Neighbors remember Greenbrier County family
QUINWOOD, W.Va. -- Josh Lively was riding his dirt bike when he saw Stephen Leroy Hendrix and his two small children on May 19.
Hendrix, who was on an ATV with his children, said he would drive back on his own dirt bike and they would ride together after he dropped the kids off with a babysitter. He never returned.
It's believed that sometime that Saturday, Hendrix, 38, drove his girlfriend, Amber Martin, 26, and his two children, 6-year-old Dakota and 4-year-old Kaylee, to James Roy Belknap's house in Leivasy to collect a narcotics debt, according to a criminal complaint filed in Nicholas County Magistrate Court.
Hendrix and Belknap had been arguing about the debt in the weeks prior to the meeting, said West Virginia State Police Sgt. D.A. Evans in the complaint.
That's when Belknap, 26, fatally shot Hendrix, Martin and the two children inside their van, stripped them of their clothes and dumped their bodies over the mountainside near his house, the criminal complaint said.
He was arrested while trying to cross a police checkpoint Monday near where the slayings occurred. He was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and is currently being held without bail in Central Regional Jail.
Lively, who works at R&C Service Center in Quinwood, said Hendrix and Belknap knew each other for many years. If Hendrix had known his children would have been harmed at Belknap's house that Saturday, he wouldn't have taken them.
"He loved those kids more than anybody," Lively said. "He would have done anything for them and was always protecting them. He would have done anything for anybody."
Lively said Belknap is a frequent shopper at his convenience store.
"If he was in here, he was pretty messed up on something," Lively said. "Steve [Hendrix] wasn't like that. He was trying to change his life. He was doing better."
Curt Lively, who also works at the store, said everyone in the community is shocked by what happened. They can't believe Belknap would kill two innocent children.
"Those children shouldn't have to pay for what the adults were doing," he said. "It's a really sad situation."
Jim Estep has lived right next to Hendrix and Martin at their house in Crichton for about two years. During that time, he hardly saw Hendrix unless he was outside working in his garage, he said.
"They were some of the better neighbors I have," Estep said. "It really breaks my heart knowing what happened to those two babies."
Hellen Estep, his wife, liked to watch the children when they came home from school every day before she passed away in February.
Dakota Hendrix attended kindergarten at Crichton Elementary School and Kaylee Hendrix went to a preschool program there. Martin walked the kids to school every day about a block from their home, he said.
One neighbor, who declined to be identified, said a flow of traffic constantly visited Hendrix's home and he was known to deal prescription pills from outside his house.
Hendrix had been indicted earlier this year on four counts of conspiracy to deliver oxycodone. He failed to show up at a May 22 Greenbrier County Circuit Court hearing on those charges. Hendrix's house was broken into May 13 and he told the neighbor he would install a security system that week. From outside his house Tuesday, a security camera pointed directly at his garage.
Police said Hendrix's oldest daughter, Cheyenne, reported the family missing when they did not return home May 19.
Martin also didn't show up to a preliminary hearing in Greenbrier County Magistrate Court on unrelated charges.
Police assumed Hendrix took Martin and his children out of state and they issued a warrant for his arrest.
But on Friday, Nicholas County sheriff's deputies found Hendrix's Chevrolet van at an old railroad grade off White Buck Knob Road near Carl.
It appeared Hendrix, Martin and the children had been shot while inside the van and had their bodies removed, the criminal complaint said.
Deputies learned the van rested near Belknap's property and they obtained and executed a search warrant at his home.
After searching the home, deputies found evidence that Hendrix had been there. They then found the family's bodies over the mountainside on Belknap's property, the criminal complaint said.
Belknap previously served a year in prison after pleading guilty in 2007 in Nicholas County Circuit Court to conspiracy to commit the delivery of cocaine. He accepted a plea agreement after prosecutors dismissed a grand jury indictment for first-degree murder, according to a report in the Register-Herald.
Belknap was accused of conspiring with his father, Kenneth M. Belknap, 62, in July 2005 to have Richard Parnell, 24, of Summersville, buy cocaine.
When Parnell did not return with the right amount of cocaine, authorities said, James Belknap brought Parnell to his father's residence on White Buck Knob Road. His father then took Parnell into the woods, shot him and then burned the body.
During court proceedings, Kenneth Belknap denied his son took part in the killing.
Kenneth Belknap pleaded guilty to murder and is currently serving a life sentence in prison for Parnell's murder. He will be eligible for parole in 2021.
Reach Travis Crum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5163.