The Thanksgiving Weekend Murder Of Janina Jefferson & The Fugitive Who Remains At Large
Ex-con Eric Jones, 49, is wanted for killing his ex-wife in 2016; help us find him now!
APPALACHIA, VA — To support the three children who were the center of her life, 38-year-old single mom Janina Jefferson worked multiple jobs, including a daily 4 P.M. to midnight shift at the water plant in the Virginia town of Appalachia.
On November 27, 2016, the water plant was also where Janina Jefferson’s life ended. On that evening, police say, Janina’s ex-husband, Eric Jones, allegedly shot her to death while she headed in to work. It was the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. Since then, Eric Jones has been on the run.
Brieann Lomax, Jefferson’s daughter, remembers her mom glowingly, telling In Pursuit With John Walsh, “She was a selfless person. She was always wanting to help others. She was the light of my life.”
Crystal Lyke, Jefferson’s best friend, concurred and said, “Janina was very well-liked in the community. She was extremely loyal. You could trust her pretty much with anything. She loved her children, she put her children first.”
As part of that devotion, Jefferson took the water plant gig, even though its conditions put off some of those who knew her. The facility is described as being located deep in the woods with only a single long, dark, twisty road leading up to and away from it.
Still, Lomax said her mom appreciated the plant, stating, “She really liked it up there actually, which is weird — I don’t see how. It was dark up there and creepy. It would be kind of spooky up there. She was tough. Personally, I couldn’t do it.”
That toughness had reportedly also had to come in to play during Jefferson’s tumultuous relationship with Eric Jones.
Jefferson met Jones in 2013. He was the son of a local preacher, a former drug abuser, and he had just been freed from jail after doing five years for a horrifying crime.
In 1998, according to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, a female drug dealer paid Jones in crack cocaine to set a local house on fire and make sure it burned to the ground. At the time that Jones set the residence ablaze, the police said, a mother and two young children were still inside. Fortunately, the occupants made it out alive.
Two months later, authorities captured Jones in Texas. He was convicted of attempted murder, served five years of a 15-year sentence, and got released.
After doing his time, Jones had seemed to turn his life around. In fact, when Jones was dating Jefferson, people really came to like him, including her family.
Initially, Lomax said, “I thought he was good for mom. To see her finally find someone, I was happy for her. I felt like we finally have a family. It was like were complete here.
Best friend Crystal Lyke, however, felt trepidation early on, noting, “I remember the conversation well, because she’s like, ‘Well, he had just gotten out of prison.’”
For the first year of his relationship, Jones was reportedly quiet, thoughtful, and caring. He was also sober. That apparently changed, however, after the couple got married in 2014. As Lyke put it, “He started drinking, [and] that was a different story. He was Jekyll and Hyde.”
One serious red flag went up at a Fourth of July barbecue in 2016. Lomax recalls Jones getting extremely drunk, taking out a handgun, and firing it four times into the air. She said it caused terror and chaos, stating, “There were kids running around everywhere. And their ears are just ringing and stuff…. He was just a different person. It was like the old him coming out.”
Jefferson split from Jones shortly after the handgun incident, and the couple was reportedly off and on for a while. Once Jefferson filed for divorce, though, Jones turned violent, confronting her at the water plant.
Lyke said, “He slammed her against a shelf and was like choking her. She pushed him off of her and was like, ‘You need to leave.’”
Police officers responded and took Jones into custody. Jefferson also filed a protective order against him.
As Sergeant Duane Phillips with the Wise County Sheriff’s Office told In Pursuit, “They responded up here. They see that she had strangulation marks, and where he had hit her. So, they had secured warrants against Eric Jones for the strangulation and domestic assault, and they arrested him on those charges.”
Authorities say Jones was bonded out and moved in with his mother, the preacher.
Phillips also said of Jefferson after the assault, “She was scared of Eric. Unsure of what he would do. You look at his past, you know — he tried to kill a lady and her two children.”
Lyke echoes that sentiment, saying, “She did start seeing working at the water plant dangerous. She was worried working up there by herself at nighttime. She was truly fearing for her life.”
On the night the murder, a friend of Jefferson’s couldn’t get in touch with her, and she asked police to do a safety check.
Phillips told In Pursuit he remembers it being dark and cloudy as he traversed the daunting path to the water plant. Upon arriving, he saw the worst possible outcome, saying, “She was lying in the middle of the parking lot. She was shot several times; one of them being executioner-style standing directly over top of her, while she was on the ground.”
Jefferson was dead and her truck was missing. Officers quickly located the vehicle at the home of Eric Jones’s mother in Big Stone Gap. Eric Jones, however, was nowhere to be found.
Investigators say someone drove Jones to the water plant, and he hid out there until Jefferson showed up for work. Phillips said, “When she pulled in, he ambushed her, shot her multiple times. She would not have seen him until the last second.”
Authorities say Jones took off in Jefferson’s work truck, ditched it at his mom’s, and then got a lift to a local convenience store, where he appeared on security video purchasing alcohol and cigarettes. He has not been seen since then.
In Pursuit with John Walsh spoke with Deputy U.S. Marshal Jim Satterwhite about the case. He said that Seth Rowland, whose mother was married to Jones in the 1990s, was the one who drove the suspect to the water plant, and then dropped him off later at the home of another relative.
After that, Satterwhite said, “Seth Rowland told us that Eric admitted to him that he’d killed Ms. Jefferson.” Rowland has since been convicted for his role as accessory to murder.
As for Jones, Satterwhite says, “There’s a very violent man out there. We’re going to work this case until we find him, one way or other. We will never close interest in this case. But at the moment, we don’t have any solid leads.”
Lomax misses her mom profoundly, saying, “Just thinking about her not being here makes me sick…. I need my mom. For him to be out there, it scares me honestly … I have nightmares about him all the time. If he was caught, I would feel better. I feel like I could just focus on thinking about mom resting easy and not worry about him being out there still.”
Jones is charged with capital murder. Investigators say it is possible he could be hiding out in a big city and he should be considered dangerous.
TRAITS & CHARACTERISTICS:
- Weight: 175 pounds
- Height: 5 feet 7 inches
- Sex: Male
- Race: Black
- Hair: Black, clean shaven
- Eyes: Brown
- Current age: 49
- Date of birth: August 10, 1970
- Known to drink alcohol, especially beer, heavily and use drugs
- Loves to watch The Walking Dead
- Described as a "charismatic chameleon"
- Grew up in a very religious family
If you know anything about this case, please contact our hotline (833-3-PURSUE) or submit a tip online.
For more on this case, watch the “Murder in Appalachia” episode of In Pursuit With John Walsh on Wednesday, March 27 at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery! Or catch up on ID GO.