Nov 30, 2012

When the News-Makers Become the News

Monica Drum
Monica Drum,
the late managing editor of the Oxford Eagle

Oxford newspaper gets embroiled in its own story

What happens when the news-makers become the news? What happens when those who write the stories suddenly turn into the story itself?

Such a quandary is developing in Oxford right now, where Rick Hughes, a city reporter for town newspaper The Oxford Eagle, is reportedly being sought for questioning in the murder of Monica Drum, the paper's managing editor.

Drum was found shot in her office on Sunday morning around 3:15 a.m. by security guard Ernie Parrish and YCSD officer A. L. Quinlan. Parrish heard gunshots while patrolling the press area in the back of the building on regular rounds and immediately called police, who arrived on the scene within minutes.

Drum was shot multiple times at close range, and some speculate that she probably knew her attacker.

Sheriff's department officials say that Hughes is a person of interest in the investigation at this time due to his long-standing relationship with Drum. Sources tell the Planet that Drum and Hughes had a vicious argument just 12 hours before her death.

Hughes, who spoke to the Planet from an undisclosed location, insists that he is innocent and says that even though he and Drum had what he terms as an "up and down" relationship, they had recently broken up for good and decided to remain just friends. He also claims that he has recently been binge drinking and blacking out with no recall of the evening before.

Some co-workers find the latter statement uncharacteristic. They claim Hughes is well-known for not partaking of alcohol in a town where drinking seems to be a preoccupation with much of the population, no matter the age.

But close colleagues and friends of Hughes tell quite a different story, alleging that the relationship between Drum and Hughes was punctuated by frequent arguing and fighting, and that Hughes had made some veiled threats in the last few weeks. Some say that their relationship had deteriorated to the point where either he or Drum would have to leave the paper.

Co-workers of Hughes also report that he claimed that he was "beginning to hate her," and that he would like to see her gone.

Hughes claims that such statements were taken out of context and that any arguments that he and Drum had in the office probably pertained to their work at the paper, and not their personal situation. Hughes says they often disagreed on both major and minor points concerning the paper's coverage of city news, especially pertaining to the recent election.

Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department officials take a different stance on Hughes's statements. An official inside the department says that based on testimony from various witnesses in regard to the relationship, Hughes and Drum most certainly took their personal lives into the office. Several examples bear this point out.

Hughes's sudden two-week vacation this summer was a direct result, witnesses claim, of Drum's demand that he leave her alone for a while, and she promptly sent him on a paid vacation to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, ostensibly to write an in-depth article on the ongoing recovery from the BP oil spill and the effect on the present-day economy, an article that never appeared.

In addition, a sheriff's official said, co-workers reported that on more than one occasion, Hughes and Drum were heard to argue loudly from inside her office.

One can only wonder how the newspaper, which was judged as mediocre for years and called an embarrassment by the very citizens it served, turned things around in a dramatic fashion to become such a respected journal in only three short years under the teamwork of Hughes and Drum, when for the entire time, a personal crisis was swirling around them and weaving its way in and out of the office and back home to closed doors.
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Nov 9, 2012

Suspect arrested in Annette Wyatt slaying

Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff Department investigators on Thursday arrested a suspect in the Sept. 15 murder of Annette Wyatt.

Meg Lancaster, 30, of 15 Beauregard Circle in Oxford, was taken into custody shortly after 11 a.m., according to the Yoknapatawpha County Jail docket. A bond hearing hadn't yet been set.

"All I can say at this point is that we have arrested Miss Lancaster and will be formally charging her in connection with the murder of Miss Wyatt," said department spokeswoman Elizabeth Jones at a brief press conference Friday afternoon.

It's unclear when those charges will be filed. No attorney for Lancaster was listed as of late Friday.

Lancaster is employed as a receptionist at the Harte Agency, where Wyatt had worked until her death. Wyatt's body was found in the agency's University Avenue office by another colleague the morning of Sept. 16.

The coroner's office later ruled the death a homicide. Wyatt had suffered puncture wounds from a nail gun.

Harte Agency employees declined to talk to the Oxford Eagle after Lancaster's arrest, but other workers in the strip mall shared by the agency said squad cars had swarmed the area for a brief time that morning.

"Three or four police cars came speeding into the parking lot," said Tom Banks, the owner of Sweet Treats candy and chocolate shop, located next to the Harte Agency. "I didn't know what was going on, but then all these deputies busted into the Harte place and I figured it had something to do with that murder."

Banks said a small crowd of onlookers formed in the parking lot and soon the deputies emerged from the Harte Agency with a young woman in handcuffs.

"It was one of the girls that worked there," Banks said. "I think her name was Meg. She came into the shop once a week or so to get treats for her co-workers. Real nice girl. I can't imagine what she had to do with it."

No one answered the door at Lancaster's home. A neighbor, who declined to give her name, said the suspect had lived there for about one year and was always friendly.
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