• Crime Scene

Link considered in Reed, Jones murders

Two weeks ago, I recounted the brutality of Selonia Reed’s unsolved murder. Several readers responded, asking about a connection between Selonia Reed and Willie A. Jones—a man found murdered one week after the Reed slaying.

My grandmother, Margaret Courtney, retired from the Hammond State School after 30 years in state service. There, she supervised the facility’s telephone switchboard operators. Through my grandmother and two aunts who worked there, I knew several of the employees at the school, and I spoke with many in the weeks following Selonia Reed’s death. Primarily, they wanted to tell me about two Hammond State School co-workers, Willie Jones and his roommate, Michael Morris—the man who later confessed to shooting Jones in the face.

Both Jones and Morris worked the 2: PM to 10: PM shift at the school. Jones worked in the residential area, while Morris worked the infirmary at the onsite hospital. For two days following the Reed murder, Willie Jones failed to report to work.

Phoning his supervisor, he said he had known Selonia Reed and that her husband, Reginald, had stood in his wedding. Jones said he was too distraught to focus on work.

On the third night, according to co-workers, Jones did return to work, but without his usual friendly demeanor. With bags under bloodshot eyes, he shook visibly and mumbled when he spoke.

Forty-eight hours before Jones died, a nursing supervisor witnessed an intense argument between Jones and Morris outside the hospital infirmary. From their heated discussion, she overheard one name clearly— “Reed”.

Hammond Resident Reginald Reed reported his wife missing at 8:30 on a Sunday morning, August 23, 1987. Hammond Police Chief Roddy Devall told the Daily Star that Reed said his wife had left their Apple Street residence the night before, saying she was “going out” and had not returned. Reed also provided police with the license plate number of his wife’s car.

Approximately one hour later, a Hammond police officer who knew the 26-year-old bank teller, found her car in the parking lot of John’s Curb Market on Highway 190 East. Inside, he discovered her partially nude body drenched in blood.

Tangipahoa Parish Coroner Vincent Cefalu told the Daily Star that someone had raped and stabbed her. He said she was “beaten around the head and suffered other bad acts” including being sexually assaulted with an umbrella.

Following the autopsy at Earl K. Long Hospital in Baton Rouge, Cefalu said Reed died from four stab wounds, three in the right middle lobe of her lungs and one in the right atrium of her heart. Her attacker had stabbed her more than a dozen times around her breasts and neck with an instrument “larger than an ice pick but smaller than a kitchen knife.” Cefalu said he did not believe the tip of the umbrella had caused the stab wounds.

Relatives of the victim later recalled detectives mentioning the discovery of a screwdriver they believed to be the murder weapon, but officially, police have made no public disclosure of this information.

The coroner did say that someone had drawn lines on the body in a “distinct pattern” using what he initially believed to be shaving cream. He later altered that opinion, saying the substance had an off-white color that hardened in the sun instead of melting, as shaving cream would have done. Asked whether the “distinct pattern” meant the killer had written actual words on the corpse, Cefalu refused to comment, saying the “particulars” were still under investigation.

According to Assistant Police Chief Jim Richardson, that investigation involved converting their main squad room into an interrogation facility, where Hammond and Tangipahoa Parish detectives teamed to question potential witnesses, informants, and suspects around the clock over multiple weeks.

Richardson said that by August 31—the day Willie Jones died—he and Chief Devall had not slept for at least two days.

That night, a Mississippi man, traveling south from McComb, took the Tickfaw exit off Interstate 55. As he did so, the right tire of his van ran over a man’s head. After confirming the man was dead, he drove to a nearby service station and flagged down Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Roberts, who followed him back to the scene of the accident.

Roberts radioed his office, reporting that different vehicles may have hit the victim multiple times and that one had crushed his skull.

A driver’s license identified the victim as 28-year-old Willie A. Jones of 131 Honeysuckle Drive, Hammond. Dispatchers sent additional deputies to that address, where Jones’ roommate confessed to Murder.

Detectives Larry Westmoreland, Mike Sticker, and Kerry Dangerfield questioned 26-year-old Michael Morris at the sheriff’s substation on South Morrison Boulevard for hours before charging him with second-degree murder.

The detectives told reporters that Morris and Jones had been traveling on the interstate around 10:15 PM and arguing. When Morris stopped the vehicle, and Jones stepped out, Morris shot him in the face with a .357 Magnum and left the scene with Jones lying in the roadway.

When Vincent Cefalu sent Jones’ badly damaged remains to the Orleans Parish Coroner’s office, the examiner there determined that Jones had actually been alive when something crushed his skull. Cefalu said they found a bullet had entered his left cheek and exited through his nose or mouth, knocking out teeth, and grazing his forearm. A microscopic examination found gunpowder residue in all three areas, he said.

“This type of wound is very painful, and there was heavy blood loss, but not enough to kill him.” Weakened and in such pain, Cefalu said, Jones could have passed out or was ran-over attempting to crawl off the roadway.

Norman Davidson, TPSO’s Chief of Detectives, said he considered this new information irrelevant. Morris, he said, confessed to killing Jones and therefore a jury would make the final decision.

The following year, Michael Morris pled guilty to a manslaughter charge in a 21st Judicial District Court before Judge Edward Brent Dufreche, who sentenced him to 15 years in prison. Because of the plea, Morris never publicly explained what he argued with Jones about—or answered the question of whether the argument and subsequent murder had anything to do with the death of Selonia Reed.

Michael Morris completed his sentence more than a decade ago, but I have been unable to locate him today. I really want to ask him these questions. If you know him, please have him call me. I believe we are all anxious to hear his side of this story.

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