Murder of FBI informant linked to former Tenn. governor

Samuel Pettyjohn was an organized crime boss turned FBI informant who turned information over about the dealings of former Gov. Ray Blanton.
Published: May. 15, 2023 at 7:24 PM EDT|Updated: May. 18, 2023 at 3:28 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - In 1979, a Chattanooga businessman was gunned down and his murder went unsolved. Now almost 45 years later, investigators with the Hamilton Co. District Attorney’s Cold Case Unit tied the murder to former Tennessee Gov. Ray Blanton.

Blanton’s administration was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for members accepting cash for clemency papers. The FBI dubbed it Operation TennPar.

“The governor’s office was involved in the killing of one of the people who knew the most about the pardon and parole scandal,” Former Gov. Lamar Alexander said.

Pettyjohn was shot and killed on Feb. 1, 1979. When he was killed, he had cash and jewelry on him that was worth more than $100,000.

Police also found his brief case which was holding a recording device with four to five recordings inside. Witnesses told police that there were at least 40 to 50 total recordings.

William Aubrey Thompson, also known as Bob Rountree, was a democratic committeeman in Hamilton Co. for Blanton’s election campaign.

“Beginning in 1976, Bob Rountree raised cash monies and paid those monies to Governor Blanton’s office in exchange for the early release of TDOC prisoners to include but not limited to: Tommy Prater, Larkin Bibbs, and William Cole. Pettyjohn assisted Rountree in securing the early release of Bibbs. Records reflect Rountree and Pettyjohn would visit inmates ostensibly for the purposes of indicating that money would secure their early release from TDOC. After such meetings, Rountree and Pettyjohn would secure the monies and pay accordingly to the Governor’s office.”

Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office Cold Case Unit

Pettyjohn was subpoenaed to testify and did so at least once. He then met with special agents to cooperate so he didn’t have to testify again. He provided the FBI with a list of names of inmates who secured money for their release.

Thompson also agreed to cooperate with the FBI but only if they never asked him about the death of Pettyjohn.

The case of Pettyjohn’s murder was closed and reopened multiple times throughout the 80′s, but the investigation kept leading to a dead end.

Investigators with the Hamilton Co. CCU spoke to one witness who told them the Chattanooga Police Department told them exactly what to say in their statement in 1982.

That same year, two people were charged with Pettyjohn’s murder but their alibis checked out, and the case continued to remain unsolved.

In 2015, the CCU began reviewing the investigation into his murder.

The investigation uncovered that in 1993, a witness told the Hamilton Co. DA’s office that William Edward Alley admitted to murdering Pettyjohn.

“FBI agents shared this information with former CPD Chief Ralph Cothern, who replied, ‘be careful who you share your information with,’” according to officials with the Hamilton Co. CCU.

Alley admitted to witnesses that he was hired to kill Pettyjohn for a contract between $25,000 to $50,000, according to the Hamilton Co. CCU.

“He murdered Pettyjohn by shooting him twice in the head, once in the neck and once in the chest with a .45 caliber firearm. Cooperating individuals indicated Alley admitted Pettyjohn was murdered for various reasons including that he was a source of cooperation for the FBI in investigations of Gov. Ray Blanton.”

Hamilton Co. DA’s Office

Witnesses also told police that some of the contract money was paid for on behalf of Blanton’s administration, according to the Hamilton Co. CCU.

“Pettyjohn knew too much about illegal activities and his cooperation with federal authorities placed other individuals’ freedom, including that of Gov. Ray Blanton, at severe risk,” officials with the Hamilton Co. CCU said.

In 2021, the grand jury found that if Alley was alive today, he would have been charged with first degree premeditated murder of Pettyjohn.

“At the conclusion of Operation TennPar, five witnesses had either been murdered or committed suicide,” Hamilton Co. CCU officials said.

Pettyjohn’s briefcase, recording device and recordings were removed from the crime scene and never located.

The Hamilton Co. CCU requested the list that Pettyjohn handed over to the FBI but despite their open records request, they never got a copy of it.