Did Memphis teen stab mother to death?
Noura and Jennifer Jackson
Produced by Jay Young and Field Producer Sara Ely Hulse
[This story originally aired April 10, 2010. It was updated on July 28, 2012.]
Jennifer Jackson had no shortage of friends and Susan Tobey was one of the closest.
"Jennifer was probably one of the warmest, most engaging, beautiful inside and out people I've ever known," Tobey said. "When you got around Jennifer, you felt their energy. And their energy was positive."
Jennifer was 39, divorced, and raising her 18-year-old daughter, Noura, in Memphis.
"Noura was the light of her life," said Tobey.
"When you have a single-parent family, the bond is closer. It's not just your mom," Noura Jackson told "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Richard Schlesinger. "I played basketball for my church and I remember, like you know, 'Mom, you don't have to come to the game because, [she'd yell] 'Woo hoo!' It was so embarrassing. It was just my mom."
Like most single mothers, Jennifer was a juggler, managing her jobs as a parent and as a bond trader. She seemed successful at both.
"She was the person who absolutely did it all," Tobey explained. "She made sure that life was as good as it could be."
Noura said, "I didn't have any siblings, which sometimes makes you a little bit more spoiled but..."
"Were you a little spoiled?" Schlesinger asked.
"A little bit," she conceded. "I wouldn't say [spoiled rotten]," she laughed. "Big birthday parties, you know, themes, mom dressing up..."
"You smile when you talk about her," Schlesinger observed. "You have good memories?" "Uh huh," Noura replied.
Noura has a few too many memories after seeing her mother the night she was murdered.
"There was blood everywhere. I guess that's basically the thing that sticks with me," she recalled, tears streaming down her face. "I guess the only thing that was on my mind was that I needed help."
Noura ran to a neighbor for help and then made a frantic call to 911:
911: Fire Department. What's the problem? Tell me exactly what happened.
Noura Jackson: Someone broke into my house! My mom is bleeding!
911: Did you see what happened?
Noura Jackson: No! No, I just got home.
911: Is she breathing?
Noura Jackson: No! She' not breathing, she's not breathing, she' not breathing... I need an ambulance. I need an ambulance right now!
911: We're getting an ambulance on the line, don't hang up.
Police raced to the Jackson home and Sgt. Tim Helldorfer was one of the first to go inside. And that's where he found Jennifer Jackson - naked, bloody and dead.
"I'll always remember this case... just because of how savage it was," he told Schlesinger. "But she was just riddled with wounds."
Jennifer's body was lying at the foot of the bed. "This was absolutely, no doubt, a very violent scene. The blood cast off all over the sheets... It was a bloody scene," Sgt. Helldorfer said
A coroner found no evidence of a sexual attack, but said Jennifer had been stabbed more than 50 times.
"It goes into what we would categorize as rage killing," Helldorfer explained.
Whoever killed Jennifer Jackson put a wicker basket over her head. It sounds strange, but Helldorfer said he'd seen that kind of thing before. When asked who puts a basket over somebody's face, Helldorfer replied, "Somebody who doesn't want to look at the face; somebody who is close to the victim."
"[A] stranger wouldn't do that," he continued.
There was other evidence that the killer knew Jennifer - broken glass from a door between the kitchen and the garage. At first glance, Helldorfer said it could have been the way an intruder broke into the house. "It was a three-panel door with windows going horizontal. And the middle window was broken out," he explained.
But Helldorfer noticed something about that door didn't look right.
"If you wanted to break into the kitchen through the door, the obvious point would be right down here where the knob and the lock is," he said pointing to its location. "Up here makes no sense."
A second look revealed a second lock much closer to the broken pane. Helldorfer said it was a hidden hinge lock on the door frame that you couldn't see it from the outside. He said that's important because "somebody had to know this lock was here."
What's more, all the outside doors leading into the garage were locked.
Helldorfer said someone could not have gotten to that door in the kitchen from the outside. "Absolutely not. The doors were locked. The exterior doors were locked. There was just no way in."
Helldorfer continued, "And it looked to me it was staged. That was the first thing I thought. 'This looks staged.'"
Police were still in the house when news of Jennifer's murder spread to family and friends, including Renea McMillan. "I pretty much sat on the floor and cried so hard that I mean, I can barely remember," she said.
"I fell to my knees. It was horrible," Tobey added. "Who would want to kill her?"
Ansley Larsson got to know Jennifer when their kids started dating. She thought she had the answer right away.
"The truth is, the first thing I thought of was him," Larsson said of Mark Irvin, a Methodist minister who Jennifer dated around the time of her murder. "There seems to be a seething, like a real underlying anger with him that he appears to be a very controlling person."
Memphis detectives Lt. Mark Miller and Sgt. W.D. Merritt found out that Irvin had called Jennifer the night of her murder.
When asked if they liked Irvin as a suspect, Lt. Miller replied, "I think the common thought was, 'Man, this guy likes to talk a lot.'"
"He just kept coming back. He just kept calling..." Miller told Schlesinger. "You can look at this two ways. Either its honest interest, concern... or he did it and he wants to know what we know."
Irvin had an alibi of sorts. He told police he was asleep at the time of the murder - at his house in Jackson, Tenn., 90 minutes away from Jennifer's home.
"If you're asleep you're asleep. If you're at home by yourself, alone, how can that be proven or disproven?" Merritt said.
Police in Jackson interviewed Irvin and found no evidence implicating him in Jennifer's murder.
"You keep him on the back burner and, and keep going forward with the case," said Miller.
And by now, police already had another suspect. If they're right, this crime may be even more unspeakable than it first appeared.
"Everything pointed towards her," said Merritt.
There was one person whose behavior seemed strange to them right from the start and someone who happened to have a cut on her left hand: Noura Jackson, Jennifer's 18-year-old daughter.
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