Sep 13, 2021

Suspect arrested in Annette Wyatt slaying

Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff Department investigators on Thursday arrested a suspect in the Sept. 15 murder of Annette Wyatt.

Meg Lancaster, 30, of 15 Beauregard Circle in Oxford, was taken into custody shortly after 11 a.m., according to the Yoknapatawpha County Jail docket. A bond hearing hadn't yet been set.

"All I can say at this point is that we have arrested Miss Lancaster and will be formally charging her in connection with the murder of Miss Wyatt," said department spokeswoman Elizabeth Jones at a brief press conference Friday afternoon.

It's unclear when those charges will be filed. No attorney for Lancaster was listed as of late Friday.

Lancaster is employed as a receptionist at the Harte Agency, where Wyatt had worked until her death. Wyatt's body was found in the agency's University Avenue office by another colleague the morning of August 29.

The coroner's office later ruled the death a homicide. Wyatt had suffered puncture wounds from a nail gun.

Harte Agency employees declined to talk to the Oxford Eagle after Lancaster's arrest, but other workers in the strip mall shared by the agency said squad cars had swarmed the area for a brief time that morning.

"Three or four police cars came speeding into the parking lot," said Tom Banks, the owner of Sweet Treats candy and chocolate shop, located next to the Harte Agency. "I didn't know what was going on, but then all these deputies busted into the Harte place and I figured it had something to do with that murder."

Banks said a small crowd of onlookers formed in the parking lot and soon the deputies emerged from the Harte Agency with a young woman in handcuffs.

"It was one of the girls that worked there," Banks said. "I think her name was Meg. She came into the shop once a week or so to get treats for her co-workers. Real nice girl. I can't imagine what she had to do with it."

No one answered the door at Lancaster's home. A neighbor, who declined to give her name, said the suspect had lived there for about one year and was always friendly.
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Aug 31, 2021

Detectives confirm nail gun as weapon

Suspicious car seen

The subject of a Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff Department murder investigation likely was killed with a nail gun, according to department spokeswoman Elizabeth Jones.

Jones confirmed the suspected murder weapon Tuesday, saying that the nail gun was found next to the body of real-estate agent Annette Wyatt on the floor of her office.

Wyatt was discovered dead Sunday by a colleague at the Harte Agency, located inside the strip mall at 1923 University Avenue.

She had what appeared to be at least one puncture wound in her neck, but Jones declined to speculate on the exact cause of death until receiving the coroner's report. It's unclear when that report will be completed and released to the public.

Owner of nearby business expresses safety concerns

In the meantime, Yoknapatawpha County investigators have been interviewing people associated with Wyatt and the Harte Agency. But, as of Tuesday, they haven't named any suspects or made any arrests connected with the case.

This is the fifth murder in Yoknapatawpha County since the start of the year, and residents say they're worried about their otherwise peaceful community turning so violent.

"It's frightening," said Tom Banks, who owns Sweet Treats in the strip mall next to the Harte Agency. "You walk around thinking you're safe, and then these murders keep happening."

Banks said he became even more concerned after learning the latest victim was killed next door to his shop.

"I guess no place is safe anymore," Banks said. "Not even here."

Banks described Wyatt as a pleasant woman who always smiled, waved and chatted with him and others in the strip mall. He said she'll be missed.

Victim's neighbors report suspicions

Wyatt's neighbors also expressed sadness, saying she was friendly and helpful.

"She made sure my yard was mowed all last summer when I was recovering from surgery," said Sylvia Phelps, who lives next door to Wyatt's residence.

Phelps had no idea who would kill Wyatt but said she became suspicious of a strange vehicle parked in the victim's driveway several times during the past few weeks.

"It would drive by her house slowly, then back up and drive by again," Phelps said. "Sometimes, the car would just sit there. I only saw the driver once, but it was at night, and I couldn't get a good look."

Doug Wright, who lives two houses down from Wyatt's residence, also remembers the car. He said it was a white sedan but didn't know the make or model.

When asked about the vehicle, Jones declined to say whether detectives knew about it.

"We are following all leads," Jones said. "That's all I can tell you."
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Aug 30, 2021

Oxford Realtor found dead Sunday

Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's detectives are investigating the suspected murder of an Oxford real-estate agent found dead at her office on Sunday.

Annette Wyatt
Annette Wyatt, 37, of 1044 Zilla Avent Road, Oxford, Mississippi, was discovered by a colleague on the floor of the Harte Agency, according to Elizabeth Jones, public information office for the Sheriff's Department.

The Harte Agency is located at 1923 University Avenue.

"We have no suspects at this time but are exploring all leads in this case," Jones said. "This is a top priority now for our investigators."

Jones declined to say how Wyatt had died but confirmed that investigators are treating the death as a homicide. She also said they're still working to determine a motive but that nothing appeared to have been missing from the office.

Several Harte Agency employees contacted by the Oxford Eagle on Sunday said Wyatt was killed by a nail gun.

Jones would neither confirm nor deny that.

"I still can't believe it's real," said Sofia Church, who described having found her colleague on the floor of the office's copy room. "There wasn't even that much blood. I thought she had collapsed from a heart attack or something."

Church said Wyatt had worked at the agency since it had opened and was one of its most productive employees.

"It's going to take us all awhile to come to grips with her death," Church said.

Owner Jeff Harte declined to comment for this story.

Wyatt, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, was active in Oxford's civic and charitable scenes. She was a frequent donor to the city's Art Fund and big a supporter of the local animal shelter, said Debbie Groth, director of the Downtown Oxford Association, which organizes numerous charity events throughout the year.

"I can't think of a better person," Groth said. "We all are deeply saddened. Annette truly will be missed by this community."

Neighbors of Wyatt’s expressed shock over the murder, calling it a senseless tragedy in an otherwise quiet community.

"It's such a sad, sad thing," said Doug Wright, who lives two houses down from Wyatt's residence. "Such a waste."

Wright said Wyatt wasn't married and has no children of which he’s aware.
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Jul 25, 2021

How did the Tyler Ave double murder happen?

Authorities, experts share theories of the crime

When local attorney Robert Pruitt hired an exterminator, he probably never suspected that the company owners, Wayne and Ned Fisher, meant to commit a burglary that would ultimately lead to Pruitt's death.

"You see it all the time," says veteran police observer James Woodrow. "If a crime wasn't committed by a loved one or close business associate, it can probably be laid at the door of someone on the periphery."

Local psychologist James Raymond added, "The people whom we treat as if they are invisible often begin to feel that way. They not only resent the situation but often come to see their invisibility as a secret power, as it were."

Whatever the theories, the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney say they have little doubt as to what transpired on the evening of July 9, 2021.

What do authorities believe happened?

Investigators allege that Ned Fisher, 30, and his father, Wayne Fisher, 57, used their pest control business as a means to scout potential burglary targets.

Believing that Robert and Vanessa Pruitt were away that weekend, the Fishers entered the Pruitts' home with the intention of stealing any items of value.

But the father-and-son burglary team was only half-right.

Vanessa Pruitt had gone out of town, but her husband stayed home — a last-minute decision that would prove fateful and fatal.

According to the sheriff's department, Robert Pruitt was brandishing a gun when he surprised the thieves as they were gathering the entertainment electronics they planned to take.

Ned Fisher, under arrest for the two murders
Ned Fisher, under arrest for the two murders
With Wayne Fisher dead and Ned Fisher exercising his right to remain silent, exactly what happened next is unknown, but it resulted in Pruitt shooting and killing Wayne Fisher.

Ned Fisher then allegedly fatally shot his father's killer before fleeing the scene in the Fisher Pest Control van.

The bodies remained undiscovered until the following afternoon, when Pruitt's wife, Vanessa, returned from an out-of-town trip.

"I'm not sure I'll ever be comfortable allowing strangers into my home again," says Vanessa Pruitt, now widowed for the second time. "There's a basic level of trust that I think I've lost."

Not an isolated crime?

Sources close to the sheriff's department say the father-and-son Fisher team may have been responsible for several unsolved burglaries in Yoknapatawpha County.

According to YCSD Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones, Ned Fisher has only been charged with any crimes directly related to the Pruitt-Fisher homicides. However, Jones would not rule out the possibility that Fisher may face additional charges in the future.

Ned Fisher's attorney, Robert Hawkins, said, "My client's father was a victim of this tragic double killing, and now my client is a victim as well."

Hawkins added that Fisher is not responsible for the homicides or for any other crimes, vowing "if the District Attorney does not see the error of his ways and drop all charges against my client, we will prove Ned Fisher's innocence at trial."
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Jul 22, 2021

Suspect arrested in double homicide

Investigators not yet commenting on the how or why of what happened

A pest control worker was arrested this morning in the shootings of Oxford defense attorney Robert Pruitt, 38, and exterminator Wayne Fisher, 56, in a fatal encounter July 9.

Ned Fisher, 30, was taken into custody at his residence without incident, investigators say.

Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department officials say Ned Fisher is facing murder charges in connection with the deaths of his father, Wayne Fisher, and Robert Pruitt as well as other charges related to the incident.

Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones declined to provide specifics of what investigators believe happened that night or whether anyone else was involved, saying additional information will be released at a later date.

A mystery from the start

On July 10, Robert Pruitt's wife, Vanessa, returned from an out-of-town trip and discovered the two men dead in the basement rec room of the Pruitt home.

Wayne Fisher was not immediately identified at the scene of the crime, and initially investigators struggled to find a connection between the two men.

Several former clients of attorney Pruitt confirmed that they were questioned closely about the killings.

"It was like the Keystone Kops," said Jackie Woodruff, who Pruitt unsuccessfully defended in a 2019 assault case. "You could tell they were fishing for anything and everything. I hated Rob Pruitt, don't get me wrong — but I'm not dumb enough to go back to jail."

Jones declined to comment on whether investigators blundered in their pursuit of leads.

Forensic evidence played a key role in the case, according to Jones, both in identifying Wayne Fisher and in determining that the men were shot with different weapons.

"Science doesn't lie," Jones said. "This was truly a team effort between our investigators in the field, our crime lab and the coroner's team."

The Fisher family reacts

Wayne Fisher's ex-wife, Christine Fisher, of Pontotoc, MS, was distraught and refused to comment on the case. But her son, Oxford resident Joel Fisher, said he hopes the arrest will bring closure to a tragic chapter in the family's history.

At times becoming emotional, Joel Fisher said that he had been estranged from brother Ned and father Wayne Fisher following his parents' acrimonious divorce nearly 20 years ago.

"This is a sad bookend to a painful situation," he said. "I only hope the best for my mom at this point."
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Jul 16, 2021

Why no leads in double murder?

On July 9, local attorney Robert Pruitt, 38, was found dead of a gunshot wound in his home. Also in the Pruitt residence was the body of exterminator Wayne Fisher, 56. Fisher was also killed by a gunshot wound.

Initially, no reason was given for why Fisher was in the Pruitt residence. Now, weeks after the discovery of the two bodies, no arrests have been made and sources close to the investigation claim the police are floundering.

All these bodies, just piling up, is unacceptable in this community. Every couple of months, there's another murder in this town, and our sheriff's department seems unable to stop it. Sure, they eventually solve the case, but that's not slowing down the homicide rate.

I don't see how they're going to solve this one, and I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Oxford City Councilman Keith Palmer

A former member of the YCSD told me, "They're struggling. I've heard they don't have a link between the two victims, much less any suspects. They don't even know why Fisher was in the house."

Just talk to anyone on the Square, and you can uncover a number of possible suspects.

Fisher went through a very acrimonious divorce and was estranged from his ex-wife and elder son. He co-owned Fisher Pest Control with his younger son, Ned, and both men had criminal records.

Sheriff's department officials would not tell me whether the evidence indicates any possible involvement by members of Fisher's family but did say that they had spoken to the ex-wife and children as part of the routine investigation.

My question is: have they talked to them enough? Have they pressed hard enough? How hard is the YCSD really trying to solve this horrific double murder?

And the potential suspects don't stop with people connected to the Fisher family. Attorney Robert Pruitt is also said to have had enemies.

Defense attorneys who knew Pruitt told me, "I don't know about any specific troubles Robert might have been having, but in my own practice, I know people get mad. I've had a few people come to me looking for revenge."

If a mere civilian like me can identify so many potential suspects, why is the sheriff's department having so much trouble?

The Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department continues to refuse to discuss the case in detail.

Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones issued a statement that read "we are going through our normal investigation procedures, and we are confident that we will clear this case. The people of Oxford can rest assured that the killer or killers will be brought to justice."

Unfortunately, many in the community don't share the department's confidence. Even if this particular case is solved, there seems to be no slowing down of the murder rate.

"We consistently have several homicides every year for what seems like the last 20 years or more. In a town this small, that has to mean something," Reverend John Martin of Calvary Baptist Church told me.

Sheriff Taylor Sheldon and Mayor Claire Windham should step forward and publicly answer for their actions — or lack thereof — taken to solve this multiple homicide and to reduce the overall murder rate in Oxford.

They are accountable to the citizens of Oxford and are responsible for guaranteeing our safety, and we have a right to know what is being done on our behalf.

Mayor Windham and Sheriff Sheldon must take immediate, effective steps to resolve these critical problems plaguing our city. If they cannot, they should resign their offices and let Oxonians replace them with someone who can.

Keith Palmer
Oxford City Councilman

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Jul 11, 2021

Local attorney and unknown victim found shot in Taylor Ave home

Investigators search for identity of mystery body

Oxford attorney Robert Pruitt, 38, was found dead of an apparent gunshot wound in his home last night.

Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones said that Pruitt was found by his wife when she returned from out of town.

In addition to Pruitt's body, Jones said an unidentified man was also found dead in the Pruitt home.

"There was another, unidentified individual in the residence, also dead from an apparent gunshot wound," Jones said. "We are attempting to identify of this man and the reason for him being in the Pruitt residence." Jones would not comment on whether the incident is believed to be a double murder or a murder/suicide.

Jones declined to offer any more details about the deaths and requested that anyone who might know anything about this incident to please contact the Sheriff's Department.

Sources with the Sheriff's Department predict that this will be a difficult case for the already overworked department to solve.

"Two bodies, apparently unrelated, with no witnesses will be a tough nut to crack," said one source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Former prosecutor now a successful defense attorney

Law Offices of Pruitt & Rayburn
Robert Pruitt was a 2004 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where he went on to earn his law degree. He passed the bar in 2008 and went to work for the Yoknapatawpha County District Attorney's Office.

He left the DA's office in 2011 to form a private practice with fellow ADA Gary Rayburn.

"We built a business together and helped a lot of folks," said Rayburn. "I can't believe he's gone. This is just a terrible tragedy."

Since turning his attention to criminal defense, Pruitt represented a number of high profile murder defendants in Oxford and most recently took over the defense of accused killer Ed Harbison after Harbison's attorney suffered a debilitating stroke on the eve of trial last fall.

"[Pruitt] was a great attorney and an even better person," said UM law professor Dwight Barlow. "We'll all miss him."

Robert Pruitt is survived by his wife, Vanessa. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
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May 18, 2021

…And they lived happily ever after?

It looks like some good things are rising from the ashes of the recently incinerated 2021 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 1.

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 2021 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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May 17, 2021

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 1, 2021, 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 8 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 10, 2021

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 8, 2021

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 1. 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 1, 2021

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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Apr 30, 2021

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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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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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 1970'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 1996, 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 29, 2021

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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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 from high school by June 30 or aren't older than 24, there's always next year.
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