Murders A-Z is a collection of true crime stories that take an in-depth look at both little-known and famous murders throughout history.
Dionne Andrea Baugh seemed to have it all: good looks, a great personality, a promising career and a handsome, rich boyfriend. Since separating from her husband, she had been dating Lance Herndon, a successful businessman and a prominent member of Atlanta's upper class elite. Unfortunately, she wasn't his only girlfriend.
This was bad news for Dionne but worse for Lance, since, as they say, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Soon, she would stand accused of killing him or, to be more precise, bashing his head in with a wrench after having sex with him.Dionne Baugh was born and raised on the island nation of Jamaica, part of a large extended family, some of whom had emigrated to Atlanta, where they found success in real estate. Long known as a “black Mecca,” the city is home to prestigious African-American colleges, black history museums and a thriving arts and music scene, and it has produced many of the most prominent black leaders in US history. Dionne had long yearned to move there, and after marrying Air Jamaica pilot Shaun Nelson, she got her wish.
In Atlanta, Dionne worked as an executive assistant at MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, and studied finance at Georgia State University. In 1992, she and Shaun had a baby girl, Amanda. But life as a working mom in the suburbs wasn’t all she thought it would be. Shaun’s work as a pilot often took him out of the country for long stretches of time, and while he was away, she began seeing other men on the side. Dionne wanted more out of life, and Lance Herndon fit the bill — and then some.
Lance Herndon was one of the most successful businessmen in Atlanta. He was the founder of Access, Inc., a thriving computer-consulting firm, and co-owner of The Vixen Club, one of the city’s top nightlife spots.
“He was selected during the Clinton administration as a small business entrepreneur of the year. There was a ceremony for him in the Rose Garden at the White House,” business associate Williams Clement told Oxygen’s "Snapped."
The three-time divorcee was also one Atlanta’s most eligible bachelors.
“He positioned himself in town as kind of a black Jay Gatsby,” author Ron Stodghil said in an interview with National Public Radio about his book, "Redbone: Money, Malice and Murder in Atlanta," which examined his murder. “He was very, very lavish. He threw big parties and he overspent.”
Dionne schemed her way into Herndon’s 41st birthday party.
“He said, ‘I have this young lady who is from MARTA who is trying to trick me. She says her boss didn't receive the invitation,’” Herndon’s assistant Zonya Adams told "Snapped." “We laughed about it and faxed her a copy of one of the invitations.”
She made quite an impression because within weeks, the two were dating. He even bought her a new Mercedes automobile.
Shaun Nelson eventually got the hint and moved back to Jamaica with their daughter. Dionne was now free to pursue Lance Herndon full-time. The only problem was, she wasn’t getting his full attention. Herndon had at least two other girlfriends that he saw regularly. On the night of July 10, 1996, Dionne made an unannounced visit to his home.
“She found out that Lance had company, there was another woman there. Dionne was able to look through the windows,” Prosecutor Clint Rucker told "Snapped." “She began to beat on the door and ring the doorbell and call him on the phone repeatedly.”
Herndon called 911.
“Lance wouldn't let her in. He was very much afraid and had never experienced anything like that before,” said Zonya Adams. Police arrested Dionne at the scene and charged her with criminal trespassing. Rather than press charges, however, Lance went down to the police station and bailed her out.
“Perhaps, he thought he drove her to that point. I think he felt a tremendous sense of guilt,” said Adams.
The incident was the breaking point for Herndon, and he told friends he planned to end the six-month relationship.
“What we know is that Mr. Herndon was interested in getting this Mercedes Benz back,” said Prosecutor Clint Rucker. “He had begun to cut her off financially by prohibiting her from using his credit cards. We know that he was distancing himself from her.”
[Photo: Oxygen screengrab]
Supposedly, he planned to break up with Dionne after clearing up her trespassing charge. They were due in court on August 8, 1996, but that afternoon, neither of them showed up.
Lance Herndon kept a strict schedule. He awoke every workday at 4 AM to the sound of three blaring alarm clocks and was downstairs in his home office by 5 AM. But when his staff arrived that morning at 8 AM, he was nowhere to be found.
“He wasn't supposed to be out,” said Zonya Adams. “He was supposed to be there. We had discussed it the day before.”
Worried, they called his mother, who immediately came over.
“She went upstairs and that was it, she just started hollering,” said Adams. Lance Herndon had been murdered.
Lance Herndon was found naked in his waterbed, beaten to death.
“There was no evidence of any defensive injuries, so that tells me that he was asleep or completely caught unawares when the first blow descended on the back of his head,” State Medical Examiner Kris Sperry told "Snapped."
The killer used a blunt weapon, hitting Herndon at least a dozen times.
Sperry explained, “That is a lot of blows. It means that someone is taking the time and effort in the frenzy of the moment to hit Lance Herndon again and again, beyond the point that was necessary to cause his death.”
Herndon’s maid told investigators that a large crescent wrench was missing from the house, which they believe could have been the murder weapon. The killer also knew Herndon’s habits and schedule, knowing to unplug his three alarm clocks to avoid attention.
After her outburst and arrest a month prior, police wanted to talk to Dionne Baugh. Detectives were waiting for her when she returned home from work that day. When they told her of Herndon’s death, she went into hysterics. Then, she told them that her husband Shaun had been in Atlanta that weekend and had exchanged angry phone messages with Herndon. However, he had flown out of town the night of the murder at 9 PM. Herndon’s time of death was estimate to be between midnight and 4 AM.
When questioned by police, Baugh admitted Herndon gave her money and had told her he was cutting her off. To prosecutors, this showed clear motive.
“She was spurned. She was about to be dumped,” said Kris Sperry. “She was suddenly seeing what she had built up as her hopes and dreams crashing down around her.”
What they didn’t have, however, was evidence.
“I did not want to make an arrest on the case unless we were sure that we had a case that we could prosecute,” Detective William E. Anastasio told "Snapped."
Police believe whoever killed Herndon had been in bed with him. According to court documents, blood splatter marks on the wall and ceiling suggested that his killer was straddling him at the time of his death. Head and pubic hair samples found on Herndon’s nude body, as well as skin cells found under his fingernails, were eventually matched to one of his girlfriends: Dionne Baugh.
Prosecutor Clint Rucker told "Snapped," “Our DNA evidence put her in very close proximity to his body. The hair evidence proves that she was actually in his bed consistent with the manner in which the killer would have had to been in it when inflicting the blows to Mr. Herndon.”
On January 29, 1998, police arrested Dionne Baugh and charged her for the murder of Lance Herndon. Released on $150,000 bond, prosecutors took their time building the case against her. Among the evidence presented when the case finally went to trial in 2001 was the fact that on the day Lance Herndon was found dead, Baugh bought $3,000 worth of furniture on one of Herndon's credit cards. She also was in possession of his expensive laptop computer, which his associates said never left his side. Among the state’s witnesses was Detective William E. Anastasio, who recalled what others had said about Baugh, painting a picture of her as a promiscuous gold digger, hearsay which her defense team vigorously objected to.
After deliberating for six hours and 20 minutes, a jury convicted Dionne Baugh on first-degree murder charges for the murder of Lance Herndon and sentenced her to life in prison. Two years later, however, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned her conviction, finding that Detective Anastasio's testimony had biased the jury.
District Attorney Paul Howard told "Snapped," “The court said that it was an inappropriate bolstering of testimony and for that reason the court reversed it.”
Dionne Baugh’s second trial for the murder of Lance Herndon ended in a mistrial after jurors could not reach consensus. She was released on $500,000 bail. Rather than take her chances with a third trial, which could result in a reinstatement of her life sentence, Baugh pleaded guilty in November 2004 to voluntary manslaughter. The Associated Press reported that she agreed to serve 10 years in prison, with another 10 years of probation upon her release.
Jackie Herndon, Lance’s mother, said after the sentencing, "My son was a good child, a loving child. He got caught up with this woman who was greedy and out of control."
Dionne Baugh was released from prison in November 2011 at the age of 44. A relative who asked not to be named told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time, "I'm happy that she is out and hopefully she is doing well."
Her ex-husband and child still live in Jamaica.