BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A registered Alabama sex offender accused of burying the body of Paighton Houston, who vanished Dec. 20 after leaving a Birmingham bar with two men, is being sought on a charge of abusing a corpse.
Fredrick Hampton, 50, of Brighton, is not charged with killing Houston, whose cause and manner of death were not pinpointed by her preliminary autopsy, according to Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office officials. Toxicology results on Houston, 29, of Trussville, will take several weeks.
“What we know is that no physical trauma to the body of the victim would have led to her death. We have evidence that the victim and the offender were together the night of Dec. 20, 2019,” Deputy Chief David Agee, of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday during a news conference.
“We have evidence that the victim died the next day at a house on McClain Street in Brighton,” Agee said. “We have evidence that after the victim died, her body was disposed of in a criminal manner by Fredrick Hampton.”
No other suspects are on law enforcement’s radar.
“This offender is responsible for this crime, disposing of this corpse in this manner,” Agee said. “Additional charges are possible depending on what evidence becomes available. As of right now, this is where we stand, and we want to get him into custody.”
Houston’s obituary described her as “loved by all who knew her … with (an) infectious personality and fun-loving spirit. She loved to spend time with family and friends.”
Houston’s mother previously said on social media that her daughter planned to spend the day after she vanished, a Saturday, with her best friend, her sister and her family.
Instead, her decomposing body was found Jan. 3, buried in a shallow grave in the backyard of a home on Chapel Drive in Hueytown, about 15 miles from the Birmingham bar where Houston was last seen alive. Chapel Drive is about 4 miles from McClain Street, where authorities believe Houston died.
Agee stopped short of identifying Hampton as one of the men seen leaving the bar with Houston the night she disappeared, saying only that they were together Dec. 20 and Dec. 21. Houston appeared to have gone with him willingly.
“There is no evidence that there was any force,” Agee said.
AL.com reported, however, that Hampton was held in the Birmingham City Jail for 48 hours, beginning Dec. 28, on suspicion of kidnapping. He was released at the end of those two days due to a lack of evidence to charge him with the crime, the news site said.
Photos from the scene where Houston’s remains were found show a small, dilapidated green home and a backyard filled with refuse. Neighbors told an AL.com reporter that an elderly man used to live at the home in question, but his family moved him out due to his health.
Agee told reporters that relatives of Hampton’s own the property where Houston’s body was discarded.
“If additional evidence is developed, Hampton could face additional charges,” Agee said Thursday. “The next step is to find Hampton and to take him into custody.”
Hampton remained at large Thursday evening. Aside from the abuse of corpse charge, Hampton is also accused of a violation of the sex offender notification act.
The deputy chief said Hampton was in compliance with his requirements as a sex offender prior to Houston’s disappearance and subsequent death.
“After this offense, he did commit an offense which violated the Sex Offender Notification Act,” Agee said.
Agee did not specify what that violation was.
Watch the entire news conference with Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office officials below.
According to Jefferson County’s sex offender registry, the last address Hampton provided to authorities was not in Brighton, but that of a home on 12th Avenue South in Birmingham. Brighton is more than 20 miles southwest of his last known address.
Alabama law defines abuse of a corpse as when a person, “except as otherwise authorized by law, knowingly treats a human body in a way that would outrage ordinary family sensibilities,” Agee said. It is a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Birmingham police officials have previously said that Houston went with co-workers to the Tin Roof, a bar and live music venue on 7th Avenue in downtown Birmingham, the night of Dec. 20, but left willingly around 10:45 p.m. with two heavy-set black men.
According to investigators, she sent a text message to a co-worker about two hours later that indicated she did not know where she was or who she was with -- and that she feared she could be in danger.
“IDK (I don’t know) who (I’m) with so if I call please answer. I feel in trouble,” the text read, according to the Trussville Tribune.
No one heard from her again. Her family wrote on social media that her cellphone began going straight to voicemail and her bank account sat untouched.
As the days ticked by, Houston’s family hoped for a holiday miracle.
Meanwhile, tips came flowing in to authorities, including to officials with Crime Stoppers of Metro Alabama, which put up half of a $10,000 reward for information in the case. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s office put up the remaining half.
It was ultimately tips to Crime Stoppers that led detectives to the rundown backyard in Hueytown where Houston’s body was recovered, Agee said Thursday.
“A lot of evidence came in through tip lines, through Crime Stoppers,” Agee said. “The investigators did a great job of following up on that information and tracking down the location of the victim.”
The funeral for Houston, whose face and description was plastered across TV and social media as her family searched for her in vain, was live-streamed by WBRC in Birmingham.
Watch Paighton Houston’s funeral below.
Her mother, Charlaine Houston, who was vocal online throughout the search for her daughter, thanked the community and the news station for sharing in the celebration of Paighton Houston’s life.
“We love you all. Words just aren’t enough to show our love and gratitude for the blessings given to our family,” Charlaine Houston wrote. “You lived life BIG and you loved BEYOND, Paighton Laine! Until we see you again, my precious Paighton.”
Hampton’s sex offender status stems from a January 1992 conviction for first-degree rape and first-degree sodomy, according to the sex offender registry. He was one of eight men who sexually assaulted a woman, the page shows.
AL.com reported that court records show he served 20 years, five months and 26 days in prison before being released in March 2012. He was soon arrested following his release for failing to provide authorities with his address.
He pleaded guilty to that charge that September and was given a two-year suspended sentence, AL.com said.
Agee did not say Thursday if Hampton is believed to be armed or dangerous, just that he is wanted in connection with unlawfully burying Houston’s body.
“We would hope he would turn himself in,” Agee said when asked if he had words for the suspect. “That would be best for everyone.”
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