It was Dec. 15, 2020, when "Jade Janks and the Secret Photos," now streaming on Paramount+.stepfather, Tom Merriman, was admitted to Scripps Hospital in Encinitas, California, after a bad fall in his home. Two-and-a-half weeks later, Merriman would be found dead in his own driveway under a mound of trash. "48 Hours" correspondent Tracy Smith investigates the mystery of what happened to him in
Janks first met Merriman when he married her mother when Janks was 14, and Janks says they stayed close, even after his divorce from her mom. After Merriman's death, Janks said of their relationship, "He would call me his daughter and I would call him my dad."
Janks moved next door to Merriman in April 2020 during the height of the COVID pandemic. In an interview with Smith after Merriman's death, their neighbor Ramona Hamilton said of Merriman and Janks, "I invited him for dinner, and he said, 'No, I always eat with my daughter.' And he called her his daughter."
Smith asked, "He didn't say stepdaughter?" and Hamilton confirmed, "No. He said,'my daughter.'"
On Dec. 23, 2020, while Merriman was in a rehab center, still recovering from that fall, Janks went to his apartment to clean — and made a devastating discovery. Janks says the computer monitor, which she guessed had been in sleep mode, came awake while she was cleaning, and she saw a screensaver photo of a woman's breasts. "I look," she said later, "and I'm like, those are my breasts."
Janks says she logged onto Merriman's computer where she soon found more— hundreds of them, some in a carousel and others sorted into folders with explicit names. Janks says she never shared these photos, which were taken consensually with former partners, or anything like them with Merriman and said she was "in complete shock" upon finding the images on Merriman's computer.
Crying as she described this experience later, Janks said, "It was the most violating, just awful, gut-wrenching feeling ever. I remember I felt sick. I felt I couldn't even touch my own skin." Janks said she was terrified to be alone, to use the bathroom or change clothes and wanted "somebody to look out for me and make sure that I was safe."
That was why Janks says she reached out via Facebook to a man named Alan Roach, who worked in security, on the same day she found the photos on Merriman's computer. In their initial messages on Facebook, Roach told her, "If you have a problem, I can fix it for you." Janks and Roach soon took their conversation off social media but the texts she sent Roach in the days that followed would come into play later, after law enforcement got involved in the case.
It was a little over a week after Janks made that discovery, on New Year's Day 2021, that investigators first heard about Tom Merriman and Jade Janks, after a call came into the San Diego County Sheriff's Department dispatch from a man named Adam Siplyak. Siplyak was a friend of Janks' and in that phone call, he told police Janks "might have possibly killed her stepdad."
Siplyak told the dispatcher he was over at Janks' house the night before when she told him she had killed her stepfather and asked him for his help moving the body. Siplyak also said he wasn't sure this had happened — he hadn't seen Merriman alive or dead, and had left soon after this conversation took place.
After that call came in, investigators spent the day calling relatives and looking for Tom Merriman without success. On the afternoon of Jan. 1, when officers went to Merriman's home to investigate further, they saw Janks driving out. They stopped her and asked her to come in and answer questions. Janks came willingly and told police she had picked Merriman up from the rehab center where he'd been since leaving the hospital the day before, but that she didn't know where he was now. She then asked for a lawyer and stopped answering questions.
Sheriff's deputies got a warrant a few hours later and spent the night searching Janks' and Merriman's apartments but saw no sign of Tom Merriman, alive or dead.
It was by the first light the next morning, on Jan. 2, 2021, when San Diego Sheriff's Detective Rosa Patron found Tom Merriman dead outside his home. Merriman's body was lying in his driveway, wrapped in a blanket and covered with trash, tools and a stack of empty cardboard boxes. Investigators immediately arrested Janks, and eventually charged her with first-degree murder.
Janks pleaded not guilty, and prosecutors began to gather evidence for a trial. When they unlocked the text messages in Janks' phone, detectives found a wealth of evidence. Of particular interest to investigators were her messages with that freelance security guard she'd found on Facebook — Alan Roach.
In a 2023 interview, prosecutors Jorge Del Portillo and Teresa Pham told Smith that Roach, "is not a hit man. But what's important is what does Jade think Alan is?"
In those initial messages on Facebook, Roach told Janks if she had a problem, "I'm sure I can fix it for you." And, so, the prosecutors decided to refer to Roach as "The Fixer" when they told the jury about his role in this case.
Janks' murder trial began in December 2022, almost two years after a detective found Merriman dead in his driveway. Janks' defense was that she had nothing to do with Merriman's death and that he died from his own poor health and off-label use of prescription drugs.
Janks told the jury that on the day she picked Merriman up, he had taken pills on his own that left him unable to walk and she could not get him into his house. Janks says she tried to get help but when she could not, she decided to let him sleep off whatever he had taken in her car overnight. Janks said when she woke up the next morning and discovered Merriman had died, she panicked, thinking she would be blamed for his death. She admitted that she then wrapped him in that blanket and put trash and empty boxes on top of his body to try and hide it.
But prosecutors said those texts between Janks and Roach raised questions about Janks' version of events. One critical text was the one she sent Roach at 11:30 a.m. shortly after picking Merriman up from the rehab center which said in part, "I just dosed the hell out of him."
When Del Portillo was cross-examining Janks at trial, she acknowledged those words were "poor phrasing." Del Portillo asked her, "You would agree with me that the phrase 'I just dosed the hell out of him' implies that you gave Tom a whole lot of drugs?" And Janks answered," It does sound like that."
But Janks sent Roach many more texts after that one. At 12:39 p.m., a little more than an hour later, she texted him, "I can't carry him either back to my car or to his house. I'm not strong enough. Can you come, like, right now?!"
Roach did not come and in the hours that followed, Janks' texts to Roach continued. At 2:59 p.m. she texted, "He is waking up. I am not sure how much longer I can control my temper."
At 4:12 p.m. Janks texted, "btw, he is waking up and getting way more aggressive." And at 4:28 p.m., "He is super medicated. I can't keep a kicking body in my truck. I'm about ready to club him." At 4:30 p.m., "He's waking up. I'm about ready to club him." And then at 4:35 p.m., "He is very aware. And I am on my own."
Roach never came over on the afternoon of Dec. 31 or any time on Jan. 1, although Janks continued to ask for his help. Alan Roach was not charged in connection with Merriman's death and did not appear at her trial.
The last text Janks sent Alan Roach was at 5:33 p.m. on Jan. 1, 2021, as police were pulling her over in her car to ask if she knew where Merriman might be. It was the last text Janks sent before her arrest the next day. It said: "Lose my number. I'm getting pulled over."
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