COLD CASE: San Aug. Co. lawmen think they have their man, but no evidence

Marvin Lowe mug shot courtesy of Smith County Jail.
Marvin Lowe mug shot courtesy of Smith County Jail.
Gary Cunningham
Gary Cunningham
Wilma McMillien
Wilma McMillien

SAN AUGUSTINE COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - It's been three years since Wilma McMillien's younger brother, John Hanks, was killed. He was 63.

"We were best friends and brothers and sisters," McMillien said. "As it is, we have no closure with this whatsoever. Walking around wondering who would be so cruel to take his life."

Investigators say they know who did it.

It was a Sunday evening in early September 2008.

A call to 911 sent San Augustine County Sheriff's deputies to Hanks' home in the Grapevine community.

"They find the victim, John Clifton Hanks," said San Augustine County Chief Deputy Gary Cunningham.

A friend of Hanks called his sister, telling her to go check on him immediately.

"I got to the top of the hill and saw all the lights from the officers, sheriff's department, flashing everywhere," McMillien said. "My heart stopped."

It wasn't good news.

"Somebody met me at the gate," McMillien said. "I don't know who it was and said, 'John is dead.'"

McMillien says whoever murdered her brother shot him through the window. The bullets shattered the glass, before they struck and killed her brother.

A murder investigation was born.

First, they learned Patricia Bryan had called 911.

"She was the last person to see John Hanks alive that we know of," Cunningham said.

They learn Bryan was sitting on this front porch, drinking coffee with Hanks.

During questioning , Bryan says a few minutes after going home, she got a call.

"A phone call from another person who asked her to inquire about the victim because this person had also been unable to contact him by phone," Cunningham said.

Then, she headed back to Hanks' finding him dead.

"It's just an unbelievable set of circumstances," Cunningham said.

Investigators soon had a suspect: Marvin Lowe.

Bryan's common-law husband.

"It's just a classic case of jealousy," Cunningham said. "Probably the most common motive in murders of this type."

The sheriff's office quickly obtained an arrest warrant for murder. But, they couldn't find their suspect.

Reports surfaced Lowe had fled the area right after the shooting.

"Of course, that's not necessarily evidence we can use, but it certainly does lead us to believe that he had something to hide," Cunningham said.

He was finally arrested on Oct., 24, 2008, in Tyler.

Soon, he was out on bond, where he has remained.

"We have a murderer walking around here," McMillien said.

A lot of the members of the Hanks family are buried in this old San Augustine County Cemetery. This is Hanks' grave. His 98-year-old mother plans to be buried nearby.

"I pray before she closes her eyes in death that we will know who's taken his life," McMillien said.

Three years later, still no trial. Not even an indictment.

"The level of probable cause we need to make an arrest is a little different from probable cause to get a conviction in court," Cunningham said.

Cunningham says he wants a complete case before taking it to a grand jury.

"Sometimes there's benefit in simply being patient," Cunningham said.

They continue to review the well-worn file.

"I know of at least one person who has more information on this case," Cunningham said. "That person has not been completely forthright. I simply ask they reconsider their position."

He also pleads with the community to come forward.

"Seemingly insignificant information might just collaborate other information we already have," Cunningham said.

"I don't mean he was perfect," McMillien said. "Far from it. He has his faults and sometimes I wanted to wring his neck. But he's still my brother."

One key lead could help close this case.

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