One year later, a father remembers…
Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 30, 2000
July 29, 2000 10 PM
Tomorrow would have been J. B. Beasley’s 18th birthday.
Had she and a friend, Tracie Hawlett, not gotten lost on their way to a party in rural Henry County, July 31, 1999, she probably would have been celebrating her birthday by making plans to enter college in the fall.
But a wrong turn cost the two popular Dothan high school students their lives, said J. B.’s dad Lanier Beasley of Troy.
"Because J.B. and Tracie got lost and ended up in Ozark, they were murdered," Beasley said, as he sat in the barber’s chair at his shop with his hands folded, almost as in prayer.
"This has been a difficult year – very difficult. J.B. and I had a very close relationship," he said. "She was a beautiful, vivacious young woman.
She energized everyone who was around her. She was always an emotional lift in my life and she knew she could call on me day or night. Our love was unconditional. We never broke a promise to each other."
But one promise between the father and daughter was broken. But not by either of them.
The person or persons who shot J.B.at point-blank range severed that promise.
Beasley and his daughter were together the week before she was killed. They made plans to meet at Gantt Lake the next weekend. "We promised to see each other then," Beasley said.
Beasley would never see his daughter alive again. He had no idea of the pain and grief that would come into his life on her 17th birthday which was just a few days away.
J. B. was going to celebrate her birthday with friends in Headland. Her friend, Tracie, made the 10 mile drive from Dothan to Headland with her that night.
Around 11:30 p.m., Tracie called her mother from a pay phone in Ozark, telling her that she and J.B. and gotten lost and ended up in Ozark, Beasley said.
"Tracie told her mother that they had gotten directions and would be home shortly, but they never made it," he said. "Tracie’s mother went to sleep and, when she woke up and the girls weren’t home, she and her husband became alarmed. They reported them missing to the Dothan police around 8 a.m. (Aug. 1)."
At about the same time, the girls were reported missing, J.B.’s car was found parked on a street in Ozark, about a block away from the Dale County hospital.
Beasley said fearful thoughts entered his mind as he waited to hear news about his daughter and her friend. He was scared but hopeful.
That hope ended, when at 2 p.m. Aug. 1, 1999, a Dothan investigator popped the truck of J.B. car and found the murdered bodies of the two young women.
The grief of losing a child is almost unbearable, Beasley said. He had already lost one daughter to tragedy. She ended her own life and J.B.’s had been taken from her. Grief doubled back on him.
"Everything was going J.B.’s way," Beasley said. "She absolutely sparkled. It was unthinkable that anyone could put a gun to her head and take her life away. I couldn’t image what kind of person would do such a thing – could do such a thing."
A massive investigation into the murders of J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett extended to the Alabama and Federal bureaus of investigation. On Sept. 1, 1999, Ozark police arrest
28-year-old Johnny William Barrentine and charged him with two counts of capital murder,
"They thought they had their man," Beasley said "but, in January, a grand jury decided not to indict him. I don’t know what his involvement was but he does know something about what happened that night. I just want whoever killed J.B. and Tracie to be found. It’s too late for me and all of those who loved the girls but, I want him or them found,only in so much as I’m concerned about other young women who are at risk. It’s incredible to think someone would exercise his will to power in such a manner. People like this need to be taken off the streets."
Beasley said the murders of the two young women are not being treated as a cold case by the Ozark Police Department.
"They are working on it every day," he said. "There have been some new developments and hopefully they will turn up information that will lead to whoever did this. Back in March, a woman came forward and said she heard screaming and what sounded like gunshots on the night of the murders. Police combed the area and found a 9mm shell casing that was similar to the one they found in the trunk of J.B.’s car."
Beasley said a shell casing and a soil sample from that site have been sent to the state crime lab.
the shell casing matches the one in J.B.’ s trunk and the soil sample matches the soil on their clothes, the police will have more to go on."
Although state forensics experts concluded that the girls had not been raped, Beasley said, in November, the state forensics lab found semen on his daughter’s clothing.
"That’s important DNA evidence and DNA is the key to solving this case," he said."One day, we’ll know who did this terrible thing to my daughter and her friend. I hope one day soon."
When that day comes, Beasley said he wants to see that justice is done. And, should that justice be an eye for an eye?
"Having the murderer or murderers put to death will bring me no joy," Beasley said. "But whoever did this is a compulsive person and, if they get away with it, they will probably do it again. So, it would be a relief to know that that person will not end another promising young life and bring this kind of grief on anyone else. No one deserves grief like mine today.
tomorrow, on J.B’s birthday …" Beasley paused. There are some emotions for which there are no words.