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A hometown hero: Starkville investigator recognized for work on Labor Day murders case

 

SPD Lt. Bill Lott watches with his wife, Donna, right, as he's announced as a Modern Woodman Hometown Hero during Tuesday's board of Aldermen meeting. Lott was recognized for his work in solving the 1990 Labor Day murders case.

SPD Lt. Bill Lott watches with his wife, Donna, right, as he's announced as a Modern Woodman Hometown Hero during Tuesday's board of Aldermen meeting. Lott was recognized for his work in solving the 1990 Labor Day murders case. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff

 

Barbara Coats

Barbara Coats

 

Lynn Spruill

Lynn Spruill

 

Frank Nichols

Frank Nichols

 

 

Alex Holloway

 

 

Anne McWhorter can still remember the day she met Starkville Police Dept. Lt. Bill Lott. 

 

McWhorter is the sister of 65-year-old Betty Jones, one of two victims, along with 81-year-old Kathryn Crigler, in the infamous 1990 Labor Day murders. She was working in her yard one day when Lott approached her. 

 

"I look up and see this burly-looking man," she said. "He started talking and he didn't stop for 30 minutes. He vowed at that point that he was taking over that case and he was going to do whatever it took to solve it. I believed him." 

 

Years later, Lott's promise came through, as SPD arrested Michael Devaughn, of Rienzi, in early October in a breakthrough for the nearly 30-year-old case. On Tuesday, Lott said the case file has been completed and submitted to go before the grand jury in January. 

 

Tuesday, during a brief Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting, Lott, who's since been promoted from detective to lieutenant, was named a Modern Woodmen Hometown Hero in recognition for his persistence. 

 

Lott has worked on the case for 14 years, beginning in 1998, until he left SPD in 2009 for military service in Afghanistan. When he returned in 2013, he continued working on the case through its conclusion. 

 

Barbara Coats, a financial representative with Modern Woodmen said she approached Mayor Lynn Spruill about six months ago to ask for a nomination for someone with the city to recognize as one of this year's hometown heroes.  

 

Modern Woodmen is a fraternal financial benefit organization. Representatives can recognize individuals who make a difference in their communities through the Hometown Hero awards program. 

 

After Devaughn's arrest, Coats said, Spruill suggested Lott for Hometown Hero. Coats said it was an easy decision. 

 

"You know, after 28 years, most people would've said 'Oh well,' and walked on," she said. "But if it were my family, I certainly wouldn't have wanted someone to give up on my family. I think he deserves way more than this, but it's a tiny little gesture to tell him we appreciate him." 

 

Lott received a plaque for his award and a $100 donation to a charity of his choosing, which he selected to go to United Way. 

 

Spruill praised Lott's persistence on the case. 

 

"He kept trying and he kept trying and his persistence made it happen, and I think that's a wonderful thing for him to be honored for," Spruill said. "He found justice for someone who could no longer speak for themselves and I'm very proud that he's part of our department." 

 

Lott, in an interview, said he was thankful for the award and more thankful that Jones and Crigler's families could see an arrest come out of the case. He said McWhorter, who recently returned from a mission trip, supported the police department throughout the investigation. 

 

"It's a gift from God, is all I can say," he said. "I was just a vessel that he could use." 

 

 

 

Years of detective work 

 

Lott worked many late nights on the case, and SPD Chief Frank Nichols has said he volunteered to do the work on his own time for free. On Tuesday, Lott said he didn't mind all the extra work. 

 

"I told Donna (Lott's wife) if I had to do it all over and start over again I would," Lott said. "I've always had strong women in my life. My sister helped raised me. My aunts helped raise me. It just did not sit well, what happened to them." 

 

Nichols said he's proud of Lott's work. 

 

"It reconfirms that hard work pays off and he's definitely worked hard on this case," Nichols said. "To have the community show their appreciation means a lot, not only to him individually but to the police department and officers as well because they're watching it." 

 

Police arrested Devaughn, who was already in jail in Tishomingo County for a drug offense, through the use of DNA. Nichols praised Lott for keeping current with forensic investigatory techniques and pointed out that DNA wasn't used when the murders were committed.  

 

McWhorter said Lott's work to keep pushing the case forward with the use of new technology gave her some hope it would get solved. 

 

"You went through quite a number of years thinking it would never be solved," she said. "When they started talking about DNA, that's when I knew there was a possibility that we would get this solved in my lifetime. Otherwise, I thought it would never be solved in my lifetime." 

 

For the award, McWhorter said Lott is as deserving as they come. 

 

"It's well-deserved for him," she said. "He put in hours without pay and he worked on it on his own time. That's impressive, for a fellow to do that."

 

 

 

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