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Beyond The Dash: Police officer’s headstone reveals only part of the story

Maple Lawn Cemetery in Jonesborough contains many murder mysteries, including that of Captain Carl Lee.  Lee was the first violent death since 1928 of a Johnson City police officer. 

From STAFF REPORTS

In every cemetery, tombstones show us a person’s name, birth date, dash, and death date. But that little dash tells the story of a complete life that has been lived. These stories are what make up our own personal, community, and societal histories and connect us all to the past. One such story is that of Captain Carl Lee. Lee, a Johnson City Police Captain, is buried at Maple Lawn Cemetery in Jonesborough, after being killed by his wife. This cemetery contains many murder mysteries including that of Captain Carl Lee. The following story was researched by Chad Bailey, after Elaine Scott Cantrell, Geraldine Booth Greenwell, and himself, completed the survey of the cemetery in 2013.  If you know of a story like Lee’s, please send your stories to [email protected] or [email protected]

On Feb. 1, 1940, Johnson City Police Captain Carl William Lee was killed by his wife, Lucille Lee.

Carl William Lee was born Sept. 1, 1897, in Cocke County, the son of Mayor, alderman-elect, and prominent hardware and furniture dealer, William Monroe Lee and wife, Texie Ann Rowland Lee.

William Monroe Lee died just after the alderman election in 1936 and preceded Col. T. B. Hacker as mayor of Jonesborough.

Public service followed the Lee family. One son, J. Albert Lee, was an attorney, while Carl became a Johnson City police captain. Carl was survived as well by three other brothers: Elmer, Edward, and Robert, and four sisters: Haldine Lee Curtis, Mabel Lee Gross, Catherine, Zella and Annie.

The headline, “‘I Had To Do It,’ Wife Sobs After Killing Policeman Lee with Pistol Bullet Fusillade” appeared in the February 2, 1940, Johnson City Press Chronicle.

According to the article, Lee was shot around 7:20 pm at the Lee Home at 200 Montgomery Street (death certificate lists home address as 196 Montgomery Street), “just a stone’s throw from police headquarters.”  Police chief Tom Carriger and Officer James Onks were first on the seen after returning from a Johnson City Commission meeting when they saw Carl’s daughter, Betty, age 14, in the street.

Betty asked them to come in and help her. According to the report by Carriger, they found Lee face down in the bathroom and when Onks checked his pulse, he was obviously dead. After the body had been examined, six .38 caliber bullet holes had been found in the body which included a hole in the left ear, right wrist, chest, right arm muscle, right shoulder, right side of the neck, and back of the neck.

Carriger went on in his report to the Johnson City Press to say that Lucille was standing in the center of the room just wringing her hands, but was eventually escorted to police headquarters.

Carl was the first policeman to be killed in a violent act since Tom Church was killed in the summer of 1928.

Lucille and Carl had three children, Nadine, age 16; Betty, age 14; and Carl William, Jr., age. They were all at home at the time of the shooting and were in the custody of Carl’s brother, Albert, the next day.

A funeral service was held on Feb. 3, 1940, at 2 p.m. at Maple Lawn Cemetery in Jonesborough, where he rests beside his mother and father in the Garden of Eternal Rest, lot 187 B, grave 5. Lucille was arraigned on Feb. 8 and pleaded self-defense.

Carl had served with the police department since 1932, as a motorcycle officer as well as a desk sergeant. Carl was also a World War I veteran who had suffered from heart disease for years and had been in the Mountain Home Hospital several times. He served as a mechanic in the 467th motor transportation corps.

If Carl had lived, hamburgers today might have been made by a machine. Carl had been working on an automatic hamburger machine which would have brought a revolution to the fast food industry.

Sources: Johnson City Press Chronicle, February 2, 1940, “ ‘I Had To Do It,’ Wife Sobs After Killing Policeman Lee with Pistol Bullet Fusillade”. 1940 Death Certificate, Maple Lawn Cemetery Records and Survey. James Monroe Lee Obituary, Washington County, TN Obituary Project.