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Witness Interview: Johnny McPhail, victim's "uncle"

Monday, February 5, 2001 - 2:15 p.m.

The witness, a fifty-nine-year-old male, was identified as being a close relative to the victim, Melissa Hammond. Detectives Armstrong and Murphy interviewed McPhail at the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Office. The interview was recorded on a portable audio tape recorder with the witness's knowledge and consent.

TA = Detective Ted Armstrong
SM = Detective Sam Murphy
JM = Johnny McPhail

SM: How are you today, Mr. McPhail?

JM: I sure been better.

SM: Yes, I'm sorry. We'll try to get this over with as quickly as possible. You know how it goes. For the record, please state your name and address.

JM: Johnny McPhail. I live at 110 Pearidge Road.

SM: Can you tell us your relationship to the victim, please?

JM: Well, officially, I'm her daddy's cousin. But, I was a lot closer to Missy than that. I was more like a father figure and a very close friend. Missy confided in me about mo0st everything.

SM: What do you mean?

JM: She asked my opinion on things, you know. That's why I say I was partly a father figure. She'd come to me and ask what she should do about this and that. But, since I'm not really her daddy, I also heard a lot that she'd never tell to Jonah. She'd talk to me about boy problems or things like that. Stuff she didn't feel comfortable telling her father. She knew I'd been around a bit, so I wouldn't be surprised or shocked at nothing she told me.

SM: I see.

JM: When Missy's momma ran off, Adele and me, we always tried to help Jonah out. We knew that he would struggle with having to raise a girl all by himself, so we made a special effort to try and help. We all used to go fishing down near Yocona together, me and Jonah and Missy. It's almost like she was my daughter or something.

SM: I'm sure you're very upset over her death.

JM: Yeah, you could say that. What do you think? That beautiful young woman... killed that way. And what about Liddie? Bad enough that little girl was being raised without a daddy, but now? What's going to happen to her now?

TA: Can you tell us anything unusual that might have been going on in Missy's life? Was she worried about anything? Fighting with anyone? Just anything out of the ordinary.

JM: Well, she been dating that scumbag, JP Wallace. He's just common. And she'd finally realized that she wanted to break up with him, but didn't quite know how to do it. I told her to just to tell him to go to hell, but she wasn't that kind of person. She wanted to try and be nice about it. Plus, I think she was a little worried about him. You know, like he might get rough or something if he didn't get his way.

SM: What was your advice on the situation?

JM: I told her to just to tell him over the phone. Be firm and then hang up the phone. And then, if that boy caused her any trouble, I told her to call me about it. Someone needs to put that thug in his place anyway.

SM: Do you know if she ever did tell Mr. Wallace she wanted to break up with him?

JM: No, I don't. Last time we talked about it, she was still working up the nerve. Even though she knew it was the right thing to do, she still had a little soft spot in her heart for him too. She had a big heart, that girl. And had a lot of heartache because of it.

TA: Sounds like there was plenty of heartache to go around. Was there anything else Missy was worried about?

JM: There was plenty else. Hell, life ain't easy for a single mom. She had plenty of worries. She was always worryin' over separating Liddie from her daddy. She knew that Liddie wanted to see Roger, but she was scared about it. Some people in town say that Roger's done cleaned up some, and I hope he has. God bless 'em if he has, is the way I feel about it. But a mom can't take any chances. Missy had seen how he acted when he was all doped up and even though he said he was clean, how could she trust him? So she worried about that. She was pretty wore out about that situation all the way around. Liddie was starting school and Missy was scared that the other kids would be mean to her. Divorce ain't that big of a deal nowadays, but Missy was still worried that the kids might pick on Liddie 'cause she didn't have a dad. And she also fretted over Liddie spending time with Roger's parents.

TA: That's right. If I understand it correctly, Missy continued to allow Liddie to see her paternal grandparents. Even after Roger's visitation rights were revoked.

JM: Yeah. Liddie just loves the Hammonds. And although they always treated Missy like crap, they just dote all over Liddie. So, even though Roger couldn't see the child anymore, Missy allowed his parents to continue to see her. And Missy worried about that. What kind of effect would it have on Liddie? To be able to see her daddy's parents, but not her daddy? She was afraid of that. And she was worried that the Hammonds might talk bad about her to Liddie 'cause she knew they didn't like her much.

TA: It seems like Missy sure had a lot on her plate.

JM: It's just a shame. She really was such a sweet girl. She made some bad choices, you know. But she always handled things. I mean, a lot of people sure talked and looked down their noses when Missy got pregnant. But I'll tell you, I never seen a better mother. I was worried about the whole thing myself, but Missy really did do right by Liddie. So it's a shame she had so much worry and heartache in her life. One of the reasons she always talked to me was cause she was so worried about Jonah.

TA: Why is that?

JM: She wanted to make her daddy proud. And she wanted him to be happy. But she also knew that she had a tendency to make a few mistakes now and then, and that it tore her daddy up when she did. She always complained about her taste in men. How she always attracted these no-account boys who just pretended to be men. She always wanted to be able to call her daddy up and say that she was dating a doctor or a lawyer. A nice man who could provide for her and Liddie. But the reality was that she always took up with these good-for-nothings who drank too much or were all into dope and whatnot. I mean, I had my wild times, but a man's got to be responsible. She always felt like she was letting her daddy down when she ran around with that kind of trash.

SM: You mention the men in her life. How about you tell us your impressions of them? What about JP Wallace?

JM: I think I already gave you my impression of him. He's common trash. Nothing more. Everybody knows he's a drug pusher. Doesn't do anything but sell dope and hang around bars all day. I used to see him up to Murff's. Besides always bein' drunk, he was always walking off with different people. Someone would come up to him, they'd whisper a bit, and then head back to the bathroom or outside. Pretty obvious what they were doing.

SM: Okay. And Roger Hammond? What's your impression of him?

JM: Roger could be okay. He never really focused on much of anything, so no one around town would give him a job but his parents. Everyone knew that he didn't know how to work hard at nothing. But still he was a decent kid, even if he was a bit lazy. All of us in the family knew that Roger's daddy kind of twisted his arm into marrying Missy when she got pregnant, but he did actually go through with it. Then, he got into them drugs and he just went crazy. Got violent at times. Got real shifty. You couldn't trust him for nothing when he was stoned. That's when Missy left him. Felt like she had to do it for Liddie. Like I said, some people say Roger's cleaned up now. And I hope and pray for Liddie's sake he has. But I ain't about to put down any money on him.

SM: What about her next door neighbor, Kevin Travers? Do you know him?

JM: He seemed like a real nice guy. I met him on a couple occassions at Missy's house. He was planning on being an artist, I don't see how he planned to make a living doing that. Nice guy anyway.

SM: Was there ever any type of romantic relationship between Kevin and Missy?

JM: Nah. I think he wanted there to be, but she was never interested in him like that. He was too quiet for her. I think she felt a little bad about him.

SM: Why?

JM: She knew he was interested. She liked him, but as a friend. And she sure appreciated everything he did for her. But she just wasn't keen on him. She felt bad because she knew how much Kevin liked her.

SM: Okay. Her high school boyfriend, Steve Kirby. What is he like?

JM: That was her high school boyfriend. A real nice kid. But he cheated on her one time. Missy was a real popular girl and he got jealous and he screwed around with this little girl from Watervalley. Missy never forgave him for that, but they still talk from time to time.

SM: Why did they break up?

JM: He cheated on her. He got a little jealous 'cause Missy got an awful lot of attention from different boys. You know how insecure kids can be at that age. So he wanted to show her how it felt and he went out with this girl from Water Valley. I don't think much really happened, but Missy found out about it and she was pissed. She broke up with him and that was it. He begged her to come back, but she wouldn't. They tried to get back together a few times, but it never really held. She always said that she couldn't trust him anymore after what he'd done. Myself, I didn't think it was that big of a deal. Typical high school melodrama. But Missy wouldn't hear any different.

TA: So you think he really cared for her?

JM: Oh yes. No doubt about that. He treated her a hell of a lot better than most of these guys she runs around with. He definitely loved her. I always kind of felt sorry for him. He knew that he had screwed up and ruined their relationship and I know he regretted it. That's tough on a man.

TA: Did Steve and Missy talk any? I mean, recently?

JM: Well, they talked some. You know, first loves and all that. He called her occasionally.

TA: Do you know what they talked about?

JM: Just the usual stuff, I suppose.

TA: Nothing more than that? Married man calls his high school girlfriend, but there's nothing to it?

JM: You'd have to ask him that.

TA: But Missy didn't tell you anything?

JM: Okay, look, she mentioned that he was a little unhappy with his marriage. Seemed like the shine had worn off a bit. But that happens to everyone, right?

TA: Did Steve want to get back together with Missy?

JM: I'm not sure. I mean, they talked about it, I guess. But I'm sure there wasn't anything to it.

TA: What do you mean?

JM: I'm sure it was all talk. He's married.

SM: So what was Missy's opinion on the matter?

JM: I don't know. She wasn't happy with JP or anyone else. It seemed like every other man was just such a jerk to her. Maybe she did look back on her time with Steve as something good. But, hey, that doesn't mean anything was going on. That's just being sentimental. Nothing wrong with that. Plus, even if she wanted Steve back, he's married, she's got a child. There were all kinds of complications. So I doubt there was much to it.

SM: Do you know where things stood with Steve at the time of Missy's death?

JM: No. But, like I said, I doubt there was much to it anyway.

TA: Johnny, you been spending much time with Liddie since all this happened?

JM: Every minute we can. The poor kid is having a hard time. Between me and Adele and Jonah,t one of us is with her all the time.

TA: How's she doing with all this? Has she said anything about what happened with her momma? Anything we should know about?

JM: Not so far. To tell you the truth, she still isn't talking much. And if anyone even mentions Missy, she gets real quiet. I'm worried about her. I'm real glad she's been talking to that shrink y'all set her up with. I hope she'll get a little comfort from that. Y'all are going to want to talk to her soon, aren't you?

TA: Yes. We really need to, Johnny. We need to see if we can't find out what happened at the house that night.

JM: I know. I know you need to. We appreciate y'all giving her a little time, but I know you gotta talk to her. You gonna do that soon?

TA: Tomorrow.

JM: Tomorrow, huh? Well, take it easy on her, okay? She's just a little girl.

TA: Don't worry. We'll be as gentle with her as if she was one of my own grandkids.

JM: Thanks, Ted. 'Preciate it.

SM: Okay. Well, that's about all the questions we have at this time. As always, thanks for your help, and we'll be in touch if we have any more questions.

JM: Anything you need from me, you just let me know. Anything.

TA: Thanks, Johnny. We're working hard to solve this thing. And I know we can count on you.

End interview 2:57 p.m.

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