Things Found At Patsy Cline's Death Scene

A farmer heard the engine sputter and then stop followed by the sound of a crash. Jerry Phifer, the police dispatcher who received the call about the plane crash and one of the first people at the scene, recalled the evening of March 5, 1963, in Benton County, Tennessee. It was "rainy, kind of foggy, and misty" with "the wind blowing" and streaks of lightning ripping across the sky, he told the television show "Friends and Company" in 1996 (via YouTube). "It wasn't a very good night to be flying, I think," he said. Soon Phifer and the rest of the world learned the terrible news. Country star Patsy Cline was dead, as were her fellow Grand Ole Opry performers Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Cline's manager, Randy Hughes, who was piloting the small plane when it smashed into a wooded hill near Camden, Tennessee, per the Associated Press.

At the crash site, searchers found the mangled remains of Cline and the others — the men were so unrecognizable the police were only able to identify them by the IDs in their wallets, which were still in their pockets, according to The Tennessean. Amid the scattered wreckage, the searchers also found an array of clothing and other items.

A shocking crash scene

It was about 6 a.m. the next morning when cotton farmer W. J. Hollingsworth — the man who'd called the dispatcher the evening before — and his son stumbled upon the crash site, per The Tennessean. The scene was too much for Hollinsworth. "I nearly had a nervous breakdown when I ran down and saw the bodies," he told the newspaper. When a reporter asked if they could account for four bodies, a member of the Civil Defense answered, "There's not enough to count," per the AP. "I happened to look down and I was standing on a piece of flesh," Jerry Phifer told "Friends and Company." "I got to looking around, and all there was was flesh. Just pieces ... We found more of Patsy Cline than anyone else."

The small Comanche 250 airplane that had been carrying Cline and the others to Nashville from Kansas City, Kansas, where they'd performed a benefit concert, had sliced through a tall oak before smashing into the ground. In its wake was a deep crater and a 300-foot debris path, according to "Falling Stars: Air Crashes that Filled Rock and Roll Heaven" and The Tennessean.

Roger Miller says he was the first at the scene

Singer-songwriter Roger Miller says he was the first person at the site of the crash. He and his friend Don allegedly headed to the area at around 3:30 a.m. after hearing of the news and searched for almost two hours before coming across the wreckage.

"An officer asked me to lead the way," he told author Ellis Nassour, per "Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline." "As fast as I could, I ran through the woods screaming their names — through the brush and the trees, and I came up over this little rise, oh, my God, there they were."

"I walked up to it and wanted to turn back," he said, per Nassour's "Patsy Cline." It was ghastly. That's the only way to describe it. The plane had crashed nose-down."

The death scene eventually became a hotspot for looters. According to HistoryNet, news of the crash drove such opportunists to the area, and after the bodies were removed, they scavenged what they could.

A white belt and a gold slipper

Beside the plane wreckage and the human remains, searchers found a white belt with "Hawkshaw Hawkins" written in gold next to a black and white cowboy boot, per The Tennessean. The boot's mate lay nearly 20 feet away next to the broken neck of Hawkins' guitar. A muddy gold slipper, which Patsy Cline had likely been wearing at the time of her death, lay on the ground. High overhead, a red slip hung from a tree, per the AP.

Jerry Phifer noted the smashed guitars, amplifiers, and other equipment that littered the scene along with the stars' personal items. "I remember seeing cowboy hats and parts of their rhinestone suits and things of that nature ... It was a dreadful scene and nothing I'd experienced before and hope to never see again," he told "Friends and Company." The crash site has become a memorial for Cline that includes a plaque and a bulletin board where her fans can leave messages, according to the Moon Handbooks guide to Tennessee