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Woman Murders Husband Of 3 Months, Plays It Off As ‘Hunting Accident’
Janice Dodson thought she had an airtight alibi — until muddy clothes led to her arrest.
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.
On October 15, 1995, a distressing 911 call brought multiple law enforcement agencies to a remote section of Colorado’s Uncompahgre National Forest.
Newlywed John Bruce Dodson had been gunned down in what appeared to be a tragic hunting accident, and his wife, Janice Dodson, was hysterical at his side.
When authorities uncovered that Bruce had been struck with not one, but three bullets, they began investigating his death as a homicide, leading them to a killer with a dark motive no one could have suspected.
Born Janice Kay Sanders in 1951, the future Mrs. Dodson grew up in Houston, Texas with a family that spent its free time hunting in the great outdoors. It wasn’t all happy memories, however, and she often butted heads with her parents.
“She had some issues and left to escape her home life. She had to get out,” friend Catherine Matthews told Oxygen’s Snapped.
Fleeing from her family, Janice fell into the arms of a ranch hand named J.C. Lee. The couple married and had two children, a daughter and a son. The family settled in Western Colorado, where she earned a nursing degree and landed a job at Delta Memorial Hospital.
“She was a great nurse. All her patients loved her,” said Matthews.
Janice Meets Bruce Dodson
While Janice’s career thrived, her home life fell into turmoil when J.C. left her after 20 years of marriage for a younger woman. Janice soon took a job at a hospital in Montrose, Colorado and began dating one of her former co-workers back in Delta — John Bruce Dodson.
A native of Baltimore, Maryland, “Bruce” was a Vietnam War veteran and ex-Navy man who worked as a lab technician and who friends remember for his compassion and intelligence. Bruce fell hard for Janice and helped her through her divorce. In July 1995, the couple were married.
Three months after their wedding day, Janice took Bruce on his first hunting expedition in Uncompahgre National Forest. It was an area she knew well, as she and J.C. had camped and hunted there often.
As a matter of fact, J.C. was there that same weekend with his girlfriend, brother and friends.
Also hunting and camping in the Uncompahgre National Forest that weekend were Doug Kyle and Michael Madewell, two off-duty police officers from Texas. On the morning of Oct. 15, 1995, Kyle heard three gunshots near his campsite. Soon after, a woman — Janice Dodson — walked nearby and told him she and her husband were hunting in the area.
Bruce Dodson Fatally Shot
About an hour later, Kyle heard screaming and rushed over to find Janice next to Bruce, who was lying face down on the ground, bleeding from a gunshot wound on his back. A rifle and three spent shells were in the grass beside him.
“She's crying and carrying on," Kyle told ABC News. “I said, ‘Is this your husband?’ And she said, 'Yes, that's Bruce. Help — you've got to help him.’”
When he checked Bruce’s body, Kyle could not find a pulse, and he did not see Bruce’s chest moving. Kyle then rushed up the mountain to alert authorities, and when he returned to the campsite with a Mesa County Sheriff’s deputy, he found a very different scene.
“The deputy let me walk him down, and when I got to the spot with him, I immediately stopped and I said, ‘Well, this is different’,” Kyle told “Snapped. “This is not the way I left this.”
Bruce was lying on his back, and Janice had covered him with a blanket. Janice said she wanted to keep Bruce warm until law enforcement arrived, but authorities were concerned that she had disturbed the crime scene, according to “Snapped.”
Janice told the sheriff’s deputy that she and Bruce had woken up early that morning around 5:00 a.m. to begin their hunting trip. They decided Janice would flush out game from up a hill, while Bruce waited in a meadow down below, ready to shoot.
They had agreed to return to the campsite around 9:30 a.m., according to Janice, but she came back a bit earlier to change her clothes, her boots and overalls because she had walked through a nearby bog. Shortly thereafter, she found her husband lying on the ground.
She became so distraught re-telling the story to sheriff’s deputies that she had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital, according to “Snapped.” Bruce’s body was transported to the coroner for an autopsy, which revealed Bruce had been shot three times.
This led authorities to believe Bruce’s death was a homicide, not a hunting accident, according to ABC News.
At the crime scene, investigators discovered two shell casings from .308-caliber bullets, which did not match either Bruce or Janice’s weapons. When investigators spoke with J.C., whose camp was less than a mile away from Janice and Bruce, he said a Remington .308-rifle had been stolen from his tent the day before Bruce’s murder.
While J.C. had an alibi — he was with other hunters at the time of Bruce’s death — authorities still had their doubts, according to “Snapped.”
“Being an ex-husband, a jealousy factor. It’s always suspicious,” Mesa County Deputy Sheriff John Hakes told “Snapped.” “They all camped at the same place and then Bruce ends up being killed.”
When Janice spoke to detectives, she told them, "J.C. didn't care for anybody I ever dated … even after we were divorced," according to ABC News.
Just weeks before Janice married Bruce, however, Lee said he had received a strange visit from his ex-wife. He told detectives that she wanted to reconcile with him, but he was not interested, according to “Snapped.” Friend Catherine Matthews confirmed that Janice was still infatuated with J.C.
“[S]he told me she loved J.C., and even when she married Bruce, she loved J.C. because he was her soulmate,” Matthews told “Snapped.”
For her part, Janice hardly seemed the grieving widow. Investigators learned Bruce had three life insurance policies, totaling $450,000. Soon after they were married, Janice “suggested to Bruce that he do a will, with her being the beneficiary of everything,” Hakes told “Snapped.”
Within a month of his death, she had sold off his home, his car, and his horse, and she was seen gambling at a casino in Louisiana, according to ABC News.
Police gave Janice a polygraph test three months after Bruce’s murder, and she stuck to her story, denying she had anything to do with her husband’s death. Hakes told “Snapped” that Janice showed “deceptive” on two questions, but without further evidence, they had nothing to hold her.
Janice moved on with her life, and a year later, she remarried and relocated to Texas. Investigators later learned she asked her new husband, Bart Hall, to take out a life insurance policy of $100,000.
Mud Links Janice Dodson to Crime Scene
Three years after Bruce Dodson’s death, investigators returned to Uncompahgre National Forest to search for the murder weapon. They focused on the bog by Janice’s camp and a pond near J.C.’s camp, which contained a type of clay that was unique to the area, according to GeoTimes, a magazine affiliated with the American Geological Institute.
Remembering Janice’s tale of wading through the bog, investigators took dirt samples from the pond and the bog and compared them the evidence found on Janice’s boots and overalls.
The samples were taken to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, where they were examined by forensic scientist Jacqueline Battles. She concluded the dried mud found on Janice Dodson's clothing was consistent with the samples from the pond near J.C.’s campsite, according to “Snapped.”
This placed Janice at the scene where J.C.’s gun was stolen, and it was enough evidence to secure a warrant for her arrest.
She was taken into custody and charged with first-degree murder, according to the Colorado newspaper Montrose Daily Press. In March 2000, she was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Janice is currently housed at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility.
Originally published Oct 1, 2019.