Not long after she came to Nashville, in 1984, a young WSMV-Channel 4 reporter named Demetria Kalodimos was relaxing with colleagues at the Dalt's on White Bridge Road. It was a restaurant close to the station, and a popular hangout for reporters after the broadcast. A Dalt's employee, a mopey, long-haired kid, went about his errands, and a station veteran leaned over to Kalodimos.
"See that guy over there?" he told Kalodimos. "He's the guy that killed Marcia Trimble."
The restaurant employee in question, Jeffrey Womack, no longer faced charges in the most sensational and haunting murder case the city had ever seen. At the time, it had been a full decade since the body of 9-year-old Marcia Trimble was found in a garage near her Green Hills home. But just because Womack was free at the moment didn't mean he'd been cleared. For 20 more years, practically his entire adult life, he would be staked out, followed, rousted and hounded.
Kalodimos might have been new to Nashville, but even she knew the Marcia Trimble story by the end of her first week at work. And now, sitting at Dalt's, she knew Jeffrey Womack.
"And so that stuck in my mind also," Kalodimos says almost 30 years later, in the studio and editing facility she's rehabbing near the new Music City Center roundabout. "I made the unfortunate association so many people did, even though at that point in time the charges had been dropped four years prior. The cloud was still following him like Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoon."
It only started to lift in December 2007, when WSMV reported that DNA evidence had linked a suspect to Marcia Trimble's murder. The suspect wasn't Jeffrey Womack or one of the kids in Marcia's circle of neighborhood acquaintances, as investigators had long believed. It was a convicted sex offender, Jerome Barrett, who had been arrested in conjunction with a string of violent rapes just weeks before Marcia's disappearance.
That should have been enough to silence the whispers that had followed Womack since he was 15 years old, a quiet, withdrawn kid whose great crime was that he'd grown up near Marcia Trimble. But it wasn't.
"When will it ever end? It'll never end," Womack told Kalodimos in an interview. "When I die, the headline will be, 'Jeffrey Womack, the boy suspected in the Marcia Trimble murder, has died.' "
That's one reason, after decades of media silence, Jeffrey Womack has decided to make himself heard. At 7 p.m. Saturday on WSMV, Kalodimos will present a 52-minute cut of a new documentary titled Indelible: The Case Against Jeffrey Womack. Using new interviews with principals in the Trimble case and never-before-heard wiretap recordings, as well as footage from round-the-clock broadcasts filmed at the time, it recounts in you-are-there detail the awful weeks leading up to the discovery of the body and the chaotic aftermath, following all the way to Womack's eventual exoneration.
That's just the beginning of Womack's media counterattack. At 7:30 p.m. Monday at The Belcourt, Kalodimos will host a screening of the full 77-minute cut of Indelible, a project that has taken her more than a year to complete outside her duties on the WSMV anchor desk. Even those who tune in Saturday night may well want to see the longer version, which adds hitherto undisclosed details, particulars too graphic for prime-time broadcast, and a time capsule of a scarred Nashville that echoes Robert Altman's movie the same year.
In addition, Womack and his longtime attorney, John J. Hollins Sr., have released a book, The Suspect: A Memoir, a gripping first-person account of their ordeal in the decades since Marcia Trimble's murder. In it Womack shares for the first time many of the circumstances that initially drew suspicion upon him, while candidly discussing the toll of living under that shadow. An excerpt appears as the cover story in the Nov. 19 issue of The City Paper, and Womack and Hollins will sign books at the Vanderbilt Barnes & Noble 2 p.m. Sunday and at the Belcourt screening Monday night.
The book project was assembled in part by E. Thomas Wood, a veteran business and courts reporter (for the Scene and numerous SouthComm publications) with a lifelong interest in local history. Wood approached Kalodimos, who's amassing an impressive track record as a documentary filmmaker, about tackling the story on film.
"Demetria's been all over this story for years," Wood says. For Kalodimos, the project marked a chance to return to the long-form TV journalism that brought WSMV renown in the 1980s, back when the station was producing globe-trotting, award-winning pieces on topics such as AIDS and spirituality.
"This is what we used to make our reputation on; this is what gave us the distinction for many years of being the best local TV news station in the country, this kind of in-depth stuff," Kalodimos says. "A long project today is five minutes — an extraordinarily long project."
Last year, Wood and Kalodimos began scouring police archives, to which they gained access by threatening open-records litigation against the police department. Between them, they interviewed as many of the surviving major figures in the case as would participate, from Pat Apel, the former prosecutor who Wood says deeply regrets his pursuit of Womack, to Marcia's mother, Virginia Trimble, who Kalodimos says was never convinced of Womack's guilt. Today Virginia lives in Adairville, Ky., caring for her husband, former Tennessean city editor and columnist Frank Ritter.
Wood, who grew up in Nashville, remembers the traumatic impact of the unfolding story on the city.
"So much of that impact had to do with how the police made the city as a whole a victim," Wood says. "They presented this whole theory that this must have happened because of evil in the neighborhood. From then on, everyone had to be suspicious of everyone else. The city lost its innocence, as people claim, but they lost it to the police's fixation."
For a generation of Middle Tennesseans, Kalodimos' documentary plays like repressed memory of that unnerving spring of 1975, when local TV viewers were transfixed by the front yard of the Trimble family's otherwise unexceptional Green Hills bungalow. On Feb. 25, 1975, around 5:15 p.m., 9-year-old Marcia said she was going to deliver Girl Scout cookies to a neighbor across the street. She never arrived.
Thirty-three grueling days later, on Easter Sunday, the girl's sexually assaulted, strangled body was found in a nearby neighbor's garage surrounded by debris — including a shower curtain that would become part of a web of circumstantial evidence tightening around Womack. By that point, as WSMV's archival footage shows, the city's news crews, including Channel 4, had staked out near-residence at the Trimble home.
As a record of now-antiquated broadcast TV news — with a cameo from a future media mogul then cutting her teeth at what is now WTVF-Channel 5 — the footage Kalodimos provides is fascinating. Much of it was shot not on tape but on 16mm celluloid. Before the dawn of camcorders, news crews had to reassemble 600-pound studio cameras on the scene, big and bulky as lunar modules. The background atmosphere is downright carnival-esque — at first.
"You'll hear them cueing the reporter using a two-way radio," Kalodimos says, balancing a laptop in the screening room of her studio facility, a former Gulf station and soul-food joint that dates back to the 1920s. She's passionate about collecting and reusing discarded things, down to the Pontiac baby-moon hubcaps that adorn her lobby. That fascination extends to WSMV's archive, which she ruefully says goes back no further than 1975.
"Look how quickly they started rolling and keeping footage," Kalodimos marvels, peering into the laptop where a reporter from nearly 40 years ago stares back, in the standard attire of the time. "Who had the Ray-Ban and London Fog concession back then?" she cracks. She laughs, but this footage has cost her and yeoman WSMV photographer/editor Jim Garbee sleepless nights for at least a month as the deadline has neared. Exhaustion hasn't dimmed her interest in the material, nor her gratitude to those who thought to save the footage.
"Someone sensed this was going to be a big story," she says. "Who that person was specifically, I don't know for sure. Someone did. I got a feeling it was Dan." She doesn't have to explain she means her late co-anchor Dan Miller, part of WSMV's legendary Dream Team, and the pause hangs.
"I wish I could've asked him now ... whether it was him saying, 'Keep all of this,' " she murmurs. On the laptop, the carnival atmosphere ends with the chilling announcement of the body's discovery.
"The only thing I can assume at this moment," Metro police Maj. George Currey solemnly tells weary reporters on the monitor, "is that a child has been murdered." In vintage footage shot in the nearby garage, a scraping sound can be heard. It's that of investigators ripping strips of Scotch tape from various surfaces — and with them, they hope, the fingerprints of Marcia Trimble's killer.
From there, Indelible chronicles the twists, turns, and bitter coincidences that followed as police zeroed in on Womack as the chief suspect — incorrectly, as it turns out — and worked that angle without relent for more than 30 years. In a two-part Scene cover story in 2001 ("The File on Marcia Trimble," June 21 & 28, 2001), Matt Pulle reports that undercover officers posed as Womack's co-workers at the now-defunct restaurant The Jolly Ox, hoping to gather damning evidence that never came. At one point, Kalodimos says, detectives wiretapped Marcia Trimble's grave in Mt. Olivet because Womack had been seen visiting the cemetery. It turned out he hadn't been making any graveside confession, as was suspected: He was on the grounds for his own father's burial.
The book and documentary raise controversies that were gathering about the case even before Jerome Barrett's arrest. Among these are accusations that the investigators' fixation on Womack, coupled with sloppy mishandling of potential evidence, set back finding the real killer for decades. If one of the story's heroes is Tom Cathey, the chief homicide investigator who skillfully preserved the DNA evidence that brought Barrett's conviction, another is Metro rape detective Ralph Langston — who, according to Kalodimos, tried without success for decades to bring Barrett to investigators' attention.
On that charge, Kalodimos says, detectives on the Trimble case maintain that Langston is "full of shit." But his word is backed up on camera by retired Metro detective Sherman Nickens, who corroborates Langston's claims that he brought Barrett's name to investigators' attention. What's more, he says, key documents have somehow disappeared from the official Trimble file.
As for Womack, now a father and grandfather who works for a Nashville linen service, Wood says he remains uneasy with public attention. At their first meeting, Wood says, "He was wary of how he'd been treated over the years." But Wood was encouraged to find Womack a survivor, not a victim.
"I was glad to see he still had some fight in him," Wood says. "People tend to say, 'Ah, poor Jeffrey, he's ruined.' I wasn't seeing a ruined man." Instead, he says, Womack is now "pretty pumped" about telling his story at last.
Through Wood, Womack sent this brief statement: "I think Demetria did an awesome job. Going back to those times was stressful, for sure. I'm glad that part is coming to an end. One part is ending, and another is starting."
The miracle, Demetria Kalodimos says, is that three decades of suspicion and public scorn didn't turn Jeffrey Womack bitter and vindictive. At one point in Indelible, he's asked how he dealt with the unimaginable pressure. His reply, relayed by Kalodimos, is simple: "I kick the door shut. I learned how to kick the door shut and make it go away. Occasionally a year or two would pass and it would open again. But I had the ability and the guts to kick it shut and make it go away."
With the book and documentary, he may have his best chance to close it for good.
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