With the advances made in modern forensic science over the last decade we’ve become used to seeing long-forgotten cold cases solved with the help of DNA analysis and genetic genealogy. However, this month sees a 1995 cold case solved through the confession of a terminally ill Trinity man who made a call to police last week.
What Decatur police initially suspected to be a prank call turned out to be the confession of a 53-year-old Johnny Dwight Whited, of 2236 County Road 316, Trinity, who, dying of lung cancer, wanted to get the crime off his chest before he passed away.
"I want to confess to a murder that I did years ago" he told the operator.
Although he wasn’t able to provide police with the exact date, or even the year, in which he had committed the crime, Whited was able to walk an officer (Violent crimes investigator for the Decatur Police, Detective Sean Mukaddam) through what happened two-and-a-half decades ago, revealing intimate knowledge of the crime scene and crime that only someone with first-hand knowledge of the murder would know.
Within a few hours the suspect had told and shown police all they needed to know and they had enough information that they were able to compare the details to a chart of unsolved murders in Decatur and link Whited to his victim. Various media outlets report that Whited was also linked to the murder through crime scene evidence.
A look into the man's criminal past revealed that he had a history of substance abuse. Less than a month after he executed his victim in the woods, he had been arrested for possession of a crack pipe. At the time he made the confession call to Decatur police he was awaiting trial for charges relating to methamphetamines. When contacted regarding Whited’s recent confession, his lawyer said: “He has not mentioned anything about this other matter to me.”
Twenty-five years ago, in April 1995, the body of 26-year-old Christopher Alvin Dailey was discovered in the woods, not far from a disused logging site, in the Jones Lake vicinity of George Russell Road South West, in Decatur. Reports differ on who discovered him, some say a couple of teenagers collecting leaves happened upon the body, others say two hunters discovered it, but whoever had the misfortune of stumbling upon the dead man alerted a nearby utility construction crew who quickly contacted police.
The man had a single gunshot wound to the head and an autopsy would later reveal that his death was a homicide. Just an hour and a half after the discovery of the body, Dailey’s vehicle, a white 1983 Toyota Tercel, was spotted sticking halfway out of the Tennessee River. During his re-enactment of the crime, Whited had walked officers to the area of the river where he recalled dumping Dailey’s car, although the area had since changed.
There had been a handful of suspects over the years but Whited was not one of them, and had it not been for his confession, the murder of Christopher Alvin Dailey would have remained unsolved.
Johnny Dwight Whited is currently being held at Morgan County Jail in Decatur on a $15,000 bond. He has been charged with murder and will go to trial despite his health issues. His mugshot shows an aged Caucasian male, bald, with sunken cheeks, spectacles, and white facial hair.
Whited was described as embarrassed and remorseful about the crime, however, the motivation for the murder has not been revealed. In his own words, the motivation for his confession was in preparation to meet his maker, knowing his illness would soon take him.
Christopher Alvin Dailey, of whom there is little information about other than the fact that he was 26 years old and from Huntsville, is survived by his sister. She was informed of the confession and felt relieved to finally have some answers.
Although happy to finally close one of the many cold cases he is assigned to, Detective Sean Mukaddam remains humble about his involvement, highlighting the hard work and time previous investigators put into the Dailey murder- adding that it feels good that he is the one who gets to write the final chapter and close the book on the 1995 homicide.