At what point does a man seem suspicious instead of merely unlucky? That's the question detectives had to answer after Jack Reeves' wife Emelita, a mail-order bride from the Philippines, vanished in Texas in 1994 without a trace.
On October 12, 1994, a friend of Emelita Reeves contacted the Arlington Police Department. She told them that Emelita, who she had last seen the night before, wasn't answering her phone. She was concerned.
"She said it's just not in character for her to not answer her phone or pager," Tommy LeNoir, a detective with the Arlington Police Department, told "Exhumed," airing Sundays at 7/6c and 8/7c on Oxygen.
Police headed to her home for a welfare check, and when they arrived at the Reeves residence, they walked the perimeter of the home. Through a window, they spotted a man kneeling inside the garage. After they told him to come to the front door, he identified himself as Jack Reeves, and insisted he had no idea where his wife had gone. Reeves said that she regularly vanished for two or three days at a time.
However, when police followed up a few days later, Emelita was still missing. They questioned Reeves, who revealed to them that Emelita was a 26-year-old mail-order bride from the Philippines. They had married four months after their first meeting and had a son together.
"Emelita was living in poverty and Jack was her escape from poverty," Lenoir told producers. "I don’t believe it was true love and romance."
Reeves also claimed his wife was having an affair with the friend who had first alerted police she was missing. This raised red flags for investigators.
"When people start engaging in multiple relationships, there’s always that propensity for things to go wrong," Lenoir explained.
When they questioned that friend, she confirmed that they had been romantically involved, but she insisted that she had no clue where Emelita could be. Emelita, who was part of their tight-knit circle of Filipino friends in Arlington, had driven her to the Jack In The Box where she worked on the night of October 11 at 7:30 p.m. She never heard from her again.
Emelita's friend group was concerned because they didn't believe she would leave her son — and they also claimed the young bride was afraid of her husband and had been planning to leave him. She had specifically said to call the police if she disappeared, they said.
"Jack was not a nice man to her. He was brutal to her both emotionally and physically at times,” true crime author Patricia Springer told producers.
Police became even more suspicious when they learned two of Reeves' previous wives had died. His first marriage was brief and had been annulled. Sharon Reeves, his second wife, died by suicide in 1978. His third wife, Myong Reeves, another mail-order bride, had drowned in Lake Whitney in 1984. Myong’s sister had been suspicious of him, claiming Reeves beat her sister and that Myong, who couldn't swim, never would have gone in a lake, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1996.
The death was ruled accidental, and Reeves had Myong's body cremated.
The Arlington Police Department contacted the Copperas Cove Police Department, which handled the case of Sharon's suicide 16 years prior. They told LeNoir that on July 20, 1978, Reeves contacted authorities and said his wife had shot herself. He and his young son had both been home at the time, and Reeves told them that he rushed to check on her after hearing the gunshot.
When police arrived, they noticed the gun was positioned between Sharon's legs and she had been shot in the heart. Reeves suggested she pulled the trigger with her toe and even pointed out a cut on it. She was brought to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Reeves had been married to Sharon for 18 years and they had two sons. He had a military background and while he was deployed to Korea, she stayed behind at the Texas base. However, she started seeing someone else and was preparing to leave Reeves days before she died. Those close to her didn't believe the story behind her death.
"There was no way Sharon would commit suicide. She had too much to look forward to. It just didn’t make any sense whatsoever," her friend and colleague, Sybil Freuh, told producers.
However, a suicide note was found that stated she was torn between two lovers and it was too much for her to bear. The case was closed.
There was no real evidence remaining of Sharon's death, but LeNoir lucked out when he obtained the single remaining crime scene photo from a detective who had worked her case. The blood patterns and positioning of the barrel in the photo looked suspicious to LeNoir. He wanted to do an exhumation and get a proper autopsy. He approached Sharon's father for permission, who eagerly gave it, as he had long believed Reeves killed her.
Detectives were nervous about the exhumation — after all, it had been 16 years, and the Texas heat can make a body decompose in a matter of days. Luckily, Reeves had ordered a very elaborate metal casket for Sharon, which kept her body well-preserved.
The coroner found no gunpowder residue on her skin and therefore determined the cut on her toe was not a gunshot trigger wound. This suggested her death was likely a homicide.
Investigators also determined the positioning of her body and the blood splatters in the photo were not right; she would have collapsed forward or straight down, instead of backward on the bed. They even did experiments with a mannequin based on Sharon’s body. It just didn't add up — she wasn't tall enough to reach the trigger in the way the photo suggested.
Her cause of death was changed to homicide, and an arrest warrant was obtained for Reeves. On March 25, 1996, he was taken into custody — right at the moment he was in the process of mailing a letter to the Philippines in an attempt to get another mail-order bride.
"I always thought his response was incredible. He said, ‘Which one?" LeNoir said of the moment Reeves was charged for his wife's murder.
Reeves was finally indicted for Sharon's murder in March 1995. But he refused to speak to investigators about Emelita, and police, believing her to be dead, still needed to find her body. After Reeves’ arrest, his son with Sharon, Randall Reeves, came forward and said his dad asked him to hide Emelita's cell phone, which he then handed over to the police. He also said when Emelita first went missing, his father had gutted a new sofa and tossed it, then washed the truck he used to transport the sofa from his property.
Randall also told police Reeves was very familiar with Texas’ Lake Whitney State Park and had even gone camping there the day after Emelita disappeared. Detectives scoured the park but found nothing. Then, in October 1995, a hunter and his young son discovered a skull in the state park. Emelita Reeves' body was finally found.
On Oct. 30, 1995, Reeves was indicted for Emelita’s murder. He first went to trial for Sharon's murder in January 1996, where he was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years. In August 1996, he was found guilty of killing Emelita. He was sentenced to another 99 years in prison.
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