What is the Cornbread Mafia? A law enforcement expert’s perspective

Search for Summer Wells

BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Cornbread Mafia…it’s been trending since the parents of missing Hawkins County 5-year-old Summer Wells’ parents appeared on Dr. Phil Thursday.

“You have to actually look at what is organized crime,” said Eric Stanton, assistant professor and lead instructor of criminal justice and behavioral and social sciences at Northeast State Community College.

Does it exist?

He says yes, but is it organized crime?

“It’s more of a ‘code of silence,’ said Stanton. “We just don’t talk about the moving of marijuana. We just don’t talk about stuff of that nature.”

There are distinct factors starting with the existence of a chain of command and a means of moving money.

“You usually see money flowing from the bottom to the top. You usually see some type of identifier via tattoos, the type of clothes individuals are wearing, colors stuff of that nature,” he explained.

That’s not what you get out of this 80’s era organization that got its start moving marijuana, not children.

“At this point we are talking about more of legend and folklore versus actual possible reality,” Stanton said.

Candus Bly’s reaction was unmistakable but the cause of her stress could be misunderstood.

“We don’t know what the triggering effect is,” Stanton said. “It could have just triggered her for something else and not necessarily their involvement with, or possible involvement with, her abduction or disappearance.”

Dr. Phil used specific words when he told Summer’s parents what he thought of their involvement.

“My understanding is Dr. Phil says that to the family and he makes it specific,” Stanton explained. “He says ‘in her murder’ then ‘the covering or removal of the body.’ He doesn’t say anything else about trafficking or anything of that nature. So, I found it kind of unique that he worded it in that way.”

Dr. Phil’s words and the parents’ reactions are certainly taking center stage in the two days of episodes.

“To me as a former investigator, it doesn’t say a lot to me the way they are acting or the way they do,” said Stanton. “What I’m going to look at more is the statements they are making, their body language, and how they present themselves. That’s what I’m going to look at versus how many times they get before a camera.”

The organization may well exist says our experts according to Stanton, but, no structure exists to pull off Summer’s disappearance.

“I think it’s more of a code of silence versus an actual organized operation,” he said. “You have to look at what they are doing, what the organization’s prime mission is, and whether or not Summer Wells and her family became intertwined, got in their way, things of that nature that would cause something like this to happen. That’s a story for investigators to look at. I understand they’ve already looked at it. They’ll continue to look at it…especially with the likes of the recent Dr. Phil episodes and stuff of that nature. Again it’s important for all viewers to understand this, at this point, we need to focus on the facts because that’s what law enforcement does…focuses on the facts.

Stanton says he trusts the agencies leading the investigation. He told News Channel 11 that he believes this case will be solved and it’s just a matter of when.

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