A mysterious shooting death called a "real whodunit" 25 years ago after two teens discovered the victim's body in Southwest Decatur was solved this week, police said, after a Trinity man contacted them and confessed.
Johnny Dwight Whited, 53, called Decatur police Wednesday and said he fatally shot Christopher Alvin Dailey, 26, of Huntsville, in 1995, investigators said.
According to an affidavit by police Detective Sean Mukaddam, Whited provided information about the murder and was willing to show detectives the crime scene.
“Detectives met with Whited who reenacted the crime to detectives and provided corroborated information about the murder,” the affidavit said.
Whited is charged with murder, a Class A felony, and was placed in Morgan County Jail with bail set at $15,000. Police said Dailey’s surviving family has been notified of the arrest.
Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson said an investigation of the confession is in the early stages, and Whited will have a preliminary hearing within 30 days.
On April 26, 1995, Decatur police responded to George Russell Road, off Chapel Hill Road, in reference to two teenagers locating a deceased male. Decatur police said Dailey's body was discovered about 25 yards off George Russell Road alongside what used to be a logging road in the Lake Chula Vista area. Police said Dailey had suffered a gunshot wound to the head, and then-Coroner Gene Shelton ruled his death a homicide.
Fewer than two hours later, Dailey’s vehicle, a 1983 tan Toyota Tercel, was located partially submerged in the Tennessee River near Independence Avenue in the Mallard Fox Industrial Park and Port, 4 miles from Dailey’s body. The car had a rock tied to the accelerator, according to police.
At the time of the initial investigation, Decatur Police Sgt. John Bradford called the case a “real whodunit” with no motive established and no suspects. No weapon was recovered. He said two teens, one from Decatur and one from Hartselle, found the body.
"This was a 17-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy out hunting leaves for the girl's leaf collection," Bradford said at the time.
A note found in the Tercel was dated April 11, 1995, and the legible parts of the note read: “Howdy Chris! I hope this finds you in good health and spirit! I was rereading last letter with picture. Let’s keep in touch.” It is believed to have been signed by someone named Michelle or Michael.
Police investigators said Dailey, a graduate of Butler High School in Huntsville, worked as a waiter at the Huntsville Hilton Hotel and attended an employee meeting between 2 and 3 p.m. on April 25, 1995, and was last seen about 3:20 p.m. that day. Dailey had told an acquaintance he was going to meet somebody in Decatur but didn't give a name, authorities said at the time.
His body was discovered the next day. According to the Huntsville Police Department, a family member filed a missing persons report on Dailey at 3 p.m. April 26. Dailey’s unidentified body had been found about one hour earlier, police said at the time.
A $5,000 reward from then-Gov. Fob James' Office was offered for information leading to a conviction in Dailey's death.
On Thursday, police said the case was revisited several times during the past couple of decades in a search for leads with no success.
According to court records, Whited’s wife filed for divorce eight days before the killing. The divorce was finalized in March 1996, court records show.
Whited, 28 at the time of the slaying, pleaded guilty to a drug paraphernalia charge on May 22, 1995, less than a month after the killing.
On Aug. 16, 2019, Whited was charged with felony possession of crystal methamphetamine during a traffic stop by the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, according to court documents. He was released on $1,000 bond.
His attorney in the drug case, Howard McGriff Belser III of Decatur, said he was unaware of Whited’s role in any homicide. “He has not asked me to represent him in that case, but I’ll talk with him if he does,” Belser said Thursday. Belser said Whited’s drug trial is set for May 3.
Two years into the investigation, Decatur police called Dailey’s homicide the first unsolved murder in 15 years for the department.