Chance Rest Stop Meeting Led to Family's Brutal Murder

'Knoxville News Sentinel' revisits the Lillelid murders 20 years later
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 2, 2017 4:56 PM CDT
Chance Rest Stop Meeting Led to Family's Brutal Murder
The Lillelid murders took place 20 years ago this month.   (Getty Images/BullpenAl)

They "said they were going to go start the Armageddon." What followed wasn't the end times, but the brutal end of one family in a crime that remains one of the worst in East Tennessee memory. In a lengthy piece, the Knoxville News Sentinel revisits the Lillelid murders on their 20th anniversary, and explains that while most of the facts of the case are known, some questions remain—including whether the six people now serving life without parole for the murders intended to commit such a crime on the night of April 6, 1997. On that Sunday, Vidar and Delfina Lillelid, 34 and 28, respectively, were driving back to Knoxville from an annual Jehovah's Witness convention about 100 miles northeast. They stopped at a rest stop with Tabitha, 6, and Peter, 2, and Vidar spotted a group of teens. He asked them if they wanted to learn about God. It was a fatal mistake.

The six—Natasha Cornett, Karen Howell, Dean Mullins, Joe Risner, Crystal Sturgill, and Jason Bryant—ranged in age from 14 to 20 and had taken off from Kentucky, on what Cornett suggested should be a Natural Born Killers-like murderous spree to the Mexican border. The Chevrolet Citation they were driving needed to be swapped out for another car, and they decided the Lillelids' van would suffice. They had Vidar drive, and followed in the Citation. Along a road in rural Greene County, the family was forced from the van, shot multiple times, and left in the mud. The Citation was there, too, having gotten stuck on a stump when the group apparently tried to drive off in it, too. Though its license plate was gone, the car was a crucial clue for police—who discovered that Peter had managed to survive. Read the full story for more on the crime and its aftermath. (More Longform stories.)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.