By his own admission, it was not a murder at the top of his cold case list, but then fate intervened and 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Crump’s team was able to make an arrest for something that happened in March 1973.
In a press conference held Tuesday in Madisonville, Crump said four district attorneys had worked on the killing of 36-year-old McMinn County truck driver John Raymond Constant Jr., who was shot multiple times either in his truck in Vonore or at another location and then brought to Vonore.
“The case was inactive when I started the cold case unit,” Crump said, “but I thought it needed to be added. It wasn’t at the top of the list, but then fate intervened.”
Fate arrived last December when a person Crump described as living with a terminal illness contacted investigators and wanted to talk. Crump didn’t say if the witness was a man or a woman, but did say the person was able to get around and that it wasn’t considered a deathbed confession.
“After that,” he said, “we thought we had enough to go to the grand jury and present a case and we did get an indictment.”
That indictment was against Max Benson Calhoun, 67, Englewood. Calhoun is being held on no bond at the Monroe County Jail and is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 25. Crump said as far as he knew, Calhoun didn’t have any other arrest record.
Crump said he couldn't reveal much about what led to Calhoun's arrest, citing concerns over revealing too much before the arraignment, but he did say several people had been interviewed for the case and that he was hopeful the arrest would bring out more people who had some knowledge of what happened. As with any extremely old case, investigators and prosecutors always are looking to see what new technology is available to process evidence that could not be used decades ago.
Crump said one advantage of prosecuting such an old case is that many potential jury members know little about the case and he does not want to prejudice them about the case.
“I will say we do know why and how Constant was killed,” Crump said. “And there is still some old forensic evidence we can use.”
A Daily Post-Athenian article from 1973 said that two of John Constant's brothers, Harold and Eddie Lynn Constant, were placed under peace bonds after warrants were taken out against them a week after their brother's murder. Before the brothers were placed under the bonds, warrants had been filed against them for allegedly threatening Max Calhoun, who now stands charged with their brother's murder, as well as his father H.B. Calhoun and his stepmother.
Max Calhoun testified at the time that Harold Constant said he had a "terrible hating" and was going to kill them. H.B. Calhoun's testimony paralleled that of his son. Harold Constant testified in court that he told H.B. Calhoun, "I am confident in my mind that you set my brother up to be murdered."
That same article said the brothers also had peace bonds taken out against them for allegedly threatening John Constant's widow, Martha.
After nearly five decades, Crump said certain things, including court records, could take a while to find. Although looking for old evidence records can be difficult, Crump told the throng of media members gathered that former District Attorney Jerry Estes in particular kept a "remarkable set of files."
“One reason we went ahead with the case so soon,” he said, “was because of the health of the witness who came forward. We want to preserve the testimony.”
Crump concluded by saying he didn’t want Constant’s family to think it had been forgotten that something terrible had happened to their family.
“Family members never understood why it happened or what it was,” he said. “We want to give them those answers."
The Monroe County Democrat newspaper, then owned by the late Dan Hicks Jr., ran updates in 1987 on what was then already a 14-year-old unsolved case.
Constant’s bullet-riddled body was found in a truck under a bridge in Vonore. One school of thought said Constant actually was shot in a car wash stall in Etowah but it was made to look like he was ambushed in Vonore. When asked about that, Crump declined to comment.
A man who lived close to where Constant was found said he was watching TV between 8-9 p.m. when he heard several quick shots. The man also said a car with a loud muffler passed his house both before and after the shots.
The article also stated that investigators had been told Constant was last seen in the garage owned by H.B. Calhoun in Etowah. Constant reportedly worked at the garage as a truck driver.
Around 1982, a former McMinn County deputy was arrested and charged, but he was eventually cleared.
Another theory put forth by at least some was that Constant was scared he was being set up to be killed because he knew too much about crooked dealings involving certain public officials.