1999 Alabama Cold Case Murders – DNA Match

A 45-year-old Dothan Alabama man Coley McCraney has been charged with five counts of capital murder and one count of rape int he 1999 murders of 17-year-old friends Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley, whose bodies were found in the trunk of Beasley’s car. Both had been shot in the head. Their deaths have haunted the Wiregrass region for decades.

Just when all appeared to be lost with two cold cases, the separate but brutal murders of two women dating back to 1999, technology picked up where the investigation left off.

Hawlett later called her mother, Carol Roberts, and told her they were on their way home, after receiving directions. They never made it.

When Dorothy Lewis’ body was found near Crystal Lake in April of 1999, it was unidentifiable. Investigators collected solid evidence and turned the case over to the Alabama Department of Forensics.

In October of that same year, another grizzly discovery was made, that of a female’s body in a pool of blood outside Big Roxanna Missionary Baptist Church on Norman Bridge Road. Forensics later confirmed the body belonged to Carolyn Dixon.

DNA evidence linked Dixon’s homicide case to Lewis’.

The 17 year old girls left for a birthday party on the night of July 31, 1999. They became lost and wound up in Ozark.

“Both victims were shot in the same manner, the bodies were dumped in a similar fashion,” Lt.  Seithalil said. “Ballistic analysis revealed that the same gun killed both victims,” he added.

The evidence diligently collected in 1999 went into a national DNA database, but all leads were ultimately exhausted and the cases went cold.

It used to be that for law enforcement to catch a suspect with DNA, they had to find a match in their databases. Then, California officials tried a new approach. They took the DNA from their suspect and created an online genealogy profile in an attempt to match it. It worked.

The DNA, which was analyzed by an out-of-state lab called GED Match, helped identify the suspected killer’s family line after a relative upload their own data to a genealogy site. From there, law enforcement was able to narrow down the field of possible suspects to just one person: 45-year-old Dothan resident Coley McCraney.

McCraney was arrested without incident during a traffic stop on March 15. He’d grown up in Ozark and attended school there. A DNA sample was taken and it was confirmed to match evidence from the crime scene.

Walker declined to say if McCraney confessed. He also couldn’t say if anyone else was involved in the murders.

With McCraney being a truck driver, Walker said law enforcement is looking into the possibility there could be other victims, but that there is no indication at this point that is the case.

“Our goal was to get there before the twentieth anniversary,” Walker, who took over the department in 2015 explained. The break happened just months shy of that anniversary.

To date, authorities have yet to share any details on a possible motive.

McCraney had no prior criminal record, so his DNA had never been entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. Despite having the suspect’s DNA profile, there was nothing to connect it to him. And so the evidence remained in refrigeration for years.

In this case, McCraney is charged with two counts of capital murder because two or more people were killed, two counts of capital murder because a deadly weapon was used to kill the women inside a vehicle, and one count of capital murder because a victim was killed during a rape.

The suspect, whom the district attorney said is eligible for the death penalty, is being held without bond in the Dale County Jail. A preliminary court hearing will happen in the next few weeks.

McCraney’s attorney, David Harrison, called his client an outstanding member of the community and told the Associated Press he’s cooperating with law enforcement. Harrison said his client may seek an change of venue in order to have a fair trial. He said it will be difficult to find a jury in the area that’s not already aware of the case.

Alabama is currently leading the nation in solving cold cases using the national DNA database. The program received more than 560 hits last year alone.