Trying to find information on Mother's Father, who was killed in Vestal, Knox County,Tennessee on April 6, 1976, when she was 11 years old. Anything helps, but have found zero information about him or his burial etc past that date.

I have been casually looking for information about my Grandfather, my mother's father, Donald Austin Collette for several  years. Luckily this year I hit a break through with old Knoxville, TN newspapers and was finally able to find information and details about the night he was killed. However, i cannot find any record or information, excpet for the Social Security Death Index record, about him, his burial or barely even about the guy that was charged and convicted of thie crime. His name seems to "vanish" in my research after April 8, 1976 and the incident occured on April 6, 1976.

I have found very little relating to the trial and hearing the person that was charged with his death stood. His name is Lawrence Burnette Thomas, who was arrested in Chicago by the FBI on Marh 11, 1977. Who was then extraditd back to TN. The last information I have on his legal case is a newspaper article listing bulk Parole and Pardon cases to be heard the following week. I DO know he was Paroled because he received a seperate charge of drunk driving less than a year after that article. 

If anyone has any suggestions on where to look or even just trying to amend my searches to say something different would be greatly appreciated. The information listed below is the main details i've been using to search. 

Donald Austin Collette

DOB: March 20, 1935   DOD: Aprl 6, 1976 41 years old

One paper says it occured in Vestal, TN the rest mention Knoxville, TN or "South of Knoxville", but that it occured on Spruce St

Shot with a .357 Magnum Shotgun

Lawrence Burnette Thomas was charged with First Degree Murder but convicted of Voluntary Manslaughter

I have no information on where he was buried, all I know is he was pronounced dead at the scene and his body was taken to University Hospital. I've even tried searching through my Grandmother's name, who was married to my Grandfather at the time with 3 kids. Her name, at the time, was Lois Deanne Collette (Maiden name Ross). Her name upon her passing in 1999 was Lois Deanne Ross Collette Spears. She was one of those that never dropped any of her last names. 

Thank you for even taking the time to read this, what I am sure sounds like rambling, but your time is greatly appreciated. 

Parents Reply
  • Thank you for your response. I went to your above mentioned site and when I search his name there is 0 records found. So i just searched his last name and there is no Donald or Austin or any combination of his name found. I did find the records for his mother and other siblings though, so thank you VERY much for the source. It may not have provided what I am actively looking for but it did still provide me with some valuable information. 

  • Maybe there is a difference in filing of death certificates for people who died through a crime. Here is some general information for Tennessee

    The information could give you some ideas where else you could ask for the death record.

  •  ,

    Thank you for posting on History Hub!

    If you are hoping to locate a death certificate it does not look like there is an online database for 1976 deaths and you may have looked up resources for earlier periods of time. If you review the Tennessee State Department of Health's page, they maintain death records in their agency for 50 years. This means that until 2026 the certificate is with the Department of Health. Note that they state on their page "Tennessee State law dictates that certified copies of our records can only be provided to the person named on the certificate or certain family members.  However, verification of information from our records (excluding cause of death) can be provided to any requester." They do not specify what family members can receive certified copies, so you may well want to contact them to see if you can make a request for a full certified copy as a grandchild, or if it must be a closer relation. (There is a "Help" button at the right bottom of the page on that link.)

    Now the trial for the murder of your grandfather should be in court records, and it looks like the Knox County Circuit Court is likely where it was tried. You can contact the Tennessee State Library and Archives to see if they have copies of the court's minutes.

    Hopefully other community members may have additional suggestions.

    We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your research!