LUMBERTON, N.C. -- The mystery surrounding the death of James Jordan, father of basketball star Michael Jordan, appeared to come to an end yesterday with the arrest of two teen-agers, who allegedly shot their victim during an early morning robbery three weeks ago. Police said the elder Jordan was the victim of a random act of violence.
The suspects were found when authorities traced calls made from a cellular telephone in James Jordan's car after his killing, said Cumberland County (N.C.) Sheriff Morris Bedsole.
Arrested in Lumberton, N.C., and charged with first-degree murder were Larry Martin Demery, 18, of Roland, N.C., and Daniel Andre Green, 18, of Lumberton, N.C.
The Jordan family, who attended an emotional ceremony yesterday at Rockfish African Methodist Episcopal Church in nearby Teachey, N.C., for the elder Jordan, made no statement about the arrest.
Authorities said Mr. Jordan was a victim of circumstance when he stopped his car to rest alongside Interstate 95 near Lumberton July 23. The suspects had planned to rob someone that night and were waiting by the exit when Mr. Jordan pulled off the road to rest there, said Art Binder, chief of detectives for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Dept.
Authorities said the teen-agers allegedly shot and killed Mr. Jordan, who died from a single .38-caliber gunshot wound to the chest.
Hubert Stone, Robeson County sheriff, said the murder took place about 3:30 a.m. The elder Jordan was said to have been driving from Wilmington, N.C., to Charlotte, N.C. Friends said Mr. Jordan had told them he was scheduled to fly to Chicago the next day. Mr. Jordan regularly went to Chicago to visit his son.
"As this matter unfolds, you will find that what happened to Mr. Jordan was the kind of random violence that all the public are concerned and afraid of," said Jim Coman, director of the North ** Carolina Bureau of Investigation.
"It could have been any one of us."
Mr. Jordan was last seen July 22 in Wilmington, where he attended the funeral of a one-time co-worker. After the funeral, Mr. Jordan drove to Atkinson, N.C., to visit the widow, and then returned to Wilmington with friends. He left Wilmington for Charlotte after a late dinner.
Although Mr. Jordan was missing for almost three weeks and his 57th birthday passed without word, his disappearance was not made public until last Thursday, four days after his luxury car was found vandalized in Fayetteville, N.C. The family had never filed a missing persons report because Mr. Jordan traveled extensively.
Detective Binder of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Dept. said the car -- a bright red Lexus 400 -- was abandoned about July 26 on a secluded dirt road. He said the suspects tried to cover their tracks once they realized their victim was Michael Jordan's father.
Mr. Jordan's body was found by a fisherman Aug. 3 floating in a swampy creek in McColl, S.C., under the Pea Bridge, about 50 yards from the state line. Sheriff Stone said Mr. Jordan's body was driven around for two hours before being dumped there, 30 miles from where he died.
On Aug. 6, the still-unidentified body was cremated by order of the coroner in Marlboro, S.C., because there were no missing person reports in South Carolina or North Carolina and chances of identification seemed slim at the time.
It wasn't until Mr. Jordan's disappearance became public Thursday that officials decided to match dental records of the body and Mr. Jordan.
Mr. Demery and Mr. Green also were charged with one count of armed robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery. They were being held without bond in the Robeson County Jail in Lumberton. They are scheduled to appear in Robeson County court today.
"They conspired to rob before they left home," said Sheriff Bedsole. "I don't know if they knew who, what or where. This is what they ended up with."
Sheriff Stone said both suspects have criminal records. Mr. Green was paroled two months ago after serving fewer than two years for a conviction in Robeson County for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and armed robbery.
Mr. Demery was under indictment for armed robbery.
Mr. Green and Mr. Demery were called to the Robeson County Sheriff's Dept. yesterday for questioning, and were arrested there. Mr. Green lives about two miles from the spot where officials think Mr. Jordan was killed.
Mr. Green and Mr. Demery are long-time friends, said Robeson County Sheriff's Lt. Mark Locklear.
"They grew up together," he said, adding their families have good reputations in the community.
A murder weapon has not been recovered, authorities said.
Four teen-agers arrested Saturday for vandalizing the car were not connected with the murder, authorities added.
At yesterday's private funeral service in Teachey, N.C., Michael Jordan spoke for about 15 minutes, recalling stories about his father.
"He was smiling at the end, but the tears were still coming down," said the Rev. Joseph McCalop.