What Made Missing Pregnant Mom Murder So Compelling?

Profiles of some of the 19 Americans murdered the same day as Jessie Davis.

February 11, 2009, 12:05 AM

July 3, 2007— -- A pregnant woman disappears. Police suspect foul play. Soon, the national media spotlight focuses on the small city of Canton, Ohio, as reporters, lights and camera crews descend on the town.

Some deaths, like the recent murder of 26-year-old Jessie Davis in Canton, seem to hold the nation transfixed.

Police now say Davis, who was nine months pregnant, was murdered June 14. Like that of Laci Peterson, Davis' case has become the stuff of talk show fodder and 24-hour-cable news alerts. About 750 people attended her funeral this weekend.

It's not always like that. Last year, there were more than 16,000 homicides in the United States. That's an average of about 45 people killed every day, nearly one every half hour.

Most of their deaths -- and lives -- go little noticed beyond a small group of bereaved friends and family, or perhaps a brief mention in the local paper.

June 14, 2007, was no different.

On that day, at least 19 people were murdered across the country, from Florida to Washington State. They ranged in age, profession, and location -- from nine-month-old infants to 60-year-old grandmothers, in small towns and big cities. They were newspaper carriers, a dance student who dreamed of making it big, devoted mothers and husbands. Four parents killed their children that day.

Here are some of their stories.

Jennifer Nielsen

Though she was eight months pregnant, Jennifer Nielsen woke up every morning around midnight to deliver newspapers for USA Today.

She didn't need the money, but the 22-year-old wanted to contribute to her growing family and enjoyed the quiet of the early morning hours, her father, Kevin Blaine, said. Nielsen, who went by "Jenna," made it back from work each morning in time to spend the day with her two young children.

On June 14, she never came home.

The police found her body behind a convenience store in the pre-dawn hours. She'd been stabbed repeatedly, in what police are calling a random act of violence. A suspect has not been named in her death.

Since then, Nielsen's family has been devastated by the loss of an outgoing, funny woman -- the perennial center of attention who, her father said, loved to dance, play the piano and take care of her kids.

"She adored her children. That was her life. She loved being a mother," Blaine said.

"She was one of those people that everybody wants to know. She made everybody happy."

"Somebody had to come and take that all away from us."

Nielsen moved to the Raleigh area from Utah in August so her husband, Tim, could start a new job. They had two children, ages 3 and 11 months.

She was due to deliver her third child on July 8. He would have been named Ethen.

Find more information at Justice4Jenna.org

Ralph Romero

All Ralph Romero wanted was to dance.

The University of Arizona fine arts student spent last summer with the American Ballet Theater in New York, and dreamed of one day returning to the city as a professional dancer.

"Dancing just came natural to him," said his grandfather, Ramon. "He would float like a butterfly."

Those dreams were cut short on June 14, when Romero was found dead on the floor of a friend's apartment in Tucson, his hands and arms bound with a cord, the police said.

Romero had been checking on the apartment periodically for a friend, who was out of town, said Sgt. Mark Robinson of the Tucson police.

Police arrested Jimmy Waymire, 25, later that morning near the apartment building and charged him with robbery, kidnapping and first degree murder. A neighbor had called 911 after hearing a scream, Ramon Romero said. He said that police told him that Waymire was seen leaving building with pair of scissors, that Ramon said were apparently used to stab his grandson.

It was two days before Ralph Romero's 20th birthday.

Waymire is scheduled to be arraigned July 2.

Nicholas Danforth

They called him "the gentle giant."

Nicholas Danforth was the type of person who never seemed to get angry, who would give other kids at school his lunch if they forgot theirs, and who invited troubled friends to spend the night when they didn't have a bed to sleep in, said his aunt, Kerri Gettman.

"Nicholas had such a positive impact people. We called him the 'Gentle Giant.' He was always trying to making everyone else happy," she said.

Around 2 a.m., Pierce County, Wash., police found the boy's lifeless body in bed, holding a television remote control, and scarred with a bullet hole on the right side of his torso.

It was two hours into his 17th birthday.

The bullet that killed Nicholas was shot from his father's gun, said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Gerald Costello.

James Everett Danforth, Jr. told a sheriff's deputy that he shot his son while he was "unloading the gun," court papers say.  Police found the gun in a house next to the trailer, which court papers say Danforth Jr. brought over to his mother who put it into a safe.

Danforth Jr. had been convicted in 2003 of a domestic violence charge and was barred from possessing firearms. He was charged with murder in the second degree and manslaughter.

Marilou Johnson

Police say Marilou Johnson was killed in a botched robbery attempt.

Her body was found in Cass Lake, near Washington Township, Michigan, last week. Johnson, a 50-year-old mother of three adult children, balked when David Wright made a high bid for some plumbing work at Johnson's house, said Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel.

"For some reason he pulled a knife out and held it to her throat," Hackel said. Police say Wright, 37, cut Johnson's throat, then stabbed her and eventually dumped her body in the lake, weighted down with cinder blocks. Prosecutors say Wright planned to hold Johnson in his trailor while he robbed her house.

"Right now, we see that the intent was to kidnap, not to kill her. He did kill her because he was incompetent," said William Cataldo, chief of the homicide division of the Macomb County prosecutor's office. Wright told police he tripped and accidentally stabbed Johnson, Hackel said. He has been charged with kidnapping and felony murder.

Kimberly, Abigayle, Cassandra and Blake Vaughn

On June 14, Christopher Vaughn, shot and bleeding, flagged down a car from the side of the road outside Chicago. His wife and three children had been shot to death inside the family's parked Ford Expedition, prosecutors say.

Nine days later, the police arrested Vaughn at a St. Charles, Mo., funeral home, a few hours before the memorial service for his family.

Prosecutors say Vaughn shot and killed his wife Kimberly, 32, and his children, Abigayle, 12, Cassandra, 11, and Blake, 8. He has been charged with first degree murder.

There will be a hearing July 25 to determine if Vaughn will be extradited to Illinois.

Shakita Crudup

Shakita Crudup wanted to be a teacher.

The last time Crudup spoke to her aunt, Jackie Crudup, the 26-year-old said she planned to go back to community college to finish her degree. She wanted to be a role model for her children, Crudup said.

"She was a fantastic, excellent mother," Crudup said. "She was always talking about her kids."

The two spoke of everyday things -- their plans, taking their respective kids to the amusement park. The next day, Shakita Crudup was dead.

Police say her boyfriend, William McMillin, Jr., shot her in the head early in the morning of June 14, while two of Crudup's young children were in the house sleeping, and placed the gun in her hand to make it look like Crudup had killed herself.

Crudup died later that morning at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, New Jersey.

Cordel Little

Ever since his mother died, Cordel Little seemed a little lonely and somber, his family said.

He drifted from family member to family member, living with aunts and uncles and his grandmother.

"He was a little, lonely boy," his grandmother Clara Little said. "We would go to his mother's grave and he said he wished he was with his mother."

On June 14, Little, 18, may have gotten his wish. He was shot and killed near his Akron, Ohio, home after he was caught in the crossfire when his cousin and a cousin's friend got into a fight and started shooting, Little's uncle, John, said. The three had been drinking, Clara Little said.

Brenda Little, Cordel's aunt who helped raise him, said Cordel liked to listen to music and gamble and spend time with his family. "He didn't bother anybody," she said. "He was a sweet boy."

She said the family still doesn't know what started the argument that killed her nephew.

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