For more than half a century, law officers in Jefferson County, Ala., have had one enduring mystery: The disappearance of three men one rainy night from an isolated part of the county. The men – brothers Billy Howard Dye, age 19, and Robert Earl Dye, 23, and their cousin Dan Brasher, 38 – headed to a party in Billy’s dark green 1947 Ford on March 3, 1956, and were never seen again, dead or alive.
Witnesses told authorities the three had been in an argument at a party at the cabin of Brasher’s mother in Sardis, where they had come with Robert Earl’s wife Audrey and another married couple. After dropping off Audrey and the other couple, the three men went to a party at the home of Billy’s girlfriend. There, they encountered a local bootlegger from whom, according to rumor, the cousins had been stealing. Bootleggers were thriving in the rural South at that time.
A man who lived next door to the girlfriend’s house, where there was no running water, said some men inside the home came out at about 2 a.m. and formed a bucket brigade to take water into the home. Not long after several men left the house carrying pickaxes and shovels and piled into two cars, one of which was Billy’s Ford. The first car came back, the witness said. Billy’s was never seen again.
An employee of a nearby store told authorities a man had come into his store following the cousins’ disappearance asking for “anything that might remove blood from a floor.” The clerk recommended Red Devil lye, which the man bought.
Had the water and lye been for cleaning evidence? Were the shovels for digging graves? Rumors flew.
Law officers have searched caves, mines and caverns in search of the men’s bodies. Tipsters reported the missing men were buried inside the car in the bed of Alabama 79 near Pinson, which was under construction at the time.
In the mid-1970s, investigators dug up parts of the highway and bored holes looking for evidence. Using sonar, they saw a mass of metal beneath the highway but it turned out to be scrap metal.
Then, in 1984, came the biggest break in the case. An ex-convict from Louisiana named T.J. Chamblee confessed to participating in murdering the men, saying he wanted to clear his conscience.
Chamblee said he helped disposed of the bodies and the Ford in an abandoned mine near Trafford. But when local authorities went to Louisiana to question Chamblee, they discovered his story held inconsistencies.
He was never charged. To this day, the case remains open. And to this day, stories are told about the night three cousins disappeared without a trace from the face of the earth, about the mysterious case of the Moonshine Murders.