« Back to blog

A break in the Marcia Trimble Case?

(Note: I am still somewhat out of pocket until late Sunday — early Monday, but I had to make time to write about this. The reason why will be obvious to anyone who has read my blogs for a while. ~ Steve)

In 1976 a man named Jerome Sydney Barrett was convicted of raping a student at Belmont University (then a college) in Nashville, Tennessee.

The rape occurred on February 17, 1975.

Barrett spent 26 years in prison for his crime. He was released in 2002.

On November 19, 2007, Barrett was arrested in Memphis, TN. The Metropolitan Nashville Police tell why he was arrested again:

Thirty-two years after the brutal murder of 19-year-old Sarah Vannatta Des Prez, the man suspected of killing her is being brought to justice.

[. . .]

Scientific evidence developed over the past several months by the police department’s Cold Case Unit, with the assistance of the TBI, led to the identification of Barrett as the man responsible for Des Prez’ February 2, 1975, murder…

So… in February of 1975, Jerome Barrett was allegedly on a sexually violent rampage in and around the West side of Nashville.

Marcia Trimble vanished on February 25, 1975.

Now some in Nashville are wondering: could Barrett have been responsible for Marcia Trimble’s murder? From WSMV Channel 4, Nashville’s NBC affiliate:

Police confirmed that the DNA evidence used to make that arrest is being used to determine whether Barrett may be connected in the slaying of 9-year-old Marcia Trimble…

Marcia’s family lived at 4009 Copeland Drive — 4 miles or so from 20th Avenue South, where Sarah Vannatta Des Prez was murdered. Belmont University, where Barrett’s rape victim was a student, was about the same distance from the Trimble residence.

If Jerome Barrett was mobile — had his own car — and knew that side of Nashville well, he would not have had to go far to spot Marcia Trimble one February evening, finishing up her Girl Scout Cookie sales.

The Wikipedia entry on Marcia Trimble’s murder is extremely well-sourced and well-written. It details some less-heralded developments in the case, one of them being that the legendary Dr. Bill Bass, the forensic anthropologist who created The Body Farm, determined in 2002 that Marcia had been murdered the day she vanished.

Around the time she vanished, Marcia was seen near the Geddes-Douglas tree nursery, close to the intersection of Hobbs and Estes Road. Marcia’s remains were discovered on March 30, 1975, Easter Sunday, at 4007 Estes Road — about 200 yards from her home.

While Copeland Drive was (and still is) a kind of self-contained loop where many neighbors knew each other well and tended to watch out for each others’ kids, Estes and Hobbs were more well-trafficked roads, likely to be used by someone just passing through the area on their way to another destination.

It doesn’t stretch credulity to think that Marcia’s murder was the act of a sexually predatory stranger. For me, this has always seemed like a strong possibility, especially after my friend Meredith Harris and I corresponded at length about the murder. I’ve already linked it once, but in this blog entry I wrote of my friendship with Meredith and how we re-connected after she found some of my writing about Marcia online.

Meredith was supposed to go with Marcia that day. Police were still occasionally interviewing Meredith when we were teens, though I don’t recall having any knowledge of this at the time.

One of the prime suspects in Marcia’s murder, Jeffery Womack, babysat Meredith and her sister. Jeffery was 15 when Marcia was killed. Police tried to make a case against Jeffery for Marcia’s murder in 1979, but it was dropped — they had no real evidence against him. Even though the case was dropped, Jeffery remained under a cloud of suspicion until DNA tests cleared him.

The subject of DNA brings up one reason to not attach too much hope to Jerome Barrett’s arrest. Metro Davidson County PD Captain Mickey Miller is cited in the Wikipedia entry, indicating that DNA indicated more than one person raped Marcia that day. Unfortunately, very little DNA remains from the Trimble case that could be used to make a conclusive match.

There are other reasons Barrett may be a long shot. One of them is the location where Marcia’s body was found. She was in a shed behind a home, covered with a shower curtain and kiddy pool. It seemed to be the sort of hiding place that might only be known to someone familiar with the neighborhood.

Additionally, Barrett is African-American. West Nashville in 1975 was a very white place to be. It’s probably still a very white place. But in 1975, Nashville in general would have also had a larger share of bigots more openly suspicious of black men hanging around mostly-white, upper-middle-class neighborhoods like Marcia Trimble’s.

I can recall no substantial reports from the time nor have I found any in my recent research indicating that police ever sought a black suspect in Marcia’s murder before.

If Barrett’s DNA is a match, the cops investigating the Trimble murder wouldn’t be the only ones sighing with relief.

I recently wrote about Jodi Parrack, a little girl who vanished in Constantine, Michigan, only to be found mysteriously murdered in a cemetery the same night she disappeared. Another friend I made in my teens was in Marcia Trimble’s Girl Scout Troop, and she went to school with Marcia and Meredith. That friend now lives a few miles from where Jodi was murdered. She’d already spotted the (purely coincidental) physical resemblance between Marcia and Jodi when I brought it to her attention.

My friend in Michigan says that once she became a mom, she found herself thinking about Marcia constantly. Murders like Jodi Parrack’s only intensify the old feelings of fear and anxiety that were first born when Marcia vanished.

I visited Nashville late in 2006 for a number of reasons — to see some old friends, to sing, and to visit Marcia’s neighborhood with Meredith.

There is a lot to say about that trip, and I’ve never written it all, but the experience that brought home to me the deep impact of Marcia Trimble’s murder on my hometown came out of the blue while I was there, in a conversation with a stranger.

I’d just crossed the Davidson County line. I pulled off at an exit I knew like the back of my hand — Old Hickory Boulevard and I-24. If I drove just a few miles up Old Hickory I would pass the Starwood Amphitheatre, where I worked on a crew installing seats in 1986. I could have then crossed Murfreesboro Pike and traveled on Hobson Pike down to Hamilton Church Road. A left turn onto that road would have had me heading towards the home where I grew up, at 3183 Hamilton Church… only now that address is owned by (of all things) a Coptic Christian Church.

I pulled into a motel and entered the lobby to get my room. That was where I met Rheda, the night clerk.

Rheda was in her 50s, had short, reddish-brown hair, a friendly face, and square-rimmed glasses.

I know people do this elsewhere, but when someone asks me, appropos of nothing, what “I do,” — as in what I do for a living — I always wonder if they are from Nashville. For some reason, that’s part of the training you receive growing up in the Music City — get basic info about someone (my Granny Huff would say “about a body”) and then see what they do.

Rheda asked me what I did, of course. I wouldn’t feel nearly so strange giving this answer now, but at the time, I sheepishly told her that I was a writer. She pressed further — in that honeyed way only southerners can truly press. What kind of writer?

I’m sure I sighed. I said I wrote about true crime.

Her eyes widened behind the glasses. “Oh,” she said, “Have you ever heard of that girl out in Brentwood somewhere, who got kilt [killed] back in the 70s? Marcia-“

“Marcia Trimble? Yes. It was in Green Hills.”

I wrote this down after it happened, and I recall that I hid my surprise at Marcia Trimble coming up like that by correcting the lady as to the location of the crime.

I was only a mile or two inside the Metropolitan city limits, and a good 20 miles from where Marcia died. I was having an idle conversation with another native Nashvillian, and all it took for Marcia Trimble to come up was me saying I wrote about crime.

It turned out that Rheda went to the charismatic Christian church once attended by the Trimble family, and even 30 years later, rumors still flowed in that community. Before I went to my room, feeling unsettled by the whole thing, Rheda gave me the name of the former pastor for the church and hinted at some of the rumors that had been stirred up in that church about Marcia’s murder. At one point, some folks apparently believed that Marcia had fallen victim to a family member.

I gave no credence to this. I couldn’t recall anyone in Marcia’s family having been mentioned as a suspect before. They’d likely been cleared by DNA if they were.

The unsettling thing was how quickly this particular case leapt to mind for one random person. Someone with whom I’d normally have had no more than 2 minutes’ conversation at best — getting my room key was a business transaction, no more.

It was proof I didn’t really need that what Mickey Miller once said about the Trimble murder was true: “In that moment, Nashville lost its innocence. Our city has never been, and never will be, the same again…”

Miller’s words held true for Meredith Harris. They were true for my friend now living in Michigan. They were true for me, just 7 when I first began seeing the missing girl’s face on the news each night.

Without Marcia Trimble’s ghost, this blog might not exist. For her to finally be put to rest, have some justice, some peace, would be a great thing. But this blog would remain. I’d be stuck with my memory of the ghost girl hanging there each night over the anchorman’s shoulder, looking like any girl in my class, on my bus. Stuck with my awareness that there are many more Marcias out there still, and still more kids like me and my friends, though we’ve moved from child to parent. Each time we open the door and watch one of our own children go out, we are haunted, wondering, and worrying.