Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley

One July night, in 1990, two best friends, Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley, both 17-years-old, took a wrong exit off the highway and ended up with a gunshot to the head. Their bodies were discovered the next day, stuffed in the back of a Black Mazda 929, Beasley’s car.

The shock discovery of the double homicide bothered police detectives in the small town of Ozark, Alabama. The lack of details and eye witnesses further slowed down the investigation. Eventually it stalled, and the case went cold. 

The night of their murders, Hawlett and Beasley were headed to a birthday party, approximately 10 miles from their home town Dothan. The girls never showed up to the party. 

But they did turn up in Ozark at approximately 11:30 p.m., searching for directions to get back to the highway. From a gas station pay phone, Tracey Hawlett contacted her mother and told her they were lost, but someone had given them directions and they would be home soon. Tracey’s mom later reported to the police —Tracey sounded fine, not in danger, so her mom didn’t think much of the call. Until next morning, when she woke up and discovered her daughter’s bed empty. 

At that point, Tracey’s mom contacted the Ozark police and reporter her girl missing. As police spur to search for the teenagers, an eyewitness came forward. Marilyn Merritt had pulled at the same gas station as the missing girls. They had asked her for directions. She watched them drive off toward the highway. It’s quite possible Merritt was the last person to encounter the girls alive before they were shot. 

Merritt recalled the girls looked fine. 

A little later after 8 a.m. after the girls were reported missing, a police officer discovered Beasley’s car, the Mazda. It was parked less than a mile from the gas station where Tracey used to call back home. The Mazda was unlocked, with the driver’s window slightly open. The girl’s purses were in plain view. The car appeared with muddy tires and out of gas. The officer called for a tow truck. As he waited, he checked the trunk. In there, he discovered the bodies of Tracey and J.B. 

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According to the ME, Traces was killed by a single bullet to the head. Based on the position of her body, detectives believed she was the killer’s first victim. J.B. was killed with the same gun. A bullet striking her in the cheek. Both girls didn’t appeared to be sexually assaulted. And the theory of robbery gone wrong was quickly discarded. Their purses and wallets were found in the Mazda. 

Small amounts of semen was discovered on Tracey’s bra and panties. No drugs or alcohol was found in their system. After several days of investigation, detectives zeroed on a suspect. His name was Johnny William Barrentine. He gave three different versions of where he was on the night of murders. At one point he said he picked up a man whom he drove to the black Mazda. The unnamed man got in the car with girls. Ozark police ended up arresting Barrentine for the murders of Tracey and J.B. 

Soon after, Barrentiner recanted his confession, saying he wanted to get the reward money. According to those close to Barrentine, he was on the slower side, having finished only seventh grade. But Ozark police weren’t about to turn lose their main and only suspect. And then the news from the crime lab came — Barrentine’s DNA wasn’t a match. They had to let him go. 

For the next two decades, the case grew cold. No one came forward with new information about the murders. For years after the murders, investigators interviewed 70 people, tested 500 DNA samples. But they struck out. 

And then, two decades later, a DNA lab was able to build a genealogy profile of the killer, linking him to relatives. Officers arrested Coley McCraney, 47, who’ve lived most of his life in Ozark. 

McCraney is currently on trail for killing Tracey and J.B. He has denied killing the girls. His wife was allowed to provide an alibi for his whereabouts on the night of the slayings, stating her husband returned that night a little after 1 a.m. Despite her testimony, there are 90 minutes between the girls’ murders and McCraney returning home that’s unaccounted for. 

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By Jolene Grace

Jolene Grace was a journalist for ten years, interning for CBS evening news, working as a beat report for Oklahoma Public radio, and eventually transitioning into managing digital content for a radio corporation. Currently, she writes crime fiction full time and blogs for the Crime Room. Jolene is fortunate enough to be able to tell the stories of those who no longer can. She’s passionate to write about cold cases being solved. You can read her blogs on thecrimeroom.com or listen to The Crime Room Podcast wherever in the world you happened to be. Let’s Talk Crime.

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