Breaking Their Silence: Sisters & Family Talk About the Unsolved Murders of J.B. Beasley and Traci Hawlett

JB's sisters with her protrait

Left to right: Jillian, 20, Jo Beth, 23, Jacqui, 26, and Jayme, 27, pose with a portrait of their late sister, J.B. Beasley.

Breaking Their Silence: Sisters & Family Talk About Unsolved Murders
| published August 21, 2015 |

By Jennifer Walker-James Thursday Review contributor

“The world is a dangerous place; not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” –Albert Einstein

Sisterly love knows no boundaries; even when separated by death at the hands of a faceless killer. For sisters, Jacqui, Jillian, Jayme, and JoBeth Burgoon, this is especially true. Sixteen years without answers cannot extinguish the flames which fuel their quest for justice for the unsolved murders of their sister, J.B. Beasley and fellow incoming Northview High School senior, Tracie Hawlett.

Imagine lying in bed one night, the moonlight pouring through your window bathes your room with its pale ambiance. You close your eyes, waiting for the crickets’ nocturnal serenade to carry you off to sleep. Suddenly, your reverie is briefly interrupted by the muffled sound of nightly pandemonium outside your door. There’s the distant thudding of footsteps, hushed laughter amidst disgruntled sighs—all familiar aspects of life with four sisters clamoring for a spot in in front of the mirror in the bathroom across the hall. Now, imagine the comfort of such normalcy being shattered when, the very next night, tragic finality would set in where there’s one less pair of footsteps traipsing through the halls, one less muffled giggle, one less confidant, one less sister. Such was the case for the Burgoon sisters on August 1, 1999 when their oldest sibling, J.B. Beasley and her friend, Tracie Hawlett were murdered.

In continuance of our coverage of the unsolved murders of the two Alabama teens, Thursday Review has reached out to those closest to one of the victims in hopes of shedding new light on who they were and promoting awareness of the unsolved case. This literary portrait of J.B. Beasley—the girl she was and the woman she was becoming, could never be complete without first seeing it through the lens of those who knew and loved her the most. Thankfully, her sisters, Jacqui and JoBeth Burgoon along with her cousin, Lyndsey Turner, have come forward with their story of the vivacious teenager whose life was ended before it really even began.

TR: Tell us about J.B. What was she like?

Jacqui: J.B. was humble. She had a beautiful heart and an undying passion for dance. She was very talented and did well at everything she tried. She had a smile that would light up a room.

JoBeth: She was beautiful inside and out. No matter what was going on, she was always happy. She could brighten up your day without saying a word.

TR: What kind of music did she listen to?

Jacqui: She loved country music! Garth Brooks, Dixie Chicks, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw… I used to go through all her music tapes.

TR: What would J.B. typically be doing on weekends?

Jacqui: Tanning, dancing, teaching, shopping, and hanging out with her family and her friends. She was always busy doing something. I loved that about her.

JoBeth: Dancing, of course! When she wasn’t dancing, she was with family or friends enjoying life.

TR: Growing up, sisters tend to give their younger siblings advice. What is something that J.B. taught you?

Jacqui: I remember a time when a friend of mine was being bullied at school and it really bothered me. I asked J.B. what I should do about it. She told me to always stick up for my friends and that if it was her friend, she would have done something about it. That was so many years ago, I am surprised I even remembered that conversation!

JoBeth: The most important thing I learned from her was to never be unhappy. Despite some of the negative things we grew up with, J.B. always showed us the positive in it. She made sure we were always having fun!

TR: What is your favorite memory of J.B.?

Jacqui: My favorite memory of J.B. would have to be when she choreographed a duo piece for my sister, Jayme and me. I wish I could remember the name of the song, but I can’t at the moment…

JoBeth: My favorite memory of her is when she danced. She was made to dance! She was like an angel gliding on that stage. You could feel her passion for it when she danced. All of us danced so we were at every recital together backstage. I can remember always just sitting there in awe of her out there. I wanted to be just like her!
JB's dances
TR: Sometimes, following the loss of a loved one, we encounter random daily reminders of them. What is something that makes you think of her?

Jacqui: Aside from the fact that I have her photos framed all over my house, a daily reminder for me is when the time clock says “11:11.” J.B. would say, “Make a wish!”

JoBeth: One of her favorite songs was “Angel” by Sarah McLaughlin, and every time I hear it, I immediately start crying, mostly in a good way. Being around my sisters is probably when I think of her the most, though. You can see her in all of us! There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her.

TR: Siblings also tend to argue or fight. What is something you and J.B. used to fight over? In other words, what used to spur sibling rivalry between the two of you?
Family reunion
Jacqui: (smiling) Oh goodness! I had to always be in the know when it came to her! We were seven years apart so you can imagine the frustration J.B. may have had at times. She didn’t get much space when I was around. Oh, and I was a big tattle-tale back then. She loved that!

TR: What would you want the public to know about J.B.? Anything that might not have previously been made known about who she was as a person?

Jacqui: She was an angel. She was a well-behaved teenager with big dreams. She loved to be challenged and strived to be the best at everything she did.

JoBeth: She was always our guardian angel, even before she died. She was always taking care of us like a big sister should. She was so full of life and didn’t take a day for granted. She was our rock that kept us together and she still is.

J.B.’s sisters weren’t the only ones privy to her glowing charisma, however. Cousin, Lyndsey Turner also shares some of her fondest memories of Beasley’s magnetic and vivacious charm.

“J.B. was literally the best person I have ever known,” Lyndsey Turner told us. “She was unfailingly kind to everyone she met. She had an inordinate amount of patience, which made her such a wonderful big sister! She loved her younger sisters more than anything in this world and did so much for them. She babysat them quite frequently, even preparing their lunches many mornings before school.” Turner, whose mother and J.B.’s father, Lanier Beasley are brother and sister, was four years older than Beasley. Despite the age difference, the two were extremely close.

In our interview, Lyndsey recalled J.B.’s fondness of country music, but also went on recall J.B.’s father giving them an early education in classic rock music.

“He had an amazing collection of music from the Rolling Stones to Aerosmith and Guns ‘N Roses,” she added. “And he always gave us free reign over his tapes and CDs when we were over at his house.”

family photos  Top left: J.B. (front, center) and cousin, Lyndsey, (2nd row, middle) at a cousin’s wedding. Top right: Three year old J.B. (left) poses with Turner (right).

Lyndsey also added that she cannot watch Jaws without thinking of J.B. “We would marathon all four of those movies many, many times,” she said, laughing. “But we had a special love for the first one. We used to go around singing those old Navy songs you hear the shark hunter, Quint, singing in it.”

Like J.B.’s sisters, Lyndsey also remembers J.B.’s passion for dance, calling it “her greatest love after her sisters.” However, perhaps, her fondest memory would be that of a three year-old J.B. “We were up at our granny’s house in Petrey, Alabama. Well, J.B. used to love Hoop cheese and would eat a bellyful of it if you let her.” Turner continues, “So, that day, while my mom was washing dishes, she went to her and told her, ‘I want some cheese, peese (she couldn’t quite say the word “please”).’ My mom told her to wait until she finished the dishes and she’d get her some. A couple of minutes later, J.B. was back in the kitchen, ‘Aunt Linda, I want some cheese, peese!.’ Again, my mom told her she was going to have to wait until she was done. Well, this happens a couple more times until poor little J.B. has had enough! She walks over to my mom and says, ‘I said I want some cheese…..PEESE!” Lyndsey laughs, “It was priceless because, in her mind, if she said ‘please,’ that meant she should get what she was asking for ASAP!”

Lyndsey and JB
Lyndsey, who lives near Luverne, Alabama with her family, remains very close to J.B.’s sisters, citing their bond as helping her cope with the tragic loss. Together, they share many memorable stories, some that bring tears, but most that bring laughter. “She first introduced me to Bath & Body Works, and quickly got me hooked on Cucumber Melon. She was obsessed with it when it first came out so that was an easy gift to get her for birthdays and Christmases,” Turner fondly recalls before adding another to her list of cherished memories. “And Jacqui was indeed the little tattle-tale when it came to us. She would literally tell on us for anything remotely bad in her eyes.” She goes on to describe how she and J.B. plotted the ultimate revenge for the unsuspecting little six-year-old Jacqui. “We told her, ‘Jacqui, do you know what you are? You’re a person!’…making it sound as horrible as we possibly could. Her immediate response was to run to her dad with, ‘Daddy! J.B. and Lyndsey called me a person!’ Of course, Joey just cracked up at her. After that, she was a little more cautious about tattling on us!”


A Monster in Their Midst:

Police scene August 1, 1999
Police investigate the crime scene around J.B.’s 1993 Mazda 929 on August 1, 1999. The girls’ bodies were found inside the trunk.

In Italy, when one gives birth—when life literally begins, they call it “dare alla luce,” which means “to give to the light.” And that’s exactly what J.B. did throughout her whole life; she gave to the light. Her glow would continue to warm the hearts of all who knew her until the fateful night of July 31, 1999 when her light was forever snuffed out by the baleful acts of a cold-hearted killer.

Tracie Hawlett and JB  Tracie Hawlett (left) and J.B. Beasley (right)

While the investigation is still ongoing, police remain tightlipped about certain details surrounding the case, but here is what we do know:

Both girls left their hometown of Dothan, Alabama at around 10:30 p.m. They were travelling in J.B.’s Mazda 929—a gift from her father—to a field party being held near the town of Headland, about 15 miles northeast of Dothan. Neither of the two would ever make it.

Big Little gas station Somewhere along the way, they became lost and their misdirection led them to Ozark, a town about twenty miles west of their intended destination. Around 11:30 p.m., the pair stopped for directions in the parking lot of a “Big Little” gas station and convenience store (now a BP store and gas station). This was their last known location; surveillance imagery confirms that they were on the store’s property. After receiving guidance from a woman and her young daughter, Tracie used a payphone outside the store to call her parents and let them know that she and J.B. were lost, but now had directions and would be home soon. They were never seen or heard from again.

After hours of waiting at home with no word from their daughter, Tracie’s parents called the police to report both girls missing in the early morning hours of Sunday, August 1. Not long into the search, J.B.’s car was found parked on the side of Herring Avenue, a wooded and secluded street less than three miles from the gas station where they were last seen. Despite the car being muddy and nearly out of gas, there were no signs of struggle or forced entry. Robbery was immediately ruled out as both girls’ purses and their wallets were visible with J.B.’s license lying on the dash. Cash was still inside the wallets. The only thing missing: J.B.’s car keys.

Thinking they could not gain access to the trunk without the keys or without forcing the trunk open, initial responders continued to investigate the perimeter—roadside, nearby woods—searching for clues as to what became of the two missing teens. Finally, around 2 p.m., police discovered an interior latch that would open the trunk. It was there they would make the gruesome discovery that has forever stained both girls’ memory with tragedy. J.B. and Tracie were dead, each having suffered a single 9mm gunshot wound to the head.

TR: Can you tell us your story about the night of July 31, 1999? What were you doing? Where were you? How old were you?

birthday celebration Jacqui: I was 9 years old then. My birthday was the next day on Sunday. I was turning 10. It was a normal night at my dad’s house. My three sisters and I were hanging out with our three cousins that had travelled from Japan to stay with us for a month.

JoBeth: I was seven at the time. It was just like every other night at our dad’s house.

TR: How did you find out that something was wrong?

Jacqui: My dad was in and out all morning and I was wondering what he was up to, because he was going to be late taking us all to my swimming party. Once we got to the party, an hour in, I noticed J.B. hadn’t shown up and my dad wasn’t there either. I was upset they both still weren’t there. Once the party was over and we went home, my sisters, cousins, and I all had a feeling something was wrong. My grandmother was in her room with the door shut and somebody was talking with her. We heard her scream. She was crying. Still, no one had said anything to us and it was almost 6 p.m. We were supposed to be going back to our mother’s house at 6 p.m. Dad was late and I was getting agitated by this point. He finally walked in the house and said he was running a little late, but that it was okay. He drove us over to our mom’s house and as we got close to our house, I immediately noticed the “Slow Funeral” sign sitting in the yard. My dad kept reassuring us all that everything was okay, but I knew better. I asked him if my mom was dead and he said, “No, she is okay.” My dad walked us all into the house and I see my mother sitting in the floor crying and people all around her. She grabbed us all and put her arms around us and, while looking us all in the face, she said, “J.B. is dead.” I couldn’t comprehend what she was saying. Those words hit me so hard I couldn’t even speak. All I remember is being silent and walking the house waiting for her to come home any minute. The next morning, I woke up and heard the shower going. And I got up, thinking it was J.B. Then, it hit me that she was never coming back. My world had turned upside down and our family was never going to be the same.

JoBeth: That day was such a daze, thinking about it now. Being seven, it wasn’t hard to catch on that something was wrong, but nobody would tell us. Everyone was acting weird and was making sure we kept busy so we didn’t notice. I remember walking into my mom’s house and saw everyone surrounding our mother and crying. That’s when we got the most devastating news. Because I was so young, I didn’t quite understand what was going on. I couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t be able to see my sister again. It was too hard to understand at the time.

JB's sisters with her portrait Lyndsey Turner also recalls that tragic day, lamenting the fact she couldn’t be with her family when news of the gruesome discovery broke. “I wanted to stay at my parents’ house until we got more news, but I had papers due early in the week, so my parents insisted that I head back to Auburn and they would keep me updated. That afternoon was torture, waiting to hear anything, but I somehow managed to slap together rough drafts of my papers. When I was finished, I jumped in the shower and intended to call my parents as soon as I got out. I had just gotten dressed and was about to dry my hair when I heard a knock at the door. When I looked out the peephole, I saw my brother and sister-in-law, and I knew right then what they were about to tell me. Opening the door, the look on my brother’s face was all I needed. It was like someone had kicked me in the stomach, and the pain would never stop. I have experienced numerous terrible days in my life, including a head-on collision with an 18-wheeler, but the day we lost J.B. is still, by far, the worst day of my life.”

Life without J.B. would prove to be hard enough for her four younger sisters, but to also have no closure—no answers as to what happened that fateful night is nothing short of unacceptable and a reality they are striving to change.

TR: What facts about the case can you share?

Jacqui: Basically, the same facts that the media has shared. There are a lot of things left unknown because this case is still unsolved. It’s very important certain details are not discussed until this case is closed.

TR: Do you think she knew the person who did this? What are your theories about what happened that night?

Jacqui: I think it could have been someone she knew or possibly an authority figure. I don’t feel like J.B. would have pulled over for anyone else, especially at that time of night.

While many theories have been offered with countless leads investigated, the girls’ killer still remains at large sixteen years later. But that hasn’t kept both of the victims’ families from continuing their quest for justice. They are determined to make sure that J.B. and Tracie’s story is not forgotten—that the case remains fresh on the hearts and minds of the public until somebody comes forward.

Letter to JB TR: What is being done to spread awareness of J.B. and Tracie’s case?

Jacqui: We have a Justice for J.B. and Tracie group on Facebook with almost 4,000 members. We are currently selling vinyl decals with “#Justice4JBandTracie”on them and using the money to help with awareness for the case. We are planning a car wash at the end of this month to raise support and possibly a 5k here in the near future. We will not stop searching for answers and seeking justice.

JoBeth: The “Justice for J.B. and Tracie” group on Facebook has played a large role in raising the awareness of the case both in the area and throughout the state and country.

JB Beasley TR: How can the public help?

Jacqui: The public can be a huge help! Add the group “Justice for J.B. Beasley & Tracie Hawlett” on Facebook to keep up with the case. Share it with your peers! The more people their page reaches the better!

JoBeth: By liking and sharing the Justice page. It helps keep their memory alive and in the public view.

TR: If you ever had to face the killer, what would you say?

Jacqui:Why? How could you? What did they do that you felt you had to take their lives? How have you lived with yourself all these years?” The list goes on…

TR: What is your last memory of J.B.? What is the last thing she said to you?

Jacqui: My last memory of J.B. was Saturday morning, on her birthday. J.B. gave me a big hug and told me she would see me the next day for my birthday party. She held me for a few seconds and told me she loved me. That was the last time I heard her sweet voice. I’ll never forget it.

TR: Are there any rumors about her or the case, itself, which you would like to clarify or expound upon? Or myths you'd like to dispel.

Jacqui: Yes, just one. J.B. was a well-behaved girl. She was not defiant or uncontrollable. She was a child every parent would hope to have.

TR: How have you coped with this tragedy? What keeps you going?

Jacqui: With a lot of prayer and many nights crying myself to sleep. The worst thing to do is hold all the pain inside. I knew it would tear me apart if I did. Even after 16 years, I still have my days. I still cry and grieve her, but the days aren’t as often. My family and friends are my support system. My sisters and my dad are what keep me going. When I see the pain of missing J.B. in their eyes, it breaks my heart, but it also pushes me to carry on another day, seeking answers. I also think about how J.B. wouldn’t want us to not go on with our lives. As hard as it is, I do it for her.

JoBeth: My family keeps me going. They say time heals all wounds, but in this case, it just makes it so much harder. Because I was so young, I never got the full story. As I got older, I started to learn more and ask more questions about it. To me, it’s like it happened all over again. The fact of not knowing exactly what happened that night hurts even worse. I can honestly say without my family and friends, I wouldn’t have been as strong as I am today.

TR: What message, if any, would you want the public to receive from this?

Jacqui: Life is precious and it shouldn’t end the way it did for these two girls. Someone out there, reading this, knows something, and this message is for you: Please do the right thing. Please tell me what happened to my sister and Tracie. Put yourself in our shoes for a moment and think how you would feel not knowing what happened, not knowing why! It’s unbearable. Do the right thing and tell us what you know, I beg you!

JoBeth: That J.B. was a person, someone’s friend, our sister, and a daughter. There was more to her than just being a victim of a crime; she was so much more than that! Nobody can put themselves in our shoes unless they’ve experienced this too. But what if it was your friend, your sister, or your daughter? You wouldn’t stop fighting for answers, either.

TR: What end result would you like to see from all this?

Jacqui: I would like to see the community come together for J.B. and Tracie. I would like to see their case reach thousands and bring awareness to those who don’t know about the case. The reality is, this could happen to any of us. I want people to be aware, be safe, and to help us find answers since there hasn’t been a killer(s) brought to justice. My hope is that maybe in doing all of this; it will reach the right person who will have the missing piece to the puzzle.

JoBeth: I hope to see more awareness and, hopefully, this will help someone come forward with any information, small or big, about this case.

Despite its widespread publicity after being featured on America’s Most Wanted, The Maury Show, Haunted Evidence, Unsolved Mysteries, and various news media outlets, the murder of J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett remains unsolved. Still, J.B.’s sisters are steadfast in their pursuit of justice. Through their persistent search for answers and promotional efforts for the case, Jacqui, JoBeth, Jillian, and Jayme are aiming to shatter the wall of silence and unmask their sister’s killer.

JB's sisters with her portrait

Related Thursday Review articles:

Bittersweet 16: The Harrowing Story of an Unsolved Case; Jennifer Walker-James; Thursday Review; August 1, 2015.