ATHENS, Tennessee (WTVF) – Larry Wallace, the only person to have led both the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, died Saturday afternoon at his home in McMinn County after a short battle with cancer . He was 77 years old.
Current TBI Director David Rausch remembered Wallace as a man of integrity who led efforts to professionalize the state’s criminal investigative agency during his 11 years at the helm.
“He wanted to surround himself with people who understood the importance of being honest and hardworking, and I see him in the Office today,” Rausch told NewsChannel 5.
“He wanted to see things get better and better every day. I think that’s one of the great legacies he left for the Bureau and the state.”
The current commander of the THP, Colonel Matt Perry, also joined in the condolences.
“He was a great man and he loved serving this great state,” Perry said in a statement.
“Colonel Wallace set the standard for leadership.”
Wallace, a native of McMinn County, began his career in 1964 as an officer with the Athens Police Department, before being hired three years later as a state trooper.
In 1973, he was promoted to special agent of the TBI.
In 1976, Wallace took a leave of absence from the TBI to run for McMinn County Sheriff, a position to which he was elected twice. In 1979, the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association named him “Sheriff of the Year”.
Then, in 1980, he returned to the TBI and was later appointed head of the TBI’s Criminal Investigations Division.
In 1987, Governor Ned McWherter chose Wallace to be Colonel and Commander of the Highway Patrol. The following year, he was also appointed Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Security.
In 1992, McWherter appointed Wallace to a six-year term as director of the TBI.
In 1998, then Governor. Don Sundquist reappointed Wallace for a second six-year term.
Wallace oversaw the construction of the TBI’s current headquarters and led the TBI to become the third state criminal investigative agency to receive international accreditation through the Law Enforcement Agencies Accreditation Commission .
Wallace also pioneered the development of the highly successful TBI Most Wanted program.
“It was really necessary in that we didn’t have a big enough agency to pursue all the fugitives,” Wallace later recalled.
During his tenure, following a NewsChannel 5 investigation, Wallace ordered TBI agents to partner with the FBI in an investigation into no-tender contracts awarded to friends of the governor who reappointed to his post.
Sundquist’s friend John Stamps and another state official would later go to federal prison.
Wallace and Sundquist will not speak for two decades.
In December 2003, Wallace retired as director of the TBI, stating that he planned to “rediscover the mountains and relearn how to fish for trout”.
But, a year later, he joined the faculty of Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, developing a criminal justice program which he taught. He was later appointed vice president for external affairs, then vice president for administration; finally, senior vice-president.
Outside of law enforcement, Wallace was haunted by the unsolved 2001 death of a 15-month-old Maury County boy, Jeffrey Kelton Skaggs.
While the initial autopsy ruled the death an accident, medical authorities later concluded it was a homicide.
Still, District Attorney General Mike Bottoms declined to reopen the investigation.
Wallace played a key role in a 2006 NewsChannel 5 investigation into the child’s death. Then, in 2014, Brent Cooper was elected district attorney, and Wallace personally went to the new district attorney to ask him to take a fresh look at Skaggs’ death.
Cooper did so, and after a thorough follow-up investigation, the prosecutor charged the mother’s ex-boyfriend with murder.
Christopher Lee Goodwin was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to life in prison. (Watch NewsChannel 5 stories about the case here.)
“Larry Wallace was one of those exceptionally rare people who not only believe in justice, but devote their entire lives to relentlessly pursuing it,” Cooper said.
“The Skaggs case is the perfect example. In this case, Larry patiently waited over 10 years for a new prosecutor to be elected to seek justice for little Kelton Skaggs.
“When Larry gets to heaven, I’d bet Kelton will be waiting for him,” Cooper said.
Arrangements are not complete at this time.