I was not at Ms. LaDue January's condo the morning she was discovered. I did not speak to anyone at the scene. I do not have access to all the investigative reports and do not know everything that authorities and the family know.
Smarter and more experienced folks have examined this case.
As such, I'll describe my observations as more likely or less likely or something to that extent.
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.
On the family's site, they identify multiple issues that warrant clarification, but rather than repeat their discussion in the next few posts, I'll offer perspective on some of the specifics concerning Nikki's death.
A) The Gun
In the photo taken by Detective Pustay, the firearm believed to have killed Ms. LaDue January is seen on the chair partially under her left thigh. The family, several readers, and I am sure most anyone else who has examined this case, has asked, "how did a gun, allegedly used by someone to commit suicide, end up in that unusual position?"
Why would the gun not be on the floor beside or somewhere behind her?
Questions about the handgun become even more disturbing after learning the pathologist hired by the family to examine this case concluded that death occurred "very rapidly" due to a gunshot to the head. The professional believed that the gun was in contact with her skin when fired.
Again, if Nikki died almost instantly, why is the gun between her legs?
As regular contributor Sue stated in a comment last time: "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."
I am with you Sue--I'd describe it not as impossible, but certainly as highly unlikely.
Strangely, the family includes a statement that Nikki's husband, Phil January, described the gun as "sitting beside her on a small padded wicker stool with rod-iron railing."
Scene photos and the detective's report describe the gun in one place, but the person who discovers Ms. LaDue January's body allegedly says the .380 was in another spot.
So, the gun was very likely moved.
How many times though? Once? Twice?
Here are three possible reasons:
Note: This list is not comprehensive as there are other possible explanations (panic, deceit, etc.).
1) An Accident
Death/violent crime scenes are often chaotic. Family and friends inadvertently contaminate the scene and evidence. First responders performing their life-saving duties enter and exit the area. As such, the gun could have been accidentally moved by family, friends, or initial responders. But this seems less likely: first responders are trained to do whatever it takes to keep from disturbing a scene; and would have been especially cautious due to the post mortem lividity visible (she was obviously deceased) in her legs and the item in question was a gun. Family or friends could have moved the gun without intent, but you'd think that this would be included in statements--I did not see it.
2) On Purpose: Safety
If someone else was in the condo when the woman died, and knew about her five-year old being asleep in another room, an unknown person could have relocated the gun to prevent the son from finding it. Whether the death was a suicide or something more, it is reasonable to argue that the gun was hidden partially under the body for the safety of others.
3) On Purpose: A Message
In Stacy Horn's excellent work on the NYPD's Cold Case Unit entitled "The Restless Sleep," she details the unsolved strangulation murder of Jean Sanseverino. At the time of her death, Sanseverino had multiple dating relationships, and was separated from her husband. She was found deceased in her bed. One key piece of evidence was feces. Sanseverino's killer wiped human waste on her--not the perp "accidentally had a bowel movement during the incident," but the person intentionally wiped lots of feces all over her body. Detectives theorized that this was done by someone she knew to send a message. Similarly, could a handgun placed in the crotch area of a deceased woman be construed as some type of message? I say reasonable again.
All posts on this topic can be viewed by clicking here: Nikki LaDue January.