How Not To Get Away With Murder: Joel Guy, Jr. And His Murder Instructions
Any good true crime story takes us on a stroll down the darkest alleys of the human mind; to put ourselves in the mind of a killer and try to figure out how they did it and why. And then there are stories like this one, where every answer we seek about the killer’s motives and plans for getting away with it only leaves us with more questions, and nearly all of those questions are “Wait, what the hell?!?”
Joel Guy Jr. is a real piece of work, which is ironic, seeing as he never worked a day in his life. So, when faced with the reality that he would soon have to fend for himself, he took the most drastic measures you could imagine. But what makes this case intriguing was his meticulous habit of writing himself notes and his complete inability to follow them. So, let’s look at the story of a man who went to incredible lengths to ensure his life would continue to go nowhere ...
The Grisly Crime Scene
Not that the description of any crime scene is gonna be sunshine and rainbows, but fair warning: the details of this particular crime scene is particularly gruesome. So, right before the really bad stuff, we’ll signal you with a code word like … Let’s say, UNICORN. And just in case, here are some suggestions on how to suppress your gag reflex.
On Monday, November 28, 2016, police arrived at the home of Joel Sr. and Lisa Guy for a welfare check. Lisa was not the type to not call in sick to work or even if she was running the slightest bit late, so when she failed to show up at all, her employer called the police. After receiving no answer and talking to the neighbors, the cops started checking around the house, peeking through windows, etc.
The Guy’s house had a FOR SALE sign in the front yard but no realtor’s lockbox on the front doorknob. After noticing that the back door knob was missing, they realized that the front door knob had been replaced with that one. Through the hole left in the back door from that missing knob, police could feel the heat, as well as a strange chemical odor coming from the inside of the house. From peeking in the windows, they could see bags of groceries on the floor in the foyer… Perishable groceries that would not last long in a house that warm. So, the cops decided to call in the detectives.
Detectives arrived on the scene and gained access to the house by using a garage door opener they found in one of the couple’s cars. Once inside, they were hit with the full force of that aforementioned chemical smell. They found that the house’s thermostat had been set to 90° F, along with additional space heaters running, putting the house at around 93° F. In the kitchen, they found the oven set to high heat and a covered pot boiling on the stove, which police had elected to return to after they had finished sweeping the rest of the house.
Alright, folks: UNICORN!
As the police made their way upstairs, they found blood stains on the floor and the walls. In the hallway, Police found what was later identified as the severed hands of Joel Guy, Sr. The chemical smell was getting stronger as they made their way to the master bedroom, and in the bathroom there, they found the source: two 45-gallon plastic tubs containing most of the limbs of Joel Sr. and Lisa Guy dissolving in what was later described as a “diabolical stew of human remains.”
The floor of the bathroom was lined with plastic sheeting. A garden hose was attached to the shower. A huge knife was found in the sink. Also upstairs, police found containers of various chemicals, including: sewer line cleaner, drain cleaner, hydrochloric acid, lye, hydrogen peroxide, bleach … essentially every corrosive material available to the average consumer, short of a collection of Dorothy Parker essays.
The autopsies revealed that Joel Guy, Sr. received 42 stab wounds and Lisa Guy was stabbed 31 times, although it was difficult to determine how many of those wounds were made to facilitate dismemberment or may have been made later to allow the chemicals to dissolve their body parts more efficiently. Oh, and that boiling pot on the stove? That was where they discovered Lisa’s severed head.
The Hunt for the Killer Begins-- Wow, That Was Quick
Among the bottles of chemicals in the bedroom was an open bag that contained the first clue investigators would use to identify the killer: a note that listed the name and address of a Louisiana hardware store, as well as a notation about sewer line cleaner. Perhaps CCTV footage will help identify who bought these chemicals, and they will be one step closer to figuring out what kind of monster would commit such a gruesome double murder … and what their motives were.
This would prove to be a very tough investigation. A notebook that was practically a flashing neon sign identifying the killer as the victims’ 28-year-old son, Joel Guy, Jr.
We’re not saying Joel Guy, Jr. was stupid enough to leave behind a signed, step-by-step confession to his crimes out in the open at the crime scene. What we are saying is that he was stupid enough to leave behind his handwritten instructions for how to commit these murders and try to get away with it, much of which was written in the first person, and left that notebook in his childhood bedroom inside a bright red backpack full of other items that were labeled as his. Knox County Sheriff’s deputies arrested him the next day outside his apartment 650 miles away in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with the assistance of the FBI and local law enforcement.
At the time of their deaths, Joel Sr. and Lisa Guy had been married for 31 years. Joel Sr. had had three daughters from a previous marriage, and Joel Jr. was he and Lisa’s only child together. Joel Sr. had recently been laid off from his pipeline engineering job, and rather than try to find a new job at age 61, he made the decision to go ahead and retire. Lisa had realized her paycheck from her human resources job wasn’t bringing much into the couple’s budget anyway, so she decided she could retire as well.
The problem was that nearly every dime of Lisa’s paycheck was going to pay for Joel Guy Jr.’s lifestyle. His parents had been paying his rent and all of his bills while he attended college … for the past nine years. He had supposedly been studying to become a plastic surgeon, although it was reported that he withdrew from the university the previous year. His parents had not planned to tell him he was being cut off financially until Christmas, but seeing as investigators later discovered evidence of Joel Guy Jr. purchasing some of his murder supplies as early as November 7, it’s pretty clear that he could read the writing on the wall.
This was to be the Guy family’s last Thanksgiving at their home in Knoxville before moving into Joel Sr.’s deceased mother’s house 80 miles away in Surgoinsville, Tennessee to begin his retirement. No one in the family had really expected Joel Jr. to make the trip up from Baton Rouge for Thanksgiving, so they were all surprised when he not only showed up a day early but was also making an effort to engage with the family instead of his usual habit of keeping to himself in his bedroom.
The first thing to keep in mind about the notebook Joel Guy Jr. left behind is that he didn’t fill the notebook with his murder instructions. It was actually just a few pages, and while it’s very clear from the crime scene that a lot of things did not go according to plan, there was enough in there to convict him of murder. It’s impossible to determine exactly what Joel Jr.’s actual plan was because much of it seemed chock full of wishful thinking and a huge misunderstanding of forensic science.
From what can be gathered from the notes, Joel Guy Jr. had possibly planned to murder both of his parents and make his father appear to be responsible for his mother’s death. He was then going to dissolve his father’s body in chemicals, crush his bones with a sledgehammer, and flush his remains down the toilet. He had also planned to use gasoline and curling irons on timers to set the house on fire to further destroy evidence. With his mother dead and his father “missing,” Joel Jr. believed he would be the sole beneficiary of his mother’s life insurance and inherit all of the couple’s property.
Even in that (pardon the pun) bare-bones description, it seemed like the kind of murder that would have been deemed too stupid for the B plot of an episode of CSI: Miami, and they once solved a case with the help of a victim’s ghost talking to a coma patient.
A lot of the bullet points in his murder journal squarely fall under the category of you really didn’t need to write that down. You would think things like “Get killing knives,” “Kill him with the knife,” and “Kill her with knife,” would be a foregone conclusion, but maybe that’s just us.
Some of the notes seem to contradict one another. Two lines on one page suggested turning up the heat in the house to throw off the time of death to give Joel Jr. a chance to prove an alibi, yet on the next page, he planned to schedule a text from his mom’s phone for Sunday to prove she was still alive when he was back in Baton Rouge. He killed them both on a Saturday, wanted to make it look like they died earlier than that, but use the text to show his mother was still alive on Sunday?
It does seem like what Joel Guy Jr. had planned turned out to be much harder than he realized once he put the plan into motion. One of his notes read, “Drop something down the garbage disposal to break it → get him on the ground fixing it → Kill him with the knife.” Seeing as his dad was killed in the upstairs exercise room, Joel Sr. seemingly didn’t think fixing the garbage disposal was that much of a priority, so right off the bat, Joel Jr. decided to improvise.
There were several other things that Joel Jr. didn’t seem to plan for. The first was the possibility of his father fighting back. There was blood all over that exercise room, the Bowflex machine was knocked over, and the window blinds were torn. Both father and son suffered defensive wounds on their hands, and Joel Sr. may have suffered more on his arms, but only his hands were left intact enough for anyone to be able to tell.
The second plan that went wrong was the overly optimistic note, “Clean up mess from him before she gets home.” Yeah, the blood splattered all over that carpeted exercise room begged to differ on that one.
Quickly, all the plans Joel Guy Jr. had in his murder manual went out the window, and he had to wing it. He implied in his notes that he only wanted to dispose of his father’s body and just clean all of the forensic evidence off her body, save for the planted DNA under her nails to frame Joel Sr. However, both victims' body parts were found dissolving in those plastic tubs, and Lisa Guy’s severed head ended up cooking in chemicals on the stove.
It is believed that Joel Jr. had left the house on Sunday to drive the ten hours back to Baton Rouge to further establish his alibi. That plan didn’t work either, seeing as he was seen on security cameras at a Walmart in Knoxville buying first aid supplies for his wounded hands, which are clearly seen crudely bandaged on the video.
Even though much of the murder didn’t go at all as Joel Guy Jr. had attempted to plan, the most damning part of his notes was the repeated references to the couple’s financials. He even had an entire page devoted to his parents' assets, going so far as to note their house in Knoxville as a possible total loss after the fire and how he might not get the house in Surgoinsville if his aunt is still living there. He was under the arrogant notion that he would get everything if his parents died, completely forgetting his three half-sisters who had made a million times more effort to be a part of the family than Joel Jr. ever did.
Arrest and Trial
Law enforcement apprehended Joel Guy Jr. as he was about to get in his car outside his apartment in Baton Rouge on Tuesday, three days after the murders took place and one day after Knoxville police discovered the crime scene. In the trunk of his car, officers found a Kitchenaid mixer with a meat grinder attachment, which corresponded with the fourth note on page one of Joel Jr.’s notebook: “Bring blender and food grinder - grind meat.”
Joel Jr. did not fight extradition back to Knoxville to stand trial for the murders of his parents. He pleaded not guilty to all of the seven charges against him: two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of first-degree felony murder, and two counts of abuse of a corpse. The trial itself only lasted four days, and the entire time Joel Guy Jr. sat there, barely showing any emotion other than detached boredom.
His lawyers called no witnesses and presented zero evidence in his defense other than filing a motion that asked for the death penalty if he were to be found guilty. In the end, the judge must’ve felt that Joel Guy Jr. had had just enough of getting everything he asked for and instead sentenced him to two consecutive life sentences, plus four additional years for the abuse of a corpse charges.
It also didn’t help that before sentencing, the Tennessee Department of Corrections issued a handwritten note found in Joel Jr.’s jail cell outlining plans to gouge out his cellmate’s eyes. Alright, someone needs to stop allowing this guy access to pen and paper.
Dan Fritschie is a writer, comedian, and frequent over-thinker. He can be found on Twitter, and he thanks you for your time.
Top image: Fer Gregory/Shutterstock