A family torn apart ... Jo Ann Bain, top left, and her daughter, Adrienne, 14, top right, were killed. Kyliyah, 8, bottom right, and Alexandria,12, were found alive. Photo: AP
Days of gruelling searches for two young girls and the kidnapper who killed their mother and sister led to the kind of terrain that favours the hunted — high hardwoods and deep ravines near a red-brick church perched on a hill.
Specially trained US officers had come up empty-handed for days but were following another lead on Thursday evening after Adam Mayes was put on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.
Because Adam Mayes put a bullet in his head, people may never solve the biggest mystery: Why did he do all this?
This latest tip lead officers to the woods near Zion Hill Baptist Church, just a few kilometres from Mayes's rented mobile home in Guntown, Mississippi where 31-year-old Jo Ann Bain and her 14-year-old daughter, Adrienne, had been buried in a shallow grave.
Found alive .,..the girls were discovered down an old logging road leading deep into a forest. Photo: AP
The officers had searched the church and later split up and set out down two old logging roads leading deep into the forest.
Just 60 yards down, Mississippi Highway Patrol Master Sergeant Steve Crawford saw a little girl's head in the dirt. Within inches, another child. A few more inches, the man who proved so elusive.
A search that dragged on for days ended in seconds.
The latest tip lead officers to the woods near Zion Hill Baptist Church. Photo: AP
"Let's see your hands," the officers shouted.
Mayes pushed himself up to his knees, pulled out a 9mm pistol and shot himself in the head. He didn't utter a word, and died a couple hours later at hospital.
Alexandria Bain, 12, and Kyliyah, 8, sat up, subdued, within reach of Mayes's body. Crawford said they didn't cry, instead looking almost relieved.
Adam Mayes ... cut his hair. Photo: AP
"Now we can go home," Lieutenant Lee Ellington heard the older girl tell her little sister. Lieutenant Ellington was part of a team from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
Home was a place the girls had not seen since April 27, when Mayes, a friend they considered an uncle, killed Jo Ann and Adrienne Bain in the garage of their home in Whiteville, Tennessee, according to police.
Mayes, a friend of Jo Ann's husband, Gary, had gone to the house the night before to help the family pack for a move to Arizona. Instead, police say he killed the mother and daughter, packed their corpses into a car, grabbed the younger girls and headed south with his wife to the mobile home in Guntown. Authorities have not said how they were killed or what time it may have happened.
Health check ... giant white sheets were held up at the hospital to keep the glare of news cameras away from Alexandria and Kyliyah Bain. Photo: AP
Police say Gary Bain told them his wife and daughters were asleep when he went to bed at midnight and were gone when he woke the next day, but he figured the girls went to school and Jo Ann had gone somewhere, too. But she didn't answer her phone that day, and the girls never got off the school bus that afternoon.
He called the Hardeman County Sherriff's Office at 8pm to report them missing.
Police interviewed Mayes. Even Mayes admitted to investigators on April 29 that he was the last one to see Jo Ann and the girls, but police said they had no evidence of a crime. And at first, it wasn't known if Jo Ann had willingly left and taken the kids with her.
Teresa Mayes ... admitted her involvement. Photo: AP
On April 30, Jo Ann Bain's SUV was found abandoned on a country road in Tennessee. That same day, Adam Mayes was seen at a market in Mississippi with his usual long hair chopped off. He told another customer it will be cooler in the hot, brutal Southern summer; investigators would later warn he may have cut the girls' hair to disguise them, too.
Hardeman County Sheriff John Doolen said two days later that Mayes was a person of interest in the case but that there were no signs of foul play - not yet.
On May 4, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an endangered child alert, pleading for the public's help in finding the family. At first, investigators still said they had no evidence of a crime.
However, according to police documents, Mayes's wife, Teresa admitted her involvement about the same time. The documents show Teresa Mayes told investigators she saw Adam Mayes kill the mother and daughter in the garage of their home so he could abduct the younger children. Their bodies were loaded into a car, along with Adam Mayes, Alexandria and Kyliyah, and Teresa Mayes drove everyone to the mobile home in Guntown, about two hours away. Teresa Mayes also told authorities she saw her husband digging a hole in the backyard.
On May 5, the Mississippi Highway Patrol issued an amber alert for the children in that state, warning that Mayes was armed and dangerous. That same day, investigators said two bodies had been found buried in the Mayes' backyard. They were badly decomposed and were not identified as Jo Ann and Adrienne Bain until two days later.
By May 8, Adam Mayes's wife and his mother had been arraigned on charges of helping with the crimes, but there was still no trace of the two sisters. The girls told their rescuers they had gone three days without any food or water, so it is possible that is about the time they began hiding out in the woods, an area filled with old deer hunting shelters. Some investigators believe they were in the woods even longer before being found late on Thursday, exhausted, dehydrated and itching with poison ivy.
Alexandria and Kyliyah's ordeal then came to an abrupt end, just a few kilometres from where their mother and sister had been buried. They were given water, whisked away in an ambulance and shielded by giant white sheets at the hospital so they could walk into the emergency room without the glare of news cameras.
Adam Mayes spared them. They were alive. Now it will be up to the fragile memories of young, traumatized girls to answer the questions nagging at experienced lawmen who worked long hours to find them: Where had they been? How did they survive in the woods?
And then there are the painful questions that need to be answered. Did Mayes hurt them? Did they watch their mother and big sister die?
But because Adam Mayes put a bullet in his head, people may never solve the biggest mystery: Why did he do all this?
"That was too good for him. He should have suffered just a little bit more," said Beverly Goodman, Jo Ann Bain's aunt. "I was hoping they was gonna take him alive 'cause I wanted some answers to some questions that probably will never get answered now."
* Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.