Ex-Detective Slaughter Says Hawk Made Incriminating Statements To Him About The 1981 Johnny Mack Salyer Murder

  • Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A former high-profile city detective who later went to federal prison testified Tuesday that Billy Hawk made incriminating statements to him about the death of Johnny Mack Salyer, whose body was found in a 55-gallon drum in the Tennessee River in 1981.

Terry Slaughter said Hawk, who had been arrested along with Salyer on drug charges, asked him, "Would my case be better if he wasn't here to testify?"

Slaughter, who is now 72 and who said he has suffered two strokes, said he told Hawk, "It would be better to do it in the county and not the city or I would have to investigate it."

Slaughter said at a hearing before Criminal Court Judge Don Poole in the "Cold Case" that was revived last year that Hawk called him on the day the body was found in the barrel and asked him if it had yet been identified.

The ex-detective said, "It was quite evident to me that Billy had been in on the murder."

Slaughter said he did not know if Hawk actually carried out the killing himself, but he said he believes he was involved in it.

He said at one point Hawk told him Salyer had been killed at a cabin in Georgia. He said Hawk took him to the cabin.

Slaughter told of being released during the middle of a five-year sentence and being wired to try to get Hawk to talk about the Salyer case. Defense attorneys said, though there were four or five meetings over five days, that Hawk did not make any incriminating statements. The conversations were recorded. One of the meetings was at the Hawk family bowling alley in Brainerd.

At the end of his cross-examination, Slaughter said he and Hawk "were involved in things that shouldn't have been happening. I don't think you would want me to tell you about that."

After he left the witness stand, Slaughter stopped near where Hawk was sitting and glowered at him. He said Hawk had called him "a punk." Slaughter said, "I'm not a punk."

District Attorney Neal Pinkston called two TBI Crime Lab experts to say that it was very unlikely that any usable evidence could have been obtained from the 55-gallon drum, which was not retained by the state.

Mike Mathis, former city detective who heads the Cold Case Unit in the DA's office, said he was advised that the drum went to the hospital along with the body. He said the morgue at the time was next to the Erlanger Hospital emergency room. 

He said there was such a foul odor from the drum that it seeped into the emergency room. He said it was then moved to the county highway department, where large pieces of evidence were apparently stored at the time.

But he said the drum still smelled so bad that it was smashed and disposed of.

County Medical Examiner Dr. James Metcalfe said when the body of the victim was exhumed last year and examined in Knoxville it was found there was a bullet hole to the chest and a bullet was still in the body.

He said he could not explain why there was no initial autopsy. Dr. Jack Adams, the medical examiner at the time, listed the manner of death as undetermined.

There were four X-rays found  with the initial report, but none of them showed the chest. Dr. Metcalfe said he did not know why there was not a chest X-ray.

The defense is trying to block testimony by former detective Slaughter. Attorney Jonathan Turner said he is "a crooked cop" who had been convicted of lying and has no credibility.

The defense said it would be prejudicial to go into the fact that Hawk had been charged in a drug case. It was noted that the drug charges were dismissed and expunged, except for one case not related to victim Salyer.

Judge Poole is to rule later on the defense motions relating to the barrel, the missing chest X-ray and the Slaughter testimony.

Defense attorneys are Jim Logan, Bill Speek and Mr. Turner.

Lance Pope is also prosecuting the case.


Terry Slaughter testifies
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