Nichole LaDue January
daughter, Nichole LaDue January, 30, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the
head on the balcony of her third floor condo in Pass Christian,
Within two hours police closed the case as a suicide. The chief investigator, Pass Christian Police Officer Tom Putsay, told our family that no autopsy or investigation was deemed necessary. No fingerprints were taken and there was no gun powder residue test to determine whether Nikki had fired a gun. Strong physical evidence that somebody was on the balcony with Nikki at the time of the shooting was totally ignored, as was information from several individuals that Nikki’s death was very likely linked to an interstate drug operation involving people from the Grand Casino in Gulfport.
Nikki had been married for less than two years to Phil January, and both worked at the Grand Casino, as did Nikki’s former husband, Mike Williams. According to Nikki’s friends, Phil was a jealous and controlling husband. Her co-workers told us that our formerly fun-loving daughter had become a loner, afraid to socialize on breaks because Phil had spies watching her. However, she did have something wonderful in her life – a 5-year-old son, Zachary, from her previous marriage. She loved Zack with all her heart.
At the time of her death, Nikki was at a point of
transition. Phil had suddenly decided
they should relocate to
But Nikki had a plan of her own, which she had confided to
only a few people. She had told one of
those friends, Keith Oliver, that her marriage to Phil was over and she had no
intention of joining him in
According to friends, Nikki seemed both exhilarated and
nervous. She was excited about coming to
us, but she also seemed scared. She and
Zack slept at
The day before Phil was due to arrive with the U-Haul, Nikki apparently decided to treat herself to a preview of her new life as a single woman. She deposited Zack with a sitter and went on a date! She and her new friend, Eric, went to a club and then to his apartment, where he introduced her to some of his friends. From there they went to a sports bar.
Meanwhile, Phil’s calls were piling up on Nikki’s voice
mail. He even placed a frantic call to
At about Nikki looked at her watch and exclaimed that she HAD to make a call immediately. She refused to use Eric’s cell and called from a pay phone. When she returned to the table she was visibly shaken and stated she had to leave "RIGHT NOW!” That was the last time Eric saw her alive, though they did speak one final time at , when she called his cell to swear him to secrecy about their day together.
Nikki collected Zack and returned to the condo, the barrage of phone calls
continued, all incoming from a blocked phone. Phil has identified those 18
calls, made between and , as a lover’s spat and told police he
said some hurtful things that might have caused Nikki to search the condo for
Phil’s gun and kill herself. Months
later, the detective in charge of the case told us that this statement by Phil
was the basis for his conclusion of suicide. Phil also told police that he was
a 20-year veteran of the police force in
friend, Nancy, allegedly arrived at Nikki’s apartment at about to help load the U-Haul. She was let in by Zack, who said Mommy was
sleeping in the bedroom.
Nothing about the scene of the shooting makes sense. Nikki was found in a chair with her right knee held by the table in front of her and her left leg down. Phil, the person who found her, has stated in writing, “The gun was sitting beside her on a small padded wicker stool with rod-iron railing.” However, the police photo shows Phil’s pistol on the chair, under Nikki’s left thigh. (How do you shoot yourself in the temple, and then place the pistol under your thigh?) On the table lay a pack of Nikki’s Marlboro Medium 100s, but they were to her left, not to the right where a right handed person would normally place them. On the far side of the table lay a pack of Marlboro Red 100's with a lighter beside them. To me, that says that somebody else was there that night. There was also a portable phone, face down on the table, covered with blood. A pathologist that we hired to do a private autopsy told us that Nikki died instantly. So who bloodied the telephone? Since police didn’t seize it as evidence, we’ll never know whose prints were on it or on the lighter.
The bullet that entered Nikki’s right temple exited through a tiny hole above her left ear. Allegedly it then hit the wall 5 feet 6 inches from the floor and 18 inches to Nikki’s left, ricocheted into the aluminum doorframe on the same wall, and then bounced back to land in a chair on the next balcony. Police took no scene photos to document those facts. It seems strange that the exit wound was so small that three different funeral directors were unable to locate it, yet the bullet continued to travel at such a speed as to hit a wall, travel to the door frame, and have enough momentum left to fly back over Nikki’s head and land on a balcony six feet away. There is no police diagram of the path of the bullet, just a verbal description.
A maintenance man found a shell casing in a swimming pool,
20 feet over from the balcony and three floors down. The gun, which was owned by Phil, was a
Aside from the crazy hodgepodge of physical evidence, I have personal reasons to believe that Nikki didn’t kill herself:
* Nikki’s son was found alone in the condo hours after her death. (He was never questioned by anyone). Had Nikki intended to commit suicide, she easily could have left Zack at the babysitter’s where he’d already spent the afternoon. It’s inconceivable that this devoted mother would put a gun to her head with her child there.
* Nikki had a great fear of guns and was not known to ever have fired one. Conversely, she struggled with an addiction to prescription painkillers, and had easy access to them. So why would she choose such a violent way to kill herself?
It has been suggested to me many times that I just can’t accept that my daughter was capable of suicide. Not true. What I can’t accept are the myriad unanswered questions and the unwillingness and/or inability of the Pass Christian Police to show me how suicide fits to form a complete picture. It appears that either Nikki’s death meant nothing to them or that some bigger factor was in play.
Nikki; Nikki’s former husband Mike Williams; Nancy Burge and most of Nikki’s
other friends all worked at a casino. A
lot of illegal activity goes on in such places.
If Phil did not kill Nikki in a rage of jealousy – (I would love to
believe that he’s innocent) – the obvious next possibility is that her murder
was a warning to Phil, who had already been fired from two security jobs, to
keep his mouth shut, now that he’d left the state and was no longer under the
control of casino bosses. It’s also
possible a similar message was meant for
information that, in March, 2003, the Grand Casino conducted an internal
investigation of Grand personnel and their alleged involvement with the
distribution of illegal drugs. In the course of that investigation, information
surfaced about “The Oxy Ring,” a group of individuals at the Grand
Casino who allegedly travel to
possibility that Nikki’s death may be linked to organized crime is something
the Pass Christian Police will not touch with a stick. Nor will anyone else in
It is my firm belief that to date the truth has not been told, and I am prepared to search for it until I die. Nikki was a beloved daughter, granddaughter, sister, mother, niece and friend. She was the sweetheart of our world. No one who knew her is likely to forget the impact she made in each of our lives nor will we ever stop missing her smile. We all deserve to know and understand why she is gone. But, above all, Zack, who lost the most important person in his life, will one day need to be told the truth.
Bonnie LaDue (Nikki’s mom)