August 30, 2018 10:53:46 AM
Isabelle Altman - [email protected]
For most of their lives, Nashville resident Jason B. Jones and his brother Simon have wanted the answer to one question: Who killed their step-grandmother, Betty Jones, and her friend Kathryn Crigler in Starkville on Labor Day 1990?
Jason was 11 and Simon not quite 4 when Betty and Crigler were sexually assaulted in Crigler's home on Highway 82 East on Sept. 3 of that year. According to investigators, Betty was stabbed to death at the scene, while Crigler was taken to the hospital, where she died about two months later. While there have been suspects over the years, the killer was never arrested and the case is still unsolved.
"It was always kind of that lingering shadow of 'there's no resolution, the guy's still out there, it'll never be solved,'" Simon said. "And nothing was happening. ... It was as cold as a cold case could get."
More than 25 years later, the brothers started Knock Knock podcast, a true crime podcast about Betty, Crigler and the investigation into their murders.
The first episode aired on Sept. 3, 2017. Seven episodes, and several question-and-answer special episodes later, and the brothers have talked to investigators, DNA experts, family members and people who knew the victims -- several of whom they only found because those people began listening to the podcast.
The final episode of Season 1 aired earlier this week. Jason and Simon plan to finish the podcast with a final live question-and-answer event in at 6 p.m. Friday at the The Mill Conference Center in Starkville.
"We have listeners all over the world sending in questions, but we'll probably address some of (their) call-in or write-in questions. But I would say a large majority of our time together in Starkville is probably going to be providing an open mic and letting people stand up, tell us their name, where they're from and then asking any questions they've had either about the podcast or the case in general," Jason said.
A desire for resolution
Jason came up with the idea for the podcast after he began listening to documentary-style true crime podcasts like Up and Vanished, which covered a missing persons case in Georgia. The podcast was started by an Atlanta filmmaker with no formal training in either criminal investigation or journalism.
"I realized, 'Wow, if someone like this could find a case and begin to tell their story ... why couldn't I do that for this story that's been in my family my whole life?'" Jason said. "It was really just naive ambition to think that we could make a difference just by reminding people not only of Betty and Kathryn's untimely death, but also the beautiful lives they led."
It was the sadness at the loss of Betty and the frustration their family never knew who killed her or why that really motivated them to start the podcast, Simon said.
"This story has been going on in our lives since 1990, since childhood," he said. "... The pain was still there, that we'd missed out on our grandmother."
In preparation for the podcast, Jason traveled to Starkville, where he connected with Starkville Police Department -- specifically the lead investigator in the case, Sgt. Bill Lott -- as well as representatives from MSU and friends of Betty and Crigler. Jason even met the owner of the house where they were killed and looked around inside.
"Everyone has been so accommodating to our efforts and I have to believe that's because there's a community who really wants to see resolution for this case," Jason said.
Each of the seven main episodes cover a particular topic, from information on each of the victims to the investigation. One episode, in which they interview the DNA expert in the O.J. Simpson case, is on familial DNA.
Lott, who became a the lead investigator in the Labor Day murders in the early 2000s, explained that in some states, investigators use a specific type of DNA search that can match DNA of close family members.
Mississippi's state crime lab doesn't currently run familial DNA searches, focusing instead only on exact DNA matches. Lott has already run the DNA profile of the suspect in the Labor Day murder against DNA in the national database Mississippi uses. He hasn't had a match.
"At this point, it is dependent upon DNA to stop it because we have exhausted all the suspects that were ever in the file," he said. "So it's going to have to be ... a familial search or a brother and a cousin come forward."
Jason and Simon have included on their website a change.org petition requesting the Mississippi Attorney General's Office to look into allowing familial DNA searches in criminal cases.
"We strongly believe (familial DNA) can be the next step in solving this case," Simon said.
'A digital memorial'
Listeners can find the podcast at www.knockknockpodcast.com. On the website is a link to an Eventbrite page where Jason and Simon are asking people to sign up if they plan to come to Friday's Q&A recording.
Once the last Q&A episode has been recorded, they said, they plan to step back and let law enforcement continue its work.
"So far as Season 2 we're completely open to it," Jason said. "I don't think we're interested in doing someone else's case. This was a very personal endeavor for us. In the perfect world, Season 2 would be about the conviction of the rapist and murderer that killed Betty and Kathryn."
But if nothing else, they are telling their grandmother's story.
"Simon put it really well (in a previous episode)," Jason said. "He said what we've done, if nothing else, is we've created a digital memorial for Betty and Kathryn, so never again will someone Google 'Betty Jones, Kathryn Crigler, Labor Day murders' and come up with little to no results. Now they have a comprehensive narrative to be able to jump in and really learn about them and this case. At the end of the day, if that's all we did as grandsons, I think that's very special."