published Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Howard Hawk Willis on death row for killings of Walker County, Ga., newlyweds

Attorney Jim Bowman, from left, and Howard Hawk Willis listen to testimony in this 2010 file photo. Willis is on death row in the dismemberment deaths of a teenage couple. 
Photo: Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press
Attorney Jim Bowman, from left, and Howard Hawk Willis listen to testimony in this 2010 file photo. Willis is on death row in the dismemberment deaths of a teenage couple. Photo: Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press

Howard Hawk Willis, sentenced to death in the 2002 dismemberment killings of Walker County, Ga., newlyweds Adam Chrismer and Samantha Leming Chrismer, is doing time.

The Tennessee Department of Correction lists Willis, now 62, as a death row inmate at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville. He was sentenced to death June 21, 2010.

Willis represented himself in his trial in Washington County, where the crime scene and body parts were found.

Willis was suspected but never charged in the deaths of his stepfather, Samuel Thomas, who went missing in Bradley County on Sept. 5, 2002, and Willis' wife, Debbi, who was reported missing in 1987 and was never found. Thomas' headless body was found with both arms cut off at the elbows about the same time the Chrismers' bodies were found in 2002.

In the teens' slayings, a skull and a pair of hands were found in Boone Lake and the rest of their bodies was found stuffed into plastic containers in a Johnson City mini warehouse.

Officials with Tennessee's Court of Criminal Appeals say Willis' attorneys have filed a brief in his appeal and are awaiting the state's response, due Oct. 7.

The Johnson City Press reported that the house where the Chrismers were killed, which belonged to Willis' mother Betty Willis, was torn down in March 2012. Betty Willis was a co-defendant in the case.

Next-door neighbors Terry and Wilma Clay bought the home in 2006 for $38,351. Wilma Clay testified in the trial under cross-examination by Willis that his mother "was an evil lowlife, just like you," the paper reported.

This update was written by staff writer Ben Benton. Contact him at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. To suggest a topic for "Whatever happened to," email news@timesfreepress.com.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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