Headless Body Of Murder Victim Sam Thomas Found On Lookout Mountain

Mother, Aunt Of Willis Arrested In Washington County

  • Friday, October 18, 2002
Sam Thomas
Sam Thomas

A headless body that authorities said belonged to missing Bradley County man Sam Thomas was found in a remote area of Lookout Mountain Thursday night.

Thomas, who has been missing for several weeks, is the stepfather of Howard Hawk Willis, who is also a suspect in the grisly murders of a young Walker County couple as well as his wife 14 years ago.

And authorities in Washington County, where the bodies of Adam and Samantha Chrismer were found, arrested the elderly mother and aunt of Willis.

Emma Elizabeth Hawk, 70, was charged with accessory after the fact of first-degree murder, attempting to tamper with evidence and two counts of abuse of a corpse. Marie Hawk Holmes, 74, was charged with attempting to tamper with evidence.

A Walker County deputy located the body of the 73-year-old Thomas Thursday evening on property of the stepfather of Adam Chrismer two miles south of the Tauqueta Falls resort community near the Dade County, Ga., line.

Willis is in custody at Jonesborough, Tn., but has not been charged in any of the slayings. He is being held for violation of parole on earlier charges of transporting drugs.

The two Johnson City women were arrested after authorities found body parts at a storage unit in downtown Johnson City. Officials said body parts of 17-year-old Adam Chrismer and his 16-year-old wife, Samantha Leming Chrismer, were in large plastic containers inside.

Officials said Thomas had been shot, and his arms had been severed from the elbow down. A search was on for other parts of the body.

According to court affidavits, the 51-year-old Willis told his former wife, Wilda Willis, that the bodies of the couple were located in storage unit X-47 at 24-Hour Self Storage on Buffalo Street in Johnson City. The ex-wife taped the conversation, and affidavits said the mother and aunt both told her several times to destroy the tape.

The affidavit says Emma Hawk rented the storage unit along with her son on Oct. 10. That is the day before the head of Adam Chrismer was found in a nearby lake by fishermen. Authorities also found hands in the lake that were first thought to belong to the wife of Adam Chrismer, but now are believed to be his hands.

The affidavit says Emma Hawk told an employee of the storage place that her son would be "placing some items in the unit."

The affidavit says, "Further investigation revealed that Howard Hawk Willis, with the knowledge of the defendant (Emma Hawk), did place the mutilated bodies of Adam Ray Chrismer and Samantha Foster Chrismer in the storage unit X-47."

The two women appeared in a Johnson City courtroom Thursday and are due back in General Sessions Court on Monday afternoon.

Emma Hawk is under $75,000 bond and her sister, a $30,000 bond.

The two women live near one another off Baxter Street in Johnson City.

A Washington County Grand Jury is to be convened to hear evidence in the cases on Wednesday. Authorities said it is unusual that a charge of accessory to murder would be brought without anyone being yet charged with murder.

Washington County authorities said a hatchet, a pair of large scissors and a hammer may have been used to kill and mutilate the Chrismers at a Johnson City residence last week.

Washington County Sheriff Fred Phillips said the bodies of the teens were in a very bad state of decomposition. He said the bodies were in plastic containers about four feet long and two feet deep.

Sheriff Phillips said it appeared Adam Chrismer had a gunshot wound to the head.

Sheriff Phillips called it "one of the most brutal murders that I have been involved in" in a 30-year career.

Police believe the young couple traveled from Walker County to Johnson City with Willis on Oct. 4 after they had dinner with Leming's mother. Chrismer last talked to his mother Oct. 6 from Johnson City, saying he wanted to come home.

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