DECATUR, Ala. — Mary Faye Hunter’s disappearance made headlines 50 years ago. While much has changed in Decatur, the mystery still lingers decades later.
Who killed Mary Faye Hunter and left her near the Tennessee River?
She appeared in a home movie that was shot a week before she disappeared in 1967. It’s fuzzy, mysterious and haunting.
As time passes, official details on the investigation into her murder are too.
Although he never met her, the home movie is a vivid reminder to Mary Faye’s nephew, James, that her murder remains unsolved.
“How does a woman just vanish out of thin air in midday without anyone seeing anything?” James Hunter said.
James lives 2,200 miles away in California. As Mary Faye’s next of kin, he wants answers about where his aunt’s case stands with law enforcement.
Brad Golson, Hunter’s distant cousin, has been looking into the case for two years. He created a timeline by talking to witnesses and former investigators.
On May 6, 1967, Mary Faye left her parents’ home on 8th Avenue in southeast Decatur. She went to A Place of Beauty to get her hair done, and Golson said according to her hairstylist, everything was normal. The 34-year-old Redstone Arsenal receptionist left her weekly hair appointment and went to a grocery store.
“Witnesses verify that she was at the A&P,” Golson said. “She bought instant potatoes, and she left.”
That’s the last time Golson can pinpoint that she was seen alive.
“We’re talking like only 30 minutes that she was late, and her parents are already contacting authorities because it was so unlike her,” he said.
Five months later, on Oct. 14, 1967, two young girls found Hunter’s remains near Flint Creek. No one was ever arrested for her murder. No suspects were ever publicly identified.
“It’s really sort of heartbreaking,” said her nephew.
Fast forward to today. The case remains unsolved. It’s not clear where the case files are, if they still even exist 52 years later. And what’s more, it’s a mystery as to who is responsible for investigating Mary Faye’s death. Decatur police say it’s a state case, and state investigators say it’s Decatur PD’s.
According to the Decatur Daily newspaper reports around the time of her death, investigators told a coroner’s jury that Hunter had been sexually molested or assaulted. Decades later, her autopsy report does still exist. But both James Hunter and Golson say getting hands on it has been a challenge.
The man who can approve the release of those files is Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson, who was 2 years old when the murder happened. He said he remembers the case being the talk of the town while he was growing up.
“The theories, the rumors that were going around about who did it, who may have done it — and they are still going around today,” Anderson said.
Anderson has jurisdiction to prosecute Mary Faye’s case, and he said his office has a file on it.
“It’s technically under investigation,” he said. “Now I’m not saying there’s an active investigation going on. There’s not.”
But Anderson admits over time, police files have disappeared.
“Evidence that had been collected sometimes goes missing just because agencies change evidence rooms or change buildings, and things have to get transferred,” he said. “A lot of times those things get lost in the transfer.”
Lost or destroyed files are problematic for prosecutors in cases like Mary Faye’s.
“To some extent, it compromises us because we don’t have it,” Anderson said. “And sometimes it can be used by the defense to say ‘what about this piece of evidence? What would it have proved? Would it prove my client’s innocence?'”
Anderson says he doesn’t think it’s likely Mary Faye Hunter’s case will be prosecuted, but he won’t release the autopsy report. He said it could still be a way to verify the truth if someone does step forward to confess to her murder.
“If I knew that we would never solve it, I would turn it over,” he said.
But James Hunter and Brad Golson don’t buy it. They believe the case is already compromised, and releasing the autopsy won’t impact it.
“What is in there that we’re not supposed to see?” Golson said.
Prosecutors say it’s a formal piece of evidence in a case that’s unlikely to be solved. Anderson says the only way to close the case is to prosecute it. But James wants a resolution in the mystery that’s more than half a century old.
“I want the case closed,” he said. “I want it formally solved. I want my aunt to finally rest in peace.”
Hunter’s family recently requested that the autopsy report be released and also offered Anderson evidence that they believe is crucial in the case.
A book was recently published about Mary Faye’s murder, and her nephew is working on a film profiling her case.