Detectives probe whether photos of teenage boy have ties to Devlin

Thursday, January 25, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- Detectives investigating accused kidnapper Michael Devlin have shown photographs of a teenage boy to the family of Charles "Arlin" Henderson, asking if the pictures resemble the then-11-year-old who disappeared in 1991, Arlin's relatives said Wednesday.

Arlin's mother, Debra Henderson, and his uncle, James McWilliams, were both shown the pictures this week by Lincoln County Sheriff's detectives. McWilliams said detectives told him the pictures came from someone who claims to know Devlin and who said the teenage boy pictured was an acquaintance of Devlin's from years ago.

Detectives were investigating whether the source did in fact know Devlin, McWilliams said.

Both relatives said the photos are roughly 10 years old and show a boy around 17 years of age. Arlin would have been 17 in 1997.

Debra Henderson said the teen was wearing a ball cap in one picture. He appeared to be standing with someone else, who was torn from the photo, she said.

He looked like he could be her son, Henderson said.

"Yeah he really did," she said. "But I am not getting my hopes up."

McWilliams said there was a "strong, strong" resemblance to Arlin, but he couldn't say for sure if it was him.

"There are some characteristics there that are the same. We're keeping an open mind," McWilliams said.

Arlin disappeared while riding his bike on a rural road in Moscow Mills, about an hour's drive north of St. Louis. Devlin, 41, is charged with kidnapping Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby in similarly remote areas. Shawn, now 15, and Ben, 13, were found Jan. 12 at Devlin's suburban St. Louis apartment.

Lincoln County Sheriff Department Lt. Rick Harrell did not return phone messages seeking comment. He said last week the department would not comment on the Henderson investigation.

Lincoln County detectives have been integrated into a state and federal task force that is investigating Devlin's past to see if he could be linked to other child abductions.

The task force is based in Franklin County, where Ben was abducted Jan. 8. Ben's friend, Mitchell Hults, spotted a white pickup speeding away, a tip that led police to Ben and Shawn, who had been missing since 2002.

Devlin is being held in Franklin County Jail on $1 million bail. He faces one charge of kidnapping there, and one charge each of kidnapping and armed criminal action in Washington County, where Shawn was kidnapped.

Earlier this month, Lincoln County detective Chris Bartlett said Devlin became the "most viable lead" in the Henderson case after his arrest. Detectives cited the fact that all three abductions happened in remote areas, all about the same distance from Devlin's home. All three boys were about the same size.

Of particular interest was the physical description of a man Arlin saw snapping pictures of him before the boy disappeared, Bartlett said. He would not elaborate.

Arlin's aunt, Eva McWilliams, said the boy told her a tall, thin man took pictures of him outside of school a few months before he was taken. Devlin is 6-foot-4 and weighs 300 pounds. He was 25 when Arlin disappeared.

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