Woman’s boyfriend set fire to their trailer, cops say, then killed her

Amanda Hicks
Amanda Hicks

A Gautier man has been arrested on a first-degree murder charge in the death of his live-in girlfriend, whose decomposed remains were found behind a church last week.

A state medical examiner confirmed the body as that of Amanda Hicks, 37, Gautier police Lt. Danny Patrick on Tuesday said. Though DNA was collected for further testing, a state medical examiner was able to use dental records to identify her. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

Parishioners at Pine Grove United Methodist Church discovered the remains behind the church in northern Jackson County on March 18.

Gautier police suspected her live-boyfriend, James Vanlaningham, 56, in the killing and arrested him Tuesday on a charge of first-degree murder.

Vanlaningham was first arrested in Alabama on Feb. 8 on a misdemeanor DUI charge. When he was arrested, he was driving a pickup truck that belonged to Hicks and that had her wallet and cellphone inside.

H was arrested the following day in Gautier on a charge of first-degree arson in the torching of the couple’s mobile home at Santa Maria RV Park Marina on Martin Bluff Road in Vancleave.

Hicks was last seen Feb. 8 when she and Vanlaningham left the mobile home park in her pickup. Witnesses reported seeing the couple argue before they left, and said they heard a woman scream inside the mobile home shortly before the fire started.

The case remains under investigation. Gautier police said Vanlaningham has refused to cooperate in the missing persons investigation. He is being held without bond at the Jackson County jail.

To report information, call the Gautier Police Department at 228-497-2486 or Crime Stoppers at 877-787-5898.

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45