Hawkins County authorities identify body found in fire

Jeff Bobo • Dec 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM

SURGOINSVILLE — Hawkins County authorities received confirmation Monday that the body found in a burned mobile home last month near Surgoinsville is in fact who they thought it was — Jonathan Paul Gilliam.

Sheriff Roger Christian said Monday that forensic specialists at the University of Tennessee used dental records to confirm the identity of Gilliam, 24, 143 Bass Lane, Rogersville.

Two days after the Nov. 17 fire, authorities had all but conceded that the remains were Gilliam, who was reportedly visiting a friend at the mobile home southwest of Surgoinsville at 329 Richards Road the night of the fire.

Christian said the exact cause of Gilliam’s death is still not known.

Although the complete autopsy report hadn’t been delivered to the sheriff’s office as of Monday evening, Christian said he’d received a preliminary report indicating there were “no obvious signs of trauma.”

“There is nothing at this time that would indicate foul play or that a cause of death was anything other than the fire,” Christian said. “The cause of the fire remains undetermined, and I suspect that’s not going to change. Any evidence that would have pointed to a cause of the fire is gone — burned up.”

The investigation into the fire is continuing. Christian said it is currently classified as a “death investigation” as opposed to a criminal investigation.

But there are some “clarifications” that will have to be made before the case is closed, Christian added.

There were some aspects of the incident that investigators found suspicious — specifically statements made by witnesses that were found later to be false.

Firefighters were dispatched to the residence Nov. 17 shortly after 1 a.m. and found the mobile home fully engulfed in flames.

Upon their arrival, firefighters were told by family members of the owner that the residence had been unoccupied. But investigators learned later that afternoon that Gilliam and Rickie Campbell, 21, 466 Richards Road, Surgoinsville, had apparently been there when the fire started.

Upon being interviewed, Campbell reportedly told investigators that Gilliam jumped out of the burning residence with him and that he last saw Gilliam running away.

The mobile home was owned by Campbell’s grandfather. The fire was reported to Hawkins County Central Dispatch as an explosion, and family members initially told authorities they believed a kerosene heater in the mobile home had blown up and caught the residence on fire.

Investigators later determined that there hadn’t been an explosion.

The afternoon following the fire, Rickie Campbell’s mother reportedly called the sheriff’s office and said she had not told the truth — that the trailer hadn’t been unoccupied and Campbell and Gilliam had been there when it caught fire. Gilliam’s family also contacted the sheriff’s office and said Gilliam had not been seen or heard from since the fire.

Authorities searched the fire debris that evening and found Gilliam’s remains, which were then sent off for identification.

Christian said his investigators have received “tips” regarding the fire, and the case can’t be closed until all leads have been followed up.

“We’ve got some information on some people we need to talk to just to see what they know about it,” Christian said. “A lot of rumors are being circulated, and of course those eventually make it back to us. We’re trying to run anything credible down.

“We’re going to talk to him (Rickie Campbell) again to try to clear up some things.”

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