By Michael Williams
In a Knoxville apartment complex more than one resident has reported encounters with a ghostly specter known as “The Shadow Person.” The complex stands on the site that was the scene of a suspicious death that has left many unanswered questions nine decades later. In this story we will look back on the crime that rocked a city, the enduring mystery and the aftermath as well as the spectral appearances that suggests restless spirits calling out from the grave for justice.
Late in the evening of April 18, 1928, a crowd of onlookers gathered near a stately Haynes Estate located at 2310 Broadway in Knoxville, Tennessee where police had arrived at a bloody death scene of Lillian Haynes.
Haynes was the matriarch of the Haynes family, one of Knoxville’s most prominent. The suspicious nature of her death left many unanswered questions that continue to baffle arm chair detectives and historians 88 years after she was discovered by her son. Her death sent shockwaves through the community and cast a veil of suspicion on her son who labored intensively to prove his mother’s death was in fact a suicide and not a murder as some had speculated. The circumstances and death scene led two law enforcement agencies to reach two polar opposite conclusions that were as different as night and day.
To modern historians the Haynes family emerges from the pages of local history as Knoxville’s version of the Kennedy family. Like the Kennedy’s they were wealthy, well connected and had experienced their share of scandal and tragedy.
The Haynes family were heirs to a prosperous shoe company that was once located on Jackson Street where the JFG coffee house now stands.
Suspicious death of Lillian Haynes leaves unanswered questions
Lillian, affectionately known as Lillie, was married to William Paris Haynes Sr. The couple had two sons who had hoped to eventually inherit the family business. William Haynes Sr. had died several years prior at the age of 51 after suffering a long and lingering illness that left him crippled. The couple’s younger son, James, had a reputation around town for trouble with the law and racing automobiles down the streets of Knoxville. His flagrant disrespect for the law, heavy drinking and his divorce brought scandal to the family in an era when divorce was relatively rare and frowned upon in the Bible Belt. Though he had remarried his marital commitment had done nothing to rein in his wild life style. One afternoon in 1924, James was racing through town when he wrecked his car and suffered serious injuries. He never fully recovered from his injuries and died three years later in May of 1927, at the age of 28.
With his death his brother, W.P. Jr. became the sole heir to the family fortune. Like his sibling, W.P. had his run-ins with the law and had been divorced. In 1928, one divorce in a family as scandalous, two in a family was a disgrace. Lillie Haynes was a highly respected member of the church and secretary treasurer of the Knox County Humane Society. Her sons’ scandalous behavior was likely a source of embarrassment.
A year after James’ death, tragedy struck the family again when long-time family friend and president of the Haynes Shoe Company, Oscar Tate, was found dead in the basement of the company. The death was a result of a self-inflicted gun-shot wound and ruled a suicide. His death struck many as odd as he had left no reason for ending his life.
A clan of scarred survivors lived in the estate. The grounds of the estate encompassed most of the city block. Inside the main house lived Lillian with her widowed daughter-in-law, her only surviving son and a bulldog named Jack. On the grounds of the home was a smaller house occupied by Mamie Siler, the family cook.
According to reports, on April 18, 1928, the last day of Lillian’s life, she had spent the afternoon talking to her mother, Mrs. James Renfro, on the phone and looking through old family photos, sifting through memories. She seemed depressed as she spoke of her late husband and son.
At approximately 7 p.m. W.P. went out for the evening with his girlfriend to the Riviera Theater on Gay Street to see a minstrel show “The Blackville National Guards.” Following the performance was a silent movie, a murder mystery entitled “A Night of Mystery.”
He arrived home near midnight and went upstairs. He called out to his mother and there came no response. He attempted to enter her room but found her door locked and became alarmed. He called his cousin, E.F. Mynatt who quickly arrived on the scene. The two stepped out onto the balcony and entered Lillian’s bedroom from the balcony door. Mynatt turned on the lights and found Lillian lying on the floor dead.
Police were summoned and soon arrived on the scene which they found to be suspicious. Two detectives, Chief Harry Burke and Capt. John Montgomery were ascending the stairs with Mynatt who was carrying a shotgun. While ascending the stairs the shotgun Mynatt was carrying went off blasting a hole in the floor.
At the top of the stairs they inspected the death scene. There they found Lillian lying on the floor with her head near the hearth with her throat cut. A small stained dull paring knife lay nearby. Her necklace was broken and a small one ounce bottle of carbolic acid, two thirds empty, sat atop the mantle. Her face, mouth and eye had been splashed with acid. Her hair was neatly styled and two pools of blood pooled beside her. After a cursory examination of the crime scene the two detectives emerged and ruled the death a suicide reporting that Mrs. Haynes had cut her own throat.
The victim’s mother, Mrs. Renfro, was astonished at the findings and quickly dismissed the investigation into her daughter’s death as “The most bungling piece of work that I have ever seen.” W.P. Haynes reportedly told Det. Burke that he believed robbers had entered his mother’s home and slashed her throat while forcing acid into her mouth.
Disproving his theory was the fact that her room was left intact and no jewelry or any other valuables were taken.
The coroner John Scott ruled it the 12th suicide of the year. But then the dissenters joined ranks with Mrs. Renfro. Among them were detectives from the sheriff’s department who considered the death a homicide. The following day a coroner’s jury agreed with Mrs. Renfro calling Mrs. Haynes’ demise “death by foul means at the hands of an unknown person.”
At the behest of Mrs. Renfro and the coroner’s jury the police began making a more thorough inquiry into Lillian’s death. Many questions emerged. Why were two oil lamps, which were rarely used at the time, found burning outside her bedroom door? The most puzzling question of all was how could she burn her face with acid then slash her throat with a dull paring knife?
While it is possible for a person to slash their own throat with a knife, a person would have to have a high threshold to pain and have a very sharp knife. Mrs. Haynes supposedly used a dull paring knife. Another question arose pertaining to her activities moments before her untimely death. Mrs. Haynes had completed a puzzle in the morning paper shortly before she died. If she were truly suicidal would she have taken the time to complete a puzzle?
Police interviewed Sloan McNabb, the boyfriend of the cook who was with her in her quarters the night of Mrs. Haynes death. Mamie told investigators she saw the lights come on in Mrs. Haynes’ bedroom at approximately 8:40 and they went off again at 9 p.m. If Haynes had committed suicide how could she have turned off the lights?
A streetcar conductor that passed by the home on the night of the killing told police he had seen a car in front of the house parked awkwardly. The car turned out to belong to Ed Ferdnand, a civil engineer that had once worked for the family as a chauffeur. Ferdnand was questioned and none were ever charged.
To quell any rumors, W.P. hired an outside detective from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, named Peter Sheller to investigate. After two days he dismissed the death as a suicide.
Some suspected Mrs. Haynes was murdered by an insider. Fueling this suspicion was the fact that she was found locked in her home alone with her dog, Jack who was gentle with his family but very aggressive and could be vicious with strangers. Jack would have likely attacked a stranger entering the home. This piece of information shifted the air of public suspicion on W.P. who was well known to the canine. As the sole heir to the fortune, W.P. had much to gain. The business and estate was worth $105,000. According to Save.org, $105,000 in 1928 dollars would be equivalent to $1,435,556.00 in 2016. Some suggested he had hired the detective and paid him off to rule the death a suicide after a sham investigation.
Life changed quickly for W.P. Within a week of his mother’s death, he and his sister-in-law moved from the mansion and no one ever lived there again. For years locals whispered behind his back about his possible involvement in is mother’s death. W.P. would not enjoy his prosperity for long. A year after he inherited the fortune the Great Depression derailed the American economy and the Haynes Shoe Company went bankrupt. The home was eventually razed and the land where it once stood became the site of a convalescent home and later an apartment complex.
W.P. Haynes never left town and died in Knoxville more than half a century later. But questions surrounding Mrs. Haynes death persist. As writer Lee Winfrey summed it up, “the Haynes murder has all the elements present in the great murder mystery stories of fiction except a good detective.”
The Shadow People: Restless Spirits on the site of the former Haynes Estate
In the 1930s through the 1950s, when the convalescent home operated on the site more deaths likely occurred among the sick and aging patients. This fact combined with the death of Mrs. Haynes has spawned speculation that the site is now the permanent abode to many restless spirits. Among those is the ghost of Lillie Haynes reaching out from the grave seeking justice and vindication in her own demise.
The story of the mysterious death of Mrs. Haynes seems to be far from over. The apartment complex where her house once stood has been reported to have an ominous presence known as the Shadow person. The complex, which was named the Kentshires, has had numerous residents that have moved in and soon left the complex after experiencing what appears to be supernatural phenomenon.
Nationally renowned paranormal historian, J-Adam Smith, was familiar with the property and began gathering information about the site and investigated the haunted history. Smith who has been deemed an expert in the field, owns and operates the Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours. He has been featured on nationally televised shows such as “Paranormal Paparazzi” on the Travel Channel, hosted a internet based paranormal TV show and starred in an Telly Award winning paranormal documentary “Historic Haunting: A Paranormal Study of Ramsey House.” Smith connected the dots and discovered the tragic history of the complex. He interviewed residents, both past and present, and noted the events from the mysterious death of Mrs. Haynes and the succeeding years during which the property served as a convalescent home. Through diligent research Smith located a past resident who had several spine chilling experiences that forced her to seek other living accommodations.
April W. moved into a small apartment at the Kentshires in 2012. In an October 2016 interview, she shared her experiences with those she refers to as “the Shadow People.” She felt the rent was reasonable which would allow her to save some money. The complex was centrally located and in close proximity to her job at a nearby Mexican restaurant. Several of her co-workers lived there as well. Soon after moving in April began hearing footsteps through her apartment.
She spoke to several co-workers that lived in the complex who each told her they heard footsteps in their apartments as well. Days later she heard what sounded like the front door opening followed by footsteps coming down the hallway to her bedroom.
One afternoon April watched her dog as he pursued an unseen presence. She observed the dog looking up as it followed an indiscernible manifestation. The dog finally came to the wall and reared upon on its hind legs reaching toward the ceiling with his fore paws. Smith was particularly intrigued by the pet’s peculiar behavior.
“Animals are highly sensitive creatures,” Smith said. “Throughout history they have had an awareness of seeing through the veil that separates the world of the living and the dead. I had a personal experience with a dog’s behavior at a home I purchased in Florida that was uncharacteristic of the dog’s typical behavior. He began growling in a protective nature at a wall. By recognizing the behavior being protective, I decided to burn sage which calmed the animal down and improved the emotional energy within the home. Do not disregard your pet’s behavior it could be a sign of warning from them to you.”
Soon afterwards April had an encounter with a spirit she refers to as “the Shadow Person.” One night, she began to fall asleep on her couch. Suddenly she was overcome by a feeling she was being watched. She opened her eyes and in the corner of the room at the ceiling she saw what appeared to be a shadowy figure emerging from the ceiling. April described it as the figure of the upper torso of a person with its arms upraised coming toward her. April was frozen in fear and tried to scream but could barely utter a sound. Terrified she rolled off the couch and turned to look and the shadowy figure was gone but would be back.
“I became depressed,” said April. “I didn’t tell my friends about it because I didn’t know if they would believe me. I wondered if I had dreamed the whole thing.”
But April would soon discover she was not alone. Others would soon experience and otherworldly presence. April’s parents came for a visit and spent the night with their daughter. The following morning April’s mom had a disconcerting experience to relate.
“Mom told me she woke up with this eerie feeling that someone was watching her. She opened her eyes and saw a woman standing at the foot of her bed. She was wearing a white dress and she just stood there watching mom,” said April.
April’s mother rolled over and buried her face in the pillow and tried to go back to sleep. But it proved to be a restless night. She reported hearing footsteps throughout the night and she and her husband left that day. She told April her apartment was “creepy” and suggested she find another place to live.
April was relieved to find that she wasn’t the only one experiencing these ghostly visitations. But soon she had another visitation that prompted her to immediately make other living arrangements.
One afternoon she saw a man standing in her living room. He appeared to be an older man with a pale complexion and dark eyes. Without saying a word, the man turned and walked into the wall and vanished. After seeing the apparition vanish, April immediately left the apartment and began looking for another place to live.
“It was wise she moved out,” said Smith. There are elements of danger associated with living in a stigmatized property. I feel the most dangerous elements can be of emotional and psychological distress. On occasion, I have heard stories of people getting scratched during investigations, but I feel the most common effects in haunted locations are the emotions that are flying throughout the premises. April confided in me that after she moved out she experienced a change of night and day in her emotions.”
Do the restless spirits of Lillian Haynes and her son still haunt the halls of the Kentshires? Is she attempting to reach out from the grave to tell the world the truth about her death? Who is the Shadow Person and who is the man April saw in her apartment? Does Oscar Tate’s alleged suicide suggest any connection with the death of Mrs. Haynes?
“Who killed Mrs. Haynes is the million-dollar question,” said Smith. “I find that the investigation has very shady elements. At the time that she died the law sometimes had a lack of accountability. There was a lot of money that was up for grabs. Especially seeing that Oscar Tate just happened to be found dead a little over a month before Lillian was found dead… With the advances in forensic science and new innovations in technology today, I would love for the police to reopen the case and use forensics and finger printing to find out what really happened that fateful night.”