Nov 22, 2014

Suspect arrested in socialite murder

Additional arrests possible?

Oxonians were shocked by the arrest of a popular local pharmacist in the October 30 murder of socialite Kelly Moran.

Lorraine Estrada, 39, was taken into custody yesterday at the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department following an extended interview with the investigating detectives.

Yoknapatawpha County assistant district attorney Russell Moran discovered his wife's body when he returned home from work that Thursday evening in October. Initially, Kelly Moran was thought to have been the victim of a burglary gone wrong, but subsequent investigation cast doubt on that theory of the crime.

The case against Estrada includes both physical and testimonial evidence, according to Elizabeth Jones, information officer for the department. However, Jones declined to provide any details about what implicates Estrada in the death of her friend.

Jones also would not comment on Estrada's alleged motive but said investigators do believe they know what led to the killing.

DA's office "gratified"

At a brief press conference this morning announcing the arrest, assistant district attorney Calvin Dollarhide said, "This has been a difficult case not only for my colleague Russell Moran, who lost his beloved wife in such a brutal way, but for all of us in the Yoknapatawpha County law enforcement family. We are gratified that the sheriff's department has this cold-hearted killer in custody. Now the healing can begin for Kelly Moran's loved ones, friends and neighbors."

Dollarhide said Estrada will face charges for premeditated murder in the Moran killing and acknowledged that additional charges are possible.

Reached by phone, Russell Moran said he was thankful for the the support he's received from the community but declined to comment on the arrest.

Friends and acquaintances stunned

Pharmacist and murder suspect
Lorraine Estrada
Employees at the pharmacy where Estrada worked expressed surprise at her alleged involvement in a murder. "Lorraine is a wonderful, kind woman and an excellent pharmacist. She takes a personal interest in the well-being of all the pharmacy customers," said clerk Megan McDowell. "I can't believe she'd be involved in even hurting another person, much less killing someone."

By all accounts, Kelly Moran and her alleged killer, Lorraine Estrada, were close friends who socialized with each other regularly.

"They were here every week for karaoke," said a Rooster's Blues House employee who asked not to be named. "They were as thick as thieves, laughing and singing and having cocktails together week in and week out. I can't begin to guess what could've happened to make Lorraine do something like that."

"The sheriff's department usually does a good job, but this time I think they got it wrong," chimed in Rooster's patron Yvonne Boyd. "I saw Lorraine and Kelly here together all the time. There's no way Lorraine did what they say."

But not everyone believes in Estrada's innocence. "I know both of these women very well, and let me tell you something," said mutual friend Patricia Lee, "Lorraine's always been kind of a stick-in-the-mud, but Kelly was a rebel in her own way. I'm not at all surprised things finally came to a head between them."

"I am surprised that Lorraine's the one who came out on top though," Lee added. "Kelly must've made her really mad for that to happen."

Co-conspirators yet to be revealed?

A source close to the investigation told Crime Beat exclusively that detectives were also interrogating a second suspect at the same time as Estrada was being questioned before her arrest.

According to this source, it is possible that investigators are looking at one or more additional people who could have had some involvement in the murder of Kelly Moran.

When reached at the sheriff's department for comment, Jones said she would not comment on rumors but refused to confirm or deny the possibility of additional participants in the Moran murder.

A preliminary hearing for Lorraine Estrada is scheduled for November 24, 2014.
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Nov 11, 2014

Controversial conference idea rejected again

Academic Council not interested in exploring "imaginative history"

President Lincoln at the Antietam Civil War battlesite
For the third time in as many months, the University's Academic Council denied funding for Dr. Charles Lowry's controversial conference entitled "Reconstructing the Civil War: If the South Won…"

At a meeting Monday night in the Law Center, Dr. Lowry, professor of Civil War studies at Ole Miss, presented the third draft of his proposal for a four-day, university-sponsored conference that would attract scholars of American history and war to study the potential effects of the United States and the world had the Confederate army won the Civil War.

The Academic Council — comprised of a specially selected board, faculty members and a student panel — spent little time rejecting Lowry's proposal on the basis that it lacked intellectual merit.

"As I've said before, that claim is ridiculous," Lowry stated to a room of 45 delegates and nearly 50 supporters, skeptics and students. "There is a wealth of merit to be found in exploring the flipside of the coin. Why do we study scientific theories and hypotheses? Why are we interested in the Big Bang Theory or wormholes in outer space? Are we only to investigate that which we know to be true, that which is easy for us to understand?"

Council chairman Brett Matthews responded, "What you're proposing is an imaginative history, Dr. Lowry. I think I speak for everyone when I say that our university and the rest of the academic world would benefit far more by focusing on actual history, the sort which our ancestors fought and died to make a reality and which continues to affect our views today."

"I think the academic world would prefer you not use your lack of foresight and your rampant patriotic clichés to decry progressive education," Lowry replied sharply.

After a call to order, Lowry was reprimanded for his behavior, and the proceedings continued in other matters.

After the meeting, the observers' opinions were divided.
[T]he University of Mississippi is not interested in propagating the idea that
the South should have
won the war.
Academic Council Chairman Brett Matthews

"I'm as true a Southerner as anybody, but some of the things Lowry wants to do are just plain crazy," said Trey Bradford, a junior political science major from Biloxi who was present at the meeting.

"Some of his ideas are quite intriguing," said Phillip Jenkins, professor of history. "I know I would be front and center for the re-enactment of the Battle of Shiloh, where Beauregard runs Grant out of town and the South blocks the Union advance on the Mississippi River."

Aside from the battle re-enactment, Lowry's conference proposes such lectures and panel discussions as "Hall of Southern Presidents: Imagining the Model for Strong Western Leadership," "Hog Jowls and Corn Whiskey: Hosting the 20th Century World Party" and "Civil Rites: The Evolution of Slavery."

Many noted scholars have already pledged their participation in the conference, which was scheduled for mid-July of next year.

"We have no doubt that Lowry could concoct an interesting conference. If you've read his books, you'll see he has many fantastic theories and ideas about the Civil War," said Matthews in a post-meeting interview.

"But it comes down to the fact that the University of Mississippi is not interested in propagating the idea that the South should have won the war or that the South's interests in the war are worthy of glamorization," Matthews continued. "We'll leave that to the numerous Confederate organizations and rednecks who won't let go of the South's loss."

Lowry, however, stands by his proposal.

"Obviously, Matthews and the rest of the so-called Academic Council have very little understanding of the Civil War and the Southern stance in that war," Lowry said in response. "But their reaction to my proposal is typical. People shun and denounce what they don't understand, even in a setting of higher learning such as this."

Added Lowry, "Part of my hope for this conference was to cure some of this misunderstanding about the Civil War and to explore how it affects us so many generations later."
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Nov 3, 2014

Do you know this person?

Neighbor's security camera captures potential witness in socialite slaying

The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department has released a video of what could be a witness in the Kelly Moran homicide investigation.

The video, captured by a private security camera on St. Andrews Circle the night Oxford socialite Kelly Moran was found dead, shows a person walking not far from the Moran residence near the time Kelly Moran is believe to have died.

If you have any information about the person in the video, you're asked to contact the sheriff's department at

Neighborhood watch

The vigilant neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said he provided the video to the sheriff's department when he noticed it had been recorded the same night Mrs. Moran had died.

The neighbor lives adjacent to Lamar Park and said he had installed security cameras about 18 months ago after body parts were found in Lamar Park on May 30 and June 3, 2013.

Those body parts were later connected to the murder of Oscar Knight, whose severed thumb had been found at the Rebel Inn prior to the discovery of the body parts in Lamar Park.

Two suspects were arrested in that case in July 2013 and are currently awaiting trial.

High society murder?

Kelly Moran died on October 30. Her husband, assistant district attorney Russell Moran, reportedly found her body when he arrived home from work and called 911.

An autopsy found that Mrs. Moran died from an opiate overdose. The sheriff's department confirmed that Moran had been taking prescribed opiate painkillers for several years prior to her death to treat chronic pain from a car accident.

However, the coroner's report listed the manner of death as undetermined, which implies that the medical examiner is not convinced the death resulted from an accidental or suicidal overdose.

According to a source inside the coroner's office, evidence observed at the scene and at autopsy indicate that Kelly Moran's likely death resulted from outside forces.

Sheriff's department mum

The sheriff's spokesperson, Elizabeth Jones, said the department is pursuing several avenues of investigation in the case but would not comment on whether they have any suspects.
"The detectives have several promising leads, including this security video. If anyone has any information, we ask they they get in touch with us."

Jones said persons coming forward with information may remain anonymous.
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Nov 2, 2014

Correcting mistakes

In this edition: stylist sorrow… rose-colored regrets… and a Halloween treat for grown-ups

Greetings, peeps!

The View from the Behind the Chair is the only place you'll hear the things women only tell their hairdressers.
And in this chair?
In the first chair, a woman who deeply regrets going to one of the lesser salons makes up for her bad decision by letting slip that we can expect to see a glorious end-of-season sale at Talon Notch. Ladies, flex those ankles — it's nearly time to go shoe shopping!

And in this chair?
In the second chair, someone recently interviewed by the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department wonders whether she painted a rosier picture of her late gal pal than appropriate. As I told her, just because you shouldn't speak ill of your hair stylist doesn't mean you shouldn't fill in the gaps when talking to law enforcement. We are, after all, only human, and sometimes our bad behavior should serve as a warning to others. (Did I mention the woman who went to another hairdresser?)

And in this chair?
And in the third chair, the warm story of the Halloween angel. Apparently someone bringing their children around this past Halloween distributed splits of champagne to those handing out candy. (Only when the person was of legal drinking age, of course.) After learning where my client lived, I called a real estate agent and told her she had eleven months to find me a home in that neighborhood.

I'm just hearing, and I'm just saying.
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Oct 31, 2014

Truth and consequences

The Face in the Mirror has all the dish!

In this edition: rebounding with a vengeance… woe and worry… and a heads-up for your Halloween hijinks

Greetings, peeps!

The View from the Behind the Chair is the only place you'll hear the things women only tell their hairdressers.

And in this chair?
In the first chair, a shopgirl with luscious locks tells me a recently dumped doyenne is putting the "vamp" in revamping her wardrobe. When her ex sees her new look, he may have second thoughts about that nubile naif who turned his head, but all the signs say it's too late for that lothario. Stay on your toes, boys. There's a new femme fatale in town, and she's on the prowl for fresh prey.

And in this chair?
In the second chair, one of the ladies who lunch said she and her gal pals are reeling from the sudden loss of one of their own last night. The late lady in question apparently had her share of frenemies and maybe a secret or two that might shock Oxonians, including her high-powered hubby, who could lose more than just face if the hush-hush info comes to light. With the hunt for the killer in full swing, there are more than a few nervous Nellies wondering if and when detectives might show up on their doorsteps.

And in this chair?
And in the third chair, a well-coiffed woman in the know about all things law enforcement on campus and off confided that officers will be out in force tonight with ticket books and handcuffs at the ready to protect trick-or-treaters young and old from over-indulgers. So if you're out and about tonight, the smart money says designate a driver or call Uber a taxi

I'm just hearing, and I'm just saying.
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Socialite found dead

Foul play suspected

Halloween got off to a grisly start when Kelly Moran, 40, was found dead in her Muirfield Drive home last night.

Her body was discovered by her husband, Russell Moran, when he arrived home from the Yoknapatawpha County District Attorney's Office where he is employed.

Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's spokeswoman Elizabeth Jones said Mrs. Moran's death appears to be a homicide, but declined to say exactly how she died. An autopsy will be performed today.

Crime scene investigators are still processing the scene.

No known enemies

Kelly Moran, originally of Miami, Florida, was a housewife and a regular in the Oxford social scene.

Jones said the sheriff's department is not aware of any threats against Mrs. Moran and has not logged any prior incidents at the Moran residence.

Neighbors suspect burglar may be responsible

"This kind of thing just doesn't happen here," said a neighbor who asked not to be identified. "It must have been some bad element from somewhere else, one of those home invasions you're always hearing about on the news."

Jones confirmed that evidence of forced entry was observed but would not comment on neighborhood speculation that the death resulted from a break-in gone wrong.

According to sheriff's department records, the last reported burglary in the upscale Country Club subdivision was in 2011.

Retaliation against the husband?

Russell Moran has worked as a prosecutor since 2004 and has won convictions of numerous felony and misdemeanor defendants.

When asked if someone could have been seeking revenge against Mr. Moran, Jones said, "It would be irresponsible to speculate this early in the investigation."

"We have no suspects at this time," Jones continued. "We are investigating every possibility."

Calls to Russell Moran seeking comment have not been returned.

Check back for updates on this developing story.
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Aug 3, 2014

Arrest in severed hand murder

Victim's in-laws voice support for accused killer

A mild-mannered nurse at Baptist Memorial Hospital was arrested yesterday evening for the July 4 killing of mechanic Andrew Fine, whose body was found buried in a field on Reagle Farm Road more than a week later.

Dudley Brinkman, 39, was arrested for murder at his home in Oxford. Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's investigators say Brinkman shot Fine in a pre-dawn attack at an abandoned farmhouse near the crime scene.

Brinkman and Cynthia Fine dated in high school but had not been in close contact recently, investigators say.
Cynthia Fine reported her husband missing after the holiday weekend ended and he failed to return home for work Monday morning, said Elizabeth Jones, information officer for the department.

A night of violence

Jones declined to specify the evidence against Brinkman but did say investigators are confident they know what happened the night Andrew Fine was murdered.

At a brief press conference announcing the arrest, assistant district attorney Calvin Dollarhide said Brinkman had allegedly been stalking Andrew and Cynthia Fine for an extended period including on the night of the murder.

That night, Dollarhide said, Brinkman allegedly followed the Fines to their Yocona house where he later shot Andrew Fine to death.

A source close to the investigation said Brinkman claims he was acting in defense of Cynthia Fine when he shot Andrew Fine, but Jones would not comment on whether detectives have found any evidence supporting that claim.

History of spousal abuse?

Although Andrew Fine was never cited for domestic abuse, his violent treatment of Cynthia Fine was well known, according to Robyn Campbell Dykman, Cynthia's sister.

Dykman has pledged to contribute to Brinkman's legal defense, saying the circumstances of the crime warrant a reduced charge.

"It's terrible Andy was murdered — no one deserves that — but I can't say I want him back," she said.

Cynthia Fine declined to be interviewed, but released a one-sentence statement, saying, "I will always love my husband and believe he deserves the Lord's mercy and a place at His side in heaven."

An unlikely killer

Dudley Brinkman, now behind bars
Brinkman has no prior criminal record, and colleagues at the hospital reacted in shock to the news of his arrest, describing him as competent, gentle, and compassionate.

"He never talked much, but people would calm right down with him," said emergency room nursing supervisor Annette Cleary, who worked with Brinkman. "Being in the cardiac unit can be painful and stressful for the patients and their families, but he had a way of soothing them."

A call to the residence where Brinkman lives with his mother was answered by a man who identified himself as Reverend Gideon Horner of Trinity Church. Rev. Horner said Mrs. Brinkman was too distraught to speak to anyone and asked for privacy and prayers in this difficult time.

The district attorney's office has not determined whether to seek the death penalty in the case and refused to speculate on the possibility of a plea bargain or the credibility of the alleged mitigating circumstances.

A preliminary hearing is set for August 11, 2014.
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Jul 17, 2014

Body found on area farm identified

Victim had been missing for a week

The body unearthed last week near a field off Reagle Farm Road has been identified as that of Andrew Fine, 40, of Oxford, the sheriff's department confirmed this morning. Fine had been reported missing on July 7, 2014.

The body was found on the property of Johnny Reagle, who was arrested July 14 after brandishing a severed hand at Duffy's Bar & Grill.

Reagle led authorities to the body, which was buried in a shallow grave at the edge of his field.

Subsequent tests have confirmed that the remains and the hand belong to the same person, said Elizabeth Jones, public information officer for the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department.

Jones said the case was being pursued as a criminal investigation, but declined to comment further.

Fine worked as a mechanic at Laughlin Automotive and Body Shop. A 1992 graduate of Yoknapatawpha County High School, he served for two years in the U.S. Navy before returning to Oxford in 1994.

Surviving him are his wife, Cindy, and a brother, Carl, both of Oxford; his mother, Grace Fine, of Gainesville, Fla.; and a sister, Antoinette Walton, also of Gainesville.

Cindy Fine, interviewed by telephone, confirmed that she had helped investigators identify the remains as her husband's and said she was in "absolute shock" over his death.

An active member of Trinity Church, she said her deep faith and the friendships she'd formed through the church were helping sustain her.

"I've always viewed suffering as a test, and this is the biggest test of all," said Fine.

Carl Fine, the victim's brother, could not be reached for comment.

Burial will be private, and Cindy Fine requested donations to Trinity Church in lieu of flowers.
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Jul 15, 2014

Body Found on Area Farm

Connection to severed hand unknown

The scene on Reagle Farm Road
Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's investigators reportedly uncovered a body buried on an Oxford area farm.

The body was found late Monday on property belonging to John Reagle, a local farmer who was arrested Monday in possession of a human hand.

The Sheriff's Department confirmed Wednesday afternoon that although Reagle later claimed it was only a strange root, he did, in fact, have a human hand in the plastic storage container he brought to Duffy's Bar & Grill the night of July 13.

Neighbors of the Reagle Farm say several members of the Sheriff's Department spent most of the day Monday at a location along the private dirt road known as Reagle Farm Road.

Authorities were apparently excavating an area alongside Reagle's cotton field and Reagle was reportedly present during the excavation.

Sheriff's Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the body or on whether the body found on Reagle's farm is connected to the hand Reagle had in his possession when he was arrested.

Jones refused to release any details about the body, but said an autopsy would be performed to determine the identity and cause of death.

Reagle, who was released on bail this morning, did not return calls requesting comment.
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YCSD seeks witnesses

Authorities asking for public's help in missing persons case

The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department says Oxonian Andrew Fine was reported missing by his wife, Cindy, on Monday, July 7, 2014.

Fine, 40, is 5' 10", 170 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes. He was wearing a light colored short-sleeved shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes when last seen.

Fine's last known whereabouts were at Duffy's Bar & Grill, 2201 Jackson Avenue West the night of July 3.

However, sheriff's investigators say they have an unconfirmed report Fine was seen in the Papa John's parking lot at the corner of Jackson Avenue West and Hathorn Road around 1:30 a.m. on July 4.

Investigators are asking anyone who was at Duffy's Bar & Grill the night of July 3 or who was in the area of Jackson Avenue West and Hathorn Road on July 4 between 1:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. to contact them at 234-XXXX. All calls will be kept confidential.
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Jul 14, 2014

Area farmer arrested after brandishing severed hand

Whereabouts of rest of body, alive or dead, unknown

Local cotton farmer John Reagle was arrested Sunday night at Duffy's Bar and Grill after displaying what he claimed was a human hand to other patrons. Reagle, 43, is a longtime resident of the Oxford area and was described as a regular at Duffy's.

The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department verified Monday morning that they had taken Reagle into custody, but declined to provide details on the charges.

Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones said by telephone that the alleged hand had been taken into evidence for further analysis.
Jones would not say whether the hand had been confirmed as human, or if it is human, whether investigators believe the person it belongs to is still alive or may have been the victim of foul play.

Duffy's bartender, Patrick Mulvaney, said he contacted authorities after observing Reagle showing the hand to several customers.

"He had it in one of those plastic containers like you keep leftovers in," said Mulvaney. "He kept showing that thing to people, and at first, I thought it was just a joke. But some people were getting upset, and when I got a look at it myself, I knew something just wasn't right."

Several Duffy's employees said Reagle had told them that the hand belonged to his former girlfriend, who reportedly has not been seen in Oxford since June.

The same employees added that the hand did not appear to them to be a woman's hand, but said they did not get a close enough look to be sure because Reagle never took the hand out of the plastic container or opened the container to let them get a closer look.

Witnesses who had seen the hand described it as "dirty" and "a weird color." One Duffy's customer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Reagle had opened a corner of the container for him and "the smell was so bad, I almost puked right there on the spot."

Reagle's first court appearance is scheduled for later today.
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May 14, 2014

Sister psychs out Yoknapatawpha

Jackson psychic Sister Susannah wows locals
You don't need a crystal ball to see that Jackson psychic Sister Susannah has a growing following in Yoknapatawpha County.

From New-Agers to Ole Miss students to Baby Boomers and mature citizens of Oxford, this psychic has gained a big following.

The reason — her predictions really do seem to come true.

It's emerged that the late Laurie Daniels consulted Sister Susannah last September when Daniels was visiting Jackson with a friend.

The shawl-clad psychic warned Daniels to stay away from Yoknapatawpha County or her life would fall apart, which Daniels apparently took as a general warning.

Daniels couldn't have known then how literal the warning was — but Sister Susannah did. When Laurie Daniels' body parts turned up in Yoknapatawpha and in surrounding counties, everyone else found out too.

Sister Susannah is in demand for personal readings, and her new website is proving popular.

But who is this forty-something woman who has taken the psyche of Mississippi by storm?

"I considered myself weird when I was growing up," she said.

"Other people couldn't see what I saw, and my family thought I was like my mother's late sister, who everyone always whispered about and called 'strange'."

Only in her late teens did Sister Susannah start to realize her gift when she read a book about a psychic.

"The book almost leaped into my hand at the library," she recalled.

That book gave her an instant understanding of who she was and what her powers were. She studied and refined her gift, then started to do readings for friends.

Her reputation grew, and in her early 20s, she left her job and went into business as a clairvoyant. She set up a psychic phone line and also a website.

While she makes a living from her gift with predictions of love and happiness, she also has disturbing visions which wake her in the middle of the night.

Once she saw the horror of a plane crash and could see the flight number on a ticket. She called the airline, but the plane had already taken off. Five minutes later it went down.

Another time, she had a vision about bodies buried in a forest in Oregon and contacted the local authorities. A missing persons investigation was underway there, and her description of the location she'd seen ultimately led police to the lonely place where the bodies of the two missing people were found.

"Some people envy my ability to see the unseen," Sister Susannah said, "and in some ways, I can understand that. But I wouldn't wish these visions on anyone."

"What I see can be shocking and disturbing, sometimes even gruesome," she explained. "And there's nothing I can do to block it out or stop seeing it."

"But no matter how unsettling it is for me personally, I wouldn't give it up for anything as long as I'm helping folks," she added.

"I'm honored and grateful that my gift brings closure to people in pain."
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May 13, 2014

Local family tragedy comes to violent end

Events shock neighbors, friends

The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department announced late yesterday that Bart and Bonnie Daniels, whose charred bodies were found in the ruins of their fire-ravaged home on May 9, were the victims of a murder-suicide.

According to the coroner's reports, Bart Daniels suffered a gunshot wound to the back of his head and died before the fire started. Bonnie Daniels then apparently turned the gun on herself, taking her last breaths as the fire raged around her and her slain husband.

Sources inside the Yoknapatawpha County Fire Department say evidence at the scene indicates the fire at the Daniels residence was deliberately set.

After the fire, two other bodies were recovered from unmarked graves in the woods behind the Danielses' Tara Estates home.

Sheriff's Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones told reporters that official autopsy results on those victims are not yet available, but the Coroner's Office has tentatively identified them as the Daniels daughters, Laurie and Melanie.

Laurie Daniels's severed head was discovered April 26, 2014, in Taylor. Other body parts, which had been found in surrounding counties in the preceding weeks, were later identified as hers.

Melanie Daniels had reportedly left Oxford in 2006 at the age of 17, presumably to live with a boyfriend in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Sheriff's Department believes Bart and Bonnie Daniels were responsible not only for their own deaths, but for the death of their daughters as well.

Evidence against the Daniels parents

According to Jones, the most convincing evidence that links the Daniels parents to the murder of daughter Laurie is the hacksaw found in the family's garage, which has been identified as the tool used to sever Laurie's head, feet and arms from her body following her death, as well as the discovery of Laurie's missing suitcase in the shop behind the garage.

Finding both items on the Daniels property contradicts statements made by the Danielses from the start of the investigation. Both parents claimed they had not seen Laurie since she left town in 2007.

Another piece of incriminating evidence was a letter reportedly found hidden in Laurie's suitcase. Written by Melanie Daniels around 2006, the letter was addressed to her then-boyfriend, Reggie Simms of Pittsburgh, and alleged her father had sexually abused her. Jones said no evidence has been found thus far to corroborate the abuse allegations.

Voodoo connection?

The investigation into Laurie Daniels' murder has had many twists and turns. Her reported involvement in the New Orleans voodoo community led some Oxonians to speculate her death was part of a voodoo ritual.

Contributing to that theory was the apparent staging of a voodoo ritual site near the location where her head was found.

Jones said, "There's been a lot of hocus pocus surrounding this case, but the evidence indicates that Laurie Daniels' death was not part of some strange voodoo ritual. Laurie was murdered by one or both of her parents. As awful and horrific as that is for us to comprehend, that's the reality."

Laurie's ex-fiancé involved with voodoo, facing charges

One of the early proponents of the voodoo connection was Forrest Burgess, Laurie Daniels's former fiancé.

As the investigation progressed, detectives learned Burgess was the person who picked up Laurie at the Memphis airport on March 29, 2014.

During questioning, Burgess reportedly admitted to taking Laurie from the airport to his then-residence at Coles Point, where he kept her until she fled in the early morning hours while he was asleep.

Forrest Burgess is being held in the Yoknapatawpha County Detention Center on charges of kidnapping, false imprisonment and attempted murder.

However, he is not believed to have cooperated or participated with the Daniel parents in Laurie's murder.

Laurie's voodoo priest

Meanwhile, many people following the case considered Laurie Daniels' old New Orleans flame and mentor in the voodoo culture, voodoo high priest Montell LaBeau, a.k.a. Dr. Yah Yah, to be a suspect in her death.

Information allegedly found in LaBeau's New Orleans apartment suggested that the voodoo witch doctor had placed hexes on various people close to Laurie Daniels, including her father and Burgess.

Investigators in Oxford and New Orleans have been unable to locate LaBeau, despite Burgess's assertions that LaBeau was in Yocona last week. Although LaBeau remains at large, detectives discount his involvement in Laurie's murder.

"Dr. Yah Yah has a colorful reputation, which is probably more folklore and gossip than reality, but there is no evidence that implicates him in this murder," Jones said.

Unanswered questions

Some have questioned how this investigation came to such a violent end. Jones addressed those questions.

"The Sheriff's Department believes that Bonnie Daniels learned detectives were planning to execute a search warrant at her residence on the day of the fire.

"Fearing the outcome of that search, Mrs. Daniels took drastic steps to protect her husband and herself from the discovery of long-held family secrets," Jones said at a press conference this morning.

"Mrs. Daniels reportedly put a high importance on the perception of her family in the Oxford community, and the possibility that the fate of her daughters and the allegations against her husband could become public knowledge was apparently more than she could bear."

When asked why Mrs. Daniels would murder her beloved and seriously ill husband, Jones said, "Perhaps she felt her husband, who was suffering from a debilitating recurrence of cancer, literally would not survive those revelations and she wanted to spare him that pain and indignity.

"We will never know what her motivations were — either for her choice to end her husband's life and her own or for her role in the deaths of her daughters."
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May 7, 2014

Daniels parents accuse Simms in daughters' murder, disappearance

Pittsburgh man fingered as prime suspect in family's private investigation

Bart & Bonnie Daniels (front row)
Reggie Simms (back row)
Oxford couple Bart and Bonnie Daniels announced yesterday that, as a result of the arrest of Forrest Burgess, they have lost confidence in the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department's ability to apprehend their daughter's killer.

Laurie Daniels' head was found in a bucket near Taylor Creek on April 26 of this year, and several earlier discoveries of body parts in surrounding counties have since confirmed that Daniels may have been murdered as much as a month prior to the discovery of her head.

The Daniels say they do not believe there's any possibility that Laurie's former fiancé could have harmed her, and so they have hired a team of private investigators to bring the murderer of their daughter Laurie to justice and to solve the mystery of the disappearance of their younger daughter, Melanie.

The family names a suspect

According to a statement released by the Danielses' attorney Geoffrey Frye, the prime suspect in this private investigation is Reginald "Reggie" Simms, a 30-year-old Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, man who Yoknapatawpha County investigators recently interviewed in connection with Laurie Daniels' murder.

"The local police have made a commendable effort in tracking down Mr. Simms and obtaining a statement from him," Frye told Crime Beat in an exclusive interview. "However, they let him get away. The Danielses believe—and I think they have struck a valid point—that Simms knows more than he's telling about the disappearance of their daughter Melanie and what happened to Laurie."

According to the statement released by Frye and the Danielses, then-17-year-old Melanie Daniels left Oxford in 2006 to be with Simms after he impregnated her. It is their suspicion that Simms, when confronted with the fruit of his actions, may have reacted with violence and then covered up by fleeing the country and going to war.

YCSD spoke to Simms

Simms reportedly told Yoknapatawpha detectives that he had never engaged in sexual activity with Melanie Daniels and that she never came to his home in Pittsburgh.

A source inside the Sheriff's Department, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said Simms also alleged there may have been an inappropriate relationship between Mr. Daniels and one or both of his daughters.

"The desperation and convoluted facts in that man's testimony have angered the family, and they have drawn attention to his motives in this case. We believe the Yoknapatawpha County detectives did not conduct a thorough interview, so there's much more to be determined here," said Frye.

"The man presented himself as a sexual predator, and that's reason enough to investigate further," Frye added.

PIs examine Simms' connection to Daniels sisters

The Danielses' statement indicates that a team of private investigators hired by the family are currently exploring Simms' past, including an unaccounted for period of time after his military service in Afghanistan.

Sources close to the family's private investigation hint they may have evidence that also connects Simms to the recent death of Laurie Daniels, who reportedly approached Simms while searching for her sister earlier this year. According to Simms, Laurie Daniels stayed with him for several weeks in his Pittsburgh apartment before she returned home at the end of March this year.

"It was no accident that Laurie approached Reggie Simms," Frye said. "Perhaps she found the crucial piece of evidence that linked him to her sister, and perhaps she discovered some incriminating evidence against him that led him to murder her. As I've said though, this matter is still under investigation."

According to the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department, no evidence collected thus far suggests that Simms was Laurie Daniels' killer.

"Our investigation is taking a distinctly different turn," said Sheriff's Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones. "We're confident that we'll get to the bottom of this heinous crime in the very near future—with or without the cooperation of Bart and Bonnie Daniels."
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May 6, 2014

Ex-fiancé held in connection with dismemberment homicide

Currently facing charges including kidnapping and attempted murder

As the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department continues its investigation into the murder and dismemberment of former Oxford resident Laurie Daniels, 25-year-old Forrest Burgess was arrested this afternoon on charges related to the murder of his former fiancé.

Sheriff's Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones would not comment on what led to Burgess' arrest, but did confirm that the Oxonian is being held on kidnapping, false imprisonment and attempted murder charges.

Jones said Burgess has not been charged with the murder of Laurie Daniels, but emphasized that the investigation is ongoing and additional charges may be filed.

Burgess and Daniels became engaged in 2006, but Daniels abruptly left Oxford in early 2007, canceling the wedding the couple had planned for later that year.

Burgess' roommate, Paul Mercury, said, "Forrest is still totally in love with Laurie, even after all these years. He would never deliberately do anything to hurt her, and there's no way he would kill her. No way."

Calls to Burgess' parents' home in Oxford were not returned.

The gruesome end of Laurie Daniels

In March 2014, Daniels made her first trip back to Oxford since her departure seven years ago.

It's still unclear where she went and who she talked with upon her return, but her body parts started turning up in surrounding counties within days of her arrival, culminating in the discovery of her severed head in Taylor on April 26, 2014.

With some portions of Laurie Daniels' remains still missing, the cause of her death has not been determined.

Surviving Daniels family members distraught

Last week, the victim's parents, Bart and Bonnie Daniels of Oxford, announced they would no longer cooperate with the sheriff's department's investigation into their daughter's murder.

They alleged that the Department was disrespectful of them as well as their friends and neighbors in their inquiries.

The Danielses claimed that YCSD detectives have been "digging up vicious rumors and hearsay regarding our daughters' and our own personal life" instead of conducting "a serious investigation into the death of our daughter."

Jones declined to say whether the parents' comments had any impact on the decision to arrest Burgess.

The Danielses' younger daughter, Melanie, disappeared from Oxford in 2006. Her current whereabouts are unknown.
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May 3, 2014

Victim's parents refuse to cooperate in murder investigation

Cite disrespectful treatment and slander

Laurie Daniels
The parents of Laurie Daniels have refused to give further aid to the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department in the ongoing investigation into the murder of their daughter Laurie.

According to a statement released today, Bart and Bonnie Daniels will answer no more questions from detectives.

Bonnie Daniels read from a prepared statement at a small press conference outside the family home this morning.

"Because of the disrespectful treatment we and our friends and neighbors have been subjected to during the course of this so-called investigation, we can no longer in good conscience be a part of it.

Laurie Daniels
  • Killed and dismembered four to six weeks ago
  • Head found in Taylor, MS, on April 26
  • Other body parts found in surrounding counties over the last month
  • Last seen in Oxford in 2007
"We simply feel that this is not a serious investigation into the death of our daughter. We have opened our home and our privacy to the detectives, and they return these gestures with slander.

"Instead of catching the murderer, the sheriff's department is digging up vicious rumors and hearsay regarding our daughters' and our own personal life. It's an insult to our daughter and to justice itself, and we will not cooperate any longer.

"We would rather go on in the dark about our daughter's killer or killers than face the daily barrage of insults and accusatory remarks made by the police and the public. Any further correspondence will be done through our attorneys."

Bart Daniels was an attorney himself until a cancer diagnosis forced him to retire. The family has hired the firm of Frye & Pierson to represent them.

Heard it through the grapevine

Both the Daniels family and the sheriff's department declined to comment on the details of the "vicious rumors and hearsay" Mrs. Daniels referred to in her statement.

Witnesses familiar with the location where the head was found say a strange ritual site was discovered nearby. That evidence reportedly has investigators seeking information as far away as the New Orleans voodoo district, where it's believed Laurie Daniels lived for several years.

Sources close to the investigation say that just prior to her death, Laurie Daniels is thought to have been in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Friends claim she had gone there in hopes of reuniting with her younger sister, Melanie, who walked away from her family and her life in Oxford in 2006.

YCSD "disappointed" by the family's decision

The Daniels parents have not been named as official suspects, according to Sheriff's Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones, who added that investigators are disappointed by the family's decision to withdraw their assistance.

In a statement, Jones responded to the Danielses' remarks. "It is in the best interest of Mr. and Mrs. Daniels to continue their participation in this investigation. Their goals and the goals of the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department are one and the same—to bring Laurie Daniels's killer to justice."
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May 2, 2014

Daniels burial draws emotional crowd

Bishop Hill chapel where Laurie Daniels' funeral was held
Bishop Hill chapel (File Photo)
A dark cloud of anguish and bewilderment still hovered over the town here as Laurie Daniels was put to rest in Bishop Hill Cemetery this afternoon.

Friends, relatives and other saddened townsfolk turned out en masse to offer their grief over the former Oxonian's horrifying death.

Nearly 300 mourners arrived at Bishop Hill's tiny chapel for the funeral. The crowd spilled into the parking lot, and those who could not find a seat inside waited until the service moved outside to the grave site.

Reverend Jonathan Everett gave a poignant service, and Daniels' former fiancé, Forrest Burgess, delivered a moving eulogy.

A gruesome death

Daniels, 25, was the victim of a brutal killing that has terrified the town. The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department discovered her head in a bucket near Taylor Creek on April 26.

Throughout April, several other body parts, later identified as Daniels', were found as far away as Toccopola, Bruce and Batesville.

An investigation into Daniels' death is currently underway, and the sheriff's department maintained a visible presence at the memorial services, though whether it was to provide security or keep an eye out for possible suspects is unclear.

Remembering Laurie

A former prom queen and local teenage favorite, Daniels had been away from Oxford for seven years in various parts of the country before her ill-fated return.

Friends and family who tried to catch up with her over the years were met with disheartening news. Some heard she had abused drugs and alcohol, while others had reason to believe she was involved in bizarre religious sects.

Yet these rumors did not deter the people who loved and remembered her fondly from paying their final respects.

"We are all shattered and sore to the pit of our souls over the violence of Laurie's departure," said Burgess in his rousing address. "We yearn to know what drove her away from us and what led her to her end. Yet also we are afraid to seek answers to these questions."

A life cut short

Daniels was born on February 22, 1988. She grew up with her family in Oxford and graduated from Oxford High School in 2006. She then briefly attended Northwest Community College before leaving town in January of 2007 on a journey that reportedly led her all over the country.

She is survived by her parents, Bart and Bonnie Daniels of Oxford, and a sister, Melanie, 24, who also left town suddenly several years ago.
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Apr 28, 2014

More body parts found

Body parts found in and around Yoknapatawpha County
Locations in and around Yoknapatawpha County
where dismembered body parts were found

Are they related to head found in Taylor?

Following on the (ahem) heels of the discovery of a severed head in Taylor on April 26, the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department confirmed today that four more body parts have been discovered in adjoining counties.

Sheriff's Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones said the body parts were found over the last several weeks.

On April 3, 2014, a severed arm was found in a gravel pit in Toccopola in Pontotoc County, east of Oxford.
Twelve days later and 45 miles west, another arm was discovered in Enid Lake between Batesville and Water Valley in Panola County.

Two feet were found 24 miles south-southwest of the Toccopola location and 55 miles southeast of the Batesville location in a Bruce cotton field in Calhoun County.

The feet were found on April 22, 2014, just four days before the severed head was discovered near a possible ritual site in Taylor.

Locals shocked

Trevor Gibson, who found the arm in Enid Lake while on his lunch break, was understandably disturbed after making the discovery.

"At first, I thought it was a big snake," the 52-year-old described. "It wasn't moving, so I thought it was dead. I went up to it, and then it was pretty clear that it wasn't no snake. I said to myself, 'Why, that's some fella's arm there.'"

While the YCSD has not publicly confirmed the gender of the head found in Taylor, Jones said the other body parts are believed to be from one or more females.

Jones said that DNA tests are being conducted to determine whether a link exists between any of the body parts.

Serial killer?

While some people have wondered whether these gruesome discoveries are indications that a serial killer is at work in North Mississippi, law enforcement officials across all the involved jurisdictions discount the suggestion.

"If you ask me, this is the work of one sick individual," said Pontotoc County sheriff J. A. Drexel. "Serial killers are for movies and television. We don't have that kind of thing around here."

Sheriff Drexel said no evidence of occult activity was found at the Toccopola scene nor, to his knowledge, at the scenes in Panola and Calhoun counties.

If Sheriff Drexel is correct, what does that say about the rumored evidence of voodoo rituals found in Taylor?
Read more

Apr 27, 2014

Severed head found in Taylor

Evidence at the scene points to occult influences?

Crime scene location south of Oxford
When local farmer Tucker Allison contacted the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department to report vandalism on his Taylor property, he never imagined what that might lead to.

According to Allison, his 11-year-old son and a friend were playing Saturday morning when they stumbled upon what Allison described as a strange ritual site in a clearing beside a creek.

"There's kids that come out here cow-tipping from time to time. Sometimes they spray-paint something, but I've never seen anything like this around here," Allison told Crime Beat. "I knew as soon as I seen it something wasn't right about it, and I called 911 right off."

Responding to the father's 911 call, sheriff's officers investigated the reported vandalism and discovered a secondary scene where reportedly they found a bucket containing a human head floating in an unidentified chemical solution.

The vandalism scene, which was the subject of the initial report, offered its own unusual evidence, including the remains of a campfire, a burned wooden box, empty rum bottles and a dead chicken among other evidence.

Whitehead told said he told police that the chicken most likely came from his coop. "I recall missing a chicken several weeks back, but I thought it was coyotes," the Taylor farmer said. "In a situation like that, you never consider that a crime is involved."

Similar incidents nearby?

The finding of the head comes amid burgeoning rumors that other body parts have been found this month in the neighboring counties of Calhoun and Panola.

"I think the cops just don't want everybody to get keyed up over this so they're not talking," said Tim Hillman, a Batesville resident. "But there comes a time when we need to know whether or not we should keep our kids locked up in the house."

PIO Jones would not comment on the alleged discoveries of other body parts, saying only, "the department has mounted an intense investigation into this matter and will release more information as it becomes available. We must balance the public's need to know with the department's need to solve this case."
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Apr 9, 2014

Which is worse: homicide or neglect & fraud? Does it matter?

The Jerry Shaw murder and the Yoknapatawpha Acres scandal

A source close to the Jerry Shaw murder investigation tells Crime Beat that the sheriff's department recently got fingerprints from multiple suspects to compare to prints found at the crime scene in an effort to identify the person responsible for Shaw's death.

Certainly, a killer should be held accountable for what he or she did, but given the revelations about allegedly rampant neglect and fraud at Yoknapatawpha Acres that have come to light in the aftermath of Shaw's death, who's the real bad guy here?

The stories coming out of the nursing home are appalling from bogus fees being charged on top of the standard rates to patients' wounds being left to fester. Patients' families and members of the Oxford community alike have been outraged by the discoveries.

There is talk of a looming class action lawsuit against Yoknapatawpha Acres, its parent company Bundren Healthcare Management Inc., and the recently-arrested former manager Richard Landrigan.

Though nothing has been proven yet, it appears that the late Jerry Shaw was also a participant in the misconduct. If that's the case, does that mitigate the killer's actions? Should it?

Was Shaw responsible, at least in part, for his own death? There are plenty of people who think he got what he deserved. Some have even said the killer should be congratulated, not punished.

But that's not how we work as a society.

Still, we can hope the district attorney will take all the circumstances into consideration if and when the killer is taken into custody, which our contacts in the YCSD say could be very soon.
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