- Icie Sloan Hawkins, the granddaughter of singer Jean Shepard stood by her boyfriend 21-year-old Travis Sanders despite fearing he would kill her
- The doomed relationship came to a tragic end in the early hours of Saturday morning when Sanders murdered Icie, 18, with a ten-inch Bowie knife
- Sanders was then shot dead by Icie’s step-grandfather, who was also attacked by the 21-year-old
- In the months before her death, Icie started carrying a knife in fear she would have to use it in self defense against Sanders
- She told her mom that she didn’t love him and planned on breaking up with him
- Icie’s best friend, Jordan Hammer, says Sanders did not have a job or car, never showered and cut his fingernails into claws
- She said that Sanders was ‘manipulating’ and told Icie that they were ‘perfect for each other’, despite Icie living in fear of her boyfriend
The knife-mad killer who slashed country great Jean Shepard’s granddaughter to death was a self-titled Satanist who rarely showered, couldn’t find a job and styled his fingernails to look like claws.
Travis Sanders, 21, even took a friend’s treasured Bible and scrawled the number 666 – the mark of the devil – over several pages.
And his teen love, 18-year-old Icie Sloan Hawkins, told him point blank that she thought he would end up killing her – but still stuck by him despite the disapproval of friends and family.
The doomed relationship came to a tragic end in the early hours of Saturday morning when Sanders murdered Icie with a ten-inch Bowie knife before he was shot dead by her step-grandfather.
cie and Sanders started dating in April. In the months before her death, Icie started carrying a knife in fear she would have to use it in self defense against Sanders
‘Icie had wanted to break up with him for a while. She tried about three weeks ago,’ Jordan Hammer, her best friend since middle school, told DailyMail.com in an exclusive interview.
‘But he did the typical manipulative thing telling her they were perfect for each other and persuaded her not to.
‘She even told him: “I’m scared you are going to kill me”, but he said he would never hurt her.’
‘She showed me the message she sent him. She knew what he was capable of.’
Both Hammer and the dead girl’s family said Sanders took Icie’s cellphone a few days before he killed her, and snapped it in half in a rage.
‘I didn’t know that was even possible,’ said Bob Adams, her mother’s fiancé.
Icie had known Sanders for several years and had dated his best friend, Sasha Kazanofski. When that ended, Sanders moved in.
They started dating in April but it was clear that Sanders was much more into the relationship than Icie was.
‘He seemed to be obsessed with her,’ said Icie’s mother, Velvet Sloan. ‘She had told me he loved her – he absolutely adored her – but she didn’t feel the same way about him.
‘It had gotten stronger for her, they developed a close bond. She never told me she loved him, but she did start calling him her boyfriend
Sanders even took Icie’s best friend Jordan Hammer’s bible and scrawled the number 666 – the mark of the devil – as well as several other drawings over several pages
Icie learned over the summer that Sanders was a Satanist. Sanders’ Faceb
cie told her mother that she knew Sanders had problems and that she wanted to help him. Another image from Sander’s Facebook shows him lying on the ground while giving a middle finger to the camera
Sloan said she and her fiancé took an instant dislike to Sanders when they first met him, and the longer the relationship went on the more they knew their first instincts had been right.
‘I told her I didn’t approve of him and didn’t feel comfortable with him around,’ Sloan said. ‘He didn’t seem to have anything going for him in his life.
‘He was 21, no work and not in school, no car, he rode around on his bicycle. He didn’t seem to have any direction at all and certainly no respect for us.’
As the relationship blossomed, Velvet Sloan had even more cause for concern.
‘In the summer we were in the swimming pool and Icie told me Travis was a Satanist and into devil worship,’ she said. ‘I said, “Icie, come on, that’s not a man you would want to be involved with”. But she said he has some problems and she was just trying to help him.
She said people need other people to help them through things. I told her guys like that will end up killing you and she just looked at me and said: “I know, I know.”‘
Another time they had gone swimming a knife fell out of Icie’s shorts as she undressed.
‘I asked her why she had it and she said it was to protect herself in case someone tries to jump her,’ said Sloan
But Adams said that wasn’t the real reason she had the knife.
‘They were into knifeplay,’ he said.
Adams said he kicked Sanders out of the house in Hendersonville, Tennessee, that he shares with Sloan on at least two occasions.
Jordan Hammer (right, with Icie), Icie’s best friend since middle school, says Sanders did not have a job or car, never showered and cut his fingernails into claws
He was very disrespectful,’ he said. ‘He drunk a 30-year-old bottle of Macallan whisky I had had around for a few years.’
‘Rather than apologize he just gave a sly look like it was funny,’ added Sloan. ‘He was very smug.’
‘We locked our bedroom door when Icie was here because we knew he might come around. We had our security alarm on. I was scared of him,’ she said.
The second time he was told to leave, Sanders was even more menacing.
‘He made it clear that this wasn’t the end of it,’ said Adams. ‘He gave me that look – just dead eyes with that little smile that said I’m going to get you.’
‘He was a punk,’ added Adams. ‘He would never look you in the eye, it’s not like he was a kid who didn’t know better; he was a young man.
‘I believe he was a natural born killer. He was violent. Even the cops said if it hadn’t been Icie it would have been someone else.’
‘Icie was sweet, spiritual, pretty and smart. She spoke very well, she was interested in a lot of different things,’ added Adams. ‘Travis was “dating up” quite a bit.
‘He had had a lot of rejection in his life and she was the first female who had given him attention and he became obsessed.’
During the last months of her life, Icie had gone to live with her famous grandmother Jean Shepard and Shepard’s third husband Benny Birchfield in their two-story home at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in Hendersonville.
Shepard, who died in September aged 82, was in the final stages of Parkinson’s disease and Icie was helping the couple in any way she could.
‘She was 18 so she wanted to have a little freedom,’ said her mother. ‘She was living in the finished basement.’
It was in that basement that both Icie Sloan Hawkins and Travis Sanders died their violent deaths.
When Benny Birchfield came home around 3am on Saturday, he heard a commotion and went downstairs. There he found severely injured Icie lying on bloodstained sheets on her bed.
As he went down the stairs Sanders lunged at him, cutting him severely about his face and neck.
Birchfield, 79, managed to pull out his .38 caliber revolver and shot Sanders five times, killing him instantly. Icie died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
‘The detectives told us her fatal wound was on her left upper arm and he severed her artery after slitting her throat and there were multiple slashes to her face,’ said Sloan.
‘The funeral director wouldn’t allow an open casket the wounds were so bad. It was a prolonged attack.’
Jordan Hammer said that she had gone to the Birchfield house to see her friend about three weeks ago – only to find Sanders there with her.
‘I called her out on it,’ said Hammer. ‘I said I thought you were breaking up and she said: “But I love him.”
‘I told her I was just really disappointed in her. But I think she really did love him. He could be very funny when he wanted to be.’
Hammer described Sanders as ‘a really weird dude’.
Det Sgt Jim Vaughn(left) and Det Jeff Brewer (right) of Hendersonville, TN Police Department show the large Bowie knife used in the murder
‘He clipped his fingernails to a sharp point,’ Hammer said. ‘He didn’t bathe regularly, he stunk.
‘I walked past him once and I thought “ew!” Who wants to be with a guy with no job and no car and who stinks?
‘She had got herself a job at Cracker Barrel before she went to live with her grandparents and she said that if he didn’t get a job and get his life together she was going to break up with him, but it never happened.
‘About the last time we spoke she told me he was going for an interview at a gas station. I asked her how he thought he was going to get hired with those fingernails and she told me he was going to trim them
Hammer, 19, got really concerned when she left the couple in her car for a while.
A few days later she reached for her Bible to read her devotional and found Satanic scrawlings on several pages.
‘There was the 666 on one page and he had scribbled the letters EDC, that stands for something called the Evil Dudes Crew that he was into, and there was a grotesque face.
‘They weren’t on any specific passage, but on several different pages throughout the Bible.’
Despite the disapproval of virtually everyone who knew her, Icie stuck by Sanders.
‘I think she was attracted to the bad boy persona,’ said Hammer.
The home of Benny Birchfield. Benny Birchfield was married to Country star Jean Shepard who’s granddaughter was Icie Hawkins. Birchfield shot Sanders in self defense after he was attacked in the home
But a few days before her death she discovered that he had stolen $70 that she had saved up for Christmas presents.
‘He used it to buy drugs,’ said Hammer. ‘I know he was on meth and acid and he smoked a lot of pot.’
Det Sgt Jim Vaughn told DailyMail.com that Hendersonville Police are still awaiting the results of autopsies that would determine whether either Sanders or Icie had drugs in their system when they were killed.
Police have closed the investigation saying they know that Sanders killed Icie, but they say they still do not know the motive.
‘We pretty much have the who, what, when and where, but we don’t have the why,’ Vaughn told The Tennessean.
Velvet Sloan said she believes one of two theories: ‘He knew she had some Christmas money. Her grandfather had given her some money and maybe he had wanted that to purchase drugs.
‘The other possibility is that she had told him it was over between them and he had the attitude that if I can’t have you no-one else can.’
Sloan now wants to start a foundation named for her daughter to help victims of teen-on-teen violence. ‘There are domestic violence centers for women but nothing for teens,’ she said.
‘I want people to know that certain behaviors are unacceptable.’