Suspect Arrested in 28-Year-Old ‘Labor Day Murders’ Cold Case

Mississippi authorities say DNA led to an arrest in the 1990 Labor Day killing of 65-year-old Betty Jones and rape of 81-year-old Kathryn Crigler. Michael Wayne Devaughn, 52, was charged with capital murder and sexual battery in connection with the case.

On the evening of September 3, 1990, Betty Jones was at the Starkville home of her long-time friend Kathryn Crigler. Crigler, who had one leg amputated, relied on Jones to help her get ready for bed. The women heard a knock at the door, and when Jones opened it, her attacker slit her throat, killing her almost immediately. The man then proceeded to the back room where Crigler was waiting and raped her before fleeing the home and locking the door behind him. Injured, Crigler was able to pull herself through the apartment and phone police, who took her to the hospital and collected a rape kit. Crigler died from her injuries two months later. Since DNA testing in rape and murder cases was not widely used in 1990, the evidence was stored. As technology has advanced, authorities were hopeful they would finally get answers.

Starkville police Sgt. Bill Lott said, “The science has allowed us to get to where we are today.” Lott had been working the case in his spare time since 2004 and requested a DNA evaluation of the evidence in 2005. In total, investigators tested the DNA from nearly 60 people. With the help of genealogy database Parabon NanoLabs, police were able to narrow down their suspect pool and arrest Devaughn.

Devaughn is being held on an $11 million bond in Mississippi, and the District Attorney stated he will prosecute a capital case “to the full extent of the law, as fast as we possibly can.”

This case is the latest in what is becoming a common theme: using forensic genealogy to solve murders. Parabon NanoLabs is no stranger to helping solve crimes; before genealogy, they were focused on using DNA to predict what an unknown suspect might look like — a process called phenotyping. They began expanding their research and working with renowned genealogist CeCe Moore after the arrest of the Golden State Killer. Since then, Parabon has been part of a number of high-profile cases, helping authorities use DNA and genealogy to catch killers.