Cobb authorities declined to assign any motives as to why a popular downtown restaurant owner would call in bomb threats that led to the evacuation of courthouses in Cobb and Cherokee counties Tuesday.
But Cherokee officials confirmed the man’s home was in foreclosure and scheduled to be sold on the courthouse steps on the same day he called in the threats.
Jody John Wilson, 45, has owned and operated the Starlight Cafe on the Marietta Square with his wife, Lidya, for the past two years. On Tuesday, in the middle of the busy lunch hour, sheriff’s deputies showed up at the cafe and ushered Wilson out of his restaurant and into a police vehicle.
His wife, who also works at the restaurant, said shortly afterward that she believed her husband was just being questioned by police.
That turned out not to be the case.
Wilson has been charged with making terroristic threats and giving false statements, among a host of other charges.
According to a search of state public notice records, the Wilsons’ home in Woodstock has been in and out of foreclosure since 2010, with the most recent notices posted twice last year.
Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren, Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn and District Attorney Vic Reynolds had a press conference Tuesday afternoon outside Cobb Superior Court.
Warren said the bomb threat call was made around 10:55 a.m. to Cobb County 911. Investigators were able to determine the call originated from a pay phone at the Citgo gas station on Roswell Street, said Col. Milton Beck with Cobb County Sheriff's Office. Wilson’s cafe is less than a mile down the street from the Citgo, where Wilson or his vehicle was apparently spotted on video surveillance at the time the call was placed.
“An alert went out to law enforcement on the description on the vehicle, and with the help of other local law enforcement agencies, especially the Marietta Police Department, we located this vehicle and Mr. Wilson on the Square inside the Starlight Cafe,” Warren said.
The sheriff said his office takes courthouse security seriously. As a precaution, deputies and a K-9 bomb detection dog searched the area surrounding the courthouse complex and found no explosives.
“We will not tolerate anyone trying to intimidate our court officials, our prosecutors, our citizens that come to this courthouse to conduct business and in this judicial complex,” he said. “We will not tolerate any individual making threats against law enforcement officers in this county while they’re doing their jobs.”
When asked about a connection to previous threats on the courthouse, Warren said he was not sure, as the investigation remains ongoing.
However, Reynolds said “it would be obviously logical” to look at a connection between the bomb threats.
“I will tell you that my understanding is that the investigators are in the process of doing that as we speak,” Reynolds said. “In the event we believe there is enough evidence to charge the individual with the prior ones, that will happen, but at this point it’s an ongoing investigation, and he’s being charged with what we previously indicated.”
Warren said neither he nor the district attorney had knowledge of Wilson’s motive, despite previous threats also falling on foreclosure sale days.
While Cobb officials wouldn’t discuss motives or other recent bomb threats during the press conference, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Jay Baker said in a news release that Wilson is accused of calling in a similar bomb threat on both courthouses in January.
“It appears that Wilson’s Cherokee County home was in foreclosure and was scheduled to be sold on the courthouse steps,” Baker said in the release. “Detectives believe that was the motive of the bomb threats.”
Investigators with the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office secured arrest warrants for Wilson for Tuesday’s bomb threat and the one in January, Baker said.
“When and if he is released from Cobb County Jail, he will be transported to Cherokee County Adult Detention Center,” Baker said.
Friends and customers shocked
Those who know Jody Wilson seemed shocked to see him led away from his restaurant by deputies Tuesday.
“He’s a family man. He has a beautiful family,” said the parking lot attendant who works the lot behind Starlight Café and asked that his name not be used. “I think there’s got to be an alternative explanation.”
The attendant said Jody Wilson and his wife Lidya operate the restaurant together and bring him lunch every day out in the parking lot in exchange for a free parking space.
“He works six, seven days a week. Something like this just seems completely out of character for him,” the attendant said. “To me he seemed like a straight arrow, and highly educated. He’s an engineer but said he’d rather run a restaurant than do engineering stuff.”
News that Wilson had been detained and possibly arrested also caught Starlight Café customer Dena Hudson by surprise. She works at The Rothbloom Law Firm around the corner from the café and often goes there for lunch.
“He’s just a nice guy, a real nice guy,” Hudson said. “That’s a shame. I hope it’s not true.”
In Cobb, Wilson faces charges of felony intimidation or injury of jurors or court officers, misdemeanor preventing or disrupting lawful meetings, gatherings or processions, felony transmitting a false public alarm, felony false statements in writing and felony terroristic threats and acts. He faces similar charges in Cherokee.
After a temporary delay Tuesday, the auctions of foreclosed properties continued as planned on the Cobb County Courthouse steps.