Willing To Do Anything For Love: John Wayne Hearn and Debra Sims Banister

From the moment John Wayne Hearn entered the world, he was dominated by a woman.

His mother Mary Watson wasn’t yet eighteen when she found herself a pregnant war widow. Although she managed to remarry before his birth, when John Wayne was born his mother held on to him tightly, as if he were the only other human on earth.

Even when Mary bore other children, it remained obvious her fascination and obsession with John, who often receiving favoritism over his siblings. In his mother’s eyes, John could do no wrong but, if he did, it was someone’s fault. Her little John was perfect.

Understanding John’s early life explains his future self: a man who would someday kill two people at the insistence of a woman.

What To Do Now?

John Wayne Hearn enlisted in the United States Marines but he still couldn’t escape his mother. While he was in boot camp, she often sneaked to the camp parameters and watched as her son did his early morning physical training with his platoon. And when it came time for him to be assigned a location, Mary raised a holy ruckus with military officials until they stationed him near home.

John Wayne HearnIt wasn’t just John’s career Mary was running though, she was also meddling in his love life.

By the time that John’s military service petered out following a couple of stints in Vietnam, he’d had four wives and several girlfriends – all who had left because of his overbearing mother and her meddling ways.

It was 1984 and John suddenly found himself jobless and alone except, of course, for his mother.

He tried his hand at a few jobs, but none of them offered him the excitement he’d loved so much in Vietnam. So, on a whim, he placed an ad in the Soldier of Fortune magazine that he read religiously offering his services as a mercenary.

Although he had envisioned foreign jobs that would focus on covert operations and clandestine killings of dictators and such, John quickly learned the offers were of a more domestic nature; as in, domestic relations like marriage.

Kill My Brother-in-Law, And While You’re At It…

Most of the calls John Wayne received were other Vietnam Vets looking for work; willing to use their combat training to do “whatever” needed to be done.

One call came in, however, that stood out from the rest. It was a young woman with a sultry voice who was calling because her family needed his help. She didn’t say much more, only left her telephone number.

A lonely John imagined a beautiful woman behind the voice and was intrigued enough to call her back. Soon thereafter they agreed to meet at Shoney’s restaurant halfway between their homes.

Debra BanisterThe woman introduced herself as Debra Ann Sims Banister, but John could call her Debbie as everyone else did. She then went onto tell John that her sister, Marlene Sims Batie, was involved in a nasty custody dispute with her ex-husband Cecil Batie. Debbie told John that Cecil was an evil man, abusive toward his children, had been abusive to her sister, and was an alcoholic that played dirty pool to keep the kids away from Marlene. Debbie also told him she was certain Cecil was turning the kids against the entire Sims family,

If John had been a man with a mind of his own, he might have done a little investigating before agreeing to murder a man but he wasn’t. His mother had taught him long ago to do as he’s told – she’d meant it only to apply to her, but John missed that part and was willing to do as any woman told him.

And besides, John saw a beautiful women sitting before him in trouble. She was beginning for her nephews to be rescued from the clutches of their evil father. John so wanted to be her knight in shining armor.

Debbie, on the other hand, knew how to play men like fine-tuned fiddles. She knew the man sitting across from her wasn’t a hardcore mercenary as his ad had proclaimed. But that was to her advantage, making him much more easy to control. And she knew just how to do it.

Debbie and John began a steamy affair. As John lay breathless after each “wild ride,” Debbie used pillow talk as a time to talk about the fears her sister was experiencing and how they were all anxious for the boys’ to be back home with their mother.

It worked like a charm. Without ever knowing that, while Cecil had a penchant for alcoholic, maybe a little too much sometimes, he’s otherwise a good man who desperately loved his boys, even still loved Marlene, and John slipped up onto the porch of Cecil’s trailer home, took aim throw the front window, and shot Cecil while he lay sleeping on the couch on January 6, 1985.

Gainesville, Florida, detectives were certain Marlene, who collected $30,000 from Cecil’s life insurance that named her as beneficiary, and her family was behind Cecil’s death but they could never gather enough evidence to prove it.

In the meantime, the affair between Debbie and John continued but now her pillow talk turned to the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband Joe Banister. She talked of his obsessive controlling and the brutal treatment he inflicted on their two young children. John (again) bought it hook, line, and sinker – especially after Debbie said she really wanted to be with John but terrified that Joe would take the children from her should she divorce him.

On a deserted county road on the evening of February 2, 1985, the quiet, well-liked, hardworking Joe died at the hands of his wife’s lover – a man he didn’t even know existed.

Now Debbie would be John’s forever. She had to be, they were bonded in murder.

One More Time. Please, For Me

Mary didn’t really like her son’s girlfriend the few times they’d spoken on the phone, but thought Debbie to be a low-rent whore now that she’d seen her in person. And Mary was even more outraged that John seemed to cow downed to her every demand.

After Joe’s murder, the police soon connected John and Debbie and they came sniffing around Mary’s home. She knew that white trash slut had somehow gotten her boy in a mess, so she gave him an alibi for the night Joe died.

Mary kept after her son about that trouble-making woman he was catting around with, but John insisted that he loved her; loved her more than any other woman he’d ever had in his life – excluding Mary, of course.

John was quickly learning that Debbie like to spend money as if it grew on trees. He couldn’t keep up with her frivolous shopping excursions. And Debbie was beginning to nag him more and more about money.

A guy named Robert “Bob” Black, Jr. of Bryan, Texas, responded to John’s Soldier of Fortune ad. Bob told John he needed him to murder his wife Sandra Kay Black so that he could be with his young girlfriend – who also happened to be Bob’s first cousin. John was offered $10,000 from the proceeds of Sandra’s life insurance policies.

Debbie learned of the offer after she began taking John’s calls and had the opportunity to speak with Bob Black herself. From that point on, Debbie turned on the charm, begging John to kill just one more time. If he’d do it, they could take care of all their bills, take off on a vacation, and live happily ever after.

John’s conscience was bothering him a wee bit about the first two murders, but it was the heat from investigators that was making him think twice about doing the job in Texas. Debbie insisted, however, that police could never connect him to a crime so far from Florida.

Debbie may have been terrific in bed, but she was an idiot it when it came to murder.

The Murder of Sandra Black

Sandra Kay Black worked with her mother Marjorie Einmann everyday in their home daycare business. Mother and daughter were very close, and Marjorie was well aware of her daughter’s marital problems.

Robert Black Jr.Bob Black and Sandra had had a whirlwind courtship and marriage and Marjorie had thought her daughter had gotten a good man when she married the Texas A & M student and Vietnam Veteran. But a few years into the marriage, and the birth of a young son, Bob began having trouble holding a job and remaining faithful to his wife.

At one point Sandra actually filed for and was granted a divorce, but Bob talked his way back into her heart and the home. But Bob never gave up his kissing cousin and the reconciliation was only a way for Bob to initiate a murder that would allow him to cash in on life insurance.

Bob asked several of his friends around his Texas community to kill Sandra, but they all declined. None of them reported it to police or Sandra because they thought it was just more of Bob’s blow-hard chatter. In late January 1985, Bob made an attempt to kill Sandra himself but to no avail.

On the evening of February 21, 1985, Sandra said good-bye to her mother and headed home. When she walked into the house, she was surprised to see a man step out of the shadows. She didn’t have much time to process his presence, however, as shots began firing and she soon lay dead in the kitchen.

Just a short while later, Bob along with his son, Gary Wayne Black, who had been sick in bed earlier that day until his father insisted he come with him on an errand, returned home.

Fifteen-year-old Gary Wayne was the one to discover his mother’s murder.

It All Comes Together

While John was taking care of business, police were closing in on him back home in. Detectives had discovered that he had attended the funeral of Debbie’s husband – had even taken photographs of the grieving widow standing next to her husband’s casket before it was lowered into the ground.

Debbie felt the tightening of the noose and wanted to wash her hands. Soon after John killed Sandra Black, she dropped him like a hot potato. But it was too late, police had telephone records of calls between John’s Florida hotel room and Debbie’s home.

The mother who had lied to police to give her son an alibi was confronted with the evidence proving John was not visiting her during the day before, of, or after the murder of Joe Banister was backed into a corner; so the canary began to sing. Mary Watson admitted that John Wayne was in Florida at the times in question.

John Wayne Hearn knew the gig was up. The soldier who once served his country was going to be a man serving time in his country.

Life and Death

John may not have been an Einstein when it came to women, but he wasn’t stupid about the execution rates of Florida and Texas – the two states in which he had committed murder. He knew the smart thing to do was turn himself and hope for a plea bargain that would allow him to avoid a date with the hangman.

Within hours of turning himself in, John Wayne had told investigators all they needed to know, including the roles of Debbie Banister, Marlene Sims, as well as Frank and Iris Sims, and Bob Black.

John Wayne Hearn in 2008

John Wayne Hearn in 2008

Just as he had hoped, John escaped death by execution and was sentenced to three life sentences. Before her death in 2004, Mary hassled prison officials to move her boy closer to her home so that it would possible for her to visit as much as permitted. As of this writing, John is incarcerated at the Broad River prison in Columbia, South Carolina.

Debbie Banister was sentenced to 17 years behind bars for her role in the murders. She was released in the latter part of 2004. Her last known residence was in Santa Rosa, Florida.

Marlene Sims was sentenced to 5 1/2 years, but was released after serving only three in 1988. She remarried soon after and in 1990 opened a home daycare with her father as a listed co-owner, however the endeavor was short lived.

Debbie and Marlene’s parents, Franklin and Iris Sims, entered no-contest pleas to being accessories after the fact to murder and were fined $5,000 each and sentenced to 5 years probation. Frank Sims died in September 1995 and Iris passed away in April 2000.

Bob Black received the harshest sentence of all: death by lethal injection. He declared his innocence all the way up to his execution on May 22, 1992.

A Soapbox Moment

Bob’s attorney (and a handful of others, if you search hard enough) believe it was wrong that Bob was sentenced to death while the actual killer was able to plead out for a life sentence. I, and many others, beg to differ, however.

Why? Bob was Sandra’s husband and the man who initiated her murder. Without him the crime would not have existed. Although his wedding vows included promises to love, honor, and cherish, the only part Bob must have heard was “till death we do part.”

Bob Black is the worst kind of killer. He is the kind in your home and your heart. The cold-blooded coward who smiles to your face and stabs the knife in your back, even if he has to hire someone to do it.

The spouse killer is the most evil and most dangerous of all murderers.

This is not to say, however, that John Wayne Hearn, because he was just a hired gun, deserves a pass. In my opinion, he should have been put down like the animal he is. But not for one single minute do I see Bob Black as any “less” of killer than the man he hired to do his dirty work.

Soldier of Fortune Under Fire

After the relevation that Bob Black had hired John Wayne Hearn from a Soldier of Fortune classified ad, Marjorie Einmann, along with her grandson Gary Wayne Black, filed a wrongful death suit against the magazine. While a monetary award was requested, the true issue at hand was holding accountable a magazine that served as a conduit to the murder of Sandra Black.

The Soldier of Fortune Murders by Ben GreenLegal spectators and experts sounded off from both sides of the fence; one side proclaiming that a judgment against SOF was a form of censorship while the other side said First Amendment didn’t apply when it resulted in capital murder.

A jury agreed with the latter group and awarded Marjorie and Gary $9.5 million in damages. However, in a 1990 appeal, the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the verdict, saying “the standard of conduct imposed upon the magazine was too high, because the advertisement was ambiguously worded.”

But all was not lost… The murder of Sandra Black followed by another murder-for-hire contract initiated through an SOF classified the same year (1985) resulted in the magazine suspending the publication of classified advertisements for mercenary work, either in the U.S. or overseas.


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12 Responses to “Willing To Do Anything For Love: John Wayne Hearn and Debra Sims Banister”

  1. Patricia Pearson says:

    After reading this story I find myself holding back anger once again. Cecil Lee Batie was my uncle and loved by many people. As for myself he was my world. First of all he was NOT shot in his mobile home/trailor it was in a block home in which they grew up in. Infact it happened directly catty cornered across the street from the room I was asleep in at my home with my mother, step father and brother. As for the insurance please speak with our family regarding those issues before posting such information because that is incorrect also. Yet again more published incorrect information in which opens a wound that was never truly healed for me.

  2. John C. Banister says:

    Just seeking information to be able to closure of my last 30 years of my existing. I have not had
    any communications from my mother.

    • Ginny Batie McGee Roark says:

      Are you Joe and Debbie’s son?

      • John C. Banister says:

        Yes mam I am. As you stated in your post the children have existed but in hard times. I’m not trying to hurt anyone, just trying to heal myself and any other’s that may need the same.

        • Ginny Batie McGee Roark says:

          Good Luck, I hope you find what you need.

        • John C. Banister says:

          Thank you for your response, I am not interested in making anyone have sorrow, I will no longer seek her , if she had wanted contact it would have happened by now. I am proud to be my fathers son he was a good man. So the interest is closed. God Bless You.

  3. Ginny Batie McGee Roark says:

    I am Cecil Batie’s sister and I hope you never experience the loss of a loved one under such circumstances. This tragedy destroyed so many lives but mostly the lives of the children of the victims. It makes it worse when we read accounts like yours where people get the facts wrong. Cecil was made to look like trailor park trash in the made for TV movie that was done years ago and you have done the same thing here. He lived in a 5 bedroom block home and was a very hard working man that loved and raised his boys by himself for 7 yrs after Marlene gave them back to him shortly after their divorce because she couldn’t take care of them……(she told me this herself). He was a GOOD DADDY. Cecil provided all the support for the boys and took wonderful care of them. Yes he drank a beer from time to time like most everyone else, while watching a Gator game or a stockcar race or when I came back to Gainesville to visit and we had family gatherings. “He Was Not A Drunk”. As for the insurance……That is why the Sims Family killed him, but Cecil had changed his bennificary a few months earlier and they didn’t get a dime. So his murder really was in vain and so unnecessary. So may I ask that in the future you do the research and get your facts straight and recognize the real tragedy in cases like this……The Victims and their loved ones. All you have done here is to make an effort to glamorize the criminals. What about reporting on the children who lost their parents, the struggles they have faced and what has become of them. Not a word is ever mentioned of those 6 children.

  4. […] Scott Lee Peterson of California, John Wayne Peck of Virginia, Scott Lee Kimball of Colorado, John Wayne Hearn of South Carolina… just to name a […]

  5. Paul Englett says:

    The appeals court did the right thing on not granting a settlement to plaintiffs.our ad was misconstrued as to what me and john meant.High risk assignments us and overseas meant security or body guard work.

  6. Angela says:

    I knew Debbie and Joe. John and Amanda were small when I knew them. I was living in Gainesville, at the time, and worked for the same bank as Debbie. I had moved from Gainesville when this happened. John was a bit of a redneck, but a very good man. He had a good job and was a hard working man. I never would have thought Debbie would have been involved in something like this at that time. It’s a very sad situation.

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