Hard life, hard death: Chandra Powell, single mom of 5, finally laid to rest but search for killer goes on

photo Staff photo by Jenna Walker/Chattanooga Times Free Press A bouquet of flowers with yellow roses decorate the grave site of Chandra Powell at the Chattanooga Memorial Park Cemetery in Red Bank.

Pictures of her children hang on his apartment walls.

Her 6-year-old golden Lab, Ginger, stays nears his feet.

Those are the daily reminders that Brad Stewart has of the woman he loved, the woman who was brutally slain in October.

It was just last week that Stewart laid 35-year-old Chandra Powell to rest, paying for her funeral with the insurance money he collected from damage claims to her apartment. Her body had been decomposing at the Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office for three months.

"It haunted me night and day knowing where she was at," said Stewart, a soft-spoken, gaunt man who stared ahead while sitting in his living room Friday night during an interview.

Three of Powell's children, coming home from school, found her body in her apartment at 4417 Oakwood Drive on Oct. 27. The youngest -- a baby girl just 16 days old -- and the family dog were inside the home when a killer stabbed her repeatedly and bludgeoned her to death with an object police have yet to recover.

Powell's bloodied body was lying in the living room, wrapped in a comforter, according to authorities. When her oldest daughter pulled back the comforter, she found Powell's body with a fractured skull, Stewart said.

Now her five children are scattered among three foster homes.

Chattanooga Police Department homicide detectives continue to look for leads on her killer.

"she fought hard"

While Powell often smiled, she knew the harsher side of life, Stewart said.

Powell, who had few ties to her family in New York and Indiana, was working as a nurse at Life Care Center of Red Bank, he said.

She was a single mother. Her five children had three different fathers, some of whom had done time in prison.

And her life ended in a violent attack. Some of the numerous stab wounds in her 5-foot-2 body plunged nearly 5 inches deep, according to autopsy reports.

Stewart remembers what the apartment looked like when police let him go inside to retrieve items for the children.

photo Courtesy of Brad Stewart/Chattanooga Times Free Press Chandra Powell holds her newborn baby girl days before she was found slain in her apartment.

"That girl, she fought. She fought hard. And it was brutal what they done to her. There was blood all over the walls. I mean, the ceiling," Stewart said.

"To me, the way everything was done, it had to be very personal. Someone with a lot of hate, a lot of anger. ... Beside where she was found near the coffee table was her wallet. It still had her credit cards in it. It still had money in it. Her keys to the car were on the table. There was nothing stolen out of that apartment. I mean absolutely nothing. ... It had to be someone she knew."

Area Battle, 63, lived next door to Powell but said she never heard a newborn's cries or Powell's screams through the apartment wall.

"I sit here and think that little baby was in the house and we didn't hear anything," she said. "Every time it crosses my mind, I keep them in my prayers. They're going to need them."

On Oct. 27, she heard Powell's children crying.

She made her way outside and found Powell's 11-year-old son on her porch, weeping.

"'I can't believe it,' he said," Battle recalled. "I asked him, 'What's wrong?' He said, 'I just don't want to talk about it. I need some water.'"

Battle went for a glass of water and returned.

"'That was the worst thing I ever seen. She had a hole in her head,'" she remembers the boy saying.

A friendly lady

A sparse casket floral arrangement and Styrofoam cross adorned with fake pink flowers marked Chandra Powell's burial site at Chattanooga Memorial Park Cemetery last week.

Chandra Powell was a friendly neighbor who always spoke in passing. Battle said the neighborhood children, including her own grandchildren, flocked to Powell's home.

"She was a friendly lady. The kids had to love her because they were always hanging around there," Battle said. "Nobody deserved that -- the way they did her."

Powell came to Chattanooga from Indiana in hopes of a fresh start. Stewart said she followed him after his 2009 move.

Within months of arriving, she was killed.

Chattanooga detectives are still waiting on evidence that was sent off to the crime lab in October.

"We sent a large number of items to be examined," said homicide Sgt. Bill Phillips, who would not disclose the items sent to the lab. Lab results can take up to four months to a year, he said.

Police have looked at a number of possible suspects, but they have not publicly named a suspect or made any arrests.

Stewart was questioned.

"They looked at me. [The detective] said, "I just got to ask you some questions and get some pictures and DNA just to rule you out and stuff.' I said, 'I'll do whatever it takes,'" Stewart said.

His co-workers at a local warehouse, where he is a supervisor, provided police with an alibi.

"Even the detective said, 'I can tell it wasn't you ... because your hands are too small.' There were no cuts or anything on me. She fought. And I know she would have. The type of mother and type of person she was," Stewart said.

Looking for clues

Detectives also have looked at one of Powell's other love interests.

"It's something we have looked into," Phillips said. "We've traveled to Indiana and done searches and interviews. We went to Atlanta. ... There's been a lot of man hours and work put into this case."

Stewart said Powell previously worked at a corrections facility in Pendleton, Ind., and helped care for inmates. He said she became romantically involved with a prisoner, Tyrone Thomas.

Thomas was in prison for his latest conviction of auto theft, according to Indiana Department of Corrections records.

He is the father of her youngest child, who is now 4 months old and in foster care in Chattanooga, Stewart said.

Thomas now resides in the Atlanta area and could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Stewart met Powell through her ex-husband, Steven Powell, after working with him in a warehouse, he said. He became friends with the couple and even went on family vacations where he brought along his fiancee at the time.

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When the engagement was broken off, he moved in with the Powell family and lived with them for about two years, he said.

Powell's marriage ended after Steven Powell was charged with child molestation in 2007. He was convicted and sentenced in 2008. According to Indiana Department of Corrections records, his earliest release date possible is in February 2029.

Stewart and Powell remained close up to her death, he said.

"I have never met anyone like her, honestly," Stewart said. "Very giving. Very loving. Would help anyone. Very good heart and spirited lady. She would go overboard to help anyone. She was easy to talk to. She was just unlike anyone I've met in my life. She had such a love for me."

He said he helped care for the children and spent evenings at her residence with them until Powell returned home after working second shifts.

Stewart was granted custody of her five children about a week after Powell's death. The infant was removed about three weeks later. The rest of the children were placed into state custody Dec. 29, and Stewart said he was given little explanation. Three of the children are in Sale Creek. The oldest is in Sparta, Tenn., he said.

"Four days after Christmas they [the Department of Children's Services] called. They said they learned some news about some things that has happened with the kids in the past and they decided to pull them from me and split them up," Stewart said.

Stewart was acquitted by a jury of a child molestation charge in 2008 in Indiana, according to court documents. He said Saturday that none of the allegations involved Powell's children. Children's Services was aware of the court case, he said.

HOW TO HELPAnyone with any information about Chandra Powell's slaying can contact Chattanooga Police Detective Alexis Mercado at 643-5362 or remain anonymous and possibly become eligible for a cash reward by calling Crime Stoppers at 423-698-3333.

Currently, his attempts to make contact with Children's Services have been unsuccessful, he said. He hopes to regain custody of the two boys, ages 11 and 8, and Powell's oldest daughter, who is 16. Powell's sister is trying to get custody of Powell's 15-year-old daughter, Stewart said.

"I think as all of them as my own anyway. They had a lot of pain in their young lives with things that's happened," he said.

No one responded to an interview request at Children's Services office in Nashville last week.

Reach staff writer Beth Burger at 423-757-6406 or bburger@timesfreepress.com.