An Unsolved Murder Case At a College in Knoxville

(The author is managing editor of the Aurora, Knoxville College's student newspaper. He is attending Harvard this summer and will return to Knoxville, Tenn., in the fall.)

Three Knoxville College students were to go on trial this week on conspiracy charges brought against them as a result of the death of a cab driver, A. J. Boruff, on the campus last spring.

The three students, Pete Tigner, of Rome, Ga.; Joe Scott of Roosevelt, N.Y.; and Gary Keel, Indianapolis, Ind. are now out of jail on bond until their case comes up Monday.

The national wire services ran a distorted account of events surrounding this unsolved murder case.

Knoxville's power structure has consistently harrassed student body members. Over 400, about half of the student body, have been taken downtown for interrogation. Students report being asked, "Why is your hair like that? You and who else killed Boruff? Did outsiders start trouble over there? Who are the black power troublemakers?"


Everything grew out of the March 9th disturbance on the predominantly black Knoxville College campus. A white cab driyer A. J. Boruff was found dead near the campus with a .22 calibre slug in his chest. Who shot Boruff? Where is the murder weapons? Did a student shoot him? Answers to these questions have yet to be found.

The cabbie was reportedly shot around 4:30 a.m. About two hours earlier city police allegedly chased some molotov cocktail-carrying youths near the campus. Although police did not apprehend anyone on the scene they claimed they recognized Gary Keel, a Knoxville College student, as being a member of the group seen transporting the cocktails.

City police uncustomarily came on campus and arrested Keel. Several students attest that police manhandled them. Arnsel Collier, in a complaint filed with the FBI said a policeman, "grabbed me by my arms and started kicking me on my hips." Two days later, the other two students were arrested.

Student leaders after learning what happened then summoned other male students from their dorms to inform them of the events that had taken place. The president of the college, Dr. Robert L. Owens, III after an exchange with several leaders was pursuaded to go to the city jail and see if any charges had been filed against the arrested students. He left immediately.

The crowd then moved from the men's dormitories to the women's dorms. No effort was made to lure women outside. Speakers simply told of what had taken place. At this time the crowd then split into several factions. Curtis Johnson, chairman of the Student Social Action Committee (SSAC), a campus black power oriented group, went to the city jail and arrived at the same time as did the college president.

About 30 minutes later a Checker cab driven by Boruff entered the front portion of the campus. Some students testify that Boruff was asked to leave while the campus was amid turmoil. Boruff, they report, continued driving. Coming to a second group of students some say Boruff was chased. Others say he tried to run over students, then was chased. Neither version has been confirmed.

Boruff radioed his employer, Checker Cab Company, for help. Police wanted to invade the campus immediately but Curtis Johnson and Dr. Owens argued against it. They felt it would only cause more trouble. The police finally agreed not to enter the campus when Owens said Knoxville College would pay for any damages done to the cab. In April's Southern Patriot, Mike Friedman, an instructor at the college, said this possibly prevented "a bloodier Orangeburg."

Two hours later, Boruff was found dead.

Since the incident the Negro community has made both restitutions and resolutions to the Boruff family. Entertainer James Brown, owner of local radio station WJBE gave $1000 toward a trust fund for the Boruff children. The college's alumni gave $5000 that would have gone for books for the school's library. The president has announced that the Boruff children will be allowed to attend Knoxville College free.

Despite these gestures, the white community has still pressured the school and the police to convict somebody. Anybody. The local Knoxville News-Sentinel has spoken of "black power intervention." Even the school's president mentioned students attending a "Black power meeting in Atlanta."

Tennessee Governor Buford Ellington announced a $5000 state reward. Knoxville's mayor Leonard Rogers said his administration "is very anxious" to solve the case.

Chief of Detectives R. L. Waggoner, Sr. is quoted as saying, "We know that there are some persons on the campus who are not telling all they know about the murder and we intend to find out just who's holding back." The three students are charged with conspiracy to arson (police claim that they were about to burn the gym and a women's dorm) and possession of explosives. Tigner is also charged with "felonious assault," but no one has yet been charged with murder.

The school's administration has refused to intercede in behalf of the students. The student body, meanwhile voted 430-76 to take money from their student fees to aid the legal expense of the accused students. The administration did not release this money, however, until students staged a one day boycott of classes and demanded that the funds be released.

On May 2 a mistrial was declared in criminal court when an attorney for the students, John Lockridge, Jr., became ill. The trial of the accused students gets underway this week.