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Life in the small towns of the American south is known for its slow pace. For Larry Hughes, justice would also move slowly, with 26 years passing before anyone was arrested for his murder.
Larry was born in 1946 and grew up in Pulaski, Tennessee, about 80 miles south of Nashville. He was well known throughout Giles County, which runs along the Alabama border.
“Everybody I’ve ever met that finds out I’m his nephew, they always say, ‘Aw yeah, I know him. He was a good man,'” nephew Tracy Hughes told “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
A devastating accident in November 1964, however, would forever change the course of Larry Hughes’ life.
“He worked in a grocery store in the meat department. His hand got caught in a meat grinder, he lost his hand,” his daughter Bene Hughes told "Snapped."
But the accident didn't hold him back. In his early 20s, Larry married a woman named Nancy. Bene was born soon after, though, the marriage didn’t last.
In 1972, Larry began dating Mary Ann, a single mother with three sons of her own. They married in February 1973.
“She was always bubbly and cheerful and smiling. They seemed to be a good match for each other,” nephew Kevin Hughes told producers.
With their newly blended family, Larry and Mary Ann moved onto a 100-acre farm. They raised cattle and Larry bought into a hardware store in town.
By 1990, the Hughes’ children had grown up and moved away. Their businesses were thriving and the empty nesters were looking forward to their golden years.
But on March 29, 1990, Mary Ann called to report Larry missing. She said she hadn’t seen him since the previous morning.
“He had took the day off. She says when she left at 7 that morning he was in the house, drinking a cup of coffee and everything was fine,” 22nd Judicial District Attorney Criminal Investigator Tommy Goetz told “Snapped.”
Mary Ann said she and Larry went out for dinner the night before. They got home around 7 p.m. and were asleep by approximately 10:30. She claimed she called Larry that afternoon but couldn’t get ahold of him. When she came home from work, he wasn’t home. His car was still there but she said his gun was missing.
“Mary Ann put out the theory that he’d run off with another woman but after a day or two and they still hadn’t found him, then you began to get worried,” Tracy said.
Daughter Bene Hughes dismissed the idea of an affair. “I never believed that. The two of them were so tightly intertwined, I don’t know how either one of them could have had an affair,” she said.
Bene told investigators her father kept all his important belongings in a drawer in the bathroom. When she checked the drawer, she found his keys, wallet, ring, and watch were still there.
“I kind of knew in that moment that I would never see my father again,” Bene told producers.
With no leads for over a week, authorities reached out to the public for any information on Larry’s disappearance.
A neighbor of the Hughes’ called authorities and said they had seen Mary Ann disposing of a mattress. According to the neighbor, she had cut the mattress into pieces and burned them.
When asked why she was destroying the mattress, Mary Ann told investigators she was mad about her husband’s alleged affair. The remnants of the mattress were collected as evidence.
On April 13, 1990, two young boys playing on a country road in Giles County discovered Larry Hughes’ dead body. He had been shot twice in the head, according to Nashville NBC-affiliate WSMV
“We were walking down the road and I smelled something real bad,” one of the boys is heard saying on a recording obtained by “Snapped.” “We walked down to see what it was and we saw a foot.”
The bullets found in Larry’s skull were the same caliber as his missing gun. Ballistics tests matched them to casings found on the Hughes’ property, where he engaged in target practice.
Neighbor Elmer Rainey told investigators he saw an unknown vehicle at the Hughes’ home around 3 a.m. on March 28.
“It was at Larry’s house and it backed up into the back part of his driveway,” Rainey is heard saying on recordings obtained by “Snapped.”
Investigators began to consider Mary Ann as a potential suspect but believed she would have needed an accomplice. They allegedly believed that accomplice was her brother, Rex Bailey.
“Larry was a big guy. No way Mary Ann Hughes at her stature could even move him so she would have to have help,” Goetz told producers. “Her brother is a big guy and he drove a pickup truck so that would make you lead to believe that Rex was involved.”
Investigators subpoenaed phone records from the Hughes’ home. They also asked Rex Bailey to come in for an interview.
“There was two phone calls from that house that night; one at 10:30 and one at 12:30. They were from the Hughes household to Rex and then Rex to the Hughes household, and remember, she said she went to bed,” Goetz explained.
Investigators interviewed Bailey and asked him to provide an alibi.
“[Rex] recalls on the night of March the 27th there was two distinct phone calls. He does remember at one point in time he talks to Larry and Larry is upset, talking about Mary Ann is going to leave him,” Giles County Criminal Investigation Lieutenant Shane Hunter told “Snapped.”
Investigators next interviewed Mary Ann, who said she didn’t know anything about the phone calls on the night of the 27th.
“She was given some polygraph examinations and she failed all of them,” Goetz told producers.
Despite failing her polygraph test, investigators had no hard evidence with which to hold Mary Ann or make an arrest.
25 years would pass before Shane Hunter took over the case as part of a cold case investigation.
On Jan. 26, 2015, investigators interviewed Mary Ann. Under questioning, she became defiant, ending the interview prematurely and walking out.
Days later, investigators obtained a search warrant for the Hughes’ former home. Homeowner Richard Pierce informed police that after buying the house in the late ‘90s, he found a bloodstain in the master bedroom.
“When I pulled the pad up, there was just a big old circle right here,” Pierce told Nashville ABC-affiliate WKRN. “This is where Larry got killed.”
Pierce had thrown away the bloodstained flooring but allowed authorities to pull up the bedroom floor to look for dried blood.
“They finally got down to it and they sprayed that Luminol in there and they told us it lit up like a Christmas tree,” Pierce told producers.
Larry Hughes’ body was exhumed in January 2016 in order to obtain a DNA sample. It was then tested against blood found on the flooring in the Hughes’ former home and the remnants of the mattress collected in 1990.
“The profiles we got from the bed stuffing matched the body DNA taken from Larry Hughes so then we knew the blood at the home belonged to Larry Hughes," Goetz said.
Mary Ann Hughes, now 69, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the death of her husband, Larry Hughes, on Oct. 19, 2016, according to Hunstville, Alabama, CBS affiliate WHNT.
While authorities are uncertain what her motive was, Mary Ann collected $100,000 life insurance payout following Larry’s death, according to WKRN.
In August 2019, 72-year-old Mary Ann Hughes pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter of her husband, Larry Hughes. She was sentenced to time served in the Giles County Jail and 10 years of probation, according to Pulaski radio station WKSR.
James Rex Bailey was never charged with a crime in connection to the death of Larry Hughes. He died in 2020 at the age of 69.
Mary Ann Hughes’ probation will end in 2029.
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