A former Tennessee governor’s administration helped fund the contract murder of an ally of Jimmy Hoffa after he turned federal witness over a prisons pardon scandal, prosecutors have claimed 42 years after the killing.
Investigators in Hamilton County, which is home to Chattanooga, have been investigating the 1979 cold case of the murder of Samuel Pettyjohn since they renewed their enquiries in 2015.
Pettyjohn, a Chattanooga businessman and close friend of union boss Hoffa, was shot 42 years ago in downtown Chattanooga after testifying before a federal grand jury during the early phases of Tennessee’s notorious ‘cash-for-clemency’ scandal.
At the time of the murder, Democratic Governor Ray Blanton was under investigation for allegedly giving out early parole to prisoners in exchange for money.
He was never indicted – although three members from his administration were – but the scandal did ultimately lead to the ousting Blanton, who later died in 1996.
Speaking on Wednesday, investigators said the Tennessee administration hired a man named Ed Alley to carry out the hit on Pettyjohn because he ‘knew too much’, and that the killer – who was white – wore a wig and blackface as a disguise.
Samuel Pettyjohn, a Chattanooga businessman and close friend of union boss Hoffa, was shot 42-years ago in downtown Chattanooga after testifying before a federal grand jury during the early phases of Tennessee’s notorious ‘cash-for-clemency’ scandal
‘Essentially, Mr. Pettyjohn cooperated with authorities and knew too much about what was going on locally, as well as the state level, and individuals didn’t like that and so individuals hired someone to murder him,’ Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston said on Wednesday. ‘Here we are some 42 years later.’
Questions lingered about the extent to which the governor’s administration actively worked to thwart the investigation. Officials say at least five witnesses in the case were either murdered or killed themselves.
Pinkston told reporters that Pettyjohn would meet with inmates to indicate that money would help secure an early release from prison starting in 1976.
Pettyjohn was joined by William Thompson, who had been involved in Blanton’s election campaign and would later be convicted in the cash-for-clemency scandal.
Shortly after, Pettyjohn was killed in what authorities describe as an ‘execution style hit.’ Witnesses told authorities that they saw a black man in a trench coat exiting Pettyjohn’s store.
Meanwhile, Pettyjohn was found with his pistol nearby, which had not been fired, and more than $100,000 on him.
At the time of Pettyjohn’s murder, Tennessee’s Democratic Governor Ray Blanton (pictured left on stage with Johnny Cash in 1977, file photo) was under investigation for allegedly giving out early parole to prisoners in exchange for money
According to Pinkston, Alley – a known bank robber who died in 2005 in federal prison – was hired by several sources to kill Pettyjohn.
Pinkston said those sources included an undisclosed third party who paid some of the contract money on behalf of the Blanton administration. The estimated total murder price was between $25,000 and $50,000.
‘I’m very sure. I’m proof positive,’ Pinkston said when asked how certain he was that the Blanton administration helped pay for Pettyjohn’s murder.
Officials say Alley, who was white, wore a wig, glasses and covered his skin in heavy brown makeup to deceive any witnesses.
‘Cooperating individuals indicated Alley admitted Pettyjohn was murdered for various reasons including he was a source of cooperation for the FBI in investigations of Gov. Ray Blanton,’ according to findings from a Hamilton County grand jury.
Pictured: Saadiq Pettyjohn, center, son of Samuel Pettyjohn, speaks at a news conference, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Chattanooga. Investigators in Hamilton County, which is home to Chattanooga, have been investigating the 1979 cold case of the murder of Samuel Pettyjohn since they renewed their enquiries in 2015. They announced their findings on Wednesday
The grand jury concluded that if Alley were alive today, he would be charged with first-degree premeditated murder of Pettyjohn.
Mike Mathis, supervisor of Hamilton County’s cold case unit, acknowledged that it was highly unusual for a prosecutor’s office to pursue a grand jury when most of the involved parties were dead but said the county chose to do so for the first time it because ‘it gives you a legal closing.’
Saadiq Pettyjohn, one of Samuel Pettyjohn’s sons, said his mother often described his father as someone with a ‘heart of gold’ and ‘very generous, giving person,’ while acknowledging his father was associated with criminal activity.
Authorities say Pettyjohn was part of an organized effort to blow up a building to collect insurance payouts, but he was never brought to trial due to his untimely death.
‘It’s a curse and a blessing to grow up in a family that’s connected to crime,’ he added. ‘When that person dies, you can go that route or you can go a different route; all of us chose to try to do better in our lives.’
Pettyjohn was a close friend on union boss Jimmy Hoffa (pictured left), who vanished 1975 and was presumed dead, with some saying he too was assassinated. Speaking on Wednesday, investigators said the Tennessee administration hired a man named Ed Alley (pictured right) to carry out the hit on Pettyjohn because he ‘knew too much’
Blanton, who died in 1996, had sparked outrage after he pardoned and commuted prison terms for more than 50 state inmates in the waning days of his gubernatorial term.
Blanton’s fellow Democrats worked with Republicans in the Legislature to move up the inauguration of his Republican successor, Lamar Alexander, by three days.
Blanton was never charged in the scandal, but in 1981, he was convicted of unrelated charges of extortion and conspiracy for selling a liquor license for $23,000 to a friend while in office.
WHAT HAPPENED TO JIMMY HOFFA?
The FBI has long suspected that Hoffa fell victim to a mob hit, with his death having been orchestrated by the ‘highest echelons of organised crime’.
Though Hoffa was officially declared dead in 1982 – seven years after his disappearance – no remains have ever been found, leading to speculation about his final resting place, as well as a swell of conspiracy theories as to who carried out – and who ordered – the apparent whacking.
Hoffa became the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the world’s largest labor unions, in 1957.
The FBI long suspected that Hoffa fell victim to a mob hit. His body was never found
Shortly after his appointment, his ties to organized crime began to surface, drawing the ire of the federal government, most namely Bobby Kennedy, who served as the Attorney General under his brother President John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s.
Relations between the two became so fraught that Kennedy created a 20-prosecutor team in the Justice Department dedicated to ‘get Hoffa’ on corruption charges.
He was ultimately convicted of illegally funneling several large pension fund loans to leading organized crime figures in 1964. He later received an additional conviction for attempting to bribe a grand juror.
He only served four years of his 13-year sentence before then-President Richard Nixon commuted his prison term to time served. Though he was granted his freedom, Hoffa was banned from engaging in any union activities until 1980.
After his released from prison, Hoffa’s once tight-knit relationship with the mafia began to spectacularly fall apart.
A clip from The Irishman film in a break in the trial of Jimmy Hoffa, from left, Chuckie O’Brien (Jesse Plemons), Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano), Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and Hoffa (Al Pacino) appear shocked at the news of JFK’s assassination
On that fateful July day, Hoffa left his home in his green Pontiac Grand Ville in the early afternoon and drove to the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township.
There, he had allegedly scheduled a lunch with Anthony Provenzano, a caporegime of the Genovese crime family and the acting president of the Teamsters Union, and Tony ‘Jocks’ Giacalone, a kingpin in Detroit’s organized crime scene.
The meeting had been scheduled to take place at 2pm, but fifteen minutes later, an incensed Hoffa called his wife from a payphone to tell her he’d been ‘stood up’, asking her ‘Where the hell is Tony Giacalone?’
Then at 3:27pm, with no apparent sign of Giacalone or Provenzano, Hoffa called his former rival-turned-close friend Louis Linteau, who also once headed up Teamsters, telling him: ‘That dirty son of a b***h Tony Jocks set this meeting up, and he’s an hour and a half late.’
Linteau told Hoffa to calm down and asked him to stop by his office on the way home. Hoffa agreed and then hung up – ending what would prove to be his final ever communication.
When Hoffa’s family reported that he’d failed to return home the next morning, Linteau retraced his friend’s steps to the Machus Red Fox, finding his unlocked Pontiac in the parking lot, with no sign of Hoffa or what direction he may have headed in.