MOUNTAIN CITY - To many, Joe Shepherd is the bogeyman.
He is a nightmare. A murderer. Shepherd has been in prison for almost 10 years and his name and face remains embedded in the memories of many Monroe County residents.
And Joe Shepherd still says he's innocent.
"I didn't bury them," Shepherd said. "I didn't kill them."
Joe Shepherd was first convicted for the second degree murder of Cathy Clowers in November of 1990.
The conviction was later appealed and set at a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
The tenth anniversary of the 1990 trial is next month.
It is the anniversary of a trial that put one of Monroe County's most infamous killers behind bars.
He's serving a life prison term for the first degree murder charge of Roxanne Woodson in 1978 and a lesser charge of two to five years for the involuntary manslaughter of Cathy Clowers .
Shepherd lives his life behind two chain link fences topped with rows of razor wire.
A few years ago he was moved to the Northeast Correctional Facility in Mountain City, Tenn.
Mountain City is in the farthest corner of Tennessee - just miles away from the Virginia and North Carolina state lines and a few blocks away from nowhere.
The scenic Appalachian mountains can be seen from the correctional facility, but looking at them is all Shepherd can do.
"It's prison," Shepherd said. "I read a lot. I finished up getting my completion certificate(equivalency of a high school literacy diploma)."
As Shepherd entered the room Monday for an exclusive interview with the Advocate & Democrat, one notices several changes from the newspaper pictures that plastered the papers in 1990, 1991 and 1996. He now wears a full beard and walks with a cane. Ten years in prison has aged him beyond his years.
He's getting old and the story has grown old with him.
Shepherd still does not change his story. He maintains that he did not kill Roxanne Woodson and Cathy Clowers. The bodies of the teenage girls were found in 1978. Shepherd contends that two other men, who were juveniles at the time of the incidents, were the ones directly involved.
"They were last with them," Shepherd said.
Shepherd said these two boys framed him to keep the truth hidden.
"They were making a statement," Shepherd said. "I guess they figured if they framed me they could get away with it. And they sure enough did, didn't they?"
As the interview went on, Shepherd talked about the night of Cathy Clowers' disappearance. He said most of the night he was drugged on dexeprin, and anti-depressant drug, and valium. He said he kept fading in and out through the night.
Shepherd said on the night of Clowers' disappearance, he had been hanging around with the two teenage boy. He remembers seeing Clowers' body in the back of his car when he heard the two boys start saying that the 14-year-old girl was dead.
"When I woke up they kept saying she was dead," Shepherd said. "They just kept saying she was dead. I tried to get them to take her to that hospital over in Copperhill. It was only about 15 or 20 miles away, but one of them said he knew someone over there and he'd be recognized."
Shepherd said he passed out again and later woke up to sounds of shovels digging into earth.
"I was in the car incapacitated," Shepherd said. "But I could hear metal hitting rock."
He said later he felt regrets over what happened during the night.
"It was my friend," Shepherd said. "You still have that sad part in your heart knowing your never going to see them again. Of course I have regrets. Anybody would have regrets."
In 1978, Shepherd led authorities directly to Clowers' gravesite - just weeks after the body of Roxanne Woodson was found in his parent's yard.
Shepherd was hesitant at first to talk of the death of Woodson.
"When I get up on the stand for that one you'll hear about it," Shepherd said, referring to an upcoming appeal he says he will seek.
As the interview pressed on, Shepherd began opening up and began talking of the Woodson case.
"I had just met her that night," Shepherd said. "We were out in the woods and she ran off with (one of the other boys). When the cops came I tried to tell them, but they wouldn't listen to me."
That night, almost 50 policeman combed the woods trying to find Woodson whom Shepherd had said "run off."
"That's just how we talked back then," Shepherd said. "She did run off."
Shepherd said that was the last he had seen of her until he later found out Woodson's body had been found in his parent's yard.
"Why would I bury her there?" Shepherd said. "That's where my kids ran."
A Monroe County Sheriff's deputy and a U.S. Marshal then visited the house to question Shepherd. Shepherd talked about that day.
"They came to the house and one of them just opened fire," Shepherd said.
Shepherd began tearing up as he told the story.
"I have a right to protect my family don't I?" Shepherd asked. "When that Marshall opened up fire he shot right into where my kids were sleeping. I have a right to protect my family."
Shepherd took off his glasses for a second and rubbed the tears from his eyes.
"My oldest son was killed," Shepherd said. "They didn't tell you that did they? Somebody run him over in the (1980s)."
Shepherd will now look at trying to take his first degree murder charge of Roxanne Woodson to court once more. Within the next 12 months he will have a post conviction relief hearing that may or may not grant him the right to have an appeals trial in the case.
The post conviction relief hearing will determine whether or not Shepherd had a fair trial in April 1991.
"Don't I have the right to face my accusers in court?" Shepherd asked.
He said if it came to another trial then he would want it right here in Monroe County.
"They asked for a change of venue," Shepherd said. "But I have the right to let a jury of my peers decide the case. I want it in Monroe County, so I can get up on the stand and tell everyone exactly what happened."
Shepherd said he was afraid, at first, of the two juveniles he points his finger at, but he is no longer scared.
"What can they do to me now?" Shepherd said. "I've been drug through it 22 years myself. I hate to drag that family through it again, but I have to do this."
Shepherd's common-law wife in Canada still writes him regularly, Shepherd said. His son and daughter from that relationship are now almost grown up.
Shepherd said his daughter is 14 and his son is 19. Both are still in school, but his son is expected to graduate this year.
"We were good together," said Shepherd of the common-law marriage.
When Shepherd left the guards were asked what kind of prisoner he was.
"I know that guy," one of the guards said. "He doesn't talk to anybody. He just keeps to himself."
Joe Shepherd began to leave the room and there was one more question to be asked.
Was there any more young girls whose bodies are buried in shallow graves around Monroe County?
"Yeah, probably," Shepherd said. "But you're going to have to ask the other two about that."
There may well be two people who know the truth behind the circumstances that happened in 1976 and 1978.
God and Joe Shepherd.
Clifford Hightower can be reached at 442-4575 or at firstname.lastname@example.org