Former Tennessee governor is suspected of being involved in a contract hit on a Hoffa associate, according to a federal witness.
Authorities allege that a former Tennessee governor's administration aided in the payment of a murder contract for a 1979 hit on a federal witness who was friends with union boss Jimmy Hoffa.
The white contract killer was dressed in a wig, a fake beard, and blackface when he shot and killed Chattanooga businessman Samuel Pettyjohn, a cooperating witness in a corruption scandal that brought down the now-deceased governor, Hamilton County prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Pettyjohn was carrying $100,000 in cash and jewelry when he was assassinated on Feb. 1, 1979, authorities said in a news release.
“In essence, Mr. Pettyjohn cooperated with authorities and knew far too much about what was going on locally and at the state level, which enraged some, and so they hired someone to murder him,” Hamilton District Attorney Neal Pinkston said.
“However, here we are 42 years later.”
At the time of the murder, ex-Gov. Ray Blanton was under investigation for allegedly granting early parole to prisoners in exchange for cash. He was not charged, despite the fact that three members of his administration were.
On Wednesday, the DA was asked how certain he was that Blanton's administration contributed to the funding of Pettyjohn's murder during a news conference.
“I am certain,” he stated. “I am conclusive proof.”
Nonetheless, the case has been closed – Blanton, the alleged gunman, and others involved have all died. However, a grand jury heard the new evidence Tuesday and stated that if the killer had been alive, it would have indicted him on a first-degree murder charge.
“Our Cold Case Unit worked tirelessly to solve this bizarre case,” Pinkston said in a statement.
“Hopefully, it will bring closure and peace to the surviving family members of Pettyjohn.”
According to a DA report on the case, Pettyjohn was an influential owner of several businesses and nightclubs with ties to the underworld and the Teamsters union.
Prosecutors allege that he assisted in the facilitation of the “cash-for-clemency” deals and delivered payments to representatives of the governor's office.
When the FBI investigated the allegations, Pettyjohn testified before a federal grand jury at least once before cooperating directly with the FBI, at one point providing a list of names to agent Hank Hillin, according to the DA report.
Hillin later published a book titled "FBI Codename TENNPAR" about the investigation. Prosecutors said that by the time the investigation concluded, five witnesses had been murdered or committed suicide.
In 1982, two people were arrested on suspicion of murdering Pettyjohn, but the charges were later dropped.
In 2015, the cold case was reopened. Prosecutors identified bank robber William Edward Alley as Pettyjohn's executioner using previously obtained information and new informants. Prosecutors allege that Alley earned between $25,000 and $50,000 for the murder-for-hire contract.
Alley passed away in 2005.
Saadiq Pettyjohn, one of Pettyjohn's sons, addressed the new allegations on behalf of his family.
“It is both a curse and a blessing to grow up in a criminal family,” he said in a statement.
“When that person dies, you can either continue down that path or take a different one, and all of us chose to pursue a better education and make a better life for ourselves.”
Blanton died in 1996, but he encountered difficulties during his tenure as governor, which ended in 1979.
While he was still under investigation for the scandal, he pardoned and commuted the sentences of over 50 prisoners shortly before leaving office, according to The Associated Press. As a result, the AP reported that fellow Democrats and Republicans moved up the inauguration of Blanton's successor by three days.
He was convicted of extortion and conspiracy in 1981 for selling a liquor license to a friend for $23,000 while in office.