Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley were 17-year-old best friends in 1999. On the last day of July, the girls, who lived in Dothan, Alabama, planned to drive to the town of Headland for J.B.’s birthday party. They left at about 10 p.m., but they got lost in Ozark, about 20 miles from home.
Unable to decide where to go, the girls stopped at a BP gas station at about 10:30 in search of directions. They talked to some friends on the payphone and seemingly had a better idea of where they needed to go. About an hour later, they were nowhere near the party and still lost. They stopped again, this time at a different store with a payphone. Tracie called her mom and told her what had happened. She also told her they were coming home.
Tracie’s mother would never see the teenagers again.
A Shocking Discovery
With her daughter not home by 8 a.m. the next morning, Tracie’s mother called the cops to report her daughter missing.
The same day, authorities found J.B.’s car. It had been parked on Herring Avenue in Ozark with an empty tank and the doors locked. A handprint on top of the trunk provided a haunting hint as to what may have happened.
When officers opened the trunk, they found J.B. and Tracie inside. They’d been shot and killed. Both girls were clothed, but dirty. Semen was found at the scene, allowing investigators to collect a DNA sample of the perpetrator.
Authorities were able to rule out robbery as a motive, as both girls still had their jewelry and purses. The only thing missing from the vehicle was J.B.’s key chain containing the keys to the car.
Investigators were unable to determine if J.B. and Tracie had been killed in the trunk or somewhere else.
A False Lead
On September 1, 1999, a man named Johnny went to the store to buy milk for his child. He returned home and told his wife that he’d been hit by a black truck near Herring Avenue. Johnny’s friends convinced him he should go to the police with this information, as it could be linked to the murders of Tracie and J.B.
While talking to police, Johnny changed his story at least five times. He even told stories in which he was present at the scene of the crime. Eventually, police officers charged the man with two counts of murder. He faced capital punishment.
Johnny maintained his innocence, claiming he’d only made up the stories so he could collect the reward money. In 2000, the grand jury declined to indict the man. He was no longer considered a suspect after his DNA failed to match the sample found at the crime scene.
Several other leads proved false over the years, but investigators never lost hope in the search for a DNA match.
A Glimmer of Hope
Over the years, authorities investigated many suspects. They interviewed hundreds of people and took DNA samples from tens of subjects.
In March of 2019, investigators took the case to a public genealogy database. There, they made a connection based on DNA found at the crime scene.
Today, 45-year-old Coley McCraney is facing murder and sexual assault charges in this case. McCraney served time in the military, worked as a truck driver, owned a church, and is married. He also went to school in Ozark and would have been 26 at the time of the murders. This man was not on the radar at all.
This month, the Dothan Eagle reported that McCraney’s ex-wife filed a complaint with the Air Force in 1994 stating that McCraney had assaulted her.
At this time, officers are not releasing a motive for the murder. McCraney has been denied bond while he awaits trial.