Oct 2, 2015

Local attorney Pruitt to defend accused killer Brinkman

Brinkman's former attorney recovering from near-fatal hit-and-run

Robert Pruitt, Pamela Lipscomb
Oxford attorney Robert Pruitt announced today that he will be taking over the defense of accused killer Dudley Brinkman.

Pruitt is stepping in for Brinkman's previous attorney Pamela Lipscomb, who was critically injured in a hit-and-run incident last weekend.

According to family members, Lipscomb was in a medically induced coma from Sunday until Wednesday. When she regained consciousness, one of the first things she spoke about was asking Pruitt to meet with her in the hospital regarding the Brinkman case.

After visiting Lipscomb at the hospital yesterday, Pruitt reportedly met with Brinkman and, shortly thereafter, filed papers with the court to take over as Brinkman's attorney for the upcoming trial.

Pruitt comes to the case as a former assistant district attorney in Yoknapatawpha County, and more recently, an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Brinkman trial date unclear

Dudley Brinkman
Dudley Brinkman is facing murder charges in the death of Andrew Fine on July 4, 2014. Jury selection for his trial was scheduled to begin last Monday, but Lipscomb was injured just hours before and the proceedings were postponed.

With Pruitt taking the reins of the defense, a new trial date has not yet been set, but it is expected to be after the first of the year to allow Pruitt sufficient time to familiarize himself with the case and decide on a course of action.

Lipscomb had not revealed her strategy, but court watchers speculate Brinkman's defense will center around a "defense of others" argument, claiming that Brinkman killed Fine to protect Fine's wife, Cynthia.

Immediately after Brinkman was arrested, Cynthia Fine's family — and the victim's in-laws — came out in support of Brinkman.

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

Dykman and her husband were among those who contributed to a fund that secured Brinkman's release on $100,000 bond while he awaits trial.

Lipscomb hit-and-run still unsolved

The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department said today that the hit-and-run incident that sent Brinkman's former attorney, Pamela Lipscomb, to the hospital is still being actively investigated.

If anyone has any information, they are asked to contact the sheriff's department or Yoknapatawpha County Crime Stoppers.
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Aug 25, 2015

Pint-sized P.I.s uncover plundered Civil War treasure

Hunter, Melody, Rachel and Zach
While most kids their age are out catching frogs and collecting Pokemon cards, four youngsters right here in Oxford have been up to their necks in buried treasure.

The fabulous foursome, dubbed "the Kudzu Kids," recently solved a 135-year-old mystery in their own backyard.

By researching old manuscripts and interviewing key Oxford residents, the kids — Rachel McGowan, 13; her brother, Hunter, 12; Melody Cheever, 12; and Zach Burgess, 11 — discovered an underground labyrinth of tunnels designed by an obscure Civil War general who made his home in Oxford around the time of these kids' great-great-great-great grandparents.

The intrigue began when the kids were hanging out on the University of Mississippi campus and saw people entering an off-limits building on campus. Their curiosity got the best of them, and they explored the building, where — much to their surprise — the kids stumbled upon a human bone.

The angry professor

Professor Charles Lowry
Their discovery made them heroes on the front pages of newspapers throughout the area, but they made an enemy of Ole Miss Civil War professor Charles Lowry.

"Right away it was clear that we had found something we weren't supposed to," said Kudzu Kid Rachel. "Dr. Lowry was mad that we had brought publicity to his project, so we knew right away it was Civil War-related."

The kids went to work digging through the university's archive of Civil War documents and letters, and they discovered that the college campus had been used as a field hospital during the 1860s.

"All of the letters mentioned this guy, General Shegog, and we did some more research and found that he had tried to horde all the wounded soldiers' valuables to hide them from the Yankees, who were about to invade Oxford," Rachel explained.

The kids recorded interviews and photographed different sites on campus. They also used their cell phones to record conversations and important information.

When the angry professor caught wind of their investigation, he tried to sabotage the kids' progress by closing the Civil War archives.

The general's descendant

Mildred Shegog
The kids turned their search to the Internet and found a Shegog living in Oxford. It turned out to be Mildred Shegog, great-great granddaughter to the old general.

She invited the kids to rummage through her ancestor's old records, where they found a poem written by the general that gave clues to his treasure's hiding place in a series of tunnels beneath the university.

The kids were almost ready for their treasure hunt when the last clue fell into place — an actual treasure map.

Following the map
Rachel explains how the Kudzu Kids found the treasure room by consulting the General's map and poem.

"By reading the General's cadence and poem, we knew that he put God before country. If you look at the map, the tunnels to the left of Santo Spirito form a cross, and the tunnels to the right of Stark's Bait form a star, representing the republic.

"If there's one thing General Shegog put before his country and after God, though, it was the Confederacy.

"If you notice the dens positioned at various places throughout the tunnels, you'll see that the design resembles the stars and bars of the Confederate flag, except the middle is cut out — that's precisely where the bars intersect. In other words, 'X' marks the spot."

"It was totally luck," said Rachel. "We were following one of Dr. Lowry's assistants, who happened to have the map. He scanned the map at the computer lab, and Zach knew how to retrieve the file after he left. After that, we just studied the map and followed the clues."

But when the kids finally set out to claim the hoarded treasures, their journey through the dank, dangerous tunnels resulted in near tragedy.

Instead of treasure, danger!

"We followed all the clues and found the treasure room, but there was no treasure," Hunter explained. "Instead, we get down there, and a flood of water comes gushing in. We couldn't get out or anything. Thank God Zach brought his cell phone, and we called my dad to let him know what was going on."

Luckily, Rachel had remained above ground and maintained contact with the amateur spelunkers. She was able to assemble the clues and pinpoint her fellow treasure hunters on the map. That gave emergency rescue workers the exact spot to dig and retrieve the soggy sleuths before the treasure room was flooded.

The kids help authorities locate the treasure

After Hunter, Zach and Mel were rescued from the tunnels, the kids explained to the police about the treasure, and by studying their clues one last time, they figured out where the missing treasure was located.

"The whole thing hit me when Hunter and the others were already in the tunnels," Rachel said. "Mrs. Shegog had already found the treasure. When we went to visit her, she told us we could look in the attic, but that she didn't have a basement. But in the general's poem, he specifically mentions being in his basement, and that was the exact same house Mrs. Shegog lives in today.

"On top of that, we found an article about Mrs. Shegog winning a senior beauty pageant, and it mentions her wearing a red-heart locket," Melody added. "That necklace was mentioned in a Civil War letter we found from a wounded soldier named Beauchamp, who said the general had taken a locket just like that from him."

Just as the kids had predicted, police discovered a basement filled with treasure at Mildred Shegog's home. Among the artifacts was a jewel-studded, gold crucifix, which dates back to the 16th century during the time Hernando DeSoto and his fellow Spanish explorers passed through Mississippi.

Descendant double-crossed

Jerry O'Brian AKA Jerry Boyce
The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department intervened in the mystery just in time, as Shegog's grandson, Jerry O'Brian, was loading the treasure in a U-Haul for a quick getaway.

O'Brian, who was on parole from Washington's state prison, had misled the kids during their investigation by planting the bone and posing as a janitor for their witness interviews.

O'Brian was taken into custody for breaking parole and attempting to steal the Civil War treasure from his grandmother.

Professor pays the piper for pretense

Investigators subsequently found out that Dr. Lowry and his crew had caused the flooding in the tunnels when they ruptured a water main while digging for the treasure.

"I swear, I wasn't trying to hurt those children," Lowry insists. "Sure, I was upset that they interfered with my excavation, but I had no idea they knew as much as they did about Shegog. I didn't even know they were in the tunnels at the time the water main was ruptured."

After the revelation about his actions, Lowry was fired from the university for destroying university property and acting in a manner unbecoming of an Ole Miss professor.

The professor reacted in outrage. "This university still hasn't forgiven me for being related to William Lowry, a soldier in the University Greys who stormed the Lyceum with a bullwhip and challenged the chancellor after he was expelled," Lowry told the school newspaper following his own expulsion.

"That was over 150 years ago! I offer a challenge of my own to the Lyceum, though mine is in an intellectual challenge: Come to terms with your own history, and don't be afraid of past defeat, for victory answers the call of the righteous and brave."

Back to school and back to normal

In the meantime, the Kudzu Kids have returned to their everyday lives, going to school and doing homework.

Though the pint-sized P.I.s didn't get a share of the treasure, the university expressed its appreciation for their exemplary research and courage, and the kids have the memories of a job well done.

"Anytime we want to remember this, we just have to go to crimescene.com, and it's all right there," said Rachel.

"Yeah," added Zach. "And who knows what'll happen next summer."
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Aug 24, 2015

Young Oxford treasure hunters reported missing

The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department is asking for the public's help to locate three missing Oxford youths — Hunter McGowan, 12; Zach Burgess, 11; and Melody Cheever, 12. The trio were reported missing last night at approximately 7:00 p.m.

The missing kids recently made news on the Ole Miss campus when they discovered a human bone in the basement of the Y Building on August 4th.

Rachel McGowan, sister of Hunter and a witness to the bone discovery, believes the kids went searching for buried Civil War treasure in a maze of secret tunnels under the University.

"We have maps and everything," said Rachel from her mother's home in Jackson, Miss. "I told them not to go, but my brother was so set on finding the treasure before Professor Lowry that he couldn't wait."

The professor in question is Dr. Charles Lowry, who teaches Civil War Studies at Ole Miss. The professor, who is supervising the discovery of any artifacts during the construction work at the Y Building, could not be reached for comment.

The bone the youths found was never officially identified, but sources at the University Police Department said the bone was found at a Civil War excavation currently underway in the Y Building.

"We have our men searching the Y Building and various other sites on campus to find the children," said University Police Chief Milton Steward. "There are a hundred nooks and crannies on campus, and I'm certain it's just a matter of time before those kids turn up."

Thomas McGowan, father of Hunter and Rachel McGowan and an anthropology professor at the University of Mississippi, filed the missing persons report when his son failed to show up for supper last night.

Upon calling his daughter in Jackson, he discovered that his kids had been investigating what they believed was buried treasure in the Grove.

"Hunter is a smart boy," said McGowan. "I'm sure if he's lost somewhere, he'll find his way back. I know he and his friends are okay. We just need to find them, and we'll take all the help we can get."
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Aug 4, 2015

Oxford youths discover bone

Is construction site a murder scene or a historical find?

Four Oxford kids were apprehended by University Police this afternoon when they discovered what appeared to be a human femur bone amid construction in the "Y" Building on the west end of the Grove.

"We were just playing around in the abandoned building when I saw a secret chamber in the floor," said 11-year-old Zach Burgess. "It was dark and deep, so I reached down in there and fished out somebody's leg bone."

"The end looked like it had been sawed off," said 13-year-old Rachel McGowan.

Also on the scene were 12-year-olds Melody Cheever and Hunter McGowan, Rachel's brother.

Rachel and Hunter are the children of Ole Miss anthropology professor Thomas McGowan, who was asked about the finding.

"It's hard to tell, at this point, where the bone came from," McGowan said. "We'll have to perform carbon dating tests on the bone to determine its age. It could be anyone's from a Choctaw Indian to a Confederate soldier. It could be that this leg came from a victim of some heinous crime. We just don't know."

When approached about the news of the bones, the chancellor's office responded, "Ole Miss is very proud of our past, and any link that we can find to reinforce our place in history, we are more than happy to examine."

University Police Chief Carl Fisk hasn't ruled out the possibility that the bone was planted on the construction site as a hoax.

"We checked with the foreman, and neither he nor any of his men saw the bone yesterday. There's really no sense in speculating at this time," Fisk advised.

The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department agrees.

"Until we get the analysis back, we don't know if we're dealing with a recent death, a historical find or just a prank," said department spokesperson Elizabeth Jones.

Preliminary results from the testing are expected within a week.

Check back for updates on this developing story.
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Jun 7, 2015

…And they lived happily ever after?

It looks like some good things are rising from the ashes of the recently incinerated 20015 Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival Beauty Pageant.

Despite being canceled on the eve of the final event following the brutal murder of finalist Barbara Dubois, the pageant may not be permanently destined for the junk heap after all.

Pageant officials have expressed hope that next year's pageant will be conducted in honor of the young woman who lost her life on May 2.

Two suspects have been arrested: Erma Webb for attempted murder and Allie Lamar for the murder of Barbara Dubois.

The children of the women in custody are working to ease the heartbreak of those who knew Barbara Dubois and anyone who struggles with life challenges.

Barbara's old flame carries on her legacy

The Afterschool Alliance works to ensure all children have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs
Bill Lamar, acting head of Lamar Cosmetics, has established the Barbara Dubois Foundation in honor of his high school sweetheart.

The first recipient of a Foundation grant will be Ms. Dubois' favorite cause, the Afterschool Alliance. The Alliance provides communities with after-school activities for at-risk children and was the subject of Ms. Dubois' pageant platform.

Tuttle Confections, former sponsor of Barbara Dubois, has pledged an initial contribution of $20,000 with substantial yearly contributions to follow.

"Barbara was a fine young woman. It is tragic her life was ended. We are committed to helping continue the work she felt so strongly about." — Sam Tuttle president of the company.

Barbara's fellow finalist honors their friendship

Rachel wants to help the many people struggling with eating disorders like Barbara helped her
Avoid Yo-Yo Dieting by o5com
is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Rachel Webb, another finalist in the 2015 pageant, has pledged to tour the country, speaking at high schools and colleges about her ongoing battle with bulimia.

She recently revealed her illness publicly, saying she will spend the next year devoting herself to this task in honor of her friend Barbara.

"Had it not been for Barbara's urging, I would never have sought help. She made me realize I had a disease, to confront it, and to seek treatment. She saved my life!

"Now I want to repay her and her memory by telling of my battle and bringing the dangers of bulimia to the attention of young people across the country."

Bill Lamar reaches out to his lost love's biggest fan

Bill Lamar is taking Barbara's beloved 7-year-old friend under his wing
Another beneficiary of Barbara's legacy will be her seven-year-old friend, Billie Jo Jones. Bill Lamar is establishing a trust in the child's name to be used to further whatever training or education Billie Jo desires.

Mr. Lamar spoke warmly about both young women.
"Barbara loved this little girl and thought of her as family. Billie Jo lost her father last year, and now she's lost her dear 'Auntie Barbara.'

"I hope I can be a part of her life and make up for some of that loss. In return, she will help heal the hole that has been in my heart since I left my love seven years ago.

"I did not know then that I was leaving Barbara to face a crisis and heartbreak of her own. Had I known, I never would have gone. I have seven years of wasted time and heartbreak to make up for."

Too good to be true?

If it sounds like a fairy tale with a "they all lived happily ever after" ending — it isn't. It's real life, where there are never any guarantees.

But then again… truth is stranger than fiction.

We'll just have to wait and see.
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Jun 1, 2015

Beauty queen killer arraigned

Pageant Sponsor Charged in Brutal Killing

Allie Lamar was arraigned in the Yoknapatawpha County Court
The tragic story of murder and beauty queens came to a conclusion today as Alexandra "Allie" Johnson Lamar was arraigned on homicide and aggravated assault charges in Yoknapatawpha County Court.

The cosmetics magnate, clad in a prison jumpsuit, appeared subdued and dispirited. She did not speak except to plead not guilty to all charges.

Lamar, 58, is accused of killing Barbara Dubois, one of three finalists in the Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival Beauty Pageant that Lamar Cosmetics sponsored.

A trial is expected to follow as quickly as court schedules allow.

Slain beauty queen Barbara Dubois
Dubois, 23, was found dead early in the morning of May 2, 2015, at the Yoknapatawpha County Conference Center where the pageant was being held.

She was a lifelong resident of Oxford and a veteran of the beauty pageant circuit. Friends said that she entered this pageant as a springboard to the Miss Mississippi competition.

As authorities investigated the Dubois murder, Oxford learned more than anyone could have ever dreamed about the beauty pageant business. Rumors spread throughout town as residents speculated on the identity of the murderer.

Many people thought a jealous competitor could have been behind the killing. Other people guessed that an obsessive fan could have been the murderer.

Erma Webb was the first suspect arrested in the Dubois case
The investigation took a strange turn on May 19 when Erma Webb was arrested and charged with what the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department described as "offenses related to the Dubois investigation."

Webb, 52, is the mother of another pageant finalist, Rachel Webb. Faced with the news of Webb's arrest, many Oxford residents assumed that the motive for the Dubois murder was an obsessed stage mother.

Webb was charged with attempted murder, and oddly enough, poisoning, but sheriff's department officials have not released more specific details about Webb's involvement in this case. The District Attorney's office has also refused to comment.

Allie Lamar has been charged with murdering Barbara Dubois
The news of a second arrest in the case spread throughout town quickly. "I just couldn't believe it when I heard," said ballet teacher Rhonda Specht. "I know all those girls — and their mothers. This is just incredible."

Those associated with the pageant were particularly puzzled about why Allie Lamar would do anything that could ruin the event she and her company were counting on as a lifeline.

"I don't know how this could happen. I mean, even if we can somehow get over the idea of the murder, it still just doesn't make any sense," said pageant judge Frank Margold.

"This pageant was Lamar Cosmetics' last hope from a business perspective. They were just barely keeping their heads above water. Allie seemed to have such high hopes for this pageant. Why bring such bad publicity?"

Less than a week before Allie Lamar was taken into custody, Lamar Cosmetics filed for bankruptcy protection. Lamar's son, Bill, who is expected to take over the family business, painted a rosy picture of the company's future despite the current money problems — but that was before the founder and president was arrested for murder.

Repeated calls to the offices of Lamar Cosmetics since the arrest on Thursday have gone unreturned, and attempts to locate Bill Lamar for comment have been unsuccessful.

Check back for updates on this developing story.
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May 22, 2015

Fading beauty

The rise and fall of a financial empire

Lamar Cosmetics, a company which successfully catered to dreams of Hollywood glamour, filed for bankruptcy protection late this afternoon amidst allegations that rival the wildest stories to ever appear on the silver screen.

According to a statement released by the law firm representing the besieged company, this step was necessary "to provide a safety net while Lamar Cosmetics adjusts to recent changes in the global marketplace."

There is no mention in the one-page document of the canceled beauty pageant that Lamar Cosmetics sponsored, the murder of front-runner Barbara Dubois, or the rumors swirling around top Lamar Cosmetics executives regarding their relationships with the late beauty queen.

Lamar scion reacts

During an exclusive interview, Bill Lamar shared his struggle with what he called "this unfortunate situation."
"Since I arrived in Oxford a few weeks ago," Lamar said, "I have been forced to face some difficult truths, both business and personal. I knew some of them were possible, but others have completely blindsided me."
However, Lamar dismissed concerns that this could be the end of Lamar Cosmetics.
"There are times when forces beyond our control compel a business to change. We've done it before, and we'll do it again. It's just going to take a little time to make the adjustments, and that's what the bankruptcy protection provides."
When asked if Allie Lamar, founder and president of Lamar Cosmetics and his mother, is to blame for the bankruptcy, Bill Lamar declined to pin the responsibility on any one person.
"This company has always been a team effort, and my mother's contributions to the business since its inception have been invaluable," he said. "She has never hesitated to do everything possible to ensure Lamar Cosmetics' success."
Lamar would not comment on speculation that his mother would be forced to resign in the wake of this setback.

Company troubles connected to pageant murder?

Lamar Cosmetics once had high hopes for the pageant they sponsored and how it would raise the company's profile and its revenues.

When the pageant ended prematurely with a brutal murder, it was more than just a tragedy for Lamar Cosmetics — it was a financial and PR disaster.

In the weeks since Barbara Dubois was killed, it has emerged that she had close ties with the Lamar family when she was younger. Whether those ties still existed at the time of her death seems to be a matter for debate.

Bill Lamar refused to discuss his relationship with Dubois. When asked about his mother's relationship with the slain beauty, Lamar said, "You'll have to ask her."

Allie Lamar declined to comment for this report.

Sources familiar with the Dubois investigation say both Lamars have been questioned by detectives, Allie once and Bill several times.

However, the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department would not comment on whether either or both of the Lamars are considered persons of interest or suspects in the crime.

Pageant mom arrested

Earlier this week, pageant finalist Rachel Webb's mother, Erma Webb, was taken into custody on what the sheriff's department called "charges related to the Dubois homicide investigation."

A person with knowledge of the case told Crime Beat that Erma Webb allegedly poisoned the food of Barbara Dubois and others at the pageant. The sheriff's department would not comment on the claim.

Ingrid Freeman, the third pageant finalist, bristled when asked about rumors that she was one of the only ones whose food was untainted.
"I can't explain the reasoning of an old lady who's obviously not in her right mind," Freeman said. "Poor woman, you just can't believe anything she says." 
She then immediately terminated the interview.

Pageant killer still on the loose?

When Erma Webb was arrested, many Oxonians believed the investigation was complete, the murderer caught.

But after the arrest, the detectives continued to execute search warrants, including one at the Lamar residence, and interview witnesses, including Bill Lamar.

With tongues still wagging and suspicions still building, Lamar Cosmetics — and the Lamar family — will be lucky if they manage to come out of this unscathed.

Perhaps Wendy Kullman, the animal rights activist arrested for the vandalism aimed at Lamar Cosmetics, summed up the situation best.
"The people who abuse animals rarely stop there."
Then again, an employee of the sheriff's department just might have the right idea.
"If they ever do have another beauty pageant here in Oxford, perhaps the Mississippi Department of Corrections would be a better sponsor."
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May 19, 2015

Surprise arrest in beauty queen murder case

Early this morning, an arrest was made in conjunction with the investigation into the murder of Barbara Dubois.

Sources say that Erma Webb, 52, of Oxford was taken into custody at her home by members of the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff's department officials would not confirm nor deny that Webb had been arrested, and they refused to comment on any charges that may have been filed.

Barbara Dubois was found murdered on May 2. The body of the 23-year-old beauty queen was discovered in the Yoknapatawpha County Conference Center. She was a finalist in the Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival Beauty Pageant.

Webb's daughter, Rachel, was also a finalist in the pageant.

Details regarding the arrest and Webb's possible involvement in the murder are sketchy at this point, but sheriff's department spokesperson Elizabeth Jones said investigators plan to issue a statement in the coming days.

Pageant judge Frank Margold was stunned at the news of Webb's arrest. "She was very driven," he said when contacted by phone. "And Rachel was always very driven. But this is just hard to believe."

Calls to the Webb residence were unanswered.

Check back for updates on this developing story.
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May 2, 2015

Pageant headquarters defaced night of murder

YCSD mum on connection to murder

YCCC vandalism associated with pageant
As if to add insult to injury, on the same night Barbara Dubois was killed at the Yoknapatawpha County Convention Center, someone maliciously damaged rooms associated with the pageant.

The vandals spray-painted the Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival Pageant office and hung pictures of maimed animals in the stage room, both located at the YCCC.

"Nothing like this has ever happened here before," says Yvonne Boyd, Events Manager at the convention center. "It's important for people to remember, however, that the attack was aimed not at the YCCC but at the pageant itself. No guest rooms were in any way disturbed."

Pageant controversy

The pageant has been under sharp criticism from both those who would rather not see a beauty pageant aligned with the literary festival and those who fault the planners for allowing Lamar Cosmetics to sponsor the event.

Lamar Cosmetics, owned by Allie Lamar, has been accused by animal rights activists of conducting unnecessary product tests. The pictures hung in the stage room reportedly depicted this type of animal abuse.

Sources say swirls of blue and red spray paint covered bulletin boards, computer equipment, and papers spread across the desk of the pageant office.

Norm Resol, custodial engineer at the YCCC, said that no paint supplies were missing from the maintenance room. "And I didn't see nuthin'," Resol said.

Capturing the vandals

"No suspects in the vandalism incident are in custody at this time," said Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones, "but the investigation is ongoing."

YCCC lounge bartender Bob Niwachee noticed nothing out of the ordinary last night. "The mood was festive and the tips good. As best as I can recall, I didn't serve anybody wearing a ski mask."

Johnson refused to speculate whether the vandalism is linked to the murder of Barbara Dubois, the pageant finalist whose body was discovered at the YCCC early this morning.

Pageant unbowed

Lamar said that the show will go on. "We can not allow violence to dictate our actions. We must bring the pageant to its conclusion, if only to honor the memory of Barbara Dubois."
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Likely pageant winner slain

Beautiful victim mysteriously dead

The career of a rising beauty pageant contestant ended tragically today when she was the victim of an apparent homicide.

Investigators reported that the body of Barbara Dubois, 23, of Oxford, was found near her room in the Yoknapatawpha County Conference Center (YCCC) hotel, where she was one of three finalists in the first annual Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival beauty pageant.

Sources say that when Barbara Dubois did not respond to knocks on her door, her mother contacted YCCC management and obtained access to Barbara's room, where she found her daughter gone and her bed reportedly not slept in.

Barbara's lifeless body was discovered just yards away a few moments later.

"It appears that Ms. Dubois was brutally attacked while en route between locations within the YCCC complex," said Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones.

Jones would not disclose further details of the case pending ongoing forensic analysis and investigation, but said the department was pursuing several leads.

YCCC guests and employees react with shock and sorrow

"This is a terrible tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with Barbara's family and friends," said Yvonne Boyd, YCCC Events Manager.

"She was a real sweet person," said Sam Tuttle, owner of Tuttle's Confections and Barbara's sponsor in competition until last year. "We're all at a loss as to who might have wanted to hurt her."

Ms. Dubois' longtime coach Marty "Slim" Rutgers said, "I loved her more than any man could love a daughter."

"I didn't see nothing," said Norm Resol, YCCC custodial engineer. "But I saw her before. Very pretty young lady. Prettiest of all them that's here. It's a shame, a real shame."

Victim a pageant veteran

Barbara Dubois had a lengthy career in the pageant circuit and had been entering the competitions since the age of five. Other pageant contestants described her as an accomplished dancer who often performed complex routines for her skills competition.

A graduate of the University of Mississippi, Dubois had no siblings and is survived by her mother, Susan Dubois of Yoknapatawpha County. Mrs. Dubois, 43, was not available for comment.

Some observers had predicted that Barbara Dubois would win the pageant and are now wondering what will happen.

The show must go on?

Walbert Dopelson, director of the Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival, said that he hoped this tragic event would not cause people to shy away from the festival's many activities.

Allie Lamar, owner of Lamar Cosmetics, the pageant's official corporate sponsor, agreed. "I knew Barbara," she said. "She believed in the pageant and in competitions like it with all her heart and soul.

"Barbara would want us to continue, even in the face of tragedy and adversity. That's what she did, and that's what we'll do."
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May 1, 2015

Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival Queen to be crowned tomorrow

Pageant finalists Barbara Dubois, Ingrid Freeman and Rachel Webb

Tomorrow, one of three finalists will be crowned Queen of the Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival Beauty Pageant at the recently completed Yoknapatawpha County Convention Center.

The young ladies vying for the honor are: Barbara Dubois and Ingrid Freeman, both 23, and Rachel Webb, 24. The finalists were selected from a field of thirteen after five days of competition.

Competition is tight, but there are some favorites. "They're all so pretty and talented, but I really hope Barbara Dubois wins," said Billie Jo Jones, age seven, who is attending the pageant as a fan and who hopes to someday enter competition herself.

"She's been following pageants — and especially Barbara — for years," said Billie Jo's mother, Mary. "And I've always been a loyal supporter of Barbara in whatever she does. We're rooting for her."

"May the best woman get what she deserves," said Denny Buchanan, who described himself simply as "a fan of pageants."

Allie Lamar, pageant sponsor and owner of Lamar Cosmetics, is more than proud of the event. "This is a dream come true, not only a chance to reward our best and brightest with scholarships and other prizes, but to shine a national spotlight on Oxford, Mississippi."

"It will be just great," said Bill Lamar, Executive Vice President of Lamar Cosmetics' European operations who flew in for the pageant from the corporation's Paris office.

The finalists will celebrate their achievements thus far at a gala dinner to be held tonight at the Yoknapatawpha County Convention Center, where the first annual pageant is taking place. Each of the young ladies is excited to be part of history and looks forward to tomorrow's announcement.

"Only one of us can win," says Barbara Dubois, "but each of us is already a winner." Similar sentiments are shared by the two other finalists.

Ingrid Freeman said the trophy would be a secondary prize to the "deep bonds of friendship that we've forged here this week."

Rachel Webb added. "I've become a better person because of this experience."

Erma Webb, Rachel's mother, agreed. "My daughter has really grown from this competition, and I'm sure she'll remember all my sacrifices and do what she needs to do to be outstanding and win this final round."

The pageant has not been without its detractors. Several Festival board members voiced their concerns that the beauty pageant would cheapen the festival, despite the board's decision to move forward.

"Lamar Cosmetics and the pageant bring both beauty and financial support to our festival," said Walbert Dopelson, Festival Director.

Others have questioned whether Lamar Cosmetics was the best possible sponsor.

"There will always be people who want to tear down anything positive, "said Dopelson. "Those who say beauty is only skin deep are themselves usually mean all the way to the bone."
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Apr 30, 2015

Pageant Demeans City, Heritage

Letter to the Editor

Oxford, Mississippi
image via Ken Lund on Flickr (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Dear Editor:

I feel compelled, driven, tormented, and inflamed to write this letter. Although I am loath to bring any more attention to the blight that has been visited upon our lovely city, I cannot remain quiet and acquiesce while a plague of dim-witted, shrill-voiced, and teased-hair harpies sully the good name of Oxford.

Of course, I am referring to the Yoknapatawpha County Literary Festival Beauty Pageant.

Many here in our town are opposed to this parade of women, much like the procession of cattle into the stockyard ring where they are turned and prodded and primped, for reasons of gender equality and sexual discrimination.

Although I share their opinions that "beauty pageants" are demeaning carnivals of skin and legs, I do not wish to cast my lot with the feminists from campus because, unlike them, I must accept the fact that the girls who compete in these pageants are not unwilling participants in their humiliation. Guns are not placed at their heads. Drugs are not slipped in their drinks. They willingly go forward into the spotlight with layers of make-up so much like our own southern red clay of their own free will.

So I will not debate whether this pageant degrades its contestants.

However, I will stand up and fight and scream and claw and punch and screech and bellow that this so-called beauty pageant demeans and degrades Oxford and its wonderful literary heritage!

To hell with the young girls who want to be Temple Drake and their desires for beauty queen status. Corncobs and bootleggers await them and they will be indemnified for their poor choices in life. But spare the rest of us of this charade. Spare this wonderful postage stamp of soil from this silly tragic comedy.

William Faulkner wrote literature that stands up to the ages. He changed the world and the perception of so many in it. His legacy is the greatest novels ever written in the English language. Joyce and Melville critics may disagree with me on that point, but I am prepared to debate Faulkner's merits with anyone.

This base and cheap exhibition does not pay proper honor to Faulkner or any of his Oxford literary descendants. Instead of raising awareness and educating people around the world about the value of Oxford literature, we are drawing attention for a silly and trivial spectacle. In this sense, we are, to paraphrase Faulkner, working not of the heart but of the glands. Surely the tremendous artists of Oxford deserve better.

I am aware that my opinions will be viewed by many as cold-hearted and old-fashioned. I will be told that I am not hip, that I am not current, and that I am not in step with today's attitudes. I will not dispute those charges. Rather, I will freely accept them. On this subject, I will gladly be Rosa and hate with all the venom and bile she summoned forth.

We do not need to be fashionable to make a difference in this world.

Let me remind everyone that, although Mr. Faulkner was driven by dire financial need to work in the world of Hollywood, he never felt at home there, he never fit in there, he never succeeded there. It was here in Oxford, at his beloved Rowan Oak, where he wrote books that were not bestsellers, were not movies, and were not hip. Instead, they were simply timeless.

Let us all stand together and tell the organizers of this beauty pageant that we deserve more than just cheap commercialism and free skin shows. I, for one, will not stand for this embarrassment of our town!

Lucille Ruffin-Moore
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Apr 29, 2015

Pageant sponsors cruelty to animals

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

While I don't have the money to buy advertising space in your newspaper or sponsor frivolous beauty pageants, I can sleep with a clean conscience. Can Allie Lamar? Can the city of Oxford?

This new beauty pageant is being sponsored by a company that practices cruelty to animals in testing labs on a daily basis. What does that say about our community? Do the good citizens of Yoknapatawpha County want to be known for our rich literary traditions or our support of animal abuse?

The animals being tortured in the name of product safety cannot speak for themselves, and that is why I am writing you this letter.

Neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) requires cosmetic companies to test either their ingredients or their finished products on animals, and yet millions of animals are still lost to these tests every single year, according to the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAS). Who knows how many of those animals are killed here in Oxford?

Does Avon Products, Inc. conduct animal tests? No. Does Estee Lauder? No. Does Mary Kay Cosmetics? No. Does Revlon, Inc.? No. Does Lamar Cosmetics? Yes!

Studies have shown that animal testing protects companies, not consumers. Not one person who has ever purchased cosmetics manufactured by Lamar Cosmetics has benefited from the inhumane tests conducted by that company under the guise of public safety.

Are there alternatives to animal testing? Yes.

For starters, Lamar Cosmetics could easily scrap their "need" for animal testing by simply taking advantage of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), a program supported by the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA). Beyond that, Lamar Cosmetics could use any of several cruelty-free testing procedures suggested by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Lamar Cosmetics does not need to test their products on animals, and we should not promote Lamar Cosmetics until they accept that truth and change their practices.

On behalf of all innocent animals, I call upon on my fellow caring citizens to boycott the Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival Pageant and stop buying Lamar Cosmetics while the company continues to promise beauty but deliver pain.

If Lamar cannot hear the voices of animals in pain, then perhaps the company needs to feel pain until they change their ways.

Wendy Kullman
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Apr 28, 2015

Local company hopes to revive business with pageant

Talk to any marketing professional and they will point out the innumerable ways to increase the visibility of a company. Advertising, product placements, endorsements, direct mail campaigns and dozens of other strategies are employed every day to improve profits.

And while companies have been putting their names on sporting events for years, an Oxford business has recently come up with a new twist. Lamar Cosmetics is sponsoring the Yoknapatawpha County Literal Festival Beauty Pageant this week in hopes of reviving declining sales.

"We thought a beauty pageant was a natural tie-in to the festival," says company owner Alexandra "Allie" Lamar. "We are a cosmetics company that makes products that help women obtain their dreams in life — looking their best, living in confidence, and enjoying their full potential. And a beauty pageant reinforces those same ideas.

"Pageant contestants are obviously very beautiful, but they must also possess tremendous amounts of confidence, desire, and determination to reach their goals. It was an easy decision."

Although it may have been an easy decision to make from a marketing perspective, the decision is still a monumental moment in the company's history. Founded in Oxford in the 1980's by Daniel Lamar, Lamar Cosmetics began producing cosmetics made of natural ingredients and selling them in local gift shops.

The company grew quickly and its line was soon offered for sale in department stores such as Dillard's and McRae's in Tupelo, Jackson, and Memphis. Lamar's staff grew to about 25 professional employees and a line staff of 75. When Daniel Lamar died in 1990, his wife, Allie, assumed full control of the corporation.

Recently, the cosmetics company has suffered through some financially difficult times. Lamar is a privately held company so concrete financial data is hard to obtain, but local observers say it's clear the company is in dire financial straits.

"They've laid almost everyone off," says Bud Jacobson, member of the Oxford Rotary Club. "Nearly everyone in the office is gone, and the line staff of folks who work in the factory is down to a couple dozen. I wish them the best because Allie is a great boon to Oxford business, but they've got to be hurting."

Dillard's spokesperson Hal Rice said "We decided to discontinue our association with Lamar Cosmetics. They were a great line for us, and they were a solid company. However, we decided we needed to dedicate more shelf space to better-selling lines."

Lamar Cosmetics has also been under increasing criticism from animal rights organizations for the use of animals in the product testing process.

Some have suggested that the growth of companies such as Burt's Bees has substantially cut into Lamar's business.

"There are so many other companies out there making natural products now," says industry observer Burt Yount. "Lamar used to enjoy a nice niche in a small market. That market is now quite large and full of competition. They just can't keep up."

Lamar Cosmetics also has a perfume division office in Paris, France. That office, which is reputed to be very profitable, is headed by Bill Lamar, only child of Allie and the late Daniel Lamar.

Yoknapatawpha County Literary Festival organizers declined to comment on how much money Lamar paid to stage the beauty pageant or how much was paid for the endorsement. But the pageant has certainly been the subject of much conversation around town.

"I think it's ridiculous. Beauty pageants are archaic and demeaning," said retired University of Mississippi professor Lucille Ruffin-Moore. "This is an insult to the community and to the memory and legacy of great authors from this community."

But for every critic, there seems to be a fan. Barry Johnson, an Ole Miss student from Jackson, said, "Oxford is known for two things: books and beautiful girls. That may not be politically correct, but that's the truth. There's nothing wrong with admitting to that and making something people can enjoy."
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Apr 27, 2015

Beauty pageant biz is alive and well

And in Yoknapatawpha County

By Courtney Woodford [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
The Yoknapatawpha County Literary Festival Pageant, happening this week, reminds us that the beauty pageant business is alive, well, and thriving.

Fostered by the Miss America Organization, the beauty pageant as an institution and as an event has come a long way since their first pageant in 1921 was held in Atlantic City.

Originally established as a way to entice people to extend their Labor Day stay in the beach-side city, the Miss America organization now offers $42 million in scholarships, the single largest scholarship organization for women in the world.

The organization franchises 1,200 contests nationwide at local and state levels with over 10,000 young women competing in pageants they hope will win them a crown and transform their lives. Some enter just to appear on TV. Others dream of being discovered by modeling agencies, Broadway shows, TV or movies. And many really do hope for a scholarship to further their education.

The Miss America pageant — whose eligibility rules specify that only single women between 17 and 24 years old who have never been a parent or posed in the nude may enter — may be the largest, but it is by no means the only beauty pageant looking for share of the multi-billion dollar business.

Since Catalina Swimwear began their own Miss USA and Miss Universe competitions in 1951, there has been a proliferation of other pageants looking for a slice of the lucrative pageant pie. Pageants for women and girls of all ages — from birth to near-death — are held worldwide every year.

These pageants may vary in their qualifications for entry, but most have one thing in common — they're operated by a for-profit organization that solicits primarily girls and young women to compete for recognition and prizes from a promoter. The key words here are "for-profit."

The entrant usually pays a registration fee and a sponsorship fee — and a business sponsor, friends, or family members may pay those fees in full or in part. Fees generally cover the cost of the pageant, including salaries for company personnel and company profits.

The contestant must pay for their own clothing, costumes, makeup, travel, food, and sometimes lodging for themselves and a chaperone. Often a talent competition costs extra.

One of the Baby Beauty contests charges $1,000 just to enter. Even the little children's clothes and costumes may cost thousands of dollars, in addition to the usual pageant expenses. We all remember the videos of JonBenĂ©t Ramsey prancing and posing in her expensive costumes — and looking much too grown up for a six-year-old.

There are contests for babies, children, pre-teens, junior-teens, teens, Miss, Mrs., Miss Plump, Ms. Over 50 — you name it.

One year, an organization held their entire pageant on a cruise of the Western Caribbean with contests for pre-teen, teen, Miss, Ms., and Mrs. "complete with crowns and sashes." Of course, "the entire family" was invited — at the family's own expense. Who do you suppose profited from that one?

The name of the game is competition and winning — competition between contestants, competition between sponsors, competition to coach a winner.

Competition, winning — and money.

Every one wants to be a winner, sponsor a winner, coach a winner. There is no fame or profit in being or backing a runner-up. Who remembers the runners-up? It's winning that counts and pays off.

Is it any wonder that a contestant might make eleven tries over seven years of eligibility in two states as Miss America 1981, Debbye Turner, did? Isn't it a wonder, with all that's at stake, that anyone wins Miss Congeniality?

How can the two runners-up smile and look excited when someone else is announced as the winner? They must feel like looking — or throwing — daggers at the winner after all the months or years they prepared and the thousands of dollars they invested in themselves.

Oh well, if you're 17 and graduated high school by June 30 or aren't older than 24, there's always next year.
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