Tip from Dying Witness Breaks Cold Case – Suspect let off on technicality

Photo courtesy of Knox News Archives


A trucker was found dead in the cab of his tractor-trailer. Bullet holes riddled the man’s torso and the cab of his truck. John Constant was shot 17 times by a high-powered rifle, but there wasn’t any blood in the cab leading investigators to wonder if the hit was staged. Forty-six years later, a dying witness blows this frozen case wide open. Will the killer finally face justice?

Hollywood may be fond of happy endings, but the reality isn’t as pleasant. In this case, the main suspect was let off the hook because of a technicality. Maybe he did it. Maybe he didn’t, but we will never know because it won’t go to trial.

On April 20, the Knox News reported that prosecutors dismissed the murder charge against Max Calhoun. The witness reportedly contacted the police after talking to the victim’s family over Facebook. These messages were enough to cause concern, and the authorities requested their phones. When the phones were received, the messages weren’t there. Were they intentionally deleted, or were they so old that they had been deleted before the police were ever called? We will never know.

Here’s the problem. If talking to the victim’s family on social media is enough to destroy a murder case, I wonder how many other cases should have been dropped? How many cases? What were in those messages? Were they benign, or were they sinister? Of course, the Knox News article doesn’t dive into the reason why the messages were no longer available, but it’s sad that this 48-yr-old murder won’t receive justice now because of social media. Here’s a glimpse into this legendary murder:

John Raymond Constant, Jr. was found murdered in the cab of his truck on March 16, 1973. The tractor-trailer truck was parked near the Little Tennessee River just off Hwy 411. The driver had suffered seventeen gunshot wounds, but police quickly realized the crime scene was staged. Although the cab was riddled with bullets and Mr. Constant was shot multiple times, there was no blood found at the scene.

A witness who lived in the area recalled hearing a car with a loud exhaust come by followed by what sounded like gunfire. A few moments later, he heard the vehicle pass again. Was this man ambushed while he rested in his cab, or was the scene staged? Was the car with the loud exhaust filled with the killers, or was it the escape route after staging the scene?

Strange Side Note:

The tractor-trailer truck’s emergency flashers were left blinking. Whoever did this wasn’t too worried about being caught, or they would have hidden the truck and shut off the lights.

Possible Motive:

Why would anyone want to murder this man? It seems Constant was starting to keep records of the shipments he was hauling. These shipments included bootleg cigarettes and black market items shipped by the local chapter of the Dixie Mafia. Family members claim John had been threatened and had decided to go to the FBI with his records.

Within a few months, outside investigators were brought in to form a task force since there were rumors of involvement by prominent citizens in the local community. Investigators wondered if this case could be tied to the Ray Owenby murder in June of 1973. The two men were good friends, and both were murdered three months apart.

Ray Owenby was shot while clearing land for development in Spring City, TN. He was shot four times but still managed to drive the bulldozer a mile down the road to find help. He collapsed upon arrival. No suspects emerged in the case, but the similarities made police wonder if there was a connection.

Investigators believe John Constant was killed the day before his body was found and was transported to the location. Witnesses would emerge early in the investigation that seemed to corroborate this theory. Constant was seen at a garage in Etowah owned by H.B. Calhoun. Another man claimed to have seen John Constant and two men at a car wash in Etowah on March 15. While the witness washed his car, he heard something like firecrackers, and then a truck drove away with someone slumped in the seat. The witness was put under hypnosis, and a few new details emerged. The driver was Marvin Ray “Big John” Pittman, and the other man was supposedly Harold Buckner.

Big John Pittman was a drifter and worked as a hitman for the Dixie Mafia. He would eventually be murdered in his home in Tampa, Florida. His body was found on June 5, 1975. He had been shot once in the temple and left for dead.

Harold Buckner’s story doesn’t have such a quick ending. Buckner would be arrested in September 1982 after a witness came forward on their deathbed. Buckner had just run for Sheriff and lost and claimed it was a politically motivated arrest. It would take a year, but the charges were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence. To this day, Buckner claims he was framed, and the investigation was nothing more than a “witch hunt.”

After the deathbed witness statement and the subsequent events, the case sat dormant for decades. Richar Fisher, former D.A., told reporters that he always believed several people had a hand in the murder plot against John Constant. If something didn’t come up soon, everyone would be dead.

Although the case went cold, the victim’s family believed they knew the murderer from the beginning and fingered Max Calhoun (son of H.B. Calhoun). John’s two brothers threatened the Calhoun family within weeks of the murder, and eventually, a protection order was placed on them.

“I am confident in my mind that you set my brother up to be murdered.” – Harold Constant to Max Calhoun.

Now we may never know if Calhoun was responsible for the death of John Constant. If Calhoun isn’t the killer, hopefully, they will find the ones responsible before this case is forgotten in the annals of history.


THIS LIST OF LINKS IS NOT AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING SOURCE CITING. ALL OF THE INFORMATION USED IN THIS ARTICLE CAN BE EASILY FOUND ONLINE. LINKS BELOW WERE USED AS SOURCES AND ARE RECOMMENDED READING FOR SYNOVA’S READERS. SYNOVA STRIVES TO CITE ALL THE SOURCES USED DURING HER CASE STUDY, BUT OCCASIONALLY A SOURCE MAY BE MISSED BY MISTAKE. IT IS NOT INTENTIONAL, AND NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED.

Further Reading:

Newspapers.com

middle Tennessee mysteries

knoxnews.com

The daily times

advocate and democrat

tba.org

knoxnews.com


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Deep in the heart of Dixie lies a hidden evil. It’s tentacles stretch from state to state, from county to county. The Dixie Mafia has produced infamous outlaws, bank robbers, and murderers. The story contains tidbits from each of their lives and even includes the story of a famous sheriff, but this book is not about them.

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Tying back to the ambush of Sheriff Buford Pusser on August 12, 1967, this story will change history as we know it. The world knew nothing about the Dixie Mafia until the murders of Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife Margaret in 1987. This public assassination brought this band of ruthless criminals into view, but the truth was still hidden until the death of the Andersons.

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