Nashville is known for being the Music City that Never Sleeps, but there’s also quite the dark underbelly that rarely gets discussed in the mainstream media. People like Paul Dennis Reid, however, manage to draw the darkness out into the light. The tale of this serial killer’s brutal crime spree is nothing to sing about, and yet it’s a fascinating case of serial murder here in the Volunteer State. Let’s get to it.
Texas Drifter, Nashville Transplant
Paul Dennis Reid had aspirations beyond washing dishes at a local Shoney’s when he arrived in Nashville in 1995. He had been a drifter for some time, had spent some time in prison, but his lifelong dream was to be a country singer.
In that respect, he was not that much different from a few other crooners who had made careers of their downtrodden beginnings. David Allan Coe, Johnny Paycheck, and Merle Haggard all spent time in prison for their various misdeeds, but nothing compares to what Reid would inflict upon Nashville in the early months of 1997.
In Texas, he had used his teenage years to build the track record of a criminal. According to an article on Bizarrepedia:
As he grew, Paul dabbled in drug use, attempted to sexually abuse his sister and mother…He dropped out of school, remaining a habitual liar, physically violent, and an incurable thief, with a vicious temper and no regard for the law.
Later, Reid would be diagnosed as a chronic paranoid schizophrenic, who suffered from delusions for nearly his entire life. He was also found to have been brain-damaged. A lesion on his left temporal lobe interfered with his ability to communicate and possibly compromise his grip on reality. It was underscored by his belief that the government was constantly surveilling him.
It was sometime before he left Texas that he decided he wanted to sing country songs. He used the stage name Justin Parks and had plastic surgery with money he got from a worker’s comp settlement.
From the All Things Crime Blog:
In between shuffling food on the grill [at Shoney’s], he played at talent shows. “He had the look,” one audience member recalled, “but when he started to sing, he was awful.”
It’s a story as old as the music scene in Nashville, except maybe for the plastic surgery. Man (or woman) moves to Music City, looking for a shot at the bright lights. Thinks maybe it just has to do with the will and the drive to get it done, but there’s so much more than that.
The Fast Food Killer
The Captain D’s Killings
Only six months after the disappearance of Janet March, one of the most infamous crimes in Nashville history, the killings began. Deanna Carter and Alan Jackson had just released hit songs. Bill Clinton’s inauguration had taken place on January 20th. The Packers had just topped the Patriots to win their first Super Bowl in thirty years.
And Paul Dennis Reid was just about to get started. The wannabe country singer could not handle criticism, and he liked authority even less, so it was no surprise that when, in February 1997, he got into a heated argument with another employee at his workplace that he would resort to violence. A former coworker of Reid’s testified that he spoke openly of robbing fast food restaurants and asked for help getting hold of a gun.
Reid was fired from his job as a dishwasher at Shoney’s for throwing a plate at another worker. The next day, February 16, 1997, Reid walked into a Captain D’s in Donelson (about 2 miles from the Shoney’s where he’d worked) with the intention of killing someone. He went there before opening and managed to talk his way inside by saying he was applying for a job. He shot two of its employees, execution-style, before robbing the cash registers of nearly $7,000 in order to make a down payment on a car, which he did two days later.
Hermitage McDonald’s Murders
On March 23, 1997, four employees at a McDonald’s in Hermitage had just finished their night shift when Reid forced himself inside and pushed them into an office under the auspices of robbing the restaurant. Upon taking the contents of the safe, he made them lie down on the floor and shot two of them in the back of the head with a .25-caliber pistol. He intended on shooting a third employee, but the gun jammed and he wasn’t able to fire, so he drew a knife and stabbed that victim multiple times. However, the victim, playing dead, was spared and called the police after Reid exited the scene. Three of the victims died that night, but Jose Ramirez Gonzales, the fourth, survived.
Baskin Robbins Clarksville Killings
On April 23, 1997, Reid struck at the Baskin Robbins in Clarksville at or around closing time. This time, his MO would be a knife, which he would use to stab the two employees to death. Their bodies would be found the next day at the Dunbar Cave State Natural Area. From the trial notes:
Both victims had received deep stab wounds to their necks, as well as stab wounds, cuts, and abrasions to other parts of their bodies. They had bled to death.
This last set of brutal murders would turn out be the serial killer’s final stand. He was progressing, getting reckless, and it wouldn’t be long before he would be found out and captured.
Capture and Trial
Paul Dennis Reid was arrested in June 1997 after attempting to kidnap the manager of a different Shoney’s Restaurant. Reid was eventually convicted of three counts of premeditated murder, three counts of felony murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of especially aggravated robbery.
He was sentenced to death but managed to avoid the eventual carrying out of his sentence through appeals due to his emotional problems. He died in November 2013 at the age of 55 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia.