PIKEVILLE. Tenn. - The news rushed through this town Tuesday morning, followed by waves of disbelief: Two elderly sisters slain, shot and killed at their small home off Mill Dam Road.
To residents in the small town, the victims were much more than just "two elderly sisters." Elizabeth Brown, 82, and Billie Sue Blaylock, 79, were lifelong residents of Bledsoe County and fixtures in Pikeville. Brown was a favorite nurse, Blaylock a faithful bank worker. Both were lifelong church members.
"They were beautiful people," said their neighbor and friend Gaynell Campbell. "They were always sweet and kind to everyone. Most everybody around here knew them some way or another."
News of the slayings rocked the small town, which hasn't seen a homicide in at least five years, according to Bledsoe County Sheriff Jimmy Morris.
A family member found the slain women Tuesday about 9 a.m. CDT, Blaylock lying by steps outside the home and Brown in her bed, Morris said. They were still in their nightclothes, he noted.
Investigators with the sheriff's office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spent all day Tuesday combing through the small house set off a dead-end gravel road canopied by oaks and dogwoods. But at the end of the day officials weren't releasing any major leads on suspects or any motive for the killing.
"Everything seems in place," Morris said about items in the home. "The house wasn't broken into, and it doesn't appear anything has been taken."
Both women were widows and had lived in the house together for more than 10 years, the sheriff said.
"These are two of the nicest ladies you could ask for," Morris said as he stood outside the home, shaking his head. "It's such a tragedy."
Both his description of the women and the word "tragedy" echoed throughout the county Tuesday afternoon.
"It's like waking up in a bad dream, and it's not going away," Campbell said. "Nobody had a reason to do this. Why would anyone kill two elderly ladies who had nothing to defend themselves?"
The women's first cousin Ed Frazier agreed.
"They wouldn't hurt anyone. I can't fathom why someone would want to kill them, even for money. Nobody can understand why."
Frazier, 75, had spent Monday with the sisters doing handyman work for them.
"We ate chili for lunch. We talked about the weather starting to cool," he said. "I told them if they needed anything they could always call me."
He had also warned them - as he had several times - to keep their doors locked.
"They were almost helpless. Both such feeble, sweet people," he said.
The sisters had spent their entire lives in Bledsoe County, Frazier said.
Brown was a retired nurse, who had worked at the Pikeville Clinic for more than 50 years.
"Elizabeth was everyone's nurse. She was wonderful, always with a treat for the kids," described Campbell, who was treated by Brown as a child.
Blaylock spent a 40-year career at First National Bank of Pikeville, working her way up to bookkeeping before retiring in 1997.
"She was a good lady. She was very quiet, and she did her work well," said Phillip Crawford, president and CEO of the bank. On Tuesday, he pulled out old newspaper clippings recounting Blaylock's long service.
Both were heavily involved in their church, eventually attending First Southern Baptist Church in Pikeville.
As the sisters grew older and lost their husbands, they depended more heavily on each other, especially as Brown's health worsened.
"They were always together, all the time. Whenever you saw one, you saw the other," Crawford said.
No memorials or services have been planned for the pair at this point.
In the meantime, investigators are eager for TBI officials to complete autopsies at their crime lab in Nashville.
"We'll have those results Wednesday morning, and hopefully that will help us have a sense of what our next steps should be," said sheriff's Investigator Ricky Seals.
Until a suspect is in custody, Campbell said she is concerned about the effect the shootings might have on the community. She already is worried about strange cars and people she's seen in the neighborhood the last three weeks.
"It's going to make people scared and suspicious," said Campbell. "Here in Bledsoe County folks trust each other. But I'm dead-bolting our door tonight."