Originally created 10/26/02

District attorney says transfer will not hinder investigation



JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - A man indicted in the slayings of two Georgia teenagers could be transferred to New York in response to a bond violation in a federal drug case, a prosecutor said Friday.

District Attorney Joe Crumley said Howard Hawk Willis, 51, of Chickamauga, Ga., could be moved from the Washington County (Tenn.) Detention Center by Monday, as ordered by a federal judge in New York.

Mr. Crumley said such a transfer would "absolutely not" interfere with an ongoing state investigation of the murder case. A spokesman for the Bradley County Sheriff's Department said investigators were awaiting forensic tests on a headless body, believed to be the remains of Mr. Willis' stepfather, recovered in Walker County, Ga.

Mr. Willis was arrested by federal authorities Oct. 11 while on a $200,000 personal recognizance bond stemming from a charge of transporting 2,600 pounds of cocaine in April.

A Washington County grand jury indicted him on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abuse of a corpse, stemming from the deaths of Georgia newlyweds Adam Chrismer, 17, and Samantha Foster Leming, 16.

Washington County Sheriff Fred Phillips has said Mr. Willis was involved in a cocaine-for-sex relationship with the couple. Investigators in Walker County, Ga., 200 miles from Johnson City, believe the couple met Mr. Willis sometime after they married in August.

The teens, missing since Sept. 11, were last seen traveling with Mr. Willis from north Georgia to Tennessee.

Mr. Chrismer's head and hands were found in a lake at Johnson City. His other remains and those of his wife were recovered in a storage warehouse.

Investigators searching for a motive suspect the teens knew something about the murder of Mr. Willis' stepfather, 73-year-old Samuel Thomas of Bradley County.

A decomposed body believed to be Mr. Thomas was recovered near an abandoned trailer in Walker County, Ga., about 40 miles from his Bradley County residence. The man had been shot, and his arms had been severed at the elbows. Bradley County investigators have identified Mr. Willis as a suspect in the slaying of Mr. Thomas.

The investigations have focused new attention on the 1987 disappearance of Mr. Willis' wife, Nancy Debra Willis, who was last seen in Catoosa County, Ga.

Capt. Chip Bryant of the Bradley County Sheriff's Department has said investigators planned to use a sonar device to search the basement of Mr. Thomas' house, where Mr. Willis once lived, for the remains of Mrs. Willis.

Capt. Bryant said Friday that evidence about the Thomas case was being prepared for a grand jury.