Sheriff: Murder suspect's daughter broke open 30-year-old Rossville 'cold case'
WALKER COUNTY, GA. More than thirty-three-and-one-half years have passed since 38-year-old Harrell Ernest Hulsey died with a .38 slug in his chest, inside the office of his used-car lot on McFarland Avenue in Rossville.
And even though the District Attorney has told his Cold Case detectives that they can close the book on Hulsey's murder, Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson believes a critical question remains; why.
"We do believe it started over a dog," he says. "Yes, a man lost his life in an argument over a dog."
Hulsey's own 17-year-old son found his body February 6, 1979, Sheriff Wilson says.
Early on, investigators determined that Hulsey's lot and repair shop frequently hosted get-together's involving drinking, and occasionally, dog-fighting. Several 'attendees' had indicated Hulsey could be hot-tempered and rowdy.
Preliminary investigative reports concluded that several of Hulsey's friends or more frequent guests had access to .38 revolvers or pistols. Under questioning, at least two friends indicated that the day Hulsey died, he had "had words" with Jimmy Cardin Jr., of Ringgold, about Cardin's dog, Champ.
"He (Cardin) was on the radar then," Sheriff Wilson says.
But investigators lacked solid evidence to make an arrest or to bring charges. To this day, they've not identified any firearm as the murder weapon.
The case went cold.
In 1993, a different Sheriff, and fresh eyes, reviewed the files. That effort also yielded no arrests.
But in 2008, everything changed. Det. Sergeants Jeff Herpst and Ritchie Dye reviewed the case file and tried to generate new leads through pleas in the media.
They bore fruit.
"A phone call pointed me in the direction of a person we needed to talk to," Sheriff Wilson says.
The Sheriff has declined to specify whether the caller simply led his detectives to one of Cardin's daughters, or if the caller was the daughter herself.
"Unfortunately, Cardin had both his daughters with him in the pickup the day he fired the fatal shot," Sheriff Wilson says.
The daughter in question, was 12 years old in 1979. Her sister was nine.
"She (the older daughter) told us that she saw her father take a gun out of the truck and go back inside Mr. Hulsey's shop, " the Sheriff says.
"Both the girls heard two shots. He (Cardin) came out and said something to the effect that we don't have that problem anymore."
Why did it take her almost 30 years to come forward?
"Fear, love, any number of reasons," Sheriff Wilson says. "They (both daughters) gave some indication that they felt threatened. She may have thought that if we don't talk about it, it will just go away."
Two months prior to the daughter's interview, investigators say, Cardin faced his own interrogation, telling detectives that he didn't like Hulsey.
"He was a smart-ass bully who deserved what he got," the investigator's report quotes Cardin as saying.
But the report also notes Cardin maintained that he wasn't Hulsey's killer.
Investigators requested that Cardin and his daughter take polygraph examinations.
The examiner's conclusions couldn't be more clear.
Cardin's daughter's answers "showed no deception," Detectives' reports quoted him as saying.
But the examiner reported that Cardin's responses to two critical questions indicated he was being untruthful: "Did you shoot Harrell Ernest Hulsey," and "Were you there when he was shot?"
Fast-forward almost a full year, to April 30, 2009.
Cardin, then 59, would die in a collision on Battlefield Parkway. The Georgia State Patrol reports his pickup struck another, pushing his vehicle across the median and into the path of another truck and a car. He died after being ejected.
"It just took the wind out," Det. Sgt. Dye says.
Nevertheless, he and Det. Sgt. Herpst compiled and collated their evidence. Earlier this year, they turned it over to the Lookout Mountain District Attorney's Office.
District Attorney Herbert 'Buzz' Franklin issued an opinion indicating that "there would have been sufficient evidence to prosecute (Jimmy Cardin, Jr.) for the murder."
Investigators plan to review the findings with Hulsey's seven children.
"It won't make it go away," Sheriff Wilson says. "But at least they can say we know who did it, rather than, who dunit?"
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