Since social media became an everyday staple in most Americans’ lives, it has brought countless people together. However, it’s also been a source of constant drama and a tool for online bullies. When a Facebook friendship turned ugly in Mountain City, Tennessee, two people ended up dead. This is the story of a deadly Facebook friend and the murders of Billie Jean Hayworth and Billy Payne.
Billie Jean Hayworth was born in 1988 in Tennessee. She lived in the small town of Mountain City, Tennessee, a small town in the mountains. Billie was a country girl and enjoyed outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking. She was also enjoyed playing sports, particularly volleyball. In her adult life, she enjoyed flea markets, yard sales, and auctions. She graduated high school in 2006. A few years later, she started dating a man thirteen years her senior, Billy Payne.
(Above: Billy Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth)
Billy Payne was born in 1975 in North Carolina. By the time he met Billie Jean he was living in Mountain City, although he had a son in Florida. Like his girlfriend, Billy also enjoyed flea markets, yard sales, and auctions. In fact, he was an avid coin collector. Billy and Billie welcomed a son in 2011, Tyler, and got engaged. Life seemed to be looking up for the couple. They adored their son, Billy had a good job working manual labor, and they had a close-knit group of family and friends in Mountain City.
On the morning of January 31st, 2012, a family member found the deceased bodies of thirty-six-year-old Billy Payne and twenty-three-year-old Billie Jean Hayworth in their home. Billie was shot in her face while she held her seven-month-old son, but baby Tyler was unharmed. Billy was found in his bed, also shot in the face, and his throat was slit. Who would heinously murder a young couple with their baby in their home?
The family of Billy told authorities that the couple were having issues with a local woman online, Jenelle Potter. Jenelle met Billy through his sister Tracy and was friends with the couple and their friends for a while. “Everybody says she fell in love with Bill, but I still don’t see that” Tracy said later (Diaz & Valiente, 2015). In fact, Tracy set Jenelle up with her cousin, Jamie Curd. Jenelle and Jamie both enjoyed computers, which may have brought them together. However, Jenelle was hiding her relationship with Jamie from her parents. Why does an adult need hide a relationship from her parents?
Jenelle Leigh Potter was born in 1981 to Marvin “Buddy” and Barbara Potter. Marvin and Barbara had two daughters that they raised in Pennsylvania. Jenelle was the younger of the two. She had learning disabilities, speech and hearing difficulties, and was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes as a child. According to her sister, Jenelle was coddled by her parents, and she felt they exaggerated her learning and health issues. Buddy was a former Marine and told his family that he worked as a CIA agent during the Vietnam War.
In 2004, Buddy and Barbara moved to Mountain City, Tennessee with their daughter Jenelle (Right). Although Jenelle was now an adult, she lived under her parents’ roof and supervision. Jenelle didn’t really have a social life outside of the computer. Although she graduated high school, she did not have a job and relied on her parents financially. Her parents continued to coddle and shelter the adult Jenelle. In fact, her mother had access to her Facebook account and kept close tabs on her daughter.
In 2009, Jenelle began to have real friends and apparently a crush on Billy Payne. However, Billy had a girlfriend, Billie Jean. Jenelle was seeing someone else too, Jamie Curd, who became friends with her parents as well. However, her parents were not aware that the socially awkward Jamie and even more awkward Jenelle were a secret couple.
(Above: Jamie Curd & Jenelle Potter)
As 2009 turned in to 2010, Billy Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth started to receive some nasty messages on their social media accounts and a Mountain City webpage called “Topix”. The page, which allows you to post under any name, showed comments from a Matt Potter. According to Jenelle’s Facebook page, Matt was her brother. However, Jenelle did not have a brother and it’s highly suspected that she wrote the messages herself.
“Dan White AOL: Wow Matt and Kelly. I new she was bad but I had no clue she was off of the deepend. She is crazy that’s for sure. Sounds like all of them are. I know [Victim Hayworth] that B**ch has lived with more guys and have sex with 80% of Mtn City and [Ms. Thomas] I would say Half of Mtn city Then you Trade and Butler and then you have Doe and then Johnson City and then Kings port she has been all over and she does have HIV this is all around town. And [Ms. Osborne] she will give it to anyone her poor husband he’s a nice guy but never wants to be home with her. I think when his baby is 18 he will leave her dumb a** too. She is a whore too. I agree with you both. And this girl [Jenelle] I do know as in Passing but she is a good girl and was brought up right you can tell everything is your welcome and Hello and thank you and she just a sweet girl. I will be praying for [Jenelle]. As far as the other ones go there no good whore sluts and that is carrying something and giving it to everyone. Damn girls. They live in high school still and need to grow up.” (State of Tennessee V. Jenelle Potter, 2018)
“Matt Potter AOL: …[Jenelle Potter] is a sweet person and ppl try to get her. But she has a lot of us behind her if she know’s us or not. But Her dad is Big time and he will deal with the rest of this sh*t. There F**king whores and that’s all this town is and Drugs. I know for sure [Bille Jean Hayworth] and [Ms. Thomas] did drugs together and I know [Ms. Thomas] does meth She get’s off Jason. I know way to much lol. I love that [Jenelle] is not like them she stayed sweet…. They are dumb a** holes. Mother f**ckers get what’s coming there way. And they don’t know who I am”. (State of Tennessee V. Jenelle Potter, 2018)
After several more messages from Matt Potter and other likely fictional people, Tracy left the following message on Jenelle’s Facebook page in November 2010:
“Your friend Matt needs to leave [Bille Jean Hayworth] and [Ms. Thomas] off the Topix website. You lost my brother [Billy Payne] as a friend and I’m not happy with you either” (State of Tennessee V. Jenelle Potter, 2018).
Many other friends of Billie Jean and Billy started to receive messages from Matt Potter and others being very nasty. Billie Jean in particular was called several derogatory names and according to Jenelle, it was all in retaliation to the nasty messages and rumors she claimed were being sent to her from Billie Jean and her friends. However, authorities eventually learned that the messages were most likely an elaborate figment of Jenelle’s imagination.
Jenelle and her mother, Barbara, started exchanging emails from a guy named Chris who claimed he was protecting Jenelle online from the bullies she claimed were destroying her life. Apparently, Chris was in the CIA and much of his job, according to Jenelle, involved “killing people” (Diaz & Valiente, 2015). Through emails, Jenelle and Barbara forged a strong loving relationship with Chris. Barbara even referred to Chris as her son on numerous occasions. Chris informed Barbara that he was working on getting Buddy Potter reinstated with the CIA. That was odd, considering Buddy was an elderly man at this point, overweight and utilizing oxygen.
(Above: Marvin "Buddy" Potter and his wife Barbara)
Jenelle called the police several times and told everyone she knew that Billie Jean Hayworth and her friends were harassing her, threatening to kill her, and she was scared for her life. All of Jenell’s claims were unfounded by police. Eventually, Billie Jean and Billy had enough with Jenelle and what they said was false allegations, so they unfriended her on Facebook. This apparently set Jenelle off.
Soon, Chris, the mysterious CIA agent, claimed that he was given the duty by the CIA to protect Jenelle and the Potter family. He said that the CIA gave him instructions to reinstate Buddy Potter, instructing him that his official CIA documents and identification would arrive soon. However, Chris said that the CIA needed him to act urgently. The CIA was apparently ordering Buddy Potter to kill Billie Jean Hayworth and Billy Payne in order to protect Jenelle.
According to the various emails exchanged between Chris and Barbara, Barbara was either part of this plan or was the most naïve person in the world. Whatever the case was, Jenelle and Barbara convinced Buddy and Jamie Curd that the CIA wanted them to work on behalf of the CIA and murder Billie Jean Hayworth and Billy Payne. It seems Buddy and Jamie believed Chris’s emails and agreed to carry out the murder. The two went to Billy and Billie Jean’s home on that fateful January morning and Buddy shot both in the face, killing them quickly.
Police initially interrogated Jenelle Potter, knowing about the feud, but it wasn’t until they interviewed Jamie Curd that the murder plot came to light. Jamie initially asked if the CIA was present, apparently believing he was working as an agent of the CIA. He later admitted to being at the crime scene and stated Buddy Potter committed the crime. Jamie agreed to work with police, and the police got a tape-recorded confession from Buddy Potter. Buddy explained that he was simply protecting his family.
Upon search of the home, several guns and knives were confiscated. They also found pictures of Billie Jean Hayworth with the word “Bitch” written on them. The pictures all appeared to be torn in half. Barbara was caught red handed ripping pieces of paper up, which police said was destroying evidence. In Buddy’s truck they found three bags of shredded documents, which contained the emails between the Potters and Chris. In the emails, it says that Billy and Billie Jean were going to kill Jenelle if Buddy Potter didn’t kill them first.
After reviewing the months of emails, messages, and virtual conversations occurring online, police determined that not only did Buddy Potter and Jamie Curd commit this heinous murder, Barbara Potter and Jenelle Potter were clearly involved in the planning of this crime. The two of them were later arrested for conspiracy to commit murder. Barbara denied being involved and explained away Buddy’s confession by stating he was without his medication and oxygen, leading him to say things that were not true. As for the mysterious Chris from the CIA? The IP address proved that all emails were sent from Jenelle Potter’s computer. Jenelle was Chris. She was also Matt Potter. She was the author of all the threats against herself and the harassing comments against Billie Jean Hayworth and her friends.
Jamie Curd made a deal in exchange for his testimony against the Potters and received twenty-five years in prison. Jenelle, Barbara, and Marvin Potter were all found guilty and sentenced to two life sentences, one for each murder. In 2021, Barbara Potter won an appeal, and her conviction was overturned on the grounds that her trial lawyer had also represented her husband in his trial, therefore had a conflict of interest. Barbara Potter will get a new trial. However, Jenelle and Marvin Potter’s appeals were denied.
Many speculate that Jenelle, socially awkward and isolated, didn’t know how to control her feelings of jealousy when it came to Billie Jean Hayworth. She wanted to be with Billy Payne, but he clearly didn’t see her that way. She began an elaborate scheme of catfishing and online harassment, but when her attempts to disparage Billie Jean led to her losing her real life and Facebook friendships, she escalated her plan to murder. Jenelle, using the fictional Chris persona, convinced her parents and actual boyfriend, Jamie Curd, that they must kill Billy Payne and Billie Jean Hayworth in order to ensure Jenelle’s safety. Jenelle Potter is a deadly Facebook friend.
Brooks, Dennis (2016) Too Pretty to Live: The Catfishing Murders of East Tennessee; Diversion Books; Available on Amazon: Amazon.com: Too Pretty To Live: The Catfishing Murders of East Tennessee: 9781682301999: Brooks, Dennis: Books
State of Tennessee V. Jenelle Leigh Potter (2018) State of Tennessee V. Jenelle Leigh Potter: Appeal from Criminal Court for Washington County; Retrieved at: janelle_leigh_potter_cca_majority_opinion.pdf (tncourts.gov)
Young, N. (2021) Jenelle Potter: The Catfish Killer; Retrieved at: Jenelle Potter: the Killer Catfish | by Nikki Young, Serial Napper | Serial Napper | Oct, 2021 | Medium
Mountain City Funeral Home (2012) Billy Clay Payne; Retrieved at: Obituary | Billy Clay Payne | Mountain City Funeral Home (mountaincityfh.com)
Diaz, J & Valiente, A. (2015) How a social media feud led to the murder of a young Tennessee couple; ABC News; Retrieved at: How a Social Media Feud Led to the Murder of a Young Tennessee Couple - ABC News (go.com)
Campbell Johnson, B. (2021) One of three Facebook murder convictions overturned, mother granted new trial; TimesNews; Retrieved at: One of three Facebook murder convictions overturned, mother granted new trial | | timesnews.net
Mountain City Funeral Home (2012) Billie Jean Hayworth; Retrieved at: Obituary | Billie Jean Hayworth | Mountain City Funeral Home (mountaincityfh.com)