Patrick Thompson
Patrick Thompson

August 17, 2017

JEFFERSON

At 6 feet 5 inches, Patrick Thompson cuts an imposing figure.

But until Thompson’s arrest Aug. 9 on two counts of first-degree murder for the May 15 arson deaths in Guthrie Center of stepsister Paige Exline, 12, and her cousin, 16-year-old Shakiah Cockerham, Dalton Exline saw his 26-year-old stepbrother as little more than a wannabe gangsta.

“Back in high school, he acted like a thug,” Dalton Exline, 24, said Friday during an interview with The Jefferson Herald.

However, even after dropping out of Jefferson-Scranton High School, Thompson’s nickname of “Ogre” followed, suggesting somebody destined to have more in common with Shrek than Scarface.

One friend last week even referred to him as a “big, dumb oaf.”

“He’s been in and out of jail because he’s stupid,” Dalton Exline said, recalling the time that Thompson was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon thanks to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his groin area.

“I didn’t think he was dumb enough to light a fire,” Exline added. “A family member killing another family member? That’s crazy.”

Authorities in Guthrie County accuse Thompson of setting the house fire that killed the two girls and very nearly killed an uncle.

His 74-year-old grandmother managed to escape from her burning house.

Thompson was also arrested last week on two counts of attempted murder and one count of arson.

He had been paroled from prison in February after serving time for felony possession of a firearm.

During the arson investigation, it was found that one of the girls, Paige Exline, was a victim and the sole witness in two cases of sexual abuse against her father, James Exline Jr., 46, and older brother Noah Exline, 19.

James Exline Jr., of rural Jefferson, who’s already a registered sex offender, was arrested Aug. 9 on felony sex abuse charges.

Noah Exline, a 2016 graduate of Greene County High School, was arrested in April on felony sex abuse charges.

He’s out of jail awaiting trial.

Paige Exline, who had been a sixth-grader at Greene County Intermediate School before moving in March, was living with grandma Shirley Exline in Guthrie Center following more than two years of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of Noah Exline.

“I think there’s a connection between the two,” Dalton Exline said of the fire that killed his stepsister.

A story that ended violently in Guthrie Center has been playing out for years in Greene County, where Thompson has a history of burglary, gun and drug offenses, and was convicted in 2013 of a particularly heinous act of physical abuse involving his infant son.

“If it’s true,” Dalton Exline said, “I’m glad Patrick and my dad are in jail.”

Dalton Exline said he told investigators he didn’t believe Noah Exline — despite the accusations of sexual abuse against him — was capable of the fatal arson.

“My first thought,” he said, “was Patrick.

“I didn’t think Noah had the balls. He’s a video game nerd.”

Dalton Exline recalled that Noah Exline once felt so bad about stealing something from the Dollar General in Guthrie Center he turned himself in.

On the other hand, Thompson — who was living in Story County at the time of his arrest last week — is capable of killing, Dalton Exline said.

“Kill all the bitches with their head games,” Thompson allegedly wrote in a text message to his mother in April after Noah Exline’s arrest. “Yeah it’s the killing that entices me. Sounds so good sometimes.”

Also known to friends as Patrick Daggett, he posted a meme March 29 to Facebook that read, “Lord forgive me but it’s time to go back to the old me,” over a photo of what looks like a weary hitman holding a handgun.

Still, despite Thompson’s penchant for knives, guns and drugs, in high school at least, “He was a lot of talk,” Dalton Exline said.

Dalton Exline, a 2011 graduate of Jefferson-Scranton High School who’s now married with two young children of his own, said he’s tried distancing himself from Thompson, in addition to his father, James Exline Jr., in the years following school.

Dalton Exline was just 1 when his mother split from James Exline Jr., and he lived mostly with her.

“I had trouble believing he raped those two teenage girls,” Dalton Exline said of his father’s arrest for sex crimes in Guthrie County in 2009. “My dad was in and out of my life, and I wanted to get to know him.”

Dalton Exline said his view of his father was altered with his confession.

Thompson could nevertheless still exert a bad influence on his younger stepbrothers.

On a November night in 2008, a group of eight kids — including Thompson, then 17, and Dalton Exline, then 15 — broke into the Webb House, a popular hangout for local kids near Russell Park.

Someone had suggested raiding the Webb House after hours for snacks and drinks, Dalton Exline remembered, and most of them actually started chickening out even before the caper.

It was Thompson who egged them on, Dalton Exline said.

Once inside, the boys started grabbing gaming systems and video games, Dalton Exline said.

“I regret it,” he said. “It was just stupid.”

Brother Mihles Exline, then 16, ended up penning an open letter of apology to the community.

Thompson, however, was unrepentant.

“I know Patrick would do it in a heartbeat,” Dalton Exline said. “He’d go do it again.”

Exline admittedly doesn’t like “claiming” Thompson as family.

“I think he’s messed up in the head,” he said.

A Greene County court in 2013 essentially agreed, but sentenced Thompson to probation and fined him $625 for an incident that caused his 8-week-old namesake, Patrick Thompson Jr., to have seizures and his brain to bleed.

A court that year found him guilty of child endangerment for injuries suffered by the baby in January 2012 while in his exclusive care.

By the time Thompson arrived at the Greene County Medical Center with his infant son, according to court records, more than 24 hours had passed since the baby’s body began twitching and going into spasms every 30 to 40 minutes.

Thompson told hospital staff he had slipped on the ice while holding the baby.

The baby’s injuries were so serious that the child had to be flown by medical helicopter to Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines. There, an evaluation found the baby had suffered a traumatic brain injury.

“This guy beat the (expletive) out of this baby,” said one employee of the Greene County Medical Center who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.

She called that night “easily the worst night of my nursing career.”

She recalled holding the baby — eyes rolling into the back of his head — while Thompson “sat there texting the whole time.”

After providing a deposition to police, she would see Thompson from time to time around Jefferson in stores.

His stares, she said, were chilling.

“I don’t come to Jefferson anymore because of him,” she said. “He is evil. Just being in his presence is scary.”

For a time between 2010 and 2012, Thompson and the baby’s mother lived in Jefferson with her family friend, Julie Byerly.

“He was like a big, dumb oaf,” Byerly said.

Byerly wasn’t at first witness to Thompson’s dark side until she levied accusations at him of shaken baby syndrome.

“Then he was willing to take out anybody,” Byerly said last week.

Even as late as this past April, Thompson was maintaining his innocence in the abuse of his infant son, whose whereabouts and condition are unknown.

That’s when Thompson sent a text to Byerly that allegedly read, in part, “No one ever wants to believe me. I have an attitude and some violence in me but women and children are always off limits. I do have a little bit of a heart and conscience.”

So did Thompson’s arrest last week for the alleged murders of two girls surprise Byerly?

“It did but it didn’t,” she said. “You want to think, ‘My God, how could anybody be capable of doing that?’