Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley Murders: Where is Coley McCraney Now?

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When two teenage girls — Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley — were found dead in Alabama in 1999, a gnawing question about their death boggled their family and friends’ minds — were they targeted by the perpetrator/s or were they simply in the wrong place at the wrong time? With the police failing to find an answer or the killer/s, the case went cold for over two decades. Investigation Discovery’s ‘On the Case With Paula Zahn: Wrong Place, Wrong Time’ covers all the intricacies of the murder case as the interviews with the victims’ loved ones and experts provide a detailed account of the death.

Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley Were Found Dead in the Trunk of Beasley’s Car

J. B. Hilton Green Beasley came into the world of Hilton Lanier Beasley and Cheryl Stout as a bundle of joy on July 31, 1982, in Troy, Alabama. After moving to Dothan a couple of years later in 1984, she grew up with her four sisters — Jayme Burgoon, Jacqui Burgoon, Jo Beth Burgoon, and Jillian Burgoon — and stepfather Joey Burgoon, besides her mother. She went to Carver Middle School where she was a cheerleader. Moreover, she had been dancing for the past decade or so at the time of her death and she had received a number of trophies and awards for the same. Apart from that, she was also a member of the First United Methodist Church. Beasley was looking forward to starting her senior year at Northview High School.

Image Credit: MarissaK/Find a Grave

As for Tracie Jean Hawlett, she was born on March 3, 1982, to Robert H. “Bob” Hawlett and Carol Roberts in Dothan, Alabama. She also had a stepfather named Michael Roberts in her life. Just like Beasley, Hawlett was also going to be a senior at Northview High School in Dothan, Alabama. With almost the entirety of their life waiting for them, the 17-year-old teens disappeared on July 31, 1999, after they headed to a party in southeastern Alabama, near Midland City and Headland. Before vanishing, Hawlett had informed her parents that she and Beasley were lost in Ozark and were returning home. That was the last time anyone ever heard from them again as the next day, after discovering Beasley’s abandoned car along a road in Ozark, the police came across the lifeless bodies of Beasley and Hawlett in the trunk of the car.

Image Credit: MarissaK/Find a Grave

Each of the teenagers was dead from a single 9mm wound to the head. Both were found clothed but Hawlett had a scratch on her arm and briar thorns on her pants. As for Beasley, she was shot in the cheek and there was mud on her shoes. The chances of robbery being the motive were ruled out as all the valuable possessions, including purses, jewelry, money, and credit cards, were still inside the car and on them. On the first look, the authorities reported that neither of the two teens had been sexually assaulted and there were no signs of alcohol or drugs. A key chain that had the car and other keys on it was the only item missing from the car.

The Killer Got Arrested Two Decades After The Murders

After collecting all the evidence from the crime scene, the detectives began interviewing the teenage girls’ family and friends. They found out that on the night of July 31, 2009, Hawlett and Beasley left Dothan in the latter’s 1993 black Mazda 929 around 10:05 pm to celebrate Beasley’s 17th birthday with friends in Headland. At approximately 11:30 pm, the two friends were reportedly spotted in Ozark, where they used a pay phone near the Big/Little convenience store and Chevron station to call Hawlett’s mother to inform her that they had gotten lost and ended up in Ozark but they were on their way home. When they did not make it to their respective houses, both were reported missing at 8 am on the next morning.

Soon, the black Mazda 929 was found on Herring Avenue, near the pay phone that Hawlett had used the previous night, with the girls found dead inside the trunk of the car. In less than a week, the police opened up a 24-hour hotline to receive tips related to the Hawlett and Beasley murder case, while a reward of $15,000 was announced before another $10,000 was announced in state funds. In the following years, detectives left no stone unturned as they reportedly conducted more than 500 interviews and tested the DNA of more than 70 suspects. The case had gone cold after 20 years had passed without an arrest. Still trying to get to the bottom of the truth, the police then ran the crime scene DNA through an online genealogy database with the help of Parabon NanoLabs in Virginia.

The process began in August 2018 and the authorities were led to Coley McCraney, thanks to the DNA match they found through a family DNA website. Coley, a truck driver and preacher who was in the military and had no crimes against his name, was arrested in 2019. He told the authorities his side of the story and testified that he had consensual sex with Beasley, and nothing else. According to him, he met with Beasley at the Wiregrass Commons Mall a couple of months before she was murdered and they planned to meet on July 31, 1999, at 10 pm. But she did not arrive on time, so he waited for her call at his mother’s place, as per Coley. By 11:30 pm, he decided to stop waiting and head home but coincidentally, his car broke down at the gas station Beasley and Hawlett used a pay phone.

As per Coley, he then approached Beasley and the two talked for a few minutes before he joined the two teens and gave them directions to Highway 231. He said that they made a stop at the gas station where Coley’s semi-truck was parked and that was where he and Beasley got physical in the cab of his truck. According to him, after the consensual sex, Hawlett and Beasley drove him to his house, after which they parted ways.

Coley McCraney Remains Locked Up Serving His Life Sentence

The trial of Coley McCraney for the murder of Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley commenced in April 2023, as the prosecutors sought the death penalty. During the trial, the family of the two deceased teens testified and expressed their grief in front of the court. Hawlett’s mother, Carol Roberts, stated, “I think the hardest thing that we’ve gone through is holidays with an empty chair that Tracie should have been in.” Meanwhile, Beasley’s mother, Cheryl Burgood, said she would not be able to get over losing her daughter. “It hurts so bad…I’m so angry,” she said.

After a few weeks of trial, the jury found Coley guilty of killing Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The convictions were for two counts of capital murder-vehicle, one count of capital murder-rape, and capital murder of two or more people. In July 2023, his appeal for a retrial was denied. At present, he is serving his life sentence at William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility at 100 Warrior Lane in Bessemer, Alabama.

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