It had been more than four years since the December afternoon when Douglass' phone rang and her nineteen-year-old daughter's roommate delivered sickeningly vague news: Something happened to Jenai.
Douglass had jumped in her car and raced to the Courtyard Apartments on Old Santa Fe Road, arriving to find the southeast Kansas City complex roped off with yellow tape and throbbing red from the lights atop police cruisers and ambulances. Terrified, she wandered through the scattered crowd of neighbors, detectives and paramedics. "I finally asked somebody, CEIs she dead?'" Douglass remembers. "And they said yes."
Jenai had been stabbed multiple times.
For years, Douglass kept in close touch with police. They had no real leads, and because it was an open investigation, detectives shared few of the details they did have. Douglass grew more frustrated, fearing that no one would ever catch her daughter's murderer.
Then one day in the summer of 2001, a friend called and told her to get a copy of The Kansas City Star. Douglass scanned the front page of the Metropolitan section and spotted a headline about a man awaiting trial for the murder of a young woman from Kansas City's east side. The story said DNA evidence had linked Daniel O. Jones to another, similar killing.
For seventeen years, the Jones family had lived across from Douglass on secluded Oakland Street, in a neighborhood of worn but neat-looking houses near Raytown. As a teenager, Daniel Jones had mowed Douglass' lawn.
Douglass' daughter, Jenai, who was almost ten years younger than Jones, had often played with his little sister, Melissa. The girls were close friends by the time they started attending Raytown South High School. Melissa had even sung at Jenai's funeral on December 10, 1998.
Since Jenai's murder, Douglass had seen Jones, now in his midthirties, every now and then when he'd come back to visit his parents or help them with home repairs. Whenever Douglass saw Jones outside doing yard work, he smiled and waved and sometimes stopped to chat. "It was always, 'Hi, how are you doing,' real friendly," she says.
A few days after Douglass read the news story, a phone call from the Kansas City Police Department confirmed the mother's gut feeling -- police now suspected Jones in Jenai's murder, too.
As she walked into the courthouse that day last April, a detective who had worked Jenai's case was having his shoes shined in the basement. Douglass took the elevator to the sixth floor. There, she was standing in the hallway talking to friends and family members when the elevator doors opened to reveal a tall man with a receding hairline and black-frame eyeglasses. He wore an orange jumpsuit, and his hands were cuffed behind his back. As two guards escorted him into the courtroom, he didn't smile.
Douglass sat in the front row, behind the table where prosecutor Tim Dollar was accompanied by three detectives. She knew that in August 2002, Jones had been convicted in the murder of eighteen-year-old Candriea White and that he'd been sentenced to life in prison without parole. Now, Jones had been charged with killing another woman before White and was a suspect in two other previous murders, including her daughter's.
Prosecutors were offering the alleged serial killer an Alford plea -- a deal in which the accused does not have to admit guilt but acknowledges that prosecutors have evidence that could lead to his conviction. Prosecutors expected Jones to accept the offer of three twenty-year sentences, to be served simultaneously.