Justice still unserved in two 10-year-old cases

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

Ten years later, two Yazoo families are still seeking answers.


Hezzie Copeland
 
Many residents have come and gone at Lintonia Apartments, an otherwise quiet apartment complex for senior citizens in Yazoo City, over the last decade. 
Some tenants are replaced with new ones. Others have found their niche and remained within the Ninth Street complex. Maintenance has continued as usual, and renovations have been sporadic over the years. 
But even though the new paint inside one particular apartment has long since dried, the questions about what happened inside ten years ago remain unanswered. 
It was inside that apartment home on Nov. 5, 2007 that the body of Hezzie Copeland was discovered with a laceration to his throat. It was a case that sent the quiet neighborhood into a panic. It was an incident that still haunts the law enforcement officers who responded to the scene. 
And it is a case that remains unsolved. 
“I regret that we couldn’t solve that case,” said former police chief Eric Snow. “I hate it for the family. It’s disappointing because I took pride in my tenure on how we worked our cases. I had a good group of officers, but we never could reach anything solid.”
Copeland, who was 69 years old when he was murdered, was a quiet man who kept to himself. He rarely left his apartment, especially after dark. But he would occasionally walk his neighborhood, maybe even take a fishing trip in from time to time. 
But he was last seen around 4 p.m. the afternoon before his body was discovered. 
It was a crime scene Snow never forget. 
“It was gruesome,” Snow said. “I remember it well.”
Perhaps it was the condition of the scene that prompted Snow to contact the Mississippi State Crime Lab. 
“When we arrived at the scene, I made the choice to call the Crime Lab,” Snow said. “I admit I was uneasy about it when a team from North Mississippi was sent and not our regular team that we had worked with before.”
One thing Snow believed was that Copeland knew his attacker. 
“He never let anyone in after dark,” Snow said. “But there was no forced entry.”
As the investigation of the scene continued, Snow noticed a disturbing sight upon the wall adjacent to the dining room.
“There was a bloody fingerprint on the wall,” Snow said. “It appeared to be a clear print. I didn’t want to mess with it because I wanted it to remain clear. With the state crime lab specializing in these type of things, I handed it over to them.”
Sam Howell, with the Mississippi State Crime Lab, said his department retrieved both a finger and palm print. 
“But we were unable to make an identification on the print,” Howell said, after checking his database that spans all the way back to the year 2000. 
Howell said the state delivered bloodwork reports on Feb. 14, 2008. He said print reports followed on Feb. 25, 2008. 
The case was at a standstill, but Snow said he couldn’t close the books just yet. 
“Our interviews led nowhere,” Snow said. “We just didn’t have a whole lot to go on. But we did have a few leads that we stayed on.”
Snow said there were rumors of a female who would frequently visit Copeland, particularly at night. But even after a lie detector test, nothing was solid. 
“We also thought we had a good suspect in mind  when a man found Copeland’s wallet by the old Compress,” Snow said. “Something struck me about the whole thing. But his statement checked out, and we couldn’t connect anything.”
The case stuck with Snow as he continued his tenure at the Yazoo City Police Department. So much so that he checked the case file a few years later. 
“We moved all our evidence into a back room and started everything over,” Snow said. “We started comparing notes, conducting interviews again. Everything was on a giant bulletin board, and we went over everything to see if we missed something.”
But Snow said nothing panned out. 
“We kept coming up with dead ends,” he said. 
Ten years later, Snow remembers the case. He has been retired from the force for years, but that case remains with him. 
“I wish we could have solved it,” Snow said. “We did everything we could, but nothing added up. I regret it.”
Perhaps investigators will ever know what happened to Copeland that November night ten years ago. But with a murder that shook the community, it’s hard to forget. 
Life continued within Lintonia Apartments. Days passed into weeks, months and years. 
But the question remains. 
What happened to Hezzie Copeland?
 
J.C. Edwards
 
Two men reported seeing an elderly black man walking along the road about 30 miles outside of the quiet town of Holly Bluff in November of 2007. 
Other reports began coming in about the mysterious walker, although it was unclear if anyone attempted to talk to him. 
Little did many know that it could have been J.C. Edwards, a lifelong farmer with the early stages of Alzheimer's who was reported missing from his home on Nov. 4, 2007.
Edwards’ disappearance was considered a missing person case at first, with authorities assuming that either he’d wandered off and suffered a medical issue or couldn’t find his way home. Investigators later began to suspect foul play, but what really happened on the morning of Nov. 5, 2007 remains unclear.
Ten years later, Edwards has never been found. The story slowly slipped under the radar as the years passed. 
But for Margarite Owens, she still carries a void and a desire for closure about what happened to her father. 
“My Daddy” is the first thing Owens says when the case of missing father is even mentioned. 
“We want to get closure,” Owens said. “We  have been asking for years. Nobody is talking. Nobody says anything. It just hurts us because somebody knows something.”
Edwards was 78 years old the night he disappeared. Dealing with the grief of his wife passing the year before, he was showing signs of Alzheimer’s. 
Edwards had been a farmer his whole life, and he was a familiar face within the rural community of Holly Bluff. 
Edwards was seen a few hours before he was reported missing. When one family member fell asleep on his couch around 2 a.m. that morning, he was safe inside his home. 
Four hours later, he was gone. 
The Yazoo County Sheriff’s Department began an immediate search for the elderly man. The Mississippi Highway Patrol brought in a helicopter to scan the area. Men on four-wheelers were on patrol. Canine units were brought in. 
There was no trace of Edwards, who was last seen in a blue shirt, blue jeans and green hat. 
Edwards would often walk near his home at night from time to time, but he would always return. 
As the search continued, Edwards’ family offered a $2,500 reward for information. Still the case generated few leads.
And as time passed, a new administration took over the Yazoo County Sheriff’s Department with the arrival of Sheriff Tommy Vaughan. 
Owens said she was assured the search would continue. But she remained frustrated as nothing came to light. 
“Holly Bluff is a little town,” she said. “Everybody knows everything that happens around there. It’s hard for me to believe that somebody doesn’t know something. You just don’t disappear.”
Dennis Moulder, who formerly served as chief investigator for the Yazoo County Sheriff’s Department, was contacted by the Edwards family to keep the case going. 
“I was asked by the family to review the case,” Moulder said. “I checked out leads, stories even rumors. But nothing panned out.”
Moulder said he felt for the family as they begged for answers, for closure. 
“It is such a sad situation because it seemed like he just disappeared,” Moulder said. “I know the family wanted closure, and I tried everything. But I just couldn’t find any physical evidence.”
With experience in the field, Moulder said time is crucial with missing cases. Time may have been the enemy in this case. 
“It’s always the first 48 hours,” he said. “I think too much time had passed, and nothing was fresh. I feel for this family. They are great people. I would have loved to have given them closure.”
Ten years have passed, and Edwards has still not been found. But for his family, he has never been forgotten.
“Ten years…we remember,” Owens said. “Not a day or night goes by that I don’t outside and talk to the Lord. I tell Him, ‘I know it’s been ten years, but Lord if he is still walking, let him walk to me and come home. But if he’s not, reveal it. Give us closure.’”
Owens said she has made contact with the current sheriff, Jacob Sheriff. 
“He has told me he would not let this go,” she said. “He told me he wants to find out what happened.”
Owens said Edwards was a loving father, always looking out for his family, his five daughters and eight sons. 
“He would look out for his girls,” Owens said. “We would come to our house and pretend to get water out of the fridge. But he was really seeing if we all had enough food.”
Owens said she has faith in finding her father or at least what happened to him. 
“We wouldn’t have made it this far without the Lord on our side,” she said. “It has been hard, and we want closure.”