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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