Nashville Blues

Police Investigate Rising Country Music Star's Death

Randy Hardison's friend Kevin Grant calls that a blatant lie. "Randy told me personally, Ronnie called and threatened him," Grant says.

But Ronnie maintains he never threatened to kill Randy.

While Randy was in the hospital fighting for his life, his friends went to his apartment and found a message on his answering machine confirming their worst fears.

"Hey, Randy, you all right? That's what you get for messin' with other people's wives. Don't make me come up there again," the message said.

Jim Brown says he immediately knew it was Ronnie Skipper, hearing the recording. Randy's friends delivered that message to Nashville homicide Det. Brad Corcoran.

The message, Corcoran says, was a big clue. "We started to try to locate Ronnie to find out is there anything to this."

Ronnie admits the answering machine message sounds like something a "jealous mad husband" would say, but he swears it's not his voice that can be heard on the tape.

Then, just as investigators closed in on Ronnie Skipper, a phone call came in to police headquarters from a man who says he killed Randy Hardison. But it's not Ronnie Skipper.

In June 2002, Det. Corcoran was focusing all his attention on the death of Randy Hardison, and the ominous message left on Randy's answering machine.

Corcoran believed Randy's death was a crime of passion. Asked who had reason to be jealous, Corcoran said, "Ronnie Skipper."

The autopsy report indicated that Randy had been punched. "He had an injury to his left eye and had a hairline fracture. It could have simply been a fist, or a fist that had a large ring on it," says Corcoran.

But just two days into his investigation, the case is turned upside down when an unexpected phone call came into the homicide bureau, from a man named Julius.

Talking to Corcoran, "Julius" claimed to be in Nashville and went on to say he was hired to beat up Randy Hardison by a Dr. Jones.

"I done told y'all the man gave me $5,000 to beat this guy up. I hit him and he fell and hit his head and now he's dead and I can't do nothin' about it," Julius told police.

Suddenly Corcoran had another potential suspect. Was Randy having an affair with the wife of a Dr. Jones?

And investigators did track down a Dr. Jones. Using information from the Julius calls, investigators discovered that Dr. Jones was a mild mannered Nashville eye doctor, family man, and — according to Corcoran — the furthest thing from a jealous husband.

"Dr. Jones was a very pleasant man. His wife was very delightful as well," says Corcoran, who realized he was being conned. "There was nothing that indicated they had anything to do with this," he adds.

But the Julius lead wasn't a dead end. Corcoran traced the "Julius" phone calls and discovered they didn't originate in Tennessee, but came from a cell phone in Lakeland, Fla., Ronnie Skipper's hometown.