Mountain City double murder baffles investigators; baby found alive in slain mother's arms

John Thompson • Feb 1, 2012 at 5:18 AM

MOUNTAIN CITY — The Johnson County Sheriff’s Department is searching for clues in the shooting deaths of a man and woman in their home at 128 James Davis Lane on Tuesday morning.

Billy Clay Payne Jr., 36, and his girlfriend Billie Jean Hayworth, 23, were each shot in the head. Payne also had his throat cut. There was one survivor. Sheriff Mike Reece said their 6-month-old baby was found in his dead mother’s arms but was unhurt. The baby is now with his maternal grandmother.

“The only good thing to come out of this is, hopefully, this child is too young to remember any of this,” Reece said.

It is a crime Reece will certainly remember. The lawman who has been sheriff since 2006 called the crime the “worst I have ever seen.” It was so terrible he thought it must be a revenge killing. But that is just another puzzling piece of a case that doesn’t yet make any sense.

Reece said the killings took place in a peaceful neighborhood that includes a state trooper’s residence nearby. Those who knew him said Payne was a hard worker who sometimes worked 12-hour days. Reece said there had never been any 911 calls at the home.

The last person to see the couple alive on Tuesday was Billy Payne Sr. The couple and their child lived in the elder Payne’s home. He told investigators he left the house at 5:30 a.m. for his job in Boone, N.C. Payne said when he was leaving he saw Hayworth had gotten up to feed her child.

The slayings were discovered at 10:30 a.m., when a man who had previously lived in the neighborhood came by. Reece said the Paynes collected the mail sent to his old address and held it for the man. He discovered the deaths and called 911.

“At first, I thought it was a murder suicide, but that was quickly proved not the case,” Reece said.

Reece said Payne was apparently still in bed when the murderer arrived. He was found in his bedroom, still in the clothes he slept in. Hayworth was shot in the baby’s room. Reece said there did not appear to be any struggle and there did not appear to be a forced entry. No weapons were found.

Reece said his deputies combed the neighborhood seeking witnesses. They found no one who saw or heard anything unusual in the quiet neighborhood.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation sent three agents to the scene and the house was thoroughly examined. The bodies were taken to East Tennessee State Unviersity’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine in Johnson City for autopsies.

Reece said after his deputies conducted their investigations in the neighborhood they began tracking down tips. So far, Reece said, none of the tips have led to a break in the case.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call the sheriff’s department at 727-7761.

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