The Death of Nikki LaDue January: Part IV

Before I start the next post in this series: when writing on crime, I prefer to speak in probabilities.

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.

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. 


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?" 

Photo Credit

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?

Who Knows.

But why?

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. 

In sum, the gun was apparently moved.  If the case is ever reopened, follow-up interviews with those at the scene may shed some light as to the when and the why.

I'll have more next Monday.

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


Brian Miller said...

ugh really hard to tell what happened if things have been moved...easy to jump to the conclusion that someone had something to do with based on the scene...

Theresa Milstein said...

Such an odd situation. Just seems like such a flag to have the gun under her thigh. I wonder why it was still ruled as a suicide.

Anonymous said...

You might look back at the photo of the table where you'll find the Police camera case.

The gun underneath her thigh left indentation marks which were also photographed by Det Pustay (convicted child molester).

This is terrible, one wants to believe their LE is working in their best interest.

Why no one in all of MS wants to at least investigate the dereliction of duty let alone a possible murder is beyond me.

Great coverage SD can hardly wait between posts. Am also following Nikki's Facebook Fanpage which is growing to the 3,000 mark in just a few weeks.

Momma Fargo said...

Strange things happen on scenes that sometimes can be explained or not. Possible staging? Freak landing? Jerking? It all seems impossible except that it landed there in the hands of another. I had a scene where the paraplegic landed face down in the passenger side floorboard with his body pinned in between the console. Yet, his glasses were neatly set on the driver's side seat where he had last been seen by his wife. It all seemed strange. His body was ruled an accidental death by positional asphyxia which must have been compounded by his drunken stupor and inability to help himself back up when he slumped over...or perhaps he passed out and that is all she wrote. Still...the glasses did not make sense to any of us. A a little more profound than a pair of glasses.

Anonymous said...

If the gun was relocated by accident or on purpose, why are there no fingerprints on it? Did the person say "oops, I have to move this gun so I'll just run down to the pharmacy and buy some gloves first."? This is clearly NOT a suicide and I'd stake my reputation on it. I questioned the location of the gun right from the beginning.

JasonJPI said...

In death investigations, first responders and investigators have to always be concerned of the possibility of a "staging." Staging is a term used to describe when a perpetrator makes alterations at the crime scene to confuse or misguide investigators to conclude differently. Here, a perpetrator, if time allowing, may alter a murder crime scene to appear as a suicide. I hope that investigators conducted a simple GSR (gun shot residue) test to determine whether she pulled the trigger, and had the gun tested to compare the rifilings of the round shot to the barrel.

Thank you,

Jason K Jensen, PI

(Florida) Girl said...

Intriguing to read about this from your point of view. Really, these topics are usually difficult for me to digest.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Diane said...

Lots of questions and not sufficient answers in my opinion either. :O(

Anonymous said...

No fingerprints were taken and no GSR was done. NO INVESTIGATION DONE. NOTHING. NADA!

Clarissa Draper said...

Perhaps it could have been moved by family (hopefully the police aren't stupid enough to move it, however, they are stupid enough to believe a suicide victim's gun landed there) but why then place it between her legs? Not because of the boy's safety--a person would have moved the gun to somewhere the boy couldn't get to.

Do we really believe the husband is smart enough to move the gun there for a message? What would be the message? I believe the killer placed the gun there...

On second thought, the killer could have placed the gun there because he/she was hoping the boy wouldn't then pick it up off the floor and shoot himself.

Whatever the reason, I hope the case is reopened.

Candice said...

You're such a tease...can't wait to read the rest of this one. said...

Ms. January's right leg [i]was[/i]] propped up. It would have been possible for her to have put both legs up when the shot was fired.

The gun could have fallen, and at some point later, her leg could have fallen off the table. Even the settling of blood could have caused it to move.

That said, I agree with Jason that GSR test should have been done and the comparison of the bullet to the rifling should have been done.

Bounty Hunter said...

i only read this one post. this certainly was no suicide if the vicitm died instantly. the assailant was no professional as he would have place the gun in her hand leaving her prints on the gun alone and not his/hers. how many round(s) were fired? where were the round(s) found as to the body. Was she right or left handed? What was the angle of impact and where did the bullet enter the head? What was the caliber? Time of death? Blood splater? Lavidity?

BobKat said...

Taking it all in. My first thought seeing the picture and knowing about other alleged facts was the gun didn't fall there between her legs, it was placed there, and that was before I got to the part where SD says that was another theory. She cheated, is what that tells me, and because the barrel wasn't between her legs, indicating rage, I interpret the grip between her legs indicates sadness, regret, at what they (felt they) had to do. No remorse... and no thought of the reality of a gun falling there after one allegedly shot themselves in the head.

I wonder how many other cases of alleged suicides like this one are out there?

Thanks, Slam.

Miss Caitlin S. said...

No kidding, the gun between her legs is so odd and casts a huge shadow on this case.

Sue said...

Just as a basic student of physics in high school, I doubt that gun would have ended up in THAT position and still been the gun that caused her death. There are two possibilities.

1. There were two guns, one was removed.

2. This gun was moved (I agree with this theory).

Now the question is, who moved it and, perhaps most importantly, why?

I am surprised this was so easily determined a suicide, as it wasn't so apparently to me. However, I'm a natural-born skeptic.

Jane LeMond-Alvarez said...

This was a murder, pure and simple. Question is why L.E. is so arrogant in their attitude with Nikki's parents. Let's use some common sense people. Shame on you L.E. I've worked in law enforcement for 20 years...and I've seen stranger things...but I think they should hire the parents of Nikki...they certainly seem to be more grounded with their invesigative abilies than the police.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks all for the comments.

@ Anonymous: Good point--I'll get to that in a future post.

@ Theresa & BobKat: Unfortunately, murders are sometimes classified as suicides--I think authorities may forget that time can be an asset in cases like this. There is no rush to make a suicide determination--wait and let the evidence clearly back the theory.

@ JasonJPI: The detective states that he conducted a "trace metal test" on the deceased hand and found the outline of a trigger impression on her right index finger. I am not aware of any photo graphs showing this.

If the gun was removed from the scene and where it is now are evidently unanswered questions.

MF: I appreciate your perspective MF. You have seen more than your fair share of these scenes.

BountyHunter: Most of your questions, sadly, I don't have the answers for. The police reports did not link the bullet, the found casing, and the gun. She was right-handed. There are some photos of the scene on the family's site that show blood and likely matter, but they are shot with no measurements and little context.

JJ: Yes, that is possible; but when considering other oddities about the scene, is it likely?

Sue: I agree--may be possible but not likely.

Jane: Thanks. I think the family of Ms. LaDue January has done a fantastic job in seeking a professional examination into this woman's death.