|Witness Interview: Jonah Dale, victim's father|
Saturday, January 27, 2001 - 9:28 a.m.
This witness, who discovered the body, was interviewed at the crime scene, 311 Elm Street. While Responding Officer A. L. Quinlan, conducted a short preliminary interview, Det. Sam Murphy and Det. Ted Armstrong conducted a formal interview when they arrived on the scene. The interview was recorded on a portable tape recorder with the witness's knowledge and consent.
SM: For the record sir, could you please state your name and address?
JD: My name is Jonah Dale. I live at 805 College Hill Road in Oxford.
SM: You told the first officer that the victim is your daughter, Melissa Hammond?
JD: Yes, Missy is my girl... my poor little girl...
SM: Do you need a moment, sir? To compose yourself?
TA: We can move this down to the station if that's easier for you, sir.
JD: No, I'm fine. She's already gone. I mean... they took her... body... Maybe some coffee? We're right here in the kitchen. Y'all want some coffee? I could make some...
SM: No, please, don't trouble yourself.
JD: I feel like I should be doing something...
SM: We do understand, sir, and we're very sorry for your loss. We'll try to make this as quick as possible. Shall we get started?
JD: I'm sorry. Of course, please go on.
SM: Okay. According to Officer Quinlan's report you arrived here about 8:00 this morning?
JD: Yes. I come by every Saturday morning to take the girls to breakfast. Kind of a family tradition.
SM: So you arrived. Did you ring the bell or just come in?
JD: I knocked on the door, like I always do. Then in a couple of minutes, Liddie came to the door and let me in. Right then, I knew something was wrong.
TA: Why's that?
JD: Well, Missy doesn't like Liddie to answer the door herself. She's pretty strong on that issue. Missy is real protective of our little Liddie.
TA: Because Liddie is so young?
JD: Well, partly. Then too because of her ex-husband, Roger.
SM: There was trouble with your daughter's ex-husband?
JD: They had a bad divorce. What a mess! Then after the divorce, there was more trouble. Roger, that's Liddie's father, he gets riled pretty easy. Anyway, they had quite a few tussles after the divorce and Missy couldn't take it anymore. There was a real ugly incident back last summer and, after that, Missy got the court to give her an order that has kept him away from her and Liddie ever since then.
SM: You daughter had an Order of Protection against her ex-husband?
JD: I suppose that's what they called it. Long story short, he wasn't allowed to come near her or Liddie. So, Missy worried about that some, worried Roger might just show up at the door anyway. One thing I'll say for the boy, he really does love Liddie. I'm sure it ain't easy for him not to see her. I know if it were me, I'd be suffering over that.
TA: Had your daughter said that her ex-husband had done this? Come by unannounced?
JD: Oh no. He never did that I know of. Just she worried that he might. Like I said, she's pretty protective and she does fret a lot about things that never happen. My daughter is just nervous sometimes.
TA: Okay, got it. So, Liddie answered the door. Then what happened.
JD: I asked her, where was her mama? She didn't answer right away. She didn't look right. I thought maybe she was sick or something. Then she says in little voice, "mama's in bed." I can't say why, but something in me said something was real wrong. So I went back to her room.
SM: To your daughter's bedroom?
JD: Yes. I knocked on the door and she didn't answer. I called out to her and no answer...
SM: The bedroom door was closed?
JD: Partly. I didn't want to just barge in, if she was getting dressed or something.
SM: And when she didn't answer, then you went inside?
JD: Soon as I saw her I knew.
SM: Knew what?
JD: That she was...
SM: Dead? How did you know?
JD: She was just so still. And pale. I went over to the bed and could see she wasn't moving or breathing, but I just couldn't believe it, you know? I... I, I touched her cheek... like ice...
TA: Did you touch your daughter in any other way? Did you try to revive her, put your arms around her, anything like that?
JD: Yes, I did. I held her hand and stroked her hair. I knew she couldn't hear me, but I... Sorry, I suppose I shouldn't have done that... I just couldn't believe it. I just talked to her yesterday on the phone. She sounded so happy and cheerful. Anyway, then I called y'all.
TA: Then what did you do?
JD: I went back to Liddie. There she was, sitting on the sofa, quiet as a china doll. I called my cousin Johnny and he and his wife Adele came and got Liddie and took her back to their place.
SM: Johnny who?
JD: Johnny McPhail. Thank God for him and Adele. They came right over. They wanted to stay and wait with me, but I wanted Liddie out of the house before they came to take Missy, didn't want her to see that.
SM: Did your granddaughter tell you anything about her mother? Did she offer any explanations?
JD: She asked if her mama was sick. I told her yeah, she was. I just couldn't tell her the truth. But I think she knew. Children seem to know these things whether you tell them or not.
TA: Yes, children do sense these things. What else did Liddie say to you?
JD: She said her mama was sleeping when she come home from her visit with her grandparents, the Hammonds. They're Roger's parents. So, she put on her PJs and got into bed with her mama and went to sleep.
TA: Did she often spend time with her paternal grandparents?
JD: Every Friday afternoon and evening. They'd pick her up at school, have some dinner, take her skating or to a movie or something, and bring her back about 8:30.
TA: How long have the Hammonds been doing that?
JD: I don't know. A few months, I guess. Maybe longer. I don't really know. You'd have to ask them. Even though Roger doesn't see Liddie, Missy doesn't want to punish Liddie's grandparents, you know? They can't be responsible for their son being a jackass. So, Missy agreed to the arrangement. Too, Liddie loves her grandparents and wants to see them, so Missy didn't have the heart to say no.
TA: Wouldn't the Hammonds have noticed something when they brought Liddie home, if your daughter was already deceased or incapacitated at that time?
JD: Well, they don't come in when they bring her back. They just wait for her to get in the house and flash the porch light to let them know she's inside and okay.
TA: Why's that?
JD: Like I said, the divorce was pretty bad. The Hammonds don't get on well with Missy either. Well, Mrs. Hammond anyway. So, they avoid contact with each other.
TA: So, the last time you spoke to your daughter was yesterday? About what time was that?
JD: Around lunch time... we talked about having breakfast this morning. Missy always works on Saturdays, so we were going to have breakfast and then Missy was going to go to work, and me and Liddie were going to go bowling and rent a movie later. After Missy was done with work, we were going to have some dinner. You know, the usual family things.
SM: Did she mention anything that was bothering her?
JD: No, but she wouldn't have anyway. My daughter doesn't like to worry me, so even if something was bothering her, she wouldn't have said. You could ask Johnny. I know she liked to confide in him sometimes.
TA: Do you know if she had any plans after work yesterday?
JD: She didn't say, but I think she was going to spend some time with that fellow she was seeing.
SM: What's his name?
JD: JP Wallace. I only met him one time. Can't say I cared much for him.
TA: Any particular reason?
JD: Kind of rough around the edges, if you know what I mean. I guess fathers never think any man is good enough for their daughters, ain't that right?
SM: You know how we can contact Mr. Wallace?
JD: His number's probably in her book. I don't know where he lives or works or anything. Like I said, I only met him the one time, and I guess that was a couple, three months back.
SM: Do you think this JP Wallace was capable of hurting your daughter?
JD: I don't know. Maybe.
TA: What about your former son-in-law?
JD: I don't know. I mean, he and Missy were on the outs, but he's Liddie's father. What father would kill his child's mother? Have to be a monster to do that, if you ask me.
SM: Are you aware of anyone threatening your daughter?
JD: No, I'm not. Though, I think she thought maybe somebody had tried to break in not too long ago. The back door looked like somebody tried to jimmy it. I replaced the locks and put in dead bolts for her right after that.
TA: Do you know if she called the police when that happened?
JD: Oh yes, she did. They took a report, but it didn't look like anything was taken. We don't even know if he got in.
SM: Anything else you can tell us?
JD: I don't know.
SM: When you came in, did you notice anything that seemed out of place, anything like that?
JD: No, not really... well, I think she must've spilled something on the floor, looked like a stain by her chair in the living room. But I haven't been here for a week, so could have been Liddie spilling her Coke or something.
SM: Okay, we'll check that out.
TA: We are going to need to talk to your granddaughter... in a few days.
JD: I figured... I just want her to have some time, first. You know?
TA: Yes sir, we understand.
JD: I'd like to go be with her now, if that's okay with you folks.
SM: Of course. Thank you for answering our questions. And we are very sorry for your loss.
JD: Thank you, ma'am.
End interview 10:03 a.m.