Murder in Harrill Hills
The unknown caller walked up to the front door and knocked rather loudly. When no one answered right away, he peeked in the small door window and then through the picture window to see if anyone was coming. Momentarily, Mrs. Hankins answered the door, and after only brief conversation, allowed him to enter and then closed the door.
Mrs. Schumaker would later say “you couldn’t have counted to twelve before the man entered the house after he knocked.” Additionally, friends and relatives would later describe Mrs. Hankins as the last person to allow a strange man to enter her home. She reportedly had just a few days before denied entry to a Fountain City minister until she was able to establish his identity.
After twenty minutes or so Mrs. Schumaker observed the man leaving and walking much more briskly than he had entered. He got in the black Ford and sped around the corner and past the front of her house. She was leaning over in the yard facing her house and only looked back between her body and her arm as he passed by. She never got a good look at him, later telling officers she could not identify him if she saw him again. She took no notice of anyone else in the car.
Knox County Coroner Sidney Wolfenbarger, upon examination of the crime scene and Mrs. Hankins, theorized she was shot while lying down. There were no powder burns found on her hair or scalp. The bullet entered the back top left of her head and lodged behind her right eye. Wolfenbarger opined that she was attempting to escape her attacker through the basement door when she was knocked to the floor and shot. A dish cloth found on or in front of the living room sofa led Wolfenbarger and others to believe that she and her assailant had sat on the sofa for a few minutes. There was no evidence of sexual assault.
The lead for the investigation was taken by Sheriff Clarence Walter “Buddy” Jones and his Chief Deputy, Paul H. Lilly. Jones, elected to office in August, 1950, would serve only one two-year term, 1950 – 1952. Lilly would win election to the sheriff’s office in the 1956 race, but like Jones, would serve only one term.
Jones maintained a positive attitude about solving the murder but acknowledged from the outset that there were no hot leads to pursue. Chief Lilly was quoted as saying, “There are no motives. It’s a most baffling murder.”
Nothing was found missing from the house, and nothing was out of place other than the dish cloth found in the living room. The day after the murder of Mrs. Hankins, Sheriff Jones personally offered a $100 reward for information leading to the identity of the murderer and encouraged others to contribute toward the reward.
Mary Elizabeth Tabler Hankins was buried on Monday, two days after her murder, in the Graveston Cemetery in the Corryton community. Literally hundreds of grief-stricken relatives and friends attended the funeral at Graveston Baptist Church, the church Mary Hankins had attended all her life. There also were the curious, “the lookers,” among those in attendance.
So many people attended that they overflowed into the rain swept churchyard. In anticipation of the numbers that would attend an outside speaker had been installed so everyone could hear the service.
Many of those among the throng in attendance had worked with Mrs. Hankins at Standard Knitting Mills, some for the entire decade she worked there. These same co-workers would call the sheriff’s office daily for several days following the funeral in hopes of learning of new developments. Sadly, these friends never heard what they wanted to hear. Also attending the Hankins funeral were Sheriff Jones and six of his detectives.