Suicide or murder? The mysterious death of a Wynne, AR woman

WYNNE, AR (WMC) - A Mid-South mom was found dead in a hotel room in Alaska. Investigators said she killed herself, but the woman's family disagrees.

"She told a friend of hers, 'Tomorrow, if something happens and I die, just know I didn't do it,'" Veronica Crumley said.

Crumley's sister Penny Morris Cotten died September 27, 2017. She was shot in the head in her hotel room.

"It was like she knew something was going to happen," Crumley said. "There's no way she committed suicide from a gunshot wound."

Cotten's daughter, Kyra Matthews, lives in Cross County, Arkansas, with Crumley. That's where Cotten and Crumley grew up.

"I didn't believe it, and to this day I don't believe it was suicide," Matthews said.

Matthews said it's difficult for the family to demand answers from Alaskan investigators because they are more than 3,000 miles away. That's why the family wants the Mid-South to share their story.

The family said Cotten was in Alaska living with her husband, Charles. He is a convicted felon with a criminal record that includes aggravated assault and committing a lewd act in the presence of a child.

Cotten and Charles met at Wynne High School. They dated for several months but went their separate ways after graduation. Then in 2011, they reconnected and tied the knot.

The couple moved to Juneau, Alaska.

There, Charles gained publicity as an ex-con and former addict making good. Newspapers profiled his work to makeover a dilapidated hotel that had been overrun by heroin users and thieves.

Six months into his restoration effort, Charles was arrested for unlawful continuance of a fire hazard. He was ordered to pay a $300 fine.

Federal investigators said that's when Charles began selling methamphetamine.

Shortly after, Cotten was found dead in her hotel room. Three weeks later, federal investigators indicted Charles for drug trafficking.

Cotten's family said they think someone associated with Charles may be involved in Cotten's death.

Family members said they've received texts and Facebook messages from concerned friends in Alaska.

"She said, 'Veronica, you know your sister didn't shoot herself in the head,'" Crumley said.

"I think she was scared...She was real scared about what she'd say and how she'd say it, so it wouldn't cause problems," Matthews said about her mother's predicament in Alaska.

Investigators said no formal autopsy was conducted on Cotten. However, graphic photos the family released show she was shot in the left side of her head.

That is another red flag for her sister and daughter.

"She's right-handed, not left-handed," Crumley said.

Another point of contention is the lack of blood splatter in the hotel room. The family said they wonder if a pillow or blanket was placed between the gun and Cotten to minimize the splatter.

"[Investigators are] not giving us any answers," Crumley said.

Juneau police officers said despite the medical examiner's decision to rule the manner of death a suicide without performing an autopsy, the officers assured WMC Action News 5 that the case was not closed.

WMC5 investigators were unable to reach Charles Cotten but they did reach his attorney's office. Despite multiple calls and messages left with his office assistant, the attorney has not returned our calls after more than a week of trying to contact him.

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