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Soldier of Fortune Killer: John Wayne Hearn

Updated on February 21, 2017
Kim Bryan profile image

Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.

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 was often favored 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 three 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. When it came time for him to be duty station assignments, Mary raised a holy ruckus with military officials until they stationed him near home.

John Wayne Hearn
John Wayne Hearn | Source

It 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 of whom left John 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 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, stateside and greedy spouses.

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, however, 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 Ann Sims Banister
Debra Ann Sims Banister | Source

The woman introduced herself as Debra Ann Sims Banister, but John could call her Debbie as everyone else did. She then went onto tell John about her sister, Marlene Sims Batie, and how she was involved in a nasty custody dispute with her ex-husband Cecil Batie.

Debbie told John Cecil was an evil man, abusive toward his children, had been abusive to her sister, and was an alcoholic who unfairly kept 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; except she had really meant what she told him, but John Wayne had took it to mean he was to do any woman's bidding. Besidel, John saw a beautiful women sitting before him in trouble. She was begging 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. That, however, 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 discuss her fears over what 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 Cecil, who had a penchant for alcoholic - maybe a little too much sometimes, was otherwise a good man who desperately loved his boys, John slipped onto the porch of Cecil’s trailer home, took aim through 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 naming her as beneficiary, and her family were 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 began to complain she was abused by her suffer, Joe Banister. She talked of his obsessive controlling nature 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 was terrified 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 would be forced off the road and shot to death by 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 bound together in the secrecy of murder.

One More Time. Please, For Me

Mary didn’t really much care for her son’s girlfriend the few times they’d spoken on the phone, but once they met in person, Mary believed her to be a low-rent whore. Mary was even more outraged 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 the trouble-making woman he was catting around with, but John insisted he loved her, loved her more than any other woman he’d ever had in his life – excluding Mary, of course.

In the meanwhile, John was quickly learning Debbie liked 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 truly the reason he was hesitant about doing the job in Texas. Debbie kept insisting, however, police could never connect him to a crime so far from Florida.

Debbie may have been genius 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.

Bob Black
Bob Black | Source

It was a whirlwind courtship and marriage for Bob and Sandra Black. Sandra's mother, Marjorie, had thought her daughter had gotten a good man when she married the Texas A & M student and Vietnam Veteran. 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, considerably changing his mother-in-law's perception of him.

When Sandra had learned about his affair with his cousin, she filed for and was granted a divorce, but Bob talked his way back into her heart and the home. Sandra was unaware Bob never gave up his kissing cousin and the reconciliation was only a way for Bobto plot her murder and cash in on the life insurance policies he held on her.

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, however, 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 failed.

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, 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. Detectives had discovered John 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 her son 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 their parents Frank and Iris Sims, and Bob Black.

John Wayne Hearn, 2008 prison photo
John Wayne Hearn, 2008 prison photo | Source

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 it would be 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, Please

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.

Do You Agree with Bob Black death's sentence verdict?

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Soldier of Fortune Under Fire

After the relevation 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 which allowed itself to serve as a conduit to the murder of Sandra Black.

Legal spectators and experts sounded off from both sides of the fence; one side proclaiming 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.”

All was not lost, however; the murder of Sandra Black followed by another murder-for-hire contract initiated through another 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.

Read More About John Wayne Hearn

The 1991 book The Soldier of Fortune Murders by Ben Green about John Wayne Hearn is a 479-page in-depth account of his murders, the domineering women in his life and recommended for anyone interested in learning more about this case.

© 2016 Kim Bryan

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    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 16 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Tsk tsk.....all these people are simply nuts. To believe first of all that anyone truly gets away with murder is foolishness....but getting to a point where one even "considers" having someone killed, much less goes through with such an evil deed is beyond understanding by sane, good people. Did none of these idiots ever hear of divorce & just getting on with their lives??

      Pretty spooky story. John Wayne Hearn was an idiot!