Updated at 1:57 p.m. to correct that the attorney general, not cold case unit leader Mike Mathis, decided to clear the case.
District Attorney Neal Pinkston has decided to clear the unusual case of Leon Hicks, who in 1972 was the 59-year-old co-owner of Hicks Brothers Restaurant on East 23rd street, according to a news release.
Hicks died on March 11, 1972. That day, a neighbor heard gunshots sometime after 2 a.m. and went to investigate. That's when he found Hicks lying dead at the foot of the restaurant owner's trailer, according to a news release from the Chattanooga district attorney.
Police recovered three .38 caliber slugs, as well as a fedora hat. But the investigation didn't initially uncover any suspects.
The next month, a tip to the FBI led investigators to Harry Brooks Daniels, a career criminal who lived in Atlanta but frequented Chattanooga. Daniels had robbed several Chattanooga restaurants and taverns in the lead-up to Hicks' murder, and witnesses said Daniels had bragged about killing Hicks. Daniels also said Hicks had shot him in the struggle.
When police searched Daniels' apartment, they found some fairly convincing evidence, including five fedora hats — the exact same type of hat found at Hicks' apartment. They also found a pair of bloodstained shirts and medical supplies for the treatment of the gunshot wound Daniels had described to witnesses.
Though Brooks was brought to Chattanooga and indicted on another armed robbery, the Hicks murder investigation stalled. It's not clear why investigators didn't move forward on the case, given the evidence, but the manner in which the case was rediscovered could offer a clue.
Fast forward to 2015, when Chattanooga District Attorney Neal Pinkston requested police files for his Cold Case Unit, which is led by Mike Mathis, on two unrelated cases.
When cold case investigators opened the box, they found a dirty, moldy old satchel at the bottom. Inside the satchel, they found the Hicks case file.
A witness, who cold case investigators declined to name, confirmed the information in the police file. But Daniels, the would-be defendant, had already died.
Still, Pinkston says that if the individuals involved in the original investigation were alive today, Daniels would have been prosecuted.
He's hoping to reach Hicks' two adult children named in the man's obituary: Mike Hicks of Chattanooga and a Mrs. William Griffith of Erlanger, Kentucky. Anyone with knowledge of Hicks' adult children can call 423-209-7470.