SPECIAL REPORT: Unsolved Murder, Unbelievable Mistake - Greenville, NC | News | Weather | Sports - WNCT.com

SPECIAL REPORT: Unsolved Murder, Unbelievable Mistake


For Don Turner, it's a lonely walk to his older brother's grave. Every time he returns to Floyd Otis Turner's final resting place he comes empty-handed. Despite his best efforts, Don still doesn't have the answers he needs.

"I just want him to know that I'm still looking, not giving up," Turner said while standing at the foot of his brother's grave.

Sullivan County investigators believe someone murdered Turner on July 10th, 1984 just off Interstate 81 at Exit 66 near Blountville. They say he died in his car from a single gunshot to the head. Investigators say the motive could have been anything from a business deal gone bad to a terrible end to an affair or relationship or possibly something else. However, to this day, the case remains unsolved.

It hasn't helped that over the last three decades, there've been plenty of dead ends in this case. Early on, a fisherman found the murder weapon in a nearby lake, but not knowing it was linked to a crime, cleaned the gun first, leaving behind no forensic evidence. For years, the State of Tennessee has offered a reward in this case with no luck. Most recently, the department resubmitted evidence hoping to find new DNA, but still no break.

In fact, three decades later, the victim's brother has more questions than ever. If anything, time has only made his feeling of loss even more painful.

"He missed his grandkids," Turner said holding back tears. "Where I got four beautiful ones and I'm enjoying it, he didn't get the chance."

Now, Turner is dealing with another disturbing development. Recently, he learned for years, the file of his brother's murder at the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office was smaller than the one at his house.

"I'm highly ticked off," Turner said. "It blows my mind that they'd lose the file. I just can't understand it. It's just mindboggling for anybody to be that incompetent. Somebody ought to be held accountable. If you're working and you lose your stuff, you're accountable for that."

The case file started just off interstate 81 under a bridge. In the early morning hours of July 10th, 1984 Maj. Keith Elton, then 32 , was driving by when something caught his attention.

"It was about 1:30 am," Elton recalled. "It was kind of a curiosity thing. The car was sitting just about where we were sitting right here."

Not only was there a car on the side of the road, it looked like the window was rolled down and it was raining.

"Why would anybody at that time of the morning be sitting there when it's starting to rain with the window down?" Elton wondered.

It turns out, a bullet had shattered the window, killing the 40 year-old inside.

"I came around and that's when I found the body in the car," Elton said. "I saw a male, slumped over into the driver side...there was blood."

After Elton filled out his police report, the case left his hands.

"It was something that I continued to think about," Elton said.

From there, as time passed, so did the case file. It went in and out of the hands of who knows how many different investigators, under the leadership of two previous sheriffs.

Then in 2009, Joey Strickler took over the case. The evidence was all still there, but he says the case file was practically non-existent.

"The time passage has been just detrimental to this case," Capt. Strickler said. "It was probably the size of just a regular folder. for a homicide investigation it was ridiculous, because most case files in homicide cases end up being boxes."

The sheriff's office suspects a previous administration either failed to document developments in the case or misplaced the files altogether. Capt. Strickler says some of that information died when those involved passed away.

So, Strickler had no choice but to start from scratch. He interviewed witnesses all over again and reconstructed the case.

"It was taxing," Capt. Strickler said. "It was hard putting the case back together. There was a lot of things that could not be located. We started basically reinventing the wheel."

In the time since, he says the current administration has kept this case a priority and done everything possible to try and solve the murder. To the sheriff's office's credit, in recent years investigators have featured this cold case on our Monday's Most Wanted segment twice, in 2009 and again in 2011.

Today he says the department has two or three people of interest.

"I believe someone could, if they would, come forward and talk to us and it would be the glue that would put it all together," Capt. Strickler said. "There are at least one or two people that I have talked to about it that either have the strong knowledge about it you could say or possibly even committed it or was a party to it. I believe this case could be solved. There's somebody somewhere knows who killed Otis Turner and they know why, all they have to do is come and tell us and we'll take care of the rest of it. It will take someone from the outside coming in to law enforcement and telling us what happened."

For this investigator, the case is personal, mostly because he knows how much pain Turner's brother is going through.

"I wish that I could get the guy," Strickler said. "I've seen his heart and his love for his family and that drives you even more to get some closure for him."

That brother is more heartbroken today than ever. Turner doesn't know who is to blame, but he knows the mistake couldn't have helped his brother's case.

"I can understand a case going to where you can't find anything, but to lose all the information? That's uncalled for," Turner said. "There's some good people there and they can only do so much, they don't have anything to work with, but they would have had a little more to work with if they hadn't lost the papers."

All he can do now is keep the faith. That faith was shaken by law enforcement, but can be restored by investigators too.

"Somebody knows and it'll come out some time I believe," Turner said. "As long as there's a breath in me, there's hope."

Before Sheriff Wayne Anderson took office, Sheriff Keith Carr was at the helm. Carr has since retired away from the area, but we did track him down.

"It didn't disappear under my watch," Carr said by phone. "All case files should have been in the vault. When we took over in 1989, there were files that had disappeared on several cases. I'm not sure up to that time how well cases were maintained. I don't think anyone can attest to what happened to the records prior to 1989. Records kind of walked during that time. We took pride in maintaining records once we took over."

Carr says he still remembers the case, mostly because of Turner's brother.

"I do feel for Don," Carr said. "It was almost an anguish for him. I always felt so sorry for his brother."

Before Carr was sheriff, including when the murder occurred, Mike Gardner was in charge. We tried tracking down the former sheriff for this story, making multiple calls, but were unsuccessful. We're told he has since moved away from the area.

Former District Attorney General Greeley Wells first secured a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in this case back in 2003, according to current District Attorney General Barry Staubus. Staubus says former Governor Phil Bredesen (D) renewed the grant for five years in 2010.

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