It was about this time of year in 1999 that a headless body was found in White Oak Creek near the sleepy settlement of Saltillo. It’s an eerie memory. I was sitting outside the video store on Main Street with family and friends, listening to the insects sing as the sun slid from view. We were gossiping in that small-town way, about nothing in particular, when someone starting talking about the dead body some fisherman found. I remember listening to the description of the naked, headless, bloated man, wondering if a serial killer was on the loose and possibly intrigued by any 17-year-old girls who stayed alone almost every night in a video store on the deserted-by-dusk Main Street.
We found out that the man was Paul Farrar, one of the workers who had just re-shingled our roof that summer. One by one, we learned that the suspects were good country boys who lived right down the road from our house: Brian Justin, whose father’s last name, Gigolatti, used to be the butt of jokes because of its resemblance to ‘gigolo’; Cory Smith, who married a high school freshman in my art class; Jason Creasy, who I can’t say I really know, but who lived down the street from my sister. I used to ride the bus with Cory and Brian. You could get to both their houses from mine in three minutes walking, 25 seconds driving. Brian had two bright little girls with cherubic blonde ringlets.
Several stories circulated about what had actually happened. Brian’s wife, Kim, had an affair with Paul and Brian found out. The four were joyriding, so hopped up on meth and booze and other drugs that their strength was tenfold. A fifth man, Stevie Allen (a distant cousin of mine) had just escaped their wrath and left the group before possibly meeting his untimely end. A mock fight had gone horribly wrong when a boot to the neck crushed Paul’s windpipe. There was even one gruesome story that alleged that Paul was merely passed out drunk, not dead, when they began to hack into his neck with a samurai sword, jolting him awake for one last moment of cognition. My sister swears someone took her and showed her the grill where Paul’s clothes were burned; she said she saw some charred rags and his shoe. Some people said Brian took the head home and showed his wife, then threw it in the river. It’s true that no one ever found it.
It’s also true that for months after the slaying, the spot on the road where they did it — fittingly on St. Paul’s Loop — was stained red with blood. I went a saw it a couple of times. Weather and time turned the stain black, and it eventually faded, but a cross beside the road marks the spot. And every time I pass that road at night, it’s a little creepy.
Brian, Cory, and Jason were found guilty, and, according to this story, are serving 12, four, and 20 years respectively.
One of my distant, arching goals in life is to write a book about this. It didn’t get much media coverage. The Tennessean did something on it, as did The Associated Press. But I’ve yet to see an account with quotes or footage from the men convicted. It’s such a sick, small-town plot that it sounds fictional. Before the town forgets or the legend is completely cemented, there needs to be a historical record of what happened, and I don’t know if anyone else in Saltillo is up to the task.