Skip to main content

UPDATE: GUILTY! James (Ty) Flanders, Former Pastor of Calvary Chapel in Ft Walton Beach, FL, Arrested Today for Murder of Marie Carlson

Scroll down for updates
James Flanders

Former pastor arrested in 2011 disappearance, murder

Posted: May 14, 2015 4:40 PM CST
By Jonathan Andrews, Digital Manager


A former pastor was arrested more than 1,500 miles away from his church and home in Fort Walton Beach, suspected of a cold case murder from 2011.

Ty Flanders, 46, was arrested on Thursday for the 2011 murder of Marie Carlson of Fort Walton Beach. Flanders was charged with second degree murder.
Disappearance was mysterious

Carlson, the mother of Flanders' newborn child, was last seen on October 17, 2011, at the home they all shared with his wife.

According to the OCSO, several people got a message from Marie that said she'd left Fort Walton Beach to “do something she had always wanted to do”, but the message reportedly didn't have any more information.

Her ex-husband, Jeff Carlson, reported her missing seven days later after he couldn't contact her.

James Flanders located her vehicle at the Fort Walton Beach Airport, a day later, but there was no record that she'd rented a vehicle or flown out.

Carlson's disappearance was recently featured on a TNT show about cold cases, which brought national attention to the case.

Flanders was arrested without incident and will appear in court in Arizona.

--- end ---

After the disappearance and murder of Marie Carlson was featured on a national television show, a former local pastor has been arrested in Arizona in the case.
Marie Carlson

Former Pastor Arrested In Cold Case
Posted: Thu 3:41 PM, May 14, 2015
By: Press Release: Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office

After the disappearance and murder of Marie Carlson was featured on a national television show, a former local pastor has been arrested in Arizona in the case.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Marshal led Arizona WANTED Violent Offender Task Force, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety announces the arrest of 46-year old James Ty Flanders for the 2011 Murder of Marie Carlson of Fort Walton Beach.

Flanders, former pastor of Calvary Chapel Emerald Coast at 407 Racetrack Road, was taken into custody at his home in Cochise Arizona by members of the Task Force and Department of Public Safety.

He was arrested in connection with an Okaloosa County Warrant of Second Degree Murder, signed by Circuit Judge William Stone. Investigators with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office are in Arizona as this case continues to develop.

--- end ---


Former pastor charged in local woman's disappearance
By KATIE TAMMEN | Daily News
Published: Thursday, May 14, 2015 at 17:18 PM.

Marie Carlson, right, and her sister Esta Bridges took this picture on Oct. 15, 2011 while visiting Alys Beach together. Marie texted the photo to her sister later that night. It was the last time anyone in the family saw Marie.

A former Fort Walton Beach pastor was arrested Thursday and charged for his suspected role in the 2011 disappearance of a local woman.

James Ty Flanders was taken into custody at his home in Arizona on a warrant for second-degree murder, according to a news release from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.

He is accused of killing 37-year-old Marie Jane Carlson.

He will be brought back to Okaloosa County to face the charge, but it wasn’t clear when he would arrive, according to Sheriff’s spokeswoman Michele Nicholson,

“Thank goodness! Thank God! Hallelujah!” Marie’s brother Randy Bridges said Thursday afternoon upon hearing the news. “Finally some relief.”

Marie was reported missing by her ex-husband, Jeff Carlson, on Oct. 24, 2011, after he and their daughter couldn’t reach her.

Early on in the investigation, Flanders told detectives he’d last seen Marie on Oct. 17, 2011, and that she’d been upset. He said he went out for a run after the disagreement and when he came home both she and her truck were gone.

Her disappearance was featured on the TNT show “Cold Justice” on April 17.

“What we got in April was more than I could have asked for,” said Esta Bridges, one of Marie’s sisters. “I didn’t know this was coming. This is more than I could have ever imagined.”

Before she disappeared, Marie had been living with Flanders and his wife. She had recently given birth to a daughter she conceived with Flanders.

During the course of the investigation, detectives heard several different stories about how and why Marie became pregnant with her second child.

Flanders and his wife initially said Marie served as their surrogate, but people from Calvary Emerald Coast Church told investigators the three were involved in a polygamous relationship.

The wife has not been charged in connection with the case and the child remains in her care, Nicholson said.

Flanders’ arrest was based around seven primary revelations in the course of the investigation, according to the report.

Among the items to play a role were cell phone records that placed Flanders with Marie’s truck, the fact Flanders didn’t tell investigators he and Marie had a physical altercation on the night she disappeared, that he and his wife didn’t report her disappearance and that they left the area in the middle of the night.

Detectives also cited a conversation Flanders had with a friend about needing to get out of the country about two weeks after Marie went missing.

Esta and Randy both said they’re hopeful they will finally be able to find Marie’s body and put her to rest.

“I found out at work, and after that I went straight to church to pray,” Esta said. “I want to know where she’s at.

“She deserves that. We all deserve that.”

--- end ---

MAY 15, 2015 UPDATE

Booking Summary Report, by Name with Offenses & Bonds
Pages 11 & 12 of 37

Inmate Name: Flanders, James Ty

Date/Time: 13:58:02 05/14/15
Booking Number(s): 15-1538
Name Number: 224020 Age: 46
Address: Cochise, AZ
Offense Date: 08:25:00 05/14/2015
Statue: 13-3842FUG
Offense Description: Fugitive Warrant
Disposition: PSP
Court: 0204
Class: F6
Entry Code: CRIM
Jud. Status:
Bond Type: No Bond
Required Amount: $0.00
Optional AmountL $0.00
Clearance Code: [No exceptional clearance]

--- end ---

Here is another website with more information:
Marie Jane Carlson Disappearance And Reward Fund – A Letter From MJC’s Family

--- end ---

JUNE 16, 2015 UPDATE

'Cold Justice' suspect held on $1 million bond

By TOM McLAUGHLIN | Daily News
Published: Tuesday, June 16, 2015 at 03:29 PM.
It’s a rare day when an Okaloosa County courtroom is filled to overflowing for a bond hearing, but murder suspect James Flanders is, after all, something of a celebrity.
Flanders was featured prominently in an April airing of “Cold Justice” on TNT as a key suspect in the 2011 disappearance of Marie Jane Carlson.

The former head pastor of Calvary Chapel church in Fort Walton Beach was charged with killing Carlson just a month after the show aired.

In court Tuesday he testified he had considered Carlson his wife, along with his other wife, Tanya.

After a lengthy hearing, Circuit Court Judge William Stone ordered Flanders held on $1 million bond, an amount that clearly dismayed the many friends and acquaintances he had in the courtroom.

“I find the defendant to be a great flight risk and a risk to the public in general,” Stone said in making his ruling.

Carlson was last seen Oct. 17, 2011. Her vehicle was later found parked at Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport but no sign of her has been found.

She was living with Flanders and his wife at the time of her disappearance and Flanders admitted early on that he and Carlson had been involved in a disagreement.

Details of the relationship between Flanders and his wife and Carlson were originally hazy, but became more clear as the investigation progressed.

Flanders’ attorney, Glenn Swiatek, attempted to convince Stone that his client’s ties to the community made him a safe bet against running if given a reduced bond. He brought several Flanders’ friends to the witness stand to offer to house him until trial.

Swiatek also argued that the court was holding his client on a murder charge without actually knowing Carlson was dead.

“This case is inference upon inference upon inference,” Swiatek said. “Is Marie Carlson dead? We don’t have proof. Was James Flanders responsible for her death? We don’t have proof. We have inference.”

Swiatek also argued that he wouldn’t be able to offer effective counsel if Flanders were being housed in the Okaloosa County Jail.

He also noted that Flanders had spent the last three-and-a-half years in Arizona without ever trying to evade authorities.

But Assistant State Attorney Angela Mason said Flanders was nothing if not a flight risk. She induced testimony from the defendant that he had at one time discussed with a friend leaving the country while under investigation for the Carlson disappearance.

She told the court that Flanders decision to resign as head pastor of his church and move to Arizona came as Okaloosa County investigators were asking questions about his relationship with Carlson.

Flanders said he’d been considering the move for a year, and at least one friend confirmed that testimony.

But Flanders also said on the stand that the Okaloosa County investigation had spurred he and his wife to leave the state sooner than originally planned.

“He cannot be trusted,” Mason said, citing Flanders’ dishonesty to his congregation about his polygamous relationship and his dishonesty to law enforcement investigating him.

She attempted to solicit testimony from Flanders that on the night before Carlson’s disappearance he and she had become involved in a “physical altercation.”

He hedged on using the term physical altercation, but did admit that he’d reported later receiving bruises on his chest and injuries to his arm.

Contact Daily News Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin at 850-315-4435 or Follow him on Twitter @TomMnwfdn.

--- end ---


315-4435 | @TomMnwfdn
December 02. 2015 1:02PM

Pastor charged with murder granted indigent status

Faced with mounting attorney’s fees and the cost of financing “a very complex matter” in court, former Okaloosa County pastor James Flanders has been granted indigent status.
That means the state is presently on the hook for many of his legal bills, according to Flanders’ attorney Glenn Swiatek.
One woman wants to know how that can be.
Susan Jenkins wrote a letter to the Northwest Florida Daily News questioning how Flanders can be considered indigent when he and his wife own and are renting out a home worth just under $140,000.
“He owns the property and I know he doesn’t live there; I live next door,” Jenkins wrote in a letter she emailed to the newspaper last week.
The letter contained an attachment to the Property Appraiser’s website and information regarding the Flanders’ home.
Flanders is a divisive figure in Okaloosa County. He was the popular pastor of Calvary Emerald Coast Church before word began to get out that he might be married to two women.
One of those women, Marie Carlson, came up missing in October 2011 and hasn’t been seen since. Flanders is facing second degree murder charges in her death.
He has acknowledged the polygamous relationship between himself, Carlson and his wife Tanya, but claims he is innocent of the murder charge.
Swiatek said his client is justified in claiming he’s broke.
“My notes reflect that the Flanders’ residence was in pre-foreclosure at the time that he applied for indigency (July 15, 2015),” Swiatek wrote in an email. “The Flanders were approximately one year behind in their mortgage payments.”
The Flanders took on a renter to help them make mortgage payments, Swiatek wrote.
“They were still behind but they were catching up,” he wrote. “They have evidently made an agreement with their mortgage company to at least delay formal foreclosure proceedings.”
At the time he applied for indigency, Flanders had approximately $4,500 in assets with $2,000 of that being equity in his pick-up truck, according to Swiatek. His liabilities and debts were approximately $240,000.00.
In his motion to be declared indigent for costs, Flanders estimated he’d be paying $85,000 to cover Swiatek’s representation. He said his wife has paid $20,000 out of her own pocket and with donations the couple has received.
“At this point we are behind in attorney fee payments and I don’t know how my wife will raise the required funds,” the motion states.
The “very complex” nature of the case will require payment to multiple expert witnesses and gathering information from more than 90 potential state witnesses, the motion said. Many of the witnesses live in Arizona.
Flanders said in his motion he doesn’t expect his case to even come to trial before next May.
Swiatek said Flanders’ motion for indigent status will have to be revisited. He has petitioned the Judicial Administration Commission to help with costs too, he said.
A hearing date for that motion will be set after JAC responds to the request, Swiatek said.

MAY 19, 2016 UPDATE
Thanks to Believer who posted this link:

April 28. 2016 4:59PM

Former pastor pleads in murder case involving missing woman (VIDEOS)
FORT WALTON BEACH — Former pastor James Ty Flanders pleaded guilty Thursday to killing Marie Jane Carlson in October, 2011 and has shown authorities where he buried her body.
Today will begin the “very tedious and time consuming” task of unearthing the corpse, according to State Attorney Bill Eddins.

VIDEO: James Flanders pleads in court 

VIDEO: Judge explains the minimum sentence of 111 months to James Flanders 

Circuit Court Judge William Stone agreed to accept Flanders’ plea of guilt to the charge of manslaughter, a downward departure from the second degree murder charge he was facing.
Under the arrangement Stone will have the authority following a July 19 hearing to sentence Flanders to a maximum of 15 years, a minimum guideline sentence of 111 months — slightly over nine years — or consider something less.

Flanders asked for and received the hearing. He told Stone he believes he can produce evidence at that time compelling enough to convince the judge to depart from the minimum guidelines and lessen his prison time.

Flanders, who has been in jail facing the second-degree murder charge since last May 14, finally confessed during plea negotiations to killing Carlson, who he has said he considered his second wife.
“He described an incident where he grabbed her and held her in a tight bear hug and they fell to the floor,” said Assistant State Attorney Angela Mason, who would have prosecuted Flanders at trial. “They fell to the floor and he held her until she stopped moving.”

Flanders told prosecutors that when he saw Carlson wasn’t breathing he took her outside and buried her in his backyard on Revere Avenue in Fort Walton Beach, Mason said.

Both Eddins and Mason said Flanders had convinced them that Carlson’s death was not premeditated. Eddins said Carlson’s family is content with the plea arrangement.

Flanders told the court Thursday that he waited to make a plea in the case until the state offered the correct charge of manslaughter.

Family members chose not to speak to the media Thursday.

Eddins applauded the work of Mason in closing the Flanders’ case and the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office for its investigation of Carlson’s disappearance and presumed murder.

He said the Sheriff’s Office had at one time searched Flanders’ backyard for evidence that he’d buried Carlson there, and even brought in cadaver dogs to help.

“My belief is the body was buried so deep and hidden so completely, that the only way we would have found it would have been to dig up the entire yard,” Eddins said.

Eddins said in the last couple of days Flanders has accompanied him and others to the Revere Drive property and shown them where Carlson’s body will be found. He said he is absolutely certain the location is the correct one.

Flanders’ attorney, Glenn Swiatek, said Flanders made the decision to take the plea for the sake of Carlson’s family and his own family.

“While his life is going to be difficult over the next few years, he made his decision basically based upon what was in the best interest of the Carlson’s family and his own family,” Swiatek said.
Eddins said the state will pursue the maximum sentence for Flanders and use the fact that he hid her body from detection as an aggravating factor to bolster the request.

Carlson was 37 on Oct. 24 when her ex-husband reported her missing.

Flanders told detectives investigating the disappearance that he'd last seen Marie a week before, and that she’d taken her truck and left the home that he, his wife Tanya, and Carlson shared.

At the time of her disappearance Carlson had recently given birth to a daughter she conceived with Flanders, who was then the pastor of Calvary Emerald Coast Church.

Some church members had come to believe what Flanders would later confirm, that he, Tanya and Carlson were involved in a polygamous relationship.

Carlson’s truck was found at Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport not long after her disappearance.
Flanders and his wife moved to Arizona in 2012. He was charged with second-degree murder and brought back to Florida just a couple of weeks after the television show “Cold Justice” aired a program on Carlson’s disappearance.

April 29. 2016 10:09AM

Human remains found at burial site (ARREST REPORT, PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Human remains were retrieved Friday from the back yard of an Ocean City home formerly owned by pastor James Flanders.

Bones believed to be those of 37-year-old Marie Carlson were just where Flanders had told authorities the day before that they would find them.

READ the arrest report.

He took investigators to 714 Revere Avenue Thursday to show them where he’d buried Carlson after literally squeezing the life out of her.

Officers from four agencies spent hours carefully removing the remains to allow for their shipment to Pensacola, where the Medical Examiner’s Office will positively identify them, said Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Mike Card.

The identification will conclude a search for the 37-year-old Carlson that began on Oct. 17, 2011 when her ex-husband, Jeff Carlson, reported her missing.

It will also clear the way for Flanders, once the popular pastor of Calvary Emerald Coast Church, to secure a plea deal that ensures he will serve no more than 15 years in prison for killing Carlson.
Jeff Carlson said Friday there is great relief in finally recovering his ex-wife’s body, but no joy in seeing Flanders use its recovery to finagle a deal with the State Attorney’s Office.

“I want people to understand that yes, as a family we all agreed to presenting the deal as an option, but that doesn’t mean we’re happy with it,” Jeff Carlson said. “That was the only way we were going to find out what he did with her remains.

“That he will only serve 15 years is a travesty.”

The deal was finalized in Okaloosa County Circuit Court Thursday when Judge William Stone accepted Flanders plea of guilty to the charge of manslaughter and agreed to cap the sentence at a maximum of 15 years.

Flanders could also be sentenced to a minimum guideline sentence of just over nine years and has asked the judge for the opportunity to argue for a downward departure even from that.
A sentencing hearing will be held July 19. State Attorney Bill Eddins has already said he will seek to have the 15 year maximum imposed.

The plea deal was brokered over several days of negotiations, Eddins said.

Flanders confessed to prosecutors during the discussions that he had killed Carlson during an argument by placing her in “a tight bear hug” and hanging on until she stopped moving.
Afterward he buried her in the back yard on the west side of the home.

Carlson was living with Flanders and his wife, Tanya, at the Revere Avenue address at the time of her death.
She was in what Tanya Flanders described to a church friend a “sister wife” relationship, with the Flanders, a police report said, and bore a child, Grace, shortly before she died.

Jeff Carlson said Grace is presently under the care of Tanya Flanders and Carlson family members have exhausted almost all efforts to wrest custody away.

Tanya Flanders is unhappy that the family is even allowed court-ordered video visits with Grace.
“She feels that they shouldn’t be allowed even that,” Carlson said.

Tanya Flanders is not considered an accomplice in the disappearance or death of Marie Carlson, Eddins said.

Investigators from the Sheriff’s Office, Medical Examiner’s Office, FDLE and State Attorney’s Office were all represented Friday at the Revere Avenue residence. Card, who acted as spokesman for the group, said each agency was playing a particular role in the excavation.
Remains were found fairly quickly into the search, Card said, but once they were located the pace of the digging slowed dramatically.

“We’re literally using tongue depressors and toothbrushes,” Card said at about 10 a.m. “It’s a very slow, meticulous process.”

A forensic anthropologist was brought on scene to assist in removing the remains, Card said. He said such care was taken to preserve the evidentiary value of any items found.
The commotion at the residence, complete with a cop directing traffic, crime scene tape and an FDLE van, disrupted the calm of the quiet residential neighborhood. Passersby stopped to ask assembled media what was going on.

Polly Yates, who has lived on Revere Avenue for 34 years, was distressed by the whole scene.
“I'll be glad when it's all over,” she said. “It's beyond me how this can happen.”
Jeff Carlson, who now lives in Colorado, still holds fond memories of his ex-wife, whose passing can now be memorialized in proper fashion.

“I never stopped loving her,” he said. “She wanted to go her own way, and I had to respect that.”
The couple had a daughter of their own, Paris, who is about to turn 12. She’s old enough now, Jeff said, to begin to understand the horrors her mother endured.
“I’ll have to deal with the after effects,” he said.

 Previous coverage

Human remains were found early Friday where former pastor James Flanders recently told authorities he had buried Marie Carlson five years ago.

Following the initial discovery the excavation of the site slowed to a crawl, according to Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Mike Card, so that nothing of evidentiary value would lost.
“We’re literally using tongue depressors and tooth brushes,” Card said. “It’s a very slow, meticulous process.”

A forensic anthropologist was on the scene working with the Sheriff’s Office, Medical Examiner’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and State Attorney’s Office, Card said.
Late in the morning Card said it would be several hours before the discovered remains could be removed from the backyard of a home at 714 Revere Avenue in Ocean City and turned over to the Medical Examiner’s Office for positive identification.

Flanders provided information on the location of Carlson’s body in exchange for the opportunity to plead guilty to manslaughter in her October 2011 death.

He had been charged with second-degree murder.
Flanders told Assistant State Attorney Angela Mason that he held Carlson in “a tight bear hug” on the night of her death until she stopped moving, then buried her in the yard when he realized she was dead.

The Sheriff’s Office served a search warrant at 714 Revere Avenue to dig in the location Flanders said he had buried Carlson’s body. The residence now belongs to someone else.
The commotion, complete with crime scene tape and an FDLE van, disrupted the calm of the quiet residential neighborhood. Passersby asked assembled media what was going on.

Polly Yates, who has lived on Revere Avenue for 34 years, was distressed by the whole scene.
“I'll be glad when it's all over,” she said. “It's beyond me how this can happen.”

Previous coverage
10:42 a.m. update: Lawmen confirmed Friday morning they have found human remains at a Revere Avenue burial site. More information will be forthcoming.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office have begun the search for Marie Jane Carlson's body, allegedly buried in the back yard of a Revere Avenue residence by former pastor James Ty Flanders in October 2011.
Flanders has admitted to killing Carlson.

The Daily News is on the scene and will update the story throughout the day with tweets, video and text.

What in the world?? Flanders KILLED an innocent woman and then LIED to the police.

JUNE 3, 2017 UPDATE 

Just re-watched the Cold Justice episode showing this crime and came upon the following article:

Flanders gets 15 years for manslaughter
Posted Jul 19, 2016 at 7:11 PM

Image result for "james flanders" 15 years
Former Pastor James Flanders sentenced in manslaughter trial.

FORT WALTON BEACH — James Flanders, once the popular pastor of a Fort Walton Beach church, will serve 15 years in prison on a manslaughter charge for the 2011 killing of Marie Carlson, his “sister wife.”

Okaloosa County Circuit Judge William Stone didn’t hesitate to tag Flanders with the maximum sentence following a long hearing that featured impassioned pleas from Carlson’s family for strict punishment and Flanders’ gripping apology.

Flanders’ apparent remorse didn’t move Randy Bridges, one of Carlson’s brothers.
Former pastor James Flanders sentenced in manslaughter trial.

“I’m happy that he did receive the maximum allowed by law,” Bridges said after the hearing. “Was it a fair sentence? Probably not. We would have preferred more.”

The state had allowed Flanders, who originally had been charged with second-degree murder, to plead guilty to the manslaughter charge earlier this year in return for his telling investigators where he had buried Carlson’s body almost five years ago.

A search for Carlson began after her ex-husband reported her missing Oct. 24, 2011.

Flanders was always suspected of possible wrongdoing, but without a body authorities struggled to build a case.

Flanders, who had fathered a child with Carlson while involved in a polygamous relationship with her and his present wife, Tanya, moved to Arizona shortly after the disappearance.

A break in the case came when Carlson’s disappearance was featured on the television show “Cold Justice” in April 2015. Flanders was arrested a month later.

He and his attorney, Glenn Swiatek, struck the deal in April to secure the manslaughter charge. Flanders revealed at that time Carlson’s body had been buried all along in the backyard of the home he lived in when she disappeared.

The family, still embroiled in a battle with Tanya Flanders for custody of Grace, the baby Carlson bore, let the former pastor of Calvary Emerald Coast Church know Tuesday they weren’t ready to forgive his lies and deception.

“For over four-and-one-half years we didn’t know if our sister was alive or dead. Her child, Grace, was taken away and reared by the murderer of her mother,” Randy Bridges said in a statement to Judge Stone.

“He has inflicted more mental trauma upon our family than anyone can imagine,” Bridges continued. “It is our hope, judge, that you will show as much mercy to this killer as he showed to our sister, Marie.”

Flanders sat with his elbows on the defense table, hands covering his eyes, as Bridges, another brother of Carlson, and Marie’s ex-husband, Jeff Carlson, disparaged him.

“Unfortunately you can’t get the life sentence you deserve,” Jeff Carlson said.

In his own statement, Flanders sounded as hard on himself as his detractors.

“I never imagined it was within me to fail and fall the way I did in every way at the time of Marie’s death, and in the days and weeks that followed,” he said. “It would take an act of God for me to forgive James Flanders. ... My entire life has been a horrible lie.”

Swiatek presented at the sentencing hearing a psychiatrist who testified that Flanders needs treatment and medication for a host of mental issues.

The defense attorney argued for a shorter sentence with time set aside after prison for Flanders to get the help he needs.

However, Assistant State Attorney Angela Mason argued that Flanders’ mental issues had nothing to do with his actions of Oct. 24, 2011, or with his decision afterward to cover up his crime and lie to police.

Mason pounced on a statement Flanders had made to a psychiatrist about having put Carlson in a “choke hold” at the time he killed her. He had previously said he had killed her by holding her in a tight bear hug.

Stone, in pronouncing sentence, said the most convincing argument he had heard for leniency Tuesday had come from Flanders own mouth.

But his stirring statement ultimately was not enough to prevent the judge from levying the maximum sentence.

Also, here is the link the Okaloosa Sheriff's report: 


Custody of murdered mom’s daughter granted to murderer-dad’s Cochise County family

By Terri Jo Neff

Former pastor used his parental rights to leverage guardianship for his Arizona family after arrest

2011 Florida missing person case ruled murder in 2015 after TV show led to new evidence

CCR EDITOR’S NOTE: This article published July 10, 2017 was edited Nov. 4, 2017 to remove reference to a 2013 court order granting James Flanders custody of his daughter. No such order was made.


SUNSITES, AZ – When James Ty Flanders sought an order in 2013 from the Cochise County Superior to terminate the parental rights of the mother of his daughter, he signed documents attesting that Marie Jane Carlson’s whereabouts were “unknown.” Flanders, a former Florida pastor, also noted there had been no contact from Carlson “for nearly two years.”

But Flanders failed to tell the family court judge one vital fact: he murdered Carlson on October 17, 2011 and buried her body near their home. He then took steps to make it look like Carlson left town and abandoned their three month old daughter. At the time of the murder, Flanders was pastor of Calvary Emerald Coast Church in the Fort Walton Beach, FL area and his wife Tanya ran the women’s ministry.

Carlson, age 37, was reported missing a week later 1 by her ex-husband in Kentucky. Authorities determined she was last seen at the Fort Walton Beach home she shared with James and Tanya Flanders and the baby. Some friends described Carlson as a surrogate mother, while others were told she was a “sister wife” who planned to raise the girl with the couple.

A few months later James and Tanya Flanders moved with the infant to Arizona, eventually settling near his family in the Sunsites – Cochise area. In 2013, Flanders petitioned the court to terminate the missing mother’s parental rights, a move denied by Cochise County Superior Court Judge Donna Beumler.

However, Flanders still had his parental rights and custody of the little girl, which would come into play when Florida authorities arrested Flanders at his Cochise County home on May 5, 2015. By then, the daughter was nearly four years old.

Cold Justice TV show features Carlson disappearance

Court records reveal the Flanders left Florida “in the middle of the night” January 28, 2012, a few hours after a detective with the Okaloosa (Florida) Sheriff’s Office tried to speak with Tanya Flanders about the missing person case.

By mid-2013 the investigation was stagnant due to a lack of reported sightings of Carlson and no direct evidence that she was dead. Even a national missing persons alert by the FBI and a $10,000 reward by the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement failed to develop serious leads.

Then in early 2015, producers for the Cold Justice television show decided to feature Carlson’s disappearance. The show, produced by Law & Order creator Dick Wolf, centers on two experienced female investigators who look at cold cases with the cooperation of law enforcement.

Detectives with Okaloosa County met with the show’s stars and explained that Carlson’s ex-husband reported her missing October 24, 2011 after she stopped communicating with him and their 8 year old daughter. Carlson’s movements were confirmed up to the afternoon of October 17, 2011 but then her trail went cold.

Okaloosa authorities suspected Carlson did not leave town voluntarily, as there was nearly $1000 in her bank accounts and she left clothes and personal items in the home. She also had shown no signs of abandoning the baby or severing contact with her older daughter who lived with the ex-husband.

Detectives recounted that James Flanders said that he left Carlson alone in their house on October 17 so he could go for a run while his wife Tanya was out with the baby. He also said Carlson and her vehicle were gone when he returned that evening. It would be the only statement Flanders gave to Okaloosa detectives about Carlson for three and a-half years.

Parishioners talk, new evidence, confirms detectives’ suspicions of murder

Parishioners previously reticent to talk about their pastor now spoke freely, on camera, about friction in the Flanders’ home. Some witnesses told of an admission by Flanders of a physical altercation with Carlson the day she disappeared. There was also a report that a “distraught” Flanders met with a friend to ask for help leaving the country.

Detectives also learned that Flanders’ conduct during that meeting led to him being hospitalized for 10 days under a Florida law which allows for the voluntary and involuntary commitment of a person for mental health treatment.

For the TV show, researchers analyzed old cell phone records including some not previously available to the sheriff’s office. It was discovered that Carlson’s cell phone never pinged outside Fort Walton Beach after October 17, 2011. And at the time she was supposedly parking her truck at the airport to leave town it was the cell phone belonging to James Flanders, not Carlson, that pinged near the airport.

Another piece of cell phone evidence indicated that on October 19, after Carlson allegedly left town, a group text message was sent from her phone when the was actually very near their house. That was also the same location the records placed James Flanders’ cell phone when it received the text message.

The new information led to the issuance of an arrest warrant and on May 5, 2015 officials from the Okaloosa Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Arizona Dept. of Public Safety descended on Flanders home in Cochise County. He was charged with second degree murder and extradited to Florida where he remained in custody unable to post the $1 million bail.

Flanders later admitted in court that he put Carlson “in a choke hold” and a “bear hug” until she stopped breathing. He accepted a plea bargain in April 2016 for one count of manslaughter with a sentence of not more than 15 years in prison. The plea deal required him to show detectives where Carlson’s body was buried.

Flanders, now age 49, was sentenced July 19, 2016 to the maximum 15 years. He is scheduled for release in December 2029.

According to William Bishop of the Florida State Attorney’s Office, investigators in 2015 “looked at all the evidence then available” to determine if others should be charged in connection to Carlson’s murder.

Bishop explained in a recent telephone interview that although some people close to James Flanders may have been an accomplice after the fact, “we were unable to find any evidence sufficient to charge anyone.”

Arguing from jail: 2013 custody order influences guardianship decision

Left in the wake of Flanders’ arrest was the little girl, who knew no other parents than James and Tanya Flanders. Carlson’s sister Rose Bridges from Florida petitioned Cochise County for guardianship, but the Flanders family, including James’ mother Geraldine, challenged her effort.

From jail, Flanders argued it was his right to assign care of his daughter to his wife and mother. He referenced the 2013 court proceeding to show he had standing as the girl’s father.

The parties took part in a mediation session after which Bridges dropped her request for guardianship and agreed to Tanya and Geraldine Flanders having guardianship. In February 2016 judge Karl Elledge named the women temporary co-guardians and a month later their appointment was made permanent.

A visitation plan was also worked out and accepted by judge Elledge to allow members of Carlson’s family to visit with the girl and maintain regular weekly communication. According to the judge, “the visitation agreement reached between the parties today is in the minor child’s best interests.”

On March 31, 2017 judge Elledge approved the co-guardians’ annual report which provides the Court with information about the child’s care and welfare. The next mandatory guardianship review will occur in April 2018.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Northwest Florida newspapers reported in late 2015 that Flanders acknowledged the polygamous relationship between himself, Carlson and his wife Tanya, but claimed innocence of the murder charge.


‘Dateline NBC’ to feature local murder mystery

Assistant State Attorney Angela Mason, who would have prosecuted Flanders had his case gone to trial, was among those interviewed for the Dateline program. She said she thinks the case draws attention from a national audience due to its “unusual” set of circumstances, including polygamy, the church, a baby and Flanders’ fleeing to Arizona.
FORT WALTON BEACH — A notorious Okaloosa County criminal case will be featured tonight on NBC’s longest-running prime time program, “Dateline.”
The show, set to air at 9 p.m., will document the case of James Flanders, a disgraced former Fort Walton Beach pastor who pleaded guilty in April 2016 to the October 2011 killing of his “sister-wife” and mother of his then-infant child, Marie Carlson.
Michele Nicholson, spokeswoman for the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, said a production team from Dateline, including true crime correspondent Keith Morrison, traveled to Fort Walton Beach several times in January and February to interview officials and others about the case.
“The Flanders case resonates across the spectrum because it involves a fallen ‘man of the cloth,’ a preacher who was trusted and admired, yet involved in a secret love triangle that led to death for one of those involved,” Nicholson said in an email to the Daily News. “People are drawn to true crime stories like this one because essentially they involve a yearning for justice, as well as some element of fear we can all relate to — how well do we really know someone?”

Carlson was 37 years old on Oct. 24, 2011, when her ex-husband reported her missing and a massive search began.
Flanders, who had fathered a child with Carlson while involved in a polygamous relationship with her and his wife, Tanya, moved to Arizona in 2012, shortly after the disappearance.
Flanders always had been suspected of possible wrongdoing, but without a body authorities struggled to build a case.
A break came when Carlson’s disappearance was featured on the television show “Cold Justice” in April 2015. Flanders was arrested a month later. He eventually admitted to killing Carlson by placing her in what he first said was a “bear hug,” but later said was a “chokehold.”
Flanders and his attorney, Glenn Swiatek, struck a deal with prosecutors to secure a manslaughter charge — downgraded from a second-degree murder — in exchange for telling investigators where he buried Carlson’s body almost five years earlier. Flanders revealed that he buried Carlson’s in the backyard of a home at 714 Revere Ave. he lived in when she disappeared.
Authorities recovered Carlson’s remains on April 29, 2016.

Flanders, now 49 years old, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in July 2016. He is being held at the Blackwater River Correctional Facility in Milton. Prison records show a scheduled release date of Sept. 28, 2029, two years less than his 15-year sentence.
Assistant State Attorney Angela Mason, who would have prosecuted Flanders had his case gone to trial, was among those interviewed for the “Dateline” program. She said she thinks the case draws national attention because of its unusual set of circumstances, including polygamy, the church, a baby and Flanders’ fleeing to Arizona.
Mason doggedly pursued the case against Flanders for five years, and is among those credited with its resolution.
“That is our job. That is what we do every day,” Mason said when asked why she fought to close the case. “People violate the law if they take a life, and we are going to do everything we can to bring them to justice.”
First Judicial Circuit State Attorney Bill Eddins also was interviewed for the show, as were Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Nesli Suhi-Moore and retired Investigator Keith Matz. A producer for the show did not return a request for comment as to who else locally had been interviewed.
Tonight’s episode is titled “Secrets on the Emerald Coast.” Its description on NBC’s website reads, “A young mother disappears after leaving her newborn in the care of her local pastor and his wife. For five years Florida detectives search for her, but instead uncover a web of secrets and lies.”


Anonymous said…
Thank you for keeping us updated on this case. I was mortified when hearing this news. We attended CC for a short while while be stationed in Fl. We left because he wasn't preaching the truth, but never could have imagined this! God bless you, Cathy!
Cathy Palmer said…
Good that you left and too bad for those who stayed... very sad and horrific on every level!
Anonymous said…
This woman already abandoned one daughter. Who's to say she didn't do the same thing. Destin is a popular destination for wealthy men. How do we know she didn't meet someone and try to start a new life? They have all of his cell phone records during the time she went missing. Why haven't they been able to find her body? This case baffles me. A million $ for bail with no body and a second degree murder charge is insane. We left Florida im 2007 and he was talking about moving back to AZ then. When our children were small we traveled at night so our kids could sleep. Cold Justice did what they had to do for the ratings. If he did it he will be judged by God. Just like Marie will be judged for abandoning her children and leading a promiscuous life. Her husband and James weren't the only men in her life.
Really Tanya? Anonymous? Really?
The Narcissist Twins.
Totally Sure they would not be caught. Karma.....
The Great Equalizer.....

The whore song Cracks me up....
James ,,, James .... James ....
Does Tanya know ?
The Song is about her ?

You both are....
Some Kinda Whacked Out......

Peace2u and the ones you wrecked......
Anonymous said…
Are there any new developments in this case???
Cathy Palmer said…
Nothing new that I could find but here are some comments from last month to the Dec 3, 2015 article:
Steve Duke · Investigator at Investigator, Law Firm

I saw an adage that seems to fit this perfectly: "An attorney with a briefcase can steal more money than a hundred men with guns."

Doug DeVoy · Cook Manager at Kitchen Manager/Head Chef

to keep calling this guy a "pastor" is a joke.. he is scum and gives religion a bad name.

Christopher Clyatt · President at Emerald Coast Pest Control

I agree. The man married my wife and I in 2003. He'll get what's coming to him.

Misty Claveloux

Christopher Clyatt - how is stating that he married you & your wife relevant in your argument that "he'll get what is coming to him?" You obviously chose him to marry you for a reason. He married my husband & I as well and made a huge impact on my life. I was newly saved when I met James, and his teachings changed my life. I don't agree with the polygamy by any stretch, but I'm praying for all involved - including my friends James & Tanya. Innocent until proven guilty is still the rule - or has the little bit of media coverage condemned him already?

Karen Broxson

Misty Claveloux he condemned himself.he is a scumbag

Gary Gobin · Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Karen Broxson ,You must not be a Christian so you get a pass,

Misty Claveloux

Karen Broxson I condemned myself when I confessed my sins & asked Jesus to forgive me. I wonder if His reply was, "she's a scumbag!"

Nancy Morris

If they haven't been using the rental income to pay the mortgage on his FWB property (as stated by his attorney... they have not paid a mortgage payment in approx. a year) then why is he able to claim indigent status and maintain the asset of a home? I don't understand how they can accept income from rent and still be considered indigent. Isn't indigent no form of assets and income?

Brian Ricks · Coronado, California

If he cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed. I think I heard that somewhere before. Swaitek either needs to defend him pro bono or quit.

Linda Sherman · FarmVille

Brian beat me to the punch. I was going to say the same thing. If he cannot afford his lawyer's fees then he should be assigned an attorney by the court at the same time they changed his financial status. Just because he currently has an EXPENSIVE Lawyer, he can't pay him. Sooooo...I'm sure his current lawyer will back out and if not, then we the citizens end up paying and that's what I Object to.
Cathy Palmer said…
And a few more comments from last month...

Linda Sherman · FarmVille

I try not to judge and sometimes I do. I believe in "Innocent until proven guilty". I also believe in "Speedy trial" and I think over a year is NOT Speedy. This isn't about who he married, it's about "Did he murder his wife". The State must have enough evidence to arrest someone even if it's small items or a lot of evidence. This case shows me that if he had two wives but only let people know of one, then he knew he was not following his Ministery as he preaches and that makes me wonder what else is he hiding?

He has been arrested for killing one of his wives and this should be the item of i...See More

Rachel Crowe · Works at Retired

Someone in his friends circle knows something. He had scraches on his arms and admitted that they got into and altercastion. He asked someone from the church to help him get out of the country. Why is that, if you didn't do anything why get out of the country. How come he didn't go to the police when she disappeared? Why did it have to be her ex-husband? How long had he planned on getting another wife to have a baby? Why not adopted? If they had money to support Marie, then why didn't they just artifically insemanate her. No instead he had sex with her. Why did the church turn their ...See More

Dan Schramm · University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

Indigent does not mean destitute. However, one issue that is not mentioned at all, is how much equity do they have in the home? How much do they owe on the loan? Also, a homestead is exempt from execution so perhaps it is also exempt from the legal requirements of criminal indigency. For instance, if someone wins a judgment against you, your homestead can't be executed against. You are also allowed a car worth up to $3,000, tools, furniture and other things up to a few grand more.
Cathy Palmer said…
The complete comment from Rachel Crowe · Works at Retired

Someone in his friends circle knows something. He had scratches on his arms and admitted that they got into an altercation. He asked someone from the church to help him get out of the country. Why is that, if you didn't do anything why get out of the country. How come he didn't go to the police when she disappeared? Why did it have to be her ex-husband? How long had he planned on getting another wife to have a baby? Why not adopted? If they had money to support Marie, then why didn't they just artificially inseminated her. No instead he had sex with her. Why did the church turn their back on Marie's family? They didn't help with an award money ( not all of the reward money, but something). Marie was one of their own. They didn't (according to the family) help with the search. I am angry at the way the church has treated this. When she turned up missing and James asked for help to get out of the country (not state) then someone should have called the police and told them what they had seen. There is no pastor- congregational confidentiality when there is abuse or mysterious disappearance. When he did preach was the word from God, or did he have other intentions? I started going to Calvary back in 1999. I was under James and was friends with Tanya, Cornelia, and Garnett. We were there for each other. In 2000 I started running away from home. This was due to the fact that I didn't want to work on Sunday. Sunday is the day of rest and learning about the Lord. I was told that God would be angry with me if I worked on Sunday. I felt God was already mad at me and I didn't want to make him any angrier. I was 19 at the time. James and Tanya offered me to stay at their house. They would support me and drive me back and forth to OWCC in Niceville. I was in the police academy at the time and was going to class 6 days a week. M-Sat. I thought to myself this is good. Who wouldn't want to live with a pastor and learn about God sitting at his feet. Call it discernment or intuition, but I thought about it for a week and then declined. Now I think that this could be me that has disappeared. Yes innocent until proven guilty, but I don't think the tax payers should have to pay for his mistake. That is an injustice. If he cannot pay for this big shot lawyer and the lawyer will not do it pro bono, then he needs to step back and let the courts appoint him a lawyer.

Dec 13, 2015 12:48pm
Cathy Palmer said…
The complete comment from Linda Sherman · FarmVille

I try not to judge and sometimes I do. I believe in "Innocent until proven guilty". I also believe in "Speedy trial" and I think over a year is NOT Speedy. This isn't about who he married, it's about "Did he murder his wife". The State must have enough evidence to arrest someone even if it's small items or a lot of evidence. This case shows me that if he had two wives but only let people know of one, then he knew he was not following his Ministry as he preaches and that makes me wonder what else is he hiding?

He has been arrested for killing one of his wives and this should be the item of interest. Did he, or didn't he. Did he report her missing? If not then why didn't he? Is he hiding even more things that would lead to killing her. Until he is proven guilty, then he will spend many years in Prison. I'm sure the State knows and all things will come out in his trial. All these negative comments....what if he DIDN'T?!!!!

Misty Claveloux, your comment shows the impact this man has made in your life!! You show mercy, love, prayers...a true Christian!! God Bless you.

Dec 5, 2015 3:32pm
Anonymous said…
Went to Mexico on a missions trip with him. When I heard vulgar language between him and one of his closer friends I began to question things and look a little closer. I began to feel something wasn't tight. We stopped going to Calvary about a year and a half before this happened. I sae his last sermon on the internet. He was giving excuses about taking care of family back in Arizona as the reason for leaving. Didn't think much of it at the time as I didn't know about Marie. Jason stood right there and let him tell a lie to the congregation about why he was leaving. Why is that?!? Mull that one over for a while. Saving face? We all need repentance in the worst way.
believer said…
Well I guess we know now what happened:
Cathy Palmer said…
Thank you for your post. All our suspicions were correct!
believer said…
At least she can finally be laid to rest by her family and loved ones. RIP Marie.
Anonymous said…
I'm glad to hear that Flanders finally confessed. I hope that this gives Marie's family some solace. Though the price Flanders is paying seems very light for the crime. This has been an interesting case to follow. I know the practice of polygamy is weird. But I know that Flanders associated with some Bible teachers (completely unrelated to Calvary Chapel) who openly teach that polygamy, prostitution, lesbian sex, and cursing are condoned in the Bible. One of those teachers practices polygamy himself. They've touted themselves as being among just a handful of men on earth teaching the "real" truth. It's an interesting aspect of this story.
Cathy Palmer said…
Your comment brings to mind this passage from Romans 1
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."
Anonymous said…
There is a guy defending James Flanders here, I guess. I came across this video. He became part of this group apparently.
Cathy Palmer said…
Thanks for the link to the vid... I added it to the post. I can barely listen to this guy's sympathy for Flanders the murderer!
Anonymous said…
Jerry Flanders is nothing but a evil reptilian conman......them idiots at that church couldn't see or figure that out?!! Must of been really that murderous pussy gets assraped the shit kicked out of him and be made into big bubbas bitch for the next 15 years....I'm sure his wife knew also...but innocent till proven guilty.....karma
Anonymous said…
Lol you are still so sick Tanya.
Anonymous said…
Tanya you belong in jail with him... sicko raising HER daughter. If you were a victim as well, then you should have left and confessed the truth. You are just as guilty.
Anonymous said…
James is a flim-flam man and Tanya is a sick stupid woman. Wait till the daughter is of age to be told by someone what he so called father did. She will be told I promise.