The brutal stabbing death of a 72-year-old Dothan woman on Easter morning more than a decade ago has left her six children frustrated but not hopeless.
Unlike the popular television drama “Cold Case,” homicides left unsolved usually aren’t closed in an hour. Many cases like the murder of Ruthie Mae Jackson on April 7, 1996, remain open for years.
Jackson’s murder is one of more than 30 homicides across five Wiregrass counties that remain unsolved.
Shirley Jackson recalled the last time she saw her mother the day before Easter Sunday just like it was yesterday.
“She was in the kitchen cooking, preparing for the Easter Sunday meal,” said Shirley Jackson, the last of Ruthie Mae Jackson’s relatives to see her alive. “She loved to cook, all the family come to her house for Easter to eat.”
Jackson said her mother enjoyed cooking, and she even had a licensed business to feed people in the community out of her home. Jackson also recalled her mother sold liquor from her home for extra money. But she said the family doesn’t feel the fact she ran a shot house had anything to do with her murder.
Ruthie Mae Jackson was stabbed at least a dozen times about her body and neck during the early morning hours of Easter Sunday at her 403 E. Adams St. home.
“I done lost my part of my soul. She was my best friend,” said Shirley Jackson, the youngest of Shirley Mae Jackson’s children. “Her spirit still needs to find out who did it.”
Samuel Jackson Jr. said after the murder, relatives found his mother’s nightgown, purse and some electronic property left in the woods across the street from her home.
“The first 10 years have been really hard. Holidays are not what they used to be,” said Samuel Jackson Jr., of his mother who was born on Christmas Day. “The holidays, especially Mother’s Day, don’t mean as much. It’s not like she just laid down and died. Somebody took her life.”
James Jackson has spent several of the past years renovating his mother’s single-story home, which remains vacant. He said he believed more than one person likely killed his mother after she caught them going through her belongings. Jackson said his mother likely knew her assailants, and let them in her home for some unknown reason.
“She stayed up all night cooking,” James Jackson said. “They went in mama’s room while she was up front cooking.”
But Samuel Jackson Jr. said the family has not lost hope authorities will catch Ruthie Mae Jackson’s killer.
“I watch the news all the time hoping they’ll say something about it,” Samuel Jackson said. “Maybe it’ll click in somebody’s mind and it’ll get solved.”
Whether a case is a year old or 30 years old, family members involved need answers.
“They just feel nobody cares, and they just feel lost out there,” said Pat Jones, who works with Victims of Crime and Leniency (VOCAL). “It’s got to be devastating to them just not knowing.”
Cold but not closed
Capt. Larry Draughon, supervisor of the Dothan Police Department’s criminal investigation division, said the department has a list of unsolved homicide cases that detectives within CID regularly review. Draughon said some of the cases may be cold, but they never give up on them.
Nearly two years to the day after Gene Nichols was shot to death on Christmas Day 2005, police investigators made an arrest in his murder.
“We have people that work violent crimes, and it’s part of their job to look at and review the old cases,” Draughon said. “We’re constantly reviewing old case files, and we give them to new investigators to get fresh eyes on them.”
Enterprise Police Capt. Mike Lolley said new information can often lead to an arrest. There is no statute of limitation on the prosecution for murder.
“You never know, it’s always worth bringing back up,” Lolley said. “You come to a point when you run out of leads, but you hope somebody will come forward with some information. It’s important for the family of the victims to know that the case can always be prosecuted.”
Boyd Hartzog, a retired law enforcement officer, helped start a statewide cold case team and has worked on at least two area cases, including the two teenage girls, J.B. Beasley and Tracey Hawlett, who were found murdered in Ozark.
Hartzog, who worked for 30 years in the state highway patrol and later as the New Brockton police chief, said the 12-member team of retired investigators periodically gets together across the state to work on cases. The team has often been recruited by families, and sometimes by law enforcement departments to look into old cases.
The cold case work doesn’t come without cost. The team only asks for expenses to dig into a case.
“We’d come in and look at the case, just pass the case around and write down questions in it,” Hartzog said. “We come in with new eyes, go over it and make notes on it.”
Alabama Attorney General Troy King formed a statewide cold case unit in October 2007. The state’s cold case unit has accepted nine cases, which are submitted by law enforcement agencies. Two of those cases happened in the Wiregrass, including that of three teenage girls, JB Beasley and Tracie Hawlett in Ozark, along with Cynthia Dykes in Barbour County.
“We come in as a supplement to the local law enforcement unit,” King said. “Some times a fresh pair of eyes can catch something that has been missed.
We look at how old the case is, the physical evidence, whether there are witnesses and whether there is DNA that hasn’t been tested.”
King said the state’s cold case unit helps provide extra resources and man power in an effort to clear up some of the state’s unsolved cases.
“I don’t think there’s any more important mission than to provide answers to these victims,” King said. “There’s no such thing as closure. It hurts forever.”
Below is a list of the unsolved murders in five Wiregrass counties
Anyone with information can call the Dale County Sheriff’s Office at 774-3114 or 774-2335.
Homicide: Oct. 5, 1984
What happened: Found
shot to death in the back
at a country store near the Coffee-Dale county line
Homicide: Sept. 5, 1991
What happened: Found just outside Daleville dead from injuries she suffered from blunt force trauma of boot
Homicide: Aug. 10, 1995
What happened: Authorities found Corbitt just off U.S. 231 under Woodham Bridge shot to death.
Billy Ray Jackson
Homicide: Sept. 3, 2005
What happened: Found
sitting in a chair stabbed
to death at his residence near Midland City
Anyone with information can call the Geneva Police Department at 684-2777.
Homicide: Dec. 23, 1994
What happened: McKenzie was beaten to death at his home on Hart Street in Geneva.
Anyone with information can call the Enterprise Police Department at
Homicide: Jan. 14, 1968
What happened: Lolley, uncle of Enterprise Police Capt. Mike Lolley, was
murdered while he worked at the Sav-Way Oil Co. gas station on Park Avenue. A suspect was charged, tried and acquitted by a jury.
Homicide: Oct. 10, 1993
What happened: Stabbed
to death multiple times at her Erin Street home in
and Scott Heib
Homicide: Oct. 2, 2007
What happened: James Matthew Helms, 30, of Enterprise, and Scott Heib, 20, of Colorado, were found shot to death in the home they shared on Coffee County Road 622.
Anyone with information can call the Ozark Police
Department at 774-5111
or Dale County Crime
Stoppers at 774-9999
J.B. Beasley, 17,
and Tracie Hawlett,
17, both of Dothan
Homicide: Aug. 1, 1999
What happened: The girls were found in the trunk
of Beasley’s abandoned vehicle on Herring Avenue
in Ozark, each the victim of a single gunshot wound.
Andrew Collazo, 68,
Homicide: Oct. 16, 2005
What happened: Collazo’s body was found beaten to death in woods off Harris Road in Ozark several days after he was reported
missing. Police found his vehicle burned in Barbour County later in the day.
Anyone with information can call the Henry County Sheriff’s Office at 585-3131.
Homicide: July 25, 1987
What happened: Williams, 21, was kidnapped from the Jr. Foods convenience store where she worked and found murdered on a county road several days later.
Danny Paul Miller, 50
Homicide: Dec. 22, 2001
What happened: Miller was found slain in the driveway of his County Road 2 home beside his truck. Investigators ruled out robbery, but found no other motive.
Anyone with information can call the Houston
County Sheriff’s Office
at 677-4888 or Crime
Stoppers at 793-7000.
Homicide: Oct. 21, 1974
What happened: McKenzie was found shot to death outside her Fairway Circle residence in the Olympia Spa subdivision.
Homicide: March 24, 1979
What happened: Struck and killed by a vehicle on Eddins Road
Homicide: Jan. 11, 1981
What happened: The owner of Simmons Dairy Farm was found shot to death at the kitchen table of his Houston County home.
Iona Ward and
Homicide: June 16, 1983
What happened: Reportedly found stabbed to death in a vehicle they were traveling in together. The driver of the vehicle, who was not charged, told investigators the girls stabbed each other.
Homicide: Sept. 10, 1989
What happened: Shot to death as he interrupted a burglary in progress at his Leslie Street home in Gordon
Homicide: Jan. 10, 1991
What happened: Suffered 29 stab wounds at his
Railroad Street in Gordon
Joe Tex Johnson, 69
Homicide: April 15, 2008
What happened: Shot to death inside his home off Hodgesville Road
Anyone with information can call the Dothan
Police Department at
615-3000 or Crime
Stoppers at 793-7000.
Nathan Bussey Jr.
Homicide: April 20, 1976
What happened: Sustained single shotgun wound to chest during a robbery at Cannon Oil Station at 808 N. Oates St.
Homicide: Jan. 31, 1978
What happened: Sustained gunshot wounds to his upper torso by shots from a passing vehicle outside his home on Young America Drive
Sidney G. Grubbs
Homicide: July 7, 1978
What happened: Sustained single stab wound to his heart at his State Street home
Homicide: Sept. 19, 1979
What happened: Struck from behind by automobile at Garden Estates Trailer Park on Hodgesville Road
Homicide: Sept. 29, 1981
What happened: Sustained multiple gunshot wounds from .38 caliber during
a robbery at Northview Amoco on U.S. 431 North. Douglas died Oct. 8, 1981.
Gussie Mae Moody (Doll Lady)
Homicide: July 10, 1989
What happened: Suffered a knife wound to the throat. Police found her on the sofa in her front yard on North Alice Street.
Homicide: Sept. 8, 1989
What happened: Sustained gunshot wound to head at the Centipede Lounge at 601 N. St. Andrews St.
John Robert McCord III
Homicide: March 13, 1994
What happened: Found dead in his car at 402 S. Ussery St. from multiple gunshot wounds. He was shot three times.
Homicide: Dec. 13, 1994
What happened: Found face down on Ozark Street. He died from a single
gunshot to the chest.
Homicide: Oct. 18, 1995
What happened: Sustained multiple gunshot wounds. Offense is believed to be drug-related.
Flora Pullin Thomas
Homicide: Feb. 24, 1996
What happened: Suffered three stab/puncture wounds to the neck and throat inside her Mercury Drive home.
Ruthie Mae Jackson
Homicide: April 7, 1996
What happened: Sustained 12 stab wounds to head and neck inside her East Adams Street home.
Homicide: Nov. 16, 1996
What happened: Died from head injuries suffered from an apparent assault by a possible burglar inside his Poyner Street home
Milbon ‘Buddy’ Floyd
Homicide: Dec. 14, 1996
What happened: Found dead in his Tacoma Street home, severely beaten about the head and chest area
Vernon Stuart North
Homicide: June 9, 1997
What happened: Suffered
a single gunshot to back
of head inside his motor home, parked behind Bryan’s Hobby Shop on Ross Clark Circle
Cynthia Gail Wilson
reported missing Sept. 7, 1999
What happened: Her body was found on Oct. 8, 1999,
in a field and wooded area at East Burdeshaw Street and Delvecchio Lane. Unknown cause of death because of the condition
of the body.
Sharon Marie Mills
Homicide: Unknown; reported missing Jan. 8, 2002
What happened: Reported missing by her husband, Dwight Mills. On Feb. 13, 2002, Mrs. Mills was found dead in Holmes County, Fla. Foul play is suspected.
Homicide: Sept. 23, 2006
What happened: Police found Brammeier’s
severely injured body in
a parking lot behind a
building in the 200 block
of West Main Street. He died in November 2006.
Perry Griffin, 37
Homicide: June 26, 2007
What happened: Griffin was shot to death during a
robbery on North Beverlye Road at Panhandle Converter Recycling, where he worked.
Robert Lee Moore, 46
Homicide: Oct. 7, 2007
What happened: Gunned down in front of his home on Woodland Drive
Clyde Cliatt, 65
Homicide: June 27, 2008
What happened: Shot to death inside his Hamilton Street apartment