As you drive into the small town where Billy Pain and his fiancee Billie-Jean Hayworth lived, a sign declares it ‘a friendly hometown’.
With just three shops and only a smattering of people, it’s the kind of place where nothing really happens. So when police entered Billy and Billie-Jean’s home on January 31, 2012, what greeted them shocked them and shattered the close-knit community. Their seven-month-old baby, Tyler, was screaming and lying in his mother’s arms, splattered in blood. He was the only surviving member of the family.
Both 36-year-old Billy and Billie-Jean, 23, had been shot in the face and Billy’s throat had also been slashed. ‘It takes a cold-blooded person to shoot someone holding a baby,’ Special Agent Scott Lott said afterwards.
The investigation moved quickly and attention was immediately focused on the Potter family who lived nearby. Father, Marvin, 60, mother Barbara, 61, and daughter Jenelle, 31, were involved in a public Facebook feud with the victims.
Jenelle and the couple had originally been friends. Meeting Billy through his sister in 2009, Jenelle joined their friendship group.
But a year later, when Billy got with Billie-Jean, Jenelle’s behaviour turned. She suddenly accused the group of cyber-bullying. Confiding in her mum, she said they were bombarding her with cruel messages, saying she was ‘too pretty to live’.
Worried for her sweet daughter, Barbara weighed in on the feud. ‘I remember I wrote, Please do not write on Jenelle’s Facebook. I begged them. Please don’t
do this,’ Barbara said.
In retaliation, Jenelle said she wished that Billy and Billie-Jean and ‘that damn baby would die’. Eventually, both sides deleted each other as friends on Facebook but, after the two brutal murders, police suspected it hadn’t ended there.
During an interview at the Potter home, they also suspected Jenelle was hiding the romantic relationship she’d been having with Billy’s cousin, Jamie Curd, from her parents. And later that week, questioning Jamie provided a major breakthrough in the case.
Despite claiming to know nothing, he failed a lie-detector test and then he asked a question that raised alarm bells. ‘Jamie, in the interview, had said something to the effect of, “Is the CIA here?” That was a very strange question to me,’ Lott said. Why would the foreign intelligence agency be involved in a small-town homicide? It didn’t take long for Jamie to crack…
He admitted to being there when Jenelle’s father shot Billy and Billie-Jean, explaining they had been encouraged to do it by a CIA operative ‘Chris’. Searching the Potter home, police seized an arsenal of weapons. And in Marvin’s truck, they found bags of shredded emails, which were meticulously reconstructed. What they discovered was the making of a very unusual murder case. There were thousands of messages from ‘Chris’ who started contacting the Potter family around the time Billy and Billie-Jean got engaged. Warning them about threats to their daughter’s life, he said his job was to protect Jenelle at all costs.
Chris claimed to have insider knowledge that Billy and Billie-Jean were evil – he said he was a drug dealer, she was a whore, and they wanted to rape Jenelle and cut off her head. And they had to be stopped. Jenelle’s mum Barbara and Chris messaged so often she started calling him son and he greeted her as ‘mom’. He’d become someone the family listened to and could trust. But, strangely, all the emails from ‘Chris’ came from the same computer that the Potters used. Chris wasn’t who he seemed.
The grammatical and spelling mistakes, similar to the ones Jenelle, who had a learning difficulty, would make led investigators to only one conclusion... Chris and Jenelle were the same person.
Jenelle had pretended to be a CIA agent to make her parents and boyfriend kill the man she was obsessed with and the fiancee she believed had stolen him.
With the evidence mounting up, authorities arrested the Potters and Jamie Curd for the murders of Billy and Billy-Jean.
In October 2013, Marvin was found guilty of the murders and is currently serving two life sentences. Jamie Curd agreed to a plea deal and got 25 years in prison. Jenelle denied her part in the plot and lawyers argued that with an intellectual age of just eight or nine she wasn’t capable of something so sophisticated.
However, another breakthrough came when Chris Tjaden was found. He used to go to school with Jenelle and it was discovered she’d stolen his Facebook pictures and sent them to her mum when she was posing as CIA agent Chris.
In May 2015, Jenelle, then 35, and Barbara, 64, finally went on trial in Tennessee. They were found guilty of murder and handed life sentences. Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood called the murders the most bizarre, senseless murders he’d seen in his decades on the bench.
Tyler’s family, who are now caring for him, also had their say. ‘You are just as responsible for the trigger being pulled as the person who actually pulled it,’ Janie Hayworth, Billie-Jean’s sister, told Jenelle. ‘We will tell Tyler how much his parents loved him and wanted to be with him and watch him grow up,’ she added. ‘You may have taken his parents, but you will never take away the memories that we will be sharing with him.’
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