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.
Divorces can get ugly, especially when children are involved. Custody battles can turn into full-on war, with parents doing anything to hold on to their kids. In the case of Jessica Bates McCord, “anything” meant murdering her ex-husband Alan Bates and his second wife Terra. To kill them and cover up their murders, she would enlist husband number two, Jeff McCord, who happened to be a cop.
Jessica Callis was born in 1971 and grew up in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. "Jessica’s dad and mom divorced when she was really young," a friend of Jessica's told "Snapped." "There was some violence involved there. Um, she would hint at it as we were talking about our family lives."
Jessica's mother left her father and eventually remarried. Jessica's friend also told “Snapped" that although Jessica’s new stepfather was “a very nice man," she still rebelled as a teenager and described her as “anti-social.”
Jessica “mocked the people who were the most popular in school,” said her friend. So it was odd that she started dating Alan Bates.
Alan was one of the most popular kids at Shades Valley High School in Irondale, Alabama.
“He was elected class president from grades nine, 10 and 11,” Alan’s father Philip Bates told “Snapped.” Despite their different social standings, they had undeniable chemistry. “They were very physical, all over each other. They really seemed to have a good time together,” said Kathy Turner.
Maybe it was too much of a good time.
In their senior year, Alan got Jessica pregnant. She dropped out of school, and the couple married.
After the birth of their daughter, the Bates moved to Montavallo, Alabama, where Alan attended college on a theater scholarship. Though they initially seemed to enjoy being married and living on their own, their relationship started to come apart following the birth of their second daughter in 1992. By 1994, Jessica took the girls and moved into her mother’s place, and Alan filed for divorce.
In 1996, Alan began dating art historian Terra Klugh. According to The Washington Post, they met at Birmingham’s historic Alabama Theatre, which Klugh was surveying for the National Park Service, and where Bates worked as a technical director. Not only did Alan’s friends think she was a good for him, but she also got along with his daughters.
“She was just devoted to his kids, she took them places. She did things with them. She loved them,” Terra’s father, Tom Klugh, told “Snapped.” The only person who didn’t approve of Terra Klugh was Alan’s ex-wife, Jessica.
[Jessica Bates McCord}
“She did not want the children to have anything to do with Terra,” Alan’s friend Cecil Whitmire told “Snapped.” It was around this time that Jessica started skipping and shortening Alan’s visitations with his daughters.
In June 2000, Alan and Terra were married and soon moved to Frederick, Maryland. He had taken a job as production manager for a national theater management company, and she was pursuing a master's degree in historic preservation at nearby Goucher College. Curiously, Jessica remarried that same month, wedding Jeff McCourt, a sheriff’s deputy who she had met at her new job as a dispatcher for the Birmingham Police Department. Unfortunately, that job wouldn’t last long. According to radio station WDUN, she was fired that same year for being absent without leave and physically attacking Alan Bates.
With Alan now living in another state, Jessica began flagrantly violating his visitation rights. She moved often, so he didn’t know where to find them, or she would leave them at her mother’s when they were supposed to be home for weekly phone calls with their father. Finally, Allen took her to court, but Jessica just ignored the judge’s orders. In December 2001, according to "Snapped," she was arrested for contempt of court after skipping a custody hearing and spent 10 days in jail.
"The courts were tired of her," a friend of Jessica's told "Snapped." "They were tired of her being in contempt of court."
Though Alan had long thought his daughters were best served by living with their mother, he now decided to seek full custody. On Friday, February 15, 2002, Alan and Terra flew down to Birmingham. They were there for depositions related the custody case, but they first planned to spend the weekend with Alan’s parents near Atlanta, Georgia. They rented a car at the airport and drove over to Jessica’s to pick up the girls.
Philip Bates was expecting his son’s family around 9 PM that night. When they were over an hour late, he decided to call.
“We could never get in touch with them. We dialed their phone numbers, their cell phones, multiple times. Never got an answer. We called the house, didn't get an answer,” he told “Snapped.” Afraid they had been in an automobile accident, he called the state and highway patrol, but neither agency had anything to report.
Around 3 AM on the morning on February 16, a farmer just outside Atlanta dialed 911 to report what he thought was a forest fire. When firefighters got there, they discovered the blaze was centered around a car. When they opened the trunk to help put out the fire, they discovered human remains. They were burnt beyond recognition, as was the car. The license plate, however, had fallen off and survived. Police traced it to an Avis Rent a Car at the Birmingham, Alabama, airport. It had been rented to Alan Bates. Early the next morning, after learning of his son’s death, Philip Bates called the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and told them about Alan’s ongoing custody battle with his ex-wife.
Investigators drove straight to Birmingham and the police department where Jeff McCord was on duty. Jeff nonchalantly explained that Alan and Terra had never picked up the girls, so he and Jessica took the kids to her mother’s and then went on a belated Valentine’s Day date to the movies.
Investigator Sheron Vance told “Snapped,” “We asked him did he have any proof that he did that, and he said, ‘Why, yes I do, I believe I still have the ticket stubs,’ which he pulled out of his wallet.”
Investigators then spoke with Jessica McCord, who told them the exact same story. She said that when Alan never showed, she called him.
“At 6:30 approximately she called him did not get an answer, left a message on his cell phone and wanted to know where he was why he wasn’t there,” an investigator told “Snapped.”
The following day, a Georgia coroner recovered a single nine-millimeter slug from Alan’s wrist. Police served a search warrant on the McCord house that same day, but no one was home, so they forced their way inside. In the basement family room, investigators found new flooring and wallpaper that had obviously been done in a hurry.
“When we pulled that wallpaper down, we found the bullet hole in the wall,” Hoover Police Officer Tom McDanal told “Snapped.” It matched the bullet found in Alan Bates’ wrist. On the leg of a coffee table they also found blood, which was later matched to Terra Klugh Bates. Though they had traveled to Florida immediately following the investigation, the McCords returned to Alabama on February 21 and were taken into custody. Both Jeff and Jessica were charged with first-degree murder and the state let it be known it would be seeking the death penalty.
District Attorney Roger Brown told “Snapped,” “There was not going to be any copping a plea. Not with Jessica.” They were, however, willing to cut a deal with her husband, but Jeff McCord refused to testify against his wife, saying, “I was not going to be the person that, quote, unquote, 'turned on her.'”
The trial of Jessica Bates McCord began on February 11, 2003. The prosecution explained how the Bates had been lured to the McCords' house. Jeff McCord would later confess to making small talk with the couple before unleashing a barrage of gunfire, killing Terra immediately before putting several shots into Alan, who cursed him as he died. Afterwards, they went to great lengths to cover up the murder, buying movie tickets and calling Alan's phone to make it seem like he had never arrived to pick up the girls.
Though much of the evidence against Jessica was circumstantial, the prosecution had the bullet found in their home, which matched the bullet found in Alan Bates’ wrist, and Terra’s blood on the coffee table. They also were able to prove that Jessica’s cell phone had made phone calls while en route to Georgia, where the Bates’ rental car was eventually dumped and set on fire. The only people testifying on Jessica’s behalf were herself and her mother, who lied on the stand about her whereabouts the night of the killing, and was later tried and convicted for perjury, according to The Gadsden Times.
On February 15, 2003, Jessica McCord was found guilty of capital murder in the deaths of Alan and Terra. Her conviction came exactly a year to the day after she orchestrated Alan and Terra Bates murders.
“It’s just a little bit of poetic justice,” Amy Pleasant, a friend of the victims, told The Gadsden Times. Ultimately, a judge decided to spare her life and sentence her to life in prison, without parole.
In order to avoid the death penalty, Jeff McCord pleaded guilty to the murders of Alan and Terra Bates in April of 2003, and was sentenced to two life terms in prison. In exchange for detailing the murders, he was granted the chance for parole. In June of 2017, the website AL.com reported he had been denied his first chance of parole. He will not be eligible again until 2022.
Jessica and Jeff McCord were divorced following their arrest, and ironically she now goes by the name Jessica Bates, taking the last name of the man whose murder she orchestrated. She left behind five children, not just her two daughters with Alan Bates, who were raised by his parents, but two she had with Jeff McCord, one of whom she gave birth to while in custody, and another child with a different father in between her marriages. In cruel if fitting twist of fate, in the end, her bloody efforts to hold on to her children resulted in her spending the rest of her life away from them in jail.
[Pictured at top: Philip Bates and Terra Klugh]