Demolished: Former home of Howard Hawk Willis’ mother reported to be site of double-murder

Becky Campbell • Mar 22, 2012 at 10:04 PM

Another chapter in the Howard Hawk Willis double-murder case closed Thursday when his mother’s former home, where prosecutors believe the killings took place, was torn down.

The house at 104 Brentwood Drive was once owned by Emma Elizabeth Hawk — aka Betty Willis — and it’s where police investigators and state prosecutors believe two teenagers were killed in 2002.

Howard Willis was convicted in 2010 of killing Adam and Samantha Chrismer, a young married couple from Georgia who came to Johnson City with him.

Willis also dismembered Adam Chrismer and manipulated both bodies so they fit into large plastic tubs that police located inside a downtown storage unit.

Prosecutors never established a concrete motive for the killings, but there was speculation Willis killed the teens because they knew about alleged illegal activity he had committed.

Betty Willis also was charged in the case with accessory after the fact of first-degree murder and soliciting another to destroy evidence, but she died in 2009 before being tried on those charges.

Betty Willis’ residence was condemned and had sat empty since investigators raided her house looking for clues in the murder investigation.

That investigation began after a fisherman found Adam Chrismer’s head floating in Boone Lake near Winged Deer Park. The teen’s hands were later found in the same area.

A Jonesborough construction company, hired by the new owner, used a bulldozer to tear down the house.

In short order, the structure was just a pile of rubble, taking with it any lingering secrets to the couple’s death.

Even though prosecutors said the teens were killed and cut with a chain saw in the house, there was no concrete forensic evidence of that presented during trial. A forensic expert testified that blood spatter would be limited if the bodies were cut after death.

According to Tennessee Property Data records online, Terry and Wilma Clay, who live next door to the house, purchased it in 2006 for $38,351.

Wilma Clay declined to comment on the house razing, but according to her testimony at Howard Willis’ trial, she didn’t have much use for him or his mother.

When Willis cross examined her — Willis was forced to represent himself in the case — Clay told the jury Hawk “was an evil lowlife just like you.”

Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood told the jury to disregard that statement and that the witness was “unresponsive” to Willis’ question about whether Clay got along with her former neighbor.

Prosecutors put Clay on the stand to place Willis and the teenagers at his mother’s house on and off through the spring and summer of 2002. Clay said she saw the three several times that year at her neighbor’s home.

Clay said she also saw Willis outside the residence on Oct. 5 or 6, 2002 — around the time prosecutors believe the Chrismers were killed — and watched him take a black trash bag from his mother’s red Jeep and throw it on the ground.

Later, she saw the lights on in the garage and thought it was very unusual.

“I’d never seen the lights on in that garage,” she testified.

Howard Willis was convicted of both murders and sentenced to death. He’s serving his sentence at Riverbend Maximum Security prison in Nashville while his case is being appealed.

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