He told a friend he wanted to be President of the United States one day. He also jokingly told that same friend that meant he might have to kill his mother who he felt didn't support his political future. The mysterious death of 48-year old former Putnam County Tennessee Property Assessor, State Senate candidate and convicted murderer, Byron Anthony "Low Tax" Looper, found inside his prison cell on Wednesday, puts an end to a saga based on the pitfalls of blind ambition.
"Ambition can really ruin you. And "B", there are people in politics who don't have good sense. Who don't even have sanity," muses Memphis Flyer political columnist Jackson Baker.
It was October 1998, and Looper, who had previously espoused to be a Democrat, desperately wanted to move up in political circles. So, much so, he changed his party affiliation to Republican to run against 28-year Tennessee Senate veteran Democrat Tommy Burks of Monterey. It didn't figure to be much of a race come November of that year. Especially, since Looper's crossover wasn't winning over wary state Republicans.
"But, he was disowned by all the other state Republicans because they saw he was kind of loopy," adds Baker.
But, on October 19th, Looper suddenly found himself the only candidate in the race.
Burks, at home on his hog farm, was found shot in the head in his pickup truck. A farmhand who saw the fatal shooting provided police with sketches of the car and the suspect. Oh, and by the way, nobody could find "Low Tax" Looper. He immediately became a person of interest.
"I think Mr. Looper is a person that has the potential to be dangerous," said the Putnam County Prosecutor at the time.
"Then he faced the reality that he didn't know what to do next. This was not a perfect crime," says Baker.
Looper's situation wasn't helped out when he was arrested upon his return home. A friend he'd visited while on the lam, told investigators Looper had admitted to the crime saying, "I did it. I put a cap in him." Five days after his formal arraignment for Burks' murder, the victim's wife Charlotte, as a write-in candidate against Looper whose name was still on the ballot, beat the disgraced assessor soundly. Two years later it would take a jury only hours to come back with a guilty verdict. Looper was sentenced to life without parole.
For several months after being jailed, Looper was allowed to run his Putnam County Property Assessor's Office by making one phone call a day.
On Wednesday, guards at the Morgan County Correctional Complex outside Knoxville found him dead in an isolation cell. An investigation is underway into his death.