News » Cover Story

Who Killed Cletus Haegert?

A Nashvillle Songwriter's Unsolved Murder Lays Open a Web Of Family Intrigue



On the night of Dec. 14, 2009, a retired Nashville songwriter, producer, performer and general country music jack-of-all-trades named Cletus "Clete" Haegert posted this half-joking status update on his Facebook page:

Hmm? I wonder if whoever broke into my home over the weekend found what they were looking for? At least I enjoyed going to the Titans game on Sunday. I know the culprits weren't Barry, Trey, Harrison (they were with me) or anyone that plays for the Rams/Titans, or attended the game. Everyone else is suspect.

Clete, 68, had just spent the weekend in Nashville for his first pro football game. It was a needed getaway. Not a month before, he had been sitting in a hospital cancer ward with his wife, Marjorie "Marge" Harris-Haegert. He had held her hand as her breathing slowed, and he was there when she finally succumbed to pneumonia. They had been married for 15 years. Returning afterward to the three-story home they shared in southern Middle Tennessee was hard. Except for Clete, the house that was to be their romantic hideaway to the end of their days was now empty.

But it was not undisturbed.

Clete noticed truck tracks carved into the steep gravel drive that wound its way around to the rear of the house. After stepping inside, he must have crossed the hardwood floors, checking the two-story floor-to-ceiling paneled windows in the great room, the back doors, the three-car garage. He looked for missing valuables — exotic furs, Oriental rugs, Austrian crystal chandeliers, sets of china and centuries-old French desks. The house was stuffed to excess — not just with lavish furnishings, but with whatever odd bric-a-brac caught Marge's eye.

Clete Haegert was a handsome man with amused, squinting eyes that terminated in deep crow's feet. He was often mistaken for Kris Kristofferson, and understandably so. His broad, dimpled face had a conquistador's beard trimmed low over the lip and jawline; his dark brown hair had gone completely silver over the last five years. It was still wavy and full at the temples, but of late it had grown into a short, unruly ponytail. It gave the impression of a rakish honky-tonker enjoying his twilight days, a pirate in retirement.

That wasn't far from the truth. Every St. Patrick's Day, the stage at a saloon somewhere in Nashville would yield to one "Clete O'Hagerty" — Clete in sentimental Irish-tenor mode, reliving the St. Paddy's Day he met Marge at the now-defunct Franklin Road watering hole The Sutler. He'd had some near-success, even if his operatic singing voice never translated into commercial country appeal on Music Row. But he was a songwriter for Tree Publishing Co. during his early years in Nashville, when he migrated here from the family farm near Nash, Okla., chasing his radio-dial dreams.

He landed some cuts with popular Australian country import Diana Trask, including "Children," which hovered on the Billboard chart for weeks. He'd published a few of the late country singer and rodeo champion Chris LeDoux's songs. He managed, produced and co-wrote with Bob Frank, the eccentric but brilliant songwriter who orbited the Nashville circle occupied by luminaries like Townes Van Zandt. He'd even landed Frank a record deal on the Vanguard label before it was acquired by Welk Music Group.

Of course, none of this had put him in a million-dollar lakeside home on Hopkins Point in Winchester, Tenn. In Marge, he'd married a woman who had previously married well. But he was beginning to think the nearly $3 million estate she'd left behind was more trouble than it was worth. It had already soured the pleasant rapport he shared with a few of his middle-aged stepchildren.

The problem, it seemed, was a prenuptial agreement Clete signed just minutes before he and Marge married in a Brentwood chapel in 1995. While the wedding guests fidgeted in their pews, Marge allegedly took a sheet of paper and hastily scrawled a contract specifying how much — or how little — Clete would get of her estate if she died first.

According to those close to the family, three of Marge's five children, James "Barry" Harris of Brentwood, Gina Sherrer of Gallatin and Lynne Woods of La Vergne, were now demanding that Clete produce the document. There was just one hitch: No one knew what the document said — because no one had been able to find it.

Clete swore he had no idea, after more than a decade, what had become of it. The agreement had never been notarized or vetted by an attorney, and lawyers would later question whether it could be enforced. Nevertheless, with the division of Marge's money at stake, his relationship with at least one of his stepdaughters had become so icy that he kept a pistol handy — fearing for his safety, his friends tell the Scene.

But Clete Haegert didn't have a mean bone in him, Marge once said, and he seemed utterly incapable of aggression. This was a man who had an image of frolicking kittens set as the screensaver on his computer. An old childhood buddy from Oklahoma was shocked to hear he took such drastic measures to ensure his safety. He noted Clete wouldn't have used a gun even if his life depended on it.

His friend could not have known how right he was.

That night, Clete went up to the third floor. A door there led out to a rear patio overlooking Tims Ford Lake. Tonight the door was ajar, admitting the cold winter air. He was sure he'd closed it before he left, and he had a strong suspicion he knew who opened it — and what they were looking for.

He called the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, who came out to investigate. Curiously, though, nothing appeared to be missing. According to Clete's daughter, Stacy Rogers, who spoke with him that night, he told the deputies the identities of the people he thought might have been responsible. He also told the authorities he was afraid.

Later that night, when the investigators and deputies cleared out, Clete posted the Facebook status update. Neighbor Jim Klima was alerted to it on his smart phone. He called Clete, and the two spoke for 30 minutes. Clete was clearly agitated. Hashing out Marge's estate was getting ugly, he told Klima. Clete, his neighbor said, mentioned he was considering "walking away" from it all — his inheritance, his stepchildren, everything. "Let them kill each other over it," he said.

The entire exchange struck Klima as strange. Clete never discussed this kind of messy personal business. Certainly he never spoke ill of anyone. Nor would he, ever again. That Monday night was the last anyone ever heard from Clete Haegert.

Three days later, police arrived at his Winchester home to find the front door unlocked. The door to an upstairs wardrobe had been ripped from its hinges. The drawers were torn out of a jewelry box that had been emptied of its contents. And there, near the entryway to the home of his dreams, lay Clete Haegert, dead of multiple gunshot wounds.

Near Clete's body, there appeared to have been a struggle. A broken ceramic flowerpot sat upended. Clete's .38 caliber pistol rested on the floor near his body, cold at least a couple of days. His handsome face was a lifeless blue.

Police also noticed something curious about the way he was dressed: a black button-down shirt and his best black snakeskin boots, Rogers says. They weren't casual clothes — and that was the curious part. Clete was known as a sweatpants kind of guy around the house. It was as though he was on his way out the door with someplace to be.

If so, he never got there. And since that cold, overcast day more than six months ago, no arrests have been made in connection with his murder. Now Franklin County investigators are retracing their steps, driven by four words a dead man left on his Facebook page:

Everyone else is suspect.

It was just before Thanksgiving 2009, and Clete Haegert sat at his wife's bedside in the intensive-care unit at Nashville's Sarah Cannon Cancer Center, gripping her hand. He'd seldom left the hospital since she arrived. When Marge was moved to the intensive-care unit for 48 hours toward the end, cots weren't allowed, so he slept in a chair, drifting off fitfully and waking, fearing she'd slip away while he dozed.

Even for spouses, sleeping in the ICU is verboten. But Clete would flash that smile and that luck-of-the-Irish charm, and the hospital's most ironclad rules wilted under his flirtatious negotiation. That accomplished, he was back at his vigil. He snuck into the bathroom at night and washed himself in the sink. For weeks, he breathed fresh air only when he raced home to feed and water his miniature ponies.

What would he do without her? He had known Marge before they began dating in the mid-'90s. They met through their ties to the country music industry. He'd worked in recording and publishing, while she lived next to Eddy Arnold and seemed to know almost everyone in the business. She was recently widowed, previously married to a wealthy 66-year-old former Southern Baptist Convention bigwig and doctor of divinity named Robert Lewis Wingo.

That marriage hadn't been without controversy. Marge was a registered nurse at Baptist Hospital and Williamson Medical Center when she met Wingo, a patient diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Despite his grave prognosis, they married in May 1993. He died that October, and the week before, according to court records, Wingo named Marge his sole beneficiary. Wingo's daughter contested the will, claiming he was under the influence of "various medications" and might have been "unduly influenced" by Marge. The daughter's petition was later dismissed with prejudice.

Now Marge had become Clete's sugar mama. She was 62 when they married in 1995 — matronly, with big gleaming teeth, a strong jaw and long brown hair teased to impressive volume and height, like a truck-stop waitress out of central casting. She was outspoken, even domineering, some friends say, but lovely and utterly smitten with her man.

Clete, in contrast, was 53, dashing and magnetic. At the diner they used to frequent in a tiny hamlet outside Winchester, the regulars would change their habitual lunch hours just to catch sight of him. He was usually surrounded by a gaggle of other patrons, and he had a songwriter's ability to turn a phrase and spin a narrative.

But he wasn't brash. In fact, the word most often used to describe him is "gentle." The marriage of these two distinct characters — separated by nearly a decade in age and who brought to the table two distinctly incongruous amounts of personal wealth — resulted in the sort of relationship alchemy one might expect when the Type A personality also controls the purse strings.

Despite that, Clete and Marge were devoted to each other. Together, they oversaw construction of their dream home on two prime lots, which Clete cleared himself out of the dense brush amid the towering old-growth oaks. On a piece of stone set beneath the massive living room windows, an inscription is etched: Haegert 7-29-03 — the date construction was finally completed.

Today, with its two stories' worth of plate glass, the 10,000-square-foot, three-level home still provides a sweeping view of the lake's crystalline gleam when the sun is high overhead. The grounds are no less impressive. Over the years, he and Marge planted roses, dianthus, clematis and hydrangea like splashes of paint in fertilized beds alongside the house. Nearby stands a Japanese maple, its spiky foliage the color of a blood sunset.

During the spring and summer, the house was all but invisible from the road. Only in winter, when the oak limbs were bare as bone, could neighbors see the place. Each night in those months, Clete and Marge's close friends, Bill and Jan Balsley, would flick the light switch in their own living room on and off, and across the way Clete would do the same in response. In the rural darkness, via huge windows, they would blink their Morse "goodnight."

Clete built a barn and corral for his prized Arabian stallion, a sorrel he dubbed, with typically hokey wit, "Neighsayer." Each day he'd run a brush through Neighsayer's coat while Marge reclined and looked on from one of the Adirondacks on the patio above — bliss. But as they settled into their good life, the normally robust Marge began to grow frail.

Friends noticed Clete seemed to anticipate her needs, and to understand her increasing limitations. Yet this came at a cost. Intentionally or not, as she grew weaker Marge effectively discouraged his musical ambitions. Friends say she wouldn't allow Clete to go to Nashville alone, and long years would pass without Clete picking up his beloved guitar. For a born entertainer, it must have been hard to stay limited to Hopkins Point, an isolated community inhabited mostly by the moneyed and retired. But he didn't complain.

In the early fall of 2009, Marge became incredibly weak. After walking slowly across the room, she'd need to sit and regain her strength. Finally, in October, they took her to a doctor, who diagnosed her with an extremely aggressive form of leukemia. He told her that if she'd waited any longer to see him, she'd have died within weeks.

Only weeks earlier, they'd been laughing and drinking wine and watching UT and Titans football with the Balsleys. Now Clete sat at Marge's bedside, watching the life drain from her. It was the only thing left to do. Chemotherapy wasn't working. He knew they had little time left.

So did Marge. In 2007, she had drawn up a will. In it she bequeathed their home to Clete, along with the requisite funds in a 401(k) that would allow him to maintain the place. It wasn't lavish, but it would be enough to get him by. Marge told a neighbor Clete wasn't savvy when it came to managing money. If he had a friend in need, he'd just as likely give it away.

Marge also left him with a piece of advice, which would haunt him until the moment he was murdered. According to several of Clete's closest confidants, she said, "Don't be alone in a room with Gina." This was Gina Sherrer, Marge's daughter, a 58-year-old Taco Bell manager whose pallid complexion is set off by thick eyeglasses and shoulder-length, gray-streaked brown hair.

According to a number of Clete's friends, as her health rapidly declined Marge had a meeting with at least three of her five children to discuss the estate. Evidently it did not go well. Among those present was Sherrer, and Clete's friends say Marge told him that in this meeting her daughter made a thinly veiled threat against him. Marge took it seriously enough to pass it along.

As Marge withered in the hospital, a battle over her belongings loomed. Aside from Clete's inheritance, everything else she left to her five children — but the amounts weren't apportioned equally. Some got, shall we say, a more equal share than others. But Clete told friends she regretted leaving such disproportionate inheritances to her children. As the end neared, she wanted to mete it out more evenly.

Where trouble seemed to lurk for Clete was in the 401(k) that would sustain the maintenance of their dream home. The stock market crash had reduced the value of the retirement account she left to him. There wouldn't be enough for Clete to stay in the home they'd labored together to perfect.

Even so, according to friends, Clete told her he'd write it all down and revise her final wishes into a more equitable will. She agreed — but first, she said, she needed to sleep. Marge drifted off. Hours later, as doctors watched her blood pressure slowly sink, Clete realized she would never wake up. As he clung tightly to her unresponsive hand, Marge succumbed to pneumonia at age 77 on Nov. 20, 2009.

In the room, Clete wept quietly. Surrounding him were Marge's grown children. He did not know that he himself had only three weeks to live.

Shortly before Marge Harris-Haegert died, her son, Barry Harris, and two of her daughters, Sherrer and Lynne Woods, stepped into Williamson Memorial Funeral Home in Franklin to make final arrangements for their mother. Harris informed Ward Jones, the family counselor, that she didn't have much time left. He purchased a space for both his mother and Clete.

Marge's son told Jones that Clete had been a good husband to his mother. In fact, Jones says, he said his stepfather was the closest thing to a grandfather his children had ever known. He wanted to make sure there was a place for Clete next to her. It seemed to Jones that they were respectful of Clete ... at first. The mood turned quickly.

"We get into stuff at the funeral home where because of the way people grieve, they'll tell you stuff where you're like, OK, that's over-share. We don't need to know that information," Jones tells the Scene. "They were saying they didn't think it was fair, because when Clete married their mother, he didn't have anything, and now he wanted some of what their mother had."

Yet Clete and Barry seemed close, and Clete always believed they could work through their differences about the division of Marge's estate. According to his musician friend Alan Ross, who played with him in a short-lived folk group called White Crow, Clete believed that he would probably end up with a good portion of the estate. He wanted to stay in their home on the lake for the rest of his days. It was where he could feel Marge's presence — in the garden they cultivated together, in the furnishings she so loved that now surrounded him.

By state law, Clete could conceivably claim his elective share — usually amounting to as much as 40 percent of the estate — despite the earlier will. And if he did, he said, he was going to make sure her children got equal shares of whatever remained. "I'm gonna make this right," Ross remembers Clete saying.

Some of Marge's children, however, stood to inherit more than the others, including Lynne Woods, her twin sister Melora, and Gina Sherrer. So did Barry Harris. As arrangements were made and the day came to bury Marge, interactions between Clete and his stepchildren became as chilly as the November wind coming off the lake. At the wake, Clete approached his neighbors Jan and Bill Balsley.

"He said, 'What would you do if you were in a room full of people who hate you?' " Jan remembers Clete saying. "I said, 'Clete, just act natural.' "

Jan attributed the statement to grief and exhaustion. After spending nearly two months in a hospital, Clete looked threadbare, physically and emotionally. But as they'd later find, there was more to the remark than a weary, heartbroken soul. Clete later went to the funeral home alone, Jones says, to ensure he'd have a place next to Marge when his time came. He asked Jones how he could go about guaranteeing himself a place next to his wife. Jones told him Barry bought a plot he intended to go to Clete. The only way to guarantee his place, Jones said, was to have Barry transfer the plot from his name to Clete's. After that, he never came into the funeral home again — at least not on his own two feet.

Clete felt Marge's absence keenly. They'd scarcely left each other's side for 15 years. Now he was alone in that empty, sprawling house filled with the huge porcelain dolls, mink furs and knickknacks she'd accumulated in packrat fashion — items that friends say some of her children were already removing from the house.

By Thanksgiving, Clete told Jan and Bill Balsley his stepdaughters would barely speak to him. He stayed close to his friends now. He had dinner and watched Titans football frequently with the Balsleys. He even reconnected with Bob Frank, the reckless act he'd groomed for a single, critically well-received Vanguard album, who was in town for a gig. Clete brought him home to Winchester, where Frank said he sounded a paranoid note.

"He said, 'I'll be inheriting all that but I'll be in somebody's way.' He was talking about her children," Frank says. "He was saying he'd be standing in the way of them getting to it. He was talking like a real serious thing, like they might kill him to get to it. We didn't really go into it at the time, and I thought, Man, you been watching too many TV shows. People don't really do that kind of stuff. That's what I thought at the time. He was imagining things."

On Dec. 3, 2009, Clete visited the home of Alan Ross and wife Caroline for dinner. Caroline had prepared a pot of chili, and as she ladled it into Clete's bowl, his face became ashen.

"He said, 'Oh, God, for the weirdest moment I had the feeling that the family hired you to poison me,' " Caroline remembers. "And I was so taken aback by it I couldn't even laugh — because I laugh at everything — but I couldn't even laugh or make a joke about it, because the fear on his face was so obvious."

Caroline assured him the chili was safe, and that she'd try it first to prove it. Clete laughed at himself, she says: "I'm going nuts over this stuff."

Clete, Alan and Caroline talked late into the night. He told them he was looking forward to re-establishing himself in Nashville and reconnecting with his old music industry contacts. He spoke of the battle over the will, and how he feared his stepdaughter, Gina Sherrer. Before he went to sleep in a guest bedroom that night, he said he was going to make sure the will was fair. He was "gonna make this right."

But he was worried enough that he sought legal counsel from a friend. Ken Dillingham, an attorney in Elkton, Ky., who had represented him before, says Clete was trying to determine what his rights were. Dillingham wasn't intimately familiar with Tennessee probate law, but when Clete sent him the statute on Dec. 11, it appeared he had the right to file for an elective share if he couldn't convince his stepchildren to alter the estate and distribute the funds he needed to stay in his home.

That share could come to 40 percent, which would amount to more than $1 million. In a petition for a temporary restraining order later filed by Stacy Rogers, Clete's daughter by a previous marriage, she alleges Clete told his stepchildren that he would file for it if they couldn't reach an understanding.

Clete, Dillingham says, was afraid. He told the attorney that his stepchildren had already removed things from the house. Dillingham instructed him to secure the place and take pictures of everything. Clete seemed more concerned for his own safety, though, than the contents of his home. He told Dillingham he feared one of his stepdaughters might do something rash.

And indeed, Lynne Woods had been outspoken in her displeasure over Clete's potential share. According to Camilla Hudson, a co-worker of Woods' at the U.S. Postal Service, she loudly expressed her anger toward Clete and the bogus sense of entitlement she felt he expressed on a number of occasions.

The same day Clete spoke with Dillingham, his close friend and neighbor Bill Balsley offered him four tickets to a Titans football game in Nashville. Tennessee was set to face the St. Louis Rams at LP Field. Clete was ecstatic. He'd never attended a pro football game, and he and Marge had been rabid fans. He resolved to take his son-in-law Harrison, his stepson Barry, and Barry's son Trey. He seemed especially pleased at the prospect of spending time with Barry. Clete told Balsley he thought it'd be a good idea to keep Barry close so they could work through the estate morass.

At this point, Clete Haegert had just days to live.

Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009

The day before the Titans game, Clete left for Nashville. He stayed the night with Barry and the three met Harrison at the southwestern gate the next day. Before kickoff, Harrison bought a round of beers, and he remembers Barry draining the first in short order. They got a second round. Clete, though, was still nursing his first beer. Friends say he rarely drank much.

Less than 10 minutes after kickoff, Harrison says, Barry got up to take a smoke break. That left Clete, Barry's son Trey, and Harrison to comment on the cheerleaders and laugh at the diehard fans on the Jumbotron. Clete seemed to enjoy himself, but he was subdued, as though he wished he could have experienced his first Titans game with Marge. He often addressed the disembodied specter of his dead wife directly, and would cut his eyes at his friends, embarrassed. "I'm not crazy," he'd say. "I just miss her."

Harrison seemed to sense this was the kind of outing Clete needed to keep his mind off of his troubles, and they made the most of it. Barry, on the other hand, didn't return to his seat until four minutes were left in the second quarter. This struck Harrison as odd. But whatever the reason Barry missed nearly the entire first half, Harrison says, he didn't explain.

Monday, Dec. 14, 2009

Barry filed an inventory estimating the value of Marge's estate to be roughly $3 million, and a petition seeking appointment as her executor. Clete signed a form that waived Barry's obligation to post bond, which could amount to as much as $250,000. There was a hearing scheduled for the next day in Franklin County court naming the executor. After signing these waivers, according to Barry, he and Clete visited Marge's grave at Williamson Memorial Gardens in Franklin. Barry tells the Scene it was the last time he saw Clete alive.

Clete arrived in Winchester at approximately 3:30 in the afternoon. He was on the phone with his daughter Stacy when he found the back door open. Stacy, a dance instructor, says she told him to call the police immediately. Clete waited anxiously for them to arrive. It was mid-December, dusk had already set in, and he worried the darkness would conceal key evidence. A deputy with the Franklin County Sheriff's Department arrived an hour later, and he noted tire tracks in the gravel driveway, as though someone had become mired and spun out.

By roughly 9:35 p.m., the police had gone. Clete spoke to his neighbor Jim Klima on the phone. The break-in had shaken him, and Klima heard fear in his voice. Despite everything he and Marge had invested in their dream house, Clete told him he didn't care about any of it anymore. This had gone too far, and he was ready to walk away from his own inheritance. Klima was stunned to hear his mild-mannered neighbor talking that way.

Clete received another call and got off the phone with Klima. It was possibly his daughter, Stacy Rogers. Despite the resignation he seemed to signal in his conversation with Klima, Clete told Stacy he planned to attend the hearing tomorrow. In later probate filings, Stacy claims Clete told Barry of his intentions as well.

After that, Clete was unreachable by phone and email.

Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009

According to court filings, Barry contacted Stacy to say Clete didn't show at the estate hearing that day. In Stacy's account, Barry claimed Clete said he'd been up late drinking wine and wasn't going to attend the hearing, which was scheduled for 8 a.m. If true, this would strike many of Clete's friends as peculiarly out of character. Clete wasn't a teetotaler, but he wasn't a drinker, either.

What's more, Stacy says he gave her the impression that the hearing was very important to him. She claims he told his Tullahoma attorney Jim Henry the same thing. Henry, however, did not respond to repeated messages left for comment.

Clete's sister, Dee Richards, says she emailed Clete at around 10:30 that morning. He didn't respond. That was odd, she says, because Clete was usually quick to answer. Stacy says she called him that evening, but he didn't answer. By this point she was worried, but she didn't panic. A week or two before, his phone malfunctioned and he'd been unreachable. Perhaps it was on the blink again, she thought — or hoped.

Either way, the probate hearing went on without him. Barry Harris was named executor of Marge's estate.

Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

There was still no word from Clete. He wasn't answering his phone or his email. Stacy says she called Barry again. This is where their stories begin to diverge.

Stacy claims she called Barry to ask him if he'd heard from her father. She says she told him she intended to make the roughly two-hour trip to Winchester to look in on him. According to her, though, Barry said she needn't bother. He was worried too, he told her, and allegedly said he would go to Winchester himself. Stacy says she instructed Barry to call her if, for any reason, he didn't go.

During a brief conversation with the Scene, Barry declined to discuss his stepfather's murder and the events that led up to the discovery of his body on the advice of his attorney.

Much of what transpired over the next couple of days is disputed. What is known is that nobody went to check on Clete. Ward Jones, the family counselor at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home, says Barry and his sister Lynne Woods stopped by his business that day. Jones says Barry wanted to transfer the space he'd bought earlier into Clete's name. The family counselor showed them the layout.

As is customary at Williamson Memorial, the wife is buried on the left and the husband on the right, just as they stood at the altar. But when Woods — a 61-year-old postal service manager with a pleasant face and dark, wavy hair pulled back into a long ponytail — saw that in the current layout her own future burial plot would lie next to Clete, Jones says she became angry and hysterical.

"She got very upset at that," Jones recalls, "and actually stormed out of the room saying, 'I do not want to be buried next to that man! I can't stand that man!' "

While Woods sulked in the bathroom, Jones says Barry bought another space for Clete to remedy the situation — on the opposite side of Marge. In an accounting filed with the court, two checks were signed by Barry that day: one for Marge's burial expenses, and another for Clete's new burial plot.

By nightfall in Winchester, Jan Balsley was worried. It was wintertime, and she could see Clete's home. But for the past few days, he hadn't blinked back his typical "goodnight." Bill Balsley thought it strange that he hadn't heard from his friend yet. He figured Clete would have called by now to tell him about the Titans game and to thank him. It wasn't like Clete not to call.

Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009

Stacy says she called Barry again Thursday morning at around 7 a.m. She expected to hear that he'd stayed the night with Clete and that everything was fine. Instead, she says, he told her he hadn't gone to check on his stepfather Wednesday after all. She says he told her he'd been too busy, but that he was about to leave for Winchester.

In a court filing, Barry seems to dispute this characterization. He claims Stacy "took no action to find her father, but instead ... James (Barry) Harris, Jr., went to the home of Marjorie Harris-Haegert, where Cletus George Haegert III was living ..."

A little before 10:30 a.m., Stacy took her 5-year-old son to a school Christmas party. She had a terrible feeling sitting in the pit of her stomach, and she left her cell phone in the car. Barry would be arriving in Winchester any minute now, and she didn't want to receive the news she now feared in a room full of children.

When she went back to her car, she had a message from her husband Harrison: "Call me as soon as you get this."

Bill and Jan Balsley were returning from a doctor's appointment in Franklin. Their Christmas Eve party was quickly approaching, and they resolved to stop by Clete's place to make sure he was still coming. When they approached his home at the end of Bluff Drive, the Balsleys were startled. Marked and unmarked sheriff's and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime scene vehicles were everywhere.

Bill Balsley walked up, only to be met by Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller. "Well, is it suicide?" Balsley asked. He guessed it was possible Clete might have been overcome with grief over his wife's death.

"No," Fuller responded. "Murder."

Sheriff's Department and TBI investigators wouldn't leave Clete's home for more than 12 hours. Two days later, Marge's daughters Gina Sherrer and Lynne Woods — along with Woods' son, Robert Ingram — were arrested on suspicion of the aggravated burglary of Clete's home.

Sources close to the investigation say they used a ladder to scale the balcony and enter the house through a patio door. According to criminal court records, Woods told police "she went into (her) mom's house to see if her belongings were still there. I went in through an open door and took nothing out."

In a statement attributed to Sherrer, she said she "went into mother's house to make sure everything was ok. Took nothing out. Wanted to make sure prenuptial was still there." Ingram, as far as investigators have been able to discern, only came to Clete's home when Woods and Sherrer became stuck on the gravel drive.

Barry Harris posted bond for at least two of the three at $50,000 apiece. According to court records, he used money from Marge's estate.

At a recent court hearing in Winchester, Sherrer, Ingram and Woods sat in the pews, waiting for their turn on the docket, which ground slowly through the arraignments of drunks and meth addicts busted for possession. Their attorney, Joseph Ford, announced that he would no longer be able to represent Ingram. Prosecutor Steve Blount says Ingram has not been accused of entering the home, and could be charged with a lesser crime. After the hearing, Sherrer and Woods, along with their attorney, declined to comment on the murder of their stepfather.

In a court filing, Stacy Rogers claims Sherrer and Woods told investigators Barry put them up to the break-in. The apparent goal was to find the prenuptial, potentially icing Clete out of the estate. An official source tells the Scene police lack the direct evidence to prove this.

In a counter filing, meanwhile, Barry flatly denies the allegation. When asked by the Scene whether or not an alleged phone call placed by Barry from LP Field during his long absence from the Titans-Rams game would prove or disprove the claim, a source close to the investigation would only say, "Phone records show phone calls. You can't find out what people talked about."

Thus far, no arrests have been made for the murder of Clete Haegert. The district attorney's office and investigators are cagey — reluctant to say whether they have suspects, or even who they're looking at. Sheriff Fuller would only say that "greed" and "deceit" seemed to have played a major role in his murder, and added that Barry seemed "uninterested" in the investigation from the outset.

Fuller said his office is still waiting — six months now since Clete's murder — for forensic evidence sent for processing at the TBI crime lab in Nashville. Aspects of evidence-gathering may have been bungled from the beginning. According to a funeral home employee, investigators appeared to be examining Clete's fingers moments before visitation while his body rested in a casket adorned with a huge bouquet.

When told of this, Fuller said certain pieces of forensic evidence weren't gathered by the state medical examiner's office, and that his office found out about the oversight at "the last minute." The extensive cleansing processes that bodies undergo before viewing often include bleaching of the fingernails, which may destroy helpful DNA material when someone is shot at close range as Clete was. Fuller claims forensic evidence was successfully gathered before he was buried.

Stacy, for her part, has all but accused Marge's adult children of pulling the trigger in court filings, and Barry has returned fire, claiming Stacy was the "person on Planet Earth who had the most to gain and benefit from the death" of Clete Haegert. In early February, Stacy filed for Clete's elective share as his sole heir. "It's my goal they don't profit from his death," she tells the Scene.

The estate remains in legal limbo while these various filings are hashed out. It hasn't surprised anyone to see the estate battle go nuclear. But the curiosities never end in the Clete Haegert saga. When investigators finished gathering last-minute evidence from Clete's hands before visitation, funeral home employees say a strange scene began to develop.

Before Clete's casket was wheeled into the visitation room, they say Barry asked for a moment alone with Clete. Barry, they say, was weeping openly, calling out to "Papa Clete." He slipped a picture of himself, Gina Sherrer and Lynne Woods into Clete's jacket pocket.

Before Clete was wheeled out for viewing, Stacy Rogers made sure funeral home staff removed the photo.

On a recent afternoon, the Haegert home out on Tims Ford Lake was a picture of neglected grandeur. It is being readied for sale and the division of assets. Mattress pads, bags of garbage and rolled-up rugs lay piled in the driveway. The azaleas, monkey grass, ajuga, pampas grass and honeysuckle that Clete and Marge had so patiently organized were now an overgrown tangle. A live-animal trap rested near the front door, not far from a murder scene that was once a happy home. The trap sat ready, waiting to snap shut.

Jan Balsley held her husband Bill's arm as he picked his way down the steep gravel drive toward the rear of the house. They surveyed the back porch, where the remnants of another life gathered dust: The lawn mowers and trimmers Clete used to tame the lakeside property. The dusty Adirondacks where Marge would watch Clete run a comb through Neighsayer's ruddy mane. And through the windows, they peered in at the dense stacks of boxes filled with the priceless antiques Marge gathered, along with the junk she was known to accumulate too.

To some, it formed an estate worth fighting for — and if the court-filed innuendo on both sides is to be believed, worth killing for. To the Balsleys, all of it was just ... stuff. The important things were gone.

In the span of a month, their two friends had taken up permanent residence two hours away. They need only look for the mismatched gravestones in a quiet Franklin cemetery, where Clete Haegert is buried on the wrong side of his wife.


If you have any information concerning the murder of Clete Haegert, please call the TBI at (615)744-4000. A reward is offered for information that leads to a conviction.

Comments (32)

Showing 1-25 of 32

Add a comment

Add a comment