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In Picayune, Mississippi, a park is named in honor of Leola Jordan, a beloved grandmother and former schoolteacher who was brutally stabbed to death in 1998.
Jordan was 91 when she was found dead in her bed on June 30, 1998, and her murder has haunted the community for 23 years. During an episode of “Cold Justice,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen, longtime prosecutor Kelly Siegler and homicide investigator Tonya Rider are in Picayune to work with local authorities on the homicide case.
“It’s one of those cases that has not been forgotten,” Picayune Police Dept. Chief Freddy Drennan tells Siegler, adding that the resources “Cold Justice” brings are “a godsend.”
Reviewing the facts of the case with Picayune Police Dept. Capt. Rhonda Poche-Johnson and former Picayune Police Dept. Det. Holly Krantz, Siegler and Rider learn that Jordan suffered 41 knife wounds on her body, mainly to her face, neck, and hands.
They also find out that a knife went missing from a block in the victim’s kitchen. The victim’s purses had been ransacked, suggesting that robbery may have been a motive. Hundreds of dollars were found in the home, however, leading investigators to believe that the killer had fled in a hurry.
Fingernail scrapings, a blood-spattered pocketbook, and the victim’s nightgown had been preserved for DNA analysis.
In addition, a spare key that belonged to Jordan’s grandson, Sergio “Scooby” Williams, was found on a kitchen cabinet in the victim’s home. Its presence could be explained by the fact that he and his mother, Wanda Williams, lived with Jordan for awhile before the murder, though.
Two suspects emerge for the “Cold Justice” team.” They include Sergio, who, like his mother, has been inconsistent regarding his alibi for the night of the murder.
The victim’s granddaughter Shanga Jordan tells the “Cold Justice” team that rumors have flown that “Scooby” was involved since her grandmother’s funeral.
The second possible suspect is Jonas Bates, Sergio’s close friend who told authorities that he’d hung out with Sergio that night. Bates allegedly confessed in a letter to killing Jordan. Siegler observes that the witnesses claiming knowledge of the note, though, were inmates and not completely reliable.
To get a better picture of Jordan’s final moments, Siegler and Rider reconstruct the crime scene with local officials and forensics and weapons expert Christ Robinson.
Blood-pattern evidence at the scene suggests that there was just one attacker, and the frenzied, multiple wounds indicate that drugs could have been involved.
For insight into Sergio's possible state of mind, investigators speak to his friends from 1998. One reveals that he allegedly “took some dope from a couple people” the night of the murder. Those drugs, notes Rider, could have affected Sergio’s state of mind.
One of those robbery victims refutes the claim about drugs, but says that Sergio did take money from him. The second victim says that Sergio, who was alone, “did look desperate” that night and alleges that he grabbed crack cocaine from him and ran off.
As investigators work the Bates angle, they learn the alleged recipient of his rumored confession letter can’t recall it, casting doubt on its authenticity. Bates, who flew to Mississippi from California for questioning, claims that he was bluffing when he said he was involved in a murder. It was a way to puff up his reputation, he says.
Siegler concludes that Bates’ recollections are “all over the place. The only thing I’m sure of,” she says, “is that we can’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth.”
When Sergio's ex-girlfriend is interviewed she says he had a violent temper and claims that he did drugs. She also says that the morning after the murder he was doing his laundry, which leads detectives to consider if he was washing away evidence.
Wanda Williams, Sergio’s mother, admits that she has long heard rumors that her son committed the crime but doesn’t think he did and never asked him to tell her one way or another. The “Cold Justice” team determines that she can’t add anything to the case.
Before investigators speak to Sergio, they review the DNA results. Fingernail scrapings from the victim turn up no male DNA. The white purse detects no conclusive male DNA. But her nightgown has Sergio’s DNA on it.
“What the hell is he doing on Grandma’s nightgown?” says Siegler, adding that he’d said he hadn’t seen her in a month.
As circumstantial and DNA evidence against Sergio mounts, investigators seek to interview him. After a day of unsuccessfully trying to track him down, they give up and review the case.
Bates, 39, is cleared as a suspect. The evidence pointing at Sergio, says Siegler, “is as strong as it is heartbreaking.”
Prosecutors agreed that the evidence is solid enough to move forward with an arrest. On Mother’s Day, May 9, 2021, Sergio Williams, 47 was charged with his grandmother’s murder.
Drennan credited the efforts of “Cold Justice.” “They were able to bring some things that we just don’t have access to,” he told local outlet WLOX.
“The main thing was the DNA,” Johnson added in the May 2021 story. “If DNA would have been available like it is today back then, it would have been solved then. I’m just happy to be able to bring justice to Leola Jordan.”
Shanga Jordan has fought tirelessly by writing letters and appealing to authorities, even the President of the United States, to get justice for Leola, according to Siegler, who says, “It’s been long enough.”
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