Couples' remains found; two women charged in slaying

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY -- Investigators discovered the remains of what they believe to be a teenage couple missing from Georgia in a self-storage facility Thursday afternoon, and two elderly women have been charged in connection with the couple's slaying, according to officials.
   Investigators found two containers in storage unit number 47 of a self-storage facility on the corner of Buffalo Street and State of Franklin Road. According to Washington County Sheriff Fred Phillips, the containers held the bodies of Adam Chrismer, 17, Walker County, Ga., and his 16-year-old wife Samantha Lemming, also of Walker County.
   Court documents filed Thursday stated that Howard "Hawk" Willis, 51, Walker County, Georgia, placed the mutilated bodies of the slain teenagers in the rented storage unit and that Emma Elizabeth Hawk, a.k.a. Betty Willis, his mother, knew about it.
   Hawk, 71, of 104 Brentwood, Johnson City, is jailed on charges of accessory after the fact of first degree murder, attempting to tamper with evidence, and two counts of abuse of a corpse, according to court papers. Her bond was set at $50,000.
   Hawk's sister, Marie Holmes, 74, 1324 Lowell St., has also been charged with attempting to tamper with evidence. Her bond was set at $20,000.
   The two women were arraigned in Washington County Court Thursday afternoon.
   Phillips said these charges stem from the ongoing investigation as well as evidence found while searching the homes of Holmes and Hawk.
   Agents from several law enforcement agencies began the search of the storage unit Wednesday afternoon. A mobile crime lab from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation arrived on scene early Thursday morning.
   The containers that held the remains were approximately four-and-a-half feet long, two feet wide, 20 inches deep, and were held shut by a rope.
   The organic decomposition of the bodies indicated the couple have been dead for approximately a week, according to Vince Pinyard, the county medical examiner for Washington, Greene and Unicoi Counties.
   "One container appears to be older than the other," Pinyard said.
   Phillips said, in addition to the containers, two cans of accelerant believed to be a mixture of gasoline and diesel fuel were found along with rubber gloves, a hatchet, a hammer, and a large pair of sheers. All of the objects are believed to have been used in the crime.
   Pinyard said whoever stored the remains probably intended to dispose of them with the fuel accelerant that was found in the unit.
   Forensics investigators found footprints and fingerprints in the storage unit but have yet to identify them. Phillips said the storage unit had been recently rented but would not release names.
   The remains were removed from the site Thursday evening and were taken to the Quillen College of Medicine for a final autopsy.
   "This is like a tree right now; we don't know where the branches are going," said Johnson City Police Chief Ron Street.
   Willis will face charges of two counts of first degree murder when he appears before a Grand Jury next week.
   "At the present time, no law enforcement officials have attempted to question Willis," Phillips said.