Former FBI special agent remembered for linking former Tenn. governor to scandal

Former FBI Special Agent Hank Hillin lead the investigation into former Gov. Ray Blanton.
Published: May. 15, 2023 at 7:20 PM EDT|Updated: May. 18, 2023 at 3:27 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Tennessee native Henderson ‘Hank’ Hilllin had many titles, teacher, soldier, special agent and sheriff.

Hillin married Mary Frances Mangrum,, and they had four children.

As a former teacher, he joined the United States Army in 1953. He was assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps Academy and completed the remainder of his tour of duty as an intelligence agent until 1955 when he was recruited to be an FBI agent.

“In 1961, he was transferred from the Washington DC field office to the Nashville FBI office. In Nashville, he handled a wide variety of assignments over the next 19 years. He worked on the Jimmy Hoffa case, undercover on the campus of Ole Miss during the Civil Rights riots, voting scandal case in Nashville involving “Little Evil,” breaking up major bank robbery gangs, took down a major jewel theft operation and fence in Tennessee.”

Hillin Family

During his time in the FBI, Hillin also worked with Special Agent Richard Knudsen. Together, they investigated former Gov. Ray Blanton and his administration in what’s known as Codename Tennpar.

The investigation led to three of Blanton’s top aides being arrested and his early removal from office.

Hillin wrote four books, including FBI Codename Tennessee’s Ray Blanton Years, detailing their investigation.

He retired from the FBI in 1980 but returned the following year to finalize the prosecution for the Blanton administration.

He served one term as the Davidson County sheriff from 1990 to 1994, defeating an 18-year incumbent.

“While raising his family, Hank also found time to be a Boy Scout Troop Leader, Sunday school teacher, Little League Baseball coach. He also enjoyed playing handball and tennis most of his life. He really loved spending time with his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He always had time for everyone, especially his family and his God, and he felt like he lived the American dream. He was a devoted FBI agent and loved his job.”

Hillin Family

He died Feb. 12, 2021, just months before WVLT News began investigating the scandal surrounding Blanton’s time in office.

Hillin and his wife were married for 68 years.