but he really wasn't paying much attention.