The Death of Nikki LaDue January: Part III

Case Summary

In July of 2002, the body of Nikki LaDue January was found seated on the balcony of her condominium in Pass Christian, Mississippi.  Officers stated that she had a single gun shot wound to her right temple area.

A Sterling .380 caliber pistol was partially under her left thigh on a chair, her right leg was propped up against the table in front of her, and a cordless phone on the table was covered in blood.

There were two different brands of cigarettes and two different lighters on the table in front of her.

A bullet was located in a chair on the next balcony, and a shell casing was later found by a maintenance man in the condo's pool.

Ms. January had apparently been deceased for several hours, and her five-year old son was found in the residence unharmed.

Authorities at the scene quickly classified the death as a suicide.  ___________________________________________________

The Investigator

The lead detective for the Nikki LaDue January case was Pass Christian Police Department investigator Thomas Pustay.

At the time, Detective Pustay had over 20 years of law enforcement experience.

He was contacted by officers at the scene and arrived at Ms. LaDue January's condo the morning she was discovered deceased.

Pustay spoke with the initial medical and police responders.

He interviewed the Nikki's husband, Phil January, as well as her friend Nancy Burge who also had entered the condo.

He examined the death scene, collected some items, and took photos.

He coordinated with the county coroner in processing the incident.

And most importantly, Det. Pustay weighed the evidence for a short time and determined that Ms. LaDue January committed suicide.

Though police agency policies vary, generally there is less work for a suicide versus a homicide.

No intensive canvassing for witnesses.

Limited tests and forensic work.

No follow-up search warrants of cell phone records, computers, or other electronic equipment.

No thorough background check of the victim to identify persons of interest in her past or in the present.

In this alleged suicide, no diagrams were completed to record the precise location of items in relation to the body.

No initial autopsy was conducted.

So, little was done at the LaDue January death scene--as it was ruled just another incident involving someone taking their own life.

But what happens when the investigator's integrity is later shown to be lacking?

In 2005, the married Thomas Pustay was convicted of  two counts of touching of a child for lustful purposes and three counts of sexual battery.  Prosecutors stated that the former detective began abusing the victim (a family friend) at age 9, and it lasted for 7 years.

Pustay is now serving 40 years in a Mississippi prison.

Former Detective Thomas Pustay (Source: MS Dept. of Corrections)

One item of note from the article on Pustay's conviction is his admission of lying to police investigators.

So, it is understandable for Ms. LaDue January's family and those examining the death case to question the credibility of this lead detective.

A detective who has shown a pattern of dishonesty and poor judgment.

And, a detective leading an investigation where the quality of the evidence saved was questionable--not to mention at least one item that was collected and then apparently misplaced.

The family's site includes detailed questions that seem to be unanswered in this case.

Next time, I'll take a look at some of those issues and offer my own observations.

 All posts on this topic can be viewed by clicking here: Nikki LaDue January.


A Daft Scots Lass said...

Dr Stay-Put looks like a serial killer himself.

Anonymous said...

Well, I have lots of questions myself and I hope they are the same questions the family wants answered. as for Putsface, he is where he deserves to be.

Charter Membership VRWC said...

To: A Daft Scots Lass:

If you know wht a serial killer looks like, please share it with me, because we could be BILLIONAIRES, very soon!

God Bless,

Bob G. said...


There are too many "WTF?"s in this one to call it an outright suicide...

Too little seems to add up, and it's good this turd was locked up.
He takes the "easy" way out...and pays for it.

Looking forward to YOUR followup on this.

good post.

Stay safe.

JasonJPI said...

Experts will tell you concerning death investigations, that you treat them all as a homicide, even when the death appears to be self-inflicted. (Fisher, 2004, pg. 380). Only a medical examiner can determine cause of death. All a police investigator can decide is apparent cause of death. The scene of the death should have been treated as a crime scene. GSR should have been taken of the victim's own hands, photos of the scene should have been taken, measurements and mapping should have been completed, and so on. However, it is interesting why the young lady would have a gun with her at the scene. Was the death caused by the .38? Or was she armed in self-defense expecting a confrontation?

Interesting case! I will continue to follow.

Best wishes,

Jason K Jensen, PI

Anonymous said...

No one know what gun killed her, or even caliber of shell. It just said pistol on the police investigation report.

There is no blood on gun but lots on the phone. Phone is on table and hand folded neatly in lap.

Stephen Tremp said...

This guy looks just like a character in my book I call the AARP KIller. Spitting image. Creepy. Glad he's in prison, and looking forward to your follow up article.

Anonymous said...

I knew Nikki she would NEVER have left her son by himself or to find her body!! Plus, I saw the crime scene photos. Only an idiot would believe that Nikki shot herself in the head and then tucked the gun under her thigh! DUH! Keep up the good work, Slam Dunk!

Anonymous said...

Slam Dunk:

Thank you so much for taking the time to investigate our beloved Nikki's case. The time and effort that have been put forth by Nikki's family have all seemed in vain, as nobody of high standing would listen. Hopefully, we can allow Nikki to rest in peace very, very soon.

The Blonde Duck said...

That's so sad. said...

Quite sad.

The "bloodless" gun doesn't bother me too much, but there should have been more followup.

BobKat said...

Tragic in every sense of the word!

Someone walked free on this "homicide", but why?

Even if the lead investigator was years later found to be a pedophile, and even if processing the scene cost money, why was the death of Nikki January glossed over so quickly? Has the family been trying all this time to bring attention to this case? That no one has listened until now?

What motivations prompted such a quick closure of the case? Had there been other "suspicious" deaths, murders in the community, and if so how were they handled?

I suppose they could always exhume the body and test for gun powder residue, so perhaps not all is lost. I can only say it's a case like this that sickens me, much like the Butts Family Murders in Texas in 1991, that make me wonder why are some law enforcement more interested in busting pot smokers, then they are willing to serve and protect society?

This is an obvious case where LE failed to serve the public... even if Thomas Pustay was later found guilty of serious crimes, other investigators were present at the scene. Why did they not raise any red flags in this case?

Serious negligence and ignorance is at play here... including no suicide note nor history by the victim of suicidal thoughts that I have read.

I'd go so far as to expect those trying to find the truth have been threatened ... this is the sort of thing where those "in the know" what things permanently forgotten!

Kudos to the family for fighting for Justice and to find out the truth. Simple incompetence or lack of interest on the part of law enforcement? Or a cover-up? Anyway you look at it it's a gross disregard for a human life. There isn't even the most basic evidence to support a suicide... nothing.

Watch your back Slam, as there are those that most definitely want Nikki's death to stay buried.

Lydia K said...

Sounds like they need to reopen the case, for sure.

Diana said...

I am just glued to this one!

Brian Miller said...

def an intriguing case...i agree witht he previous many WTFs in this one...

TRex said...

Thank you Slam Dunk for your interest in, and great coverage of Nikki's story....and God Bless you BobKat, for 'getting' it!

There is much in your post I could respond to, particularly some of the questions you raised and how spot on they are...however, your final sentence telling Slam Dunk to watch his back is exactly what we want the world to know.

It's recently been confirmed for us that folks DO get threatened when they nose around and ask too many questions pertaining to Nikki's death. Likely, it is the very reason there was no investigation to begin with, and why the cops and coroner walked away with no questions after less than two hours ...this was clearly a colossal coverup. But why?

We feel strongly that Nikki's plan to break away from her present life (husband, job, environment) precipitated her demise...she could NOT be allowed to leave with the knowledge she possessed. She was shot less than 24 hours before her great escape.

On the surface it does appear her death might have been a crime of passion, but too many questions remain after making this simple assumption.

Thanks to all who are following this discussion, your input is much appreciated.

Sheila S. said...

I am outraged. How could this happen? Thank you for bringing this to light. Bless her son, and family and on that is holy, and sacred, bring the murderer to justice & overhaul this homicide investigation team, or lack thereof!

Anonymous said...

I noticed by looking at SD's public statcounter there are interested parties looking now in MS and Denton, TX the home of the stepson who may have been on the scene the morning Nikki was found according to his father Phil January.

I find many similarities to this case and the Rhonda Reynold's case. Anyone else think so?

Glad family hasn't given up - also similar to RR case.

Sue said...

My husband and I tried to re-enact this and couldn't at all come up with how the gun was found *under* her left thigh, partially or completely, inside or outside, whether she was standing or seated during time of impact. Granted, we are not trained for this sort of thing, we are ordinary blue collar workers, but we could not find a way no matter how we moved to get a gun in that position after a self-inflicted wound of that nature.

No wonder the family wants answers.

Anonymous said...

Can't the AG Hood call for a new investigation into this case. Even though it's 9 yrs old. The Lead Det now convict and Gary Hargrove, Harrison County Coroner Gulfport, MS - one of the subjects of a federal investigation into suspicious deaths at the Harrison County jail.

I would think this would warrant a look at case due to dereliction of duty.

One more thing can the family find out through some sort of Insurance commission if the ex had a policy on Nikki?

Anonymous said...

Nikki LaDue January.
i see a wrong marriage ,is not equal marriage,i see this man is from Scandinavian origin ,Scandinavian areas ,White man,blonde eyebrow color to white,high. red skin ,short hair, blod
little belly 90kg.54 yeas old.
had relation with her about 7 years,I see Nikki nervous,she is feeling Something ,This man tried to kill her tow times.the first time ,when the air conditioning broken by him , he arranged to introduce poison gas in air conditioning I see Nikki at the window breathing hard and vomiting,was at the hospital and confirmed that she had blood that entered the home that the air conditioner does not work they have put poisonous gas ,in agreement with him.I see them near the ocean, i saw a smaller boat with motor and with Sail,I see a flag blue red white.I see her next door window i see blood over her eyes and all face.I did not seen the person who killed her but was sure his hand behind the crime. she was killed from outside the house.was a professional crime.

Anonymous said...

I do know that Pass Christian Police department has had a history of corruption. Look these names up and see what they were fired from the force for. A few people in the Pass turned up dead under mysterious circumstances while these losers were on the "beat".

Perry Ladner
Doug Holquist
Archie Sellier
Thomas Pustay
Maybe the answer lies with one of these scumbags.