DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) — Around three weeks ago, Ozark police Chief Marlos Walker approached Mayor Bob Bunting to sign a $10,000 check to look into possible new DNA evidence in the murders of Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley.
“I said ‘let me think about it’ because we had spent so much money,” Bunting said. “Then I said, you know what? … This is still an open case. This is something that maybe, this gives us another way that this is gonna happen, especially after what happened in California.”
Sure enough, the investment paid off as police then identified a new suspect through a DNA match between information on a family DNA website and evidence from the scene.
Bunting, who served as the mayor during the first days of the investigation, said when he heard the news, he hardly believed it.
“I had to call (Walker) back later to make sure I didn’t have a dream,” he said. “I said, ‘Boy, after all these years, there’s no way, must’ve been a good dream.'”
But decades before this dream became reality, Bunting and other people in the Ozark community had to live through a nightmarish ordeal when officers discovered the girls’ bodies in the trunk of their car.
“It has haunted me all these times,” Bunting said.
Bunting himself had seen the crime scene back on Aug. 1, 1999, saying the “two young ladies were laid in there like they were in a casket.”
For nearly two decades, the city of Ozark searched the country for who was responsible, looking for any possible leads.
“Eddy Henderson was the deputy at the time for Tony, and he would send him all over the country,” Bunting said. “I remember one of the times he went to Minnesota, and a grandmother actually thought her grandson was involved in it because she heard him talk about it.”
However, this was another dead end, one of several that law enforcement ran into. This led Bunting to be convinced there would be no resolution.
“I was a doubting Thomas,” Bunting said. “I hate to give up. I’m not a person who gives up on anything, but I had just thought that was just something that would never happen.
“There’s been all kinds of people that would say ‘Oh, I know the police department was involved,'” he said. “You’re covering it up,’ some of those.”
But with a new lead, Bunting said he’s elated and hopes this news brings some closure to both the families and Ozark itself.
You can watch the full interview with Ben Stanfield in the video above.