Ambushed: The murder of David Jackson

In a chance meeting, the son of a missing Florida man helps a new detective crack a 15-year-old cold case

Produced by Patti Aronofsky, Pete Shaw, Tamara Weitzman and Alec Sirken

[This story was originally broadcast on March 17, 2013. It was updated on May 10, 2014.]

(CBS News) PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. -- Family members knew something was wrong when 24-year- old David Jackson failed to show up for work and didn't pick his brother up at the airport. Police took on the case, but the investigation grew cold.

It heated up again in 2003, when a new detective, Donna Velazquez, was handed the file. As part of her work, she put a missing persons poster of David Jackson by her desk. By chance, John Wolfe saw the poster during a meeting of the Police Explorers program, a group for young people interested in police work.

John Wolfe shocked the officers when he told them he knew the man in the poster -- it was his father. What he would tell investigators would ultimately blow the case wide open.

jackson-missing-1024x768.jpg

The disappearance of David Jackson from his Florida home on June 25, 1988, has haunted his family.

"We tried everything to keep that little bit of hope. That just maybe he's gonna knock on the door one day," said Mark Jackson, who dreamed that his brother, David, was shot twice in the head.

"It was pure hell. It felt like my whole heart was just empty. Like you could put your hand threw it. There was just nothing there," Judy Carlson said of her son.

After 15 long years, his case has finally been reopened.

"I was like, 'Well good. That's a good thing that they're gonna work on it,'" Barbara Britton told "48 Hours" correspondent Troy Roberts.

Britton says she was delighted police were intent on finding out what happened to her ex-husband, David.

"David was my first love and my life, and I was always hoping that David always would come back," she said.

She was happy that her son, John, may finally learn what became of his father. But that's not how Detective Donna Velazquez remembers it.

"When John goes and tells his mom they've reopened the case... Well, Barbara says to her own son, 'I thought that was closed a long time ago. They need to leave it alone,'" she explained.

Detective Velazquez recorded John talking about his mother's reaction.

John Wolfe audio: She got very defensive and very, um, touchy ... I believe personally that she's holding back information.


"That sent up a red flag for me, in that maybe I was gonna have to fish in that pond and see just exactly what happened," said Det. Velazquez

The detective began by digging through the cold case file and a story began to emerge. It begins with a teenage romance. David Jackson, 19, managing the local Burger King falls in love with his employee, high school senior Barbara Britton.

"I liked her very much. She -- was a pretty girl," Judy Carlson said. "And they said, 'Mom, we got something to tell you. Barbara's pregnant.' ... And they both said that we've been talking about marriage anyway, so they're going to go ahead and get married."

"It was nice. We had a big wedding," Britton told Roberts. "My dad, you know, he had to sign the paper for me to get married, 'cause I was so young. We got married on my spring break."

Britton says her father, Harry, wasn't thrilled with the union. And David knew it.

"One of the only people I know my brother was ever scared of always was her father," said David's brother, Mark Jackson. He remembers Harry Britton terrified David.

"My brother got his daughter pregnant," Mark Jackson said. "My brother was very scared of him, scared of what he might do to him."

The pressure of being teenage parents would become very stressful. Britton says David was immature and wanted to be with his friends, leaving her to care for a newborn alone.

"He would just come over sometimes and be like, 'I'm going here,' you know. And -- and I would be like, 'OK.' You know, and 'Wish I could go,'" she said.

Only Mark Jackson remembers it differently. He says Barbara Britton never really gave his brother a chance - choosing to stay with her parents instead.

"After the marriage, she refused to move into the house he bought. Nobody knows why. She just refused to. That's when things starting going south almost immediately after the marriage," he explained.

Asked who initiated the divorce proceedings, Carlson told Roberts, "Barbara."

"What did David say to you -- about the divorce?" Roberts asked.

"He said he was gonna make sure he got visitation with his child," said Carlson.

For two years, David and Barbara shared custody of John.

"He paid his child support. He spent time with Johnny ... he loved spending time with Johnny," said Det. Velazquez.

And then Barbara Britton announced she was moving on. She was marrying an older man, Michael Wolfe -- a former military police officer who was 20 years her senior. Barbara was taking John, leaving Florida and relocating to Arizona.

"She gave David a three-hour notice that she was moving to Tucson, Arizona with her new husband," said Det. Velazquez.

Before a judge, David and Barbara hashed out an agreement; she would bring little Johnny back to Florida for a month-long visit with David in the summer of 1988.

"And he told his mother, he told his friends, 'I can't wait to have my son here," said the detective.

Then, on Saturday, June 25, 1988, just days before Barbara was supposed to bring John to visit his father, David received a phone call. His roommate would tell police he believed it was Barbara on the phone.

Whoever it was, David spoke for a bit and then left to buy beer and cigarettes. He never returned.

"His vehicle was found parked in the long-term parking lot at the Fort Lauderdale Airport," said Det. Velazquez.

The find suggested David, 24, had just left town. But a closer look told a different story, that, perhaps, this was a murder.

"[The] entire vehicle had been wiped down and it was clean. Not even to find David's fingerprints anywhere inside the vehicle or on the outside of the vehicle," Det. Velazquez said. "That is very strange."

As Detective Velazquez pieced together the case she learned that David's son, John -- the Police Explorer -- didn't share his father's last name.

"I said to him, 'How did you get the name John Wolfe?' And he said, 'Well, Michael Wolfe was my stepfather and he adopted me.' I said, 'He adopted you? When did that happen?' He says, 'Well, I was probably 4-and-a-half, goin' on 5,'" said Det. Velazquez.

Only months after David went missing, Michael Wolfe contacted a lawyer about adopting Barbara's son.

"Another flag went up for me," the detective said. "Why would any person want their son adopted by a stepfather so quick after the biological father went missing?"

To Det. Velazquez, it was clear Barbara was hiding something incriminating. But if she was going to prove her theory she needed help. That's when John agreed to secretly record his mother.

"You agreed to help the police build a case against your mother?" Roberts asked John Wolfe.

"I'm a very strong believer in doing what's correct. So in other words, if you're my son, daughter, wife, child, you do somethin' wrong, have a good day," he replied.

"But this is your mother," said Roberts.

"And granted I love her, but if someone did somethin' bad, why should someone cover it," he said.

In the end, John changed his mind and didn't wear the wire. But he did say his mother asked him, "What are you trying to do, have me arrested?"

"Did you say it, Barbara? Did you say to John,'What are you tryin' to do, get me arrested?'" Roberts asked Britton.

"I -- no. And he says I did," she replied. "I'm not gonna sit there and dwell on this. I'm just not."

"For someone, especially his mother, to come up and say, 'What are you tryin' to do, have me arrested?' That's not normal," said Det. Velazquez.

For Detective Velazquez, it sounded like an admission.

"I'm thinking that Barbara Britton is looking really good as a potential homicide suspect," she said.

But she still had to prove David Jackson was dead.

A GOOGLE SEARCH

"I never believed that he ever decided to pick up and run away from his life," said Det. Donna Velazquez.

In 2003, just months into her cold case investigation, Det. Velazquez was certain David Jackson was murdered and his ex-wife had something to do with it. Only without a body, she couldn't prove anything. That is, until the search engine Google came to her aid.

"My partner, taught me how to do a Google search," she explained. "I searched unidentified remains, unsolved homicides..."

Google may seem like an odd place to begin looking for a body, but within minutes the detective stumbled upon a database that could help her.

"It allows you to fill in your criteria of your missing person," Velazquez explained, "and then it prompts you. ...so I put in David's age, height, weight, date of disappearance. Well it popped out about 50 matches."

Read more: NamUS system helps detectives

One description jumped to the top of the list.

"It was a white male, over six foot and he was found in the city of Miramar, which is one city south of Pembroke Pines. ... where David lived," said Velazquez.

Construction workers found the bones in what was once an empty lot - now a Wal-Mart shopping center.

"So I went to my sergeant. ... I said, 'Sarge, what do you think?' And he said, 'I think you found David Jackson,'" Velazquez explained. "So, I go down to the medical examiner's office, and I meet with their forensic anthropologist, and she wheels out remains."

There was no skull, but the bones had been sitting in the medical examiner's office for almost 15 years.

"I said, 'Is there any way that you can tell me this is not David?' She says, 'The only way we're going be able to do that is through DNA,'" Velazquez explained.

So using David's mother's DNA as a comparison, a forensic examiner ran the test.

"She says, 'You're not gonna believe this.' She says, 'But I got a 100-percent match,'" Velazquez continued. "I kind of just sat there for a little while and trying to absorb it because, honestly, I was in shock over it, too, that we'd actually found him."

"Now we move from a missing persons to a homicide case," said Velazquez.

But first, Det. Velazquez needed to break the news to David's mother.

"She started crying right away, uncontrollably for a while. Then she got up. She walked around the table and she gave me a hug. She said,

'I knew you would do it,'" the detective told Roberts of Judy Carlson's reaction.

"They handed me this box -- it was pure white. ... Just pure white. And they said, 'This is David,'" Carlson explained. "So they put me in this room and I set him down. And I started to cry. And I cried maybe 20 seconds. And I picked up the box. And I said, 'David. You're home again.' ... It was almost as if everything had lifted. I mean, I could actually feel like white doves flying in and everything. ... It was that moment that it just summed everything up. That's all I needed -- was him back."

But she also needed some answers. So did Det. Velazquez, who went to see Barbara Britton.

"What was Barbara's reaction when you told her that you had identified her ex-husband's remains?" Roberts asked.

"Well ... I got this look that was so strange and so cold," Det. Velazquez said. "She asked me where did we find them, and how many bones did we have? Very odd, very strange."

"Do you remember saying, 'How many bones did they find?'" Roberts asked Barbara Britton.

"I don't remember saying that. I just kept saying, 'Oh, my God," she replied. "If that's her opinion and if that's what she wants to say then if that makes her feel good then let her say that, because that really upsets me... that upsets me. Why would I - wh -- I didn't care where they found the bones. All I know is they found the bones, and they had a match."

"So, what was your gut telling you after you left that meeting with Barbara?" Roberts asked Det. Velazquez.

"That she was involved, she knew exactly what happened," she replied.

But Barbara Britton insists she wasn't even in Florida when David went missing. She was in Arizona living with her then-husband, Michael Wolfe. The couple divorced in 1992. If Britton was involved in David's death, the detective thought Wolfe may have been involved, too. She tracked him to Kettering, Ohio, and had him brought to the local precinct.

They wasted no time getting straight to the point:

Detective: Let me ask you something real quick. Did you kill David Jackson?

Michael Wolfe: Oh... hell no.

But after hours of interrogation, Wolfe made a bizarre statement. He told investigators Harry, Barbara Britton's dad, hated David and wanted him dead and had turned to Wolfe - the former military police officer -- for advice:

Michael Wolfe: Harry and I had discussed this -- David's demise.

Michael Wolfe: I told him the type of weapon to use.

Detective: What type of weapon was that?

Michael Wolfe: It was a .22 caliber ... I told him it had to be a head shot.

Detective: Shoot him in the head ... When did you have this discussion with Harry?

Michael Wolfe: Oh my God, it was--probably three or four months before the disappearance.

Wolfe continued to deny any further involvement. But Detective Velazquez wasn't done digging. She learned that Wolfe had sold a gun to one of his ex-wives, Nancy Graham.

"And I place a phone call to her ... Told her I was a detective for the Pembroke Pines Police Department working the homicide investigation of David Jackson ... and did she know who David Jackson was?" said Det. Velazquez.

"It was a shock," Nancy Graham said. "She started asking me questions. I mean it just freaked me out, I mean it shocked me."

Nancy Graham immediately knew her ex-husband, Michael Wolfe, was in trouble.

"She says, 'How much evidence do you have against him?'" Det. Velazquez said. "Wow ... I kinda bluffed her ... and I said, 'I have enough to put him away right now.' She goes, 'I need to call you back.'"

"I didn't know what to do or what to say," Graham told "48 Hours".

For years she held a secret.

"It's the worst thing I've ever done in my life," said Graham, who knew the truth of what really happened to David Jackson.

"Just going over it, it makes me feel like such a s--t for not saying something earlier," she said.

WOLFE EX-WIFE REVEALS INFORMATION

For Michael Wolfe's ex-wife, Nancy Graham, it was time to tell Detective Velazquez what she knew about the death of David Jackson:

Nancy Graham: I know how he was killed and what they did with him.

Det. Donna Velazquez: How did you gain this knowledge?

Nancy Graham: From Mike, he told me. ... he was drinking real bad every night. He would almost down the whole bottle of scotch.

Graham had married Michael Wolfe just a year after he and Barbara Britton divorced. And when Michael Wolfe drank, he would often times talk about David Jackson.

"I really think his conscience was killing him. It was bothering him," she said.

He told Graham that when he was married to Britton, she and her father, Harry, had come to him.

"They came to him about wanting to get rid of David," said Graham.

Graham says Michael Wolfe believed if he didn't agree to kill David Jackson, Britton would leave him. So they hatched a plan: first, Britton would pretend she wanted to rekindle her relationship with David.

David's mother, Judy, remembers that shortly before he disappeared, her son was excited by the idea.

"And he said, 'And guess what else?' And I said, 'What?' He said, 'she told me that she loved me and that's the first time she said that,'" said Carlson.

Then, using fake IDs, Barbara Britton and Michael Wolfe would fly to Florida from Arizona. Britton would call David to lure him to a location where he would be killed:

Nancy Graham: Barbara contacted David -- she let him believe that maybe there was a chance of them gettin' back together. And he was supposed to meet her at a Motel 6.

When David arrived at the motel, Michael Wolfe was hiding with a gun in the bathroom:

Nancy Graham: He came out, and he shot David. OK, he told me he was so drunk. He had to get so drunk to do it.

Graham says Britton was right there when it happened:

Det. Donna Velazquez: Barbara was in the hotel room?

Nancy Graham: Yes

Det. Donna Velazquez: Did Mike tell you that she was in the hotel room when he fired the gun and killed David?

Nancy Graham: Yeah. She was there.

Nancy Graham: They took his car to the airport. Left his car at the airport.

Nancy Graham: Then everything was OK and they put in for the adoption for the little boy.

Finally, Det. Velazquez had enough to arrest Michael Wolfe for David Jackson's murder. Almost 16 years after David went missing, police slapped the cuffs on Michael Wolfe.

"They escort him over to the sidewalk. He's laying down on the sidewalk," Det. Velezquez told Roberts. "I said, 'Michael Wolfe?' And he said, 'Yes.' 'So I'm Detective Velazquez with the Pembroke Pines Police Department. And I'm damn glad to meet ya.' And he looked at me with such shock."

"How good did that feel?" Roberts asked.

"Phenomenal. Phenomenal," she replied.

But that was just the beginning of the detective's good fortune. Michael Wolfe had other ex-wives - six of them -- and Nancy Graham wasn't the only one he confided in. There was also Carol Larson.

"What did Carol Larson tell you?" Roberts asked the detective.

"She proceeds to tell me that he started disclosing things to her, but he never would tell a name. He would say that I murdered someone. Barbara was involved. Her father was involved. This is how we did it. He told her that he used a silencer," said Det. Velazquez.

"I couldn't believe it. Couldn't believe that he had told Carol, too. That really shocked me," said Graham.

And the story that Carol Larson told was filled with even more gruesome details, including how Barbara Britton tried to use a stun gun on David to knock him out before Wolfe could shoot him. But even with this information, the detective still couldn't arrest Britton.

"What I don't understand is that the two ex-wives also shared with you that Barbara and her father were involved in this plot. Why weren't they immediately arrested too?" Roberts asked Det. Velazquez.

"It's hearsay at that point," she replied.

That meant what Nancy Graham and Carol Larson had heard about Barbara Britton and her father from Michael Wolfe was inadmissible in court. Complicating matters, Harry was no longer alive to question. He died of cancer in 1998. So the detective focused her attention on putting Michael Wolfe behind bars.

At his trial, Graham and Larson would be star witnesses, and Graham would come face to face with David's family for the first time.

"Looking at his mother and his brother - it was, it was hard," said Graham, who was filled with guilt for not turning Michael Wolfe in years ago. But then David's mother embraced her.

"She came up to me and she hugged me. And she thanked me. And I told her, 'I'm sorry for not coming earlier ... I'm sorry.' That was hard and it made me feel so little, so I can't imagine going that long and not knowing where your child was," said Graham, overcome with emotion.

After a week-long trial, It took the jury less than an hour to convict Michael Wolfe of David Jackson's murder. Within days, Wolfe -- facing life in prison - announced he was ready to talk. Believing he would get a deal, Wolfe changed his story and promised to give prosecutors evidence that would put Barbara away for the rest of her life.

THE PLAN

"I realized that I'm taking the fall for everybody here. I wasn't the one that came up with this idea," said Michael Wolfe.

Within days of his conviction for the murder of David Jackson, Michael Wolfe announced he wanted to now tell police the truth: Barbara Britton and her father, Harry, were deeply involved in killing David Jackson.

"He and Barbara both had a very large part in organizing and setting this thing up," he said.

"Who was the mastermind of this plot?" Troy Robert asked.

"I would say it was Harry," said Wolfe.

Wolfe said Britton's father, Harry, was consumed with hatred for David -- and Barbara herself fueled the fire making terrible accusations.

"What did she tell you about David?" Roberts asked Wolfe.

"That he had beat her and he was abusive to his son," he replied.

It was a story that Barbara Britton repeated often. Detective Velazquez says Barbara told her terrible things that David did to little Johnny.

"She said ... David put a cigarette out in his palm. That if you shaved John's head you could probably see scars and marks," said Det. Velazquez.

John Wolfe says he heard the stories from his mother as well.

"Did she ever say that -- that your father was abusive to you?" Roberts asked John Wolfe.

"She told me that, but -- she told me that I also went to -- counselors to see why I acted certain ways when I was a child," he replied.

"Did you hear stories about being burned with cigarettes?" Robert asked.

"Yes," John Wolfe replied.

But Barbara Britton never filed any charges to support the allegations.

"Did you ever see any signs of physical abuse?" Roberts asked Michael Wolfe.

"No, I didn't. No, I didn't. I've given that a lot of thought since," he replied.

Today, Michael Wolfe believes it was part of Barbara's plan to motivate him to help kill David.

"I think that was all just a story," he said.

Back in 1988, Michael Wolfe says he would have done anything for Barbara. He was head over heels in love with her.

"She was 21 and I was 41," he said.

"Was that appealing?" Robert asked.

"Of course. I was probably middle-age crazy. But yeah, that was a drawing card for me, definitely," he replied.

And in spite of her stories about David's abusive ways, Michael Wolfe says Britton seemed OK with the idea that David would visit little Johnny. The problem was Harry.

"Harry said, 'The only way I wanna see David is face up in a box at Fred Hunters,' which is a funeral home. He said that more than once," Michael Wolfe said. "And Barbara said ... 'He wants to do something to David. He wants to get rid of David.' He had asked Barbara to ask me if I knew anybody - who would do it, you know, like a hit man or a killer or something," Michael Wolfe explained. "I finally told him that, I would take care of that."

"Why did you agree to kill David Jackson?" Roberts asked.

"I thought I could do that and keep peace in the family, keep the family together, this kind of thing," he replied. "I didn't want to lose Barbara. I thought we had a family together. I thought that's the way it would be."

Michael Wolfe says Harry Britton, who lived in Florida, picked a motel near Fort Lauderdale where they could murder David. And to get David to the motel, Barbara Britton made a date with him.

"That was part of the ploy," Michael Wolfe explained, "that's how you were gonna get David to the motel room."

At the time, Michael Wolfe was working in Tucson, Ariz. He says he and Barbara used two expired driver's licenses -- in other people's names - to fly to Fort Lauderdale.

"I told Harry, I gave him the names. He made the reservations for us under those names. I gave one to Barbara. I kept one. And we went to the airport, picked up our tickets," he told Roberts.

"And she knew why she was flying to Fort Lauderdale?" Roberts asked.

"Of course, "Michael Wolfe replied.

"She knew she was flying to Fort Lauderdale to kill David Jackson?" Roberts asked."Right, yeah. That was it," said Michael Wolfe.

Before they arrived, Harry dug what would be David's grave.

"We flew in on the 25th - the day that David disappeared. Harry already had the hole dug. He had the motel reservations made. He picked us up at the airport and went to his house. He had the stun gun, showed Barbara how to use it 'cause he felt it would be easier to knock David out first and then do away with him," Michael Wolfe told Roberts.

Then they headed to the motel. Michael Wolfe doesn't remember exactly where it was or which one - but police believe it was a Motel 6. Once in the room, he says Barbara phoned David.

"She called his apartment," Michael Wolfe told Roberts.

"Under the pretense?"

"Under the pretense that she was in town. She wanted to meet him at the motel," he said.

"He arrives at the motel room. And what happens?" Roberts asked Michael Wolfe.

"Well, I'm in the bathroom," he replied.

Michael Wolfe says he was drinking heavily when David arrived.

"I hear the front door, the knock, she opens the door ... there was some chatter between the two of them and then I hear this click, click, click, click, click. It's the loud snapping from the stun gun. The stun gun was about that long and 'bout that big around," he explained. "It didn't work. ... I came out and I had the pistol wrapped in a towel. ... Well, she looked at me. And I could tell she was scared. He looked at me and that's when he said, 'What the hell's going on?'"

Michael Wolfe says that's when he shot David Jackson.

Asked where he was struck, Michael Wolfe said, "Side of the head, right here, above the ear. ... He started to fall. He went down slowly.

"His head was learning back ... and fluid was running out of the wound. Harry came in and said, 'He's not dead. You have to shoot him in the heart.' I'm not shooting him in the heart, I just picked up the gun and shot him in the head again. It was somewhere around in here again," he explained. "I checked David. He was gone. He was not breathing, no pulse, his eyes were fixed. We put him in the blankets, rolled him up and put him in the back of Harry's car. Harry had backed up to the door."

Michael Wolfe says he Harry and Barbara then drove to grave site.

"David's head had rolled I guess and hit something in the back of the car and she says, 'Oh this is so sick' and Harry said, 'It's what you wanted.' And that was all, nobody said anything else," he told Roberts.

"And then we all three buried," he continued. "We went back to the room, cleaned up the room, all of us did."


It was about a year later, he says, when Harry called. A Wal-Mart was going to be built on the site where they had secretly buried David.

Michael Wolfe needed to remove David's remains so he flew back to Florida.

"Rode over to where the construction site was. I saw three white things sticking out of the ground like this," said Michael Wolfe.

"Bones," Roberts noted.

"That's what I said, I said, 'that looks like rib bones.' I still get chills when I think about it," said Wolfe.

But that night, Michael Wolfe didn't find the bones which later led to the identification of David.

"I was able to pull up the rib bones and spinal column and the pelvic bone came all up with it. I stuck it in a garbage bag," Michael Wolfe told Roberts.

"But you couldn't find the skull?"

"No."

"Where do you think the skull is?"

"I think it's still has to be there," said Michael Wolfe.

"So what did you do with the remains?" Roberts asked.

"Well, we put 'em in the back of Harry's car -- drove back to the house. And Harry took the bag and he set it out for the garbage. They were comin' by to pick it up the next day," he replied.

"Pretty macabre," Roberts commented.

"Yeah."


A few months later, the adoption of little Johnny was final. Then Barbara Britton made a decision.

"She, she left me," said Michael Wolfe.

Then she asked for child support.

"You feel that Harry Britton and his daughter, Barbara, set you up to take the fall for this," said Roberts.

"Yes," Michael Wolfe said. "I realize I was the one that pulled the trigger. I understand that. You know, but still, for her part, she's out walking free. And I find that hard to believe."

"Do you think she's just as culpable as you are for the murder of David Jackson?"

"Yes."

"I did not kill David. I had nothing to do with it. I did not even have knowledge of it," an emotional Britton told Roberts. "I mean I loved him. I still love the guy. I still love David. I just, we had this special love."

"So Michael Wolfe is a liar?" Roberts asked.

"Yes," she replied.

Police didn't think so. One month after Michael Wolfe's confession, Barbara Britton was under arrest and charged with the murder of David Jackson. Unable to make bail, she spent the next three years in jail awaiting trial.

THE TRIAL

"I just cannot believe that ... I'm sitting here innocent and now, you know, I'm goin' through all this," Barbara Britton said. "I just really can't believe it."

Despite the tearful pleas proclaiming her innocence, Barbara Britton was now preparing to stand trial for the murder of her ex-husband, David Jackson, almost 22 years after his disappearance.

"I don't think Barbara's guilty of anything," said Keith Seltzer, Britton's defense attorney. "And there's no evidence to prove otherwise. ...She's just not that type of person."

But David's mother, Judy Carlson, says she knows exactly what kind of person Barbara is.

"She's a sociopath. She has no feelings ... if she wants something, she will get it ... that's how she is. It's all about Barbie," she said.

"She calls me a lotta things," Britton said. "You know, it's her son. Being a mother, I'd probably call a person things -- names, too."

While awaiting her trial, Barbara's son, John -- who had told police he suspected his mother was hiding information about his father - now says he never thought his mother was guilty of anything.

"I didn't believe at any point of any time that she was capable or even would if could do this," said John Wolfe.

Barbara Britton admits her relationship with David was at times strained, but adamantly denies she was the source of stories alleging that David abused Johnny.

"So, let me just be clear, Barbara. Did you ever tell Johnny that when he was younger, David burnt him with cigarettes?" Roberts asked.

"No," she replied.

"So, as far as you know, David did not mistreat your son?

"As far as I know, and what I want to believe, no. Because that was David. That was the man that I loved ... that's the father of my baby," Britton replied.

Barbara Britton says it was her father, Harry, who believed David was hurting little Johnny. She never imagined he would help kill David, that is, until now. Michael Wolfe's story has made her wonder.

"I'll never know. If he did it, he took it to the grave with him when he passed away" said Britton.

Detective Donna Velazquez isn't buying any of it. She is sure Barbara is a cold-blooded killer.

"I guess the question is why. Why was David Jackson killed?" Roberts asked Det. Velazquez.

"She never wanted to share child custody with him. She wanted to have John all to herself," she replied. "And I'm a firm believer that she groomed Michael Wolfe to be a part of this."

To Det. Velazquez, the case against Barbara was rock solid -- that is until Barbara's attorney, Keith Seltzer, dropped a bombshell at a bond hearing.

"Mr. Seltzer came into the courtroom and he was holdin' a piece of paper and he presented it to the judge," Det. Velazquez explained. "He said, 'Judge,' ... he says 'I can show you my client was in -- Arizona at the time of this homicide. She wasn't in Fort Lauderdale.'"

Seltzer says phone records showed someone had called Britton's apartment in Tucson on the night David disappeared in Florida. The call lasted four minutes.

"So the question became, who answered it?" Seltzer said. "Somebody had to be in Arizona to answer that phone, and we believe it was Barbara."

Michael Wolfe calls it nonsense. He says that phone call was planned to help establish an alibi.

"Harry said it'd be a good idea to call out there, let the answering machine pick up, 'cause that way it would look like somebody was out there and we weren't in Florida at all," he said.

But Seltzer says the Wolfes didn't own an answering machine.

"I don't believe a single word that Michael Wolfe says," said Seltzer.

Especially, Seltzer says, because Michael Wolfe was looking for a deal. But Wolfe's credibility would take a huge hit when a former cellmate came forward saying Michael Wolfe had told him that he was trying to frame Barbara for the murder.

Keith Seltzer: And Barbara didn't have any idea he was going to shoot him.

Cellmate Wiley: That's right.

That's when prosecutors made a stunning decision.

"We were ultimately offered a plea bargain to a reduced charge because the State Attorney's Office recognized that there was not a likelihood of them obtaining a conviction for first-degree murder," Seltzer explained.

In order to avoid prison, the deal called for Barbara Britton to plead guilty to being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. She would only admit to making a call to David to arrange a meeting with her father, but not on the day of the murder.

"In the later part of June 1988 I told David that my father wanted to meet with him," Britton told the court.

"I did not make that phone call that day or that one that took 'em to the so-called hotel that everybody's sayin' about. No," Britton told Roberts. "I will tell you, I knew that my dad wanted to talk to him. And that's what I said."

"How would they manage to get David to come to the hotel -- without your help?" Roberts asked.

"I don't know, OK. I -- I really don't. I wish I could tell you," she replied.

"It's just really -- it boggles the mind that your father and Michael Wolfe would kill the father of your son without telling you," said Roberts.

"Boggles people's mind? Well, how do you think I'm feeling? I have questions," Britton replied.

But there's one question Barbara Britton is forced to answer:

Judge: So then on the one count that is before us today, Miss Britton, how do you plead?

Barbara Britton: Guilty.

"I looked up, and I said, 'God, David, we got justice.' She finally said she's guilty. If she wants to minimize it, that's fine. God knows and David knows. And I know in my heart ... that she lured David to the motel to murder him, to get him out of her son's life," said Carlson.

For David's brother Mark, seeing Britton avoid prison was heartbreaking.

"She got away with murder," Mark Jackson said. "But I still believe in karma. And eventually she'll get hers. She'll have to live her own hell some day. We lived it for a long time."

Barbara Britton insists she's been living in her own hell for some time now. And for almost two-and-a-half years, she was forced to wear a court-ordered ankle bracelet that tracked her every move and reminded her of David's death.

Judy Carlson wears a bracelet of her own, but one she treasures and she never wants to take off. The bracelet holds David's ashes.

"There in both ends, some of the ashes. And then I have our birthstones on each end. I mean he gives me strength. It brings me- it's just everything," Judy Carlson said. "I mean, that God picked me out of all the mothers that had missing children, and he picked me to give me my child back ... I know he is here with me right now. I got no doubts about it. And that's what he'd say: ' Mom I'm here, you know, I'll keep ya going. I keep you strong.'"

Despite the plea deal John Wolfe continues to support his mother, Barbara. He is estranged from his grandmother Judy.

John currently works as security guard at a Florida shopping mall.

Michael Wolfe, who offered to testify about Barbara's involvement in David Jackson's murder - never got the reduced sentence he was hoping for.

48 Hours App

More From 48 Hours

Comments