From Shiloh to Metro - The Diane Vaughn Story

A book titled A Season of Darkness written by co-authors Doug Jones and Phyllis Gobbell released on December 7 is the true story of a murder case in Nashville most everyone remembers. Of special interest to people in this area is the fact that it was because of the tireless efforts of one of Metro Nashville’s police detectives, a native of Overton County, the murder of Marcia Trimble is no longer an on-going cold case investigation. It was a day in February of 1975 that Marcia Trimble told her parents, "I’ll be back in a few minutes." Those were the last words Virginia and Charles Trimble heard their nine year old daughter say as she left their home to deliver Girl Scout cookies to a neighbor. She never returned. It’s at this point we look back at the life of Diane Vaughn, a graduate of Livingston Academy’s Class of 1965, and how she played a significant part in the indictment of Jerome Sidney Barrett for the Trimble murder, even though she didn’t live long enough to get the recognition she deserved.

It was in the Alpine/Allred community that Burns and Danise (Allred) Vaughn made their home. Their children included a son, Roger, and two daughters, Diane and Debbie. The natural and picturesque beauty of the area of Overton County their home was situated in couldn’t be more beautiful. The view of the nearby mountains from every direction of their home was to be enjoyed year around. This environment was perfectly suited for a girl like Diane who loved the great outdoors. When she was only 7, her sister, Debbie, just 5, and Roger, age 14, tragedy struck when their father, Burns Vaughn, was killed in a mining accident. He had worked as a superintendent for Meadow Creek Coal Company for five years at the time of his death. He was only 36 years old when the accident happened. It wasn’t long after her father’s death, that Diane, with the help of her Uncle Roland Vaughn, began to target practice with her father’s .22. As she developed her shooting ability, birds often fell prey to her aim. Their lifeless bodies sometimes ended up stuffed into the pockets of her younger sister, Debbie, who screamed in terror, much to the delight of Diane. Hildegarde Vaughn, an aunt of the Vaughn children, described Diane as quite skilled when it came to mischief-making. Girlfriends Diane brought home with her to spend the night never knew what might be in store for them before the sun came up the next morning. Diane was known to have all kinds of secret ways she had rigged up in her bedroom to create strange noises in the middle of the night. On one occasion, she persuaded two classmates to climb onto the roof late one night when she had some girls over for a slumber party. When a terrible racket could be heard coming from on top the house, Danise Vaughn got everyone up, completely convinced their home was about to be invaded by an untold number of burglars. Somehow the boys on the roof Diane had talked into helping create this mayhem managed to get down and slip away before anyone was seriously injured.

Debbie Vaughn Sullivan, Diane Vaughn, and Roger Vaughn were photographed at their home in the Alpine/Allred community in the early 1950's.

When Diane began driving, one of her favorite pranks to play on Debbie was to ask her if she wanted to learn to drive. At first Debbie was reluctant to get under the wheel, but after a little more persuasion from her big sister, she would get out of the car and go around to get under the wheel. And that’s when the fun began for Diane. She would drive away, leaving Debbie standing by the side of the road. After a while, she would return to pick up a very scared little sister. But Debbie was finally able to break her from this by hiding from Diane one day after she pulled this same trick on her once again. It was a frantic Diane came back to find that her sister was nowhere to be found. After getting out of the car and calling Debbie’s name over and over, Diane was very relieved to see Debbie returning to the car from a good hiding place she had found nearby. That was the last time that joke was played. The prank that Diane is most remembered for happened while her mother was working for Livingston dentist, Dr. Hugh Holman. Mrs. Vaughn had arranged for Mrs. Della Boswell who was living in the rent house to check on the girls after they got home from school. Mrs. Boswell also took care of milking "Ole Whitey", the Vaughn’s milk cow. One afternoon as she was taking the milk to the Vaughn home and to also check on the girls, Diane staged a scene with ketchup and a knife that probably Mrs. Boswell never forgot. As Diane lay on the floor smeared with ketchup and a knife by her side, Debbie’s part in the drama was to stand over Diane’s body crying loudly as Mrs. Boswell came to the door. The scene must have been pretty convincing. After looking through the door, the poor terrified lady ran across the field to her house screaming for help. Hildegarde also recalled a time when Diane was sent to the grocery store to get a head of lettuce and came back with a cabbage. She probably never lived that down, especially in light of the fact that she grew up on a farm. Hildegarde can also remember a time Diane persuaded her to climb up behind her to go horse back riding bare-backed, and it was only because Hildegarde clung to Diane for dear life that she survived the ride.

The Burns and Danise Vaughn family were photographed shortly before Burns died in a mining accident at the young age of only 36.
Left to right:  Roger Vaughn, Danise Vaughn, and Burns Vaughn.  In front:  Debbie Vaughn Sullivan and Diane Vaughn.

Following graduation from Livingston Academy in 1965, Diane attended two years of college at Tennessee Tech prior to moving to Nashville where she enrolled at the University of Tennessee extension there. Before getting her own apartment in Nashville, she lived with her Aunt Bobbie Vaughn Bush and family. It was while Diane was working for Bell South Telephone Company in Nashville that a terrifying incident occurred that helped to steer her toward a career with law enforcement. On the night of the incident, Diane left home to go to work driving a convertible with the top down. After arriving in the parking lot, she put the top of the convertible up, but didn’t raise the windows. The phone company always provided a guard whose duties included escorting female employees to their cars after the night shift ended. Diane, who considered herself fearless, declined to be escorted, and as she walked alone to the parking lot, she quickly realized she was being followed. When she reached the car, she locked the doors and was attempting to get the windows up when she was attacked. The man’s intent was to rape her. During the struggle, the attacker managed to tear her panty hose off and was attempting to choke her when Diane managed to begin hitting his head against the steering wheel. When the attacker saw this wasn’t going like he had planned, he tried to run away. But Diane ran after him yelling, "Catch that man!" The Fort Campbell soldier was caught and later convicted. Later in her law enforcement career, Diane was instrumental in establishing a rape team within the police department.

After taking the required tests and training, Diane began what eventually became a 13 year career with Nashville Metro police department. During those years of service, she received many awards, including the Distinguished Service Award, Metro’s highest honor for a police officer, after saving the life of a fellow officer Morris Tyrone Rogers. Rogers was shot in the head and hip by a gunman in front of police headquarters. Diane stepped into the line of fire, and while dragging Rogers to safety, returned fire, wounding the gunman. She was one of the first women to get into the Vice Squad as an undercover narcotics and drug officer, and earned the nickname "Annie Oakley" for the low-slung holster around her hips. When her grandmother, Orangie Vaughn, expressed concern over the kind of police work Diane did, she told her, "Oh, don’t worry about me. I just work with kids." This was Diane’s way of trying to reassure her grandmother and lessen her worries about the job she was doing.

Although Diane never returned to live in Overton County, she always had a close relationship with both the Allred and Vaughn family members in this area. One event she promised to be in attendance of was the birth of her niece, Rebecca Diane Sullivan, her namesake, and someone she developed a very special love for as she watched Rebecca grow up. But her plans to share in Rebecca’s birth were disrupted when her law enforcement partner was shot and had to be hospitalized while they were on duty on the night Rebecca was born. But she didn’t miss out on much of anything else in Rebecca’s life from that point on. The two of them maintained an extremely close relationship throughout the remainder of Diane’s life.

It was in 1975 when Sarah Vannatta Des Prez, a Vanderbilt University student, was killed in her apartment. She was believed to be sexually assaulted and asphyxiated after she returned home from a date. Prosecutors theorized that Des Prez left the door unlocked and Jerome Barrett followed her in. His sperm was found on her bed sheets, leading to a DNA match 32 years later in the Marcia Trimble case. Diane was assigned to the Des Prez case, and because of her extensive case file notes, along with scientific advancements in recent years, Jerome Barrett was convicted of killing Sarah Des Prez some 15 years later. Debbie Sullivan traveled to Nashville for a special ceremony in 2009 where she accepted a posthumous Department Commendation award on behalf of her late sister from Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Nashville Chief of Police Ronal Serpas. After leaving the police force, Diane worked at private security firms and later for Federal Express.

The year was 1991 when Diane developed what was originally diagnosed as pneumonia, but later turned out to be lung cancer. She was given six months to live, but true to her nature, she was determined to be here as long as possible. She lived three years after getting that news. During that time, she never lost her creative spirit. She learned to do woodworking while undergoing treatment for cancer. She started out making squirrel feeders she gave as gifts to some of the doctors she saw during her illness. A special gift she made for both Debbie and Rebecca was a barrel top trunk/chest. Diane also made a smaller version for Rebecca to hold jewelry. Both Rebecca and Debbie consider those gifts as priceless treasures. Diane died at her home in Murfreesboro on May 28, 1994. She told family members she wasn’t afraid to die, but was scared to death of the pain she might have to endure first. Her funeral was held at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in the Allred community where a standing room only crowd of family members, friends, fellow workers were in attendance. That same building where her funeral was held is the place she attended grade school through the fourth grade. Her Aunt Minnie Vaughn was her teacher at Shiloh, a building that once housed a one room school heated by a pot-bellied, coal burning stove. Diane is buried in the Falling Springs Cemetery near the grave of her father.

A Season of Darkness is filled with details of Diane’s investigative work with the Metro Police Department and how Jerome Barrett was charged with other terrible crimes as a result of Diane’s leaving no stone unturned in her relentless quest for justice. Without her detailed case file notes made in other cases against Barrett, the Trimble family might still have no answers and certainly no closure after all the years of heartache already endured. Copies of A Season of Darkness can now be found on line or in bookstores.

Even though Diane Vaughn did not live long enough to receive recognition for her work, her contribution and efforts in other cases helped solve the 1975 murder of 9 year old Marcia Trimble.