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Man Suspected in Dismemberment Case

October 18, 2002

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) _ The mutilated bodies of two teenagers were found rotting in a storage unit, hours before an elderly man’s headless body turned up 200 miles away, and police suspected the man’s stepson in both cases.

Howard Hawk Willis, 51, who is awaiting sentencing in a cocaine case, has not been charged in the deaths. His 70-year-old mother was charged with helping dispose of the teens’ corpses.

Police said Friday that Willis was involved in a cocaine-for-sex scheme with the two younger victims. The pair were believed to be newlyweds Adam Ray Chrismer, 17, and Samantha Foster Leming, 16, who have been missing since Oct. 11. They were last seen traveling with Willis from Georgia to Tennessee.

``The investigation will probably reveal he had a sexual relationship with the girl,″ Washington County Sheriff Fred Phillips said Friday. Authorities believe the teens were cocaine users but not dealers.

Investigators suspect the teens learned something about the death of Willis’ 73-year-old stepfather Samuel Thomas before they were killed.

A head and hands believed to be Chrismer’s were discovered in a nearby lake a few days earlier. More remains were found Thursday boxed up in the Johnson City storage unit, along with a hatchet, a pair of large scissors, a hammer and large containers of gasoline and diesel fuel, prosecutor Joe Crumley said.

Hours later, police in Georgia found the body tentatively identified as Thomas in woods about 40 miles from his Bradley County home.

The man had been shot and his arms severed at the elbows. The head has not been found.

Tennessee authorities said an informant helped police find the bodies.

Emma Elizabeth Hawk was arrested Thursday in Johnson City and charged with corpse abuse, accessory to first-degree murder and attempt to tamper with evidence. Willis’ aunt, 74-year-old Marie Hawk Holmes, was also charged with attempt to tamper with evidence. Both remained jailed Friday.

Lawyers for the suspects didn’t return calls seeking comment Friday.

A special grand jury will meet next week to consider murder indictments against Willis in the teenager’s deaths, Crumley said.

Willis is also a suspect in the decade-old disappearance of his wife, Deborah Willis, as well as that of Thomas, missing since Oct. 5, said Capt. Chip Bryant of the Bradley County sheriff’s department.

Willis pleaded guilty earlier this year to transporting 2,600 pounds of cocaine to a warehouse in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was awaiting sentencing.

His $200,000 bond was revoked when New York prosecutors said he was using Thomas’ credit cards, and he was arrested in Johnson City last week. Court records in New York indicated Willis had been trying to acquire false identification so he could leave the country.

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