Tip From Dying Witness Leads to Arrest in 1973 Cold Case Slaying of Man Associated With 'Dixie Mafia'

Max Benson Calhoun, 67, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder after another witness, who is also apparently suffering from a terminal illness, came forward with new information.
Monroe County Sheriff's Office

A tip from a dying witness has led to an arrest in the cold case killing of a Tennessee man known to associate with the “Dixie Mafia,” authorities said. 

Raymond Constant Jr., 43, was found slumped inside the cab of his new tractor-trailer in Vonore on March 16, 1973. The trucker had been shot at least 17 times by a high-powered rifle. 

"It was probably a submachine gun," Richard Fisher, the district attorney general at the time of Constant’s death, told the Knoxville News Sentinel. "They made sure he was dead."

Police investigated the case for years, and in 1982, a man was charged with first-degree murder in Constant’s death. The man insisted he was innocent, the charges were ultimately dropped when the assertions made by a single dying witness fell apart in court, and the case went cold. But on Friday police announced a break in what had become one of the oldest cold cases in East Tennessee. 

Max Benson Calhoun, 67, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder after another witness, who is also apparently suffering from a terminal illness, came forward with new information. 

That witness “wanted to tell what they knew before they passed,” Steve Crump, 10th Judicial District attorney general told reporters Tuesday.

Crump declined to provide details about the witness or their story, but said it does not contradict what investigators have long suspected to have occurred. 

Before he was killed, Constant told his family he had kept notes on his business dealings, which prosecutors at the time believed included work for a network of criminals known as the Dixie Mafia, the News Sentinel reported.

“He wasn’t a sterling character by any means, but he didn’t deserve to die,” Fisher told the News Sentinel. “You never know when you start walking on that dark side where it’s going to take you.”

Officials suspected Constant was running untaxed cigarettes and stolen goods for the lawless faction, which the FBI called “a loose confederation of thugs and crooks” operating in the Southeast and based in Mississippi.

The Dixie Mafia was behind the murders of Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife, Margaret, who were both shot point-blank in the head in their North Biloxi, Mississippi home in 1987. Investigators learned mobster Kirksey Nix was running a dating scam out of the office of Sherry’s former law partner, Pete Halat, and after Nix accused Halat of stealing from him, Halat allegedly blamed Sherry. Believing Halat, Nix ordered Sherry killed. 

Nix was convicted in the killings and is serving life in prison in Angola State Penitentiary. Halat was convicted in 1997 of conspiracy to commit racketeering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and was sentenced to serve 18 years in prison. 

Halat was released in 2012 and maintains he had no part in the murder plot, but the case exposed the lawlessness and corruption brought to Mississippi by the mafia, and proved the extent of the criminal organization’s reach, the FBI said. 

The full extent of Constant’s involvement with the mafia was not clear, but his mother and sisters believed he planned to become an informant against them for the FBI. 

"He may have been a crook, but he didn't haul drugs and he never killed anybody," his sister DeeDee Hughes told the News Sentinel.

Calhoun remains jailed without bond. His attorney, Jim Logan, told The Associated Press he is eager to see proof in the case and said his client will plead not guilty.