The Death of Nikki LaDue January: Part XII

Continuing with the statements recorded by Pass Christian Police Sgt. W. Davis regarding the death of Nikki LaDue January.

For those who have been reading this series, some of the information is redundant, but I feel it is important to consider what led authorities to label the case a suicide.  
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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. 

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Note: The following statements appear in the order as recorded by Sgt. DavisHe spoke with Nikki's husband Phil (found the body), her friend Nancy Burge (entered the condo and then called 911), and others described below.

STATEMENT #5

"Reporting Officer asked who did the pistol belong to that she used and he (Phil January) stated it was his. He stated that he was going to take it with him but she (Nicole) insisted that he leave it with her for protection, it puzzled him because she did not like guns."

Verifying that the gun found at the scene, the bullet found on an adjacent balcony, and the casing recovered from the complex's swimming pool (which I discuss in a moment) supported law enforcement's theory of suicide would have been invaluable in defending the decision by police to close the case.

But, as with the phone records, all this "extra work" was not performed since the case was quickly labeled a suicide.

Even more disturbing, all three pieces of evidence (gun, bullet, and shell casing) disappeared. It is unknown which items actually made it to the police property room or their disposition after being collected by authorities at the scene.

STATEMENT #6

Mr. Phillip then contacted the child's natural father and he came and picked the child up at the scene. The child was not interviewed.

By not interviewing the child, I believe authorities missed an opportunity to learn if others had been in the condo that morning with the deceased woman, if the front door was locked or unlocked when it was believed that the child let Nancy Burge enter, what sounds if any he heard, etc.

In a previous post, guest blogger police officer Momma Fargo articulated the need to interview children at the scene of violent crimes--it may have made a difference as to what is believed to have happened to Ms. LaDue January.

STATEMENT #7

Reporting officer was then approached by the condo's president...he was cleaning the pool this morning...0600 hours he found a shell casing in the pool...so he put it in the pool area drawer. Reporting officer and Coroner Hargrove went...to retrieve the casing. Hargrove took a picture of the casing and the swimming pool where he found the casing.

Sgt. Davis also indicated in the report that the casing was collected.

Unfortunately, a description of the casing was not included.

Was it from a .380 like the one found at the scene?  Was it at least from a semi-auto handgun?

Where is the casing now? What happened to the coroner's photo?

Authorities have not answered any of these questions satisfactorily.

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I'll stop there. 

Next week I'll discuss a statement made by Nikki's babysitter to Sgt. Davis and how a misunderstood term, can be used as support for a theory--when the correct word actuality means something entirely different.

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

24 comments:

Pat Hatt said...

Geez doesn't sound like anyone in their right mind would close this so fast, so they were either lazy, crazy or trying to make things hazy for some reason.

Zuzana said...

Very interesting read, I seem to recall this case.
Thank you so much for your recent visit and kind comment.;)
xoxo

The Blonde Duck said...

I agree-- not interviewing the kid was dumb!

Candice said...

Sure doesn't sound like they were utting forth much effort on this case. I wonder why....

Bob G. said...

Slamdunk:
This is beginning to make incompetence look like standard operatiing procedure (at least in THAT city)...

How can investigators MISS such rudimentary details...actually, they're pretty BLATANT to even be called "details"...

Amazing lack of vision here.
Unless it was MEANT to be that way...

Good poast.

Stay safe.

Carol Kilgore said...

I know what I'm thinking. Amazing.

Miss Caitlin S. said...

All of that evidence disappeared?? This poor woman was never given a fair chance at justice.

Michael Offutt said...

Yeah I smell foul play. This is not a suicide.

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

It is still so strange they didn't interview the child. Also, (and forgive me if you've gone over this in previous posts) but do you think the child could have gone by her body and moved anything prior to police knowledge?

Lydia Kang said...

YOur dedication to finding the truth is so admirable.

Bonnie said...

These are the kinds of cases that make you scratch your head and wonder where society is headed.

http://www.glamkittenslitterbox.com/
Twitter: @GlamKitten88

Lisa @ Two Bears Farm said...

The word botched comes to mind...

Christina Lee said...

Oooh the child was *not* interviewed--wow!

Ciara said...

Too many things are wrong here. Child not interviewed, multiple shots, evidence missing. Negligence, or tampering?

SuziCate said...

It sounds like they were in too big of a hurry to close the case. hard to believe the evidence went missing and they neglected to interview the child...seems like securing evidence and interviewing the child would have been standard procedure.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Thanks, Slamdunk, for these informative posts. It shows us how the police can make mistakes. Mistakes that can benefit writers.

Too bad no one will ever know what really happened to Nikki. Someone got lucky. :(

Theresa Milstein said...

I've said this before, but I can't help thinking it when you post updates - we all think if something happened to us, it would be properly investigated.

BobKat said...

The DA usually decides whether a case has merit to pursue, whether suspicion of a crime is present. He listens to the police in part to make a decision. Police are at liberty to investigate anything they consider to be suspicious and in which a law was broken. But they then need to provide evidence to the DA to bring charges.

This crime, like many others was tainted from the start. Why or how?

Whether Nikki killed herself isn't so much the question, but rather, why did police and the DA deep Six this case so quickly?

I'd like to see Slam dig more into the rationale behind the deep six... because we all know Nikki did not kill herself.

Maxi said...

It is "beyond the pale" that this case was classified as a suicide with so little investigation.

logical minded engineer said...

The magic bullet -

Do you recall the bullet recovered after ricochetting around? Why wasn't it analyzed. First, very straight forward tests exist that will indicate if it was FMJ vs un-jacketed lead (simply have to analyze for traces of non-lead alloy -- like copper, aluminum, etc). Second, the recovered bullet needs to be weighed. The weight of the bullet doesn't conclusively indicate that it was 380 Auto, but the weight of the bullet can conclusively indicate that it was NOT 380 Auto. If you can demonstrate the latter, then the murder weapon shown in the crime scene photos is a hoax. Here's what I'm getting at . . .

Bullet weight is expressed in grains (a consequence of us silly Americans not adopting the metric system). The grain weight of the various bullets in question is provided below:

9 mm Luger: 90 - 147 grains
9 x 12 mm: 115 - 147 grains
380 Auto: 88 - 115 grains

If I weighed the recovered bullet, and it's weight came in over 115 grains . . . obviously it's NOT a 380 Auto. In my mind, that's all I'd need to prove to re-open this case. Now, there is a possibility that even if the bullet was not a 380 Auto (say it was a larger caliber heavier bullet), that the recovered fragment would weigh equal or less than 115 grains. Parts of the bullet may have fragmented off during flight or from repeated impacts (stucco, door frame, etc), reducing it's weight. However, if fragmentation did not occur, this analytical step could be the slam dunk needed to demonstrate a murder and/or cover-up.

If the bullet was recovered and is now missing along with all the other evidence -- then we need to pose a very direct question to the Mississippi authorities -- when witness testimony surfaced to suggest a 9 mm casing might have been found, why wasn't the recovered bullet weighed to disprove this theory?! Again, this would be pretty standard protocol for a competent police department . . .

On to the casing found in pool-

It's a very odd comment by the apartment manager who found the spent shell casing in the day of the murder. He said that the spent casing he found was from a 9 mm instead of a 380 Auto, and based this observation on the length of the shell casing as I remember (which would be a correct observation, as a 9 mm shell casing would be longer than a 380 Auto -- with the diameter of each being essentially the same). Why does this statement strike me as odd . . . instead of impressing upon me that this guy was pretty smart to recognize this? Well, it's becasue all commercial rounds of handgun ammo that I have ever purchased from the store clearly state the caliber of the bullet on the head stamp of the casing. For example, if I bought some Winchester 380 Auto ammo, on the bottom of the casing would be clearly stamped the following information -- "WIN 380 AUTO." So while the apartment manager's seemingly intelligent commentary might impress the uninformed, it indicated to me that he was either rather un-intelligent or illiterate. If I picked up a spent handgun casing, I would NOT need to guess the bullet caliber based on presumptions of casing length -- I'd simply read what the caliber was from the casing head stamp, and provide the police with a known fact.

logical minded engineer said...

Another odd revelation that bugs me . . . where is the murder weapon?! Even if others are not-talking, I would argue that Phil knows. The gun was Phil's private property. If a crime was not committed, I would suggest that the private property protections of the 4th and 5th amendments to the US Constitution would compel the police department to contact Phil and provide him with the opportunity to reclaim his gun. If Phil was so distraught over his wife's tragic death, he could have always responded (as many do) by requesting that the police department destroy the gun to relieve him of the unbearable memory it's presence would evoke. Regardless, Phil would still conclusively know the whereabouts of the gun -- "it was returned to my possession or it was destroyed by the police department." However, I have read forum posts by police officers on this subject who state that the argument above isn't necessarily valid. From their vantage, if death is ruled a suicide -- technically, a crime has been committed, as suicide is against the law. Under such circumstances, the police department would not be violating the 4th and 5th amendment by retaining the property or disposing of it as it pleased. However, even in this instance, the forum contributors seemed to suggest that normal police protocol is STILL to contact the handgun owner (or next of kin) to provide an opportunity to retrieve their property. Was this just another instance of the Mississippi police being sloppy? If the police retained the gun there should be a written record somewhere demonstrating this fact. Otherwise, it seems most plausible they would have contacted Phil to retrieve his private property. I don't see any other alternatives here. Why hasn't Phil been questioned more fervently on the whereabouts of his gun? Did he knowingly destroy this evidence too after erasing his hard drive? And what about erasing the hard drive? Simply deleting the files doesn't erase the information from the hard drive (it just wipes the file directory . . . any computer sleuth could use software to recover lost data after this action). For Phil to truly erase the hard drive, he would have had to use a software program that re-writes data onto each sector of the hard drive multiple time to ensure it was gone for good (i.e. this is what government agencies do to wipe their drives clean). Did investigators simply take Phil's word that the hard drive was erased . . . or, did they perform recovery attempts (the software capable of recovering files was available in 2002).

logical minded engineer said...

Phil's response that the gun was loaded with un-jacketed lead bullets is a bit perplexing, though, if he left the 380 Auto with Nikki for her defense. As a braggart that relished his past police credentials (credible or not) I would have thought he'd been cognizant of the above, and loaded the gun with JHPs to protect his one and only wife. Since Nikki was not a proficient gun handler, her capacity to hit the head of a moving assailant would be rather slim (pure luck). Given this, her chances of stopping an assailant (where the bullet might penetrate any part of the assailant's body) with the fewest number of rounds fired would be improved using JHP. So why would Phil state that un-jacketed lead bullets were used? One possibility -- he's telling the truth. Another more sinister possibility -- he's trying to mislead police into thinking that the gun was just loaded with "docile" practice rounds (i.e. intended purpose was simply to practice marksmanship vs. wanting to kill somebody). It's the same reason an assailant might choose a revolver in a murder vs. a para-military assault rifle. Although both are legal to possess as a citizen in the United States, the para-military assault rifle doesn't stand up well in a jury trial. Although either can deliver a lethal blow, the latter looks "evil" or "bad" and illicits a negative emotional response from the average juror. In other words, if Phil's story was going to be retold to a jury against him, he'd want the tale to sound as non-threatening as possible. Just a theory . . . from the conspiracist within me . . . but, it would be easier to explain away the choice of a "recreational load" that I used for pure enjoyment while target practicing, then the JHP I loaded the gun with for the purpose of incapacitating another human being. However, this is all conjecture and would never be admissible in court. The only person that knows what Phil was thinking is Phil, and he's been conveniently silent.

logical minded engineer said...

When I read the report that the medical examiner had a hard time finding the exit wound, the first thought that came to my mind was "FMJ." The FMJ is known for excellent penetration, and the "pointed" round nose (typical of this ammo type) is good at piercing. Although the entrance wound was not described, I'd surmise that at point blank range, it would have appeared far worse than the exit wound (due in part to the scalding hot gases exiting the muzzle which are also quite capable of causing tissue damage). The exit wound would be a function of whether the bullet tumbled in flight, and the size of the skull fragments the bullet dislodged and carried forward. If an FMJ doesn't tumble after entry (remains straight in flight), and continues to pierce along it's path (including the skull at both entry and exit), one might expect the exit wound to be very small and difficult to locate -- particularly as skin (unlike brain tissue) is very elastic and wants to return to shape. However, I'm not smart enough to say that the same exit wound wouldn't have been caused by an RNL bullet. Some time back I read an interesting posting on wound ballistics from an ex-police officer that had become a medical examiner. Based on his experience of performing over a thousand autopsies involving gun violence, he made some interesting observations with respect to gun caliber and wound appearance -- however, I can't remember if he discussed specific cases involving head trauma involving smaller caliber RNLs.

Jenny said...

I think you need to get a job at something like CSI in real life.

This was really interesting.