Alden Puckett interview
Saturday, October 21, 2023 – 8:00 a.m.
Detectives Beckwith and Magee used information from Zeke Evans to locate Alden Puckett, Hoyt Biffle's former mentor, in a cabin with no assigned address in the woods outside Coldwater, Mississippi.
After a brief delay, the detectives spoke with him in front of the cabin.
- Detective P. Beckwith, Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department
- Detective J. Magee, Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department
- Sergeant Malon Lowe, Coldwater Police Department
- Alden Puckett
Detective Beckwith: Mr. Puckett, I am Detective Paul Beckwith from the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department. Can I come in and speak with you?
Alden Puckett: If y'all come in, you're going to get the business end of my shotgun. You're not tricking me out there.
Detective Magee: Mr. Puckett, I assure you, we are detectives—
Alden Puckett: Y'all are fixing to get yourselves shot. Get off my land!
Detective Beckwith: Jo, ask Dispatch if we can get backup from Coldwater. We aren't going anywhere, Mr. Puckett, but I promise we are not coming in right now. No one has to get shot. We'll all wait right here for Coldwater police to prove to you that we are who we say we are.
Alden Puckett: I'm not putting down my gun!
Detective Beckwith: No one says you have to. Just stay calm and wait.
[SARGEANT MALON LOWE (COLDWATER PD) ARRIVED ON SCENE AT 8:17 AM]
Sergeant Lowe: Mr. Puckett, I'm Sergeant Lowe from the Coldwater Police Department. Look out your window. My squad car is out here. I've checked these folks' credentials, and they're with the Yoknapatawpha Sheriff, like they told you. Why don't you come on out, and let's just have a friendly conversation? Nobody wants to hurt you.
Alden Puckett: You're going to stay to make sure nothing happens?
Sergeant Lowe: Sure thing. Whatever makes you feel most comfortable.
Detective Magee: The longer this standoff goes on, it only gets worse for you, Mr. Puckett. Come out and talk with us.
Alden Puckett: Only to talk?
Detective Magee: That's right. Only to talk. Come out slow and without the shotgun.
Alden Puckett: I'm coming out only to talk.
Detective Beckwith: Nice and slow. That's right. Nice and slow.
Detective Magee: Sit on the step there.
Alden Puckett: I'm sorry. I didn't know who you were. I didn't mean to threaten anybody. I don't know what I'm doing anymore.
Detective Magee: Sir, for your safety and ours, I'd like to step inside your cabin for a moment and look around to ensure there's nothing in there that would put any of us in danger. Is that all right with you?
Alden Puckett: That's fine. Do what you need to do.
Detective Beckwith: Okay. I think you owe us an explanation here.
Alden Puckett: I thought you were coming to kill me.
Detective Beckwith: Come again?
Alden Puckett: I have people after me. Somehow, you found me here, the only place I thought I was safe. I figured you were here to kill me.
Detective Beckwith: Well, we're not. Why do you think someone is trying to kill you?
Alden Puckett: Because they killed Hoyt Biffle.
Detective Beckwith: "They" who?
Alden Puckett: Laughlin's thugs. Somehow, he found out, and now I'm dead.
Detective Beckwith: Laughlin?
Alden Puckett: Yes, Chas Laughlin, the scumbag chop shop guy in Oxford. You have to know him.
Detective Beckwith: Yes, we know him.
Detective Beckwith: What did Laughlin find out about you?
Alden Puckett: He must have found out that we stole several thousand dollars from him.
Detective Beckwith: Who's "we?"
Alden Puckett: Hoyt Biffle and Zeke Evans. They were former students of mine.
Detective Beckwith: How did you steal from Laughlin?
Alden Puckett: It was years ago. Hoyt found a chop shop ring was laundering money through a mom-and-pop bank in Texarkana. The ring included auto repair shops in Plano, Texas; Shreveport and Alexandria, Louisiana; Jackson and Oxford, Mississippi; Memphis and Tulsa.
Detective Beckwith: And you didn't call the FBI?
Alden Puckett: No. We didn't. Instead, we decided to steal from the crooks.
Detective Beckwith: How?
Alden Puckett: We cracked the ring by mimicking the identity of one of its major players.
Detective Beckwith: Who?
Alden Puckett: The guy in Alexandria. Manny Thibodeaux.
Detective Beckwith: What did you do with Thibodeaux's identity?
Alden Puckett: Hoyt impersonated him online, transferring some of the ring's illegal money into our pockets. I sent Zeke to Alexandria to make friends with the guy in order to record his voice to use in audio deepfakes.
Detective Beckwith: What's an audio deepfake?
Alden Puckett: An imitation of someone's voice on recorded media. We were going to use Thibodeaux's voice to convince the bankers in Texarkana to move money in accordance with Hoyt's corresponding computer maneuvers. Only it didn't work.
Detective Beckwith: Why?
Alden Puckett: Thibodeaux's thick Cajun accent caused all kinds of problems with the software. I knew that deepfakes could work. I just needed time to perfect them. Until then, Hoyt simply continued mimicking his identity online and pretty successfully, I might add.
Detective Beckwith: What does this have to do with Chas Laughlin?
Alden Puckett: He was a major player in the ring. We sent Zeke to work for Laughlin for a time to record his voice, too. Laughlin wasn't as talkative as Thibodeaux, but my software worked better with Laughlin's voice. However, most of the money moves we did as Laughlin were again due to Hoyt's computer skills. Remember, this was over a decade ago, so the federal statute of limitations has run out now.
Detective Magee: But there's no statute of limitations on Chas Laughlin.
Alden Puckett: Don't I know. Now you know why I'm so paranoid. After we stole so much from the chop shop ring using Thibodeaux's identity, Laughlin must have traced the missing money to Thibodeaux's Alexandria auto shop. That's when the cops found Thibodeaux at the bottom of Catahoula Lake.
Detective Beckwith: No more trying to perfect Thibodeaux's voice for deepfakes.
Alden Puckett: That's right, and we had to get Zeke out of Laughlin's shop. We bit off more than we could chew.
Detective Magee: Did you have evidence that Laughlin had Thibodeaux killed?
Alden Puckett: No, but we weren't taking more chances. We all headed back to Texas.
Detective Beckwith: But Laughlin would know what Zeke looks like.
Alden Puckett: Yes. That's why, if he ever figured out our scam, Hoyt and I could be tracked down through Zeke. When I heard Hoyt got killed, I bailed out here to hide. Is Zeke dead?
Detective Magee: All clear. Did I just hear you say "Laughlin"?
Detective Beckwith: Yeah, seems Alden here and his former students, Hoyt and Zeke, tangled with Chas Laughlin a while back. Used technology to scam him and some others like him out of a chunk of money.
Detective Magee: Is that right? Interesting choice.
Alden Puckett: Is Zeke dead?
Detective Magee: No. He's alive and well at Holly Springs. We used him to track you down.
Alden Puckett: So he told you about my Coldwater property. The loose lips on that guy. I guess I'm not that paranoid. With the old friends I got, it shouldn't be long before I get a visit from Laughlin's thugs.
Detective Beckwith: When was the last time you talked with Hoyt?
Alden Puckett: Three weeks ago. He called about a computer networking issue at Under Glass. The call was professional, not personal.
Detective Magee: Where were you the afternoon Hoyt died?
Alden Puckett: What? You think I'm a suspect? I just told you that Laughlin's after all of us.
Detective Beckwith: If that's the case, you won't have any problem saying where you were the afternoon Hoyt died.
Alden Puckett: Fine. I was working at Ole Miss.
Detective Magee: Alone?
Alden Puckett: No. People were in and out.
Detective Magee: Anyone you remember specifically?
Alden Puckett: Ah, not really. I left work early that day. I'm not sure if people saw me leave.
Detective Beckwith: Where did you go after you left Ole Miss?
Alden Puckett: I came out here.
Detective Magee: Without stopping at your home first?
Alden Puckett: I never went home. I was worried that Laughlin was coming for me.
Detective Beckwith: What about your wife? Did you tell her you were going into hiding?
Alden Puckett: I never told her I was leaving. She doesn't know about this place. I'd appreciate it if y'all didn't tell her about it.
Detective Beckwith: She thinks you might be dead.
Alden Puckett: It's better than dragging her into all of this. Just arrest Laughlin for Hoyt's murder, and everything has a chance to get back to normal.
Detective Magee: Do you have any evidence that Laughlin is coming after you?
Alden Puckett: He threatened me.
Detective Beckwith: How?
Alden Puckett: I was out with my wife at the Oxford Grillehouse the Saturday before last, and after I ordered my steak, I got up to use the restroom. As I was turning around, Laughlin slammed into me. I almost fell. He said, "You better watch yourself, Professor." I didn't know he knew who I was.
Detective Magee: So he just bumped into you at a restaurant, and you think he's out to kill you?
Alden Puckett: No. He actually threatened me over the phone.
Detective Magee: Keep going.
Alden Puckett: A day later, I got this voicemail saying, "I know what you did, Alden. Paybacks are a b***h."
Detective Beckwith: Did you keep the voicemail?
Alden Puckett: No, I freaked out and deleted it.
Detective Magee: When did you get the voicemail?
Alden Puckett: It came in on my landline when I was at church.
Detective Magee: Did you recognize the voice as Laughlin's?
Alden Puckett: I thought it was. It was low, though, and difficult to make out.
Detective Beckwith: So you don't know for sure.
Alden Puckett: I'm not 100% sure. But who else would it be? I'm not moving one inch until you arrest him.
Detective Beckwith: So then we can count on you remaining here if we have further questions.
Alden Puckett: Yes, for now. Just hurry and link Laughlin to Hoyt's murder.
Detective Magee: We'll keep following where the evidence leads. Speaking of which, I saw a few things inside we'd like to collect as evidence. Would that be all right with you?
Alden Puckett: Evidence? Of what?
Detective Magee: Your relationship with Hoyt and so forth.
Alden Puckett: I told you I didn't kill him. It was Laughlin!
Detective Magee: We can come back with a warrant, but that's going to put this cabin and its location on the public record. I thought you might prefer that didn't happen, but it's no problem for us to—
Alden Puckett: Stop. Take whatever you want. I don't care.
Detective Beckwith: Do you mind if we have a look around the property?
Alden Puckett: You can, but I wouldn't if I were you.
Detective Beckwith: Why's that?
Alden Puckett: There are some protective measures in place out there. I can't recall exactly where.
Detective Beckwith: Like what?
Alden Puckett: Bear traps. Other things.
Detective Beckwith: Uh-huh. I think Zeke mentioned something about that. We'll be careful.
Interview ended – 8:54 a.m.