After a lengthy investigation spanning 28 years, police have arrested who they believe to be responsible for the Starkville Labor Day Murders, in which Betty Jones and Kathryn Crigler were killed after answering a knock at the door.
The Starkville Police Department arrested Michael Wayne Devaughn, 51, of Baldwyn, Saturday on felony charges of capital murder and sexual battery. In June, Devaughn was also arrested in Tishomingo County for possession of controlled substance, according to the Tishomingo County Sheriff’s Office.
Devaughn’s bond is $1 million for sexual battery and $10 million for capital murder.
In 1990, friends Betty Jones and Crigler sat at home during Labor Day weekend when a knock came to the side door between 8 and 10 p.m. Betty Jones answered the door, and was killed. The perpetrator then went into Crigler’s room and raped her. Crigler, who had recently undergone a leg amputation, survived the initial attack, and crawled into the kitchen to call 911. She was transported to Oktibbeha County Hospital, where a sexual assault kit was performed. She later died in a nursing home shortly after the attack.
The rape kit for Crigler provided DNA evidence for the police, but had not been matched until now. SPD submitted the suspect’s semen to Parabon, a DNA Nanolab, which resulted in a detailed description of what the suspect may have looked like in the 90s. The lab made a second description, which was age-progressed and shows what the suspect could look like today, at roughly 50 years old with fair skin and light brown hair.
SPD also sent the DNA to Scales Biological Laboratory, where they developed a semen-based DNA profile.
During a press conference on Monday, Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill said modern technology helped move the case forward.
"Technology has done a wonderful thing for us. It has made us very able to solve things that are long since thought of being cold," Spruill said. "So, I am delighted that Starkville has pushed through and gotten the resolution."
The police arrested Devaughn in Starkville on Oct. 6.
In the press conference, SPD gave credit to Sgt. Bill Lott, who was the investigator on the case.
SPD Police Chief Frank Nichols said Lott was so passionate about the cold case that he offered to work on it after hours without getting paid.
"It was that kind of dedication that he was driven to make sure that this person was brought to justice," Nichols said.
Lott said Devaughn’s arrest comes after years of hard work.
"It’s been a long journey," he said as he teared up.
District Attorney Scott Colom said if it were not for Lott’s passion for the case, it might have never been solved. Colom’s office will persecute the case when it comes to trial.
"We’re going to do everything in our power to prosecute to the full extent of the law as fast as we possibly can," Colom said. "It’s already been too long, so we’re prepared to do everything that we can to help (the family and community) through this process and make sure that justice is finally received."
Betty Jones’ grandson, Jason B. Jones, was young when his grandmother was killed, but he said Devaughn’s arrest feels like a resolution.
"We’re emotional and we’re blown away, and we are so incredibly grateful for the Starkville Police Department for their dedicated service to this case," Jason said. "We are proud that all of this has finally resulted in hopefully justice for Betty and Katherine."
About a year ago, to keep the story of these two women alive, Jason and his brother, Simon Jones, started a podcast investigating the case. About a month ago, they completed its last episode.
"I would have never dreamed in a million years that something would have come to the surface so quickly," Jason said.
Simon said he is still processing what the arrest means and how he should feel.
"I guess all that darkness of a person just goes away and you just see that he’s just a guy who’s been on the low end of life, with a recent drug charge, and just looks kind of sad in the photos and videos," Simon said. "I’m still processing that transition where it goes from a figure that hides in the shadows and under the bed like the boogeyman, to now he’s just this ordinary guy who took so much away from you. He’s not a monster, he’s just a fear."
Editor's note: Jason Jones is the step-grandson of Betty Jones.