Middle Tennessee Mysteries

Rutherford County: Russell C. Jones

Jan 21, 2019 at 01:00 pm by Michelle Willard

Russell C. Jones

One of Murfreesboro's most infamous and strange murders happened in 1984.

Full of bizarre plots and involving one of the city's most prominent families, the disappearance and death of Russell C. Jones (pictured above in The Tennessean) remains a piece of urban lore in the college town.

The story starts with the sudden disappearance of Russell Jones, who was experiencing money and legal problems, in June 1984.

It gets more complicated when the remains of a man matching his description were uncovered in October 1984 from a five-foot-deep makeshift grave in downtown Murfreesboro.

How he ended up in the secret grave turned into a bizarre story with back child support, a flawed plan, and a contract killer.

The Victim

Russell Jones was, 36, of Bellevue was the son of a prominent Murfreesboro family.

His father Jennings Jones had been mayor in the 1950s and, since Russell's death, the family's influence has only grown. MTSU's business department has been named the Jennings A. Jones School of Business. His nephew, also named Jennings Jones, is the District Attorney for Rutherford and Cannon Counties. His brother Ransom is the chairman of the Rutherford County Election Commission and past chairman of the Rutherford County Republican Party.

This was not the kind of family where a scion winds up murdered and buried in an unmarked grave.

He graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1970, was described as an avid Commodores football fan.

Four years after Russell Jones's graduation, his father turned the family's meatpacking business, Jones Locker, over to him. Russell Jones sold the slaughterhouse to long-time employee Mike Lampley in late 1983.

His father told The DNJ that didn't know who might want to harm his son.

"Everybody has enemies. I don't think of him as having enemies that would want to do this to him. It could have been an argument where somebody got hot," Jennings Jones said.

But his father couldn't be more wrong about what caused his son's death.

Neighboring business owner Ike Davis said Russell may have rubbed more than a few people the wrong way.

"A lot of people didn't like him," Davis told The Tennessean in October 1984.

Russell's cremated remains were interred in Evergreen Cemetery in front of about 100 mourners in "a terse, 15-minute service," The DNJ reported.

Russell Jones was survived by his ex-wife Christina "Chris" Jones. The couple had two daughters.

The Crime

Jennings Jones told The DNJ his son had "just disappeared."

Russell Jones hadn't been seen since June 11, 1984, in Murfreesboro. Earlier that day he had been in a hearing about the child support and alimony he owed his ex-wife.

After a few days with no contact, his family reported him missing and hired a former FBI agent to find him.

When his car was found at the Nashville Airport, investigators assumed he had gone to California.

But that wasn't the case.

He had never left Murfreesboro that day.

Russell Jones was found buried in a makeshift grave behind Jones Locker. He was wrapped tightly in black plastic and stuffed into a sleeping bag that was secured with heavy tape.

An autopsy performed by the Rutherford County Coroner found that Russell had been shot three times with a large-caliber pistol.

"Two of the slugs tore into his chest with one of them piercing his heart. A third bullet lodged in his wrist," an article in The DNJ said.

When investigators exhumed his trussed remains, Russell Jones "was found lying face down in a small space between two thick rock walls," according to an article in The DNJ.

It was reported that he was fully clothed and wearing cowboy boots. Also in the grave were a blood-spattered butcher's smock and shoulder harness with a .357 magnum handgun.

His remains were also sent to Nashville to be examined by Metro Pathologist Dr. John Harlan. It was determined that he had been buried for months.

The Investigation

Russell Jones's missing person case was turned over to the TBI in July 1984. But little was found to locate him until an informant, later identified as Michael Lampley, called Crimestoppers to tip off Murfreesboro police that Russell's remains could be found near the meat locker's slaughter pens.

Ironically, Jennings Jones helped fund the creation of the police tip line.

After talking to his attorney, Lampley called Murfreesboro police and led them to the exact site of the secret grave.

Investigators worked under floodlights and flashlights on the night of Oct. 29, 1984, to uncover Russell Jones's remains. As officers battled the waterlogged grave, TBI agents recorded their efforts to preserve any evidence found inside it.

Further, interviews found a witness who reported seeing a backhoe digging a hole in June 1984 in the area where the grave was discovered. A small Bobcat-type bulldozer was seen covering the hole the next day.

Investigators believed after the hole was excavated and the machinery left the scene, Russell Jones was dropped into the hole.

"Police believe the body was hidden in a locker at the processing plant until the grave could be prepared," The DNJ said.

Investigators also found Jones was "in a bitter battle with his ex-wife, Christina 'Chris' Jones, over payment of child support."

The couple divorced in 1981 and Chris Jones was awarded full custody of their daughters, along with monthly child support and alimony payments. Russell Jones was awarded his company, other assets and a "condominium he bought for his 'paramour,'" and illegitimate child, a DNJ article from Dec. 18, 1984.

In February 1984, Chris Jones filled a complaint that Russell Jones had been delinquent in his monthly payments. A hearing was scheduled for June 11, 1984.

In October 1984, just a few days before his remains were exhumed, a judge ruled Russell Jones owed his ex-wife more than $45,000.

The Suspects

Only three weeks after discovering his body, investigators arrested Allen Hawkins (29 at the time), a former butcher at Jones Locker, and charged him with illegally disposing of a body. He was arrested and extradited from Colorado, where he was living at the time.

Hawkins worked in the meat locker and The Butcher Shop, a retail meat and seafood store located next door to Jones Locker.

Michael Lampley (24 at the time), an MTSU graduate, started working at Jones Locker in 1979 as he attended the university. When Russell Jones looked to sell the family business, Lampley made an offer, which was backed by his father and another investor from Franklin. Lampley was named president of the company.

On Nov. 21, 1984, Hawkins was charged with first-degree murder. According to The DNJ, Hawkins confessed to TBI agents to shooting and burying Russell Jones on June 11, 1984. He also said Lampley helped him move the body from the slaughterhouse office to the grave.

Hawkins was indicted by a Grand Jury in February 1985. The same Grand Jury returned a true bill against Lampley for being an accessory after the fact.

Surprisingly, both men were also charged with conspiracy to solicit murder.

"A source close to the investigation said the conspiracy charges are linked to a bizarre plot devised by the financially troubled Jones to kill his ex-wife," The DNJ reported in February 1985.

Russell Jones reportedly contracted with Hawkins to kill Chris Jones. He paid half up front with the remainder to be paid after her death.

But Hawkins reportedly refused to fulfill the contract, resulting in an argument with Russell Jones and ultimately his death. Hawkins then fled the state with his wife and young child.

In March 1985, Hawkins pleaded guilty to killing Jones and was sentenced to 18 years (10 years for second-degree murder, six years for conspiracy to commit murder and two years for illegally disposing of a body) on three charges.

In May 1985, Lampley pleaded guilty and received six years in the county workhouse at 30 percent, which means he was eligible for release after a year and 10 months. Lampley later appealed the sentence, arguing he deserved to be given probation. The appeal was denied.

The True Crime

At his plea hearing, Lampley wept as he painted a picture of an unstable man with serious financial problems, who harbored fantasies of being a mafia-like figure.

Lampley testified that over the course of 1984 Russell Jones began blaming his ex-wife for his financial problems and hatched a plan to have her killed. In spring 1984, he enlisted the help of Lampley to plot the murder and find an assassin.

"He aggravated and pestered on until I justified it in my mind," Lampley said.

According to court records, Lampley solicited Hawkins, who was an employee of Jones Locker, to meet with Jones in April 1984 about killing someone.

"The second time he brought it up to me, they wanted to have someone killed," Hawkins testified at his sentencing hearing. "And there'd be upwards of $10,000 involved, and that it was Russell Jones that wanted to have this guy killed."

It wasn't a guy at all but Jones's ex-wife, Christine "Chris" Jones.

Hawkins said he agreed, not because he wanted to kill anyone "but to try to play some people out of some money."

Lampley said Russell Jones gave him $15,000 to pay Hawkins. At first, he refused, but he took it and then gave it back.

Russell Jones then gave Hawkins a $5,000 partial payment along with the .357-magnum revolver that was found in the grave and bullets. Another $5,000 was due after the murder.

In late May 1984, Jones developed a plan for him to gain access to the target. Hawkins said he was supposed to set up an appointment to view an office for rent and then kill her when she came for the showing, Hawkins said.

"Hawkins said the conversation then took a 'weird' turn with Jones allegedly offering a bonus if he mutilated the victim," a news report said.

After a few weeks, Hawkins developed misgivings, but he had spent most of the money. He spoke with Lampley, who set up the fateful meeting on June 11 at the meat locker.

At the meeting, Hawkins told Russell Jones he "wanted no part of killing his ex-wife" and offered to give the money back.

Hawkins said Russell Jones became enraged, screaming, kicking furniture and threatening to kill him.

"I had the pistol at my side in my belt ..." Hawkins said, adding he pulled and pointed it at Russell, who charged him. "I don't know if I shot once or 10 times. I just freaked."

Then he called Lampley, who lived in a luxury apartment (described as having a hot tub and waterbed) on the second floor of the meat locker.

Instead of calling the police, the men decided to cover up the murder.

Hawkins and Lampley moved the body into a little-used part of the slaughterhouse.

Then Hawkins took Russell Jones's car at the Nashville airport. A few days later, he got a backhoe operator to dig the grave by telling him it was for the slaughterhouse. Then he dumped Russell's lifeless body headfirst into the grave in the middle of the night.

Lampley corroborated most of Hawkins's version. He wouldn't confirm how the murder actually occurred because he wasn't there at the time.

He said his conscience got to him in October 1984, and he called his lawyer to confess to the location of the secret grave.

In interviews with the newspaper during the court case, Jones's family disputed the version given by Hawkins and Lampley. They couldn't believe he would put a contract on Chris Jones's life.

After the case was closed, First Tennessee Bank foreclosed on Jones Locker.