Who killed the beauty queen?
This story was first broadcast on Feb. 9, 2008. It was updated on Sept. 18, 2008.
On Dec. 15, 2005, the small town of Russellville, Ark., was rocked by the news that 19-year-old college student and aspiring beauty queen Nona Dirksmeyer had been found murdered inside her apartment.
Nona's boyfriend Kevin Jones says he had been trying to reach her numerous times by phone but that his calls and messages had gone unanswered. Eventually, he and his mother decided to stop by Nona's apartment, where they discovered Nona's body.
As correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports, Nona had been murdered, beaten to death and left in her blood-spattered living room.
As paramedics responded to the 911 call, Kevin called Nona's stepfather, Duane Dipert, who in turn called his wife - Nona's mother - Carol. "He met me close to the elevators. And I was just tinglin' all over. And I said, 'She's dead, isn't she?' And he said, 'Yeah,'" Carol remembers.
It was a grisly end to a life Nona struggled to fill with beauty. "I think she was just a really caring person that didn't wanna see anything go hungry or be abused," Nona's mother recalls.
Beautiful as she was, Nona was a most unlikely beauty queen. "She was really shy. Like almost painfully shy," remembers Nona's friend Adrielle Churchill, who had already won a beauty pageant.
Asked what attracted him to Nona, Kevin says, "If I didn't say her looks, I would probably by lying. I mean 'cause that's a big part of it, you know, when you're young. And her personality, too."
When Nona started competing in pageants, Kevin started to notice changes in his girlfriend. "It did help her self esteem a lot," he says.
By the time they were at Dover High School, Nona and Kevin were inseparable.
Kevin's mother Janice Jones, a school librarian, says Nona and Kevin were good for each other. "She just made him a kinder, sweeter person. He gave her confidence, and supported and cheered her on in her struggles."
And Nona had a great deal to struggle with. She said years earlier, when she was just a child, she was sexually abused by her biological father. He died when she was just ten. And for years, she told almost no one about the abuse. But she did tell Kevin just after they started dating.
Carol says her daughter never told her, and that she didn't find out about the abuse until Nona's father was dead. Nona made preventing child abuse her cause when she appeared in pageants.
By the summer of 2005, Nona and Kevin had finished their first year of college together at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. But Kevin was transferring, some 90 minutes away, to the University of Arkansas.
"I didn't like the fact that I had to be away from her," Kevin says. "I really looked forward to going back home on the weekends."
And Kevin was "back home" on Dec. 15, 2005. The couple had already spent time together, and Kevin says he expected to hear from Nona after she took a final exam, but didn't.
Kevin says he always managed to get a hold of her. He continued to call and message her until about 6 p.m., when he had promised to escort his mother to a school holiday dinner.
When the time came to drive to the party, Kevin says he was concerned that Nona hadn't called back. "And he said, 'Mom, I can't go to this party and wonder if she's okay,'" Janice remembers.
Kevin contacted his friend Ryan, who was delivering pizza in the area. He asked Ryan to check if Nona's car was parked outside her apartment. It was.
Ryan knocked on the door and told Kevin there was no answer. That's when Kevin and his mom raced to Nona's apartment.
Kevin and Ryan tried but failed to open the front door, so they ran around to the sliding door in the back. Kevin says he forced open the sliding glass door, ran inside, and turned Nona over.
When police arrived, they had to make sense of the gruesome scene. Was Kevin really a grieving boyfriend? And why was he covered in so much blood?
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