WARNING: This story discusses topics of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Gas station clerks were disappearing out of thin air in Mobile during the mid-70s. Little did everyone know they would never be seen alive again. This is the story of Thomas Whisenhant.
WKRG News 5 is looking back at the crimes that shocked the Gulf Coast. Thomas Whisenhant’s story is the twelfth in the series.
Even as a teenager, Thomas Whisenhant was known to be a troublemaker. At the age of 16 Whisenhant had been charged with robbing a blind woman. A few months later he was accused of shooting and killing 72-year-old widow Lexie Haynes in Prichard.
A retired Prichard police captain said the robbery charge was dropped due to a technicality. Officers questioned Whisenhant about the murder of Haynes but his family gave him an alibi. Before Haynes death, Whisenhant allegedly had been playing with a stolen gun in front of his friends.
After the shooting of Hayes Whisenhant decided to join the United States Air Force. He was stationed at the Ent Air Force Base in Colorado on Oct. 25, 1965. On this day, Whisenhant attacked a 22-year-old named Rose Covington, who was a United States Air Force WAF. Covington was beaten so badly that she was in the hospital for two months after the attack. She suffered severe head injuries and facial injuries.
When it was time for the trial Covington testified against Whisenhant and said she has never met him and did not know what he looked like. An FBI expert said the shoe prints left at the scene matched Whisenhant, which helped in convicting him of assault with intent to commit murder. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison with hard labor. In 1970, Whisenhant’s sentence was reduced to 10 years and on Nov. 28, 1973, he was granted parole.
Two years later on Nov. 21, 1975, Whisenhant was back in Mobile and was ready to attack. On Nov. 21, Whisenhant attacked Patricia Hitt, 28 and a gas station clerk. Whisenhant beat Hitt and then shot her to death. Two other men were originally arrested for the murder.
On April 16, 1976, Whisenhant kidnapped another gas station clerk. Venora Hyatt, 44, was taken from the gas station she worked at and taken to an old house. Whisenhant killed Hyatt and dumped her body near an abandoned shack. He returned to the crime scene the following day and “mutilated” her body. He took Hyatts wristwatch off her body and later gave it to his wife as a gift.
The last murder that law enforcement knows about occurred on Oct. 16, 1976. Cheryl Lynn Payton, 23, worked as a gas station clerk in Mobile as well. Whisenhant kidnapped Payton at gunpoint and drove her to a wooded area where he would rape her and then shoot her in the head, killing her. He dumped her body in the woods.
On Oct. 17, Whisenhant would return to the scene to mutilate her body, cutting a large part of her breast off. He was seen near the crime scene, which led to police chasing him before they captured him. After he was arrested, Whisenhant gave a “detailed confession” about all of his crimes.
In August 1977, the trial for Payton’s murder began and Whisenhant pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury found Whisenhant guilty anyways and on Sept. 7 he was sentenced to death.
On May 27, 2010, Whisenhant was killed by lethal injection at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.