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Tennessee residents may remember Metro Nashville’s first urban legend “Lock the doors or you’ll end up like Paula Herring.” The legendary slaying of 18 year old babysitter Paula Herring haunted the community for decades. In February 1964, the pretty blonde University of Tennessee student had been babysitting her younger brother on a Saturday night while her mother, a registered nurse, was out to dinner. The horrific slaying quickly led to the arrest and indictment of a judge’s son, John Randolph Clarke. After successful pleadings by Clarke’s defense attorney, the trial was moved to Jackson in September of 1964 and became the sensation of the South, as Clarke was convicted of first degree murder by a Jackson jury in a matter of hours. But decades later, the discovery of a secret file tied to the case has led to a new solution to the infamous crime and it’s a disturbing one. That’s when I was alerted that the administrative records of Hubert Kemp, Metro Nashville’s first Chief of Police, had just arrived for archiving. It didn’t take long to discover the out of place Paula Herring File, containing brutal crime scene photographs, telegrams from J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI, witness statements, and letters to Chief Kemp. I soon discovered something else the contents of the file didn’t match newspaper reports of the crime.

Clarke’s guilt or innocence was a hotly debated topic in 1964 and beyond. The gun used in the Paula Herring slaying has never been found, and Clarke had no evidence of scratches,
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bite marks, or blood stains on his person when he endured an all night interrogation by Metro detectives prior to his arrest. Though ultimately convicted and sent to prison for the murder, Clarke proclaimed his innocence for years afterward and offered his own cash reward for information leading to the identity of the real killer.

But what the jury in Jackson was never told, was that an earlier suspect in the murder had also been interrogated for hours on the night of the slaying. This suspect was allowed to walk away freely from the crime without ever having been mentioned by television or newspaper reporters. Incredibly, the bombshell news and chilling identity of this suspect was buried by everyone having inside access to the event. To make matters far worse, my research shows how this first suspect in the murder of Paula Herring became one of the star witnesses who helped convict John Randolph Clarke in 1964.

With the help of world renowned forensic psychologist Richard Walter, often described as the “Living Sherlock Holmes,” I was able to unravel the closely held secrets of a small group of insiders who were only too happy to see Clarke framed for the murder. Tuesday at Books a Million, 1081 Vann Drive, in Jackson.

Original cutline reads: Jackson, Tenn. Sept. 21 (1964) Prosecution Left to right, attorneys for then state arrive at the County Courthouse this morning for the trial of John Randolph Clarke, John Hollins, Whit LaFon, District Attorney David P. Murray,
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Gen. Howard Butler. (Photo: Originally published in The Tennessean)