48 Hours Mystery: My Mother's Murder
Hours after the discovery of Jennifer Jackson's bloody body, police started wondering about her daughter, Noura, and exactly how she injured her left hand.
Sergeant Connie Justice was the first officer to interview Noura. Noura told her she cut her hand at a community festival the night before the murder. The back of her hand was covered with a piece of white medical tape.
When asked if Justice noticed any blood on the bandage, she replied, "It had not bled through, because all I saw was the top of it and no, I did not see any actual blood."
"There were some broken beer bottles. And I slipped and I fell. We had been drinking that night, slipped and fell and cut it," Noura explained to Richard Schlesinger.
But to Lt. Mark Miller and Sergeant W.D. Merritt, Noura's explanation only raised more questions. "How do you fall on a bottle with the back of your hand?" they wondered. They said it didn't make sense.
But it wasn't just the cut. Lieutenant Miller also thought something was odd about the way Noura was dressed early that June morning.
"She had on a long sleeved shirt, which seemed kind of strange," Lt. Miller observed, "because June in Memphis isn't exactly a cool month."
Miller wondered if Noura was trying to conceal that cut.
"I was in long sleeves a lot. Even on the beach, sometimes I'd be in long sleeves," Noura told Schlesinger, speaking quickly. "You might see someone in a bikini or a t-shirt and I might have something that was long sleeve. It's just the way I dressed."
Memphis police started asking Noura's neighbors and friends about her relationship with her mother. And that's when Sgt. Tim Helldorfer started hearing about the fights.
"Noura and her mother had problems," Helldorfer explained. "Noura wanted to be an adult, on her own. And Jennifer was trying to straighten her out."
And just hours before Jennifer was killed, one of Noura's friends said she heard her say, "My mom's a bitch and needs to go to hell."
"I heard a lot of concern from Jennifer about 'I don't know what to do,'" said Susan Tobey. She said Jennifer had confided in her, "'She's not going to school and I don't know what else to do.' It was a mother who was absolutely frustrated."
But Tobey said Jennifer was reluctant to discipline her daughter.
"I think there's a certain amount of guilt that comes with being a single parent. And it causes you, maybe, to be a little easier on children than you might ordinarily be," she said.
But in the months leading up to the murder, Tobey said Jennifer had finally decided to crack down on Noura. To detectives, that sounded a lot like a possible motive for a teenager used to having her way.
"She didn't want to be reined in. She wanted her freedom," Helldorfer said.
What teenager doesn't want freedom? And what teenager hasn't fought with or even cursed a parent? It happens all the time. But police thought this became much more; they thought this was a case of matricide - the murder of a mother by her own child.
Noura's activities the night of the murder just added to their suspicions. Police believe Jennifer Jackson was killed in her home between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Noura's friends said they last saw her at a party around midnight. So where was she later?
"I don't think to this day we know exactly what she did," Merritt said.
What little they do know came from Noura's statement to Sgt. Connie Justice.
"Well, she said she purchased some cigarettes. She said she rode around," Sgt. Justice said.
But there was one stop Noura failed to mention to police. "She went to a Walgreens and purchased some medical care products," Justice said.
Police learned about her trip to Walgreens when they found a bag filled with first aid products in Noura's car. "Bandages, peroxide, things you would use to clean up a cut," Merritt said.
After the bag was found, Sgt. Merritt took it to a nearby Walgreens to check the sales records.
"I asked the manager if we could review her video surveillance system. Low and behold, here comes Noura walking into Walgreens," he said.
Noura admitted she bought those things to treat the cut she said she got the night before the murder. But police thought Noura was behaving as though the cut was fresh.
"She asked for a paper towel to dab her bleeding wound," Justice said. Noura can be seen on the store video taking the paper towel from the clerk.
"Did you think in your mind, 'Bingo? Gotcha?'" Schlesinger asked Merritt. "I knew it was a very important piece of evidence," he replied.
Police also examined Noura's cell phone records and noticed a pattern they thought was suspicious. Noura seemed to live on her phone. But that night, between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., there was nothing.
"That cell phone was nonstop except for a limited time frame, which we feel was when the murder took place," said Helldorfer.
When asked what he thought happened, Helldorfer said, "I think they had a confrontation, verbally, earlier, and that was it… She just went crazy. Not losing her mind, but that rage, you know, it just kicked in."
Detectives believe by now, Noura, having just committed a savage murder, coldly and methodically started cleaning up and concocting her cover up.
"I'm sure there was serious panic," Helldorfer said. "She's gotta figure out what to do now."
By 3 a.m., Noura was on the phone again calling friends. She also drove to a friend's house. "She had an alibi. She had somebody who'd seen her," Helldorfer said.
Helldorfer believes Noura then headed back home, ran to her neighbor and called 911.
And in the process, Helldorfer said she may have dropped one more clue. "The 911 call taker asked Noura, 'Has your mother been shot?' She says, 'No.'"
"How's she gonna know that?" Helldorfer said. "I don't think the average person, under those bloody conditions, could tell whether or not those were knife wounds or gunshot wounds. She was adamant. It was, 'No.'"
Detectives now have their theory that Noura is the killer. But there's one big problem: there was no DNA, blood or fingerprints from Noura at the crime scene.
There was DNA from someone else at the crime scene.
"We know there was some unknown DNA that was on a bed sheet," Merritt said.
"It could have been skin. It could have been sweat," added Miller.
The investigators were never able to find out whose DNA it was. The only thing they could say for sure was that it wasn't Jennifer's or Noura's.
"I think we know who did it," Noura said. "We just have to find them."
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