The Death of Nikki LaDue January: Part XV

On my last LaDue January case post, super blogger and writer Stina Lindenblatt from Seeing Creative asked if the case was closed and could it be reopened.

Yes, Ms. LaDue January's case was closed and labeled a suicide after a brief investigation. Authorities do not like to reopen cases, but it does happen if information is received that places considerable doubt on the initial cause of death determination.

Unfortunately, appeals to local and state officials to take a second look at this death case have been unsuccessful.

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. 


Two primary reports by law enforcement exist that describe the death scene of Nikki LaDue January.

I previously covered, Sgt. Willie Davis' (the first responder) report, and now I'll focus on the lead investigator, Detective Tom Pustay of the Pass Christian Police Department.*

*Note: Det. Pustay no longer works in law enforcement, and is currently serving a multi-year prison sentence for the sexual abuse of a minor.

The following are excerpts from Det. Pustay's report.


"On Monday, July 29, 2002, I received a call to go to Gulf Palm Villa Condos Unit 303 in reference to a suicide."

Unlike first responders, investigators are less likely to arrive at a fluid homicide scene. Along with contacting the detective, the dispatcher or person at the scene would provide him/her (him in this case) with a summary of the situation. The "it looks like a suicide" theory would have been introduced as soon as the detective was told about the case.

As with anyone, it sometimes can be difficult to think outside the box when a theory, backed with supporting evidence, is initially proposed.


"There is post mortem lividity in her legs and the palms of her hands."

Post mortem lividity or livor mortis is the reddish purple discoloration of the skin due to the settling of thickened blood.  In a body found supine or face-up, one expects to see livor mortis in the posterior parts of the body--while the opposite is true: face-down, lividity in the anterior parts.

Livor mortis can help investigators determine if a body has been moved after death.


There was a Sterling .380 caliber pistol serial number B064298 partially under her left thigh on the chair. I secured and cleared the pistol.

Pistols at a crime scene should be "secured" immediately. When a pistol is "cleared" is dictated by the situation.  Unless the firearm presents an immediate danger, like when it is in an area hostile to police, it should not be handled and cleared until it is being photographed and then processed.  During the clearing process, an investigator would then note the number of rounds, whether the safety was on or off (if applicable), if a bullet was found in the chamber, the type of load, etc.

Strangely, these specifics about the bullets, load, and gun were not included in this report.  One has to review the coroner's summary to learn that the pistol's safety was evidently found "off" and the hammer back.


I'll be back next time to discuss Det. Pustay's notations on blood spatter at the scene.

The spatter appears to be one of the many problems encountered in matching information contained in the reports to the other evidence available in the case.     

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


Miss Caitlin S. said...

GOOODNESSSS, there are neverending reasons that this case should be reopened. It's just crazy that they haven't solved this with a more reasonable result yet. Thanks again for your insight.

The Blonde Duck said...

I just want to shake those folks.

Pat Hatt said...

It is crazy they haven't taken a second look at this case. Sounds more and more like they don't want to admit they botched it up.

Julia, the Thanksgiving Girl said...

Goodness, this makes me so sad :( But thank you for such a well written post and the explanations, I didn't know some of the things.

Little Ms. Fun said...

I can't believe how my faults can be found in one case. This is insane!! Now to top it all off, a basically useless report was initially dictated by a guy guilty of molesting a minor?! This is just getting more and more strange. It makes you suspicious of the investigators. Almost like they were hiding something.

Julia, the Thanksgiving Girl said...

P.S. I actually just read ALL of your posts on the matter. Thank you for your work making them so insightful, really hope they will re-open the case eventually.

Bob G. said...

There IS one thing I'm wodnering about with that .380 pistol.

Since it was UNDER her thigh and was moved (prior to photography), wouldn't there be trace "markings"(outline, grip-checkering, etc) ON her thigh where the body was resting on it?

Photographing THAT would bear out the pistol location.
(unless more tampering was involved)
Seems there would be, especially post-mortem.

just curious.

Another good post on this curious case.

Stay safe out there.

Anonymous said...

Bob they did photograph that and yes there was indeed am imprint on her thigh.

WomanHonorThyself said...

wow second eyes are sorely needed...Happy Monday my friend~!:)

Clarissa Draper said...

It gets crazier and crazier the more I hear about this case. I hope they reopen it and the family gets justice.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for the comments all.

Good observation Bob. The investigator did provide the family with a photo from the morgue that appears to show marks on the woman's leg--consistent with the gun.

And, I appreciate you doing all that reading Julia of my long-windedness.

Maxi said...

My one comment on each post has been the gun under Nikki's leg … can't be suicide.

A bloody cell phone on the table? What? She shot herself, put her hand to a fatal wound, then picked up the phone?

It seems officials ruled this a suicide before reaching the scene and there was no investigation.

Carol Kilgore said...

Sloppy police work and a detective now in prison. My, my.

Sue said...

I am thoroughly shocked that they won't reopen the case. Of all I know, it's clear this was foul play. The truth is that she did not commit suicide.

Anonymous said...

nice idea, thanks for sharing...

ZaSu Says said...

Phil January Interview with PI (Part 6 of many)

ZaSu Says said...

New post on Cold No More

Phil January Interview with PI (Part 8 of many)
by holliston2012
Now to Part 8 of the interview Phil January gave to a Private Investigator back in April 2003. His wife Nikki had been dead for 10 months, ruled a suicide by the Pass Christian, Mississippi police and Harrison County coroner. For more details, refer to this posting that chronicles everything from Nikki’s early life to her deaurlth. [...]
Read more of this post

Anonymous said...

Phil January Interview with PI (Part 9 and final)

NikkiLaDueJanuary said...

Shining a Light on Mississippi’s Dark Secret New post on Cold No More by holliston2012