Mar 10, 2020

Local family tragedy comes to violent end

Events shock neighbors, friends

House consumed by flames
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 March 5, 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 February 22, 2020, 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 2012 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 2013.

Another piece of incriminating evidence was a letter reportedly found hidden in Laurie's suitcase. Written by Melanie Daniels around 2012, 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 December 29, 2019.

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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