Cold Case Unit Solves 34-Year Old Murder
On Monday, September 21, 2015, the Hamilton County Grand Jury indicted William Frank Hawk (Billy Hawk) on a charge of First Degree Murder for the 1981 death of Johnny Mack Salyer (Mack Salyer).
The exact date of Mack Salyer’s death is unknown. He had no immediate relatives living in Chattanooga at the time of his death. His family last heard from him on Sunday, May 24, 1981. On Wednesday, June 3, 1981, a locked steel drum containing Mack's body was pulled from the Tennessee River near Lakesite.
Mack Salyer and Billy Hawk were co-defendants in a pending cocaine distribution case. A third co-defendant, Debra Bales, married Billy Hawk several months after their arrests.
Records of the initial Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office investigation show Billy Hawk was the primary suspect in Mack’s murder.
Earlier this year, District Attorney General Neal Pinkston's Cold Case Unit began a review of this case. CCU Unit Chief Mike Mathis assembled a multi-agency team of investigators (HCSO, CPD, TBI, GBI, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee, ATF and FBI, including some of the retired detectives/agents originally assigned to this case) who provided significant support and spent hundreds of hours interviewing dozens of witnesses and advancing the investigation towards this week's indictment.
This case was presented to the Grand Jury on Monday, September 21, 2015. Upon return of a True Bill, Criminal Court Judge Don Poole (who is currently presiding over the Grand Jury) issued a capias for the arrest of Billy Hawk and set a $500,000 bond. Hawk was taken into custody in Greene County, Tennessee, a short time ago by Unit Chief Mike Mathis, a TBI Agent and a HCSO Fugitive Detective. An initial appearance hearing will be scheduled once he’s booked at the Hamilton County jail.
The penalty for a First Degree Murder conviction is either Death or Life in Prison. As with all criminal prosecutions, the defendant must be presumed innocent until proven guilty in criminal court.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Cold Case Unit Office
Newell Tower, Second Floor
117 East 7th Street
General Pinkston, Sheriff Jim Hammond, Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher, CCU investigators, and Larry Sneed (the retired HCSO detective originally assigned to this case) will be there. However, be aware Tennessee Supreme Court Rules prohibit anyone involved in a prosecution from discussing details of a pending case. You will not learn a great deal more than is provided in this release. (Think of this as an opportunity to get talking heads saying what’s already been provided.)
Johnny Mack Salyer
(Age 27 when he disappeared)
At the time of his murder, Mack Salyer had an estranged wife and a 1-year old daughter living in Indiana. They do not want to talk to media and asked General Pinkston to relay that message on their behalf. Mack's parents are deceased. We have no information on any possible siblings.
William Frank Hawk
DOB: 4/5/54 (age 61)
Billy Hawk is the son of the now deceased Billy F Hawk, Jr., who owned the Holiday Bowl on Brainerd Road. His mother and siblings live in the Chattanooga area but have been estranged from him for more than a decade. Billy is currently the owner of a bowling alley in Lebanon, Tennessee, and also owns a home in Greeneville, Tennessee.
DA’s Cold Case Unit
District Attorney Neal Pinkston created the Cold Case Unit in September 2014 to review the nearly 200 unsolved homicides and missing persons cases in Hamilton County. The Unit is led by retired CPD Captain Mike Mathis. Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher and Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond each provide an investigator to the unit. If you have information about any cold case, please contact us using the Cold Case Hotline at 423-209-7470 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.