Thursday, December 27, 2001

Willie Mae Brister Murder Case

Written by: Greg Fetzer
Case Filed: 12/27/01 - Mount Olive, Mississippi
Executive Producer: Rick Garner



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Willie Mae Brister and her husband had three daughters. He died in 1989. She continued to operate the store after his death. Her customers were her neighbors and she knew them well, giving many of them food and dry goods because they didn't have the money to pay.

She was well respected by most everyone in the community. She stood about 5' feet 2 and was the typical southern lady. Her life was simple. She didn't drive. She grew her own vegetables and stayed around her home which was just a few feet from her grocery store.

Family members say she saved just about every penny she earned. Those pennies grew into a small fortune: a fortune worth a little over a million dollars.

That fortune is what two of her daughters say killed her.

Brister was last seen on Sunday, May 7th, 2000 by her best friend Sara Fleming. Family members say that Brister had been depressed and worried for about a month - but they weren't sure why. Brister wouldn't talk about her problems - problems that apparently ended Brister's life.

On the morning of May 8th, she was found hanging in a small shed. She and her husband had built the small wooden structure over 40 years ago. Her death was meant to look like she committed suicide -- but investigators quickly determined it was murder.

A long time friend of Brister's - Willie Creer - found her body hanging. Creer and Brister's son-in-law, Gene Keen, went to her home after Keen said he couldn't reach her by phone. However, according to information obtained from investigators, telephone records of Keen's residence and the residence of Brister fail to reflect any telephone calls to the Brister home.

According to police and autopsy reports, she was choked to death, dragged through her home, and hanged. Two of her daughters, Linda Burrow and Debbie Sullivan, say their mother was brutally murdered because someone wanted her money. They believe their oldest sister, Joyce Keen, and her husband Gene had something to do with it. According to Burrow and Sullivan, their sister had taken her mother to the bank just days before she was murdered. They say bank accounts were transferred over into Keen's name and that a large sum of money was missing.

The Simpson County Sheriff's Department continued the investigation. On August 7th, 2001, a little over a year after the murder, Simpson County Sheriff J.C. Dillon thought he had four people responsible for Brister's death. The arrest came after a 16 year-old confessed to the murder and implicated three family members. Clint Butler III, the grandson of one of Brister's neighbors, was picked up and taken in for questioning after he allegedly bragged to a friend about "killing the old bitch for her money."

According to the sheriff, Butler told him he was given a hundred dollars to help kill her. He said that Joyce and Gene Keen were there and that Brister's grandson, Ricky Burrow was also present. Dillon arrested all four people on capital murder charges and placed them in the Simpson County jail - but the evidence on the four didn't stick and after a few weeks a judge ordered them to be released because of lack of evidence.

For now, the murder of Willie Mae Brister remains unsolved. The Attorney General's Office has stepped in and they continue to investigate.

Willie Mae Brister's death continues to be a hot topic in Simpson County. But there are still a lot of questions unanswered. Below are documented pieces of evidence in the case.
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State of Mississippi

County of Simpson

Circuit Court

CONFIDENTIAL NOT TO BE REPRODUCED

Underlying Facts and Circumstances In Support Of An Affidavit For An Arrest Warrant

Personally Appeared Before Me, The Undersigned Officer Of Said Court_______________, Who Stated Under Oath That The Facts And Circumstances Relied Upon In Establishing The Grounds For Issuance Of An Arrest Warrant For GENE KEEN & JOYCE KEEN, On The Charge Of MURDER Are As Follows:

1. This case involves the death by homicide of WILLIE MAE BRISTER, female Caucasian on or about the 8th day of May, 2000.

2. The body of Mrs. Brister was discovered in a barn, located approximately sixty (60) feet to the rear of her red brick home.

3. The residence and barn is located approximately seven (7) miles West of Magee, Mississippi. Both the residence and barn are located in Simpson County, Mississippi.

4. The body of Mrs. Brister was discovered approximately 20:30 hours of the morning of May 8, 2000, by Willie Creer, a long-time yard man and friend of the deceased and Gene Keen.

5. Willie Creer was directed to the scene by Gene Keen, a son-in-law of Mrs. Brister.

6. The circumstances surrounding the discovery of Mrs. Brister's body are suspicious at best. Keen arrived at the residence of Creer around 09:20, May 8th and requested that Creer assist Keen by driving with Keen to pick up a vehcile that needed window repair.

Creer stated that the window has been broken for several weeks and questions why Keen picked this particular day to have it repaired. While enroute to pick up the vehcile, Keen stated that he ha repeatedly tried this date to contact his mother-in-law at her residence, by telephone, without success, Adding that he has called at least five (5) times.

At the intersection where a right turn would take you to the machanics shop, Creer insisted that Keen turn left in order that they might see if Mrs. Brister was alreight or if something was wrong.

7. Creer states that Keen refused to turn left towards the residence of Mrs. Brister and only after Creer demanded that they check on Mrs. Brister, did Keen turn the vehicle in that direction. Creer further states that after turning left, he, Keen, attempted to stop twice and reverse his direction. By this time, Creer observed that Keen was visibly shaken and upset.

8. As they rounded a sweeping curve approaching the Brister residence, suddenly Keen announced, "The barn is open". At this point Creer and Keen are over ? mile away from the residence. Keen then added, "That door is never left open."

9. Arriving at the scene, Keen refused to leave the vehicle and directed Creer to proceed to the barn and shut the door.

10. While Keen remained in the vehicle, located at the front of the residence, Creer attempted to enter the front entrance and found it locked. Creer then observed the back door standing open and then proceeded to the barn, hoping to see Mrs. Brister.

11. While attempting to close the two (2) barn doors, Creer initially failed to see the body of Mrs. Brister, which was partially concealed, due to limited light. The body was hanging several feet to the rear of the door.

12. On viewing Mrs. Brister's body hanging from a rope attached to the third, inside rafter, Creer initially panicked and ran screaming back to the vehicle containing Keen. Creer then shouted to Keen, "She's hanging". Keen's only response was, "Cut her down". Keen then retired to the front porch and remained there the entire time, never attempting to approach the scene. During this time, he was observed to be very emotional.

13. Keen has stated that he had repeatedly attempted to contact Mrs. Brister, the morning of May 8, 2000. This simply is untrue. Subpoenaed telephone records of Keen's residence and residence of Mrs. Brister fail to reflect any telephone calls to the Brister residence.

14.The rope used in an abortive attempt to emulate suicide has been identified by four (4) persons as belonging to Gene Keen.
On April 7, 2000, Gene Keen was questioned by Simpson County officers regarding a fire, identified as arson, at the Keen residence. During the interview Keen was shown a piece of rope and when asked by the Sheriff, "Do you know what this is? Keen responded, "That's the rope that was used to hang my mother-in-law". Note: Keen never went to the murder scene. He at no time had any opportunity to view this rope. As attested by Coroner Bobby Williams, the rope was bagged by Williams prior to leaving the barn and was never available for anyone except sworn personnel to see. Keen, without any hesitation, made his statement.

15. Gene Keen attempted to use Willie Creer as a "Time alibi" in order to have the body of Mrs. Brister discovered.

16. Keen, when questioned by Chief Deputy Dillon regarding the telephone calls he claimed to have made, stated, "I guess I am in serious trouble."

17. On Saturday night before the murder, Sunday night or early Monday morning, both Gene and Joyce dined with Mrs. Brister.

18. Since the interview of Gene Keen, his wife, Joyce Keen, has kept him secluded, making it impossible to interview him.

19. In February of 1997, Joyce Keen was granted power of attorney by Mrs. Brister. A preliminary examination of bank records reflect that between 1997 and 2000, Joyce Keen withdrew large sums of money from the accounts of Mrs. Brister.

20. As the amount of money mis-spent by Joyce Keen grew, the chance of Mrs. Brister discovering the shortage also increased. This problem was resolved when Joyce elected to move the majority of the money to her sole control.

21. Telephone records clearly show that Joyce Keen and Mrs. Brister were on a collision course. In the seven (7) days before her death, Mrs. Brister spent over nine (9) hours talking to Joyce Keen on the telephone.

22. An interview with Mrs. Sarah Fleming, Mrs. Brister's closest friend, revealed that Mrs. Brister was distraught, constantly crying and, "Ringing her hands". Each day of the week before her death, the situation deteriorated. Mrs., Brister would declare, "I must get to the bank and get my business straight, something is wrong." Additionally, Joyce and her daughter-in-law Kim Lander planned to put Mrs. Brister in an after care facility, located in Hattiesburg, where Kim Lander is a supervisor.
Mrs. Brister was adamant about not going to the home. At the time of her death she was in generally good health, and was known to have had a good outlook on life. Her despair surfaced only after she learned on the 28th of April that Joyce had withdrawn all the money and planned on putting her away. It was then that she became despondent.

23. The fire at the residence of Gene and Joyce Keen has been identified by investigators as arson. This has been confirmed by laboratory analysis.

24. Material identified as the accelerant, found at the font and rear of the residence, was matched with diesel fuel contained on a can located in the rear of a pickup belonging to Gene Keen.

25. On the evening before her death, Mrs. Brister was so despondent that Mrs. Sarah Fleming called Mrs. Brister's brother, Truman, asking that he check on his sister. After visiting with Mrs. Brister, Truman called Joyce Keen and related her mothers mental condition. Truman states that Joyce's response was, "I am not going over there, she only has one more night to spend alone".

26. Since the death of Mrs. Brister, her daughter, Joyce Keen, has made no effort to assist in the identifying of those persons responsible for her mother's death. Two other daughters have spent a considerable amount of monies and untold hours of personal time assisting authorities. Gene and Joyce Keens' response was to employ a criminal Attorney who has instructed both to remain silent.

27. Joyce Keen, while at the scene of the crime, responded to a request by authorities searching for Mrs. Brister's keys by reaching in her purse and producing the keys. This was done prior to Mrs. Keen entering the home. How could she have had possession of keys that should have been in the residence?

28. J.C. Dillon, Simpson County Sheriff, stated to us on May 24, Thursday that Eddie Bowen, DA told him that he could no arrest Joyce and Gene Keen and that he (J.C.) had to do what Eddie said.
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