by Judith A. Yates
Paul Dennis Reid, Jr., an inmate serving seven death sentences, drew his last breath on November 1, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee’s Meharry Hospital. It was the end for one of the most heartless serial killers in history.
Paul Dennis Reid, Jr. was the youngest of three children, born on November 12, 1957 in Texas. His parents divorced when he was three; Paul and his sister were dumped on their paternal grandmother. Her life was one of hard work; Paul caused much of her stress. Paul was stealing from clotheslines and mailboxes as soon as he could reach. At age four, he was stealing purses. He tormented his grandmother — placing tacks in her food, spraying her with the water hose, and barricading her in her room. When he was five, he set her on fire as she slept. He beat her dog to death. When he cut her ear, a priest suggested a boy’s home. Paul was eight years old.
As an adolescent, Paul bounced from his mother’s home to his father’s home. He attended school sporadically. He attempted to sexually assault his sister and his mother. He racked up charges for assault, theft, and auto theft. Paul married but was abusive to his bride. His charges grew more serious: check fraud, burglary, and then robbery. He was caught; during trial Paul would act out by “playing crazy” as he would later explain. He was sentenced to 20 years in 1984 to the Texas Department of Corrections. Paul wrote numerous letters requesting a sentence reduction. He wrote threatening letters to his siblings. In 1987, he began to report delusions of being monitored by the Texas Department of Correction. He gave advice to inmates for successful robberies. “Cut your hair and dress nice. That way, people will trust you, and they won’t suspect you.” He also said, “Next time I’ll do it right; I won’t leave witnesses.”
In 1990, Reid was paroled, released against the advice of numerous professionals. “Very dangerous” one report read. “A potential menace to society.” The Secret Service filed a warning regarding Reid.
Paul lived in Ft. Worth, and then moved to Oklahoma. He stood over six feet tall and his muscles bulged from workouts. His dream was to be a country singer; he learned to play guitar, dressed in cowboy clothes, and he cut demo tapes. His voice was twangy and out of tune, with an overextended southern accent. He had girlfriends, but he was kicked out for allegedly sexually abusing their children or for being physically abusive. He checked in with his parole officer once a year as directed. Paul departed for Nashville, Tennessee where, he told everyone, he would become “Justin Parks, the next Garth Brooks, and play at the Grand Ole Opry.”
Reid obtained employment at a Shoney’s restaurant. In between shuffling food on the grill, he played at talent shows. “He had the look,” one audience member recalled, “but when he started to sing, he was awful.”
Steve Hampton was not yet 26 years old; Sarah Jackson was 16. Sarah was working to buy herself a car; Steve was married with three children. They were prepping to open a Captain D’s restaurant, on Old Lebanon Road in Donelson, Tennessee on February 16, 1997. Sarah was mixing a big bowl of cole slaw when Steve answered the front door to a stranger with an application in his hand. Steve helped anyone he could. When he allowed the man into the store, a gun was pulled. The stranger forced Steve to empty the safe. He made Steve and Sarah lie down in the store cooler. A loud “bang!” Two more shots followed. Steve was dead in seconds. Three more shots were fired and the light in Sarah’s eyes faded. The man stepped to the office to remove surveillance tapes when he heard a noise. He returned to the cooler to see Sarah trying to get up. He reloaded the gun calmly, aimed, and fired. Sarah’s life ended.
Shock from the crime resonated throughout the community. Fundraisers were held to pay for burial expenses and to help Steve’s children. Officers followed up on hundreds of leads and interviewed many witnesses. Whoever killed Steve and Sarah remained a mystery. All investigators knew was the perpetrator was a large white male with dark hair.
Charlie Simpson was picking up cans along Nashville’s Ellington Parkway when he came across two children’s Identikits. A call to the phone numbers on the Identikits identified the children as Steve Hampton’s daughters. Police searched along Ellington Parkway and discovered, besides many cards bearing Steve’s name, Steve’s movie rental card. A partial print was found on the movie rental card. Someone had cruised along Ellington, tossing the contents of Steve’s wallet out of the window.
Meanwhile, Paul Reid worked at Shoney’s. He netted $480.00 a month, but purchased a new $5,000 car with cash. He was friendly and fun to work with, always smiling; flirty with women but never rude or vulgar. He joked about “making money by robbing restaurants at night.” Everyone laughed; Paul was a jokester. Paul worked out three days a week. He purchased a gun from an acquaintance, not bothering to explain he was on parole.
Charlie, A 53-year-old night manager at a Nashville Shoney’s, was found stabbed to death in his office on January 20, 1997. The safe’s cash and the videotape from the surveillance system were missing. Two video cameras from other businesses would have caught Charlie’s killer on tape, but the systems were not in use. Charlie’s death was investigated but never closed.
On February 27, 1997, Manager Mitchell Roberts fired Paul from Shoney’s. Paul had thrown a plate at a female coworker in a burst of anger. Given his size and strength, it could have killed her.
Ronald Santiago was from Puerto Rico; he came to the United States seeking better opportunities for his wife and baby girl, whom he called “my little princess.” He applied at McDonald’s fast food. Management was so impressed with him; he was promoted to Manager of the McDonald’s on Lebanon Road in Hermitage, Tennessee. It was down the road from the Captain D’s where Sarah and Steve were murdered.
Jose Gonzalez was 5’6″ and 120 pounds. He was from Mexico; he came to the United States to find work, albeit illegally. Jose landed a job at McDonalds. He was at the Lebanon Road store to train. Jose spoke no English, but he worked hard. On Jose’s first day of work, Ronald gave Jose advice; “If you ever have an emergency, dial 911 and tell them, ‘Spanish, no English, help, help.’”
Robert Sewell was the only boy in a family of sisters. He would tease them, but he was fiercely protective of them. He was extremely shy initially, and then he would be funny and gregarious. He was selected to train Jose on Sunday, March 23.
Andrea Brown was a lovely girl who had just purchased her first car with money she earned. She was a straight-A student in an arts magnet school, highly intelligent with a penchant for being a “drama queen” says her friends and family. She jumped at the chance to work extra hours on March 23 when called.
The store closed for the night on March 23, 1997. Ronald had volunteered to work that night, filling in for the night manager, who was sick. He unlocked the door and allowed Robert and Jose to exit. Ronald was walking out, holding the door for Andrea, when a big, dark-haired man appeared with a gun. The man forced the employees to return to the store. Inside the store, Ronald gave him the money out of the safe. Then the man directed the group to lay down in a storage closet. The man leaned down to whisper in Ronald’s ear. Ronald’s world ended with two shots to the back of his head. He was not yet 30. Andrea was sobbing; the robber leaned down to whisper in her ear. A shot rang out. She was 17 years old. The robber leaned down to whisper in Robert’s ear. Then he shot Robert, who had yet to reach his 25th birthday. The man shot Andrea and Robert each a second time. Jose turned to stare at the man, the gun near his face. Then he heard it: click-click. The gun was not firing. Jose leapt up and grabbed the huge robber by the waist. The pain shot through his body as the man stabbed him viciously, 17 times. Jose played dead until the man left, and then he crawled to the phone to dial 9-1-1 as he was taught.
Jose was the sole survivor from who the media would dub “The Fast Food Killer.” He was placed on the witness protection program after a long hospital stay. He described the killer, helping with a composite sketch. Despite thousands of leads, the killer remained at large.
Reid was now wooing an old girlfriend in Texas, inviting her to vacation in Nashville. He offered to pay half her airline ticket and all expenses.
Michelle Mace was 16 and Angie Holmes was 21 on April 23, 1997. Michelle loved to write and always said, “I’m going to be famous one day!” Angie was a new mother and wife; she held a 4.0 in college and was in ROTC. They were closing down a Baskin-Robbins store in Clarksville when they went missing. The safe was found open and $1,565.58 was gone. Their bodies were found a few miles away in Dunbar Cave Park the next day. Their throats had been cut. Michelle lay in the woods, covered in stab wounds. Angie was in the lake, her hands bound tightly with her work apron. The “Fast Food Killer” had struck again.
On April 26, Paul Reid wrote his Texas girlfriend. When she visited from May 3rd to 9th, he paid for everything in cash: hotel, city attractions, and meals.
Shoney’s manager Mitchell Roberts was surprised when he saw Paul Reid at the Robert’s front door. Mitchell went outside to talk to Paul. When Mitchell turned to return to the house, Paul pulled a knife, a gun, and a pair of handcuffs, demanding Mitchell put the handcuffs on. Mitchell got away and called police. Paul fled, but Mitchell managed to get him back to the house. Paul Reid was arrested. His fingerprint matched the partial print taken from Steve Hampton’s movie rental card. “The Fast Food Killer” was in jail.
Reid bantered and chattered with law enforcement and media, but he never confessed to any crime. He went to trial three times and was sentenced to seven death sentences, more than any Tennessee inmate. His sister fought to keep him from the death house. Reams of paper, years of work, and thousands of dollars were spent to determine his mental capacity. He is a suspect in other crimes, including the 1980 “Bowling Alley Massacre” in Houston, Texas; Max Soffar currently sits on death row for this crime. Reid is suspected of stabbing the night manager at the Nashville Shoney’s on January 20, 1997.
On November 1, 2013, Paul Reid succumbed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia. He was one of the many Tennessee death row inmates who died from natural causes.
Judith A. Yates is the author of the only true crime book on Reid: “When Nashville Bled: the untold stories of serial killer Paul Dennis Reid.” It focuses on the victims, and was written with the assistance of the friends, family, and coworkers of those murdered, law enforcement, and legal professionals. See www.truecrimebook.net to purchase.
Judith A. Yates is the author of “When Nashville Bled: the true stories of serial killer Paul Dennis Reid.” She is a Silver Falchion Winner for Best True Crime and writes for several publications and online law enforcement resources. She is currently earning a PhD in Criminal Justice, has attended law enforcement schools across the US, and has over 30 years’ experience in law enforcement. Order books and learn more at truecrimebook.net.
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