By Brian Haas / The Tennessean
A tattoo artist helped identify a headless corpse found Thursday in a vacant field off Old Hermitage Avenue, which helped detectives quickly solve a precarious homicide investigation.
But police aren't thanking him.
Instead, they say that tattoo artist was the one who killed Erman Thompson, 48, in the first place, shooting him in the head, decapitating him with a shovel and wheeling his body 650 feet down the road in a garbage can to dump it in the field.
On Friday, police arrested Henry James Baxter, 37, accusing him of murdering his roommate in an argument over the woman with whom they have both fathered children. Police said that after first helping to identify Thompson, Baxter later admitted killing Thompson in an argument over Thompson's wife at the home all three shared in the 100 block of Claiborne Street.
Police say Thompson was killed and stuffed into a garbage can on Sunday, decapitated on Monday, and his body dumped in a field at 169 Old Hermitage Avenue on Tuesday or Wednesday.
On Thursday, a mail carrier discovered the body.
Detectives worried that the decapitation would make it difficult to identify the body and make an arrest, said Don Aaron, Metro Police spokesman. But the community helped detectives break the case.
That day, police quickly put out details about tattoos found on the body: His left shoulder bore the initials "FTW" and a cross and dragon, and his left forearm bore a dagger. He also had a sliver or black ring with "Dad" inscribed on it.
A neighbor thought the tattoos sounded familiar. Aaron said detectives then interviewed Baxter, who confirmed the victim's identity through the tattoos he had etched into Thompson's arms.
"When we showed Baxter photographs of the tattoos, he identified them of being those of Thompson's," Aaron said.
After identifying the man, Detectives Johnny Crumby and Andrew Injaychock canvassed Claiborne Street, focusing on Thompson's home and nearby neighbors. After police left, neighbors discovered his head still in the garbage can.
Suddenly, a case police thought would be difficult to break literally solved itself.
A man shot in the head and then decapitated was murdered in an argument over a woman, according to court records.
An arrest affidavit says that Henry James Baxter pulled out a gun and shot Erman Thompson in the head during an argument about Thompson's wife. It says he then put Thompson's body in a garbage can in the backyard where they all shared a home.
Over the next few days, Baxter pulled the body out, sliced Thompson's head off with a shovel, dumped the body in a vacant lot at 169 Old Hermitage Ave. and put the head back in the garbage can, the affidavit says.
Police said Baxter confessed to the murder.
Metro Police on Friday arrested a 37-year-old man they say shot and decapitated a man.
Henry James Baxter is being held on a murder charge in the death of Erman Thompson, 48, whose headless body was found Thursday afternoon in a field at 169 Old Hermitage Ave. Police say Baxter admitted to killing Thompson by shooting him in the head. He told police he then decapitated Thompson's body with a shovel.
Police said they found Thompson's head Friday morning in a garbage can in an alley in the 100 block of Claiborne Street. They believe he was killed Sunday.