Martina Mudd had just returned from the airport, where she’d dropped off her daughter. She climbed into bed and prepared for a night of restful sleep around 11 p.m. Sunday.
Suddenly, she heard a car horn sounding over, and over, and over.
Mudd got up from bed, slipped on some shoes and walked outside of her apartment at Village 76.
Her neighbor’s car was engulfed in flames and the Kirksville Fire Department was on scene attempting to put out the blaze.
From outside her building she peered across Valley Forge Drive and saw one of her neighbors standing outside, also looking on at the scene.
Her attention was temporarily taken back to the fire before she heard a “commotion” across the way. The neighbor, who a moment ago had also been watching the fire, now had another of her neighbors, Wade Perkins, in his grasp.
Paul R. Potter was trying to drag Perkins inside an apartment behind him, Mudd said, noting she then realized both Potter’s apartment and that of his neighbor were on fire. Kirksville Police officers began running toward the commotion.
Potter began throwing things, Mudd said, though she couldn’t quite make out what they were.
Officers were placing Potter under arrest and Mudd saw some friends standing up the block.
She began walking toward them to talk about what had happened when she saw the objects Potter had thrown.
“That’s when I noticed the object he threw were arms,” Mudd said.
“It was awful. It was like something out of a horror movie, only it was real.”
Potter, 49, has since been charged with a class A felony of murder in the second degree, a class C felony of tampering with a motor vehicle, and a class C felony of arson. It is alleged he killed his neighbor, whose name has not yet been released by authorities, and dismembered his victim’s body. In an attempt to cover his crime, he apparently set fire to a vehicle as well as both his and his neighbor’s apartments.
Tuesday at Village 76, just west of the intersection of Valley Forge Drive and Revere Road, down the hill from the Kirksville Housing Authority office where a flag flew at half-staff, all seemed normal in the quiet community.
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Less than 36 hours earlier, it was anything but.
Those who agreed to speak for this story largely agreed on three points.
The victim, who they believed was a man named “Jake,” was a quiet, elderly man with a “frail” build, who few, if any, knew very well.
The alleged murderer, Potter, was an outgoing, nice man who made it a point to speak to and help out his neighbors at every opportunity.
And “Jake” and Potter were, as one neighbor put it, “best of friends.”
That Potter stands accused of such crimes is difficult for his neighbors to understand, or believe.
“A lot of us are still in shock over it,” said Marlene Hammann. “That wasn’t the Paul we knew.”
The Paul Potter his neighbors described would offer friendly greetings every morning, would give and borrow cigarettes from neighbors and had earlier that fateful day loaned some sugar to a neighbor across the street.
Earlier that weekend, Potter had also given $2 to Perkins as a birthday gift, the same man he would eventually attempt to drag into an apartment with an unknown purpose as firefighters battled the vehicle fire, according to witnesses.
“He was a nice guy and everything,” Perkins said Tuesday.
“He was really friendly,” said Jerry Stahl, another Village 76 resident and witness to Sunday night’s scene.
That night, seeing the blaze of the initial vehicle fire, Stahl and Perkins joined the group of onlookers in the Village 76 parking lot.
Stahl suggested the two talk to Potter, who was among the bystanders outside his apartment.
“He was just standing there like everyone else,” Stahl said.
As the pair moved closer to Potter he allegedly lunged at Perkins and started dragging him toward an apartment.
“I’m glad I was able to escape,” Perkins said, twisting and flailing in a demonstration of his struggle that night. “If I didn’t, I would be dead now.”
The encounter turned particularly grisly after Stahl and Perkins escaped, with Potter then throwing the two limbs in their direction.
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“They hit me. I had blood on me and I’ve had nightmares since,” Stahl said. “I couldn’t sleep Sunday. I still cry about it and it’s horrific.”
Neither man could believe their neighbor, who they described as helpful, friendly and outgoing, had “just lost it,” as Stahl put it.
Both men openly shared their experiences and while neither offered a theory for why their friend turned apparently violent and destructive, Stahl said the handful of hours from Sunday night will remain in his memory forever.
“Sunday is outweighing the good I remember of him,” Stahl said. “He just lost it.”
One neighbor, who requested to remain anonymous, recalled seeing Potter just days earlier. Potter, who often would volunteer to help her carry groceries, wished her a Happy New Year.
“He said 2013 was going to be a good one,” she said.
She described him as “simple” and “child-like” and that he “loved everybody” including his neighbor, “Jake.”
While she said she didn’t know much about the victim, the neighbor said she believed he at times had trouble putting food on his own table.
“It was Paul who cooked for him and fixed him meals in those times,” she said. “They were best friends.”
Hammann told a similar story.
“[Potter] would always go next door and check on ‘Jake,’” she said. “He would take him a plate of food nearly every day.
“I’m so sorry for ‘Jake.’ He never bothered anybody.”
And while the shared sentiment was surprise that such a crime happened in this quiet community, there was also shared resignation to a feeling that such things are possible anywhere.
“[Potter] was always doing nice things, he was very talkative, and he had a big laugh you could hear through all the apartments,” Mudd said. “No one would guess he’d do this, but anyone could snap. You never know about people.”