The Investigation Into Nikki LaDue January’s Death-Botched From the Beginning
“In retrospect, I wish I had been more diligent at looking at the crime scene.” After walking onto the couple’s balcony, Phil January found his wife Nikki LaDue January slumped in a chair with a gunshot wound to her right temple. He said the shock of the scene prevented him from taking in everything. However there were some things he did remember. “I do remember there were two different kinds of cigarettes on the table. I do remember seeing the holster on the table. But one thing I do not remember is the gun being in the position of the crime scene photos. I remember the gun being on the side of her trapped against the right side of the stool she was sitting on. That’s what I remember. I’m not saying I’m right but that’s what I remember. Her knee was still up (being held up by the table) and you have to know that Nikki sat with her feet up in the chair all the time so both knees would have been up. When I questioned Coroner Gary Hargrove about how her body ended up in that position, he said that maybe she had both her knees up and as things transpired, the one leg fell and the other was trapped by the table.”
Asked if he bought that explanation Phil said, “I don’t know. There were so many inconsistencies. I know Nikki so well. She would have never had a second pack of cigarettes out there. She was very particular about her cigarettes. She would have had the Marlboro Mediums. If she couldn’t get those at the store, she would get Marlboro Medium 100’s but she really didn’t like them. There would have been no reason for the Marlboro Regular to have been out there.”
I asked if one of the packs was empty. “I don’t know. I didn’t touch them. The only thing I touched was the phone. And I had to be the one to tell them after I saw the police report that I was the one who picked up the phone and put it on the table (after trying to dial 911. The phone was dead). That’s the only thing that I touched.”
Lead investigator Thomas Pustay was one of the first detectives on the scene. His written report shows no mention of ever talking to Phil, the person who found Nikki. “I do not remember ever talking to that man,” Phil said. In his report, Pustay writes, “There is a cordless phone on the table that is covered with blood. It us unknown how it got there or how the blood got on it.”
It appears Pustay looked no further than that nor did he ask anyone how the phone got there. So, we’ve got a dead woman just 30-years-old supposedly shot in the head by herself with her 5-year-old son, who she adored in the next room. And what about her son Zack? Phil said when he got there, Zack was playing video games in his room. Nancy Burge, Nikki’s friend who was the first to go to the condo that day said Zack was in his room and she asked him where his mother was. But one of the police officers who arrived on the scene remembers it differently.
“I remember the son was there still asleep. When I saw the body, she had her legs propped up, alcohol on the patio table. And it looked as if she had been crying. Investigator took over and we went door to door. The people I spoke to stated that they heard no arguing but did hear the gun shot. But the people I spoke to said it sounded like a fire cracker. Which made sense because it was a small-caliber pistol.”
Zack was asleep? And there was alcohol on the table? No alcohol was on the table when the crime scene pictures were taken.
The officer continued, “I’m not gonna lie to you. I think there was a note but I didn’t see it. And the investigator that worked it was no spring chicken, and didn’t like to work.”
Another officer on the scene, Willie Davis, wrote the police report. In it he said, “Upon arrival, was met by Burge in the parking lot. She was pointing upstairs yelling hurry up, something is wrong. Phillip January is yelling for a mobile medic. Reporting officer looked up at the condo and could see a white male on the third floor and he was calling to the reporting officer to come upstairs. Reporting officer got to the balcony and observed a white female slumped backward in a chair with her right knee propped on the table and her left leg extended to the floor. A pistol was lying between her leg…Reporting officer asked Burge if she knew of any problems the January’s were having and she stated no. Reporting officer asked Burge if Nichole had any problems and she stated that Nichole had a cocaine problem…Reporting officer asked Phillip of any problems he and his wife may have had as to why she wanted to kill herself. Phillip stated that his wife Nichole had a cocaine problem and was addicted to pain pills but that he was trying to help her with her drug problem.”
In his report, he indicated he spoke with Angelia Hursell, the woman who babysat Zack the night before.
“When I got to the condo,” Angelia told me, “There were only two people there. Phil and one police officer. It was about 10:30 in the morning I guess. When I pulled up I remember seeing the U-Haul truck there and a police officer parked behind the truck. I walked over to the police officer and Phil came out from behind the U-Haul. I looked at Phil and gave my condolences and said, ‘I’m sorry Phil. I saw her last night and she was fine. Are you ok?’ He didn’t say anything. He was just standing there. I don’t know if it was because of shock. He was just quiet. I don’t even know if at that time, Phil knew who I was. I didn’t really know him that well. There was some blood on his face and on his shirt. My first thought was that maybe he held her. He saw that she was dead and maybe held on to her. That was my first thought. The blood on his face was more like splattered blood. The blood on his shirt was smeared. But I don’t know for sure how it got there. I told the police officer that I had just seen her last night and am probably one of the last people to see her alive. I asked if he wanted my information in case they wanted to talk to me later. He said ‘Well I don’t know that we’ll need that but I’ll go ahead and get that information from you if you want.’ That was the response I got. I thought, well this is odd. He didn’t really care. I was the one who had to offer it to him. What I did tell him was that she picked Zack up and was a little late. She was very apologetic to me even though I didn’t mind.”
Officer Davis wrote, “Angelia stated she babysat Zachary last night for Nichole and everything seemed fine except that she was very energetic.” Mixing up the words energetic for apologetic may not seem like a big deal except for the fact that later on, Detective Pustay said one of the reasons he felt drugs were one of the reason Nikki took her life was that word ‘energetic’. He took that to mean she was high on something.
Coroner Gary Hargrove was one of the people who was on the scene and he’s the only one Phil remembers talking to. “He came down and asked me if there was anything going on in Nikki’s life. I said we were getting ready to move. I said that she did come forward about three months ago and said she had a drug problem. I never said she had a cocaine problem because in everything that I knew from our discussions, Nikki didn’t have a cocaine problem. She may have done it occasionally but her addiction was to pain pills.”
“The police and coroner were only upstairs for a couple of hours. They had told me to stay downstairs. During that time I called my mother, a friend of mine, I called the Grand and let them know that Mike Williams (Zack’s father) needed to come to the condo. I didn’t tell them why. Mike came and got Zack and left. Later Hargrove came back down to me and said they found a suicide note on the computer. I didn’t want to see it. I told my son Matt to wipe everything off the computer.”
Phil also called Nikki’s parents. “Phil called our business and for whatever reason, neither I nor my husband Terry were there that day,” Bonnie LaDue, Nikki’s mom said. “We did have an employee there and Phil got her twice. He eventually called the house and Terry was home. And Phil just said, ‘Nikki’s dead.’ And Terry said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And Phil said, ‘Yeah, she committed suicide.’ I don’t know what else was said. I don’t know if anything else was said. Terry was so in shock. I got home a half an hour after that. Because of that phone call in April when she said she was an addict, our assumption was that she had OD’d. And Phil allowed my husband to think that. He never told him any details just that she committed suicide. It was hours before we found out what had happened. After Terry told me, I tried to call Phil. I couldn’t get him to answer the phone. I called every number that I had for him, cells, landlines, work numbers…everything. Finally, I was so upset that I called my sister-in-law in New York state and had her try. I thought Phil was avoiding my calls because it was me. She called and he answered right away. Then he called me. It was 2:30-3:00 in the afternoon before we knew a gun was involved. The first thing I said to him was, ‘My God, what did she take?’ He goes, ‘What are you talking about, what did she take?’ I said that Terry told me that you told him Nikki OD’d. He goes, “She didn’t OD. She shot herself.’
It took Bonnie a week to realize this was not a suicide. Her mission had begun.
Coming up…Nancy Burge, what does she know?
Posted on November 25, 2011, in Cold Cases, Crime, Murder, Nikki LaDue January and tagged Angelia Hursell, Bonnie LaDue, Cold Cases, Gary Hargrove, Grand Casino, keystone kop, ladue, Mississippi, Murder, Nikki LaDue January, Pass Christian, Phil January, Suicide, Thomas Pustay. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.