The James Matheny Murder: John David Terry’s Tragic Fate Uncovered

The documentary “Grave Secrets: Baptism by Fire” on Investigation Discovery tells the story of how James Matheny was the unlucky victim of a terrible murder plan that led to his death in Nashville, Tennessee, in June 1987. After the murderer turned themselves in after realising their carefully crafted plan had fallen through, the police had the case closed in two days. We have all the information you need if you’re interested in learning more about the case, including how the murder occurred and what happened to the perpetrator. So let’s get started, shall we?

How Did James Matheny Die?

Teresa Thetford, his ex-wife, claimed that James Chester Matheny Jr. had serious drinking problems in his late 20s. She abandoned him together with their small son, William, due to his constant drinking. James eventually had to be admitted as an alcoholic to hospital rehab at General Hospital when he was 32 years old. The 260-pound, grossly obese young man had a long criminal record that included street robbery and pimping. He had also been to prison frequently.

Teresa stated that the formerly Reverend was familiar with James since he often attended the Emmanuel Church of Christ Oneness Pentecostal. Once, during one of his five-month hospital stays for detox, he requested her to ask the Reverend to lead a prayer session for him. The preacher immediately consented when Teresa contacted and said he was considering “Brother Jim” at the time. “I thought, wow, the Lord is truly working in our life,” she recalled.

James and the Reverend got to know one another over the coming weeks, and once he was released from the hospital, the latter baptised him back into the church and took him fishing. James changed his life with the help of the Reverend with the help of a 300 dollar advance to pay six weeks’ rent in the adjacent Nashville Union Rescue Mission and job as the church sexton and handyman at ten dollars an hour. The show claimed that the recluse had few acquaintances in Nashville, felt revitalised, and prayed for peace with his family.

On June 15, 1987, the nearby residents of Emmanuel Church of Christ Oneness Pentecostal were shocked to see the church on fire. The two-story brick church structure was in flames when the firefighters arrived. After the fire was put out, the emergency personnel were horrified to discover a decapitated, charred body in the attic of the burned-out church. The body was also missing one arm, and the autopsy revealed that the victim had been shot point-blank in the back of the skull with a.38-caliber revolver.

Who Killed James Matheny?

When the body was discovered, the investigators initially believed it belonged to John David Terry, a former church pastor. James ended up being the obvious suspect due to their prearranged fishing trip. The burnt remains of James Matheny were, nevertheless, positively confirmed as his by the medical examiner. The missing preacher, who was previously assumed to be another victim in this allegedly strange double homicide, was the subject of a countrywide search. But on June 17, John surprised his family by coming home with a freshly shaven head.

Brenda Terry, John’s wife, said, “We just wanted to stay out of any questioning because we were so happy he returned home. Knowing my husband, he informed me he couldn’t get into details. No coercion was used on him. On June 18, when a grand jury indicted him for first-degree murder and arson, the Minister turned himself in amicably at the Criminal Court Center. In John’s bedroom, the investigators discovered $10,400 in cash and a $100,000 life insurance policy with his three sons listed as the primary beneficiaries.

The police pieced together what transpired at the church on June 15 over the course of several months. After being denied a long-awaited promotion to the bishop position that would have come with a significant pay increase, the Nashville pastor devised the complex plan in the latter half of February 1987. John reportedly resolved to fake his death and begin a new life away from the church and his loving family when the incumbent bishop thought him unfit to succeed him.

John therefore acquired a new identity by fabricating information from Jerry Milsom’s tombstone, who drowned at the age of seven on July 23, 1951. By the beginning of March 1987, the church minister had acquired a Social Security number and a driver’s licence. He also stole $50,700 from a parsonage sale that same month, and on April 24 he used some of the proceeds to purchase a used Suzuki Cavalcade in Jerry Milsom’s name. John paid for the purchase with a cheque made out to a church missionary programme.

Three weeks later, once John had bought the sizeable life insurance policy, he made the decision to look for a victim to assist in his disappearance. So, on June 15, he made friends with the unfortunate James and invited him along for the planned fishing trip. Before leaving, John asked the handyman to assist him in removing some furnishings from the sanctuary. Then, after killing the unprepared James, he stripped him down to his pants and dressed the corpse in attire resembling that of the Minister.

How Did John David Terry Die?

As part of his well-thought-out macabre plan, John used his butchering skills to cut off the skull and right arm to hide the corpse’s identification before dumping it in Lake Barkley, 50 miles west of Nashville on Road 79. He rode into the night and came back to the church, doused it with petrol and set it on fire. The minister modified his look by shaving his hair and bushy moustache before checking into a modest motel on the outskirts of Nashville.

When John realised he was wanted for the murder of James on June 17 morning, his new plan to start a new life went apart. Having lost, he called his attorney and asked him to arrange for his safe surrender. John travelled back to Nashville after throwing away the murder weapon, but on the way, he was seriously injured in a vehicle accident. Before meeting the former Assistant Police Chief of Nashville, he received initial care at a neighbouring clinic. When John refused to respond to any questions, the police issued an arrest warrant the next day, and John turned himself in.

The Reverend was imprisoned for the following 15 months while awaiting trial, refusing to provide any information concerning the slaying or the whereabouts of James’ head and limb. Three days before his trial, he finally gave in and told the police the location on September 5, 1988. On September 26, 1988, John received a death sentence after being found guilty of first-degree murder and arson. The Minister was eligible for parole in 2010 after serving a year on death row when his death sentence was reversed on appeal but the murder conviction was upheld. John Terry, however, committed suicide in prison in 2003, so that didn’t happen.

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Being a binge-watcher himself, finding Content to write about comes naturally to Divesh. From Anime to Trending Netflix Series and Celebrity News, he covers every detail and always find the right sources for his research.

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