JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Most of us have lost a loved one, a family member or friend to death. But how many of us will lose someone to murder? Or, arguably worse, an unsolved murder?
In Jackson alone there are 16 unsolved homicides of the 69 committed in 2016.
True crime podcasts such as “Serial” and “Up and Vanished” use investigative journalism tools to power compelling nonfiction stories over multiple episodes.
The latter production has inspired a new podcast with a hooking twist related to two brutal, unsolved murders committed in Starkville 27 years ago.
The new podcast might have the potential to garner justice and help slice through a bit of legal red tape in Mississippi.
“Knock, Knock: Who Killed Betty?” was created by Jason Jones, the grandson of murder victim Betty Jones. Through the podcast, he revisits the unsolved rape and murders of his late grandmother and her friend Kathryn Crigler at Crigler’s home in Starkville on Sept. 3, 1990.
Jason Jones, a creative director in Nashville, is using the podcast to try to help solve the crime and secure justice for both Betty and Kathryn.
The podcast follows a complex, heart-wrenching narrative, with interviews from law enforcement, family and friends of both victims.
“We’ve had about 30,000 downloads of the podcast so far. There are people from all over the world reaching out and asking questions, or that knew my grandmother that wanted to tell me stories about her. And that would not have been possible if people had not been reminded of the story. I was 10 when she died,” Jones said.
“So I get to learn more about her with every story that’s told. Obviously, the point of this is to find justice for her murder, but the by product is getting to know more about this woman that I just didn’t get the chance to know as much as I would have liked.”
Familial DNA search
While Jason Jones continues to fight for Betty Jones and Kathryn Crigler via the podcast, police investigators continue to exhaust every resource at their disposal to solve the case.
But is it possible there is something inhibiting Mississippi law enforcement? Do they have access to every available investigative tool?
In Mississippi, the use of familial DNA search cannot be used because there is no definitive protocol in place, according to law enforcement officials.
When asked for comment regarding the potential use of familial DNA search in Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood stated “I’m working with the state crime lab to determine whether legislation would be beneficial as a precautionary measure, developing proper protocols, and in the procurement of necessary software. We support any tool that helps law enforcement do their job.”
“So you understand, this topic has been on the burner for over 10 years. The question for your community should be why the state (Mississippi) hasn’t implemented it yet while the liberal states have done so,” said Rock Harmon, a consultant and retired senior deputy district attorney for Alameda County, California.
Familial DNA search is a lab testing method by which, for example, a rape kit with semen evidence is run through the state’s own convicted violent offender database with the aim of getting a list of genetically related profiles.
To date, California, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming have protocol in place for the use of familial DNA search in solving violent crimes.
In July, Justin Christian of Ohio became the first criminal in that state to be tracked down via familial DNA search.
Ohio had Christian’s DNA from his rape of a 6-year-old but did not know it was his. After searching the state DNA database, there was no exact genetic match to him because Christian had not yet been caught and convicted of a violent crime. So Ohio law enforcement then turned to familial DNA search.
A match was found with several people related to Christian through a distinct genetic line. Christian was subsequently brought to justice and is serving a 35-year sentence without the possibility of parole.
‘I will not give up’
Sergeant Bill Lott of the Starkville Police Department has worked the Jones-Crigler murder case since 2001.
“This case is very important to me. I will not give up on it. I want to work it, even if after I retire,” Lott said.
Lott believes in the individual right to privacy but he also advocates for the use of familial DNA search as a tool for law enforcement.
“The science of familial DNA search is not only recognized but endorsed. There is no prohibition of familial search, but the proper protocol on how to do it … They (the Crime Lab) do not participate in criminal investigations and therefore they neither advocate for or against familial DNA search … This would be for law enforcement to promote and for the citizens of Mississippi who want to see victims get justice.”
‘Real interest in finding justice’
Jason Jones believes the combined efforts of his podcast team, his listeners and their contributions has the potential to help solve the Jones-Crigler case. For example, a “Knock Knock” listener who is also former law enforcement called and gave Jones advice and asked him questions about the case.
“There is this real interest in finding justice for cold cases. It’s really unique right now. You know, when we were growing up we would watch shows like ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ or ‘America’s Most Wanted,’ which is obviously close to us (the Jones-Crigler case was featured in a 1993 episode of the latter). They would have an episode, they would roll out a story in a few minutes, but then I feel like that news cycle would end and you would move on with your lives, maybe discuss it around the watercooler,” Jones said.
“What’s really cool about what we are doing, and what I think can actually make a difference, is we’re releasing it to a group of listeners who passionately care about it and then we give an opportunity to listeners to call in and ask questions. And that’s why I think this is a really special format. So I’m optimistic that we can find justice for Betty and Kathryn using this medium.”
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com