On Dec. 6, 1949, John Thomas Lutz Sr., his wife Hazel, and their six children were gathered in the living room of their rural Greene County home, listening to the radio.
A shotgun blast through a window killed Lutz, 28, and sent his pregnant wife to the hospital. The couple were about a month shy of their 10th wedding anniversary. A sawmill worker at the time of his death, Lutz had served his country during World War II.
According to the TBI, Lutz’s murder — still unsolved nearly 70 years later — shocked the community and prompted a local journalist to demand a change in the way serious crimes were investigated in Tennessee. As a result, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was born.
You see, on the night of the murder it wasn’t only local law enforcement who responded to the Lutz home. Journalist John M. Jones Sr. did as well. And what he saw, TBI agents say, bothered him. Because he knew enough about crime scenes to know the local police were contaminating the murder site and potentially damaging any evidence that could have helped lead to the killer.
What Jones did
Jones, publisher of the Greeneville Sun, called for the creation of a statewide agency to help out in such cases, especially in rural locales without the proper resources to conduct proper criminal investigations. Jones took his cause to the Tennessee Press Association in January of 1951.
On March 14, 1951, Gov. Gordon Browning signed a bill into law establishing the Tennessee Bureau of Criminal Identification (TBCI) as the “plainclothes” division of the Department of Safety. On March 27, 1980, following a series of legislative hearings, the organization was re-established as an independent agency and renamed the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).
Since that time, the bureau has grown significantly and continues to meet the demands of providing up-to-date investigative, forensic science, and support to Tennessee’s entire criminal justice system. Headquartered in Nashville, the bureau has six regional offices across the state.
With lab facilities in Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville, TBI’s dedicated forensic scientists possess a wide array of analytical skills, according to the bureau’s website. “These highly-trained employees reconstruct crime scenes, identify and compare physical and biological evidence, and link offenders with their victims. In some cases, the TBI has even been able to exonerate those who were falsely accused. The TBI’s Forensic Services Division processes evidence for every law enforcement agency and medical examiner in the state. Because of the broad range of requirements they must possess, all TBI Forensic Scientists are commissioned by the Director as Special Agents, have earned a minimum of a baccalaureate degree in chemistry or a closely related scientific field, and have completed extensive training related to forensic science and crime scene investigation.”