It has been more than seven years since Howard “Hawk” Willis, 59, was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abuse of a corpse in the deaths of 17-year-old Adam Chrismer and his 16-year-old wife, Samantha Leming.
Chrismer’s severed head was discovered floating in an East Tennessee lake in October 2002, and his hands were found nearby. The rest of Chrismer’s remains and Leming’s body were later found in plastic bins at a rental storage facility in Johnson City.
Investigators have said Willis and the newlyweds met while they were living in Chickamauga, and were involved in a sex-for-cocaine relationship. Authorities think Willis killed the newlyweds at his mother’s home after the three traveled to Johnson City in early October 2002.
The case has spent years coming to trial, mostly because of squabbles between Willis and a series of court-appointed attorneys that led every one of them to be removed or to withdraw. Criminal Court Judge Lynn Brown ordered Willis to defend himself, and the decision has been upheld by a state appeals court.
According to a transcript of conversations obtained by the Johnson City Press, Willis told his ex-wife that he shot Chrismer after the teenager said he and Leming’s brother, Daniel Foster, had robbed and killed Willis stepfather, Sam Thomas.
The headless body of the 73-year-old Thomas of Cleveland, Tenn., turned up in the wilderness of Walker County, Ga., about the same time the other bodies were found. No one has been charged in Thomas’ death, although investigators have said Willis is a suspect.