JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Investigators suspect a Central Florida man accused of murdering his family and concealing their deaths killed his wife and four children over a month ago and then drove their decomposing remains around in the family van for the past two weeks.
Though Casei Jones, 32, of Summerfield, and her children had not been seen in six weeks, family did not contact authorities until Saturday because they had been in touch with someone who was using the mother of four’s cellphone to send text messages, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
"We had not seen her for weeks, but we were getting messages," Jones' sister, Sarah Gilbert, said. "We had received messages that she was sick, that her phone was messed up."
It wasn’t until Sunday evening when the family van crashed along U.S. 301 in South Georgia that the truth came out. Jones’ body was found inside the vehicle. Statements made at the scene by her husband led investigators to the woods in Charlton County where the children’s bodies were buried.
"If I didn’t call at that time, he would have gotten away with it because he was getting ready to dump my daughter’s body," Jones’ mother, Nikki, said in a recent interview with South Bend, Indiana’s WNDU-TV. "My baby was still in the car, but my grand babies were dumped like trash."
As if the pain of losing a daughter so suddenly wasn’t enough, nothing could have prepared her for the news that her grandchildren were dead as well. Otherwise, she said, she would never have made the decision to move out of her daughter’s home several months ago.
"I don’t know if he realizes he took the only people that will ever love him," she said. "And I hope he sees their faces every day and has to live with it for a long time."
Michael Wayne Jones, Jr., 38, is believed to have been looking for a place to ditch his wife’s remains when the crash happened, Marion County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Paul Bloom told News4Jax. He said it’s unclear why Jones’ wife’s remains were not placed with those of the children.
Jones, who appeared before a judge in Marion County for the first time Thursday, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of his wife. His arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 22, but he is expected to make another first appearance when charges are filed in the children’s killings.
Medical examiners have wrapped up physical examinations of the victims’ bodies, but their remains were so decomposed that DNA testing is required to make positive identifications, Bloom said. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has not yet released the causes of death.
Above all, Nikki Jones wants justice. But for now, she must find a way to come to grips with the deaths of her daughter, along with her grandchildren – Cameron, 10; Preston, 5; Mercalli, 2; and Aiyana, 1.
"I’m not going to let that monster take my memories away. He can’t take away the love I had for those kids and for my daughter. He can’t do that."