Bart Daniels interview
Monday, April 28, 2014 - 10:25 a.m.
After receiving notification that preliminary DNA test results and dental comparisons indicated that the head found in Yoknapatawpha County belonged to Laurie Daniels, Detectives Murphy and Armstrong returned to the Daniels residence and notified them of the findings. The Danielses were then separated and interviewed individually.
Detectives Armstrong and Murphy interviewed Bart Daniels at his residence. The interview was recorded with the witness's knowledge and consent.
- Detective T. Armstrong
- Detective S. Murphy
- Bart Daniels
Detective Armstrong: For the record, would you state your name, age, and address?
Bart Daniels: Bart Daniels. 53. 1305 Mesquite Drive in Tara Estates.
Detective Armstrong: Mr. Daniels, we know this is a difficult time for you right now, so we'll try to make this as quick and easy as possible.
Bart Daniels: I'd appreciate it, detective.
Detective Murphy: Were you aware that your daughter Laurie had come back to Oxford after being gone for seven years?
Bart Daniels: I… I still just don't know what to say or think about any of it. I have a million questions myself.
Detective Murphy: Did you see your daughter at any time during her seven-year absence?
Bart Daniels: No, I did not. Not a word, not a telephone call. Some people might think that lessens the sting, but I tell you, it just makes it worse. The not knowing, it just eats away at me. And I'm bad off enough as it is.
Detective Murphy: Did anyone you know have contact with Laurie during her absence?
Bart Daniels: I think my wife might have spoken to her a time or two, but you have to understand. It's been very difficult at our house for some time now. With my illness and having to give up the practice, it just frankly hasn't left much room for reaching out.
Detective Murphy: How do you mean?
Bart Daniels: Let me put it this way. I always said that if Laurie was that adamant about leaving home, then we should let her go. When I was her age, all I wanted to do was get out and see the world. That's all she was doing. And I let her, partly because she needed it and partly because I had to get better. Maybe I was part of it, you know. Maybe she didn't want to stick around and see her daddy wither away from sickness.
Detective Armstrong: What is your health situation?
Bart Daniels: Near the end of 2006, I was diagnosed with lung cancer. Now I smoked the occasional cigar, but never cigarettes. I didn't know how this had come about, only that I had to get better so that I could live to support my family — or what was left of it.
Detective Armstrong: Meaning?
Bart Daniels: Meaning my other daughter, Melanie, had run off by that point. The world was falling in around me, see?
Detective Armstrong: That must've been very difficult.
Bart Daniels: It was, but back to what I was saying. The doctors told me I had a fighting chance if I focused on recovering, so that's exactly what I did. I fought back and danged if I didn't whip it around 2008. The blight went into remission, thank God.
Detective Armstrong: Congratulations.
Bart Daniels: Cancer's a terrible killer, but it's not invincible. Or so I thought. You see, last year it started creeping back on me. And now it's full-blown again. It's eating up my lungs, and I'm trying hard as ever to fight back, but the last time took so much out of me. I haven't been the same. I had to give up my law practice. My daughters both disappeared on me.
Detective Murphy: Mr. Daniels, we kind of wandered off the subject a bit. We need to know if anyone else had kept in contact with Laurie during her absence.
Bart Daniels: I'm sorry. I'm just prone to ramblings, you know, trying to say all I can while I still can. Before the blight crawls up in my head.
Detective Murphy: Of course.
Bart Daniels: Let's see, there's Forrest. Forrest Burgess. Laurie was engaged to him before she left Oxford. He hasn't had much luck keeping up with her, but he always keeps us informed about what little he hears. He found out that she was living in New Orleans, and he seemed to think she was caught up in some voodoo nonsense down there.
Detective Murphy: When was that?
Bart Daniels: I guess it was last year about this time? I'm not sure.
Detective Murphy: Do you believe that Laurie was involved with voodoo?
Bart Daniels: It really upset Bonnie and me, but we kept praying that she was safe. I keep contact with her that way, you know. Through prayer. God always let me know she was safe.
Detective Armstrong: But now it seems like she wasn't.
Bart Daniels: I like to think the Lord needed her for something. That's why he took her from us. We don't know what happened to her out there. Her life may have been a sacrifice for the greater good.
Detective Murphy: Mr. Daniels, what about your other daughter, Melanie? What were the circumstances around her disappearance?
Bart Daniels: Melanie was a much more rebellious child than Laurie. The second children always are. I was a second child myself. My parents wanted me to become a lawyer, and I did. But lately I've started to realize that I may have ignored the call to become a preacher for God. Can you believe that? I think God had been talking to me, but I wasn't listening. Of course, now I hear loud and clear.
Detective Murphy: Mr. Daniels, if we could get back to Melanie.
Bart Daniels: Melanie… we had a devil of a time keeping a hold on her. She was the type to creep outside the house at night. Had all kinds of boyfriends and what have you. When she was 17 years old, she met a fella who was passing through town on his way home, somewhere up north. He was in the military. Air Force maybe?
Detective Murphy: Go on.
Bart Daniels: She said she'd fallen in love with this guy after one night. I never met him, but he's all she ever talked about, no matter what we said. We raised her better than that. We gave her everything she ever wanted and taught her right and wrong. But she was disobedient. It was her way, every time.
Detective Murphy: And so?
Bart Daniels: So she got fed up with us for showing her her mistakes and for making her feel guilty, which — I admit — was the wrong way to handle things. We should have shown her more love and tried to help her through this thing better, but in the heat of battle….
Detective Murphy: Then what happened?
Bart Daniels: Anyway, she kept saying she was going off to live with this character — Reggie, I believe his name was. And then she did. Just up and disappeared. And we didn't know where this guy lived, only that he was from up north. There was no way to get in touch with her.
Detective Armstrong: Did you look for her?
Bart Daniels: Believe me, we searched and searched. But then my cancer came on and there was less time to look, even though I wanted to find Melanie worse than ever. I had realized by that time what we had done wrong. But it was too late. I truly think my cancer was a wake up call from God. He smacked me upside the head because I'd been ignoring his call my whole life. Understandably, this was a difficult time in our home. And it was in the thick of it that Laurie left.
Detective Armstrong: How did you search for Melanie?
Bart Daniels: Just gathering clues, talking to friends. Nobody knew much about it. We hired a private investigator, but he couldn't turn up anything.
Detective Armstrong: Who was this private investigator?
Bart Daniels: I don't remember his name. Harry something maybe? He was a real jackass. I think he was pulling a fast one on us. He disappeared from town.
Detective Murphy: Why didn't you contact the authorities when Melanie disappeared?
Bart Daniels: What could the police have done?
Detective Murphy: We could have helped search for her.
Bart Daniels: She didn't want to be found. Involving the police would have made her resent us even more. She would never have come back. We were hoping she'd come back when she was ready. I mean, we knew where she'd gone.
Detective Armstrong: But you said you didn't know where the boyfriend lived.
Bart Daniels: We didn't know the exact location, but we knew she went to stay with him. It wasn't like she just up and disappeared one day, even if it looked that way to people outside the family. If we had called the police, we'd have been looking at a major scandal. Major embarrassment. Bonnie is heavily involved in the community. It would have just been trouble. I mean, don't get me wrong. We loved Melanie to death….
Detective Armstrong: No one knew this boyfriend?
Bart Daniels: How does anyone know what they'd do at any given time?! Do you know what a tragedy that was for our family? Do you know how much we've suffered? Do you know what's it like to see some freaking psycho chopping your daughter's head off every time you go to sleep?
Detective Murphy: Mr. Daniels, you need to calm down for your own sake. Take a few deep breaths. Have some water.
Bart Daniels: I apologize. I get very emotional these days.
Detective Murphy: Understandable. Are you ready to continue?
Bart Daniels: Yes.
Detective Armstrong: You and your wife have a swimming pool. Is that correct?
Bart Daniels: Yes, it is.
Detective Armstrong: What brand of sanitizing products do you use?
Bart Daniels: The chlorine? Pool Free. It's the standard brand. I bought it at Walmart, same as anybody in Oxford who has a pool.
Detective Murphy: Have you noticed any missing buckets in the past couple of months?
Bart Daniels: No. All my buckets are accounted for.
Detective Armstrong: How do you mean?
Bart Daniels: I mean, none of them disappeared. I use a bucket, then when it's empty I throw it away. There's a dumpster just down the road, and that's where I take them. Somebody could have taken it out of there for all I know.
Detective Murphy: Have you ever thrown away a bucket still containing chlorine?
Bart Daniels: Nope. I use every bit. No sense wasting it.
Detective Armstrong: Do you know of anyone who might have wanted to harm Laurie?
Bart Daniels: I really can't think of anyone. But then again, I don't know the people she associated with over the past seven years. There could be any number of people. I mean, she supposedly traveled all over the damn country doing God-knows-what. I don't know what kind of people that lifestyle attracts. And this voodoo business, who knows? Who could say?
Detective Murphy: Has anyone asked about her since she left?
Bart Daniels: People ask about her all the time. It's a small town, and she was well-liked.
Detective Murphy: Who asked?
Bart Daniels: Old friends, acquaintances. Harmless people. It's all polite talk. They all gossip about it, I'm sure. Word gets around how she's up to God-knows-what with hoodlums from all over. They just want to see me cringe. But I just smile and say, "Laurie? She's doing just fine. Just seeing the world, sowing her oats. She's going be a strong woman some day."
Detective Murphy: Mr. Daniels, you mentioned earlier that Forrest Burgess told you Laurie was living in New Orleans and practicing voodoo. How much do you know about that?
Bart Daniels: That's pretty much it. I find it hard to believe. I didn't want to know anything about voodoo. She was raised Christian, and it seems to me that cutting up chickens and chanting and all that would just be Satanic to her. But Forrest also tried to tell us she was messing around with marijuana and PCP, cocaine and LSD.
Detective Murphy: Do you believe he was right about that?
Bart Daniels: It… it's not something a father wants to think about his daughter, you know what I mean? The Laurie I knew and raised was not a drug abuser or a cult worshiper. But I've been an attorney for a long time, and I know how easily the truth can become distorted.
Detective Murphy: So you did believe Forrest?
Bart Daniels: I don't know what to believe about Laurie. Seven years is a long time. And drugs can change a person, if in fact she was hooked on drugs, which I hate to think about. All I know is what my daughter was like when she lived at home.
Detective Armstrong: Tell us then.
Bart Daniels: Tell you what?
Detective Armstrong: Tell us about Laurie when she lived at home.
Bart Daniels: My daughters were my life. The soul of me. When you have children, you dole a little of yourself out, and then you nurture that child as it grows. Both of my girls were part of me. It's when the outside world gets ahold of them that they become something else. And that's fine. It's the way life works.
Detective Armstrong: But?
Bart Daniels: I just don't know what got ahold of my daughters. Other than it was punishment from God. Now my girl, Laurie, she was an angel. She was polite. She made good grades in school. She was respectful, and she had a huge capacity for love. Enormous. I truly believed she and Melanie both were the good parts of me that went unrealized. I always told them that life was a relay race, and that I was passing on everything to them. All my love. And they ran with it…. Only thing is, neither one of them finished the race.
Detective Murphy: We're sorry for your loss, Mr. Daniels. That will be enough for today. If we need anything more, we'll get in touch with you.
Bart Daniels: I'm sorry too.
Interview ends - 11:07 a.m.