By Keeli Parkey
“It’s a sad situation. I hate it for the children and the family. … When you have something like this happen in the community, it does affect everyone.”
That was the sentiment expressed by Sheriff Mike Hensley when discussing the murder of two sisters last week in south Unicoi County.
According to Hensley, law enforcement was notified about “a man with a gun” around 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 11, on Lower Higgins Creek Road.
“While we were on our way to the scene, 911 dispatch receives another call that two women had been shot on Lower Higgins Creek Road,” Hensley said. “Myself, Chief Deputy Frank Rogers and another deputy arrived at the residence. We discovered two female victims who were dead with gunshot wounds to the head.”
The victims have been identified as sisters Donna K. Jones, 34, and Amy B. Jones, 29. Hensley said Donna was the mother of five children. They have been placed in the care of family members.
“There was a witness there who gave me information about the suspect and a description of the suspect’s vehicle. I immediately notified dispatch to release the information to everyone locally and in the surrounding states, including Mitchell County, Yancey County and Madison County in North Carolina, for them to be on the lookout for this suspect and the vehicle. I also called the TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation) and requested their assistance.”
The suspect was identified as Clyde William Banner, 63, of 293 Lower Higgins Creek Road.
“We sealed off the crime scene and I took a verbal statement from the witness,” Hensley said. “She said she came through the backdoor of the residence and saw the suspect and heard him shoot the two girls. He was standing in the living room with the shotgun. She immediately fled out the backdoor. He followed her to the backdoor screaming, ‘I’ll kill every (expletive) one of you’.”
The witness told Hensley that Banner got in a Chevrolet pickup with primer red paint and left the property, traveling down Lower Higgins Creek Road toward Old Asheville Highway. Hensley immediately relayed the information to Unicoi County dispatchers who began sharing it with surrounding law enforcement agencies, including those in North Carolina. County schools in the area were also placed on lockdown as a precaution.
“We received information that (Banner) sometimes visited Madison County and had a friend in Yancey County,” Hensley said. “I immediately called Sheriff Buddy Harwood in Madison County to be on the lookout. Officers went to the stateline at Devil’s Fork and Sam’s Gap. We notified Yancey County Sheriff’s Department and they sent officers to a residence there that he frequented. Mitchell County also setup officers on the roads coming into their county. We were also told he could be going to Cocke County. They were called and were looking for the suspect.
“We were also told it was a possibility that he might take his own life,” Hensley continued. “We were told that he might drive onto a side road somewhere. The TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) sent additional officers into Unicoi County to patrol some of the back roads to see if they could spot the vehicle. We notified park rangers at Rocky Fork State Park to be on the lookout for the suspect.”
As the search continued, local investigators went to banks in the county, according to Hensley.
“Investigators discovered that he had a debit card, which we flagged so if that card was used anywhere we would be notified,” Hensley said. “While I was patrolling some of the roads looking for the suspect, I was notified that the card had been used in a store in Madison County. I immediately contacted Sheriff Harwood. He and other deputies headed to the store where the card was used.”
Banner’s vehicle was spotted by an off-duty firefighter who had heard about the search on his scanner, according to Hensley.
“He spotted the vehicle, called law enforcement, followed the car and stayed on the phone with law enforcement in Madison County until they stopped him,” Hensley said. “They were there within minutes.”
Banner was taken into custody without incident in less than four hours after the murders were discovered, Hensley said. He was taken to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.
“We obtained a search warrant for his truck,” Hensley said. “We searched the vehicle and found a weapon; it was not the one described to us by the witness as being used in the murders.”
Banner was brought back to Unicoi County on Wednesday evening. What led Banner to allegedly commit the murders is still under investigation, according to Hensley.
The investigation revealed that Banner lived in the residence where the murders took place with the victims and their mother, Teresa Jones. Hensley said that the night before the murders Banner went to the home of Debbie Jones, Teresa’s sister who lives next door, and asked to borrow a shotgun.
“He borrowed the shotgun on the pretense of going squirrel hunting,” Hensley said. “Before the murder happened, Teresa, who helps operate the dump site at Lower Higgins Creek, called her sister at home and asked her sister to go get the shotgun because Banner ‘wasn’t acting right this morning’ and she ‘didn’t feel comfortable’ that he had the gun. Debbie agreed to that. After receiving that phone call, she walked from her house to the residence and that is when she heard him fire the shotgun and observed him with the shotgun.”
Hensley credits teamwork as the reason Banner was quickly apprehended.
“It took everybody working together,” he said. “I am glad we were able to get him in custody as quickly as we did. It was teamwork that got him in custody. When something like this happens, it takes everyone working together.
“I cannot say enough about our 911 dispatchers. They were constantly in contact with surrounding counties relaying the information. It took a team effort. Everyone did a great job. I can’t say enough about them.”
Banner was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He was arraigned in Unicoi County court on Thursday, Oct. 12. As of The Erwin Record’s press deadline, he remained in jail. He is scheduled to appear in court again on Nov. 16.