tv Dateline MSNBC December 16, 2018 1:00am-2:01am PST
street. ♪ they didn't play the memphis blues in this club. in the sultry rhumba room, bodies swayed to the beat of latin drums. in april, 2013, a women named heather jones came in with her friend to dance the night away, wearing a brand-new dress. >> god, she looked so nice. she had her head up so high and her shoulders back and just beaming and she felt absolutely beautiful. >> reporter: there was a time not too long ago when heather didn't feel very beautiful at all. but on this evening, she had the night of her life. >> she really didn't sit down very much.
she was being spun around and danced. >> reporter: just two nights later, everything spun out of control. >> her car is in her driveway, cars, keys and cell phone are missing. >> thinking of her being scared and hurt made you sick. >> what happened? the answer was sickening. >> oh my god, is that her? >> the why? more twisted and surprising than anyone could fathom. >> it's not normal. it's not natural. it's not right. >> how could all this darkness fall on a woman so sunny? >> i loved her. i had loved her energy. she was, if you can think of her as a color that is a person, like she would be bright yellow. >> friends say heather can always light up a room. her cousin, diane perry says that attitude drew them together since they were young a. bond that only a grew as teenagers when heather moved from florida to tennessee.
closer to diane. they became an inseparable pair and even went to college together in memphis. so it was only fitting diane was there the night heather fell instantly in love with a guy famed chris jones. >> heather went to a party on 1999 and she came home and we sat down and talked and giggled about this new guy that she had met, chris. >> diane recalls heather found chris fascinating. >> he dazzled her with wine and his only in of the world. >> she liked that? >> she loved that. she absolutely loved that. >> diane was surprised to see how fast the couple were moving. within weeks, they were living together. not long after, diane noticed a clang in her cousin, a big one. >> they got a lot involved with online gaming and things like. that they had a very, very sedintary lifestyle. that's when she gained about 250 hounds.
>> 250 pounds over how much time are we talking about? >> maybe a year-and-a-half. >> that's life changing. >> it was tough. >> did she seem depressed about the weight gain? >> absolutely. >> her cousin recalls chris said he didn't mind what size heather was a. few years into their relationship he asked heather to marry him. it seems like the numbers didn't waiver, the numbers on her scale continued to rise after the birth of their two children. >> did he make her feel good? >> yes, she felt beautiful, she felt loved. she felt taken care of. >> chris also took on the reel role of stay-at-home dad, heather worked at college part time.
>> it took her ten years to get her degree from college and it was almost to the day that she graduated from college that everything changed. >> at one point before graduation, heather tipped the scales at 400 pounds, but diane said that now became a roadman for heather, pointing her to a brighter and lighter future. >> she had so much more confidence. she saw a different life for herself. she immediately started working on her weight. >> and that's when she found a special group of new friends. women like her who joined this high powered dance exercise class each week to improve their physique and their lives. gary cooper was heather's dance instructor. >> he comes here at happy hour. >> everyone in heather's life noticed that happy hour was doing wondzers for her. >> heather, i said, you've gotten smaller? she's like. >> were the pounds melting off of her? >> melting off.
>> it was nothing short of a total transformation. in 18 short months, she went from this to this. >> i remember that she brought a picture of a before and where she was now ands with so proud. she's like, look what i've done. she was so proud of herself? >> no one was more proud than when she landed her job, teaching in memphis. a fellow teacher was in awe of the amount of energy miss jones poured into her classroom. >> heather loved being a kindergarten teacher. from the moment they stepped foot into the door to the moment they left, they were dancing, singing, playing.
>> by april 2013, it was all coming together for heather jones. on a saturday night, she hit that rhumba room dance floor to try out some moves she picked up at the gym and to show the world what she'd become. >> it was so much fun. we were there for probably about a good three hours dancing. >> three days later, on tuesday morning, teacher jessica moxley headed to school, expecting to see her energetic co-worker heather already there. >> i didn't start until 8:00 or 8:30. she was here every morning by 6. >>:30. >> jessica was surprised by what she didn't see that morning. >> i pulled into the parking lot and i didn't see her car. i'm like, oh, what is going on? >> thinking maybe she caught a ride to school, jessica made a bee line for heather's classroom. >> i. her door was closed. her lights were off. i remember thinking her lights are off. and then they said her life, like she's gone. >> gone? what could that mean? as the search began to find the
>> the very first clues. a disturbing e-mail to heather's husband. >> i was concerned. >> and a closely guarded secret. >> i didn't even know his name . when heather jones, the newly svelt newby teacher didn't show up for kindergarten class that morning back in 2014, alarm bells went off in front of her fellow teachers and friends. >> heather would never miss a
day of school. she was totally dedicated. >> home sick? didn't seem likely, that new teacher knew heather was never to be side lined by a sniffle. >> there was no excuse for her to not be there. >> school officials couldn't reach her on the show. her cousin diane we heard she was a no show, she headed over to german town where she saw an encouraging sign. >> there was relief when i saw a car in the driveway. i thought she was there. oh, she's sick. >> diane thought heather was probably just sleeping. >> knocking, knocking, knocking. >> but no answer, alarmed, she called heather's mother to bring over a key. soon german town police arrived, opened the door and went in first. >> they said she's not in there. they said nothing looked disturbed. >> is that a relief in anyway, that she's not in there? >> no, no, it was terrifying. something is very much wrong. >> it was now a missing person's
case. detective tony kemp took the lead and did hits own walk after this through of the house. >> did you find any signs of something that might have happened in that house? >> no, i did not see any weapons. i did not see any blood or anything in that house. >> heather's car still in the driveway stuck in detective kevin's mind. >> obviously, if she left, she had to be on foot or she had made contact for somebody to pick her up. >> the grapevine was now working overtime. friends from heather's dance class knew she was missing. the dance instructor also went over to the house. it terrence out carrie knew as much about crime scenes as dance moves. that's because carrie is a cop in nearby memphis. >> well, i kind of took on that police officer role at that moment and i combed like every inch of her property. >> did you find anything? >> i found nothing. i looked in her storage sheds and i looked all along the railroad tracks around her house and found nothing.
>> as detectives were putting together pieces of heather's life and tracking her last movements. chris jones, heather's husband, made an emotional appearance on a local tv station. >> the afternoon heather disappeared, chris came to the police station to help. >> i mean i can't miss an opportunity. i didn't want to miss a kawaii i didn't miss a chance. i don't know if she's going to come by. i don't want a knock on the door. >> sure. >> i'm worried. >> reporter: chris told detectives something that could be vital to the investigation. he said heather had been out the
night before, the subject read, i'm sorry. in it, she mentions their little girl ava. come get ava. i cannot face everyone with this. please forgive me, it is too much. please raise them to remember me as their loving mommy. >> how concerned were you when chris told you about this e-mail that his wife had sent, that heather had sent? >> i was concerned. it did not sound good to me. >> kemp thought the e-mail was opened to all kind of interpretation, all bad it seemed. >> it basically sounded like i'm throwing in the towel. >> throwing in the towel? detective kevin asked chris if heather might be suicidal. >> has she ever talked about wanting to harm herself or anybody else? that you'd know? >> not that i recall. >> friend and family police spoke were to were adamant.
but there was another possible explanation for what might have happened to this woman who built such a promising future? police were about to uncover a secret she kept hidzen from almost everyone. >> i didn't even know his name. >> just as heather was headed off into that bright new future, her past came calling. >> coming up. >> i told all the girls you all be prepared. >> the search heats up and the secret is out. >> kind of a bombshell that heather was possibly seeing another man?
the memphis mother had recently lost 200 pounds with the help of a dance aerobics class. now her gym friends pasted the after photos she was so proud of all over town. >> did you have flyers? >> we had flyers. we stopped at restaurants around german town. >> carrie, heather's friend and dance instructor.
who also happened to be a cop organized a search party. >> we had our backpacks on, we had good walking shoes and snacks and towels and water. >> around lakes, marks and railroad tracks, carrie and the other women searched methodically, not knowing what they might find. >> and i had told all the girls, you all be prepared because we might find her. okay. >> oh my god, is that her? but it's a branchch you never know this huge step. >> her best friend mellissa struggled with her worst fears. >> it was absolutely terrifying, because, just thinking of her being scared and hurt made you sick. >> to quickly put together the puzzling of what happened to heather, what she meant by that disturbing good-bye e-mail. detective kevin wanted to know
more about her, starting with her relationship with chris. >> i wanted to know more about their marriage and what's been going on between them the past year. >> he knew the major event in their marriage in the past year was heather's dramatic physical change. friends and family said it was about so much more than just dropping pant sizes as heather lost the weight, she gained a
whole new outlook on life. >> she was kind of quiet and reserved back then, when i very first meter and to see that contrast from then until where she decide, i'm going to make something of my life t. butterfly description with her is very, it's a great description. i mean, just her coming out of her shell and becoming who she was created to be.
and you could see that. >> in the rest of her life? >> yes. >> her cousin diane said once the butterfly spread her wings, she felt like her old clothes, her husband chris wasn't fitting anymore. >> he was not really a part of the new life? >> exactly. >> the future. >> i think he saw the writing on the wall. >> she saw that i'm yearning i'm healthier now than i have ever brngs i'm prettier than i have ever been, i'm feeling confident, i'm feeling independent.
she didn't have just one choice anymore t. world was hers. >> detectives learned that in january, 2013, heather moved out on chris without telling him. >> she had a name for it. >> she did. >> almost like operation ninja style she was going to move out on her own? >> it was. it was. >> heather moved into this rental house with the help of family and friends. >> she was backed by a lost awesome girls. so she was ready. >> she was saying, you know, i don't want anything in my house but my crock pot and matt tres and brown book, that's okay. because i'm happy. >> in his interview with police, chris said that after nine years of marriage, he and heather began to have some differences, but, he said, he had no clue she was going to move out on him and was even more shocked when he found out she had filed for divorce. >> totally side swiped. i did not see it coming. >> chris told detective kemp he had been trying to patch it up ever since. >> i wanted my life. i want the family dynamic. i want us to be a family. i want us to work things out. >> kemp questioned what heather had been up to when chris was trying to win her back. parent is an expert and...
old life to build a new one with another man? >> coming up, the other man revealed. >> you know, i'm a flirtatious person. >> he has some intriguing flfx for police and for us. >> ewouldn't bind her if that's hadn't returned to her rented house. the place where she hoped to start a new life without her husband. >> it sound cliche, but she really vanished without a trace.
>> yes, that's what was making this so difficult. >> and she still wasn't answering her cell phone. the one police learned she used to exchange flirtatious texts with a mystery man. >> she was in the process of have, an affair, whether local or long distance, i don't know. >> vis jones couldn't tell detectives much else about this other man who he only knew by the name of edward. >> i seen their correspondence. >> how do you know? were you able to see some of the texts, yourself on her phone or in.
>> yeah. >> you must have had concerns about this other man? >> yep, i did. because he was one of the first names that we had come up with. >> detective kemp knew if heather had split town after a good-bye e-mail suggested, she hadn't driven away in her car. it was still parked in her driveway. >> you are going to call her? >> i don't know anything about him. i really don't. >> did he live here locally,
obviously in german town? >> no. >> not that i know of. >> detectives had to find edward another way. so they accessed heather's facebook account and minded it for clues. there it was, a profile with the last name attached. >> what was that name? >> edward rogerson. >> police found a phone number, he told them he lived 500 miles away in eastern tennessee and agreed to make the drive to german town to be interviewed. detectives wondered, had he made
the trip once that week to take heather away, most importantly, could he tell them where she was now? >> just because you got somebody living 500 miles away, does that mean that they didn't have everything to do with the disappearance. >> police recorded ed ellerson's interview, during questioning, ed made a potentially important admission. >> i love her to death. i would do anything for her when the detectives asked me, who would she call if she wanted to disappear? me, i'd be here in however many hours it took me today. >> but he insisted, heather never made that call and there was more. ed told detectives he was surprised by the first question he was asked when initially contacted be i by the police. >> detective kemp, he said, is your girlfriend there? and i said, yes, she's in the back yard. he said, good, okay, so heather's okay? i said heather's not my girlfriend, she's a friend of mine. we've been friend for 20 years. >> if heather and ed weren't an item, what was going on? >> the detective wanted to hear from you immediately once they learned the name? >> yes, oh, yeah, with understand they knew who i was. >> you were an important piece of the puszle for them? >> yeah. >> detectives learned his relationship with heather went back decades, long before heather married krichls ed says he and letter met in 1993 when they were both teens living in florida. ed remembers they fell fast for each other. >> it was young love. they say you don't know what love is. but i do. >> ed said they dated for two years before he moved away. but that puppy love was
something he never got over, even after heather married. >> were you still carrying that torch? >> yeah. but i didn't really let it show. i respected heather too much. >> around heather's birthday in the spring of 2013, after she had lost all that weight, ed told detectives he reached out to wish her well and got more than a thank you. heather had big news. she and chris had separated. >> at that moment in her life, she needed a friend and that was what i was there for. i was there right when she needed me the most. >> but said said that shoulder to lean on soon turned into something more. >> talking, just you know listening to her problems and it had just you know progressed from there. >> progressed in what way? >> oh, you know, i'm a flirtatious person and, you know, just became flirtatious. >> detective kemp scanned the texts between the two from heather's cell phone, it appears things heated up a little more, a few days before she went missing. >> there was some sexual content that i had noticed. >> ed says it was heather who first turned the texting into sexting. >> what did you think? >> it was partly that, you know, she was in a highly flirtatious mood that day. i wasn't really quite sure. >> did you bite? >> i did. >> detectives wanted to know how much and whether ed was truly willing to drop everything to help heather start a new life in secret? >> no matter what it took, i would protect her. >> ed knew it probably didn't look good to police. >> i guess me admitting that i would hide her if that's what
she wanted, you know, i can understand them saying that you know maybe he's hidden her. >> did you hide her? >> i wish. >> did you drive to see heather that night? >> no. >> were you with heather that night? >> no. >> did you have anything to do with her disappearance? >> no. >> ed told police he was at home, far away in eastern tennessee. and revealed that despite those steamy spect e texts, he and heather hadn't actually seen each other in person if years. >> we had discussed seeing each other.
i guess it would have been well about another month. >> ed insisted to police he had into idea where heather was, but he did give them a big clue. he told investigators, in fact, he spoke to heather on the phone the very night she disappeared. he we heard something on that call alarming then. even more alarming now. >> i called her, she answered. and immediately i could hear kind of arguing. >> ed said he we heard a man's voice in the background during that call. but who's voice was it? he's been acting more and more like his dad. come on, guys! jump in! the water's fine! tom pritchard. how we doin'?
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as one day split into the next and the next, with still no sign of heather jones, her gym friends got back to exercise class with the hope heather would dance with them once again. >> i kept the back door opened, i said, heather, if you can hear us, we're dancing, we're looking for you, if you are out there, dance with us. umm, we're going to find you one way or another. >> detective tony kemp also vowed to find her.
he was convinced heather did not run off with her old boyfriends, ed, so he asked what else would cause heather to leave her husband and children. that's when kemp began to flush out what really happened when heather moved out on chris. >> it was very scary and only continued to deteriorate. >> friends and family told him how at first chris tried to woo her with flowers and chocolates, but those loving gestures soon turned ugly. >> he would tech her and call her, this time they were violent. you're not going to take my kids
from me, i'm not going to let you leave. you won't get away with this. i will come after you. >> then friends said chris started acting more desperate and heather started getting really scared. >> he would show up at her work. he would show up at the gym. he started showing up at the house in the middle of the night and i just remember thinking like, this is insane. you are literally stalking her. >> i got a lot of information on chris on what these people thought of him and it was not food. >> detectives decided they do more than keep an eye on chris. they secretly attached a gps device to his car to track his
movements. >> we wanted to know possibly could he take us to where heather was at? >> they also asked chris to come in for a second interview. detective brian wallace would lead the interrogation. >> are you thinking, this could potential by be our last chance to solve this? >> certainly. this was our shot. >> detectives watched as chris' car made its way towards the police station. but then it stopped a quarter mile away at a nearby mall. police thought he might be running an errand. but moments later, he popped up at the station. why had he parked so far away? chris was escorted in. >> thank you for coming out. >> my pleasure. >> anything i can do. >> chris told detectives he went to heather's house the night she
disappeared to talk. but before he could say much to her, he said her phone rang. >> and so she's like well, this is a call i have kind of been waiting for. i said, well, you know, i really got a pertinent matter to discuss with you, if there is anyway you could possibly have them call you back. >> what was the pertinent matter? >> it was letting her know that i discovered she had been having an affair the entire time. >> was that who was calling her the person you -- >> i kind of got that feeling that that's who was calling her. >> in fact, it was ed rollerson. >> i called her, she answered and immediately i could hear her and chris kind of arguing. so she's telling him to get out and he's constantly saying, i need to talk to you, i need to talk to you, i just need two minutes. >> ed said he we heard something else come out of chris' mouth. >> he talked to her, it's a matter of life and death. she asked him, what do you mean a matter of life and death? >> in his interview, chris admitted he and heather continued arguing when she hung up with ed. he insisted she was alive when he went home and he said, she sent that disturbing good-bye e-mail only after he left. >> i'm freaking out, you know, because i still, i don't know that this isn't a game. >> detectives had been analyze tack strange e-mail and they
asked forensic experts to comb through chris' computers seized at his apartment. a theory began to emerge. investigators now believed chris had written the e-mail, himself. >> did you suspect that chris was posing as heather, sending that e-mail? >> yes, i did. because chris was an expert when it came to computers. >> and what's more, they suspected it was chris who actually sent those sexy texts to ed, not heather. he believed he had stolen her phone and was pretending to be her. >> that is really weird. >> oh, yeah. >> you are getting sexting from her husband? >> yeah, her husband. kind of -- i need to put that oust my mind. >> chris' plan, detectives the host, was to throw them off the trail, to make it look like heather ran off and was having an affair. but they didn't believe a word of his story or that his concern for heather was genuine. >> the reason you were freak out is because she was dead. your actions after that make no sense. everything else after that was an alibi. >> okay so what did i do with her? >> that's what we're asking, chris. >> chris was sticking to his story, but the biggest break in the case was about to happen. what chris didn't know is that while detectives were turning up the heat inside the interrogation room, outside they sent some cadaver dogs over to the mall to sniff around his car and now the team at the mall wanted to speak with detectives immediately. >> they said the dogs just
hammered his car. they said they're all over it. >> they found the scent of human remains. >> i don't know why the cadaver dogs hit on my car. >> i do. they don't just hit on anybody's cars, they don't hit on cars out of the blue. >> what is it they are trained to detect? >> deed rapt decompensation. >> wallace had chris against the ropes and he was finally going to get some answers, not just about what happened, but why. the startling revelation. heather's radical makeover of her body and life had put her life in imminent danger. >> coming up, a whole new story from chris. was this all some awful accident? or could it be murder with a mind blowing motive? >> do you think that heather would still be alive if she hadn't gone through this transformation? >> yes. >> i'd love to help you, i really would. >> for hours, chris jones had been going over what happened with detectives the night heather disappeared, but after cadaver dogs found the skrept of human remains near his car. detective wallace wasn't buying the story. >> the story of what happened the night she disappeared, total bull [ bleep ] . bull [ bleep ] . >> wallace pushed him for th
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cadaver dogs found the skrept of human remains near his car. detective wallace wasn't buying the story. >> the story of what happened the night she disappeared, total bull [ bleep ] . >> wallace pushed him for the truth. >> how did it happen? did she fall, she did? was she drunk? what happened? we were struggling over the phone and, uh, only this time, we were outside on the steps. and, uh -- she lost her footing. she fell. hit the step.
and i we heard the -- we heard the crack. >> he said they were struggling over a cell phone, she slipped, fell backwards and hit her head and died. did you believe his story? >>, no no way. >> finally, chris admitted heather was dead. but insisted it was only an accident. still the most important evidence was missing. heather's body. chris told detectives he dumped her at a gas station, police went there, found nothing and checked security cameras. >> they got videos from the last 15 days. they have looked at everything from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m.. your car never even pulse on the lot. >> kiss chris then changed the story and told somebody to get rid of the body. >> i jokingly asked, hey, you want to make a couple hundred bucks. >> no, no, chris, stop. this isn't working. that's crazier than the first one. >> four hours into the interview, wallace sensed chris was out of stories and out of options. so the detective game him one last chance.
>> i said, let's cut it out, chris. your time is running out. you need to tell us where she is. you need to tell us now. >> the room went quiet. chris motioned for a pen and paper. then he drew a map. there i said, this is where she is. that's where she is. >> detectives raced to the area and followed chris' directions down a path into the woods that led to a clearing.
>> once we could see an area on the ground where a fire, what had looked like a fire had taken place, once we got closer to that, we could tell there was still a human form there. >> seven days after she disappeared, detectives had found heather. her body had been badly burned. >> we were broken hearted. we had lost her and she was a big beautiful part of our group. >> chris jones was arrested and charged with first degree murder. now the women who had helped heather find the courage to
leave her husband supported their friend in death. staring down chris jones at every court appearance. >> there's a monster inside that hurt our friend and that we want justice. >> prosecutors rejected chris' story that heather had died from an accidental fall. they believed he argued with her at the house that night, strangled her and then burned her body in the woods. but the question remains, why? heather's friends provided a surprising answer. they were convinced heather's dramatic weight loss got her killed. >> do you think that heather would still be alive if she
control her. >> at the beginning, he wanted her to be bigger, he felt that would be more attractive to him. then as she got bigger, then he would say to her, nobody else would want her because she was so obese. >> when heather finally created her transformation, she confided chris didn't have the reaction. she said, chris wants me to put the weight back. he doesn't want you to go out there. he doesn't want anyone else looking at you. >> he said chris brought fatty foods to her, hoping she would pack the pounds back on. >> he would go up to the school with food. and she would not want any part of it. >> with the sole purpose of trying to get her to gain wieth? >> is what she had told me, yes. >> friends said the nud and improved heather never took the baits. after years of increasingly unhappiness, heather found out something for her was the last straw. >> she discovered that chris was having an affair with another woman. >> that's when she finally spread her wings and found the courage to leave her marriage and she never looked back. >> you could see that her spirit was lighting up in her sense of security and what all the future was going to hold for her. >> in february of 2015, chris jones went on trial. heather's friends took the stand to help prove the prosecution's theory. when chris realized he had lost control of heather, he took control in another way. >> find that man guilty of first degree murder. >> prosecutors laid out their
case to the jury. >> it wasn't an accident. >> assistant district attorney daniel mccollum. >> she didn't fall down. there was a struggle. he did strangle her either with his hands or however he did it. he was up close and personal to her and he was there watching that breath go out of her. >> but the defense stuck to the story chris told on tape. >> that heather fell and died after they struggled over a cell phone. >> he never admits to killing her. >> the judge asked chris if he wanted to tell his story to the jury? >> i think i will choose to not testify. >> it was now up to the jury to decide his fate. >> finally, after deliberating for a day. >> we, the jury, find the defendant guilty of murder first degree. we the jury find the defendant guilty to abuse of a corps. >> tears flowed for heather, a woman who worked so hard to shape her own life, free of chris jones, will now likely spend the rest of his life behind bars. he told "dateline" from a phone call from jail, he never tried to control heather. >> that he is absolutely innocent of mertz of any type and his statements to police were coerced. the detectives said chris jones talked to them voluntarily and could have ended the interview at any time. as for cousin diane, she has obtained legal custody of
heather and chris' two children. heather's gym friends, they find comfort in knowing that before her death, heather achieved that remarkable journey. becoming the person she was always meant to be. >> she got to experience back before she left this earth. she got to experience as beautiful as she was inside and out. >> that dance class where heather spread her wings still keeps a place for her. i'm craig melvin and i'm natalie morales. >> this is "dateline". >> he was the new kid in town. super popular. all about adventure. >> he was awesome. >> he just jumped into the culture. >> liked the show off a little bit for the girls. >> they were the neighbors, just down the block, a family in fear. >> they had had t
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