by Matthew King // Photography by Jamison Mosley
Janie Jones is an Arkansas native, raised in and once again resides in Faulkner County. Jones, an author, has spent the last 20 years writing feature articles for local publications, most notably Jones is the magazine’s favorite writer of murder mysteries.
“I am a wife. I’m a writer, and I’m the mother of four little furry four-footed friends,” Jones says. “I’m an inquisitive person and curious. I think that’s what keeps me going sometimes, that curiosity.”
That curiosity has fed Jones’ taste for the obscure and unknown, having been inspired by works like Walter Cronkite’s coverage of the Boston Strangler and Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” But despite her love for mystery, Jones’ first published piece was about her dog Sylvie’s journey as a therapy animal at the Humane Society of Faulkner County.
“That became the subject of my first article of the River Valley and Ozark edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,” says Jones. “They were looking for feature writers, freelancers, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be a great article to do one about Sylvie and the pet therapy program?’”
She continued to write human-interest pieces for the next few years and co-wrote a book with her husband, Wyatt Jones, that was published in 2003 titled, “Hiking Arkansas: Nature Walks and Day Hikes.” But her curiosity for the more mysterious, darker side of Arkansas was still very much alive.
“We were crazy,” Jones says. “We would stroll around Hastings Entertainment to see if anybody was buying our book. When we were in the regional section, the Arkansas section there, I noticed a little book.”
Jones could not recall the title but says it was a picture book featuring towns along Highway 67. On one page was the Broadway Hotel in Prescott with a description that made mention of a mysterious murder there in 1997. Having spent time in Prescott as a child, she began digging for information about the case.
“I had lived in Prescott when I was a little girl, and it was like paradise to a kid. It was the happiest time of my life. I saw this book had a picture of the Broadway Hotel in Prescott, and it said there had been a murder there. That so intrigued me,” she says.
While Jones was researching the mysterious case, she was contacted by AY magazine and asked if she wanted to write a story for the magazine’s Murder Mystery series. “I ended up writing the first article about that murder,” she says.
After writing the Broadway Hotel story, titled “Who Killed Chester Hooker?” in March 2006, AY reached out to Jones again to see if she would write another story about a murder, this time in northeast Arkansas. Jones just so happened to already have the newspaper clipping they needed for the piece.
“Mandy Tusing,” Jones says. “She was just a young lady. She was killed in the year 2000, and it’s still a mystery. They still don’t know who did it.”
Tusing disappeared on June 14, 2000, while driving to her family’s home in Dell from her fiancé’s apartment in Jonesboro. Her body was found four days later floating in Big Bay Ditch, off Arkansas Highway 135, near Lake City. Jones had the opportunity to speak to the victim’s mother during her research. And it’s this case, she says, that continues to haunt her.
Since writing her first few stories for AY in 2006, Jones co-wrote with her husband and released “Arkansas Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff” in 2010. She continues to write AY’s murder mysteries, which has her chasing down a number of dark Arkansas stories, reviewing court cases and calling up detectives. Over the last decade, Jones has written about dozens of Arkansas murder cases, many of which went unsolved. But her favorite Arkansas murder case of all time is that of Red Hall.
“My friend kept saying, ‘Why don’t you write about Red Hall?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know who Red Hall is.’ There was nothing online about Red Hall, and she couldn’t remember very much,” Jones says.
Her friend recalled local children pretending to be Red Hall sometime during the 1940s, but couldn’t recall much more. Her search took her online where she found an antique bookseller in New Jersey, named Patterson Smith, who specialized in true crime.
“He has books, articles, magazine articles, newspaper articles, everything about true crime,” Jones says. “Because I was able to give him sort of a timeline, he came up with several articles about Hall.”
Jones also found exclusive interviews with the suspect from an Arkansas Gazette reporter and pulled a number of relevant documents from various libraries.
“Research is my favorite part,” she says. “As I said, when I began there was nothing on the internet. When it came out in AY, I started seeing his story pop up.”
The killer’s real name was James Waybern Hall, and his first known murder dated back to 1938. He was then known as the “Hitchhiker Killer from Arkansas” and claimed to have killed 24 people across the United States.
Jones decided to put the story of Hall in a book after her article was published, and she’s working on getting the book published and onto bookshelves. And, as always, Jones is knee-deep in research for the next installment of AY’s murder mysteries. What will she uncover next?