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Press: Sex, Lies, Money, and Murder

Wednesday, August 4, 2004
Oxford Flyer Weekly

By Phil LeBlanc, Contributing Editor

The sensational investigation into the murder of University of Mississippi instructor Kristi Waterson came to an end on July 29, 2004 when Weldon Foyle was arrested and charged with the crime. Foyle, 27, a former student of the victim, was taken into custody. His court-appointed lawyers have not yet issued any statements or spoken to the press. The arrest finally brings closure to this lurid tale of wealth, sexual improprieties, and murder.

On the morning of Sunday, May 23, 2004, Michelle Prescott returned home after a romantic evening with her boyfriend. In the apartment that she shared with her cousin Kristi Waterson, Michelle found an unspeakable horror. Waterson was hanging in her closet, apparently dead as a result of suicide. Initial press reports repeated the initial belief that Waterson killed herself. However, the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department quickly revised their strategy and began to investigate the case as a homicide. "Unfortunately for the killer, the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department has far too much experience with this kind of thing," said veteran police observer James Woodrow. "They were quickly able to realize this wasn't a suicide and focus on it as a murder."

The Sheriff's Department began the long investigation by talking to many of Waterson's students and colleagues in the business department. Almost as soon as the interviews began, the rumors that had circulated on the Ole Miss campus for years came to the forefront. Many sources on campus alleged that Waterson had inappropriate relationships with her students. "I know it's true," said one senior who didn't want to be named. "My roommate hooked up with her. She called the apartment all the time. She was all over him."

Others were more diplomatic in their statements, but they sounded the same tune. "I'm not prepared to say she did anything wrong," said Ryan Colville, president of The Young Entrepreneurs Club on campus. "But there were certainly plenty of things that would give the impression of wrong-doing. I just think professors should be more careful about their image, for their own protection and the well-being of the students."

And through all of the investigation, money and power hung over this case like a swollen storm cloud. Waterson's parents are Michael and Virginia Waterson of Biloxi, Mississippi. Michael Waterson came from an old Mississippi family of money, power, and prestige. Rumors abound in southern Mississippi that he has fixed elections and bought off politicians. His supporters dismiss these accusations as slander from jealous opponents. But the truth remains that, however he obtained his power, Michael Waterson has it. The family offered a $75,000 reward for information to help solve the case. "There was a heckuva lot more on the line than just that reward money," said veteran lawyer and political observer Hal Jackson. "I'm sure that Waterson was putting all sorts of pressure on the cops up in Oxford. He probably made them think this was their only case. He pulls enough strings -- careers could be made or broken with this case."

The case seemed to enjoy a major break when police arrested Hunter Nelson, 21, an Ole Miss student from Natchez who also comes from an old family with money and prestige. "Heck, his name ain't even Hunter," said one Natchez resident on the condition that his name be withheld. "His real name is Nathaniel Harrison Nelson, after some Confederate general." Although many members of the middle and lower class are happy to forget the state's impoverished history of slavery and farming, the wealthy of Mississippi seem loathe to move out of the antebellum era. They like to harken back to the glory days of mansions and plantations. The Nelson family is no different.

For a while, Nelson seemed the perfect suspect. He was regularly described as spoiled, lacking ambition, and completely lacking of self control. If he wanted something, he got it. No questions asked. It is rumored in Natchez that there were teachers who actually quit so they wouldn't have to suffer through a year of catering to Hunter Nelson.

At Ole Miss, Nelson took classes from Kristi Waterson and eventually struck up a relationship with her. The couple dated for a few months and broke up. "I wouldn't call it dating. They just hooked up on a regular basis," said one in-the-know resident of Sorority Row. "He told me all about it." Even after they broke up, Nelson continued taking classes from Waterson.

Nelson was arrested for the murder of Kristi Waterson on Tuesday, June 29, 2004. Sources say that eyewitness testimony had placed Nelson at the victim's apartment complex the night of her death. However, the police soon ended up red-faced as evidence surfaced that cleared Nelson of all suspicion and he was quietly released. Police department officials have steadfastly refused to give any details on the nature of the evidence that cleared Nelson's name, but sources say that a specific piece of forensic evidence was determined to be incompatible with Nelson's medical profile.

So, once again, the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department was back out on the streets, looking for a killer. Gradually through the investigation, the focus began to narrow in on Weldon Foyle, who was also a student of Kristi Waterson's and an associate of Hunter Nelson.

The biography of Foyle is shrouded in mystery. He is described by other students as reserved, some even going so far as to call him paranoid and secretive. What is known is that he grew up in a hard-working, lower-class family in small town Kentucky. Foyle was paying his own way through Ole Miss and his work ethic and habits were legendary. "I've seen him work three shifts in a row," said Jayson Billet who washed dishes with Foyle at local restaurants. "He's a machine."

This image of an obsessive worker was reinforced by almost everyone who met Weldon Foyle. "I thought he was a bit weird," said classmate Jennifer Hawkins, "but there was no doubt that he was the hardest worker in class. Both on his school work and on his jobs."

But under this fašade of ambition and dedication, jealousy and resentment were boiling. Sources say Foyle was driven not just by a need to pay the bills, but also an obsessive hatred of the wealthy. "He worked hard in a town where so many students do not," said local psychologist James Raymond. "Of course, I haven't examined him, so I can't say for certain. But from what I'm hearing, he developed an intense hatred of the privileged."

Sheriff's Department officials refused to comment on the motive of Foyle's involvement, citing that the court trial has not yet begun. But rumors are that it was this class hatred that drove him to target, stalk, and methodically plan Waterson's murder.

"This was no passion killing," said Oxford Eagle reporter Kelly Shackleton. "We see a lot of that in Oxford. Someone just snaps. But this wasn't like that. It was cold-blooded, methodical, and detailed."

Off the record, sources in the Sheriff's Department say that Foyle tried to frame Hunter Nelson for the murder. "When they arrested Hunter, that was all part of the plan," said an anonymous source. "He [Foyle] probably thought he could strike two blows against privilege and wealth," said psychologist Raymond. "By murdering Kristi Waterson, and then framing Hunter Nelson, he was taking out two members of the wealthy elite. Both of them have a reputation of being spoiled, lazy, and simply spending their parents' money. They're perfect targets for someone like Mr. Foyle."

Foyle originally had an alibi for the night of Waterson's murder, but that alibi ultimately collapsed under the scrutiny of investigation. Forensic evidence also began to pile up against Foyle and ultimately led to his arrest.

The trial of Weldon Foyle should prove to be a sensational event. Undoubtedly, many of the rumors of impropriety will surface and be opened up for public consumption. Although University officials will only issue the usual statements of how glad they are that the case has been solved, the truth is that they must be scared to death about how their faculty is going to be exposed in this case. And certainly, more of Weldon Foyle's reportedly bizarre life and obsessions will be explained. The media circus surrounding the trial should yield more than enough lurid detail for yet another sad chapter in Oxford's history.

 
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