JACKSON, Miss.—For months on end, Bettersten Wade desperately searched for answers to the whereabouts of her son, Dexter Wade, 37; as did Gretchen Hankins for her son, Jonathan, 40. Both moms followed all the protocols to establish missing person investigations with the Jackson Police Department.
It was seven months before Ms. Wade learned of the fate of her son Dexter. It was 19 months before Ms. Hankins learned the fate of her son Jonathan. Mary Glenn and her daughters learned of the fate of Ms. Glenn’s son Marrio Moore, 40, who appeared on a list of two dozen unsolved homicides published in a news report.
The commonalities, however, are even more bizarre. Each person, The Final Call has learned, was identified by the coroner’s office within days of their deaths respectively, as well as next of kin information forwarded to the Jackson Police Department (JPD) with cause of death information as well.
Jonathan Hankins: plot marker number unknown
“He was 39 when I saw him last,” recalled Gretchen Hankins in her conversation with The Final Call from her Florence, Mississippi, home, speaking of her son Jonathan, who left behind his 17-year-old daughter Brooke. “He’d be 41, April 5. He was 39 when he went missing.” Mr. Hankins lived with his mom. He worked construction in Jackson.
He also battled drug addiction. He left home May 20, 2022. He was found dead in a Motel 6 guest room along Hwy 55 N on May 23, three days later. A coroner’s report deemed his death a “Cardiopulmonary arrest,” due to a “methamphetamine and fentanyl overdose.”
Ms. Hankins learned of his death December 4, 2023, one year and seven months later.
“It was a Friday evening, and I was about to lay down. He (Jonathan) hugged and kissed me. Told me he would see me Sunday evening,” she reflected. Despite his addictions, Ms. Hankins said he always came home, and he always kept a job. He would never stay gone more than a week. But now three weeks had passed and there was no word from Jonathan. He would at least call, she said. Now her emotional antennas were up. She suspected something was wrong.
“After about three and a half weeks, after his good friends and bad friends would come by looking for him, I filed a missing person’s report in Rankin County. An NBC missing news reporter from New York City came down. He flew down and told me after a year and seven months what he found out about my son. Jackson, JPD, the coroner whosever responsibility—I do not know, but they are some sorry people to go that long and not say something. That’s just uncalled for,” she concluded.
A matter of jurisdiction
The Hinds County medical examiners in the State’s Coroner’s Office followed the same process of identifying these men, coming up with determination and forwarded the respective reports to the JPD. They claimed in published reports that this was the only responsibility they had. The onus to contact next of kin was on JPD, they maintained.
Despite all the information the Hinds County’s Board of Supervisors committed these men by way of individual vote, to a mass burial yard. Their families weren’t notified. The Pauper’s Cemetery is located behind the Hinds County Detention Center, 16 miles west of the capital city of Jackson.
Jackson has no jail. So, the detained and convicted are housed at the nearby facility and penal farm. Penal farms arecorrectional institutions to which persons convicted of misdemeanors are sent. A potter’s field, paupers’ grave or common grave is a place for the burial of unknown, unclaimed, or indigent people. Every state in the United States of America has such a burial ground.
When homeless people die, they’re buried in pauper’s graves. When people who are in jail and have no family members come and claim their bodies they are also buried in these graves. Every state within the United States has a potter’s field or paupers cemetery. The commonality here is one of accountability. Who informs the next of kin? Hinds County began documenting the mass graves in 2016.
With more than 215 on record, residents were commonly aware of this burial ground’s existence and believe the total burials to date are more in the range of 800 bodies or more. Those buried are of various racial backgrounds, Black, White, Latino but no specific statistics on race or gender have been made public.
The miscommunication about the pauper’s grave site has been “harmful,” said Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba at a community meeting, January 24, held at Faith Worship and Outreach Church. “They (social media) created this narrative. They called it a ‘secret grave’ that’s supposedly behind, apparently, the ‘secret jail in Jackson.
A pauper’s field isn’t only found in Hinds County; it’s in every county in the United States of America. It’s important that we own our narrative and don’t allow anybody to create a narrative for us,” he said.
Marrio Moore: plot marker No. 674
“We thought he was alive,” lamented a very hurt and confused Mary Moore-Glenn, speaking with The Final Call. “It was the end of January when we last spoke with him,” noted Marrio’s sister Marcedes Onuchukwu from her home in Ellisville, Mississippi. Ms. Moore-Glenn continued, “Nobody told me my son was even dead. I never knew. When we found out from a news clipping that Jackson Police had 24 homicides that they had never disclosed to the public, my son’s name was on that list,” she said.
According to a case report from the Hinds County Coroner’s Office, the body of Mr. Moore was wrapped in a gray and blue tarp on February 2, of last year and found by someone walking to work. The death was ruled a homicide with the cause of death listed as “blunt force” to the head.
On April 3, the Hinds County Board of Supervisors approved his burial in the penal farm’s pauper cemetery located behind the Hinds County Detention Center. Mr. Moore was buried July 14, 2023, identified only by a numeric marker attached to a short, stubby steel post. He is number 674. The family learned of his demise and burial in October 2023, eight months after his death.
Dexter Wade: plot marker No. 672
These stories are a result of a televised news story in October of last year.
Dexter Wade lived with his mother, Bettersten Wade in Jackson. Along with Ms. Wade, he is survived by two sisters, Latoya and Amberia, also in Jackson. They were a close-knit family, embracing successes as well as failures.
Mr. Wade had the reputation despite addictions—run-ins with the Jackson Police Department and a schizophrenia condition diagnosed in one of two prison stints. But he was also known for giving to his community by caring for the homeless and feeding those who were hungry.
The willingness to “give the shirt off his back” is how he was often described.
“He loved,” paused his mother Bettersten Wade during her exclusive interview with The Final Call. “He loved his people. Dexter was a loving, kind person. He helped the homeless people. He would help anybody. He would give people anything off his back she said.
However, the fateful night of March 5, 2023, would change all that. This father of two daughters, Jhonelle, 17, and Josely, 15, would have his last discussion with his mom and leave the house with his friend, Jordan (also known as Leggo), to never be seen alive again.
Ms. Wade and a friend headed out to a home improvement center to replace the front window in the Wade’s residence. She spoke for a while with her son, then left. A few minutes later Dexter left the home wearing a light blue jacket and stone-washed style jeans, according to Ms. Wade.
He (Dexter) would leave his home close to 8:00 p.m., according to Ms. Wade. That same evening, on highway 55-South, an off-duty police officer—who remains unnamed in any media, careened into Mr. Wade at apparent full speed, deploying all airbags in the vehicle and requiring a tow from Hicks local wrecker service, according to investigative reports from the law offices of civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump, who has been retained by Ms. Wade as well as Mr. Crump’s co-counsel, the Jackson-based, Atty. Dennis Sweet.
According to the coroner’s report, Mr. Wade’s left leg was amputated due to being dragged several feet. “All of his ribs were broken. Pelvic bone crushed, and several blunt force traumas to the head,” Ms. Wade said. “Broke all his ribs and his pelvic bone? That is not just a hit,” she noted.
She also shared with The Final Call that only the coroner showed up to remove the body. Nor were there any Highway Patrol (state troopers), ambulance or EMS teams on the highway. Mr. Wade was killed just six blocks from his home. The coroner confirmed a prescription medicine bottle was on Mr. Wade’s person.
He used the information on the bottle, called the mental health agency that prescribed the medicine and had obtained from them Ms. Wade’s name, number and address. He would then send that information from his state office in Hinds County to the Jackson Police Department where the incident occurred.
“The first thing that happened when the pathologist (Frank Peretti) called me as a result of our arranging an independent, second autopsy,” said Kareem Ali, Crump Law lead investigator for the Mid-South, was, “Oh, my God. You won’t believe this. I found the guy’s wallet in his front left pocket (the pocket of the severed leg). It has his state ID. It has his driver’s permit, his medical cards, and several credit cards.”
“And the first thing we did was verify his home address on the identification in his wallet and made sure that it matched with the home address of his mother. They knew who Dexter Wade was. They knew his mother, they knew where he lived and they (authorities) failed to do the proper thing to notify the next of kin that her son had died,” Mr. Ali told The Final Call.
Exhumations and burial rights
Each aggrieved family must pay $250 to Hinds County for the rights to their loved ones remains before a death certificate is issued. It gives the families the authority to arrange for exhumation of the bodies, their transport to a funeral home or mortuary, funeral arrangements and death benefits with government agencies, employers of insurance companies.
While delivering his 2023 State of the City address at The Rookery in downtown Jackson, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba called for a moment of silence in recognition of Dexter Wade’s death, on the heels of his discovery.
“We recognize the tremendous loss that his mother suffered, and his family suffered, we lift them up in our prayers collectively as a city and continue to support them.” Mayor Lumumba said the city investigated the matter but did not find “any police misconduct in this process or that there was any malicious intent.”
There was a lack of communication with the missing person’s division, the coroner’s office, and accident investigation. Because of that, they were unable to find (Dexter Wade’s) family within an expeditious period and he was later buried once the coroner went to the Hind’s County Board of Supervisors in order to get permission to do so, the mayor said.
The Hinds County coroner’s office investigator who identified Dexter Wade’s body, LaGrand Elliot, in published reports said, that after one failed attempt at reaching Ms. Wade, he turned the information over to JPD “because it is their jurisdiction so that they can do the proper death notification.”
City officials in Jackson still have yet to name the off-duty police officer who struck and killed Mr. Wade last March.
Jackson Police Chief Joseph Wade announced the department’s first death-notification policy at a press conference in Jackson, on Nov. 13, 2023 stating, “You would think we’d have a death-notification policy, but we do not. But we will as of today,” Chief Wade declared.
In January, the Hinds County Coroner’s Office provided documentation outlining their death-notification policy in response to a public-records request.
Mississippi law says that county authorities where a deceased person is located “shall make reasonable efforts to notify members of the decedent’s family or other known interested persons, and, if the dead body or portion thereof shall not be claimed for burial or cremation by any interested person within five (5) days of the aforementioned written notice, the board of supervisors or coroner shall, as soon as it may think appropriate, authorize and direct the burial or cremation and burial of the residue of such dead body or portion thereof,” it reads.
This is a first in a series of articles on this story.