DNA identifies victim in 1983 homicide

Sep. 7—On a hot Aug. 26, 1983, a Pleasant Hill area farmer feeding his cattle made a grisly discovery, a decomposing body about 20 feet from S. Sycamore Lane and off Sparta Hwy.

Even though a 36-year-old Nashville man in June 1985 pleaded guilty to the killing, it was not until this week the public received notice as to the identity of the victim.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued a press release Monday announcing DNA had established the identity of the victim as Kenneth Level Thompson, of Detroit, MI, who is believed to have been 26 or 27 at the time of his death. He had been stabbed twice.

Records from the era are sparse, and the discovery of the remains was not covered by the Chronicle. First notice was a joint press release from the TBI and Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office that a 36-year-old Nashville man had been charged with first-degree murder and with being a habitual offender.

It is believed by an investigator familiar with the case that the suspect had family members living in the Cumberland/White county line area. The suspect also had ties to Wayne County, MI, with several arrests on his record, ranging from robbery to burglary, theft and escape from a penal farm.

At the time, the late John Roberts was the District Attorney and Marsha Selecman assistant DA. Presiding judge was now retired Leon Burns. Attorneys involved in the suspect’s defense included Steven Douglas, Joe Looney and James Thompson.

At one point during the year that followed his arrest, the defendant filed his own motions to have his attorney(s) dismissed and to allow him to represent himself.

In addition to TBI Special Agent Jim Moore (retired), Chief Deputy Dave Burgess, Sheriff’s Investigator Larry Flair and Deputy Eddie Hedgecoth were involved in the investigation, according to court records.

According to one document found in the court record, the defendant placed a phone call in the presence of Moore and Hedgecoth in which he was quoted as stating, “I have told them the whole story. It has been haunting me. I would have been foolish to lie to them. They have all the blood work, I went against my lawyer’s advice, but, I wanted to tell the truth.”

That call was placed May 31, 1984. On June 27, 1985, the defendant pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a 20-year prison sentence as a standard offender. The habitual offender charge was dropped.

During that time period and years that followed, the body remained unidentified. In 2007, the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center submitted a sample of the remains to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification. DNA profile was developed and entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System “in hopes that the man would eventually be identified,” a TBI press release states.

In December, TBI sought the help of Othram Laboratories in Texas for forensic genetic genealogical testing. Scientists were able to provide information about possible relatives connected to the homicide victim.

Agents made contact with a family member and confirmed that the family had not heard from his brother in four decades. Family DNA was obtained and matched with that from the body found near Pleasant Hill and a positive match was made.

It is believed the defendant served his prison sentence. He was not identified by the TBI for that reason and nothing else is known about the man.

There are still questions, including how the two knew each other, what led up to the victim being stabbed once in the back and once in the chest and the motive for the killing.

Michael Moser may be reached at mmoser@crossville-chronicle.com

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