Nikki LaDue January Deserved Better
Some have responded to the previous post about how high the cover-up of Nikki LaDue January’s July 29, 2002 murder went. I said, basically, to the top. Here’s why. We’ll start at the bottom. In fact, we’ll start with the 911 call Nancy Burge, Nikki’s supposed friend made on orders from Phil January, Nikki’s husband. Here is the transcript from that call made at 9:54 a.m. July 29.
Nancy: Hey, hey hey!
Dispatch: Pass Christian Police…
Nancy: Ahh, ahh, you’ve got to get somebody here. I don’t know what’s going on. Somebody I’m concerned about I’m terrified committed suicide.
First of all, Nikki was shot. Nancy supposedly did not see her body. Everything about the area Nikki was found and the scene itself looked more like a murder had taken place. Why did Nancy jump right to suicide? If you recall, Nancy was on her way to Nikki’s apartment the night before after she got out of work because she hadn’t heard from her. Nikki had been spending the night all week-long with Nancy and together, they were supposed to be driving to Florida later in the day. But Nancy didn’t go to Nikki’s. She turned around and decided to go back home. Why? She thought Nikki would have thought the late night check up would have been foolish. The next day, instead of calling Nikki to say she was on the way over, Nancy just went. She entered the apartment after she said Nikki’s son Zack let her in. She said Zack told her “mommy is sleeping.” It’s not believed Zack ever saw his mother after she was killed. But why he said what he did isn’t known. It’s not known if he actually even said that. Phil arrived a short time later although no one can say how much later. Nancy searched the apartment…every place but the outside balcony. The door was slightly open and she and Nikki often went out there to smoke cigarettes. But Nancy never checked there. Phil said he then searched the apartment and the last place he went was the balcony. Back to the 911 call.
Dispatch: OK. What’s the problem there?
Nancy: I’m not sure. … someone we couldn’t find … the husband was yelling at me to call 911. He said to get an ambulance here, please!
Dispatch: Okay, hang on one second for me…
Nancy: Son … just take him to the car.
Dispatch: Number three, zero, three, number 3-0-3, possible attempt, 64 attempt.
It’s not clear who Nancy was talking to but it’s assumed to be Matt January, Phil’s son who was with him when they arrived. The dispatcher told the officer a “possible 64 attempt.” That’s a suicide attempt. From the start, the police went into this thinking suicide.
Dispatch: What’s going on with the whole …?
Nancy: I don’t know. I don’t know. … uhm, he came in tonight. (the) girl was supposed to move today. He hasn’t been able to get in touch with his wife.
Dispatch: Who’s in the apartment?
Nancy: The husband is right now.
Dispatch: Okay. Who else is supposed to be in there?
Nancy: Ahh … the son was.
Dispatch: The son?
Nancy: We took him out. He’s five years old. We took him out. I don’t know what’s going on. We’ve been very concerned about this girl. And I … we’ve not been able to get in touch with her. I was not able to get in touch with her last night. I’m afraid to go in there. I’m just scared, okay?
Dispatch: He said you … they needed an ambulance?
Nancy: Yes! call 911. We need an ambulance.
Dispatch: They’re on their way, they’re on their way, okay? I just need you to calm down. You haven’t been up inside the apartment?
Nancy: I walked through. I never saw anything. He walked out on the balcony and started screaming.
Dispatch: Is he still inside the apartment right now? Nancy: I see him out on the front of the balcony right now.
Now we know that all this time Phil was on the balcony with Nikki’s body. There was a cordless phone there, he said lying on Nikki’s stomach. It was covered in blood. He said he picked it up to try to call 911 but the phone was dead.
Bonnie LaDue, Nikki’s mother spoke later with coroner Gary Hargrove, the man who classified the death as a suicide. “Before I obtained the crime scene photos I spoke on the phone once with Mr. Hargrove. I questioned him about the position of Nikki’s hands and whether there was blood on her white shirt, trying to verify what Phil had told me about picking the bloody phone up from her abdomen and then laying it on the table. Mr. Hargrove assured me there WAS blood on the shirt and that her hands were folded on her belly.”
As you can see from these pictures, the phone is covered in blood but there is no blood on Nikki’s shirt in the abdomen area. There are also two packs of cigarettes on the table. One is Nikki’s brand Marlboro Medium 100’s. She refused to smoke anything but them. The other is Marlboro Red 100’s. By all accounts, she would not smoke them. There are also 2 lighters and the ashtray is full. Oddly, there aren’t any ashes in a closer look at the ashtray. Related or not…Phil was smoking Marlboro Red 100’s at Nikki’s funeral.
Also note the position of the gun. It’s between her legs with the barrel pointing out. It is beneath her left thigh. Had police known anything from what we now know, would they have still had suicide on their mind? To the right of the ashtray is a black case. Police said it was to the Polaroid camera used to take the picture. First of all, it’s clearly not. Second of all, that would indicate the police altered a crime scene and then documented that. Phil said it was the holster to his gun. Also not true. Several readers have enlarged and examined the case and found it to be an electroshock stun gun case. My theory is Nikki was stunned…likely on her head so there would be no visible marks and then shot. That said, there was also an abrasion on her left cheek discovered by the funeral director
preparing her body. That was not documented by police nor were any photos taken of it.
Detective Thomas Pustay arrived on scene. During this time, he was sexually molesting a minor girl. Wait…what? Yes, during this time period he was abusing a child. A few years later, he was caught and sentenced to 40 years in prison where he is now. He also admitted to Bonnie later he was very depressed during this time as his mother had just passed away. Were his investigative skills compromised? Absolutely. He was not only involved in a crime himself, he was also trying to cover his tracks so he wouldn’t get caught. Nikki never had a chance with him in charge. Two other officers also responded. Bonnie spoke with Officer Willie Davis. “He recalled he’d responded to a missing person call…the husband and friend were frantic because they couldn’t find Nikki, and her little boy was alone in the condo. When he arrived, he looked through the apartment, didn’t find her and then went outside and walked the perimeter of the complex with Nancy and Phil. When they got to the courtyard (pool area) he looked up at the balcony and saw her body there….he was VERY clear that he was the one who found Nikki. He then called in the lead investigator, Tom Pustay. He could not explain the discrepancies between how he remembered things and what was in his written report (which I supplied to him during our face to face conversation). He seemed to be puzzled and stated that he had never read his report after it was typed up by office personnel. He was adamant that once Pustay arrived at the scene things were not handled as he (Davis) would have handled them had it been HIS case to solve … ie Zack would have been questioned, the apartment would have been cordoned off and a CSI team called for, etc. He had no explanation for Pustay’s failure to follow procedure. However, he defended the suicide finding and it was obvious he was attempting to convince me.”
The other officer was Zenas Cappie. He told me, “What I can remember was getting the call. I believe it was a welfare I’m not too sure. 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. From 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.”
So Officer Cappie’s story is Zack was asleep although Nancy said he let her in the apartment. He also said there was a bottle of alcohol on the table. Not in the picture there isn’t. Officer Davis’ recollection is even more bizarre and far from what Cappie and Pustay have said.
I’m not suggesting a cover-up here. I am highly suggesting sloppy police work and a total lack of any investigation. There are no pictures of the bullet which was supposedly recovered on the balcony next to the January’s. There are no photos of the wall (or door depending on which Pustay report you want to read) where the bullet bounced.
As for Hargrove, he told Bonnie, “He was sure Phil was a liar and that Phil had misled him about the severity of the alleged phone fight that night Nikki died. On that basis he concluded that whatever Phil had said to Nikki had caused her to go looking for the gun and then use it on herself. Therefore, no autopsy or investigation was necessary.”
So he based his lack of investigation on the words of someone he felt was lying to him.
Then there’s the gun itself. Everyone who knew Nikki knew she despised guns. Even Phil told me that. Phil was packing his gun for his trip to start his new job. That in itself is a little strange to me, but that’s me. He said she stopped him and asked him to leave the gun in the apartment. She never fired a gun, she hated them yet all of a sudden she wants him to leave the gun. Phil said he asked her why and she said, “Just because.” He said he didn’t question her further about it. I don’t believe that at all. A reasonable person would want to know exactly why she wanted the gun…especially since she was staying at Nancy’s all week.
Less than a year after her death, Bonnie and her husband Terry, Nikki’s dad, went to Pass Christian and spoke to Chief of Police John Dubuisson. They had tried to get some documents regarding Nikki’s case from Pustay but he refused because he said it was still an open investigation. But when the LaDue’s met with the chief, he had a different story. “Dubuisson was there when we arrived but Pustay was not. Dubuisson took us to his office and very coldly questioned why we were there. He indicated his familiarity with our daughter’s case…Terry asked him point-blank if it was an open or closed case, and if it was active, we wanted to know what was being done. Dubuisson unequivocally stated it was a closed suicide from the day of Nikki’s death and had never been anything else.”
Frustrated, Nikki’s parents determined quickly something was definitely wrong here and come hell or high water, they were going to get to the bottom of it even if it meant coming to the conclusion that Nikki had killed herself. But nothing pointed in that direction at all. Bonnie contacted Harrison County District Attorney Investigator Robert Johnson. “I mailed the comprehensive file to Mr. Johnson with high hopes. Three weeks later he called me one evening to tell me he had discussed the case with Coroner Hargrove and together they had decided the original ruling would stand. Nikki committed suicide based on the fact there were no defensive wounds. I began to ask him questions which to this day remain unanswered. The best he could do is tell me life is full of mystery and certain things cannot be known, therefore, I should accept that my daughter shot herself and concentrate on getting on with my life.”
OK, so the DA’s office asks the person who ruled Nikki’s death a suicide if it was a suicide? Hargrove is already known to be one not to be challenged. In fact Phil tried it once before and was told “don’t tell me how to do my fucking job.” So did Johnson really expect to get anything more out of Hargrove? Keep in mind, Hargrove later was involved in a corruption scandal where jail inmates were murdered and he covered up their cause of death. Doesn’t this scream for an investigation so far? Bonnie couldn’t believe this response and wrote Johnson a letter. Here are her words and questions.
Investigator Robert B. Johnson
Office of the District Attorney
Harrison County Courthouse
1801 23rd Avenue, Second Floor
Gulfport, Mississippi 39501
September 30, 2006
Re: Nichole LaDue January
Dear Mr. Johnson,
I am at a cross roads – since our conversation the other night I am more convinced than ever the powers-that-be in the state of Mississippi have unknown (to me) motives which have dictated (to them) an unwillingness to tell the real truth. You have become just one more on the list of people who have condescended to me, fed me meaningless rhetoric and been unable to answer key questions concerning the events leading up to and including July 29, 2002. Maybe, like the rest, you even lied to me.
It is a mystery why you agreed to look at Nikki’s file because I am convinced I should have saved my efforts to make it clear and readable for you. DID you read it? I’m not sure what your definition of ‘investigation’ is but assuming it somewhat parallels my own, we both know that whatever you did cannot be called an investigation. Did you contact and interview even one of the individuals who last saw my daughter or any of the folks who were at the scene that day? Did you locate the husband, his son, or Nikki’s so-called best friend who called 911 to report a suicide, even though she had not spoken to or seen Nikki for more than 24 hours and did not find or see her body prior to the phone call? Even if you are not in the least suspicious about a young mother shot in the head with her son in the condo, you cannot possibly believe that no one present had any valuable input.
Having spoken to several of these people myself, including the babysitter who last saw Nikki at 11:30 p.m. on the 28th, the friend with whom she spent the day prior to her death, the other friend in whom she confided her plans, her co-workers, several of the residents of the condos where she lived and died, the man and his wife who cleaned the balcony and many others, it is glaringly apparent that some things just don’t add up. How can these, along with my already stated questions about the gun, the lack of blood on the wall, the phone, the path of the bullet, the location of the shell casing, etc. be boiled down to “there were no defensive wounds” thus making it a positive suicide?
Did you do a scene re-creation based on the photographs and police narrative? Did you study the many discrepancies in the phone records and question why so many lies were told? Did you subpoena the actual records on Phil’s, Nancy’s or Nikki’s phones? Can you or anyone else honestly assume that none of these factors had any bearing on the death of my daughter? I am quite appalled that the single person you spoke to about this case is one of the very people who discounted the tragedy of Nikki’s death that day. He ordered the hearse to be called for less than two hours after the police were notified and along with said police agreed that not even a rudimentary investigation was necessary for this drug addicted trash. How absurd to think Mr. Hargrove would not defend his inaction or admit to you that maybe justice had not been served. Just from the standpoint of human curiosity, don’t you wonder why HE had no questions?
I’m sure it was with dismay the police department and Coroner Hargrove discovered early on that Nikki was NOT alone in this world but in fact was connected to many people who knew her, loved her and were unwilling to accept the travesty of her violent death, especially with so many questions going unanswered and even unaddressed. For some reason, evidenced by the callous and speedy manner in which this whole thing was wrapped up that morning, no one ever expected Nikki’s family or friends to demand the truth. I will ask you as I have several others – would the cold and dispassionate manner in which her death was relegated to the “closed suicide” files been good enough for your own daughter?
I wish I could say I understand why every individual who has had direct contact with either Coroner Hargrove or the Pass Christian police department and who would be in a position to get to the bottom of this mystery winds up bailing like a rat from a sinking ship. By contrast, other people in New York and Florida, members of the law enforcement community, (most of whom do not know me any more than the people in Mississippi, thus having no motivation to mislead or pacify me), upon reviewing Nikki’s file have unanimously stated I have valid cause to question the finding of suicide, particularly with no investigation. This observation cannot be patently ignored as insignificant.
Other points of interest are the creative reasons I have been given as a basis to assure me Nikki without a doubt put a gun to her head:
Phil – she was addicted to cocaine
Nancy – it was a feeling she had
Det. Pustay – trace metal test showed she held the gun
Coroner Hargrove – Phil lied about what he said to her over the phone, thus making him guilty of “pushing Nikki over the edge”
Invest. Johnson – there were no defensive wounds
You see the pattern here – the pattern is, there IS no pattern. Why are none of you convinced based on the same thing? and above all, why can NONE of you answer the rest of the questions? Am I to blindly accept as gospel the ‘truth’ according to everyone who appears to have ulterior motives for avoiding how and why Nikki really died? Must I be required to rely on assumptions, rather than hard cold facts because no one can be bothered to do a proper investigation?
And so I come to my dilemma – do I let you off the hook with this letter, satisfying my own need to unload on merely the latest in a string of hoped for, but unrealized heroes? Or do I challenge you to step outside the box as a man of integrity to stand head and shoulders above the rest in the interest of truth and justice? It is unfortunate that I do not know you because I cannot even guess what might be at stake for you or what risk-taking might mean to you, your family or your career.
Please do not respond if you intend to maintain your current stance. I apologize for making you my scapegoat because in fact my indignation is directed at the entire system of which you are only a part, and I do understand you could easily have valid reason to want nothing to do with this case.
Bonnie also sent a copy of this letter to FBI Agent A.R. McCall. “I spoke to Mr. McCall twice in the summer of 2006. While being sympathetic he informed me the most he could do is request that the District Attorney’s office take a look at the case file. He got me in touch with an investigator who he believed would do his best. Mr. McCall, to my knowledge, has never seen Nikki’s file and is only familiar with the case through me.” But there it ended. Despite several attempts, McCall refused to take Bonnie’s calls. “When after a time I still hadn’t heard from him I called one last time to find out if he had ever read the letter…the same girl told me she assumed so because she had taken it to his office. He was never “in” when I called, so aside from the couple of times we spoke prior to the “investigation” by Robert Johnson of the DA’s office, I was never able to talk to him again. This was a low moment for me because up to that time I had wished for the FBI to get involved and had high hopes they would eventually hear my cries for help. Mr. McCall had seemed sympathetic and had indicated he would prod the DA’s office to do something. I felt that when he found out how they had completely blown me off, he would be as incensed as I was and form a plan B…of course, he did not.”
Please tell me you’re still with me. I know this is long but it’s nothing compared to the diligence Nikki’s family has had over the past 10 years. One run around after another. They tried contacting Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. To this day, they have received no response.
So, could it be simply a case of the “good ole boy” network protecting each other? Are people in power…people who are charged to protect their citizens and serve the public that cold-hearted and un-caring? Are they that incompetent or are they simply corrupt? Questions to ponder.
Still to come…if you are indeed still with me…Others offer to help and then are silenced…
Posted on January 25, 2012, in Cold Cases, Crime, Mississippi, Murder, Nikki LaDue January and tagged Bonnie LaDue, Cold Cases, Gary Hargrove, Mississippi, Murder, Nancy Burge, Nikki LaDue January, Pass Christian, Phil January, Thomas Pustay. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.