Murders A-Z is a collection of true crime stories that take an in-depth look at both little-known and infamous murders throughout history.
Antoinetta McKoy thought she finally had it all — a renewed romance with her high school sweetheart, a large extended family that put faith first and a surrogate son, who filled a painful void in her life after she learned she was unable to have children. But soon after saying she’d marry Pete Lucas Moses Jr., her dreams turned into nightmares. She realized she had joined a polygamist cult that Moses violently ruled over, expecting his wives and children to address him as “My Lord.” And when Moses turned his ire to the young boy McKoy had grown to love as her own, it would set off a bloody spiral that claimed both their lives.
Oxygen's new series "Dying to Belong" revisits how McKoy's longing for love and family led her down a dark path and into the hands of a murderous cult leader.
McKoy grew up in a tight-knit family in Washington D.C. that practiced Pentecostal Christianity. Faith played an important part in McKoy’s life. As a student at Dunbar High School in Northwest Washington D.C., she met Moses, who shared her deep religious beliefs. According to her family, she wasn’t allowed to date, but Moses often walked Antoinetta home from school. When he moved away, she was heartbroken, but the two re-connected as adults on Facebook in 2010, according to ABC News.
McKoy soon began visiting Moses in Durham, North Carolina, where he shared a house with a large group of women and children. Among them was a 4-year-old boy named Jadon Higganbothan, who lived there with his mother, Vania Rae Sisk.
"It was a lot people staying in the house," Jadon's father and Sisk's ex-husband, Jamiel Higganbothan, told WTVD-TV. "It was her, it was the kids, it was his sister, her kids."
McKoy grew fond of the boy, even though Moses didn’t seem to like him.
In Durham, McKoy learned Moses now espoused the beliefs of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a fringe religious sect that believes African-Americans are the true descendants of the ancient Israelites and blend Jewish and Christian religious practices with Black liberation theology. He was also a polygamist. The other women in the house were his "wives," and, excluding Jadon Higganbothan, he was father to the other eight children living there. The women worked to support him and addressed Moses as “Lord”.
In August 2010, McKoy told her sister, Janayia Dubose, that Moses had “smacked her in the mouth with a gun and shot at her three times." She said she was scared of him and the other members of his group, but stayed in the relationship.
“She was like, 'You don't understand about how it works, they kill people'," Dubose told WTVD-TV.
In early December of that year, McKoy returned to D.C. with Moses to pick up the last of her things.
"She had gave us a hug and said that she loved us and that she would be calling us soon because she's coming back," said Janayia Dubose. It would be the last time they ever saw her alive.
In Durham, McKoy became increasingly hard to reach. Phone calls and texts from her family went unanswered. Finally, they stopped altogether. In February 2011, her family reported her missing. When police went to Pete Moses’ house, he told them she had left weeks earlier and he hadn’t heard from her since.
Soon after, police in Durham began investigating the disappearance of 4-year-old Jadon Higganbothan, who hadn’t been seen since the previous October. When police questioned Vania Sisk about his whereabouts, she gave differing accounts, saying he was staying with two different women. When they returned for a follow-up interview, the house in Durham was empty. Sisk was eventually tracked to Colorado Springs, where she was questioned and her children were taken into Child Protective Services.
It was soon revealed that police were operating on a tip from an informant who had been living in the Durham home of Pete Moses Jr. According to the informant, Moses shot Jadon Higganbothan in the basement of the house, then stuffed his body in a suitcase, which sat in the attic until it began to stink, whereupon it was removed.
According to search warrants, Moses had also ordered the murder of Antoinetta McKoy following an argument. She was beaten unconscious by two of her fellow wives before being fatally shot by Sisk. A search of the home would later find a bullet, shell casing, evidence of human blood and "overt cleaning" in part of the home. What they didn’t find was either of the bodies.
In June 2011, the owner of a rental property in Durham called plumbers because of a foul odor in his backyard, which he thought was a blocked sewage pipe. Until that February, the home’s tenant had been Moses’ mother, Sheilda Harris. While trying to find the source of the smell, they discovered a black bag buried in the backyard, and called 911.
"It has a horrible smell," they told the dispatcher, "We don't think it's an animal or nothing. It seems like it could possibly be another human."
Following the discovery of McKoy and Higganbothan’s bodies, seven people were charged in connection to their murders. They included Pete Moses, as well as three of his “wives” — Vania Sisk, Lavada Quinzetta Harris and LaRhonda Renee Smith. Also arrested were Moses’ mother Sheilda Harris, his sister Sheila Moses and his brother, P. Leonard Moses. The charges against Harris and Sheila Moses were later dropped.
Prosecutors planned to seek the death penalty against Pete Moses. In the lead up to his trial in 2012, it was revealed Moses had become obsessed with the idea that Jadon Higganbothan was gay. In October 2010, after Jadon hit one of his half-brothers on the buttocks, Moses took him to the garage of their home, and while music with the Lord's Prayer recited in Hebrew played loudly in the background, he shot the boy in the head.
Antoinetta McKoy had been in Washington D.C. at the time of Jadon’s murder. She returned to Durham that December, but Moses decided to kill her after learning she could not bear him children. On December 21 or 22 of 2010, she ran to a neighbor’s house and asked to use their phone, but was caught and dragged her back to the house. She was beaten and strangled and later shot three times by Vania Sisk.
Rather than take his chances in a case with witnesses, incriminating fingerprints and the murder weapon, Pete Moses pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in June 2012. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in July 2013.
"I'm sorry for what happened to your daughter," he told Antoinetta’s mother, Yvonne McKoy, at the hearing.
A month earlier, Vania Rae Sisk was sentenced to over 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Antoinetta Yvonne McKoy and to being an accessory after the fact of murder in the death Jadon Higganbothan.
At roughly the same time, Lavada Harris pleaded guilty to two counts of accessory to murder after the fact and was given two consecutive sentences of 73-97 months, while P. Leonard Moses was sentenced to 58-79 months in prison after pleading guilty to murder and accessory to murder after the fact. He has since been released from prison.
For her part in the murders, LaRhonda Smith was sentenced to 23 to 29 years in prison after pleading guilty the previous February.
To learn more about the case, watch "Dying to Belong" on Oxygen.
[Photo: Oxygen Screengrab]