[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xinS0wn_Ca4"]Haunted Evidence, J.B. Beasley & Tracie Hawlett Part 1 - YouTube[/ame] (Part 1)
I remember this case when it happened. It is sad that it is not solved yet.
Last edited by Kimster; 03-10-2013 at 04:34 PM. Reason: Featured cold case from 3/10/13 to 3/17/13
Link to the scanners downstairs:
Remember Amber Hagerman (Amber Alerts)
I I wish the families could get some closure. Rumor has it that the killer is known but no evidence.
wow, short thread for a horrible crime. i would look into that store clerk.
There is always a story in the local news each year on the anniversary. There have been candlelight vigils where the girls were found in the car. There was a lot less publicity this year. So sad. I drove past that store last week when I was in Ozark. It always makes me think of the girls. It is no longer in business.
was that store in a desolate spot?
Not really. Traffic wise, it is four lane in an older part of town that is mixed older residential/commercial. So there are some commercial businesses and houses too on the road. The road connects Hwy 231 a main thouroughfare in the state to downtown Ozark. The store is about halfway in between . Looking back, I can see that area as dark and quiet late at night when the girls stopped to use the phone. This would have been before everyone commonly had cell phones like they do today. The girls were looking for a field party they had been invited to and got lost.
I've been researching this case for the past couple of months. I've organized all the facts uncovered thus far into a sort of case file, which follows in its entirety. It is my hope that this will provide a foundation on which we can build, ignite a new conversation and bring some much-needed attention to this ice-cold case. —DD
The Unsolved Murders of J.B. Beasley & Tracie Hawlett
1. ON THE WAY TO A BIRTHDAY PARTY
At approximately 10:00 p.m. on the night of Saturday, July 31, 1999, Northview High School incoming seniors J.B. Hilton Green Beasley, 17, and Tracie Jean Hawlett, 17, left their hometown of Dothan, Alabama, together in Beasley’s 1993 black Mazda 929. It was Beasley’s 17th birthday, and the friends were headed to a “field” party for her at the rural home of Beasley’s friend and fellow dancer Janna Hare in Headland, about 10 miles north of Dothan.
Earlier that evening Tracie Hawlett had finished her shift in the menswear department at J.C. Penney, left work shortly after 9:00 p.m., and went home to change clothes before Beasley, of 205 Woodleigh Road in Dothan, arrived to pick her up sometime between 9:45 and just past 10:00 at her house in the Hickory Hill Drive/Rock Spring Road neighborhood in Dothan.
The girls never arrived at the party. Carol Roberts, Tracie Hawlett’s mother, said, “They never found the party. They just couldn’t understand the directions.”
Beasley and Hawlett were spotted in Headland at about 10:30 p.m. Police records show that they stopped at a BP gas station near the intersection of Routes 173 and 431 in Headland, where they used one of two side-by-side pay phones to call friends, probably to get clearer directions to the party or possibly to tell friends they wouldn’t be able to make it: Hawlett’s curfew that night was 11:30 p.m., giving the girls a relatively short night out given their departure time, made all the shorter by their becoming lost.
One hour later, just after 11:30 p.m., Beasley and Hawlett turned up in Ozark -- more than 20 miles northwest of Dothan -- at the Big/Little convenience store-Chevron station located at 763 East Broad Street. The store had closed for the evening. Beasley and Hawlett encountered a woman, Marilyn Merritt, and her daughter, who had stopped to buy a soda; the girls asked for and were provided directions to U.S. Highway 231, which would take them the 20 miles southeast to Dothan. Merritt and her daughter later told police that Beasley’s car was spotless, the girls were clean and nothing seemed awry.
Using the pay phone at the far right end of the store front, Tracie Hawlett then called her mother to say they had gotten lost and wound up in Ozark but had gotten directions and were on their way home. Carol Roberts stated, “Nothing was wrong in Tracie’s voice. It was ‘Mom, I love you. Be home soon.’”
Merritt and her daughter then saw Beasley and Hawlett pull out of the parking lot and turn right toward the highway, as directed. It was the last time Beasley and Hawlett were seen alive.
3. THE NEXT MORNING
Exhausted from a double shift as a nurse's aide at Wesley Manor nursing home, Carol Roberts fell asleep after the call from her daughter. When she awoke at 5:00 a.m., Tracie had not returned. Of Tracie’s failure to return that night, Roberts stated, “Tracie’s never late. I knew that something beyond her control was keeping her from getting home.”
At 8:00 that morning, August 1, 1999, Roberts called Dothan police. Officers started to search for a possible car wreck.
At almost that exact moment, Ozark police officers found Beasley's black Mazda 929 just before 8:00 a.m., parked along Herring Avenue, about 30 yards from the James Street intersection, less than a mile from the pay phone Hawlett had used the night before. Though a residential street, the stretch of Herring Avenue where the car was found is houseless, flanked by dense woods on both sides. It is dark in the daytime and near pitch-black at night.
4. THE CAR
According to police, when the car was initially found, there were no outright signs of foul play. Police say why the girls stopped remains a mystery. They say it doesn't look like someone forced the girls off the road, since there was no damage to the car.
Though undamaged, the car was muddy and almost out of gas despite a fill-up the day before. When police found the car, the driver's side window was rolled down a few inches and the door was unlocked. J.B. Beasley’s driver's license was on the dashboard. The girls' purses were inside the car. It appeared only the car keys were missing.
5. "SOMETHING ABOUT THIS FEELS FUNNY."
Lieutenant Rex Tipton, the chief of detectives with the Ozark Police Department, was contacted by a sergeant at the Herring Avenue scene and told about the discovery.
“I don't know why I'm bothering you," the sergeant said, "but something about this feels funny.”
Tipton told the sergeant to keep an eye on the car, figuring that teenagers may have left it there after a night of partying, which would not have been unusual. The sergeant ran the car's license plates and discovered that it was registered in Dothan, the region's largest city with just under 60,000 people. He contacted police there.
The Dothan police told Tipton they were just then taking a missing person's report from Tracie's parents.
Tipton reiterated his order to keep an eye on the car.
“At that point," Tipton said, "I didn't think about popping the trunk. There was nothing to indicate anything was wrong.”
6. INSIDE THE TRUNK
Hours passed with no sign of the girls. By lunchtime, Tipton had become worried. Dothan police sent an investigator, who planned to have the car towed back to Dothan. As officers waited for a tow truck, the Dothan investigator noticed that he could open J.B.'s trunk with an inside lever; the missing keys weren't needed.
Six hours had passed since the discovery of the car. It was nearing 2:00 p.m. when he popped the trunk:
J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett were inside, each dead from a single 9mm gunshot wound to the head.
7. CRIME SCENE DETAILS
They were clothed and showed few signs of struggle. Hawlett's arm was scratched, her pants had briars, and the $95 New Balance tennis shoes she had bought the week before were covered in mud. First into the trunk, she had been shot once in the temple.
Beasley had been shot once in the cheek. She was noticeably dirty; her shoes were muddy.
Both girls’ pants were wet below the knee.
A single 9mm shell casing rested precariously on Hawlett’s leg.
Robbery was quickly ruled out as a motive when it was confirmed that not only the girls’ purses but also their jewelry, money, and credit cards were all found inside the car.
The only known missing item is Beasley’s key chain, which holds the car’s keys. It is described as having white blocks with black letters that have a heart on one and spell out “HARD2GET.”
An autopsy revealed that the girls had not been raped and had no alcohol or drugs in their bodies.
Authorities were able to determine that the girls had not been murdered where the car was parked on Herring Avenue.
A palm print was recovered from the trunk lid.
More than two months after the crime, a stunning revelation came from state forensics examiners: They found semen on J.B. Beasley’s bra, panties, and skin. Authorities consider this discovery the key to the unsolved murders.
"You have to assume it's a sex offense, or at least came out of a sex offense," said David Emery, the district attorney of Dale and Geneva counties. "If we could find who donated that semen, I think we'll have the killer.”
8. THE STRANGE CONFESSION OF JOHNNY WILLIAM BARRENTINE
At 11:30 p.m. on the night of July 31, 1999, at the same time Tracie Hawlett called her mother from the Big/Little Store pay phone, 28-year-old part-time mechanic Johnny William Barrentine told his young wife that he was headed out to buy milk for the couple’s 2-year-old son.
Barrentine didn’t return home until shortly before 1:00 a.m., and, according to his wife, when he came in he was visibly upset. When asked, he told her his car had been “hit by a black truck with a Dothan tag near Herring Avenue.”
In the days that followed, Barrentine would confide in others that he knew something about the murders of the two teens found on Herring Avenue . “He just said he thought he might know who did it,” said Avalyn Murphy, whose boyfriend, Leon Jordan, encouraged Barrentine to go to authorities and collect the reward.
Barrentine finally took the advice.
On September 1, exactly one month after the bodies of J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett were found, Johnny Barrentine met with police for a four-hour, videotaped interview, ultimately offering six different stories and sometimes placing himself at the scene of the crime.
According to Ozark Police Chief Tony R. Spivey, Barrentine first said that on the night of the killings he'd seen a black truck speeding away from the area where the girls were found.
As the interview wore on, Barrentine changed his story several times, finally telling investigators that he'd picked up a “tattooed man” he didn't know, and the two drove by the Big/Little Store. Barrentine said the man he'd given a ride got into a car with two girls -- who Barrentine identified as “the dead girls” -- and told him to follow. He said they ended up on Herring Avenue. The man got the girls out of the car. Barrentine said he soon heard two gunshots and the man returned. Barrentine gave the man a ride away from the scene, then went home.
In another version, Barrentine confessed to investigators that the man he’d picked up and given a ride home wasn’t unknown to him at all -- it was his neighbor. Alarmingly, Barrentine lived just eight-tenths of a mile from where police found the bodies.
Police arrested Barrentine then and there, naming him the prime suspect and charging him with two counts of capital murder.
But there were problems with his account. He never mentioned sexual activity that would account for the semen found on Beasley. The neighbor he implicated had an alibi for the evening and, like Barrentine, did not match the DNA samples.
Barrentine, whose police mug shot makes him look like he might have just been startled from a slumber, immediately said he'd fabricated the whole story in hopes of scoring some quick cash.
“I didn't see anything,” he later told a grand jury. “I made up everything to get the reward money.”
“He says he was there,” Police Chief Spivey said, explaining what made Barrentine a suspect. “He relayed to us about getting the girls out of the car. One of the girls ran. The girls were combative. The individual placed the girls in the trunk. Two shots were fired. The gunman comes back to the car. Something is in his hand. He drove the gunman outside the city. He returned home.”
In a September 21 preliminary hearing, Alabama Bureau of Investigation agent Charles Huggins testified that Barrentine was able to describe the girls’ clothing and other items consistent with the girls and the crime.
Police Chief Spivey said the district attorney, who was present during the September 1 interview, instructed police to arrest Barrentine. When Barrentine’s arrest was announced at a September press conference, Spivey said police were confident they had arrested the right man.
"What do you do?" Spivey would say later. “If you don't charge him, maybe you just let a killer walk out the door. You're between a rock and a hard place.”
Barrentine was held without bond in the Dale County jail from his September 1 arrest on. In an October 18 bond hearing before Circuit Judge P.B. McLauchlin, Barrentine denied he was involved in the killings, though he had made the earlier statements to police that he watched the two 17-year-olds shot to death by an acquaintance of his who had “tattoos all over his arms.”
Barrentine told McLauchlin that he never picked up a tattooed man and that he didn't see anything the night of the murders. He said he simply went to the BP at about 11:00 p.m. to get milk for his little boy.
Barrentine was denied bond by McLauchlin, who then appointed 36-year veteran lawyer Bill Kominos to represent Barrentine.
Barrentine's friends and family stood by him, professing his innocence to anyone who would listen. “He did not do it,” his mother, Faye Barrentine, adamantly told reporters the day after her son's arrest. "He's not capable of doing it. He has a two-year-old son, and he is not capable of doing anything to hurt a child.”
Kominos would go on to say his client had obviously stumbled into a situation with investigators he wasn't capable of handling. “As a lawyer, you need to take what your client says with a grain of salt sometimes,” he said, speaking in slow, measured tones, his hands held together almost as if he were praying. “But I had a feeling from the very beginning, in viewing the car, in viewing the evidence, I said to myself, ‘No. Johnny Barrentine could not have done this.’”
The police were under intense pressure to make an arrest, Kominos contended. And that pile of reward money kept growing. It grew enough to lure Barrentine in, Kominos said.
“Well, they started. They questioned. And questioned. And questioned. Four hours,” the lawyer said, punctuating each sentence with a moment of silence. “It's all on video and the questions turn from questions to accusations. From accusations to suggestions.”
Barrentine, who had lived in Ozark for several years and was residing at 110 Young Avenue with his wife and son, said he first went to Spivey several days after the murders to tell him of a rumor. He gave Spivey a name and was told that police had already checked out the rumor and that the man Barrentine named was not a suspect.
Also several days after the murder, Barrentine reportedly said, he and his wife and brother-in-law went to the scene on Herring Street where the Beasley car was found. Barrentine said they were looking for something that might help the police solve the case.
Barrentine said he was tired when he told the story to police in the September 1 interview at the police station. He said he was interviewed for more than four hours and was not told he could go to the bathroom or could leave at any time.
Barrentine said police "tricked me" into telling the story.
At one hearing, it was reported that Barrentine finished the seventh grade and a portion of the eighth grade, and that he was in special education courses.
Daleville lawyer Joe Gallo said he didn’t believe police, who were under intense pressure to solve the case, would drop charges against Barrentine if they believed he was remotely involved. Yet Gallo offered no explanation for Barrentine's stories, except to say Barrentine suffered mild mental retardation. "You've got me," he said.
Barrentine's DNA was compared to that of the semen found on J.B. Beasley’s body.
It did not match.
A judge then approved Barrentine's bond request. He was released from jail on Friday, December 17. In January, a Dale County grand jury declined to indict Barrentine.
“Barrentine is living in Daleville now,” Kominos said at the time, “and is trying to pick up the pieces.” Kominos said no physical evidence exists that links Barrentine to the murders.
Police still consider him a suspect, Spivey said, noting that Barrentine is also alleged to have made a jailhouse confession.
Police have said Barrentine could be charged later if new evidence points to him.
9. OTHER SUSPECTS
- The Man from Michigan: A man from Michigan who was at a party the night of the murders near where the car was found is also a "very viable" suspect, Chief Spivey said, even after tests failed to match the man's DNA to that found on J.B. Beasley’s clothing. The man, whom Spivey would not name, left town within days of the murders, the chief said, adding that investigators have traveled to Michigan three times to interview him. The man cannot account for three or four hours of his time on the night of the murders, and later made "suspicious" statements to people, Spivey said. He would not elaborate on what he meant by suspicious.
- The Driver of the Small White Pickup Truck: A video surveillance camera inside the Big/Little Store caught a grainy, poor quality image of what appears to be a small white pickup truck at the gas pumps at the same time that J.B. and Tracie were at the outside phone calling Tracie's mother. The store had closed, and there was no record of a gas purchase being made at the pump by credit card or debit card at that time, Chief Spivey said. The video never reveals anyone getting out of the truck, and never clearly shows the driver. After releasing a photo of the truck to the media a month into the investigation, no one had come forward to say it was him in the truck. The truck -- and its driver -- seem to have disappeared. “So that may be the key,” Spivey said.
- The Man from Mississippi (Presumably ruled out - DNA): In early March 2000, it was reported that a DNA sample taken from a Jones County, Mississippi, man was being compared to samples taken from the body of J.B. Beasley, but Chief Spivey said no factual evidence known at the time linked the man to the brutal murders of Beasley and Hawlett. Spivey said the man, who was extradited from Jones County, had been arrested there on an outstanding warrant for possessions of drug paraphernalia issued in Ozark. The man had been staying in Ozark with relatives but left two days after the murders. Spivey said investigators wanted to question him in connection with the case. “He has been extensively interviewed and DNA samples have been obtained and sent to the forensics lab," Spivey said at the time. "But at this time we do not have any factual information to connect him to this case. We just want to be double sure that he's not involved.”
10. ABOUT THE VICTIMS
J.B. Hilton Green Beasley was born Saturday, July 31, 1982 in Troy, Alabama, to Hilton Lanier Beasley and Cheryl Stout. In 1984, her family moved to Dothan.
J.B. was an All-American Cheerleader in the 8th grade at Carver Middle School. She was active in dance for ten years and was the recipient of numerous dance trophies and awards. She was a member of the First United Methodist Church in Dothan.
Despite its brutal ending, that final Saturday evening began on a festive note. It was J. B. Beasley's 17th birthday, and there was much to celebrate. She was an up-and-coming high school senior. Her future was promising, even if her past had not been trouble-free. Her relationship with her mother was admittedly strained, and her dance instructor had become her legal guardian. Even now, Cheryl Stout-Burgoon describes her daughter as rebellious and manipulative -- albeit very smart. But others considered her spirited, including her pastor, Lawson Bryan, who called her an “extremely vivacious, friendly, outgoing person.”
Tracie Jean Hawlett was born Wednesday, March 3, 1982. She was a second-year majorette at Northview High School, as well as a beauty contest finalist. [I've had a hard time finding facts on Ms. Hawlett. I'm hoping someone can help me here. —DD]
11. INVESTIGATION: DEVELOPMENTS
Police were stumped almost from the beginning. When state and county detectives joined the hunt, more than 50 investigators were working on the case in a city with just 45 officers on its force.
An FBI suspect profiler was brought in. But the profile revealed nothing dramatic, Chief Spivey said. The profiler said the killer most likely was a young male who could be described as a loner.
2008-2009: Ozark Police Chief Tony Spivey says they have investigated new leads over the past year and a majority of those leads have taken them out of Alabama. They’ve interviewed about a dozen people according to the Chief, some in Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, Michigan, Arkansas and South Carolina. But he says they’ve come up empty-handed. Chief Spivey says it is personally frustrating that they have not found the killers but the department continues to work with the Attorney General’s Cold Case Unit and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation.
12. AGENCIES INVOLVED IN THE INVESTIGATION
- Ozark Police Department
- Alabama Bureau of Investigation
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Alabama State Troopers
- Dale County Sheriff’s Department
- Daleville Department of Public Safety
- Wiregrass Violent Crime/Drug Task Force
- FBI Violent Crimes Task Force
- Dothan Police Department
- Houston County Sheriff’s Department
- Alabama Department of Game and Fish
- Dale County District Attorney’s Office
- Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences
- Attorney General’s Cold Case Unit
- Richard Walters, Cold Case Investigator
- Attorney General Troy King’s Cold Case Commission
13. TELEVISION COVERAGE
- Summer 2000: Spivey contacts America’s Most Wanted. The FOX network television show had helped Ozark police catch two suspects in a 1989 murder case.
- July 28, 2007: AMW airs a segment on the Beasley-Hawlett murders.
- August 15, 2007: CourtTV’s Haunting Evidence “Wiregrass Murders” (Beasley-Hawlett murders) episode airs.
14. A WITNESS
Since the day police discovered the bodies, they have said that J.B. and Tracie were shot while inside the Mazda's trunk. And, they've said, they believed the actual shooting happened somewhere other than where the car was found.
Yet, months into the investigation, police couldn't say where that somewhere else was.
Then, in March 2000, a woman who lived just south of town reported that she heard screams and what sounded like two gunshots on the night of the murders.
The woman didn't report the information sooner because she "didn't want to get involved," Chief Spivey said.
The area, next to what neighbors said is a now-vacant house, is surrounded by trees and has two World War II-era buildings on the property. The spider-web-encrusted buildings -- wooden structures that appear to be a barn and a half-collapsed garage -- sit about 100 feet off the roadway.
With FBI help, Spivey said, crime scene specialists and investigators combed the area and found a spent 9mm shell casing, the same caliber casing found in the trunk with the bodies.
Police sent the casing and a soil sample from the area to the state forensics lab, where they still sit. [July 2000]
Tipton said forensics experts will compare the dirt from that location with dirt found on J.B.'s and Tracie's clothing.
He said they will also examine the unique "extraction marks" left on the two casings by the gun that ejected them.
Because investigators are still awaiting those test results from the forensics lab, they don't know if the scene south of town is the actual murder scene.
J.B. Beasley ID Photo
Tracie Hawlett ID Photo
J.B. Beasley's Car
Similar to J.B.'s "HARD2GET" keychain?
Did the killer keep the keychain as a souvenir to his crime?
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Great job Dime Detective!
One thing I didn't see mentioned is the rumor that has circulated for years that the killer was the son of a prominent Ozark family who committed suicide after the murders. Becuase this is a prominent family, it has been hushed up.
I said RUMOR because that is all I know it to be. That is all I have heard, I've not even heard the name of the so-called prominent family. But I can't help but wonder if you came across this rumor in your researching the case. Of course Chief Spivey has always denied this.
Something happened- someone got those girls to stop from the time they were last seem leaving the Big/Little Store.....
I had never heard of the woman reporting the gun shots and the possible crime scene being found. Have you heard any more on this ? I find it so frustrating that you can be local to a case and get more information on the case from non local sources...I have stated before in other threads here at WS that we have very poor MSM here in the Wiregrass area.
Also...ladies...when you were 17 what is the one thing that would have gotten you to stop if you were driving around? A good looking guy in a nice car.....think about it...gives a bit more credibilty to the prominent son rumor...
I did compile a chapter on rumors but I chose to omit it from my post in the interest of focusing on and discussing known facts. After spending a lot of time reading about the case on local message boards, I found there were a few rumors in particular that are still holding strong all these years later, so, while I carefully noted them, I'm wary of contributing to the perpetuating of these rumors as fact.
That said, I did come across quite a lot of detailed information on the rumor you mentioned, including names and talk of a suicide note that contained a confession, which, along with the idea of a massive cover-up that among other things denies the victims' families any form of closure, I find to be preposterous. In my humble opinion, of course.
As with other popular — and, in my humble opinion, ridiculous — rumors, including the idea that one of the girls was dating an Ozark police officer, was threatening to tell his wife, and was thus silenced, there were instances of friends and acquaintances on both sides of the story who came forward to post that there's no way these things could be true.
I think the following excerpt from a January 20, 2000, article that appeared in The Birmingham News does a good job of getting to the heart of why rumor has filled the void left by a lack of known facts in this case:
Later that year, Chief Spivey addressed the rumors in The Mobile Register:The case’s unanswered questions have fueled rumor, speculation and fear.
Ozark Mayor Bob Bunting said he's heard the questions about police, but it's far from the only theory about a crime that was front-page news every day for weeks in the town of 17,000.
"I've heard every rumor you can imagine," said Bunting, who understands why the unsolved case draws speculation. "It makes you wonder. It was like an execution. There's nothing clear-cut there. Every rock around here has been looked under. It's just a mystery.”
Police investigated every rumor, Chief Spivey said in an interview. Each was eliminated as a possibility. “We've wasted a lot of man hours chasing rumors,” said the chief, a man with a buzz-cut, wire-rim glasses and a no-nonsense look that belies his friendly handshake and open demeanor. “But you have to do it.”
It is exactly 2 miles from the Big/Little Store location to U.S. Highway 231 via Route 27 (East Broad Street/East Andrews Avenue). This is the route the girls took, according to the witnesses at the Big/Little Store. It is a direct route. If the girls had only reached 231, they would have been home safe and sound half an hour later.
What stopped them? What happened somewhere on that 2 mile stretch of road, and how did the girls — headed west in a car that had plenty of gas and no reported history of being unreliable — end up a half-mile directly south of the Big/Little Store on Herring Avenue, the opposite direction they would have been traveling to safety?
Again and again I've returned in my mind to the question of management of vehicles. If the killer acted alone, isn't it likely that he would've had to leave a car — probably his own but possibly J.B.'s — parked along Route 27 while he took the girls, the three of them traveling in the same vehicle, to some unknown location, made at least J.B. undress to her underwear, deposited semen on her body and clothes, let her get dressed, then made the girls climb into the trunk of J.B.'s car where he shot them before finally driving J.B.'s car to Herring Avenue where he left it?
This all would have taken time. Was the killer's vehicle parked along Route 27 while all of this was going on, and did the killer have to walk back to his vehicle after the murders? Doesn't this seem like risky behavior? A witness could've noticed and later reported seeing the killer's vehicle pulled off the side of the road that night. Any moment a police officer on his rounds could've driven up and noted this vehicle abandoned at the side of the road. This brings up another question I constantly grapple with: Was the killer intelligent or just lucky? I'll get back to this.
So the killer somehow gets the girls to pull over on Route 27; he forces his way into their car or forces them into his vehicle — either way leaving a vehicle conspicuously parked for an extended period of time at the side of Route 27. There were no reports of witnesses driving along that stretch of Route 27 that night and seeing any vehicles pulled to the side of the road. So how did the killer manage to keep both the vehicle he was driving and J.B.'s car out of sight during the abduction and murders?
Here are some possibilities:
- The killer was on foot.
- The killer lived in the immediate area.
- The killer somehow managed to pull the girls over in an area secluded enough that no one would notice the abduction taking place yet residential enough that no one would find an abandoned vehicle at the side of the road conspicuous.
- There were two (or more) persons involved.
- The victims knew — and were possibly traveling in tandem with — their killer(s).
Put yourself in the killer's place. If you are acting alone, how do you manage both vehicles without being caught?
As to the question of how the killer may have gotten the girls to pull over, so far to me there are a couple of strong possibilities:
- The killer posed as a police officer. The fact that J.B.'s driver's side window was down (according to different reports, the window was down a few inches to halfway to all the way down) coupled with the fact that her driver's license was found on the dashboard, as if she'd pulled it out to show someone, makes this a very strong theory. Family members have stated that there's no way the girls would have stopped for "anything other than a blue light." Did the killer often drive around late at night with a blue light at the ready, perhaps on his passenger seat or on the floor, to be thrown up onto the dashboard should he happen upon the perfect victim in the perfect location? He would only have to display the flashing blue light for a matter of seconds to convince a motorist to pull over before turning it off and putting it away. [It should be noted, in regard to the window being down, that the low temperature in Ozark on the night of July 31, 1999, was a pleasant 69 degrees — though I have so far been unable to find info on the humidity level that night. Apparently Tracie's passenger side window was not down. It is unknown whether J.B.'s car had functioning air conditioning.]
- The killer flagged the girls down, as seen in the CourtTV Haunting Evidence "Wiregrass Murders" episode. Though this particular theory belongs to the visions of two psychics on the show (their scenario can be watched here starting at about 2:05 http://bit.ly/WNh1iB), it's certainly feasible. The killer fakes an accident, stands in the middle of the road, and waves for the girls to stop. Even if they had no intention of getting out of the car to help the man, his presence in the center of the road may have been enough to get them to slow down or stop just long enough for him to pull a firearm.
So on the question of the killer's intelligence: based on the evidence, does this crime look planned? And if so, was it well-planned and carried out? I tend to lean toward the killer in this case being a) impulsive, b) not very intelligent, or both. He left his DNA all over one of the victims. He left a palm print on the trunk lid. He made no attempt to conceal, alter, or destroy the car or the bodies.
On the other hand, a defense attorney familiar with the case was quoted in one article as saying, "There is one thing about it. The killer was very careful. Whoever did it, this was not the first time." Was the killer, in fact, intelligent? Was he aware that his DNA and prints were not in the system, and so could not be used to link him to this crime? Had he been cruising around the Wiregrass area, prowling around in the night with a blue flashing light and a gun, waiting patiently for the right opportunity to come along? Was he a serial killer just passing through? Was he military, stationed at nearby Fort Rucker, and about to soon be deployed or PCS, enabling him to disappear completely in the wake of these horrendous murders?
To go to the extreme end of the killer being intelligent, I'll pose one of what I call my "out there" questions:
- Is Herring Avenue a clue? As in red herring? Were the car/bodies left on Herring Avenue intentionally, not only/so much for its somewhat dark and secluded state at that end of the avenue near the intersection with James Street, but for the street’s name itself?
According to Wikipedia: Red herring is an English-language idiom that commonly refers to a type of logical fallacy in which a clue is intentionally or unintentionally misleading or distracting from the actual issue. It is also a literary device employed by writers that leads readers or characters towards a false conclusion, often used in mystery or detective fiction.
This is probably giving the killer(s) way too much credit, especially considering that the evidence left behind (semen on Beasley’s clothes and skin; palm print on trunk lid; no attempt to conceal, alter, or destroy the car or the bodies) seems to point to the killer not being especially intelligent in his movements/this being an impulse crime and not something that was well-thought out and planned in advance (aside from perhaps the killer(s) driving around with a blue light in order to pose as a police officer/carrying a gun and prowling around in the night looking for an opportunity).
But let’s say the killer is more intelligent than that — after all, he has never been caught. Let’s assume that Herring Avenue is indeed a red herring selected by the killer as a dump site. In what way could Herring Avenue/the dump site be a red herring? What could the dump site be distracting law enforcement from? What about the dump site/scene seems to have been intentionally staged/set up to point to what is in actuality a red herring?
For one thing, the appearance (driver’s side window down/Beasley’s license out on dashboard/console) that the girls were pulled over by a police officer. Did the killer intentionally leave the scene looking like the girls had been pulled over by a cop, who then sexually assaulted and murdered them? In this way, the killer not only posed as a police officer for J.B. and Tracie (as a way to get them to pull over), but he has also posed himself as a police officer after the fact for all to see. Did the killer have a hatred of police officers?
A couple of other facts I've found that I wanted to be sure to share:
- The car was spotted on Herring Avenue as early as 3:00 a.m., but preliminary autopsy results placed the girls' time of death at 12:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.
- Hawlett's family said they believe the killer may have taken the girls somewhere before Herring Avenue. Other stops could explain why the car was almost out of gas and how mud got on the victims during a summer dry spell, they said.
Wow- very good info!
Question- Are the witnesses that saw the girls at the Big/ Little store certain they took the route out of town via 27? If I were leaving, I would leave via Broad ST( Hwy 123)?
If the killer had a vehicle, IIRC, there is a small park along 27 in the area of W. College, Westview Ave-right along in there. Could he have concealed his vehicle there?
Also, there are so many businesses along that road, and even some project type apartment buildings. I think it would be pretty easy for him to pull into a parking place in any of these locations and his vehicle would blend right in. In fact, there isn't a grass shoulder at all on 27 inbetween Broad and 231, this would be the only way one could park. Not to mention Martindale plaze and the restaurants at the intersection of 231 &27. Of course, the closer he got to the intersection, the more likely he might be to be seen. If the killer had parked his car along 27 near the park around College ST, he would have had a straight walk from disposing of the girls on Herring ST and walking Martin St to Union Ave, cutting up 1 block to college and to the park whereh is car was parked.
The killer posing as a police officer theory works 2 ways for me- it could have been 1 guy posing as a cop and he got the girls to pull over and he has avoided being caught just from dumb luck, or the rumor(which until today I never heard before)of it being a cop is true, which I doubt.
The killer might have flagged the girls down- even might have run out in the road in front of them to get them to stop. I say this not because of the phony psychic detectectives theory but because I believe it is a possibilty. IMHO the Psychic Detectives are a joke.
The girls stopping for a stranger when they were clearly on their way home, the license being out, the presence of semen left on one of the victims, to me says this was an amatuer, and that it might well been someone posing as a cop, and he has not been caught due to-as I said, dumb luck. I don't believe this was a local that is a repeat killer because to my knowledge the girls have been the only killings like this in the area.
Unless of course the killer was stationed at Ft Rucker. I hope LE has checked for similar killings at other military installations. Ft Rucker has a lot of TDY personel so it's possible that the killer was in and out of the area rather quickly.
As for the killer being extremely intelligent and posing the car to look as if an officer or someone posing as one pulled the girls over, then leaving the car on Herring street...well, him leaving his DNA and a palm print kind or cancels out the intelligence theory...unless he was so arrogant he thought he would never be caught therefore he did not care if he left evidence.
I haven't found any direct quotes from the witnesses concerning the specifics of the directions they gave. I think 27 seemed to me the most likely route, since it was probably the road the girls were traveling as they approached the Big/Little Store (I tried my best to track the wandering route the girls took when they were lost as shown on the map at the beginning of the Haunting Evidence episode) and because it was only another two miles on 27 to 231.
However, if you yourself as a local would've directed the girls to take Broad Street/Highway 123 if asked, then maybe it's likely that the witnesses at the Big/Little Store did the same, don't you think?
Looking at it on the map, I see what you mean: 123 is only a short distance away from the Big/Little Store, that intersection of East Broad and South Union/123 comes up much sooner than if the girls had continued west all the way to 231, and, perhaps most importantly, traveling south on South Union/123 would have kept the girls in the vicinity of Herring Avenue rather than going away from it! Looking at the map just now, I connected the Big/Little Store, the left turn onto Highway 123, and Herring Avenue: the close proximity of the three locations is chilling.
KR, you did an amazing job describing the roadsides along Route 27 and pointing out advantages/disadvantages the killer may have faced in abducting the girls and leaving his vehicle behind along this route. Will you please do the same thing with, say, the first one-half mile of South Union Avenue/Highway 123 after turning left off East Broad Street/Route 27? Basically a description of S. Union/123 between E. Broad/27 on the north and James Street (which borders Herring Avenue and is 30 yards from where the car was found on Herring) on the south: What would this area be like around midnight? Would it have been easy for the killer to pull the girls over and abduct them from this stretch of road?
My feeling on the rumor is that it grew out of a combination of the evidence (window down, J.B.'s ID on the dashboard), the fact that the case has gone unsolved, and a general fear or mistrust of police officers among citizens.
What do you think about the theory that the girls may have become lost again and stopped to ask the wrong person for directions?
When I'm in Ozark, I use the hwy 123 route mostly because even though it is a 4 lane main thoroughfare, there in much less traffic as opposed to 27 which is also a 4 lane but the traffic is much heavier. It would have definitely been the most direct route for the girls to have taken to get back out to 231 and on to Dothan. I suppose it would have just depended on the person giving directions as to which way they sent the girls. And yes, it would have definitely put the girls in closer proximity to Herring St.
I have to say, if the person who killed the girls was afoot and stopped them by waving them down, or standing in the road, then this, to me had to have been a chance encounter. He had to have been lying in wait for a likely victim. But if it was someone impersonating an officer, then he had to have seen the girls at the store and followed them-that might go back to the white truck seen at the store...
If you follow 123 from downtown, back out to 231, you would go through about 2 blocks of downtown Ozark, then the road widens into a 4 lane. There are a few blocks of commercial businesses, and it gradually becomes mostly residential until a block or so before getting to the 231 intersection and it again becomes commercial.
From downtown Ozark, Broad St is lined with beautiful mansions and victorian homes dating back to the 1800s. But by the time it gets to the Big/Little the homes are smaller and run down. That is how I describe the whole area-old homes, and run down(except the area of Broad St with the mansions) and definitely not the place where anyone would be safe at night. I don't know Herring St but since it is in the vicinity, I would guess it's the same way.
Hwy 27 from downtown out to 231-rundown, payday loan places, government apartments-HUD type. Gangs, etc.
Ozark is probably less than 10 miles from the main gate of Ft Rucker.
It's very possible the girls could have become lost again and asked the wrong person for directions-especially if they were given directions to take 123 out of town. They could have become confused and stopped at the Big/Little there to use the phone again or to ask directions and met the killer there. I would bet that area is deserted late at night. I see it as dark and deserted. Closed busineses but mostly small houses and spaced far apart.
Hope this helps.
Just a thought...what if the semen found on JB was not left by the killer but from a mutual encounter earlier in the evening....having nothing to do with the murders...what if the murders were not sexually motivated but more like an execution. Perhaps the girls came to Ozark for a reason, and the call home was an excuse to buy them time? just throwing possible scenarios out there.
Just a few random thoughts... The '93 Mazda 929 was considered a fairly upscale car. It was rear-wheel drive, with no traction control option. One of the few complaints registered by owners was its wet-weather handling.
According to the Farmer's Almanac website, there had been rain in the area the previous week-- about .13 inch on the July 30th and nearly half an inch on July 26th. As with most southern states, I'd assume that a lot of the dirt parking areas and roads are actually red clay and retain water for quite some time (having been born and raised in West Virginia, I'm painfully aware of this).
Could the girls have pulled into a dirt parking area or road and gotten stuck, accounting for the muddy condition of the vehicle as well as their clothing? Could they have sought assistance, finding instead their own killer?
As I've observed, young girls and young boys tend to have a major difference when they start driving... Boys like to drive with the seat back, while girls typically sit closer to the wheel. I have to wonder if any observations were made of the driver's seat position to determine the possible height of the person who drove it to its final parking place. If memory serves, and I may be mistaken on this, but I believe the 929 had standard power drivers' seats operated by pulling up or pushing down on the switch depending on direction of travel (back and forth). Though the killer may have had the thought to wipe down the steering wheel, I doubt the seat switch would have received the same consideration.
Again, just a few random observations.
Our soil here has a lot of clay in it ranging from a brownish tan color to bright orange. If the girls did get stuck, the did not do it inside of Ozark in the area of Broad St., Hwy 123, or 27 .That are is all paved- even where they would pull off of the road- there are curbs lining the roads and they would have had to have pulled into a parking lot or driveway if they left any of these roads inside of town.I keep thinking about the killer being someone stationed at Ft Rucker. It is the army's training school for all their helicopter pilots. Most of the personel that are there are Warrant Officers. They have several other training schools, all related to flying and lots of soldiers come and go on TDY. We have pilots come here from other countries to get training.
It would be very interesting I think if someone with the time and research skills to check into it to find out if there have been similar murders around army bases.
I think there are 2 reasons why there have not been other, similar murders in the area- it was either someone who was not a permanent resident of the area, or it really was an execution style murder.
Terrific post, KR. Your descriptions of Ozark in general and the routes the girls possibly took that night are very illuminating.
One thing that struck me right away was Beasley & Hawlett’s short time frame for that evening’s activities. They didn’t leave until 9:45-10:00 and were expected back by 11:30. Is it possible that Beasley & Hawlett “got lost” on purpose as a valid excuse to extend their evening out? Remember: Beasley’s mother described her as “rebellious and manipulative.”
As an extension of the above question, I wonder if it’s possible that Beasley & Hawlett never actually intended to attend Hare’s party, though it was apparently a party for Beasley’s birthday and not just “a party.” Could Beasley & Hawlett have been using Hare’s party as a cover while intentionally driving to Ozark to meet someone/do something they didn’t want anyone to know about?
One thing I want to point out that argues such a theory is this: If the girls weren't really lost in Ozark, why did they ask for directions at the Big/Little Store? That would've been an unnecessary step if their goal was simply to deceive their parents.
I consider scenarios where the girls stop to ask for directions or are offered assistance from their killer as you described above every bit as feasible as a scenario where the girls are spotted by their killer at the Big/Little Store. In all these cases, the girls are likely out of their element and possibly overwhelmed, leaving them at a disadvantage, if not out-and-out vulnerable.
Remember also that they stopped at least once earlier in the evening, to call friends from the BP. Add to this any unknown stops they might've made along the way. I think the point is that their killer — if unknown to them — almost certainly crossed paths or at least began to follow them while they were stopped somewhere, for whatever reason.
I think the likelihood of the girls crossing paths with their killer may have increased, though, the closer they got to Ozark, where they were most definitely lost (and their vulnerability thus maximized). It's possible their earlier (BP) phone call was made from an area more familiar to them than Ozark. They were closer to home on that first call, anyway, and perhaps they were only "lost" at that point in terms of finding the exact location of the party.
Also, the chances that the killer a) began following them from some point earlier in the evening and b) was very familiar with the back roads and side streets of Ozark are perhaps at least a little weaker than the chances that it all happened there in Ozark.
I like that you've included that the girls were young in your considerations here. This is something I'm always careful to do with this case. Thinking back to when I was 17, I was still such a kid, even though I didn't see it that way at the time. Though I'm male, there are so many scenarios that J.B. (who'd just turned 17 that day) and Tracie may have faced on the night of July 31 — being pulled over or flagged down, for instance — that I feel very confident in saying I would have automatically responded in a way, at age 17, that would have made me vulnerable to someone who was out to harm me. Think of how inexperienced and trusting you were at that age. How long had J.B. had a driver's license? A year, tops. If I had been driving along late at night as a teen and relatively new driver and a vehicle pulled up behind me with a flashing blue light, there's no way I would've thought, This seems suspicious. Am I sure that's a police officer? He's not driving a police car. Maybe I should continue driving. I would have been terrified — and I would've pulled over immediately.
Your thoughts regarding the position of the driver's seat and the possibility of fingerprints on the seat switch are very compelling. Though I haven't yet confirmed it through a MSM source, I've seen it mentioned in other discussions of this case that there was absolutely no foreign DNA found inside J.B.'s car. This has led some to speculate that a tow truck was used to transport the car to Herring Avenue from wherever the girls were killed. I tend to disagree — a tow truck would definitely draw attention to itself, especially late at night, especially considering the fact that it's towing a car that will be discovered in a matter of hours with two bodies in the trunk. Not to mention the fact that the killer would be narrowing the field of suspects down to the few in the area who have access to a tow truck.
But if it is true that no foreign DNA was found in the car, what possible explanations can we come up with?
One of my very first thoughts when I began learning about this case was, I wonder if the killer was military? Your idea of investigating similar murders near Army bases is stellar.
One thing I keep getting snagged on with the idea that these killings were somehow personal, and maybe I'm way off here, is that I keep thinking a friend or friends of the girls would have come forward, at least anonymously, to divulge a secret of J.B.'s or Tracie's that could have led to their murders. Maybe I've just watched too much Twin Peaks ("She's filled with secrets.").
What if the killer began to follow them when they stopped and made the phone call at the BP in Headland?
I have to wonder also, if the girls were that close to a party that was to celebrate the birthday of one of them, why they did not go and attend the party? Maybe being lost was a cover because they wanted to go to Ozark?
If the killer drove the car, and left no trace of himself behind , then I think that it was likely someone who planned to kill someone- whether it was a hit on the girls as some have suggested, or they had the misfortune to end up as random victims.
I don't think a tow truck was used.
DimeDetective- The post won't let me thank you- I think we posted too close together.
I am guessing most soldiers are at Rucker a year or less. But some are here long enough to settle in and buy homes.
Tracie Jean Hawlett's birthday was this past Sunday, March 3.
She would have been 31 years old. She wanted to be a doctor and a missionary.
"Police began searching an area off Hwy 123 inside the city limits of Ozark last week, believing that it may have been the location where Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley were murdered."