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Serving and protecting: Six-person team handles Jackson’s worst crimes

September 21, 2008

[The disappearance of LaToya Cole, a 25-year-old single mother of four, haunted Mike Parson in the months before her body was found.

“I spent many nights lying in bed thinking about that case,” said Parson, an investigator with the Violent Crimes Unit of the Jackson Police Department. “I never thought we would find her, and I became very emotional because I was frustrated about not being able to give her family answers.”

On Dec. 9, 2007, police had received a 911 hang-up call from Cole’s home on Sherwood Lane. Officers found the home empty, but evidence suggested foul play.

Cole’s body was found March 24 near Turk Creek in Pinson. She died from a gunshot wound.

Investigators then arrested Frederick Lamont Moore, Cole’s estranged boyfriend and father of two of her children. He has been indicted on a first-degree murder charge and is being held without bond.

“I was glad we could bring closure to that case and bring her family a little piece of justice,” Parson said.

The other members of the Violent Crimes Unit are Sgt. Tyreece Miller and Investigators Danielle Jones, Alberto “Al” Colon, Chris Chestnut and Jeff Austin.

Homicides, rapes and robberies, as well as other violent crimes, end up in their office on the first floor of the Police Department on Institute Street. This year, the unit has investigated six homicides, 19 rapes, 173 robberies, 364 aggravated assaults and 1,317 simple assaults.

Last year, Jackson was ranked 13th nationally for its per-capita violent crime and 10th for its homicide rate, according to a report based on 2006 FBI crime statistics. Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist appointed a group of about 40 government and community leaders to form an anti-crime task force shortly after he took office last summer.

Miller said the increased public attention to crime hasn’t changed his unit’s mission. “The public doesn’t put any more pressure on us than what we put on ourselves,” he said. “We actively pursue leads and suspects to solve these cases.”

Capt. Mike Holt, who led the Violent Crimes Unit until June, added, “The investigators are just as committed as they were before the task force was formed. Public attention has just been drawn to the crimes by the formation of the task force.”

While their backgrounds and years of service differ, the unit’s members share a love for the job and for protecting others.

‘No two days are alike’
Miller initially thought every day as a police officer would be the same.

“I was told during my initial interview that no two days are alike,” he said. “I didn’t believe it when I heard it. But after being here 11 years, I can truly say that no two days are alike. You’re on call 24, seven.”

Before he became an investigator, Miller, 34, served in the Marines. He has been an investigator for almost six years and leads the Violent Crimes Unit.

“Being in the military, you come to know structure, rank and following orders,” he said. “The police department just seemed like a natural fit for me, and I wanted to come back to Jackson because I was born and raised here. I also wanted to give something back to the community.”

Jones summed up her average day in one word: “hectic.”

“I don’t like to plan to come in and ‘get this, this and this done,’” she said. “Whenever you do that, it never happens that way. A typical day is that you’re basically running around, working on new cases that you got or chasing leads on old cases.”

Jones, 29, has been with the department for six years and an investigator for nearly three years.

She realized what she wanted to do with her life in high school and began taking steps to fulfill her dreams of becoming an investigator.

“I went to Lane College, studied criminal justice, and once I graduated, two years after that, I was hired on,” she said.

Chestnut, 34, also said that “being an officer has appealed to me since I was young.” He was a patrol officer for 12 years with the department. He has been an investigator for two months.

Parson, 36, is from Mississippi and spent four years as a deputy sheriff in Wayne County and four years as a police officer in Waynesboro. He also served as a military policeman in the Army National Guard. He joined the Jackson Police Department in October 2002 and the Violent Crimes Unit nearly three years ago.

Parson said it was a miracle that he ended up in law enforcement.

“In high school, I definitely didn’t want to be an officer,” he said. “But, when I first started, I wanted to be an investigator, and it’s an honor to be one now.”

Good days, bad days
Holt said the best part of being a law enforcement officer is “getting the predators off the streets.

“A lot of the people we catch are serial offenders, meaning that if we don’t stop them, they’ll commit the same crime again,” Holt said. “The worst part is having to tell a parent or spouse that their loved one is dead and is a victim of a violent crime.”

Holt, 44, said he also dreamed of being a police officer since he was young, especially because his father and uncle served as officers with the Jackson Police Department. Holt has been with the department for 26 years and has been an investigator for 15 years. He was promoted to captain and head of Criminal Investigations Division in June. The Violent Crimes Unit is part of the division.

Holt said he deals with the emotional fallout from the job by day-hiking and going on vacations with his wife.

“My biggest supporter has been my wife,” he said. “She has had to put up with a lot of interrupted family activities and interrupted sleep.”

Holt said his faith also helps.

“I’m not really worried about my own safety,” he said. “I have good people around me, and I have faith in God. I know that if something were to happen to me today, I know where I would be.”

Miller said the best part of being an investigator is when you know that you have made a difference in someone’s life.

“That can incorporate several things,” he said. “For example, (early this year) I was assigned cases where there were murder convictions in both cases. It’s a very good feeling to look back at that family and know that you’ve done something.

“The worst is when you have a victim and you’ve done everything you can possibly do to identify the offender, exhausted all your leads and your case comes to a standstill,” he said.

Unforgettable cases
Holt said there are three unsolved cases that still bother him: the March 4, 2001, disappearance of then-11-year-old Bethany Leanne Markowski; the Jan. 28, 2001, strangling of Janeka Taiwan Stovoll-Weddle; and the May 2006 triple homicide on Hatton Street.

Leisa Darlene Maness, 43, Francheska Sanders, 41, and Steven Wilson, 26, were found shot inside Sanders’ home, at 333 Hatton St., on May 19, 2006.

Police have said they are not sure what the motive for the shooting was.

“A lot of families were affected by those murders, and I hear from those families regularly,” Holt said. “It’s very difficult not to have closure when your child has been killed.”

The disappearance of Bethany Markowski affected him personally, he said.

Bethany had spent the weekend with her father, Larry Markowski, in Little Rock, Ark. Larry Markowski was to meet his ex-wife, Jonnie Carter, at an Interstate 40 truck stop to return Bethany to her. He told authorities he stopped at Old Hickory Mall to rest and allowed Bethany to go inside by herself, and she never came back.

“Bethany (Markowski) and my daughter are the same age, and that case really hit home,” Holt said. “Even though the circumstances don’t appear to be what was reported, she’s still gone. We would like to get the person responsible and bring them to justice to bring closure to the family.”

In the Stovoll-Weddle case, there is little evidence to work with, he said.

“She was in her home and was murdered for no apparent reason,” Holt said.

Antonio Weddle told police his wife was four months pregnant and that he arrived home and found her dead in their back room. He said he had to pry open the front door because his wife had locked it before going to bed and had his keys.

When police arrived, they found the back door had also been pried open and that the security gate was not locked.

Austin said the case still bothers him.

“The unsolved homicides bother me more than anything,” Austin said. “If the right people would just come forward, we could solve those cases.”

Austin, 47, who has been with the department for 22 years, said his love for law enforcement came from two sources.

“My uncle was in law enforcement, and I was also in law enforcement in the Air Force,” he said.

Austin had been a Violent Crimes investigator for five years before transferring to the Auto Thefts Unit for three years. He rejoined Violent Crimes in July.

“If you care about the cases enough, you can’t help but take it home with you,” Austin said. “You’ve bonded so much with the families. You know that if you feel as bad as you do, you can imagine how bad the family feels.”

Colon said many unsolved homicides make no sense to him.

Colon, 42, a native of New York, has been with the department since 2001. He left New York when he was 19 and served four years in the Navy.

In the Police Department, he initially worked in dispatch and then became a patrol officer. He has been with Violent Crimes for nearly five years.

Colon said the Hatton Street murder case bothers him, as well as the unsolved shooting of 78-year-old Thomas Robertson on Feb. 26, 2006.

Robertson, a retired grave digger who walked every morning, was found dead in a yard on Laconte Street, less than a block from his house.

“He was an elderly man who loved walking and was shot for no reason,” Colon said.

He also cited the case of Eric Berlin, 42, who was an overnight stocker at Kroger. He was found shot at Pledge’s Car Wash, at 1587 North Parkway, on May 21, 2007. Investigators believe the motive was robbery because Berlin’s wallet was found some distance from his body.

“Eric Berlin was shot for no reason,” Colon said. “The triple homicide on Hatton Street was senseless. They’re all senseless.”

‘It’s OK to talk to us’
Miller said as much as he loves his job, he often is frustrated by the lack of cooperation from the public.

“If they would just envision themselves as being that victim, wouldn’t they want someone to talk?” Miller asked. “It’s OK to talk to us, and it’s OK to be a witness because the roles could easily be reversed and you could be in that person’s shoes.”

While police officers enforce the laws and help people feel safe, “people solve crimes,” he said.

“Most times, there’s someone who saw something or heard something,” he said. “If they give us that information, it gives us the ability to apprehend somebody.”

Miller said citizens have a responsibility to help keep the community safe.

“You shouldn’t just want to get involved because you know the person, and you shouldn’t not want to get involved because you don’t like the person,” he said. “We’re here on this earth together, and we need to take care of each other.”


Bethany Leanne Markowski
DOB: 02-01-90
5’0, 110 lbs, brown hair & eyes, medium complexion
Address: 124 Deeke Wood  Nashville Tennessee
Vanished between 2:00 PM & 3:45 PM on March 4th 2001

Information is what we need in order to find this missing child.  Bethany Leanne Markowski is 11 years old.  According to Mr. Markowski, he and Bethany came to Jackson from his home in Gleason, TN., between 1:30 and 2:00 P.M.  They stopped at the Old Hickory Mall to take a nap.  Bethany went inside the Mall and has not been seen since.  If you have any information about Bethany’s whereabouts, call Crime Stoppers.   Remember, we don’t want your name – only your information.

Call us with any information at
424-8477 or             1-888-781-8477       (TIPS)
or E-mail us at


MARCH 4, 2001



Date of Birth: February 1, 1990 Place of Birth: Tennessee
Sex: Female Hair: Brown
Height: 4’8″ (at time of disappearance) Eyes: Green
Weight: 95 pounds (at time of disappearance) Race: White


Bethany Markowski was last seen by her father in the parking lot of the Old Hickory Shopping Mall in Jackson, Tennessee, on the afternoon of March 4, 2001. Bethany had gone into the mall alone while her father waited for her in the car. After approximately two hours passed, Bethany’s father went into the mall to look for his daughter, but was unable to locate her.


Markowski was last seen wearing a green shirt, blue jeans, and black shoes.


The FBI is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the recovery of Bethany Markowski and the identification, arrest, and conviction of the person responsible for her disappearance.

Individuals with information concerning this case should take no action themselves, but instead immediately contact the nearest FBI Office or local law enforcement agency. For any possible sighting outside the United States, contact the nearest United States Embassy or Consulate.

Bethany Leanne Markowski

Bethany Leanne Markowski 

Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: March 4, 2001 from Jackson, Tennessee
Classification: Non-Family Abduction
Date Of Birth: February 1, 1990
Age: 11
Height: 4’8″
Weight: 95 lbs.
Hair Color: Brown
Eye Color: Blue/Green
Race: White
Gender: Female

Distinguishing Characteristics: She does not have any baby molars and she bites her nails when she is nervous.

Clothing: Green shirt, blue or black jeans and black shoes.

NCIC Number: M-721421730
Details of Disappearance 
Bethany and her father, Larry, had been in Little Rock, Arkansas, and were on their way back to meet her mother, Johnnie Jo, at the Waverly exit off Interstate 40. Bethany’s parents separated in January, 2001. On the way, they stopped at the Old Hickory Mall in Jackson on the afternoon of March 4, 2001. Bethany had gone into the mall alone while her father slept in the car. After approximately two hours passed, Bethany’s father went into the mall to look for his daughter, but was unable to locate her.

Bethany was spotted in April 2001 in southeast Tennessee with an unknown female.

Wanted for Questioning 
Above: Sketch of unidentified female suspect

Age: 42-44
Height: 5’4″-5’5″
Weight: 185 lbs.
Hair Color: Dirty Blonde
Eye Color: Dark
Race: White
Gender: Female

Distinguishing Characteristics: Dark circles around eyes.

Other: Witnesses say her hair was clean but frizzy and damaged. She did not look bathed, had torn and incorrectly tied shoes. She appeared to be suffering from a hangover.

Investigating Agency
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Texas Department of Public Safety
(512) 424-5074
Jackson Police Department (Tennessee)

Bethany Leanne Markowski


Bethany Leanne Markowski 


Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: March 4, 2001 from Jackson, Tennessee
Classification: Endangered Missing
Date Of Birth: February 1, 1990
Age at time of disappearance: 11 years old
Height and Weight: 4’8 – 5’0, 95 – 100 pounds

Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Brown hair, green eyes. Bethany was missing her top and bottom baby molars at the time of her 2001 disappearance. She bites her fingernails when she is nervous. Some agencies may spell Bethany’s middle name “LeAnne.” Her hair was styled shoulder-length with bangs at the time of her disappearance. Bethany has a mole on her left breast and freckles on her cheeks and nose.

Clothing/Jewelry Description: A green t-shirt, blue or black jeans and black slip-on shoes.

Details of Disappearance
Bethany’s parents, Larry and Johnie Jo (sometimes spelled “Jonnie Jo”) Markowski, separated in January 2001. The couple’s split was reportedly bitter. Bethany resided with her mother in Nashville, Tennessee afterwards. She spent several days with her father at his home in Gleason, Tennessee in early March 2001.

Bethany and Larry were scheduled to meet Johnie Jo at the Waverly, Tennessee exit off of Interstate 40 during the afternoon on March 4, 2001. Bethany and Larry apparently spent part of the day in Little Rock, Arkansas, then drove back towards Tennessee. They stopped at Old Hickory Mall in Jackson, Tennessee at approximately 3:30 p.m. Larry told authorities that Bethany entered the shopping center alone while he slept in the vehicle. He awoke approximately one hour later and searched for his daughter in the mall. He alerted law enforcement at 5:15 p.m. when he could not locate Bethany. She has never been heard from again.

Investigators said that Bethany is not seen on the security camera videotapes filmed at Old Hickory Mall on March 4. There is no proof that she actually entered the establishment. Larry has stated that he is not involved in his daughter’s disappearance, but authorities have questioned his version of events. Johnie Jo said that she only wanted Bethany to return home.

Several witnesses saw Bethany in the company of an unidentified Caucasian female shortly after she disappeared. A sketch of the woman is posted below this case summary. She is described as being approximately 42 to 44 years of age, 5’4 to 5’5 and 185 pounds. Witnesses said that the woman had dark circles under her brown eyes and her blonde hair was clean but frizzy and damaged. She appeared to be unkempt, like she had not bathed, and her shoes were torn and incorrectly tied. The woman may have been suffering from a hangover. Authorities stated that the unidentified woman attempted to enroll Bethany in a southeastern Tennessee school in April 2001, one month after Bethany was reported missing. The woman was later observed boarding a bus with Bethany. Investigators believe that they may have traveled to Moline, Illinois.

Authorities said that they have not ruled out either of Bethany’s parents as suspects in her disappearance. Investigators have also said that it is possible Bethany was abducted by a stranger. Her case remains unsolved.
Above: Sketch of unidentified female suspect

Investigating Agency 
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Jackson Police Department
Jackson CrimeStoppers
Tennessee Bureau Of Investigation

Missing, but not forgotten Parents and police still search, years after children disappeared


The nights torment Jonnie Carter. Instead of sleeping, she thinks about her daughter, Bethany Leanne Markowski , who has been missing for more than six years.

Carter spends her nights thinking about what else could be done to find her daughter. She thinks about what Bethany might be doing.

“You get to thinking, ‘It’s 100 degrees outside. I wonder if she is somewhere cool.’ Or, ‘It’s cold outside. I wonder if she is somewhere warm.’ So, it’s not good,” Carter said.

An average of 2,185 children are reported missing each day, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics reported on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Web site. Many times, those children are found quickly. But for some families, the search goes on for years with no resolution.

That’s what has happened for Carter, a Nashville resident whose daughter was last seen outside Old Hickory Mall in Jackson. It’s also the case for the family of Cayce Lynn McDaniel, who disappeared from her Milan home in 1996. Family and friends pray for the girls’ return. Police still hope to solve the cases to at least bring closure, or maybe even a happy ending, to a trying ordeal.

‘Bethany missing is my life’
Bethany was 11 when she disappeared on March 4, 2001. She had spent the weekend with her father, Larry Markowski, in Little Rock, Ark. Larry Markowski was to meet Carter, his ex-wife, at an Interstate 40 truck stop to return Bethany to her. He told authorities he stopped at Old Hickory Mall to rest and allowed Bethany to go inside by herself. She never came back.

Carter said in a phone interview last week that her daughter’s disappearance has had a dramatic effect on her life.

“My whole life, my attitude, my emotions, everything just changed,” Carter said. “I went from having a semi-decent life and getting plenty of sleep, to sleeping about three hours on the average a night. I pay attention to all of the missing children posters.”

“I’m always online trying to find a new Web site to put Bethany on,” she said. “It’s my life. Bethany missing is my life.”

Carter said she usually is able to maintain hope that Bethany is alive. She also has faith in law enforcement and members of the public, who still call in tips when they see Bethany’s picture.

“The one thing about it is, it’s been six years, almost seven, and there have been days that I have woke up and thought, ‘There’s no way. Bethany’s 17. She’s been gone six years. There’s no way she could be alive and not look for me.’ But that’s hardly ever happened,” Carter said.

Seeking the missing
Jackson police Lt. Mike Holt has worked on Bethany’s case since she disappeared. Holt, who is a father, said he can only imagine what parents of missing children go through, and that gives him the drive to work on the case until it is resolved.

“Bethany and my daughter are the same age, so this case really hit home,” Holt said. “We are determined to bring a solution to this case, as well as all of the others.”

It’s a dedication that Holt re-emphasized to Carter as he talked to her on the phone last week from his office.

“Just know that we haven’t given up,” he told her.

Although Holt said Carter is “a real trooper” when it comes to dealing with Bethany’s disappearance, he knows it must be hard for her to receive calls from him or other investigators involved in the case.

“It’s difficult to rehash that,” he said. “She was probably at work when I called her. Now, I’ve put that on her mind at work, and I’m sure every time she sees a call from my number or the department, she’s hoping for good news. And you have to say, ‘Well, I don’t have any good news, but we need this from you,’ or ‘Would you be willing to do this?’

“It’s kind of a letdown,” Holt said. “I’m sure it’s on her mind for the rest of the day. You know, that weighs on you when that happens.”

A constant vigil
Four days after starting high school, 14-year-old Cayce Lynn McDaniel disappeared from her home on Aug. 16, 1996. She had just returned home from a service at Double Springs Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the church she had attended, and was last seen by her friends when they dropped her off at home. When her family came home, the back door was open and Cayce was gone.

Her family and friends have kept Cayce’s disappearance in the spotlight by holding a candlelight vigil every year since she went missing.

Cayce’s aunt, Gina Walls, of Gibson, attended this year’s vigil, which was held on the anniversary of Cayce’s disappearance.

“We haven’t found her or the person who is responsible for her disappearance,” Walls said last week. “We expected for this not to continue for 11 years. (Authorities) are at least revisiting (the case). They’re trying to follow through.”

Walls said her family doesn’t expect to find Cayce alive.

“No, not from the tips and leads police have gotten so far,” Walls said. “It would be great if she was found alive. But when you look at reality, you realize that probably isn’t a possibility. By now she would have been found and someone would have been caught.”

Walls added, “You hope the person who did it will have a guilty conscience that pricks their heart and they will confess what they have done to her.”

She misses many things about Cayce, including her love of education.

“Cayce was very bright, talented and smart,” Walls said. “She was ready for high school and college. She was really looking forward to college.”

‘It’s frustrating’
Milan Assistant Police Chief Tim Wright was a patrolman when he took the original missing person report on Cayce McDaniel in August 1996. Wright said he remains deeply involved in the case. Leads that go in different directions have been a stumbling block, he said.

“It’s frustrating, to say the least,” Wright said. “The longer we go, the colder it gets. But we know that somebody did it and that somebody out there has information.”

Wright said there’s a “very real possibility” that Cayce is dead and that the case is now about finding her body and arresting the person responsible for her murder.

“She wouldn’t go 10 or 11 years without contacting her family if she were still alive,” Wright said. “Whether this was an accident or a murder, we can’t say.”

Most of Cayce’s family members have been helpful and understanding with the work the Milan Police Department has done, but some feel more should have been done, Wright said.

“There are some family members who are very angry,” he said. “They feel they know who the guilty party is and don’t understand why we haven’t arrested (that person) yet.”

Wright said police are doing their best to investigate every lead.

Law enforcement officials told people at this year’s vigil that polygraph tests would soon be given to several people. Police must get a person’s permission to administer the test. Wright said police are not giving out the names of the individuals they plan to test.

Two investigators with a program called Project Alert Volunteers suggested that Milan police do the polygraphs, Police Chief Ken Nolan told those at the vigil. Project Alert Volunteers is a program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The investigators spent several days in Milan this year examining every aspect of the case, Nolan said. One investigator said he believed police had a fair shot of solving the case.

Wright said the two investigators from the Nashville office of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children told the department there is funding available for them to come back to Milan and follow leads in Cayce’s case.

“They said they are willing to travel,” Wright said.

Mother’s mission and plea
Carter, Bethany’s mother, continues to keep attention on her daughter’s disappearance and the disappearance of other children. She tried to start a missing persons foundation with the help of a friend before her friend got sick.

“We did a couple of charity benefits, with donations going to different missing persons foundations,” Carter said. “It’s been put on hold for now.”

Carter also has reached out to out-of-state parents of missing children.

“Anybody in your family and any friend that you have can say they know how you feel, but nobody knows how you feel unless they are going through the same thing,” Carter said. “It really helps a lot to be able to call each other on the child’s birthday or the day they were missing, and cry because they know how you feel.”

Carter believes finding missing children isn’t just a law enforcement duty or a parent’s job.

“I want everybody to know that it is our responsibility, everybody’s, not just the parents’ responsibility, to help find missing children,” she said. “There’s more children coming up missing every single day. It’s something that you don’t need to turn your back on. You need to take that step forward and get involved.”

Carter said that even if a person calls in a tip and it turns out to be wrong, at least that person made an effort to help and gave parents hope.

“If someone calls in a tip about Bethany, it makes me feel good,” she said. “Even if it’s not Bethany, that person stepped out of their box and tried to help. It lets me know that people are still interested and want to help find missing children.”