published Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Bledsoe lawmen tight-lipped as slayings probe continues

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    Bledsoe County slaying victims Billie Sue Blaylock, left, and Elizabeth Brown, who are sisters, were found shot to death at their home north of Pikeville on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of the Bledsonian Banner

A murder investigation is a relatively rare thing in Bledsoe County.

But in less than a month, Bledsoe authorities have launched probes into a double slaying and a fire that could become a homicide investigation if there is evidence of foul play, investigators say.

The Bledsoe County community is reeling from Tuesday's tragic discovery of sisters Elizabeth Brown, 82, and Billie Sue Blaylock, 79, shot dead at their home on Mill Dam Road. They were found by a family member.

Bledsoe County Sheriff's Office Investigator Ricky Seals said Wednesday that because of the nature of the information, he couldn't talk about preliminary results from autopsies conducted on the sisters Wednesday morning in Nashville.

"We're heading back to the scene right now," Seals said Wednesday afternoon. "We obtained some stuff from the autopsy, but there's nothing I can say publicly."

The sisters' bodies were found about 9 a.m. CDT Tuesday, Blaylock lying by steps outside the home and Brown in her bed. Both were still in their nightclothes, according to authorities.

As that tragedy began to unfold, Bledsoe detectives were conducting interviews in connection with a death and fire at a home east of Pikeville, Seals said.

On July 25, a contractor found the home of Hazel Louise Reece, 63, burned to the ground with her inside, officials said. Reece had told family members she saw straw stuffed under her house and was worried that someone might try to burn her in her home.

Now at least parts of each of those cases hinge on autopsy results.

A DECADE IN BLEDSOE KILLINGS

The following cases are murder investigations that have occurred in Bledsoe County since 2001, according to prosecutors and newspaper archives.

Aug. 15, 2011: Sisters Elizabeth Brown, 82, and Billie Sue Blaylock, 79, found shot dead at their home on Mill Dam Road.

Feb. 21, 2009: Donny Lawson, 43, was beaten to death at a cookout after a fight broke out between Lawson and four other men.

June 4, 2007: Frank D. Vestal, 37, was shot dead during an argument.

May 25, 2007: Norman "Bullet" Blaylock, 56, and James "Junior" Blaylock, 79, were shot dead during a "domestic situation" at the home they shared with Norman Blaylock's bride of one week.

Oct. 24-25*, 2003: James Newby Sr., 75, was found dead in his home near U.S. Highway 127 on Oct. 25, 2003.

Dec. 16, 2001: Nine Mile Grocery Store owner Harvey Brown, 81, was found beaten to death in a suspected robbery.

Oct. 31, 2001: Michael E. Martin, 62, was shot to death in bed after a family dispute in the Luminary community.

* Estimated date of death

Seals could say nothing about the pending autopsies but noted that robbery does not appear to be the motive in the sisters' slayings.

He said there was nothing new yet in the fire investigation, although state fire officials are in Pikeville this week continuing to do interviews. Seals also was working on the fire investigation until the sisters' bodies were found.

According to newspaper archives, at least nine lives have been claimed in homicides in Bledsoe County since 2001, most of them since 2007.

The elderly sisters bring the total to six homicide victims since 2007 in Bledsoe County, archives show.

Another double homicide happened in May 2007 when Norman "Bullet" Blaylock, 56, and James "Junior" Blaylock, 79, were shot dead during a "domestic situation" at the home they shared with Norman Blaylock's bride of one week, records show.

People who knew the sisters say local folks are shocked by the slayings and have suffered the loss of two good people. Brown was a nurse, Blaylock was a local bank's bookkeeper for 40 years and both were widows.

Lisa Wheeler, second cousin to the sisters, said they were widely known and loved.

"Everybody just loved them," Wheeler said. "They were the nicest elderly women."

Dr. Charles P. Bownds worked with Brown when he first started working at the Pikeville Clinic and she was a nurse there, he said. Brown spent 50 years at the Pikeville Clinic.

"I first met her in 1981 when I started working with Dr. [Tom] Cranwell," Bownds said on Wednesday. "She was an excellent nurse."

Bownds, 79, said Brown was trained to be a surgery tech and worked in surgery for Dr. Arthur Quito in the operating room.

"She was a very nice, pleasant person," he said. "She didn't have a bad word to say about anybody.

"She was excellent with patients," he said. "They all loved her. We will definitely miss her."

Bownds' wife, Joyce, said the sisters were known and loved in the community.

"They were dear, sweet ladies," she said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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