Details slowly emerge on brutal kidnapping, murder

By: Mike McCarthy
By: Mike McCarthy

HAMBLEN COUNTY (WVLT) -- A Hamblen County family went to bed Monday night knowing what had happened to their great-grandfather.

Willie Morgan, 94 of Morristown was kidnapped, tortured and murdered over the weekend.

The motive, according to the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Office was drug related.

"In my opinion, he died a very brutal, unjustifiable death," said Sheriff Esco Jarnigan.

It was 6:00 AM on Monday morning when deputies located Mr. Morgan’s body, discarded in a secluded location, hidden by brush, near East Tennessee Progress Park just off Highway 25 E in Hamblen County.

"It's hard to accept," said Jay Morgan, one of Mr. Morgan’s grandsons.

Exactly what happened in the time leading up to his death remains unknown.

"We're still trying to piece that together,” said Sheriff Jarnigan. “The call initially came in about 10:30 Saturday night."

That's when Morgan went missing, the victim of a kidnapping.

Department officials speculated that the 94 year-old great grandfather was targeted possibly because of a drug deal dispute involving someone in his family.

"They found out he had money and robbery appears to be the motive," said the sheriff.

Their plan apparently was to hold Mr. Morgan for a ransom of $3,000.

But for reasons still unknown, something changed that plan.

Early Monday morning, police took three people into custody for the kidnapping.

Darrell Edwin Nance, 22, was charged with one count of felony murder.

Jessica Leann Lane, 23, was charged with one count of criminal responsibility for felony murder.

Brice Clark Whaley, Jr., 38, was charged with accessory after the fact and abuse of a corpse.

According to investigators, the search of a Jeep belonging to one of the suspects turned up two butcher knives and Mr. Morgan's severed left hand.

Sheriff Jarnigan couldn't say if the severing occurred before or after he passed away.

"It's not fair for my papaw to pay for somebody else’s mistake," said Jay.

All three suspects remain in the Hamblen County Jail.

Ironically, Monday was Lane’s birthday.

Meanwhile, the community Mr. Morgan lived in remained shocked, sickened and searching for answers.

"It doesn't seem real,” said Linda Pollard, an employee of the Big A Market. “I don't see how anybody could do that to Willie."

Big A was Mr. Morgan’s home away from home.

Employees say he ate breakfast there daily, and stopped in two or three times a day

“Willie was family,” said Pollard. “If Willie didn’t come in, we went looking for Willie.”

"He was just the kind of 'papaw' you always wanted to be around, to hear the stories that you don't anymore," Jay said.

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