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Man charged in Russellville cold case was Tanglewood murder suspect

March 1, 2020 at 12:12 a.m. | Updated March 1, 2020 at 12:12 a.m.

A Fulton man charged Thursday in connection with the 1991 death of a Russellville area teenager was also a suspect in an unsolved 2005 murder in Fulton.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Cole County Prosecutor Locke Thompson announced William Christopher Niemet, 43, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Greg Jones, 14.

Authorities said Jones was initially reported missing April 24, 1991, and his remains were discovered June 8, 1991, by a neighbor in a drainage ditch between Route D and Stringtown Road. Thompson said Jones died from two bullet wounds to the head.

But in 2005, Niemet was under scrutiny for a different case: the murder of 29-year-old Shawnda Reed in her Fulton home on Tanglewood Way. According to Police Chief Steve Myers, a neighbor called police to the house one morning in June 2015 after two of Reed's three young children found her unresponsive in her bed. She had been shot in the neck.

"We've never closed that case," Myers said Friday morning. "We've had leads coming in, yes, throughout the time period between now and then. There were a lot of people at the time who were people of interest, and we haven't really eliminated anyone."

He said the case's details - especially the fact her children were in the home at the time - make it stand out in his memory.

"We'd like to get closure for all the family," he said. "We're going to meet with Cole County and compare notes, see if there's anything that may be advantageous in our investigation."

The Fulton Police Department and other investigative agencies have followed up on hundreds of potential leads in the 15 years since Reed's death, according to Myers and previous coverage. Despite the work of "some of the best detectives in Mid-Missouri," there has never been a conviction in the case.

"Every so often, we've tried to bring this case back to light," Myers said. "If anyone remembers something from back then, or has any further information, please contact either CrimeStoppers or the Fulton Police Department. I think, eventually, it will be solved."

CrimeStoppers can be reached at 573-592-2474 and the Fulton Police Department at 573-592-3100.

1991 case

Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler said the arrest and charging of Niemet in the Russellville case resulted from seven months of investigation; he said they are still asking for the public's help in getting information about the case.

Because Niemet was 14 at the time of the offense, the case was first handled by the Cole County Juvenile Office.

"If a juvenile commits a crime and is not arrested until after he or she becomes an adult, he or she still has to go through the juvenile process because he or she was a juvenile at the time the crime was committed," Thompson said.

Thompson said Niemet was certified during a hearing Wednesday.

As of Thursday evening, he was being held without bond in the Cole County Jail.

The Cole County Sheriff's Department probable cause statement filed Thursday afternoon states Jones went missing on the evening of April 24, 1991, from the area near his home, prompting his family to file a missing person's report with the sheriff's department. Jones' body was eventually discovered June 8, 1991.

During the investigation, at least two gunshots were heard on the night Jones went missing in the area where his body was recovered. The shots were heard around 8:30 p.m. by Jones' father, brother and neighbors.

Niemet was a classmate and known associate of Jones, and he resided about 1 mile from where Jones' body was recovered in the 7300 block of Walnut Acres Road.

A witness told authorities Niemet returned home at about 9 p.m. on the night of the alleged crime on his four-wheeler. The witness said Niemet appeared to have blood on his clothes, and he poured bleach on his pants and attempted to wash the clothes he had been wearing when he got inside the home.

A deputy arrived at Niemet's residence, looking for Jones, who had been reported missing. The deputy said he talked to Niemet, who was only wearing underwear.

A witness told authorities Niemet called his father at his work after the deputy left and took the phone outside to have a conversation. The witness said having a phone conversation outside and Niemet washing his own clothes was "unusual behavior" for him.

During a search for Jones on April 25, 1991, a deputy saw fresh tire tracks in the area where Jones' body was eventually found. The tracks were later found to match the tires on the four-wheeler Niemet had been riding the night the killing allegedly took place, according to deputies.

About two weeks before Jones' disappearance, Niemet told a witness Jones was "going to come up missing because he was going to kill him."

In February 1991, a witness told deputies Niemet was seen with a pistol on a school bus. A next-door neighbor reported to authorities one of his pistols had been stolen, and he checked for it after he learned Niemet had been developed as a suspect in the murder of Jones. The neighbor also said Niemet had been in his residence months prior to the killing.

The pistol, a .357 magnum revolver, was capable of firing .38 special ammunition which is the type of rounds recovered in the skull of Jones.

On Aug. 12, 1991, .38 special ammunition was reportedly found during a search of the Niemet residence. Also during the search, Niemet's father allegedly told a witness to tell authorities the four-wheeler his son was riding the night the murder occurred was not working.

The report does not indicate the gun was recovered.

"Over the course of the investigation, multiple witnesses have come forward, claiming Niemet claimed responsibility for the murder of Greg Jones with three witnesses reporting Niemet told them about the murder," the probable cause statement stated. "They also claimed Niemet said he shot Jones before the body was recovered."

The report does not indicate a motive for the crime, although the Associated Press reported at the time Jones' father had told authorities he recalled a bizarre comment by his son that someone had a "contract" on his life and had dismissed the remark.

Advancements in forensic technology, not available in 1991, allowed authorities to make an arrest in the case, Thompson said. He also encouraged anyone with information about the case to call the Jefferson City Area CrimeStoppers Hotline at 875-TIPS, calling it a "fluid investigation."

"To the family and friends of Greg Jones, although we realize he can never come back, we hope this is the first step for the justice and closure that is long overdue," Thompson said.

2005 case

Following Reed's 2005 death, police named a list of potential suspects: John Reed, Shawnda Reed's husband and the father of her youngest child; Niemet, the Reeds' landlord; and two of the Reeds' neighbors, the Fulton Sun reported at the time.

Niemet was charged with insurance fraud - authorities claimed he had forged his identity to take out a $150,000 life insurance policy on Shawnda Reed - and felony forgery; authorities said he used false documents to obtain financing to construct the Reeds' home. Those charges were dropped for lack of evidence in early 2006, the Fulton Sun reported.

In 2008, Judith Slote - Shawnda Reed's mother - sued Liberty Life Insurance on behalf of herself and Shawnda's three children. Christiane Zornes was named as guardian for one of the children in the suit; Slote was guardian for the other two.

The lawsuit claimed Niemet had taken out a life insurance policy on Reed in October 2004, claiming to be her sibling, which Liberty then paid. It accused Liberty of negligently failing to contact Reed and failing to note errors in the insurance application.

A second insurance company, American Life Insurance Company of New York (ALNY) was also named in the suit. The suit alleges Niemet's business partner Jim Karnes was named as beneficiary in a separate life insurance policy through the company, paid for by Niemet. ALNY was later dismissed a a defendant.

The lawsuit also claims Reed learned of the life insurance policies a few days before her death and "became very upset and concerned for her safety."

The lawsuit accuses Niemet, John Reed and/or Karnes of conspiring to kill Shawnda Reed or have her killed in order to benefit from the life insurance policies.

The lawsuit was settled in 2009, with Liberty paying a total of $100,000 to Slote and Shawnda Reed's three children. John Reed also received $1,000.

Also in 2008, ALNY filed suit to determine the rightful owner of the second policy's proceeds, naming Karnes, John Reed and the three children as defendants. That case ended in a settlement, splitting the proceeds between the five.


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