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Ambush in Knoxville

Updated: Jul 31, 2022

Welcome to Crime Raven, real life stories from law enforcement crimes and issues, crime fighters face. This podcast, crimes researched using publicly available information or personal recollections. Content may be graphic disturbing or violent, and maybe upsetting to some. Discretion is advised.

Suspects are considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.

Channon and Christopher

Channon wasn't happy. But she told Kara to leave without her. "Are you sure?" Kara asked, "he can always just meet us there." Channon took her head smiling. "No, I told him I'd wait for him. And one of us has to keep our word. It'll be a good teaching moment. So you go and we'll catch up after I make him pay." Kara smiled, "well, don't hurt him too bad. He's a good guy." They both laughed. And then Kara got in her car and drove away.

Channon was comfortably parked in front of Kara's apartment building in north Knoxville. She was alone in the lot and knew it wasn't the best area of town. But several of her friends in college had lived in the expansive complex before graduating and transitioning to professional life.

She and Kara were almost there. So Channon was content sitting, listening to music to pass the time. After all her new Toyota 4runner, a recent gift from her parents had a nice sound system.

Three miles away from Kara's apartment, Slim was the man with a plan. In fact, Slim was the man with a house. The reality that it was a shitty little shack next to a waste management compound didn't matter. Slim's shit shack was more than any of the others could manage to scrape together. But Slim wasn't happy. A few weeks before Slim's brother Rome had called him up and wanted to come see him. "That'd be fine," Slim said, Rome showed up with his girlfriend, Vanessa, who Slim liked fine. Rome also had Detroit in tow, a guy he didn't know, didn't trust, and as the three overstay their welcome, Slim realized he didn't much like Detroit.

Now the house was a mess. Porn DVDs scattered all around the living room, cast off clothing and garbage, mainly fast food wrappers and empty liquor bottles, cluttered the floors of every room. Slim paced around the tiny house, shaking his head in disgust. He told Rome to meet him outside. Standing in the front yard, the view is a mixed residential commercial area. Leaning heavily towards commercial. Slim's tiny white house stood as the last in a short row of small non-descript colorless boxes, surrounded and outnumbered by warehouses, storage yards, and construction lots. The neighborhood was a distinct pocket sandwiched between Interstate 40, 2 blocks south and a double belt of railroad tracks, half a block to the north.

Rome followed his brother outside. Slim stepped into the front yard and pivoted to confront his brother. "When I told you you could stay. I didn't mean you and everybody else. You motherfuckers have trashed my house. Daphne left because of this shit. I ain't no charity and you're gonna go get me some money, even if you have to turn your girl out."

Rome held his hands up, shrugging. "You know, I ain't got no money. If I did, I give you some." Disgusted, Slim shook his head slowly, "Call up E and see if he can get that car. You're gonna help me get some cash or you motherfuckers are out. And we ain't taken Detroit. I don't trust his lazy ass not to give us up." Slim punctuated each sentence by jabbing his finger at Rome, then walked past, slamming the screen door behind him.

As Rome called E, Vanessa came out the front door and sat on the steps, listening. Rome said, "yo E !Hey man, Slim wants to know if you can borrow that car again." After a pause. "I don't know. He's pissed we all packed into his house. He's broke and Daphne walked out on him. He wants to pull some licks. Rome nodded into the air. "Yeah. Tonight." "Okay, cool." He hung up and looked at his girlfriend. "He's blaming Daphne on us?!" Vanessa was incredulous. Rome rolled his eyes, nodding, Vanessa glanced back over her shoulder, lowering her voice,. "Maybe if he stopped beating on her ass, she'd stay"

Back outside Kara's apartment, it had gotten dark, but it was still early on this Saturday evening. Channon waited because she was eager to spend time with Christopher. They had only been dating a couple of months, but she liked what she'd seen so far and the tardiness problem could be taken care of later.

Christopher finally showed up and sheepishly crept up to Channon's driver's window. "I'm really sorry, babe," Christopher said, as he tried to gauge how much trouble he was in. She gave him a flat but intense expression. "You should be leaving me here all alone. I could have gone with Kara, but I decided I'd better stay to make sure you're okay."

"So you were worried about me?" Christopher asked eyebrows skeptical. Keeping the flat affect. Channon said, "you never know." She couldn't hold it anymore. Fighting her lips, quivering into a smile, air escaping, and then suddenly erupting into a laugh. Relieved, Christopher moved up close, so they were face to face. "It just ran longer than I thought. It won't happen again." "It better not." Her smile broadened. And she leaned in so they could kiss.

E showed up just after sunset driving his cousin's crappy white Pontiac sedan. Slim called out through the screen door, "the first thing we're gonna do is steal us something better than that piece of shit." E gave him a head nod. "I got what I could get. Anyway, nobody's gonna worry about this creeping up on 'em." "Except that it's white. It almost glows in the dark." Both men chuckled and embraced as they met in the front yard.

Christopher was happy. The longer that Channon wanted to stay in the parking lot of the Washington Ridge apartments, the more he was absolved from being unforgivably late. Besides, he liked spending time alone with her, he thought the party can wait, as he went in for another kiss. He didn't even register the car behind him as it pulled into the lot.

E was driving as he and the three men toured all their spots in north Knoxville. They had cruised a couple of places without seeing anything promising. And then habit took him towards the Washington Ridge where several of their friends lived.

As E pulled a car into the parking lot,

on the far end, they saw a guy standing with his upper body inside the driver's window of a Toyota 4runner. E slowed so they could scope it. And as they approached, they could see what was happening. "That dude's trying to get some right there," Rome laughed.

"Yeah, and that's a nice ride. Plenty of room for everybody," Slim, who was sitting next to E nodded in that direction." Let's do this."

He and his brother both gripped their pistols as E drove past the couple who seemed to take no notice of them. Down the lot E stopped and turned off the headlights.

Christopher sensed movement as a man came around the back of the car. He couldn't see the pistol clearly, but the man stance in the dim light spoke for itself. To his horror, a second man came in on the other side, also with a gun up. To Christopher, the rest was a blur. One of them yelling, "get out!" The one behind him, pushed him towards the rear of the car towards the first guy, who shoved him up against the side of the car near the rear bumper. He yelled, " don't you move motherfucker!" as he held the gun in Christopher's face.

Channon, let out a low scream as the man in the front opened the driver's door and pulled her out. "Shut the fuck up, bitch. Gimme the keys." For Slim, there was a moment of stillness. Slim had a gun on the boy. He looked at the girl and his brother and decided he was taking everything. With the gun still up. He lunged and pulled the back hatch open with his left hand, "get the fuck there." Christopher ,still in shock said, "oh man, just don't shoot us." Rome knew his brother and didn't want to draw his wrath. He thought ' two white people, white kids, this fucking shit's fixing to get crazy.' He pulled the girl around the open driver's door. Slim pushed the boy into the cargo area and told him to stay down as he pistol whipped the back of his head. When Slim moved outta the way, Rome pushed the girl in on top. She softly whimpered every time Rome touched her. But when she saw she was being put in with Christopher, she quickly laid down beside him, clinging to his back. Slim told Rome, "keep him down. We're taking 'em back." Slim jumped in behind the wheel as Rome knelt backward on the back seat, brandishing the gun over the two.

There was clothing lying on the back seat. Rome grabbed two shirts and wrapped their heads. The girl begged him to let them go. Rome said, "we ain't gonna hurt you if you do what we want. We're taking your car and we need money." Christopher pleaded, "we don't have any money. Take anything. Don't hurt us. Just let us go take the car. Let us go. We won't say shit, man. We'll just say somebody stole it and we didn't see anything." Slim yelled back, "just shut the fuck up. Do what we say. And no one will get hurt." He asked them what their names were and they told him. Channon and Christopher rode the rest of the three mile drive pressed together, heads covered laying in the back of Channon's 4runner, their minds, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Christopher could feel Channon's body shaking. They were both trying to catch their breath. He reached out for her. Shannon took Christopher's hand, ferociously, squeezing it with both of hers.

Slim stopped in his driveway and E parked on the street, the three and E parked on the street. The three men pulled their captives out of the stolen SUV and tightened their head wraps. Slim gripped the back of Shannon's neck, ordering her to walk, guiding her up and inside. E followed him, marching Christopher through the front door. When they were inside Detroit and Vanessa who'd been sitting on the living room floor, watching TV, just stared at the group with their mouths agape.

Vanessa looked at Rome who was the last to come inside with a look that said, 'what the fuck?' Rome just shrugged. As an explanation, Slim said, "we're gonna keep 'em here for a little bit, while we decide where to let 'em go." He then pushed Channon through the living room, into his bedroom. E pushed Christopher who lost his balance and stumbled to the ground. "Get up and walk motherfucker," E shouted. He continued pushing Christopher into the second bedroom and slammed the door behind them. Vanessa in Detroit got up and stood speechless in the doorway as Slim ordered Channin to sit on his bedroom floor. Vanessa's eyes met Rome's who again, shrugged and said nothing.

Slim started looking around until he found a sheet lying on the floor in the closet. He cut it, making strips of fabric, some of which he handed to Vanessa. "Give those to E and tell him to tie his boy up good." When Vanessa went into the second bedroom, E had Christopher face down on the air mattress and had stripped off most of his clothing. E seemed angry Vanessa was interrupting. She passed on Slim's order. E took the fabric strips and shut the door behind her as she left. When Vanessa walked back into the living room, She could see the three men were now only partially clothed and Channon lay naked on the mattress.

She watched some of the things they did to her. When she could no longer watch, She could still hear the sounds echoing through the tiny house. She could hear the slapping and the thud of punches being thrown. She heard gagging and sometimes screams coming from both bedrooms. The men were joking and laughing while they did it. After a few minutes, Slim and Detroit, came into the living room where Vanessa was pretending to watch TV.

Slim told her "Couples therapy. Go make my brother happy." Vanessa went into the bedroom and joined Rome in abusing the girl. It only took a little getting used to.

In the living room, Slim told Detroit, "when E's done with pretty boy in there, I expect you're gonna take care of things with him." "Why do I have to take care of this? You had to bring him back. You didn't ask me. It's your mess." With an intense stare Slim stepped closer and said, "motherfucker, you seem to enjoy yourself a minute ago. I don't know you. I don't trust you. And the only way that's gonna change is if I know you took care of some of this business." Detroit reluctantly, nodded taking Slim's gun, "where?" Slim said, "take him by the tracks."

When E came out of the bedroom, slim told E they were gonna need to get rid of the guy. "Not both of them?" Slim said, 'nah, I'm gonna keep her a little while, but you and Detroit take that dude out and get rid of him. Detroit's gonna prove he's a team player. I gave him my gat." E nodded at Slim and shifted his gaze to Detroit. "You ready?" Detroit nodded and went into the bedroom. He found Christopher unconscious lying on the air mattress. The boy was tightly bound and gagged wearing only a pair of underwear soaked through with blood. Detroit could see that the boy had been badly beaten. Red and purple bruises, flamed across his torso, legs, and visible parts of his face.

Christopher's body and mind could not be easily rowsed into the living hell where he found himself. So he curled and writhed to avoid Detroit's efforts. Finally, several kicks to the upper back, brought him around. Detroit made his prisoner sit up, then tightly wrapped and tied the sweatshirt back around Christopher's head. E came into the room and helped Detroit pull Christopher to his feet. They wrapped a blanket around his body to contain the blood dripping outta Christopher's shorts, Christopher moaned with every step. "Walk," E said, "we're gonna let you go now." Christopher seemed to rally moving faster with painful jerky steps as his captors guided him through the house, out the front door and placed him in the back of the stolen 4runner.

When they got the hatch closed, Detroit said "Slim wants us to dump him by the tracks." E pointed to the warehouse across the street. "They're just on the other side of that building. we can go through one of the lots up the street.

E drove the short distance down the street, cutting up an alley to get to a small, empty lot between a warehouse and the railroad track berm. Detroit got out and walked up onto the tracks. He could see no activity on the dimly lit blocks, just the backs of commercial warehouses, bounding each side of the tracks in both directions. Returning to the vehicle, Detroit told E that it looked clear. They opened the back hatch and pulled Christopher out. E said, "you need to walk down the tracks a bit, and then we're gonna leave you there. You understand?" The sweatshirt wrapped head nodded weakly. They almost had to carry Christopher onto the tracks, one on each side to get him there. Then they told him to walk. He took a few feeble steps, but he was having trouble with bare feet on the uneven beams of the track.

Frustrated with the pace Detroit stepped up behind Christopher and shot him in the neck. as the boy doubled over, he shot him again in the center of his back, he crumpled onto the tracks. The boys tried to pull himself forward away from his tormentors using only his arms. E stepped forward and shot Christopher through the back of the head.

Detroit ran to the car and returned with a gas can. He handed it to E who doused the body? The pile lit with a brilliant orange flame and a loud woosh. Surprised by the bright intensity, both men fled back to Slim's house.

By the time Detroit and E were done with their task, it was early Sunday morning. The two men washed and cleaned themselves as best they could. And E left for home. Those who remained at the house turned in for the night, Vanessa and Rome in the second bedroom, Detroit in the living room and Slim in his bedroom doing is he pleased with his prisoner.

On Sunday Channon endured another cycle of rape and beatings. They violated her in every way their minds could conceive. When she was conscious, she clung to the faint hope that the attacks would stop and they would dump her somewhere and she could start her real life again. Yes. Pause you can't. Sorry. No, just gimme a second. I more I'm alright. Okay. You can't, you can't be even close to crying when you, I got it.

I got it.

When she was conscious, she clung to the faint hope the attacks would stop and they would dump her somewhere and she could start her real life again. She daydreamed that Christopher had been let go, and he was trying to get help to her this very minute.

Sometime midday on Sunday, Slim began to think about not getting caught. The night had been precisely the adventure he wanted it to be, but now like a bad hangover, He had to rid himself of its lingering effect. That meant dumping the girl, thinking about what they had done to her, made him think about the guys he knew in prison who had been nailed by DNA. He wasn't going down that way. So he took Rome and Detroit, shopping for supplies. Vanessa had done some shit to the girl, so Slim was confident that he could trust her to keep the girl under wraps. After the supply run, Detroit dumped the 4runner on Glider Avenue. He wiped the interior down before the short walk back to Slim's house.

Slim, Rome, and Vanessa took care of the last loose end. They began by spraying Channon's body down with bleach. They made her open her mouth and swallow some of the cleaning fluid. Then they tied Channon's arms and legs tight against her body, forcing her into a fetal position. Channon was conscious as they wrapped her head in a white plastic bag, then put her entire body in five layers of black plastic trash bags. Encased in plastic, as she was Channon was lifted into a large Rubbermaid garbage can. The lid was snapped in place over her, as she gasped for air .

The brand new Rubbermaid trash can in the middle of the kitchen floor was a monolithic reminder of the weight of what they had all done. After the lid was closed, the four people left the house and never returned.

Slim convinced his ex-girlfriend to take him in for a couple of days. When she kicked him out, he sought refuge in E's apartment. Rome, Detroit, and Vanessa fled back to Kentucky.

The investigation began with the second call to Knoxville police. the first call, the one from the mother of 21 year old Channon Christian hadn't kicked off a massive search because a 23 year old man missing with his 21 year old girlfriend doesn't, on its face, constitute an emergency compared to the rest of Knoxville's myriad, pressing police issues. They seemed to be low risk missing: Channon Christian was a 21 year old university of Tennessee sociology student. Christopher Newsom played baseball in high school, went to a technical community college and worked as a carpenter.

It was the second call that got police attention. That second call was from Channon's father. He gave the same account as his wife had hours earlier, their daughter and her boyfriend were missing. Both families were out looking. He had called the family cell phone provider who told them that Channon's phone was somewhere in the area of north Knoxville, between Cherry and n-Ninth avenue. That is where they found the Toyota 4runner that they had recently bought for Channon. There was no sign of Channon or Christopher.

That new finding was disturbing, indeed. By the time police arrived, it was Sunday night. The vehicle was secured for evidence processing. On Monday the ninth, two significant things happened. An investigator with the Knoxville police department processed Channon's Toyota 4runner. He noted that the car's interior had been wiped clean. This was not a good sign. Several items were taken for further processing in the lab. One of those items was an envelope that bore an identifiable fingerprint. The second significant event of that Monday was that a body had been discovered on the rail line behind 1701 Whittle Springs Road. The shoeless victim had been shot three times, wrapped in a blanket, and set on fire. It did not take investigators long to identify the body as that of Christopher Newsom, one of the missing people associated with the 4runner that had been dumped nearby. A search of the immediate area did not yield any sign of Channon.

The fingerprint on the envelope from the 4runner matched someone named Lemericus Davidson, also known as Slim. Slim was a convicted carjacker, an all around thief who'd recently been released from prison. Investigators were able to discover that Slim was renting a house at 2316 Chipman street in north Knoxville.

The Chipman address was significant because the next street north was Whittle Spring road Christopher's body was found on railroad tracks that ran between Chipman and Whittle Springs. The 4runner had been abandoned only a short distance from either location.

On Tuesday, January 9th, 2007, police served a search warrant at 2316 Chipman street. When they arrived there, they found the front door ajar. A first cursory sweep found no suspects in the residence. The house's floor was cluttered, but held very few furnishings, just a couple of mattresses and a cheap table and chair set. A large plastic Rubbermaid trash can sitting in the middle of the kitchen was the most noteworthy item in the house. When investigators removed the lid from the can, they found the body of Channon entombed in layers of black plastic.

There was other damning evidence found in the house. A few items that belonged to Christopher were left behind, including his driver's license. An empty gas can was on the kitchen floor next to the refrigerator. Channon's body and the trash can smelled strongly of bleach cleaner. And the container was also found in the kitchen. In the living room, a detective found a DVD that had been rented in Lebanon, Kentucky.

From the Chipman house, detectives were presented with numerous avenues of investigation. Slim had disappeared, but his ex-girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, had just moved out of the Chipman house the week prior to the murders. Sutton was the niece of a Knoxville police officer. And she was willing to talk. Sutton said that she left Slim because he was physically abusive. She said that Slim had some guests staying at the house for a couple of weeks. Sutton was able to give their names. They were Slim's brother Latalvis Cobbins AKA Rome, Rome's girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman and George Thomas, AKA Detroit. Sutton said the last time that she had been at the Chipman house had been on Sunday morning to pick up some property that she had left there. She said that Slim would not let her into the back of the house, but that he gave her the property that she had gone there for as well as some clothing and jewelry, he told her that he bought as a gift. Sutton showed the detectives, the jewelry who identified it as property stolen from Channon.

Sutton denied, knowing anything about the kidnappings and the murders. She stated that Slim had stayed in her new apartment on Monday night, but that she had kicked him out when her mother called and told her about the news coverage of the Chipman street investigation. Sutton said that she thinks Slim went to stay with his friend, Eric Boyd, AKA E. The information provided by Sutton matched up with the details from the Chipman house crime scene.

The video was rented by Detroit from a library in Kentucky. A search of Slim's phone records showed that he was communicating regularly with E. During a neighborhood canvas, an employee at waste management said that he knew E and saw him and the cousin's white Pontiac at the Chipman house over the weekend. The witness also saw Shannon's 4runner parked there.

The hunt for five people was on. Police were able to find E first. E said he knew about the crime giving the police graphic details. E further said he was not directly involved in the crime, but had been told about it by Slim. From the contact with E, police learned that Slim was hiding in an apartment on Reynold street. When the SWAT team hit the place, Slim gave up without a fight blurting out that he hadn't done anything to that girl. Detectives noticed another small detail that tied him to the crime. Slim was wearing Christopher's distinctive silver and black Nike running shoes.

The Kentucky crew was not difficult to round up. They were not sophisticated criminals and all gave voluntary statements that placed them at the scene of the crime. All of their accounts attempted to minimize personal involvement while casting all blame on other participants. The stories were valuable in piecing together what happened and who probably did what.

The investigators learn that the ambush happened in an apartment building parking lot. They learned that Slim was the ringleader and instigator. They confirmed that E despite his statements to the contrary supplied the transportation and more. In fact, the Kentucky group said Christopher was last seen before dawn on Sunday morning being escorted out by E with E returning alone a little while later.

The four male suspects were arrested immediately. Coleman was cooperative and testified in front of the original grand jury. She thought that by aiding the prosecution, she would escape responsibility, but she was ultimately charged as an accomplice. Tennessee has a criminal responsibility law that requires a person to report or stop a crime in progress.

Despite the mountain of evidence, the cases against two of the defendants were not as strong as the others. It was clear from her testimony that Coleman was present and knew the rapes and murders were happening. But there was a debate about whether she was a direct participant. There were clues in evidence. Coleman's DNA was found on Channon's body. Her DNA was also found on a broken table leg that was used in the assault on Channon. Maybe the most compelling piece of evidence against Coleman was what she wrote in her journal. She wrote fondly about her