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By SHEILA JOHNSON
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Sheila Johnson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn mid-September 2004, emergency agencies in the cities, towns, and communities along Alabama's Gulf Coast were hurrying to prepare for a direct hit by Hurricane Ivan, a dangerous storm that had already left more than sixty people dead across the Caribbean. Cutting a trail of destruction through Jamaica and Grenada, Ivan had bypassed Cuba as it barreled its way toward the port of Mobile, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle. Ivan was being billed by the National Hurricane Center's weather forecasters as the worst hurricane to threaten the Mobile area since Hurricane Frederic in September 1979. The potential for extreme damage was quite high, and was being predicted throughout the region. Residents of the Gulf Coast were fearful; since Ivan's path on its way through the Gulf was changing and looking unpredictable, and there was no clear indication of the storm's eventual path, evacuations had been ordered everywhere between Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle. The eye of the storm was expected to come ashore somewhere near Mobile in the early hours of Wednesday, September 15, 2004, as a Category 4 hurricane packing sustained winds of 135 miles per hour, accompanied by storm surges of ten to sixteen feet. Residents of the endangered coast rushed frantically to boardup houses, secure boats and mobile homes. They quickly gathered up their prized possessions, family photos, and important paperwork, and headed inland away from the most endangered coastal communities. Shelters had been set up in local high schools, other secure locations were packed with evacuees, and Alabama's governor declared a curfew for the city of Mobile. Those few citizens who chose to ignore the curfew were warned to stay inside their homes and off the streets.
As threatening storm clouds gathered that Wednesday, Lisa Marie Nichols, her daughter Amber, and Amber's fiancé, Todd McKerchie, decided to ride out the fast-approaching hurricane in a sturdy motel on the western side of Mobile. Lisa lived by herself in a mobile home in the community of Turnerville, north of Mobile, and she felt safer in the motel with her daughter and Todd than if she had been staying alone in her home and risking Ivan's high winds.
Most of Lisa's neighbors had also evacuated their homes and could only hope that their dwellings and property would be spared serious storm damage; they knew without a doubt that they would lose their electrical service and they were sure that when they came home, their yards would be littered with fallen tree limbs and other debris. Mark and Kim Bentley, who lived next door to Lisa's home on Ann Parden Road in Turnerville, were planning to wait out the hurricane in Chickasaw, Alabama, a town north of Mobile, and Mark's cousin "Scooter" Coleman had decided to brave the storm and stay at the Bentleys' house, keeping an eye on things while they were gone.
Mark and Kim Bentley were preparing to leave, just ahead of the storm, when an unexpected visitor showed up on their doorstep. John Paul Chapman, a young man whom everyone called "Oklahoma," had worked for Mark in his construction business a few years earlier before moving to Georgia. Chapman had come down to Mobile from the Atlanta area in the hope of finding employment there after the storm. There would be much damage to be repaired, he knew, and there might be work for him in Mobile and along the Gulf Coast for weeks or even months to come. Mark and Kim left Chapman at their house to stay with Scooter, and the couple made the drive up to Chickasaw before Ivan was set to strike Mobile.
At the last minute, the storm veered slightly to the east before it made landfall in Gulf Shores, Alabama, sparing the Mobile area the worst of its fury. The Florida Panhandle, to the east of Gulf Shores, suffered the brunt of the damage, with hundreds of homes destroyed, buildings in downtown Pensacola collapsed, and extensive flooding throughout the city. But even though Mobile, and the other areas farther inland from the city, had been spared, the Turnerville community and others to the north/northwest of Mobile Bay still received some measure of damage from the high winds and heavy rain brought by Ivan. As expected, electrical service failed in much of the Mobile area and around five hundred thousand homes were left in the dark.
The hurricane soon moved out, blowing through the area as quickly as it had arrived, and Lisa, Todd, and Amber returned to Lisa's trailer the following morning, around nine-thirty, to look things over and check for damage. They found that the yard was covered with downed tree limbs and branches, as they had expected it would be, but there were also some signs that someone might have broken into the mobile home the night before, during the height of the storm. Lisa decided to go back with Todd and Amber to Amber's house for another night, since the power was out, and in the meantime, her neighbors, the Bentleys, returned home to survey the damage to their property.
Lisa Nichols left for her job at Bruno's supermarket before 6:00 A.M. on Friday, clocked out of work at 2:55 P.M., and stopped to check in with Amber on the way home. Later, while she unloaded food and supplies from her truck, Lisa talked to Amber again on her cell phone. Then Lisa called a neighbor and they compared notes about the storm damage that had been done to other homes in their community.
Sometime between seven and eight o'clock that evening, another neighbor of Lisa's heard a noise that she thought sounded like an explosion somewhere nearby in the area. A short time later, Mark Bentley returned home from a trip he had made to a nearby town to buy hamburgers, and as he walked into the house, he found John Paul Chapman just stepping out of the shower. With the electricity restored to the Bentley trailer, Chapman, Mark, and Scooter ate the hamburgers while they watched a hunting video; then Mark went to bed around 8:30 or 9:00 P.M. Around an hour later, Mark heard Chapman fumbling around outside with some gasoline cans, and told him to come back inside; it was too late at night to go riding on four-wheelers, Mark told him, assuming that was what Chapman was planning to do. Around twenty minutes later, Mark got up to check on Chapman and found him lying on the living-room couch.
The next day, Amber and her sister, Jennifer Murphy, tried several times to contact Lisa Nichols by phone, but were unable to reach her. This was highly unusual, since Lisa always answered the girls' phone calls promptly. As it began to grow later in the day, with no word from Lisa, the girls became very worried for their mother's safety. It wasn't like her not to answer the phone at all, especially for an entire day. Jennifer, Amber, and Todd decided to make the forty-five-minute drive from their homes to Turnerville that Saturday night, to find out what was the matter and why Lisa wasn't picking up the phone.
When they arrived in the neighborhood that evening, Todd McKerchie and the two girls got the flashlights they had brought along and walked up the driveway to the back door of Lisa's still-darkened house. The door was open, which was highly unusual; because she lived by herself, Lisa was always very careful to keep the door locked. They went inside, alarmed and fearful, calling their mother's name, and immediately noticed that the trailer smelled strongly of smoke.
Moments later, next door at the Bentleys' home, Scooter Coleman heard Lisa's daughters frantically screaming for help. Like all the other neighbors who heard the commotion, he rushed outside to see what had happened. Scooter found everyone else in the neighborhood running to the aid of McKerchie and the two hysterical girls, but later that evening, he realized there was one person who didn't come outside at all, and never even showed any interest in whatever was going on at the home next door. Despite all the screaming and frantic cries for help, which came from the trailer only one hundred yards away from where he sat watching television, Oklahoma never even looked outside to see what had happened next door.
There was no need; he already knew very well why Lisa Nichols's daughters were screaming for help. And a few days later, when Chapman was arrested for breaking in on Lisa, raping her, shooting her, then setting her body on fire in the bathroom of her trailer, Scooter Coleman and the Bentleys understood why Chapman had sat indoors, unconcerned, while the rest of the neighborhood ran to help Lisa's family. Chapman's dismayed hosts also learned that the man they had known for several years as John Paul "Oklahoma" Chapman was actually a fugitive named Jeremy Bryan Jones, who would soon be christened by the national media as "the next big serial killer."
Chapter TwoIn January 1990, a Miami, Oklahoma, woman went to pick up her young son from school one afternoon, as she did every day. When she arrived, the boy wasn't waiting for her at his usual location. The woman looked around the school's parking area, hoping to find her son, and was shocked when she spotted him a short distance away, fighting in the school yard with another boy. When the mother rushed over to break up the fight, the other boy, Jeremy Bryan Jones, turned viciously on the woman, assaulting her, and threw her to the ground. That incident was the first documented brush with the law for Jeremy, who was charged as a juvenile with assaulting the boy and his mother. No one had been seriously injured, and no weapons of any kind had been involved in the altercation, but that school-yard scuffle presented a good example of the apparent anger and aggression toward women and authority figures that was beginning to build up inside Jeremy Jones. The anger and aggression he showed during that incident would continue to escalate as time passed.
Because of his persistent behavior problems, Jeremy later transferred to nearby Quapaw High School from the school at Miami. There, he quickly developed a reputation for back talk and disrespect for his teachers, but nothing of a violent nature marked his record during his time at the school. He was mainly considered to be "mouthy." However, some staff members noted Jeremy's considerable ability to manipulate his friends into doing whatever he wanted them to do, and they also noted his skill at "sucking up" to those he wanted to impress. For the most part, though, Jeremy's problems at Quapaw were mostly due to his aversion to following orders and obeying the rules. After his transfer, he had taken up with a rough crowd at the school, cultivated a "bad boy" image, and began his early involvement with drugs, drinking, and delinquency.
Jeremy Jones also cultivated another image during his high-school years, one that was not noted anywhere in his school records. Jeremy earned a reputation as a "ladies' man" and developed the ability to make close friends among the girls he knew. He enjoyed good relationships with the girls he dated, and was able to retain their friendship for years to come.
One woman recalled the crush she had on Jeremy when she was a young teenager, calling him her "first puppy love," and said they were very close during their time in school. He was her prom date, and he spent a lot of time visiting in her home, during which time he made a point of endearing himself to the girl's mother.
"My mother just loved him," she said of Jeremy. "She wanted me to marry him."
Other girls, who didn't date Jeremy Jones but said they "ran around together" as good friends, also fondly remembered him many years after they had been in school together.
"We used to just hang out and do things and have fun," one girl said. "We used to race our cars, and stuff like that. We were real buddies."
She said Jones was well-liked by everyone in their circle, and mentioned his ability to charm the girls with his outgoing personality and the attention that he paid to them, making them feel special and attractive.
On May 11, 1992, when Jeremy Jones was eighteen years old and out of high school, a young newlywed in Baxter Springs, Kansas, left her duplex apartment that morning to run errands and go to an appointment at a tanning salon in nearby Cardin, Oklahoma. Jennifer Judd was a strikingly beautiful, dark-haired, twenty-year-old bride who worked nights as a cashier at a convenience store in her hometown of Picher, Oklahoma. She had been married to her husband, Justin, for only ten days and recently had moved into the apartment where Justin already lived. Justin had called her that morning from his job at a chemical plant in nearby Riverton, Kansas, asking Jennifer to bring his lunch by the plant for him while she was on the way to the tanning salon.
Jennifer left for her appointment at the salon, taking along a bag containing Justin's lunch, which she planned to drop off on her way. The authorities believed that shortly after she drove away from the apartment, she remembered that she had left behind a rented movie, which she needed to return to the video store. Jennifer went back to the apartment and ran in to get the movie.
Later that day, Justin Judd and a friend, who had been his best man at the wedding, came home to find the body of Justin's beautiful new bride lying on the blood-spattered kitchen floor of their apartment. She had been viciously attacked and stabbed to death.
* * *
In November 1995, Jeremy Jones was charged in his first rape case; only two months later, he was charged again for a second rape and the unlawful possession of methamphetamine, the drug that would hold sway over his life during the coming decade. On the day following his arrest for rape and drug possession, yet another woman came forward to report that Jones had held a pistol to her vagina and threatened to kill her. He was arrested for that incident and charged with sexual battery.
Soon after this series of arrests, Jones received an incredibly lucky break when the court placed him in a program for delayed sentencing, which had been designed for young adult offenders. The court officials sent him to Hominy, Oklahoma, where he was held at the Dick Conner Correctional Center to be evaluated, and hopefully rehabilitated, by the court services unit in preparation for his sentencing. There, the staff experienced some of Jones's first efforts at skillfully manipulating the authorities and telling them exactly what they wanted to hear.
Jones convinced his evaluators that he had realized drugs had destroyed his life, told them that he "used to have" a drug problem, and said that he was filled with regret for the things that he had done. He blamed the incidents of sexual battery on his methamphetamine use, and swore that he had reformed. His mother, Jeanne Beard, also did her best to tell the court services officers what she thought they wanted to hear. She tried to convince them that her boy came from a loving, upstanding family that was a stellar example of closeness and stability, and assured the officers that Jones was a cooperative, productive member of that family.
There were some problems, however, with some of the statements that Jones made to his evaluators. He claimed that he had graduated from high school in Miami, Oklahoma, and he wouldn't admit to having had any problems with the law as a juvenile. Even though the claims he made about his high-school attendance were untrue, and his juvenile problems couldn't be verified by the correctional authorities due to sealed juvenile records, Jones was judged to be a good candidate for rehabilitation.
Chapter ThreeThere was little to get excited about in the small, quiet Delaware County community of Grove, Oklahoma, but on February 21, 1996, things changed dramatically. Emergency vehicles were called out and then rushed to the rural trailer of Daniel Oakley and Doris Harris to find it in flames. Oakley and Harris were found inside the trailer by firefighters, once the fire was extinguished. The couple had been shot to death, and between the fire and the water from the firemen's hoses, any clues at the scene that might have remained about the identity of their murderer had been quickly and permanently erased.
After receiving a fairly positive report from the correctional center, Jeremy Jones was sentenced in early March 1997 to five years of probation for the three charges of sexual battery, to which he had entered pleas of nolo contendere, or no contest. The court ordered Jones to report for DNA testing, and Jones was also ordered to attend special classes for sex offenders. Those classes, however, didn't work out quite as well as had his stint at the correctional center. Jones caused a number of problems during his sex offender classes, and he told his mother that he didn't like sitting there during group therapy and listening to what the others in the class-whom he referred to as "a bunch of perverts"-had to say. Totally unable to see himself as being in need of the classes, Jones was finally kicked out of a therapy session after losing his temper and making a scene, disrupting the session.
Excerpted from BLOOD LUST by SHEILA JOHNSON Copyright © 2007 by Sheila Johnson. Excerpted by permission.
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