Read Philip Jett's interesting guest post about his family's experiences with murder, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win Jett's true crime novel, The Death of an Heir: Adolph Coors III and the Murder That Rocked an American Brewing Dynasty!
Scientists around the world have been researching whether there is a link between a person’s genetic makeup and the commission of crime. The so-called “warrior gene,” first identified in 1993, is a variant of the X chromosome that supposedly interferes with the inhibition of impulsive aggressive behavior. The theory has gained so much attention that a murderer’s defense attorneys in Tennessee sent his blood sample to Vanderbilt University for analysis. The presence of the gene saved the convicted man from the death penalty.
Interestingly, I had the opportunity to consider an inherited murder gene when I was only 12 years old, long before recent scientific study. For on Friday afternoon, June 1, 1973, the body of Patricia Williams was tragically discovered lying in a pool of blood on her family’s living room floor. The coroner determined that she had been stabbed 51 times. She was only 13; a year older than me. She rode my school bus. The last day of school had only been days earlier.
My mother made us stay inside that weekend. She then participated in a telephone marathon with family and neighbors to discuss who could have done such a horrible thing. The investigative eye quickly focused on Patricia’s household and her 19-year-old brother-in-law, James Daniel “Danny” Bramlett. He had attended school with my sister. Danny initially denied being at the home until a witness came forward and placed him nearby.
After further questioning, a crying Danny told authorities that he’d been drinking earlier that morning and fell asleep on the living room couch where Patricia sat playing cards. “When it came clear to me [that Patricia was dead], I was standing over her [with a knife] and I had done it,” he said in a signed confession. No motive was given. Five months later, Danny received a sentence of ten to fifteen years in state prison for second-degree murder.
If the frenzied stabbing of a 13-year-old schoolmate wasn’t enough to scare me stupid, my mother felt compelled to share another vicious murder with me that occurred when she was a little girl: a stabbing murder committed by Danny’s great-uncle.
On December 19, 1940, Cecil Jourdan had gone into town with my great-grand uncle and others to do some Christmas shopping for his wife and three young sons. On the return trip, the driver dropped Jourdan at a side road with fellow traveler, Paul Bramlett, who offered to help Jourdan carry his packages. Fewer than 500 yards from Jourdan’s home, Bramlett and Jourdan got into a drunken argument. Bramlett slit Jourdan’s throat “from ear to ear” four times and stabbed him repeatedly until his clothes were nearly ripped away. He then dragged Jourdan’s blood-drenched body into a ditch.
After brutally slaying Jourdan, the 25-year-old Bramlett washed his bloody hands in a neighbor’s sink before having dinner with them. He visited other neighbors that same night, including my great-aunt and uncle, before confessing his terrible crime to a brother-in-law three hours later. “I did it with my knife,” he said. Paul Bramlett received 99 years in a Nashville prison for first-degree murder. Both men’s children attended school with my mother.
Bookended between the Paul and Danny Bramlett murders were two other slayings involving their kinfolk—not so frequently recounted or as horrific perhaps, but murders nonetheless. On August 7, 1956, Paul Bramlett’s nephew, Robert, shot a man and then turned the gun on himself after his wife narrowly escaped through an open window. Five days later, in an unrelated incident, Paul’s brother, C. L. Bramlett, was the murder victim when his father-in-law delivered a shotgun blast during an argument between the two men.
The Bramlett murders frightened several generations of my family and others in the community. We still talk about the grisly murders, often focusing on the kinship of the perpetrators. At age 12, I may have considered a mean gene or an FU chromosome to explain such horrible crimes. Today, however, I realize that’s it not that simple, particularly when you consider that one-third of the world’s population is said to possess the warrior gene. I think violent crime has more to do with a combination of maltreatment, circumstance, and emotion—particularly when alcohol or drugs act as a catalyst—than the presence of a warrior gene. But then again, I’m not a scientist; perhaps continued research may shed more light on this dark subject one day.
Are you aware of any murders committed by related individuals? Are there any murders that frightened you as a child that you’d like to share? If so, I’d be very interested to read your comments.
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Philip Jett is a former corporate attorney who has represented multinational corporations, CEOs, and celebrities from the music, television, and sports industries. He is the author of The Death of an Heir: Adolph Coors III and the Murder that Rocked an American Brewing Dynasty. Jett now lives in Nashville, Tennessee.