Canvass - Daniels family associates
Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department investigators observed Laurie Daniels' funeral and noted who was in attendance. After the services were over, the YCSD spoke with some of those people to learn more about the family's interaction with each other and with the community.
The interviews summarized are some of the most typical or relevant to the investigation and are representative of all interviews conducted.
Jerome and Anita Burgess
222 South 18th Street, Oxford, MS
Forrest Burgess' parents said they haven't kept in touch with the Danielses since their family troubles began in 2012. When Forrest and Laurie were dating, the two families often went on picnics and spent holidays together.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Burgess agreed that they'd describe Bart Daniels as cocky and harmless and Bonnie Daniels as melodramatic and proud.
The Burgesses were vague in discussing odd behavior in the Daniels family. "They were no more strange or dysfunctional than any other family," said Mr. Burgess, 51.
"The times our families were together were pleasant and unremarkable. Our kids loved each other," added Mrs. Burgess, 48.
819 Adams Street, Oxford, MS
Mr. Fitzpatrick, 52, and Bart Daniels were law students together at Ole Miss. They both stayed in Oxford and opened law practices.
Fitzpatrick said he and Daniels had been good friends for many years after college. Their wives became friends, and the couples went out together on occasion, though their social activities decreased when they began having children.
Fitzpatrick admitted that Daniels's firm outpaced his own over the years, but it never bothered him. Then out of the blue, Daniels called him and verbally abused him about a deadbeat client whom Fitzpatrick had recommended to Daniels.
Fitzpatrick explained that the man had needed defense in a criminal suit brought against him by his wife, who accused the man of sexually abusing their daughter. Fitzpatrick's firm handled mainly civil suits, so he recommended Daniels.
Soon thereafter, Daniels telephoned Fitzpatrick in a fit of rage. "He yelled at me for a half-hour, every kind of filth you could imagine. Essentially, he was telling me that his firm didn't need my reject clients and that he'd better never hear about me uttering his name in my office again," Fitzpatrick said.
After that incident, Fitzpatrick said relations between him and Daniels cooled, saying Daniels typically "showed [him] occasional politeness, most often with a sheen of pomposity and disgust." Still, Daniels' practice was a booming success, and he demanded respect from the town's business community.
"It was like you had to have the password to even talk with him, and evidently, I didn't have it," said Fitzpatrick. "Some days, I would pass him on the Square and say hello, and he would walk right by like I was some lowlife not worthy of his attention. I've never understood why some people act that way. If I could just walk in their shoes for a day and understand it."
800 Whitespell Avenue, Natchez, MS
Mrs. Gleason, 34, said Bonnie Daniels was co-hosting a baby shower at Gleason's residence on the afternoon of December 29, 2019, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. After helping tidy up, Gleason said, Daniels left at approximately 5:00 p.m. and said she would be driving back to Oxford.
Gleason said there was nothing out of the ordinary about Daniels' behavior. "I've always known Bonnie to be in charge of her own world," Gleason said. "People just flutter around her because she is so assured in her charms and cleverness."
Gleason said that Daniels has a reputation as an upright society lady. She never smokes or drinks, unless it's a single glass of champagne for an important toast.
She said Daniels is very careful to keep her outward appearances immaculate, and if anyone tried to criticize her, "she'd cut them down with a glare, and if that didn't work, she'd give them the tongue lashing of their life. Of course, she always takes them aside and does it quietly. But viciously nonetheless."
Bruce and Candy Heather
18B North Samuel, Pontotoc, MS
The Heathers said their daughter, Sandy, was a friend of Laurie's during junior high school and that both girls were in the town Christmas parade once as part of their gymnastics class.
According to Mrs. Heather, 44, Sandy came home upset because Mr. Daniels had called attention to her form-fitting leotard and caressed her behind several times. Mrs. Heather shared this with her husband, who became enraged.
Mr. Heather, 47, confronted Daniels at his office the next day, but Daniels dismissed the incident as harmless. Mr. Heather described Daniels' response: "He kept saying, 'It was an innocent pat, Bruce. I did it once. Maybe if your girl wasn't so deprived of affection, she wouldn't go crying every time somebody gave her a hug and a love pat.'"
According to the Heathers, following this confrontation, Bart Daniels used his influence to sink Bruce's golf shop by alerting a team of IRS agents to possible tax fraud in Mr. Heather's business.
During an intense audit, agents found numerous errors in the bookkeeping, which cost Heather so much cash that he went into debt and had to sell the business. Heather insists his books were doctored to frame him.
10 North Lamar Boulevard, Oxford, MS
Mr. Lemming, 38, is Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, which Bonnie Daniels participates in. He said Daniels has been instrumental in the community while enduring family hardships.
"She is incomparable," Lemming said. "Beautiful, intelligent, and will stand up to anyone if she feels like her work is being compromised. She really jerked us up by our bootstraps."
Lemming regretted that he and Daniels have had very little social interaction recently, as the recurrence of her husband's cancer and her daughter's murder have driven her away from the public eye. "She has to have the public to keep her going," Lemming said.
411 Warren Street, Oxford, MS
Ms. Minor, 25, was a close friend of Laurie and Melanie Daniels during their junior high and early high school years and said her memories of those days were fond.
The only unusual thing she recalled about the family was the times when she and other friends felt the Daniels sisters had an overprotective father.
"Sometimes, I wouldn't talk on the phone to them or go over to visit for a week," Minor recalled. "I know that doesn't sound like much now, but back then, it was a big deal. It was a great absence."
When asked if she knew why, Minor said, "That always happened because Mr. Daniels wouldn't let them use the phone or have visitors. It was like he had grounded them for no apparent reason, and they would never talk about it."
Minor recalled that Melanie's best friend up until she left Oxford was a girl named Carla Brogan, with whom Minor had attended Mississippi State University.
Arnold Palmertree, M.D.
187 South Lamar Boulevard, Oxford, MS
Dr. Palmertree, 73, is the Daniels family doctor. He had only positive things to say about the Danielses, pointing to their surviving such tragedies as the loss of a daughter and cancer.
He called Bart Daniels a "remarkable creature. People are scared of him because he's such a trouper."
Dr. Palmertree referred to Mrs. Daniels as "an exquisite example of Southern gentility. She's the kind of woman any self-respecting man would love to have keeping his things in order."
He attested to the family's stellar health records until Bart was diagnosed with cancer in 2012.