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.
Each of us has likes and dislikes.
Characteristics about us that may be odd, but denote our uniqueness.
As such, at a death and/or crime scene, it is important for investigators to be cognizant of a victim's preferences.
For instance, if I was found dead at my dinner table and a plate with a medium-rare steak was in front of me, the specific meal would not mean much to someone who does not know me.
But, detectives speaking to family members would quickly ascertain that the Mrs. and I prefer steaks as close to well-done as possible (yes, our motto is "burn it")--indicating that the food found in front of me was likely not mine.
I am also very routine-oriented. If I were to go missing, the Mrs. could match the time and date that I was last seen to wherever/whatever was on my schedule, and provide authorities with specifics about what I was doing just prior to disappearing.
Ok, enough about me.
The same approach would also apply to the death of Nikki LaDue January.
In correspondence written by Nikki's husband (Phil January) to authorities in which he is dissatisfied with the investigation and asks questions about the scene and circumstances surrounding his wife's death, he makes the following statement:
"...Also out of character was the the fact that the new shoes that she had purchased that day were in our living room and she was barefoot. She never went barefoot for any reason."
What if other family members verified this observation?
One relative agreed and described Nikki's preference for shoes as an "idiosyncrasy" that she had developed later in life. The relative added that Nikki would only go barefoot when she had to--bedtime, shower, at the pool, etc.
Phil stated Nikki's new tennis shoes, that he referred to previously, were located in the living room.
None of the crime scene photos show shoes on the balcony, but the entire balcony was not included in the shots--nor was the area near the balcony door.
Yet, she was found dead wearing no shoes or socks on her balcony.
Death Scene of Nikki LaDue January
Near a phone that was almost certainly moved more than once prior to police arriving.
With a handgun that was recovered in a highly unlikely place--under her leg.
Now, we can't eliminate every scenario that would send Nikki out on her balcony without shoes; or every situation in which that medium-rare steak would be in front of me.
If an investigator is looking for only one reason to be suspicious of an apparent suicide, learning that a victim never went without shoes yet was found dead in his/her bare feet is certainly enough to question the stated premise.
In this case, the bare feet are just one of a litany of characteristics that scream: "Let's slow down, process this scene, and see what direction the evidence leads."
Unfortunately, the "scream" went unheard.
Oh, and last week I mentioned a strange object located on a table that was photographed at the scene by the investigator, but not listed in any of the police reports.
About that unidentified object?
It was later determined to be the detective's camera case that was placed on a table and inadvertently included in the series of scene photographs.
I'll cover another aspect of the case next week.
All posts on this topic can be viewed by clicking here: Nikki LaDue January.