When Shoney’s Manager Mitch Roberts opened his front door to ex-employee Paul Dennis Reid, Jr., Roberts had no idea he was about to aid in arresting a serial killer. All he knew was Reid wanted Roberts to re-hire him. It was June 25, 1997; three months after Reid had committed his last known Tennessee homicide.
Minutes later, Reid was pulling a knife and gun on Roberts. “I believe he was going to kill my family, then drive me to (Shoneys) to open the safe, then kill me,” Roberts explains now. He got inside the house to call police. Reid fled. Roberts’ information and suspicions led to the arrest of one of history’s most heinous murderers.
Paul Dennis Reid, Jr. was one of several children born to Paul Reid, Sr. and his wife, Joney, in Texas. After his parents divorced, Paul Junior and his sister lived with their paternal grandmother. The elderly woman did her best, but Paul was impossible to control. He abused animals, bullied children, stole, and destroyed property. From the age of four he attempted to murder his grandmother. A priest finally advised the woman to send eight-year-old Paul to a boy’s home, fearing for her safety and the safety of others.
As he grew, Paul dabbled in drug use, attempted to sexually abuse his sister and mother, and racked up a juvenile record as fast as the police could type for theft, fighting, and stealing cars. 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.
Sometimes accompanied by a boyhood friend, Paul Reid committed robberies and burglaries. Convicted in 1984 for a series of restaurant robberies, he gave sage advice to fellow prison inmates: “cut your hair and dress nice, so people won’t suspect you.” He also vowed, “next time I won’t leave witnesses.”
He had assaulted hospital and prison staff; he claimed mental abuse and body and mind control by “government … scientific technology devices.” Despite being labeled “dangerous … a potential menace to society” Reid was paroled in 1990. He resided in Texas and Oklahoma for some time, traveling to Illinois, suspected of molesting the children of both girlfriends and family. It is probable he committed crimes during this time period, but no proof exists. Reid decided he could sing, and wanted to be famous. He likened his sound to Hank Williams, Sr. and Garth Brooks. Reid learned guitar and made a few demo recordings. He had plastic surgery, paying with a workers comp settlement. He had professional publicity photos made and signed them as “Justin Parks,” his stage name. He had the talent, the determination, and the tools, Reid decided, and headed for the country music mecca to become rich and famous. Paul Reid departed for Nashville, Tennessee in the mid-1990s. He would not become famous for his singing.
On the morning of February 16, 1997, Reid talked himself into a Donelson Captain D’s restaurant where, after a robbery, he murdered 16-year-old Sarah Jackson and her manager and friend, 25-year-old Steve Hampton. Sarah was a vivacious, friendly girl who was a month away from her 17th birthday. Steve left behind three children and a grieving widow; he was a proud store manager and a loyal friend. Reid used the stolen money to purchase a car.
The double murders left a city reeling; changes were made to local fast-food restaurant operations. Stores near the Captain D’s began practicing various safety measures. A killer was on the loose, but left behind a clue: a partial print on Steve’s movie rental card, discovered on a Nashville road along with Steve’s wallet and its contents. No one knew at the time the killer worked at a Shoneys, and worked out at a gym, a few miles from the Captain D’s.
Just when the city felt life return to normal, Reid robbed a McDonalds in Hermitage, not far from the Captain D’s. On March 23, 1997, police found employees shot execution style in a back room: 17-year-old Andrea Brown was an Academic Magnet student who loved books. Ronald Santiago, 27, had left his family in Puerto Rico to provide a better life for his wife and baby. Robert Sewell, 23, was a science fiction fan and loved building models. Reid had attempted to murder employee José Gonzalez, stabbing him 17 times; José played dead and Reid departed with the restaurant’s money. It was Jose’s third day on the job.
A serial killer was now at large. Nashville’s Metro Police Department investigators eschewed days off to spent long days and nights following up on thousands of leads. Paul Reid was considered a suspect, but because he had changed his date of birth, there was no record of criminal activity. He was also everything people believed a killer cannot be: charming, gregarious, hard working, and polite.
The city seemed to be on lockdown; everyone was talking about the restaurant murders, including Paul Reid. “How could anyone do that?” He bemoaned. At the same time, Reid was joking with his friends about robbing stores at night. Despite his similarity to the composite sketch, Reid was not a suspect. “He’s too nice,” friends and coworkers told one another.
On February 27, 1997, Shoneys Manager Mitch Roberts fired Paul Reid from his job. Reid had lost his temper and hurled a heavy dish at an employee, a tiny woman who could have been seriously hurt. Reid did not understand why he was fired; “I’m a prelaw student!” he raged. In reality, Reid was taking remedial courses at a community college.
It was April 23, 1997 when “The Fast Food Killer,” as the media dubbed him, struck again. Conning his way into a Clarksville Baskin-Robbins, Reid robbed the store and kidnapped the two employees, Angela Holmes, 21, and 16-year-old Michelle Mace. Their bodies were discovered in a local park. Their throats had been slashed and Michelle had been stabbed multiple times. Angela left behind a baby, a loving husband, and a 4.0 GPA at a prestigious college where she was studying to be a surgical nurse. Michelle was a fun-loving, sweet girl who wanted to be a writer; she loved photography. Unbeknownst to police, Reid’s girlfriend lived in the same neighborhood as Michelle’s family.
So on June 25, 1997, when Mitch Roberts allowed Paul Reid into the Roberts home, he also opened the door to Reid’s arrest. Roberts contacted police with his suspicions and, with a match between Reid’s prints and the print on Steve’s movie rental card, the “Fast Food Killer” was in jail.
Paul Reid was tried three separate times; all three juries voted for the death penalty. DNA, hair and fiber analysis, witness testimony, and José Gonzalez’s testimony helped convict him. In 2013 Reid was serving seven death sentences; the most ever handed down in Tennessee, when he was rushed to a Nashville hospital. He died there of pneumonia, respiratory issues, and heart failure. He left behind grieving loved ones of those lost and many unanswered questions, for he never confessed.
Criminologist Judith A. Yates is the award-winning author of “When Nashville Bled: the untold stories of serial killer Paul Dennis Reid.” The book is nominated for the Silver Falchion Award for Best True Crime. A portion of book revenue benefits the Tennessee Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, made in the names of the Nashville victims. The book is available at truecrimebook.net