Forrest Burgess interview
Tuesday, February 25, 2020 – 10:30 a.m.
After learning from Bart and Bonnie Daniels that their daughter Laurie was once engaged to Forrest Burgess, Detectives Murphy and Armstrong located Mr. Burgess and asked him to come in for an interview.
The detectives interviewed him at the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department.
- Detective T. Armstrong
- Detective S. Murphy
- Forrest Burgess
Detective Murphy: Would you please state your name, age, address, and occupation for the record?
Forrest Burgess: My name is Forrest Burgess, and I'm 25. Currently, I'm staying with a friend in Yocona, and I don't even know the address. I can tell you that you go south at the stop sign outside Yocona towards Delay. Then you go a little ways and turn right on 432, and it's the first house on the left.
Detective Armstrong: Occupation?
Forrest Burgess: Oh, I don't have one at the moment. That's kind of why I'm staying with this friend.
Detective Murphy: Who's your friend?
Forrest Burgess: Do I have to say?
Detective Armstrong: Yes.
Forrest Burgess: Paul Mercury.
Detective Murphy: Why are you staying with him?
Forrest Burgess: Because I don't have any money, and I recently was asked to leave the last place I lived.
Detective Murphy: Where was that?
Forrest Burgess: That was with Callie Shivers, and actually, she's still a neighbor pretty much. That house is just down the road.
Detective Armstrong: So you moved into Mercury's place after Shivers asked you to leave?
Forrest Burgess: Right. Well, no. Before Paul's, I rented this place at Coles Point from this guy, this record producer in Nashville. It didn't work out either. He decided he didn't want a tenant.
Detective Armstrong: It sounds like you're having a hard time finding a place to rest your head.
Forrest Burgess: Heh. Yes, I guess you could say that. I don't know. I'm just having a string of bad luck, I suppose.
Detective Armstrong: How long have you been at Mercury's place?
Forrest Burgess: I don't know. A couple, three weeks, maybe?
Detective Murphy: Okay, Mr. Burgess. Would you tell us about your relationship with Laurie Daniels?
Forrest Burgess: I'll give it a shot. Let's see… Laurie and I go way back. I must've met her when I was in the fourth grade. We came up through school together.
Detective Armstrong: We don't need a play-by-play of your whole life. You want to fast-forward to a time when you and Laurie were more than just kids who saw each other at school?
Forrest Burgess: Okay. We started dating in about the ninth grade. And we dated right on through high school, always arm in arm. I guess you could say we were a very recognizable couple in town.
Detective Murphy: Why's that?
Forrest Burgess: We did everything together. Our families even hung out. We would always have Fourth of July picnics together, and during the spring and summer, we'd all hook up at Sardis and go boating. We'd always talked about getting married, me and Laurie, and then during our senior year, I popped the question.
Detective Armstrong: Your senior year in high school?
Forrest Burgess: Yeah. We decided to do it after graduation and just bear down when we went to college. We had it all planned out. We were both going to go to Ole Miss, and then move to the city after we got our degrees. It was going to be so perfect.
Detective Murphy: When did things change?
Forrest Burgess: Around the time that Melanie disappeared, which was, I think, 2012. Thinking back on it, I see that things weren't right a little while before Mel left. And definitely not afterwards.
Detective Murphy: How so?
Forrest Burgess: Laurie slowly became lost to me. You know, we didn't go out as much. She went to school at Northwest instead of Ole Miss, so that was her first physical step away from me.
Detective Murphy: Is that the only thing that changed: where she went to college?
Forrest Burgess: No. This was all around the time that her dad got sick too, so she was involved in all of that — at the hospital a lot, taking care of chores at home. It was a brutal time.
Detective Murphy: That's understandable.
Forrest Burgess: Yeah. And then, you know, she postponed our marriage. I had to take over the wedding plans for a while, but I could tell she wasn't into it, so I wasn't into it as much. And then she finally said, "Hey, this might not be such a good idea right now."
Detective Murphy: That must've been hard on you.
Forrest Burgess: Yeah, but what could I say? She had a lot going on.
Detective Armstrong: You said before that things weren't right between you and Laurie before Melanie disappeared. How do you mean?
Forrest Burgess: Well, we argued a good bit, and we'd never done that very much before. And she just grew very distant. Most of our fights were about that. I'd call her on the phone, and she'd be real blah, and I would say, "What's up?" And she'd be all quiet and downplay everything until we just blew up at each other. We threatened to break up and stuff like that.
Detective Armstrong: How was her family life at that time?
Forrest Burgess: Not good, I think. I mean, I never really noticed any problems. Nothing out of the ordinary. But Melanie took off without telling anyone so….
Detective Armstrong: What ordinary problems did you notice?
Forrest Burgess: You know, Laurie was always miffed at her mom, but so is most every daughter at that age. And her dad started giving her trouble. There was a time there when he wouldn't let her go out as much anymore, and even when I went over there, it wasn't the same cozy atmosphere. They seemed like they were suspicious of me or something. And to this day, really, they don't regard me with much love. Not like before.
Detective Armstrong: Before?
Forrest Burgess: Before Melanie left home. And after that, things changed quite a bit in their house, I think. That's when I didn't go over hardly at all. Because it just didn't feel… I don't know how to say it other than it just didn't feel right.
Detective Murphy: Can you characterize the family life you shared with them after Melanie disappeared?
Forrest Burgess: Well, there wasn't much. What I learned came from Laurie. She went out on the edge for a while, particularly at the end of that year. I remember it was near the holidays—and we had always been so happy at the holidays—but that year, it wasn't very cheerful anymore.
Detective Murphy: What do you mean?
Forrest Burgess: I didn't go to Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve dinner. Things like that. And her parents — her dad especially — spoke very coldly over the phone when I called. She was living at home then, and her dad had just found out about his cancer.
Detective Murphy: Were you two engaged at that point?
Forrest Burgess: Officially, yes, but by then, I knew she had slipped away from me. When she told me she was leaving in January, it didn't come as a great shock because I had felt this pulling away. But believe me, it tore me up plenty.
Detective Armstrong: What did she say to you before she left?
Forrest Burgess: She pretty much told me that her dad had mistreated both her and Melanie, and that's why Melanie had run away. Even more than being pregnant. It was because their dad had been, I guess, like psychologically abusing them for some time. She never out-and-out said that he had hurt them physically, but definitely, there was some emotional trauma going down.
Detective Murphy: Hang on. You say someone was pregnant around that time?
Forrest Burgess: Yeah, Melanie. Didn't you know that?
Detective Murphy: How do you know she was pregnant?
Forrest Burgess: Laurie told me.
Detective Murphy: Did you believe her?
Forrest Burgess: Sure. Why would she lie about something like that?
Detective Murphy: And who was the father of Melanie's baby?
Forrest Burgess: Some guy in the military, she said. I didn't know him, but I guess he was only in town for a few days. Long enough to do the deed, though.
Detective Murphy: Did Laurie know this guy?
Forrest Burgess: I don't think so. She didn't tell me if she did.
Detective Armstrong: Back to this abuse you say Laurie told you about, did you ever see her dad mistreat her like she described?
Forrest Burgess: Like I said, her dad had been very cold toward me, but I never thought he was the type to do something like that. I just didn't put the two together. I was still living in this perfect dream world.
Detective Armstrong: Did Laurie know how you felt?
Forrest Burgess: Yeah. I was stupid. I told her I had a hard time believing that, and I thought she needed to see a psychiatrist.
Detective Armstrong: What did she say to that?
Forrest Burgess: I think it was the last straw for her, and that's what made her finally leave.
Detective Armstrong: She left her whole life—school, her family, her friends, her hometown—all because you didn't believe her?
Forrest Burgess: Well, she also thought her sister was out there somewhere, and she wanted to find her. Of course, first and foremost, I think she left because of her dad. She was really scared of him.
Detective Armstrong: You believed she was scared of him, but you didn't believe he was abusing her.
Forrest Burgess: Well, yeah.
Detective Armstrong: What about now? Do you think she was telling the truth about the abuse?
Forrest Burgess: I really don't know.
Detective Murphy: So what did you do when Laurie left?
Forrest Burgess: I did what most stupid kids would do. I started drinking and taking drugs to escape the pain. I fell in with a bad crowd and just wasted away. Dropped out of school. Felt sorry for myself and drank a helluva lot of booze. I've never really gotten past it, I don't think. That's what you get for planning out your life before you've lived any of it. It just don't work like that.
Detective Murphy: When did you next hear from Laurie after she left?
Forrest Burgess: I never heard from her. Can you believe that? Never.
Detective Murphy: You never saw or heard from her again?
Forrest Burgess: I guess it was about three or four years after she split that I met Callie at a party, and it turned out she was friends with Laurie and had been with her. Turned out, they met at Bonnaroo, I think.
Detective Murphy: Is this the same Callie that you used to live with?
Forrest Burgess: Yeah.
Detective Murphy: She knows Laurie too?
Forrest Burgess: Yeah.
Detective Murphy: Do you know how they met?
Forrest Burgess: They were both on the music festival circuit. Callie was playing with her band. I don't know what Laurie was doing. Anyway, apparently, they hit it off and started traveling to different festivals together.
Detective Murphy: Was Laurie a musician?
Forrest Burgess: No. I mean, she loved music, but she didn't have any musical talent that I know about.
Detective Murphy: So she wasn't traveling with Callie as part of her band?
Forrest Burgess: No. I think they were just hanging out and partying. Callie told me they did a lot of acid. I couldn't believe that was the lifestyle my Laurie had picked up. Totally blew my mind. But in a weird way, it brought me back to her because we had a connection.
Detective Murphy: What do you mean?
Forrest Burgess: It occurred to me that we were both using the same methods to deal with our grief, and it made me love her that much more. I had pretty much become numb up to that point, and just hearing about her was enough to bring me back to reality. It was great, but in a way, it was terrible because it still hurt.
Detective Murphy: Did Callie ever tell you anything specific about Laurie's time on the road?
Forrest Burgess: I always tried to get specifics out of her, but you have to know Callie. She's not the type who will sit here and pour her heart out.
Detective Armstrong: But you got her to tell you something?
Forrest Burgess: It took a little more prodding, but everything I found out about Laurie was something I didn't want to know.
Detective Armstrong: Like?
Forrest Burgess: Callie would tell me things like, "I talked to Laurie. She got her **** pierced." Or, "Oh, Laurie and her many boyfriends..." I just couldn't take it, so I quit asking about her, but I kept trying to get Callie to take me to see her.
Detective Armstrong: Did she?
Forrest Burgess: Yeah, finally. After Laurie moved to New Orleans, Callie and I went down to see her.
Detective Armstrong: When was this?
Forrest Burgess: Last year about this time. February, March, something like that.
Detective Armstrong: Tell us about the trip to New Orleans.
Forrest Burgess: I rode down with Callie. We both wanted to visit Laurie, and Callie had gotten a postcard or something from her, so she knew where Laurie was staying.
Detective Murphy: Where was that?
Forrest Burgess: It was somewhere on Canal Street, which is supposed to be a big voodoo area. Now, we didn't know anything about the voodoo before we got there. It was a total surprise.
Detective Murphy: What happened when you got there?
Forrest Burgess: We met Laurie in this alley behind a dry cleaners. That's where she told Callie to be at this certain time. Very peculiar, but we agreed to it. Anyway, Laurie showed up on time, and she was surprised to see me, to say the least.
Detective Murphy: She didn't know you were going to be there?
Forrest Burgess: I wanted to surprise her.
Detective Murphy: What happened after you met her in the alley?
Forrest Burgess: Then she took us to this guy's apartment. It was a guy she was living with at the time, and he was beyond weird.
Detective Murphy: Weird how?
Forrest Burgess: Well, to start with, he called himself Dr. Yah Yah.
Detective Armstrong: Okay. So you went to his apartment?
Forrest Burgess: Yeah. Now, to get to this guy's apartment, we went in one building and climbed the stairs to the roof, then walked across some boards to another building. We're talking 10 ten stories up. We took all these crazy detours and eventually ended up in this guy's loft, and it was crowded with the most insane stuff you'll ever see.
Detective Armstrong: Like what?
Forrest Burgess: I'm talking animal carcasses, masks, bones, insane photographs of people having sex and butchering animals. God, it was the worst. This guy was some kind of witch doctor, come to find out. That's when we started getting suspicious of Laurie.
Detective Armstrong: Did you see any rituals or bizarre behavior from Laurie or this Dr. Yah Yah?
Forrest Burgess: Plenty of strange behavior, but no rituals. I think Callie saw that. I couldn't stay there.
Detective Armstrong: You left?
Forrest Burgess: I had to. It just felt too evil and weird to stay there. I wandered off into the Quarter and ended up sneaking into a hotel and sleeping in a closet somewhere. Like I said, there was some strangeness. Laurie was totally different than when I knew her.
Detective Armstrong: Different how?
Forrest Burgess: It almost seemed like she'd been given a lobotomy. Probably too many drugs.
Detective Murphy: So what happened when you got to the guy's apartment?
Forrest Burgess: We got there, and she introduced us to Dr. Yah Yah, who was dressed in this flowing blue robe. He didn't say anything to us, and she kept calling him "master." Really odd. Then two other girls came over, and Dr. Yah Yah took them to the back while Laurie stayed in the main room there and talked to us… well, to Callie mostly.
Detective Armstrong: That was the evil and weird part?
Forrest Burgess: No. Pretty soon, we start hearing these god-awful noises coming from the back room. I can't describe it. It's almost like Dr. Yah Yah was raping these women, and they were getting some sort of pleasure from it. I don't know. They were chanting. It was the strangest thing I ever heard.
Detective Armstrong: What did Laurie do?
Forrest Burgess: She paid no attention. She kept talking like it was the most ordinary thing in the world. Then after about 20 minutes, Dr. Yah Yah comes out, buck naked, and says in this booming voice, "Bath time!" So Laurie proceeds to go over and give this guy a sponge bath with us sitting right there. That's when I had to leave. That was the last straw for me. I'm not accustomed to that sort of behavior. It must be a big city thing.
Detective Armstrong: How did Dr. Yah Yah respond to Laurie?
Forrest Burgess: It was almost with contempt and sometimes pity. I knew he was bound to hurt her sooner or later, but what could I do? Anytime I tried to talk with her about it, she'd start chanting and swinging voodoo charms in my face. I tell you, it was like that Yah Yah guy had cast a spell on her.
Detective Murphy: While you were there, did you get any opportunities to speak with her one-on-one?
Forrest Burgess: Yes, briefly. The next day, I went back to Yah Yah's, and I talked to her then.
Detective Murphy: What did you say?
Forrest Burgess: I just broke down and told her how much I missed her and how crappy my life had become, and I begged her to come back so that we could pick up where we left off.
Detective Murphy: What did she say?
Forrest Burgess: She said her life had changed way too drastically to come back to that. She said the high school memories were too painful, and that she'd spent too many years trying to chase those thoughts away.
Detective Murphy: What thoughts?
Forrest Burgess: That's what I wanted to know. I said, "What? Was it me? Was I that terrible?" And she said, "No! It was them. It was him." Talking about her dad, I guess. And that was it. Me and Callie left New Orleans pretty quick after that.
Detective Murphy: Did you hear from Laurie again?
Forrest Burgess: No, ma'am. I know Callie did, but I didn't. I was so bothered by that trip that I tried to straighten up when I got back to Oxford. You know, let go of the booze and dope and all that. I actually went to some programs too, but then I ran out of money and got kicked out over at Callie's, so now I'm just trying to save up some cash to move down to Gulfport.
Detective Armstrong: Why Gulfport?
Forrest Burgess: I've got some buddies who want to split a house with me. My car's broken, though. I really have no way to do anything. Can't make cash, can't go south.
Detective Armstrong: So you never saw Laurie Daniels again after that trip to New Orleans with Callie Shivers?
Forrest Burgess: Right.
Detective Armstrong: Are you sure about that?
Forrest Burgess: Yeah.
Detective Murphy: Do you mind telling us why Callie Shivers asked you to leave?
Forrest Burgess: I ran out of money and couldn't pay the rent. And we really weren't getting along so well. I don't blame her for tossing me out.
Detective Armstrong: Why's that?
Forrest Burgess: I've been a real jerk, what with my drinking and all. I just want to regain control of my life. I had almost gotten to the point where I realized I couldn't get Laurie back, and now… well, I guess it's certain. I just need to get on with it.
Detective Murphy: Well, we hope you can, but we'll have to ask you to stick around for a while. It would be better if you don't leave town while the investigation is underway.
Forrest Burgess: I'm stuck. Don't worry.
Detective Armstrong: By the way, did you ever contact Mr. or Mrs. Daniels when you returned from New Orleans?
Forrest Burgess: I did. I went and talked to them and told them I had seen her. I told them everything too. I told them she was losing her mind and that we had to get her and put her in therapy. But I think I just did more harm than good.
Detective Armstrong: Why's that?
Forrest Burgess: Because they didn't believe me, and they just got more upset. They seemed to think I was to blame. I really hated them after that. I was so miserable about that trip, and then to go to them like that for consolation…. They're awful and selfish. But my heart is with them during this time.
Detective Murphy: Would you say the Danielses were a religious family?
Forrest Burgess: What do you mean?
Detective Murphy: Did they go to church regularly? Quote the Bible? Things like that?
Forrest Burgess: They didn't use to. I think since Mr. Daniels got sick again, he's been into that kind of thing a lot, but I don't know if they go to church all the time or anything.
Detective Murphy: So when you were engaged to Laurie, he wasn't religious?
Forrest Burgess: No, not really.
Detective Murphy: You're sure?
Forrest Burgess: Yes, I'm sure. Why do you keep asking me that? You think I'm dumb or what?
Detective Armstrong: All right, one final question. Is there anyone you know who may have wanted some sort of revenge on Laurie? Anybody she fought with?
Forrest Burgess: Well, I can't say I really knew her at the time of her death. That's sad, isn't it? But if I was you, I'd look into JC Strong. He lives right next to where y'all found the, uh, bucket.
Detective Armstrong: What makes you think he could be involved?
Forrest Burgess: He's a psycho hillbilly. He used to stalk Melanie years ago when she was still young. I'm talking like 16 or so. And he's been stalking Callie. When I still lived there, he came over one night, all raging drunk, and she threatened to call the cops. It got pretty bad. Anyway, he's a nut. And he's actually from New Orleans.
Detective Armstrong: So you know JC Strong?
Forrest Burgess: Well, yeah. We're not buds or anything, but I know who he is.
Detective Armstrong: You seen him lately?
Forrest Burgess: Nah.
Detective Murphy: When was the last time you saw him?
Forrest Burgess: Three, four weeks ago, maybe? I don't know.
Detective Murphy: Where?
Forrest Burgess: Some party somewhere. I don't remember.
Detective Murphy: Do you know where he is now?
Forrest Burgess: Did you check his house in Taylor?
Detective Armstrong: Yes, Forrest, we did. Can you think of anywhere else he might be?
Forrest Burgess: I don't know. I don't really know the guy that well. Your guess is as good as mine.
Detective Armstrong: Okay, then. Maybe you can help us another way.
Forrest Burgess: Yeah, whatever I can do.
Detective Armstrong: Would you give us a DNA sample?
Forrest Burgess: Uh, why?
Detective Armstrong: Just so we can cover all the bases. Make sure that none of the DNA we find on the evidence belongs to you.
Forrest Burgess: I don't know….
Detective Murphy: C'mon, Mr. Burgess. You told us you haven't even seen Laurie for a year. What harm could there be?
Forrest Burgess: Well, that's true.
Detective Murphy: So you'll do it?
Forrest Burgess: Yeah, I guess. Now?
Detective Murphy: Yes. Now.
Forrest Burgess: Well, all right.
Detective Murphy: Great. Thanks for your help. We'll get your sample, and then we'll be in touch. And you stay in town for now, you understand?
Forrest Burgess: No problem, ma'am.
Interview ended – 11:39 a.m.