Answers sought 16 years after badly beaten body found in Taft dumpster

May 23, 2014 at 8:00 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

The badly beaten body of Vanessa Jones (right) was discovered inside this recycling bin at Union Carbide in Taft in 1998.
The badly beaten body of Vanessa Jones (right) was discovered inside this recycling bin at Union Carbide in Taft in 1998.
On Sept. 25, 1998, workers at Union Carbide in Taft opened a recycling bin and made a gruesome discovery - the badly beaten body of a woman who had been strangled with a belt that was still wrapped around her neck.

Now 16 years later, without a suspect ever identified, the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office is looking for more clues.

The most troubling aspect of the case was that the body of a murder victim had been found in a restricted access area. “This is highly unusual because you are talking about critical infrastructure here,” Rodney Madere, chief of investigations for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, said.

After getting a call about the body’s discovery, deputies were on the scene in minutes.

“It was obvious that there was foul play,” Madere said. “(Workers) didn’t touch her or anything, but it is obvious that she didn’t just fall in there and fall asleep.”

Although the deceased woman did not have ID on her at the time, she was identified within a few hours through her fingerprints as 40-year-old Vanessa Jones. Jones was a known prostitute who had been arrested at least 10 times in previous years in Jefferson Parish, Kenner and St. Charles Parish.

At the time of her death, she was living on Compromise Street in Kenner near the Louis Armstrong International Airport with a number of other women.

“I don’t think she had any family at all. She was not married and had no kids. She lived at the time in a shotgun house with three or four other prostitutes and they’d pay rent by the week,” Madere said.

Detectives quickly learned that Jones was involved in a risky lifestyle.

“On the autopsy she came back with some alcohol and some cocaine. So again, drug use, alcohol use, street walking at night and getting into people’s cars you don’t know skyrockets you into the victimology category,” Madere said.

The first thing investigators had to do was determine Jones’s cause of death, which was not difficult to do by looking at the evidence.

“Vanessa was beaten to death and strangled. Vanessa had a total of 14 broken ribs. She was strangled with her own belt, her face was fractured, her skull was fractured and her sternum was fractured,” Madere said.

It also appears that the person who killed her tried to redress the body after the murder.

“Her underwear was on inside out and her socks were on inside out,” Madere said. “She had some long grass in her underwear and socks, and she had some loose gravel embedded in her back and her butt area.”

It soon became clear that Jones had not been killed at the Union Carbide facility, which is now Dow, but had been dumped in the bin elsewhere and then driven into the facility. Naturally, the next step was to track down the recycling bin service and find out where the container had been.

“I confirmed with the dumpster yard that it went into the yard for repairs and left the dumpster yard to go straight to Union Carbide,” Madere said.

However, the dumpster took an unexpected detour when the driver decided to drop it off temporarily on a dead end street, the same street where Jones was living at the time of her death. The dumpster sat in that spot for only two or three hours before being delivered to Union Carbide.

“More than likely she was killed right there (on her street) and put into the dumpster. The poor dumpster driver goes to pick his dumpster up and he doesn’t even know he’s got a dead body in there,” Madere said.

Through forensic evidence, detectives were able to match the grass and gravel found on Jones’s body to similar material found on the dead end street.

“There was loose gravel around the spot where the dumpster had been, and literally five feet away there was a field with grass. We were able to match the grass in the field and the rocks as being consistent,” Madere said. “We now knew we found the scene.”

The area where police believe Jones was killed was very secluded.

“It is dead end street almost backing up to the airport and a warehouse,” Madere said. “There were no cameras and no lights back there. It was a perfect place for someone to go in a car with a prostitute.”

Jones was working a stretch of Airline Highway in Kenner the night before her death, according to an eyewitness account. A prostitute working the same area told detectives she watched Jones get into a truck with an unknown male around 4:30 a.m. on Sept. 24, 1998, a day before her body was found at Union Carbide.

Despite having an eyewitness account, Madere said detectives received very limited information on both the vehicle and the person driving it.

“All the prostitute saw was a white male. He just had some longer hair and it was 4 in the morning and she was almost a block away,” Madere said. “She couldn’t tell us a model or make of the pickup truck, couldn’t tell us any of the particulars of the pickup truck.”

A few hours after the witness last saw her, Jones was murdered.

“I think the dumpster was left on the scene somewhere around 4 a.m. and then picked up again at 6 or 7 a.m., so it fits the timeframe when the dumpster was left,” Madere said.

However, there is a possibility that Jones got into another client’s car afterward.

“She could have easily gotten out of that truck and gotten into another vehicle in the meantime. That was the only lead we had to go on, a red pickup truck with an unknown white male,” he said.

After determining that the murder had occurred in Kenner, the Kenner Police Department took the lead on the investigation. The St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office continued to provide support, but to no avail.  

“We did an operation with Kenner for well over year. We put undercover streetwalkers out and did surveillance,” Madere said. “I don’t think there was a person, day or night, that walked the streets in the Kenner area that we didn’t pick up and interview. Kenner put a lot of effort into it and they were never able to come up with anything.”

Jones’s murder was compared to others that had occurred in the region to see if it fit the pattern of a serial killer, but investigators determined it did not.

“We haven’t had a pattern or anything consistent because none of the other ones are like this,” Madere said.

Investigators were never even able to track down Jones’s family members, which is part of the reason that Madere is reaching out to the community for more information years after the crime occurred.

“There was no one calling about her. No matter what she did, she didn’t deserve this,” Madere said. “Maybe some of these girls who knew her back then or other people who had information  would feel comfortable coming forward several years later.”

Those who may have information on the death of Vanessa Jones should contact Madere at (985) 783-1135 or contact Crimestoppers at (877) 903-STOP. If you call Crimestoppers, you do not have to give your name or testify and could receive up to $2,500 for information leading to a successful conviction.

View other articles written Kyle Barnett

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