Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley, who were best friends and both 17 years old, got shot in the head one July night in 1990 after taking the wrong exit off the highway. The next day, their bodies were found stuffed in the back of Beasley’s Black Mazda 929.
In the small Alabama town of Ozark, where the double murder was found, it was shocking to police detectives. The investigation went slower because there were not enough details and eyewitnesses. At some point, it stopped moving, and the case went cold.
Hawlett and Beasley were killed on their way to a birthday party about 10 miles from their home in Dothan. The girls didn’t come to the party at all.
But around 11:30 p.m., they did show up in Ozark, looking for directions to get back to the highway. Tracey Hawlett called her mother from a pay phone in a gas station. She said they were lost, but someone had given them directions, so they would be home soon. Later, Tracey’s mom told the police that Tracey sounded fine and not in danger, so she didn’t think much of the call. The next morning, though, when she woke up, her daughter’s bed was empty.
Then, Tracey’s mom called the Ozark police to say that her daughter was missing. As police started looking for the teens, someone who had seen them came forward. Marilyn Merritt had stopped for gas at the same place where the missing girls had. They had asked her where they should go. She watched as they turned onto the highway. Merritt might have been the last person to see the girls alive before they were killed.
Merritt could remember that the girls looked good.
After the girls were reported missing around 8 a.m., Beasley’s car, a Mazda, was found by a police officer. It was parked less than a mile from where Tracey used to call home from the gas station. The Mazda was unlocked, and the driver’s window was cracked open just a little bit. The girls’ bags were easy to see. The car showed up with dirty tyres and no gas in the tank. The officer asked for a tow truck to come help. During the wait, he looked in the trunk. He found the bodies of Tracey and J.B. in there.
The ME says that Traces died from a single bullet to the head. Based on how her body was laid out, detectives thought she was the first person the killer killed. The same gun was used to kill J.B. She was hit in the cheek by a bullet. It didn’t look like either girl had been sexually abused. And the idea that it was a failed robbery was quickly thrown out. The Mazda was where their bags and wallets were found.
Tracey’s bra and underwear had a little bit of sperm on them. They didn’t have any drugs or alcohol in their bodies. After a few days of looking into the case, detectives were able to narrow in on a suspect. John William Barrentine was his name. He said three different things about where he was when the murders happened. At one point, he said that he drove a man to the black Mazda after picking him up. The unnamed man got into the car with the girls. Barrentine was eventually caught by Ozark police for killing Tracey and J.B.
Soon after, Barrentiner changed his mind and said he had only said that because he wanted the reward money. People who knew Barrentine well said that he was on the slow side because he had only finished the seventh grade. But Ozark police weren’t about to give up on their main and only suspect. Then the crime lab told them that Barrentine’s DNA didn’t match. He had to be set free.
The case went cold for the next 20 years. No one said they knew anything new about the murders. Investigators talked to 70 people and tested 500 DNA samples over the course of several years after the murders. But they failed.
Then, 20 years later, a DNA lab was able to build a profile of the killer’s family tree, which linked him to relatives. Coley McCraney, who is 47 and has lived most of his life in Ozark, was taken into custody by police.
McCraney is on trial for killing J.B. and Tracey. He has said that he did not kill the girls. His wife was able to give an alibi for where he had been on the night of the murders by saying that he had come home just after 1 a.m. Even with what she said, there are 90 minutes between when the girls were killed and when McCraney got home that can’t be explained.