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Chief John White: Tracie’s Hawlett’s death ‘was a punch in the gut’

Former Dothan police Chief John White said he's pleased after a new suspect was found in the murders of J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett.

DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) — Former Dothan police Chief John White said he’s pleased after a new suspect was found in the murders of J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett.

“I guess the first reaction I gave to Chief Tony Spivey when he called me Saturday morning was, ‘Is it real? Do you really have him? Are you sure?’ White said. “You know, ‘What’s the chance?’ That kind of thing, just reserved and trying to get your hopes up.”

White served as chief of police when the girls were reported missing and left Dothan on the morning of August 1, 1999, after the girls’ black Mazda was found. One thing he remembered about that day was the heat.

“It was miserable,” White said. “It was actually August the first of ’99. I reminisced a little bit with Chief Spivey, and we … remember how brutal the heat was that day, and we stood there for a few hours before we actually determined the girls were in the trunk of the car, and it was just terribly hot.”

The heat made working the crime scene difficult, but for White, it was only made worse by discovering that one of the victims was Tracie.

Tracie’s father, Robert “Bob” Hawlett, was a popular Dothan police officer before he drowned in 1987 at Lake Eufaula. Following his death, White said Tracie became like an adopted daughter.

Tracie also attended Northview with White’s sons and would ride home with one of them, so he kept close contact with her into her high school years.

“When that trunk opened that morning and there she was with J.B. Beasley, it was a punch in the gut, and it’s been terrible, terrible,” White said.

The image has stuck with him for nearly 20 years.

“That visual trauma is burned into your brain, and you’ll go to your deathbed with that,” he said. “We talk about PTSD? That’s PTSD right there.”

With the arrest of new suspect Coley McCraney after a DNA match was, White said he’s relieved but reserved about the news.

“I can’t let myself be too happy about this or too eager about this,” he said. Number one: because it was such a tragedy and so awful, it’s hard to say you’re ever happy about a case like this, but I’m pleased. Let’s put it that way.” 

Catch White’s full interview in the video above.