Bonnie LaDue Remembers the Months Leading to Nikki’s Death
“There are so many twists and turns to this story. There are so many players, so many side stories going on that the farther you get into it, the more confusing it is.” That’s the frustration Bonnie LaDue has lived with since July 29, 2002 when she learned her 30-year-old daughter Nikki LaDue January was dead. What you will read in these interviews will be just that. The interviews–unfiltered. Their words without any of my opinions stuck in there. Mine doesn’t matter. Theirs do. If you haven’t read Nikki’s early life story, please do. You need to know who she was to understand what you are about to read. Now back to Bonnie.Nikki graduated high school in 1990 and spent a brief time in Buffalo attending college. That didn’t work out but she stayed in the area for about a year working and supporting herself. She moved to Orlean, New York where she met neighbor Mike Williams. “The next thing we know, they had made plans through contacts Mike had, to go on an adventure and head down to Mississippi where the casino industry was taking root. This was 1992. After 6 weeks of training, they opened with the Grand Casino in Gulfport. Two years later they married and aside from a period of time between 1997-98 when they moved briefly to Florida to live for 8 months, they worked in the casino until Nikki’s death. In 1997 their son Zack was born and Nikki had a change of heart. She had lived the casino lifestyle all this time, but when Zack was born, she just knew it was not a good place to be to raise a child. Zack was 7 months old when they decided to move to Florida to find other jobs. She thought it would be cool to be down where her sisters were and where we were so they came. They were going to stay with us for a couple of weeks. Things didn’t turn out exactly the way the wanted and ended up staying with us for 4 months. They did eventually find their own place and got jobs together in a non casino environment. The problem was South Florida is a very transient area. They had their years in Mississippi. They had their group of friends and they missed them. It wasn’t easy to make friends for them in Florida. So after 8 months, they decided to move back. But during the time they were in Florida, Nikki told me several times she didn’t think their marriage was going to work. Having a child changed Nikki, but so far, it hadn’t changed Mike. They moved back to southern Mississippi and by the fall of 1999, they had split up. She dated for a while and then she met Phil January.”
Was the split with Mike amicable? “Not really. He didn’t want the divorce. They had some rough moments but the two of them, in some ways had a similar personality. And the way I understand it, even though they had some really rough times and Mike didn’t want to split, the real problem was about child support. It wound up getting a little ugly. The divorce was final in early 2000 and she went back to court and Mike’s wages were garnished. He always held that against her. However, the way I understand it, they would see each other in social situations and people told me that they were friendly. They joked around and carried on like one big group of friends. There was no indication that there was any bad blood between them. Mike had his issues but he was very likable too. He just lacked responsibility. And that upset Nikki because she adored her son Zack. She would give Zack to Mike 2 days a week but Nikki heard through friends that Zack would be placed in front of a TV or video games and be left to his own devices. So they had their moments…Nikki being who she was and Mike being who he was. But then Phil came into the picture and things deteriorated between Nikki and Mike. Everything deteriorated after Phil came into the picture. Every friend who I talked to said basically the same things. That once Phil was in her life, he effectively isolated her, or set out to isolate her. He was pretty successful actually. She had a lot of friends but she wasn’t allowed to socialize with them anymore. Phil had to have sole ownership. That’s they way he was, although I never knew it. She never let on to me that anything wrong was going on.”
In hindsight, Bonnie thinks she saw some clues. “She started seeing him at the very end of 1999. By the time New Year’s was over, it was a speeding train. She didn’t even tell us about him for a little while because I think she was wary of the age difference. Phil was 16 years older than Nikki and I don’t think she knew how to break that too us. She eventually told us and we went to Mississippi in July 2000 to see them and to meet him. He made a good impression on us. At that time they were already talking marriage. When we went there they asked what we thought about them coming to Fort Lauderdale to get married, have a simple civil ceremony, leave Zack with you while we have a little honeymoon. I was good with that but I was a little surprised because I thought Nikki was jumping into this really quickly and I didn’t know why. At any rate, it was all good. They came to Fort Lauderdale in August 2000 to get married. The day they got there, they told us they had bad news. Phil had been fired from his job at the Grand Casino the day before. He had been working security there. When the story came out, it was he had assaulted a drunken woman who spit in his face when he was trying to control her. It was all caught on video and when it all went down, he was asked to leave. That was the beginning of their marriage. They were married the next day at City Hall. The only thing I can say, looking back on it, is I knew Nikki pretty well. We were really tight. I felt that on the day she was getting married there was something just a little bit off with her. She was a great actress and she was always able to make people think that all was right with the world. But that day I thought there was this slight something that you can’t even put into words, but it was something slightly wrong, that I felt she wasn’t really doing something that she wanted to do. It worried me but I didn’t question her about it. It was a busy day and it passed. It was a momentary thing. But after her death, I remembered it and I look back on it, and then I learned all these things that I didn’t know that she had been going through. So I surmised that on her wedding day she knew…she knew she was jumping from the pan into the fire” Did Nikki fear Phil? “There was no indication then she feared him. The next time I saw her, which was the last time I saw her, there was a definite difference. It was Thanksgiving, 2001 and they came to Fort Lauderdale to spend the holiday with us which was really out of the ordinary because casino workers never get holidays off. But Nikki was able to get it off and it was the first holiday we were able to spend with her in years. But things were different.”
In an earlier post, I wrote that Bonnie said Nikki looked horrible. She wrote later to clarify that statement. We’ll get to the pain pills shortly. “Please allow me to clarify my personal observations the last time I saw Nikki, Thanksgiving 2001, and what I meant when I said she looked ‘horrible’…not that she wasn’t beautiful and well-groomed as always, she was. But she seemed so stressed and carrying some inner burden that was stealing her joy and exuberance…as well, she had lost at least ten pounds. At the time I was concerned but not overly…and I don’t recall much opportunity to speak with her privately since the whole family was home for the holiday and there just wasn’t time to interact one on one with any of them. After speaking to many of Nikki’s friends and colleagues after her death I reflected back to that Thanksgiving week, her weight loss, the crack in her armor, and the disappearance of my pain pills. I slowly began to understand the enormous effort Nikki had put forth to prevent her family from knowing the truth about her life with Phil. I believe now she was supremely unhappy and it took all she had to put up a brave front and keep that smile firmly in place…but it had dimmed slightly and I sensed something was off.”
“Zack was another thing. Zack was a very spoiled little boy. He was very doted on. Nikki was not the great disciplinarian by any stretch of the imagination. He was prone to fits of temper, but when I saw him at Thanksgiving, he was 4-years-old and he acted as though he had just got out of boot camp. It was striking. But because nobody knew what was going on with them, no one was putting anything together. We were even talking about it saying, ‘Wow, Zack is such a good boy!’ And it was actually a friend of mine who came to dinner that day that mentioned it to me later. She asked what happened to Zack. I asked her what did she mean. She said there’s something not right there with a 4-year-old little boy. Again, I asked what did she mean. She said he was standing out in the garage just standing there. She went out and asked him what he was doing. He said ‘nothing.’ she asked if he was sad and he said, ‘I don’t know.’ So everyone was oblivious to what was going on.”
Nikki and her sister Meredith cooked up a Thanksgiving surprise for Bonnie and her dad Terry that year. “Nikki, Phil and Zack weren’t supposed to arrive until Wednesday. But the girls planned to surprise us by having Nikki come a day early and surprising us at the door. It all went down as planned. And Nikki being her exuberant self, I opened the door and she does her little squeal and scream and throws herself into my arms. Well, she threw me off-balance and we both landed on the arm of an over stuffed chair and she landed on top of me and busted my ribs. I ended up in the emergency room of the hospital that night because I needed pain pills. It was that bad. The Friday after Thanksgiving, I was at work and I got a call from Nikki. She said she had a bad toothache and asked to take on of my pain pills. I told her yes and told her where they were. She asked me for another later in the day and I said yes, just leave me enough, I haven’t taken any yet. Well, they left on Saturday and when I went to find my pain pills they were gone. Bottle and all. And I knew. I knew it was her. It was Sunday or Monday after they left and were back in Mississippi when I called her and said, ‘Nik, what the hell are you doing? Why did you take my pills?’ She said, ‘Mom, I didn’t take your pills.’ She continued to deny it so I let it go.”
In April 2002, 2 months before Nikki would die, Bonnie received what she calls the phone call from hell.
“She was hysterical. Absolutely hysterical. Her father actually answered the phone. I was out shopping with my youngest daughter Amanda and he immediately called me and said you have to get home and call Nikki. I got home and called her. She was completely out of control. I asked what was going on and she said, ‘Mom, I’m a drug addict.’ And Phil is in the background screaming obscenities at her calling her every filthy name in the book accusing her of being a whore and worse. I heard it all. I can’t even really re-live that day. The way it was told to me by Phil after her death, and I honestly don’t think it was told to me straight, but I was told she had been out partying the night before after work Saturday night into Sunday. He said he had calmly called her when she didn’t come home after work wanting to know where she was and found out she was at a club. He said she needed to come home. And she didn’t go home. So it was about 6:00 a.m. when he decided to leave Zack alone in the apartment and go down and get her from the club. Now I’ve talked to people who witnessed what went down, so it’s third hand from me, but according to her friends, they said it was ugly, that everyone that was with her was scared for her and her good friend Nancy Burge was so concerned for her that she followed Nikki and Phil home in Nikki’s car back to the condo to make sure Nikki was alright because Phil, they said, was making a scene. Apparently it escalated after they got home. He made her admit to him that she was a cocaine addict and this, that and the other thing. It was a manipulation tactic to make her call home. Because number 1, we’re 800 miles away. He was just humiliating her. Nikki is a very private girl and I know that if anything happened that day where she was convinced she needed help, she would never want her parents to know. So I know that phone call was forced. I know he forced her to do it. After she finished, I asked to talk to Phil and I told him I want you to get her into rehab. Up until I said that, he was so self-righteous. He wanted me to turn against her. And I felt at the time he was twisting my mind and trying to make me think the same thing he was thinking–that she was no good. And I said I want you to get her into rehab and her dad and I will pay for it. At that point, he said we don’t need anything like that. We can handle our own problems. I realized afterward that it was never really about Nikki being a drug addict. It was about manipulation.”
Was Nikki a drug addict? “I think she was. In the last 2 years I think she was hooked on pain pills. The cocaine part, not at all. There are lots of people who told me that she had partied with them and that she dabbled in it but it wasn’t an addiction. The pain pills were another story. They helped her get through her life I think. She was never hooked on it before Phil. I know that. But that lifestyle…that’s what they (the casino workers) did. I think from talking to other people and my own experience from when she took my pain pills I feel it was a true addiction because she was having trouble maintaining an equilibrium with her life. And I learned much later what she had been going through.”
There’s much more from Bonnie to come but I want to break right here. Up next, you’ll hear from Phil January. His perspective and his views on what happened leading up to Nikki’s death takes a dramatic split from Bonnie’s.
Posted on November 20, 2011, in Cold Cases, Crime, Murder, Nikki LaDue January and tagged Bonnie LaDue, Cold Cases, Grand Casino, ladue, Mississippi, Murder, Nikki LaDue January, Pass Christian, Phil January, Suicide. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.