NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — One of the most high-profile, double-murder cases in Nashville’s history remains unsolved, 27 years later. The charges against the only suspect arrested in what is commonly referred to as “the tanning bed murders” were ultimately dropped, after years in court.
“She got the spirit award because she had the most spirit,” said Gail Chilton of her daughter Melissa. “She kept everyone going.”
Gail sat near a large portrait of Melissa, nearly three decades after the most traumatic loss of her life- Melissa’s murder.
“She was a very good girl,” said Ernestine Reavis, of her granddaughter Tiffany Campbell. “I was really really close to her from the time she was born.”
Tiffany was killed alongside Melissa on February 22nd of 1996. Both young women, 18, were lured into a seedy adult business, called Exotic Tan for Men, off Church street in Nashville. The girls were stabbed collectively nearly 100 times.
Their families were shocked. Melissa, a beloved, vibrant cheerleader in high school, was in her freshman year at MTSU, at the time. Gail said she would have studied psychology, potentially focusing on children.
“Children loved children. She would have really been a good mother,” she said.
Tiffany, with her unmistakable smile, would never miss a visit with her grandmother, and often accompanied her to church.
“She’s buried now beside her mother,” said Ernestine. “She spent the days with me all the time, and she called me lots.”
But the girls were coerced by friends into working at the business. Many of the employees there were in their teens, according to police. Some were potentially even underage, according to Gail. One employee testified to making $500 to $600 dollars per day, and being supplied drugs by the owner.
“He (the owner) was trafficking these girls,” said Gail. “What happened is so contradictory to the way Melissa was. It was such a shock where she was, and what happened.”
Gail said she had no idea Melissa had gotten wrapped up at such a risky place. “I was still buying her shampoo,” she said.
Tiffany and Melissa were working the day shift the day their lives were taken. After multiple calls went unanswered, the owner discovered their bodies, knifed to death in the back room.
“The crime scene was so awful,” said Hendersonville Police Chief Mickey Miller. “Those will always stay with you.”
Miller worked as a captain in Metro Police’s murder squad unit, at the time. He had responded to the violence scene.
“We felt like Tiffany was probably the target, and then Melissa had come in, and that’s why she had so many defensive blows on her.”
“Her senior picture was already on the news when I got home,” said Gail, recalling returning from meeting the police chaplain the day she learned her daughter’s life was ended.
A call Tiffany made to her grandmother the evening before would be her last.
“She called me the night she got murdered,” Ernestine said, “And she said, I love you and I loved her very much.”
The killer took all of the VCU surveillance equipment, and left behind the sheath to a military style knife. The knife itself was never found. Detectives believe the suspect likely knew at least one of the girls, and was extremely triggered due to the intensity of the wounds.
“When you have someone who is brutally murdered like these two girls were, that’s typically somebody who has lost control,” said Retired Sgt. Pat Postiglione.
Postiglione, a renown detective in Nashville having worked on hundreds of cases, was a lead investigator on the cold case, years later. He participated in questioning a list of suspects, including several romantic partners of both of the victims.
Patrick Streater had dated Tiffany. So had a man named David Ewing, according to court documents. Melissa’s boyfriend at the time was also questioned, but was dismissed as a suspect.
However, for nearly two decades, there were no arrests.
“Typically in a case, a DNA case, evidence is submitted and then resubmitted, and that’s done because of such advancements in DNA technology,” said Postiglione.
Such advancements in DNA technology would play out heavily 17 years later.
After testing of evidence collected from the scene, Patrick Streater was indicted in 2013 on two counts of first degree murder for the deaths of Melissa Chilton and Tiffany Campbell.
Court documents say a partial DNA sample taken from the knife sheath showed enough of a possible link to Streater, even though it was a lower probability.
Prosecutors also had witnesses. Streater’s now ex-wife told detectives that he owned what looked like an identical military-style knife to the one used in the slayings. Another girl working at the business testified that Streater had come in the day before the murders looking for Tiffany, and then stormed out after learning she wasn’t there.
At the time of the indictment, Streater was serving time in California for a string of armed robberies. He was extradited to Tennessee to await trial for double homicide.
FOX 17 News sat down with Patrick Streater, still living in Nashville, his hometown.
“I never really worried about being charged,” said Streater, describing years of being questioned by police on the case. “But when I actually was charged, it was very shocking to me and pretty devastating.”
The court case against Streater would drag on for the next five years. Tiffany’s mother died of a heart attack in her sleep, after one of the initial hearings.
“She shook after we left (court) that last time. She literally shook like she had uncontrollable shakes. And she said, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” said Gail.
Streater maintains that he was at his mother’s apartment at the time of the slayings. Phone records show a seven-minute phone call at 11:22 a.m. placed from the Percy Priest area apartment to Streater’s then girlfriend in Alabama. That’s within the timeframe when the murders would have been committed. Streater’s defense attorney Kyle Mothershead argued there wasn’t enough time for Streater to get to the business to commit the crime.
Prosecutors maintained the murders happened sometime between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., when their bodies were found, allowing for enough time.
Streater also told FOX 17 that he did not own a military style knife, like the one used in the homicides.
In 2017, the DNA was reanalyzed, along with another DNA sample that was not previously tested, from underneath Melissa’s fingernails. The results came out less favorable for the prosecution. One lab report found “no conclusions” could be made on the knife sheath sample, which had several contributors.
“It wasn't a complete sample,” said Mothershead. “It was broken down, kind of partially degraded It's an imperfect sample using imperfect technology.”
However, an email citing a different lab analysis from 2017 stated that Streater’s DNA was still “somewhat associated” with the knife sheath.
The fingernail DNA sample excluded Streater as a contributor. However, Ewin, one of the other suspects initially investigated, was deemed “inconclusive” for the fingernail sample.
Mothershead also pointed to Ewin as having once dated Melissa, and being temporarily released from jail the day before the murders. There was also testimony from another inmate that Ewin had allegedly admitted to him that he was the killer.
“Someone else may come up and say so-and-so said that they did the killing,” said Postiglione who maintains it’s not uncommon for inmates to make allegations, often untrue, about other cases. “Now, did that person really say that or is this person saying that he said that? You deal with a lot of that, a lot of people lying and pointing fingers to people.”
In 1999, Ewin was convicted of murder in a different case and is now still behind bars.
“I feel like there was stuff in that pointed to a particular person, other than myself,” said Streater. “I feel like if they made a case against me, I don’t see why they didn’t make a case against this person too, because the same type of evidence is there for that person too.”
In June of 2018, a dramatic and rare development for a double homicide case was announced in court.
“It was probably the biggest disappointment I’d ever had,” said Gail.
The Nashville District Attorney’s office dropped both charges against Streater, no longer believing they had strong enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to get a conviction.
“You’re on the edge of breaking down and then everything stops,” said Gail. “I couldn’t even drive home.”
“I’m thankful for the DNA testing,” said Streater. “It was just the end of a very long, difficult process People that watched the case play out personally apologized to me for maybe distancing themselves.”
Streater said he’s worked to restart his life. Although, he said he knows this case will always follow him.
“I didn’t feel like I should be charged in the first place,” said Streater. “So, I think that was the biggest disservice or tragedy in all of this because, you know, it’s not just me, it’s the victim’s family.”
For Gail, she says she’ll never give up seeking justice for her daughter, amid a type of grief that never truly subsides.
“(The pain) is always there,” said Gail. “When you have to keep fighting like this, and you have to keep going out there and saying, ‘Come on, let’s get the killer. Let’s get the guy off the street. Let’s get the guy that’s caused all this pain.”
The business where Melissa and Tiffany were killed has since been torn down, with new construction now in its place. In the years since Melissa and Tiffany’s murders, Gail has advocated to help change multiple laws in Nashville, and Tennessee, toughening regulations for adult businesses and to allow the picture of victims to be shown in court.
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