Mae Beth Jefferson eased her late model sedan slowly down the dark country road. She had driven west from Chicago for over an hour, avoiding the expressways—she couldn’t risk being stopped by the police.
Miles of farmland were on each side of the road, crops plowed under for the winter. It was bitter cold and her headlights picked up occasional flakes of glistening white snow. She had no idea where she was.
The man slumped awkwardly in the front seat beside her moaned softly and it startled her. She knew he was there of course—she had shot him an hour earlier as they sat parked at the edge of Chicago’s Douglas Park. This would be the end of his journey.
Mae pulled the car onto the frozen shoulder, walked around and opened the passenger door. The man was quiet now as she tugged on his arm. He didn’t budge. Leaving the door open, she returned to the driver’s side and pushed, still there was very little movement. She glanced nervously up and down the deserted road; her white nurse’s uniform contrasting with the surrounding night. No one was in sight.
She seated herself in the driver’s seat, braced her back against the door and her feet against the body and pushed with all her strength. He tumbled silently out the door onto the solid cold ground. She went back around the car to close the passenger door, but the body was blocking it so she pulled the car ahead a few feet and finally got the door closed. For a final time, she returned to the driver’s seat and proceeded slowly down the road.
Mae Beth was an intelligent and educated woman. A licensed registered nurse no less. Where others may have struggled with the curriculum, things came easy to her. With little effort she had graduated, passed the state license exam, and took a job at a local hospital on Chicago’s west side.
Her supervisors would tell you that she was a pleasant woman and an eager worker, but she needed close supervision. She was just shy of being the complete package and the element that was missing was common sense, a flaw that would stalk her relentlessly over the next 48 hours.
Twenty-four hours later Mike and I were cruising the west side when we were paged to call our office. We found an outdoor public phone and I stood shivering in the cold as I spoke to our sergeant.
“Padar, Shull… you guys have a homicide, one in custody, now at the Kane County Sheriff’s office.”
“Kane County?” For chrissake how can that be ours?”
“It’s ours and now it’s yours.”
“Where’s the body?” I asked.
“Kane County Coroner’s Office.”
“Wait!” I yelled into the frozen phone. “There’s a homicide in Kane County, and a victim, and an offender, all in Kane County and it’s ours?”
“That’s right,” replied the sergeant. “Call me when you get out there.” He hung up the phone.
Mike was incredulous.
“How in the hell can that be ours?”
I don’t have the faintest idea,” I said. “But do you want to call the sergeant back and argue?”
Silence… both Mike and I knew that would be a lose-lose scenario.
We stopped at the 012th District and called Kane County for detailed directions on how to get there. Less than an hour later we walked into the sheriff’s office.
The Chief Deputy ran it down for us—
Early that morning a local farmer found a partially frozen body along a county highway. Examination showed the man had died from a single gunshot wound to the abdomen. A wallet on the body tentatively ID’d him as Deshawn Carter. They were waiting fingerprint confirmation but a name check showed that he had a record in Chicago for Battery and Burglary as well as several arrests for Disorderly Conduct.
“So you had a mystery,” Mike interjected.
“Yep, a stone cold who-done-it with no leads, but that changed fairly quickly. The little lady in there…” he nodded toward an interrogation room, “…started calling local hospitals out here inquiring about a Deshawn Carter. One of the nurses recognized the name as the homicide DOA from this morning and she had the lady on the phone call our office.”
“And she did?” I asked in amazement. “Who is she?”
“She claims to be Deshawn’s girlfriend. Her name is Mae Beth Jefferson and she’s an R.N. at one of your local hospitals. But she was evasive when we asked why she was calling out here… so we sent a couple of our guys into the city to talk to her. They sweet-talked her into coming back here to ID the body.”
“And so now, you not only had a lead, you had a hot suspect.” I said smiling. I always liked it when a mystery began to unravel.
“Sure did, and when she saw the body she broke down and admitted to shooting him during an altercation, driving him out here and dumping the body, although she claims he was alive when she dumped him at the side of the road.”
“So let me get this straight,” Mike said as pleasantly as possible. “You’ve got the body, you’ve got the offender and you’ve got a confession and you want to turn it all over to us?”
“Well… he was shot in Chicago…”
“Yeah but he was transported to Kane County… hell he might have even died in Kane County, but regardless, the venue for prosecution lies anywhere along the path of the body.”
“But the real crime scene is the car and that’s back in Chicago,” said the Kane County Chief Deputy. “And there’s one other thing… our Assistant State’s Attorney talked to your Assistant State’s Attorney and they agreed that you should take it just from a logistical point of view.”
That was the trump card—I knew this would be our case.
“Just one more thing,” I said. “She’s in custody in Kane County. We’ll have to bring her before a judge to get an order permitting us to take her back to Cook County.”
“Ah, but she’s not in custody.” said the Chief Deputy. “We haven’t charged her. There’s a possible element of self-defense and the investigation is ongoing. She’s free to go, but we brought her out here and I’ll bet she’d really appreciate a ride back to the city.” He was smiling broadly now.
“Let us call our Assistant Sates Attorney.” Mike said.
A quick call to our Felony Review Assistant State’s Attorney confirmed he was up to date on the case.
“Look,” he said. “Tell her she’s free to go—make sure the Chief Deputy and your partner are in the room when you tell her. Then offer her a ride back to the city. She’ll go for it—they tell me she’s as dumb as a box of rocks. Then suggest she come back to the homicide office to talk to me and clarify a few things.”
“And if she insists on going home?” I asked
“Then take her home. We’ll pick her up tomorrow morning… but if that happens, and I don’t think it will, we’ll have to post a car on her vehicle until the mobile crime lab can process it.”
And so it came to pass that Mae Beth, Mike and I found ourselves in an unmarked squad heading back into Chicago. She chatted amiably—she was indeed intelligent and educated.
She jumped at the chance to accompany us to our office to tell the Felony Review ASA her story. She really wanted to straighten the whole mess out.
At the Maxwell Street Homicide office Mae was Mirandized in writing in the presence of the ASA. She told her story willingly and without hesitation, but when the ASA asked if she would give a formal written statement to a court reporter she was thrown for a moment.
“That would make me very nervous.” she said. “Can’t I just write it out for you in my own words?”
The ASA, Mike and I stared at one another for a moment. Neither Mike nor I had ever taken a handwritten statement.
“That’ll work,” said the ASA after a brief pause. “Let’s get you some paper.”
Pads of lined paper were not to be had in our office, but the ASA managed to dig one out of the bottom of his briefcase.
Mae Beth Jefferson began to write in earnest as we watched from a distance in the squad room.
“Let’s see what she comes up with,” said the ASA. “We can always go back to a formal court reporter statement if we need to.”
Mae wrote for nearly an hour and the results were nothing less than eloquent… and incriminating.
She wrote of a relationship that was “steeped in passion but punctuated with tumultuous tirades.” On the day of the incident Deshawn had called her at work and asked to see her. She took a break from her duties and met him in the park where her car was nearby. They sat in her car and the conversation became “…intense and irrational and thusly a scuffle ensued.” Mae had a .25 caliber automatic in the side pocket of the driver’s door. She shot Deshawn once in the stomach. She returned to work briefly and asked to be excused for the rest of her shift. Then she went back to her car and drove Deshawn to a “dark and desolate road” where she “pushed him out of the car into the stygian night and hoped he would get help in time.”
Mae had written an elegant essay of murder and she appeared pleased with her composition, but would it stand on its own as a confession for court? It was detailed, but if it had been a Q & A court reporter statement, there were items that would have been clarified:
What was the exact nature of the “scuffle?”
Why didn’t she seek help at the hospital less than 100 yards away?
How did she expect him to get help on the dark and desolate road in the ”stygian” night?
A copy of the hand written statement was FAX’d to the Chief of the Felony Review Unit. It was now well past midnight and while he was not thrilled with being awakened he studied the document carefully. Ultimately it was decided that the raw power of a coherently hand written statement would carry more weight in court than a sterile typewritten page transcribed by a court reporter. Mae Beth Jefferson was charged with murder and sent to the women’s lockup.
The bond court judge initially set a very high bond in spite of the fact that Mae had no previous record. Later, her attorney petitioned for a reduction in bond which was granted, but she was still unable to make bail.
Months later as a trial date was being discussed, a negotiated plea was suggested. The defense attorney felt he would be unable to surmount the fact that Mae had driven Deshawn over 50 miles and dumped his body on a deserted road, believing he was still alive.
Mae ultimately pled guilty to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter in return for an indeterminate sentence at the bottom of the sliding scale. She would do penitentiary time, but as a relatively young woman she would be out with time to rebuild her life.
Over the next several years, Mike and I would often lift a phrase from Mae’s handwritten statement. When writing a case narrative recounting an altercation, we would begin the paragraph with…
“Thusly a scuffle ensued.”