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Crime News Dateline

Texas Man Said He Found His Wife and Her 16-Year-Old Son Shot To Death, But the Crime Scene Revealed the Truth

Investigators initially thought the tragic deaths of Nichole Payne and her son Taylor could be the result of a murder-suicide, but chilling clues at the scene told a different story.

 

 

By Jill Sederstrom

When Nichole and Jason Payne bought their dream home tucked into the woods of Quitman, Texas, it seemed like the perfect spot for their blended family to settle. 

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“She wanted this type of house and then she looked for it and she found it and she’s like, ‘This is it,’ and he made it happen. They were happy,” their adopted son Daniel told Dateline: Secrets Uncovered in the "House of Horrors" episode. “They did almost everything together and they (had) just a typical marriage.”

But that dream would transform into a nightmare on the morning of December 11, 2007. Jason told police he returned home from dropping his son Jackson off at school and discovered his wife Nichole and 16-year-old stepson Taylor shot to death.

"My wife and my son are both shot. I need some help,” he said in a frantic 911 call.

A rifle was found between Taylor’s legs, initially leading investigators to believe it may have been a murder-suicide. But as the investigation deepened, detectives began to suspect someone else may have wanted the mother and son dead.

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Lt. Tucker Notices Discrepancies in Jason Payne's Story

Who was Nichole Payne? 

Nichole was a single mom to her biological son Taylor, and Daniel, whom she adopted out of foster care. At age 28, Nichole met Jason, a handsome 31-year-old, while asking for directions at a gas station, and they quickly fell in love.

The new couple married just weeks after meeting, much to the surprise of her family.

“She brought him home to meet us, and just came in, you know, into our kitchen and said, ‘Mom, dad... meet my husband,’” Nichole's mom Sherry Hawthorne recalled. “It was just total shock.”

But after the surprise wore off, the new family settled into a routine and welcomed two more children, son Jackson and daughter Remington. 

Money was initially tight, until Jason received a $900,000 settlement from a serious car accident. They used the money to buy their dream house and a boat.

Nichole had a business releasing doves at weddings, funerals or other special events.

“When I see pictures and when I hear stories of my mom, she’s just this wonderful person,” Remington told Dateline correspondent Andrea Canning, adding that she had “this huge smile all the time” and a “great personality.”

A police handout of Jason Payne

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What did Jason Payne say happened the morning Nichole and Taylor were shot?

Jason told detectives that on the morning of Dec. 11, 2007, Nichole was sick and so she stayed in bed as he got their two youngest children ready. 

He claimed Taylor threw a temper tantrum over not having his own cell phone and refused to go to school. 

“I mean, just kind of ranting, and — said he wasn’t going to school,” Jason said in one police interview. “I think he was mad over the cell phone.”

Jason told detectives he left Taylor behind and went to drop 5-year-old Jackson off at school, before returning home with their youngest child, 2-year-old Remington. He said that when he walked into the house, he discovered Nichole dead in her bed.

What happened to Nichole Payne and her son Taylor?

Nichole, 35, had been shot in the back of the head. 

Taylor was in his bedroom, which was in a converted garage, laying on his back on his bed. A rifle lay propped between his legs. 

“He’s blue, and, as cold as his body was, I knew there was no helping him,” recalled Leah Courtney, who was working as an EMT with the East Texas Medical Center at the time.

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What clues were left at the murder scene?

A seasoned crime investigator from a nearby county tasked with evaluating the scene concluded it had been a murder-suicide. He believed Taylor shot his mother before turning the gun on himself. 

Yet, other investigators weren’t so sure. Lt. Miles Tucker of the Wood County Sheriff’s Office noted that when authorities went into the home, Nichole’s body was still warm.

“She obviously had not been there very long,” he said. “When we made our way back into Taylor’s room, Taylor was just the opposite, he was very cold to the touch.” 

This led Tucker to believe that Taylor died much earlier than his mom, making it impossible for him to be the killer. 

Investigators also found a white rag with blood on it inside Jason’s truck. Tucker said the blood was “very bright red,” signaling to investigators that it was “fresh blood.” DNA tests would later reveal the blood belonged to Nichole. 

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Authorities also learned that the Paynes were broke and Jason stood to collect on a $100,000 life insurance policy in Nichole’s name.

While Jason insisted the couple had a “pretty close” relationship, her family was telling a different story. 

“She wasn’t happy that last couple years and there were just signs that, you know, that something wasn’t right,” her mother said. “He was controlling, he was very controlling. And it just seemed to get worse and worse as time went on.”

Nichole’s sister-in-law Sarah Hawthorne told detectives that Nichole had been thinking of leaving the marriage, but was afraid Jason would retaliate. 

“She said that he wanted to burn the house down with her in it because she wanted to leave,” Sarah told Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.

A police handout of Jason Payne

Who killed Nichole Payne and her son Taylor? 

Nearly 10 months after Nichole and Taylor were found dead, Jason was arrested and charged with killing his wife and stepson. 

He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in January of 2010. 

For Nichole’s mother Sherry, it was not only a measure of justice, but it also cleared her grandson Taylor’s name. 

“It was heartbreaking to think that not only did a monster take Taylor’s life at 16 years old, but he also was trying to take his whole reputation and brand him as a murderer,” she said. 

But it wouldn’t be the end of the case. In 2013, a criminal appeals court ruled that some of the testimony allowed in the trial had been hearsay and granted Jason a new trial. However, a second trial in March of 2016 would yield the same result. 

Where are Nichole and Jason Payne’s kids today? 

Nichole and Jason’s two youngest children were raised by their maternal grandparents. Today, both believe their father is guilty. 

“I was very relieved when he was convicted a second time,” Jackson told Dateline: Secrets Uncovered. “It brought a lot of weight off my chest knowing that my father, who's a murderer, is not going to be on the loose.” 

Remington, who was just 2 years old at the time of the murders, still has vivid impressions of that day and believes the right man is behind bars. 

“They said that I was so young that I couldn’t have remembered anything... and all I can think is like, something like that doesn’t go away,” she said. “The smell of the blood is one thing (that) is still there. I think you’re lucky if you forget everything.” 

At the time she spoke to Canning, Remington was getting ready to start college on a theater scholarship while her older brother was saving up to buy a home and hoping to get his license in physical therapy. 

Both are determined not to let the tragic events of their childhood define their lives.

“I imagined when I was little, like this perfect family and so now just the idea that one day I’ll be able to make that family for myself and like, for Jackson, and to have this like happy family, like I’m so excited for that,” Remington said.

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Where is Jason Payne today? 

Today, Jason Payne remains in prison where he is serving out his life sentence without the possibility of parole. 

But his story didn’t end with his conviction. Investigators believe Jason later recruited his mother Faye Payne to try to find someone to intimidate the EMT who was on the scene, Leah Courtney, into changing her story.

Faye was willing to do anything she could to help her son and tried to enlist her niece to hire a man to threaten to harm Courtney’s young son, but the niece secretly recorded their conversation and later turned the recording over to police. 

“You would do something to that child,” Faye explained in the recording. “Basically, you would be scaring this person.” 

After the shocking recording, Faye was arrested in 2016 for solicitation of tampering with a witness in a capital felony and later pled guilty. She received a sentence of 10 years of probation and has since died.