Johnny McPhail interview
The detectives talked to Jonah Dale's cousin, who had a close relationship with Dale's daughter, Missy Hammond.
Monday, February 5, 2001 – 2:15 p.m.
Johnny McPhail was a close relative of Missy Hammond.
Detectives Armstrong and Murphy interviewed him at the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department. The interview was recorded with the witness's knowledge and consent.
- Detective T. Armstrong
- Detective S. Murphy
- Johnny McPhail
Detective Murphy: How are you today, Mr. McPhail?
Johnny McPhail: I sure been better.
Detective Murphy: Yes, I'm sorry. We'll try to get this over with as quickly as possible. You know how it goes. For the record, please state your name and address.
Johnny McPhail: Johnny McPhail. I live at 110 Pearidge Road.
Detective Murphy: Can you tell us your relationship to the victim, please?
Johnny McPhail: Well, officially, I'm her daddy's cousin. But, I was a lot closer to Missy than that. I was more like a father figure and a very close friend. Missy confided in me about most everything.
Detective Murphy: What do you mean?
Johnny McPhail: She asked my opinion on things, you know. That's why I say I was partly a father figure. She'd come to me and ask what she should do about this and that. But since I'm not really her daddy, I also heard a lot that she'd never tell to Jonah. She'd talk to me about boy problems or things like that. Stuff she didn't feel comfortable telling her father. She knew I'd been around a bit, so I wouldn't be surprised or shocked at nothing she told me.
Detective Murphy: I see.
Johnny McPhail: When Missy's mama ran off, Adele and me, we always tried to help Jonah out. We knew that he would struggle with having to raise a girl all by himself, so we made a special effort to try and help. We all used to go fishing down near Yocona together, me and Jonah and Missy. It's almost like she was my daughter or something.
Detective Murphy: I'm sure you're very upset over her death.
Johnny McPhail: Yeah, you could say that. What do you think? That beautiful young woman… killed that way. And what about Liddie? Bad enough that little girl was being raised without a daddy, but now? What's going to happen to her now?
Detective Armstrong: Can you tell us anything unusual that might have been going on in Missy's life? Was she worried about anything? Fighting with anyone? Just anything out of the ordinary.
Johnny McPhail: Well, she been dating that scumbag, JP Wallace. He's just common. And she'd finally realized that she wanted to break up with him but didn't quite know how to do it. I told her to just to tell him to go to blazes, but she wasn't that kind of person. She wanted to try and be nice about it. Plus, I think she was a little worried about him. You know, like he might get rough or something if he didn't get his way.
Detective Murphy: What was your advice on the situation?
Johnny McPhail: I told her to just to tell him over the phone. Be firm, and then hang up the phone. And then, if that boy caused her any trouble, I told her to call me about it. Someone needs to put that thug in his place anyway.
Detective Murphy: Do you know if she ever did tell Mr. Wallace she wanted to break up with him?
Johnny McPhail: No, I don't. Last time we talked about it, she was still working up the nerve. Even though she knew it was the right thing to do, she still had a little soft spot in her heart for him too. She had a big heart, that girl. And had a lot of heartache because of it.
Detective Armstrong: Sounds like there was plenty of heartache to go around. Was there anything else Missy was worried about?
Johnny McPhail: There was plenty else. Shoot, life ain't easy for a single mom. She had plenty of worries.
Detective Armstrong: Like what?
Johnny McPhail: She was always worryin' over separating Liddie from her daddy. She knew that Liddie wanted to see Roger, but she was scared about it. Some people in town say that Roger's done cleaned up some, and I hope he has. God bless 'em if he has, is the way I feel about it. But a mom can't take any chances.
Detective Armstrong: What do you mean?
Johnny McPhail: Missy had seen how he acted when he was all doped up, and even though he said he was clean, how could she trust him? So she worried about that. She was pretty wore out about that situation all the way around.
Detective Armstrong: Is that all that was worrying her?
Johnny McPhail: Not hardly. Liddie was starting school, and Missy was scared that the other kids would be mean to her. Divorce ain't that big of a deal nowadays, but Missy was still worried that the kids might pick on Liddie 'cause she didn't have a dad. And she also fretted over Liddie spending time with Roger's parents.
Detective Armstrong: That's right. If I understand it correctly, Missy allowed Liddie to see her paternal grandparents, even after Roger's visitation rights were revoked.
Johnny McPhail: Yeah. Liddie just loves the Hammonds. And although they always treated Missy like dirt, they just dote all over Liddie. So, even though Roger couldn't see the child anymore, Missy allowed his parents to continue to see her. And Missy worried about that.
Detective Armstrong: How so?
Johnny McPhail: What kind of effect would it have on Liddie? To be able to see her daddy's parents, but not her daddy? She was afraid of that. And she was worried that the Hammonds might talk bad about her to Liddie 'cause she knew they didn't like her much.
Detective Armstrong: It seems like Missy sure had a lot on her plate.
Johnny McPhail: It's just a shame. She really was such a sweet girl. She made some bad choices, you know. But she always handled things. I mean, a lot of people sure talked and looked down their noses when Missy got pregnant. But I'll tell you, I never seen a better mother. I was worried about the whole thing myself, but Missy really did do right by Liddie. So it's a shame she had so much worry and heartache in her life. One of the reasons she always talked to me was cause she was so worried about Jonah.
Detective Armstrong: Why is that?
Johnny McPhail: She wanted to make her daddy proud. And she wanted him to be happy. But she also knew that she had a tendency to make a few mistakes now and then, and that it tore her daddy up when she did. She always complained about her taste in men. How she always attracted these no-account boys who just pretended to be men. She always wanted to be able to call her daddy up and say that she was dating a doctor or a lawyer. A nice man who could provide for her and Liddie. But the reality was that she always took up with these good-for-nothings who drank too much or were all into dope and whatnot. I mean, I had my wild times, but a man's got to be responsible. She always felt like she was letting her daddy down when she ran around with that kind of trash.
Detective Murphy: You mention the men in her life. How about you tell us your impressions of them? What about JP Wallace?
Johnny McPhail: I think I already gave you my impression of him. He's common trash. Nothing more. Everybody knows he's a drug pusher. Doesn't do anything but sell dope and hang around bars all day. I used to see him up to Murff's. Besides always bein' drunk, he was always walking off with different people. Someone would come up to him, they'd whisper a bit, and then head back to the bathroom or outside. Pretty obvious what they were doing.
Detective Murphy: OK. And Roger Hammond? What's your impression of him?
Johnny McPhail: Roger could be OK. He never really focused on much of anything, so no one around town would give him a job but his parents. Everyone knew that he didn't know how to work hard at nothing. But still he was a decent kid, even if he was a bit lazy. All of us in the family knew that Roger's daddy kind of twisted his arm into marrying Missy when she got pregnant, but he did actually go through with it.
Detective Armstrong: So what happened?
Johnny McPhail: Then he got into them drugs, and he just went crazy. Got violent at times. Got real shifty. You couldn't trust him for nothing when he was stoned. That's when Missy left him. Felt like she had to do it for Liddie. Like I said, some people say Roger's cleaned up now. And I hope and pray for Liddie's sake he has. But I ain't about to put down any money on him.
Detective Murphy: What about her next-door neighbor, Kevin Travers? Do you know him?
Johnny McPhail: He seems like a real nice guy. I met him on a couple occasions at Missy's house. He was planning on being an artist. I don't see how he planned to make a living doing that. Nice guy anyway.
Detective Murphy: Was there ever any type of romantic relationship between Kevin and Missy?
Johnny McPhail: Nah. I think he wanted there to be, but she was never interested in him like that. He was too quiet for her. I think she felt a little bad about him.
Detective Murphy: Why?
Johnny McPhail: She knew he was interested. She liked him but as a friend, and she sure appreciated everything he did for her, but she just wasn't keen on him. She felt bad because she knew how much Kevin liked her.
Detective Murphy: OK. We've heard she used to have a relationship with a Steve Kirby. What is he like?
Johnny McPhail: That was her high school boyfriend. A real nice kid.
Detective Murphy: Why did they break up?
Johnny McPhail: He cheated on her. He got a little jealous 'cause Missy got an awful lot of attention from different boys. You know how insecure kids can be at that age. So he wanted to show her how it felt and he went out with this girl from Water Valley. I don't think much really happened, but Missy found out about it and she was livid. She broke up with him and that was it.
Detective Murphy: They never got back together after that?
Johnny McPhail: He begged her to come back, but she wouldn't. They tried to get back together a few times, but it never really held. She always said that she couldn't trust him anymore after what he'd done. Myself, I didn't think it was that big of a deal. Typical high school melodrama. But Missy wouldn't hear any different.
Detective Armstrong: So you think he really cared for her?
Johnny McPhail: Oh yes. No doubt about that. He treated her a heck of a lot better than most of these guys she runs around with. He definitely loved her. I always kind of felt sorry for him. He knew that he had fouled up and ruined their relationship, and I know he regretted it. That's tough on a man.
Detective Armstrong: Did Steve and Missy talk any? I mean, recently?
Johnny McPhail: Well, they talked some. You know, first loves and all that. He called her occasionally.
Detective Armstrong: Do you know what they talked about?
Johnny McPhail: Just the usual stuff, I suppose. He's got a wife now, I hear.
Detective Armstrong: Nothing more than that? Married man calls his high school girlfriend, but there's nothing to it?
Johnny McPhail: You'd have to ask him that.
Detective Armstrong: But Missy didn't tell you anything?
Johnny McPhail: OK, look, she mentioned that he was a little unhappy with his marriage. Seemed like the shine had worn off a bit. But that happens to everyone, right?
Detective Armstrong: Did Steve want to get back together with Missy?
Johnny McPhail: I'm not sure. I mean, they talked about it, I guess. But I'm sure there wasn't anything to it.
Detective Armstrong: What do you mean?
Johnny McPhail: I'm sure it was all talk. He's married.
Detective Murphy: So what was Missy's opinion on the matter?
Johnny McPhail: I don't know. She wasn't happy with JP or anyone else. It seemed like every other man was just such a jerk to her. Maybe she did look back on her time with Steve as something good. But, hey, that doesn't mean anything was going on. That's just being sentimental. Nothing wrong with that. Plus, even if she wanted Steve back, he's married. She's got a child. There were all kinds of complications. So I doubt there was much to it.
Detective Murphy: Do you know where things stood with Steve at the time of Missy's death?
Johnny McPhail: No. But like I said, I doubt there was much to it anyway.
Detective Armstrong: Johnny, you been spending much time with Liddie since all this happened?
Johnny McPhail: Every minute we can. The poor kid is having a hard time. Between me and Adele and Jonah, one of us is with her all the time.
Detective Armstrong: How's she doing with all this? Has she said anything about what happened with her mama? Anything we should know about?
Johnny McPhail: Not so far. To tell you the truth, she still isn't talking much. And if anyone even mentions Missy, she gets real quiet. I'm worried about her. I'm real glad she's been talking to that shrink y'all set her up with. I hope she'll get a little comfort from that. Y'all are going to want to talk to her soon, aren't you?
Detective Armstrong: Yes. We really need to, Johnny. We need to see if we can't find out what happened at the house that night.
Johnny McPhail: I know. I know you need to. We appreciate y'all giving her a little time, but I know you gotta talk to her. You gonna do that soon?
Detective Armstrong: Tomorrow.
Johnny McPhail: Tomorrow, huh? Well, take it easy on her, OK? She's just a little girl.
Detective Armstrong: Don't worry. We'll be as gentle with her as if she was one of my own grandkids.
Johnny McPhail: Thanks, Ted. 'Preciate it.
Detective Murphy: OK. Well, that's about all the questions we have at this time. As always, thanks for your help, and we'll be in touch if we have any more questions.
Johnny McPhail: Anything you need from me, you just let me know. Anything.
Detective Armstrong: Thanks, Johnny. We're working hard to solve this thing. And I know we can count on you.
End interview – 2:57 p.m.