Eric Cates and Gypsy

Eric Cates is seen here with his dog Gypsy.

The Sumiton Police Department verified reports this week that James Bryan Harland, 55, is considered a person of interest in the 2015 death of Cullman County native Eric Cates.

Harland is being held on felony probation warrants.

Cates, 31, was found dead on the morning of Saturday, March 21, 2015 in a burned truck behind an old school in the Empire community. The body of his beloved dog, Gypsy, was found with him.

He was last seen alive on the night of March 20 when he drove away from the Blue Store, a gas station, down Coon Creek Road. He reportedly told an employee at the business that he was headed to a barbecue that night. 

The Walker County Sheriff’s Office found his burned out truck behind the school the next morning. The sheriff's office said they'd conducted polygraph tests on persons of interest in the case, and estimated more than 75 people had been interviewed.

However, the case remained unsolved. In 2016, Cates' mother Tobbie Stover told The Times, "It’s hell on Earth. He’s the first thing I think of when I wake up every morning and the last thing i think about when I go to sleep, if I ever do. I wake every day, and my first thought is this is a nightmare, that it’s not true, but then I realize it’s not a nightmare. It’s real.”

His death became the focus of Secrets True Crime Podcast and the Attorney General's Cold Case Unit eventually became involved in the investigation.

With news that Harland is considered a person of interest in Cates' death, the family's Facebook Page, Justice for Eric Cates, was full of messages hoping that there would finally be justice for him and Gypsy.

Amy Henderson can be reached at 256-734-2131 Ext. 216.

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