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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