Craig Pegues interview
Sunday, July 14, 2019 – 9:00 a.m.
As publisher of the Oxford Eagle, Craig Pegues was responsible for hiring Monica Drum.
Detectives Murphy and Parker interviewed him in his office at the Eagle. Mr. Pegues's secretary, Shannon Peterson, also participated in the interview briefly.
- Detective S. Murphy
- Detective E. Parker
- Craig Pegues
- Shannon Peterson
Detective Murphy: Thank you for meeting with us, Mr. Pegues. For the record, please state your name, address, and occupation.
Craig Pegues: Certainly. Craig Pegues. I live at 1101 Taylor Road. I'm the Publisher of the Oxford Eagle.
Detective Parker: How many employees does the Eagle have?
Craig Pegues: First, I'd like to say that I am shocked and saddened over this horrible murder. Monica was an excellent journalist, but more than that, she was a good friend. It is outrageous that this kind of thing can happen. We will miss her more than I can say. It is truly a tragedy from a personal point of view as much as from the paper's point of view.
Detective Parker: We appreciate how difficult this must be for all of you, Mr. Pegues. Now, the number of employees?
Craig Pegues: Right. Approximately 35 full time and then we have independents and stringers.
Detective Parker: Do all the staff members have keys to the front door?
Craig Pegues: No, not all, but many do. Our reporters and photographers tend to work all kinds of hours. They all have keys, and so does anyone in management. And most of the pressmen have keys since they keep odd hours as well.
Detective Parker: Are the Eagle offices equipped with an alarm system, cameras, or any other security devices that monitor times of people coming and going?
Craig Pegues: There's an alarm system to protect against unauthorized entry, but no cameras. Ernie Parrish, the security guard, sometimes makes a note if anyone unusual comes by after hours.
Detective Parker: Are there any possible exits besides the main front door and the press room door?
Craig Pegues: Well, there are windows, but they're alarmed. We have a loading dock for the paper and ink supplies, also alarmed. And there's a side door and another back door besides the press room door.
Detective Murphy: Why are there two back doors?
Craig Pegues: One goes out of the press room to provide a fire escape in case of a problem during the run. The other one is a regular back entrance.
Detective Murphy: Which door is used after hours?
Craig Pegues: I guess the press room door more often than not. Sometimes folks forget their keys or just don't want to fool with it. If the press guys are in there, they'll let you in if you bang on the door loud enough for them to hear it over the presses.
Detective Murphy: And when the pressmen aren't there?
Craig Pegues: Well, there's an alarm keypad by the door in the press room so they can signal the fire department in a hurry if something goes wrong. It's the closest place to turn off the alarm if you come in after it's armed.
Detective Parker: Are there other keypads for the alarm?
Craig Pegues: Yes, there's one in the front behind the receptionist's desk and one in my office.
Detective Murphy: When Monica Drum was made editor, who did she replace?
Craig Pegues: Our last editor, Alice Taylor, retired after 13 years with us. That's when I promoted Monica.
Detective Murphy: I understand Ms. Drum had only been with the paper a short time at that point. Were there no other candidates for the editor position?
Craig Pegues: We were very lucky to get Monica. We considered other candidates, but her qualifications were the best. She had already been working as a reporter for us for a few years by then, and she was a good, strong personality to be promoted to editor.
Detective Parker: What were Ms. Drum's responsibilities?
Craig Pegues: She assigned and approved stories, ensured the stories were properly researched, wrote editorials, made sure deadlines were met, supervised the press runs, that kind of thing. Basically, getting the paper out on time. She also worked very hard to make each edition the best it could be. She was a perfectionist about her own work, and she held everyone else to the same standard.
Detective Murphy: Was she also responsible for staffing decisions?
Craig Pegues: You mean hiring and firing and all that? Well, on paper, we made the final decision together, but I always took Monica's recommendations about that kind of thing. She generally had strong feelings about who should stay and who should go, and I never knew her to make the wrong call on a personnel decision.
Detective Parker: How did Ms. Drum get along with the other employees?
Craig Pegues: Well, like I said, she was a perfectionist. She was pretty critical of everybody's work, from the reporters to the secretaries. She'd send a reporter back fifteen times to do more research if she wasn't satisfied with the article. She'd even stop the press in the middle of a run and make them start over if she found an error. But at the same time, she went out of her way to treat the employees well while she was cracking the whip.
Detective Parker: How so?
Craig Pegues: If she made them work late on rewrites or something, she'd bring in dinner for them while they worked. Seems like she used to treat them to a few beers too, but she hadn't done that for quite a while. She wanted perfection, and she'd do anything she could to help everyone on the staff achieve it. But she wouldn't put up with any nonsense from anybody. She was "tough as nails with a heart of gold," if you'll forgive a cliché. She wouldn't, but maybe you will.
Detective Murphy: Were any employees terminated recently?
Craig Pegues: Well, that depends on what you mean by recently. There's always a certain amount of turnover, what with interns from the university and reporters leaving to work for bigger papers in larger cities. Plus, it's real hard to keep some of the support positions filled. You know, like typesetters, layout artists, pressmen, researchers. Those jobs require long hours, sometimes at unusual times of the day, and the pay's not great. Pretty much, anybody with a family won't take a job like that. Or won't keep it for long.
Detective Murphy: Yes, it's so hard to get good help these days. But was anyone fired recently, say in the last year?
Craig Pegues: Several folks left a few months ago, college kids who'd been working with us during the school year. And I believe we let a few others go right around the same time. Monica felt like it was a good time to clean house a little. Since then, things have basically settled down. We had one gal who left to have her baby and didn't come back. But other than that, things have been pretty steady for the last several months.
Detective Murphy: Can you give us the names of the people that left or were fired?
Craig Pegues: Well, to be honest with you, I can't ever remember the names of our interns. They come and go so often, it's hard to keep track of them. My secretary, Shannon, can probably give you their names.
Detective Murphy: What about the regular employees who were terminated? Can you tell me who they were and why they were fired?
Craig Pegues: Let's see. One of them was Bettina North. She worked in Accounting. Sweetest girl you ever could know, but couldn't add worth a damn. We tried to train her, but bless her heart, it was just the wrong job for her. Then there was David Ledford, a pressman. When we hired him, he was really likable, a solid employee. But somewhere along the line, he got kind of undependable. He started coming in late occasionally, and sometimes he didn't show up at all. We tried to talk to him about it, but he always acted as if nothing was wrong. Finally, we had to let him go.
Detective Murphy: Anyone else?
Craig Pegues: Oh, and there was also John Winter. We hired him right out of Ole Miss as a researcher, but he was the most cantankerous researcher I ever knew in all my years around this business. He would argue with the reporters about the way they presented information in their stories. He would argue with Monica about article placement and headline writing. He would argue with anybody about anything. He was a smart kid, and I would've liked to groom him as a reporter, but he was just too dang disruptive. If I'd kept him, I think everyone else would have walked, so we had to let him go too. I think that's all of them, but Shannon can tell you for sure.
Detective Parker: Did you have any trouble with any of them after they were terminated?
Craig Pegues: No, we never heard from any of them in any official way.
Detective Parker: What do you mean by an official way?
Craig Pegues: Well, none of them threatened to sue or anything like that. Bettina was pretty close with some of the gals in the office, and she comes by for lunch sometimes, so we keep in touch with her. But I think the other two must have left town because nobody's seen or heard from them, as far as I know.
Detective Parker: Okay. Did you say your secretary could give us the details on all the people who left? Names, contact information, dates of employment, things like that?
Craig Pegues: Sure. If you'll excuse me for just a moment, I'll step out and get her right on it.
[INTERVIEW SUSPENDED – 9:16 a.m.]
[INTERVIEW RESUMED – 9:19 a.m.]
Detective Murphy: Thank you. Let's go on while we wait.
Craig Pegues: Sure.
Detective Parker: Was Ms. Drum working on any stories before her death?
Craig Pegues: Actually, she didn't do regular stories as such anymore. She was the editor, not a reporter. Once in a while, she would do a story on her own, but she hadn't done one recently. She worked with the reporters on a lot of stories, but generally, she didn't clear any of their pieces with me. She would bring one to me if it was controversial, but only when it was ready for the next edition. And she would usually run her editorials by me. Our policy allows her to develop her own stories, and the only thing subject to review is a final draft for the paper.
Detective Parker: Did Ms. Drum step on any toes with her editorials or other pieces?
Craig Pegues: Well, any time we print an article or editorial that shows someone in a negative light, they're bound to be upset. Monica had a brash way about her. She liked to get the truth out in the open, and she wasn't always nice about it. Some people liked her, but she was hard on anyone she thought was withholding information. I know there were a couple people, especially in the political arena, that probably hated seeing her on their doorstep more than 60 Minutes. That's why she was a good editor.
Detective Parker: Was there anyone in particular who was unhappy with something Ms. Drum printed?
Craig Pegues: Well, I don't like to name names and cast suspicion on anyone who doesn't deserve it, but it's no secret that Monica didn't get along with the mayor too well. In fact, none of our elected representatives were all that fond of her. And the administration over at the university sometimes got bent out of shape over something she wrote. But I don't think any of them were upset about anything enough to murder her.
Detective Murphy: Was there anybody at the Eagle that would gain if Ms. Drum was gone? Who would be next in line to be editor?
Craig Pegues: Obviously, we haven't made any decisions yet as to who will replace her, but Rick Hughes has been with us a long time and has the editorial skills, I think. I just don't know yet.
Detective Murphy: Let's talk about Rick Hughes. What was his relationship with Ms. Drum?
Craig Pegues: Professionally, it was excellent. They were a good team, always pushed each other to do their best work.
Detective Parker: Do you think he could've had anything to do with Ms. Drum's murder?
Craig Pegues: I've known both of them for a long time, and I never thought I knew anyone who could murder someone. Rick has a temper, but I just don't see him as a murderer. Of course, there have been rumors of his drinking, but I never saw a real problem in the past.
Detective Parker: In your opinion, does Mr. Hughes have a drinking problem? Have you ever seen him drunk?
Craig Pegues: Well, we've been at functions and parties together, but as I said, I never thought he had a real problem. I have seen most of the people I know imbibe a little too much at one point or another. But with Rick, it certainly wasn't a regular occurrence to my knowledge.
Detective Murphy: You talked about their professional relationship. Was their personal relationship different?
Craig Pegues: Well, it was really none of my business until it was brought into the newsroom. That was only very recent, though. Since they had an altercation in public. Until then, I really felt they could keep it private. Maybe I should've stepped in sooner.
Detective Murphy: What altercation are you referring to?
Craig Pegues: Oh, there was some kind of nonsense between them at the community's 4th of July Celebration the other day.
Detective Parker: How did you find out about this incident?
Craig Pegues: My secretary told me about it.
Detective Murphy: Would you mind asking her to join us for a moment? I'd like her to tell us about it.
Craig Pegues: Sure. Let me just call her on the intercom. Shannon? Would you come in for a minute?
[SHANNON PETERSON ENTERED THE ROOM.]
Shannon Peterson: Can I get you folks something, Mr. Pegues?
Craig Pegues: Come on in, Shannon. The detectives want to talk to you. Detectives, this is my secretary, Shannon Peterson.
Detective Parker: Good morning, Ms. Peterson. There's nothing to be nervous about. We just want to ask you a couple of questions. First, could you state your name, address, and occupation for the record.
Shannon Peterson: It's Mrs. Peterson, Detective. Mrs. Shannon Peterson. I live at 598 North 14th Street, and I've been Mr. Pegues's secretary for the last eight years.
Detective Murphy: Mr. Pegues tells us you're the one who told him about the incident between Ms. Drum and Mr. Hughes on the 4th of July. How did you know about it?
Shannon Peterson: Like most things, I heard it through the office grapevine. Now, I'm not one for gossip, you understand, Detective. But this is a small office, and you just can't help but hear things.
Detective Parker: So how did this story get on the grapevine?
Shannon Peterson: Well, Shawn Sharp came in that day. A lot of people were off for the holiday, but the paper still has to go out, so some of us were here. Anyway, Shawn was just chomping at the bit to tell someone what he'd seen. He rushed right back and told the press guys all about it. That group, they just can't ever wait to talk ugly about somebody, especially someone here at the Eagle.
Detective Parker: And Mr. Sharp is?
Craig Pegues: Shawn's our sports editor.
Detective Parker: So Mrs. Peterson, you heard Mr. Sharp telling the story to the press guys?
Shannon Peterson: Of course not! I never go back to the press room if I can help it. It is filthy dirty back there!
Detective Parker: Okay, so how did you hear about the story Mr. Sharp told?
Shannon Peterson: Well, Kirk, he's one of the pressmen. He's been seeing Susan some. Susan's one of the other secretaries. So Kirk told Susan, and Susan told me. Like I said, Detective, I don't like to gossip. But after I heard the story, I just thought Mr. Pegues ought to know, so I told him.
Detective Parker: I see. Could you tell us the story you heard?
Shannon Peterson: Oh, Detective, I don't know. What with this being official and all, I don't want it on the record that I was passing on any nasty gossip.
Detective Parker: Don't worry, Mrs. Peterson. The record will reflect that we asked you to provide the information.
Shannon Peterson: Well, all right then. The way I heard it, Monica and Rick waiting for the fireworks to start, and somehow they got to arguing about something or other, which is nothing unusual. But apparently, it got bad when Monica told him he was stupid. Well, Rick didn't like that one bit, so he called her a name that I'm not going to repeat. Then they just kept on arguing, saying ugly things to each other and talking louder and louder. Finally, I guess Monica said something really hateful because Rick up and slapped her right across the face! After that, Monica stormed off, and Rick kind of slunk away when he realized everyone was looking at him. They caused quite a scene, right there in front of God and everybody.
Detective Murphy: Thank you, Mrs. Peterson. You've been very helpful. That's all we need for now.
Shannon Peterson: I'm glad I could help, Detective. It was terrible what happened to poor Monica!
Detective Parker: Yes, ma'am.
Shannon Peterson: Oh, about that list of the terminated employees? I'm still getting that information together, and I have to meet my husband for church, or I'd stay and finish it up for you now. Would it be all right if I email the list to you later today?
Detective Murphy: That'll be fine. Thank you for your time, Mrs. Peterson.
[SHANNON PETERSON LEFT THE ROOM.]
Detective Murphy: OK, Mr. Pegues. Does Mrs. Peterson's story of the courthouse incident match up with your recollection of what you heard before?
Craig Pegues: I believe so.
Detective Murphy: Did you talk to either Ms. Drum or Mr. Hughes about the incident after you heard about it?
Craig Pegues: No. I wanted to give them the holiday weekend, so they both had a chance to cool off and then I had to go out of town.
Detective Murphy: Have you spoken directly to any of the witnesses to that altercation?
Craig Pegues: I don't know who all was there, but it was quite a few from what I have heard about it. The only person I've talked to who was there is Shawn Sharp, our sports reporter.
Detective Murphy: Do you think his account of the incident is reliable?
Craig Pegues: I don't think he made it up if that's what you mean, but if it's anything like his reporting, you'd better check his facts. Sharp has a habit of starting his mouth before putting his brain in gear. We've had some trouble with him using the wrong information and not sourcing it or verifying facts.
Detective Murphy: How long have you had this problem with him?
Craig Pegues: Sharp started with us back in 2013, I think, and pretty soon after that we began to notice that the information in his articles didn't always check out.
Detective Murphy: That's a long time to keep an employee who isn't performing.
Craig Pegues: Don't get me wrong. He's not all bad. He writes very well, and the readers like him. It's just his fact-checking that's weak.
Detective Murphy: Ms. Drum was aware of this problem with Mr. Sharp?
Craig Pegues: Of course. In fact, she was about ready to fire him because she was tired of having to keep an eagle-eye on him, if you'll pardon the pun, but I wanted to give him until mid-August to show improvement—we have to have that situation resolved one way or another before football season starts—and she'd agreed to that.
Detective Parker: Do you know if Ms. Drum might have been seeing Mr. Sharp or anyone else in addition to Mr. Hughes?
Craig Pegues: She certainly wasn't seeing Sharp! She wasn't seeing anyone other than Rick that I am aware of.
Detective Parker: You've described Ms. Drum as a good friend. How close was your relationship?
Craig Pegues: I hope you aren't implying something here. Monica worked in a very responsible position, and yes, she was a good friend. We saw each other a lot at social functions and editorial conferences, but we had no outside relationship if that's what you mean.
Detective Parker: I wasn't trying to imply anything at all, Mr. Pegues, but we do have to ask. Now, we're almost finished here. Just a few more questions to wrap up.
Craig Pegues: Of course. I know you're just doing your job. Please go ahead.
Detective Parker: Do you know anything about the "Acquitted" headline that was taped to Ms. Drum's desk?
Craig Pegues: No, your people took it into evidence, and I haven't seen it yet. It's not something I am familiar with offhand, however.
Detective Parker: Do you know why Ms. Drum had a dollar bill taped to her computer?
Craig Pegues: No, I don't.
Detective Parker: We found 18 empty soda cans and 2 dirty coffee cups on and around Ms. Drum's desk. Was that typical?
Craig Pegues: Well, Monica's office tended to be quite a mess actually. The cans and cups could have been from that day or several days since she tended to clean up only once in a while. I have no idea if they were all hers, but it wouldn't surprise me. I had to stay on Monica about the way her office looked.
Detective Parker: Meaning?
Craig Pegues: Well, it wasn't very professional to have all kinds of trash and files and who-knows-what-all everywhere. In fact, just last week, I had the cleaning service go over her office from top to bottom to get it straightened up. I even had them shampoo the carpet. I was hoping that, if we could just get her office clean, she could keep it clean. Sounds like that plan wasn't working out too well.
Detective Parker: I guess not. Mr. Pegues, how did you find out about Ms. Drum's murder?
Craig Pegues: Ernie Parrish called me at home right after the police arrived.
Detective Murphy: Were you surprised to hear that Ms.Drum was at work so late?
Craig Pegues: Actually, no. She used to work that late and even later all the time. I kind of worried about that. Whenever I told her I was concerned, she would promise not to do it so much. But then it would start happening again. She always said there were enough people in and out that she would be fine. I think she thought she was invincible.
Detective Murphy: Do you think the murderer might have expected someone else to be in Ms. Drum's office?
Craig Pegues: Well, I wouldn't know, of course, but so many people come in and out at all times that I couldn't say. I think it's unlikely, though. Why would someone else be in Monica's office?
Detective Parker: Can you think of anyone who may have had a reason to want Ms. Drum dead?
Craig Pegues: No, she was a good person and an excellent employee. We'll miss her a lot. Whoever did this may have taken offense at something she published or said, but I can't think of anything she did that would be a reason for murder. She was brash and bold, but murder? I can't think of anything.
Detective Murphy: Thank you for your time, Mr. Pegues. We'd like to take a look at your employee files if that's okay.
Craig Pegues: You know, Detective, I don't have any problem with y'all looking at those files, but with the way folks file lawsuits at the drop of a hat these days, I sure would appreciate it if y'all would get a court order first.
Detective: I understand. That won't be a problem. I'll get an application to a judge today. We'll be in touch when we've got the order.
Craig Pegues: I appreciate that. And Detective? I hope you catch the son of a gun who did this. Monica was a good woman who didn't deserve to die like that.
Interview ended - 9:42 a.m.