Twenty years later, DNA evidence has reportedly led Alabama authorities to a suspect in the 1999 unsolved slayings of two high school friends.
WDHN reported that the Ozark Police Department began reinvestigating the murders of Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley, both 17, in August 2018. DNA from the crime scene was sent to Parabon Labs in Virginia, and the agency later delivered a list of names associated with the sample to the police department.
According to AL.com, police located their suspect—45-year-old Coley Lewis McCraney—following a genealogical search on a family DNA website. Court records indicated that McCraney had no prior criminal record.
Beasley and Hawlett, two high school seniors, were reportedly heading home from Beasley’s birthday party in Headland on July 31, 1999, when they misinterpreted directions and became lost in Ozark. The girls were found dead in Beasley’s truck a day later. They were shot once in the head and all their personal belongings were intact, the outlet reported.
A day before the girls’ disappearances, a local judge ordered McCraney to submit his DNA in connection with a paternity petition filed by a woman who claimed he fathered her toddler son. Citing court documents, the Dothan Eagle reported that McCraney didn’t appear for the initial or subsequent DNA test, resulting in a default child support judgment.
The petition also revealed that McCraney had lived approximately a mile from where the girls were found murdered. The Eagle reported that McCraney, a truck driver, remarried nearly 19 years ago and has been living in Dothan.
45-year-old Coley McCraney, of Dothan, was arrested Saturday on rape and capital murder charges in the 1999 deaths of 17-year-olds Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley. https://t.co/MkxVY9vuSF
— FOX 31 WFXL-TV (@WFXL) March 18, 2019
WDHN reported that McCraney submitted a DNA sample to Ozark police, who sent it to Parabon. Parabon reportedly confirmed a match three weeks ago, and Ozark police Chief Marlos Walker said a local lab reached the same determination.
There’s no evidence that McCraney knew Beasley and Hawlett. Moreover, McCraney was unknown to police and wasn’t a person of interest in this case, according to WDHN.
AL.com noted that authorities previously arrested a man who placed himself at the crime scene but later claimed he lied to get the reward money. He was reportedly ruled out as a suspect after his DNA didn’t match semen taken from Beasley’s clothing and skin.
Beasley’s father recently said he’s skeptical McCraney’s the culprit because his advisor said it would be hard for one person to commit the double slaying.
“This is not the work of a single person,” he told WDHN. “[We] may be wrong, but my attitude is I just have to wait and evaluate.”
McCraney was booked into jail Saturday on charges of capital murder and first-degree rape. Prosecutors announced during a Monday morning press conference that they intend to seek the death penalty.
[Featured image: J.B. Beasley, Tracie Hawlett/Handout]