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Mail-order murder.

He was a violent bully who terrorised Emelita and their three-year-old son, but she couldn't leave him without a proper financial settlement. After all, that was why she had married Jack Reeves in the first place. Emelita Villa had come to America as a shy dark-haired 18-year-old from the Philippines in 1988 to be the bride of three-times-married Reeves, a former US Army sergeant and now a painting contractor in Arlington, Texas.

girls who arrived in America that year she had decided that marriage to an American was the only way to release her family from near-starvation and give them a better life. For back in the tropical volcanic island of Cebu, 11 of Emelita's family lived in a two roomed shack in grinding poverty with no electricity or running water. Now their lives had been transformed by the $250 a month Reeves had agreed to send back to Cebu. Emelita's life might be miserable but she had the consolation of knowing that her family were secure and well-fed. Emelita's life was a nightmare, but she could finally see an end to her torment. She told friends the Reeves had agreed to divorce her with a settlement of $30,000 if she would stay with him until Christmas.

When she would take the money and her son, Theo, and return to the Philippines and try to forget that she had ever been a mail-order bride. It was a dream destined to never come true. Because in October 1994, Emelita Reeves disappeared. Monalisa Pate, a Filipino also living in Arlington, who had become a close friend of Emelita, had arranged to meet her in an Arlington restaurant. But Emelita didn't turn up. Nor was she answering her pager or her mobile phone. When she still wasn't able to make contact after several hours, Monalisa remembered what her friend had once told her: "If there's ever a time when you can't get me on my pager, go to the police..." Finally, after no word from Emelita for 24 hours, that's what Monalisa did. The following day, after Emelita's Nissan Pathfinder was found empty and unlocked in an out-of-town shopping mall, Reeves agreed to make a statement. He said he had no idea where Emelita was but was certain she had come to no harm. He admitted that two previous wives had died in accidents and another had disappeared without trace.

"Despite our problems I still love her. She's a sweet kid." And to prove his sincerity, Jack Reeves agreed to donate a $25,000 reward for information leading to his wife's return. Meanwhile a search of police records showed that Reeves's second wife Sharon had apparently committed suicide in 1978 at the age of 34 - by shooting herself in nearby Copperas Cove. A secret exhumation was ordered and the post-mortem which hadn't been done at the time of death was finally carried out. It showed that Sharon had not shot herself - the wound had been inflicted by a gun held at least eight feet away. Sharon Reeves had been murdered.

It was now February 1995 and Emelita had been missing for four months. Detective Tom Le Noir, in charge of the case, decided it was time to put the pressure on Jack Reeves. He filed an indictment charging Reeves with Sharon's murder. With Reeves in custody Tom Le Noir and his team could concentrate on the search for Emelita and in October 1995 the search dramatically ended. Texas Rangers found the remains of a woman in a shallow grave near Lake Whitney where Jack Reeves had a fishing cabin. They were identified as those of Emelita Reeves. Forensic examination revealed that she had been strangled to death.

In the case of Sharon, he declined to give evidence, instructing his attorneys to explain that Sharon had committed suicide after he had told her he wanted a divorce. She was, he said, in a state of mental turmoil and incapable of rational thought. She stole his old service revolver and shot herself while he was asleep. But the jury didn't believe him. After hearing seven days of evidence including testimony from Sharon's brother Larry Vaughn, they found Jack Reeves guilty of the murder of his second wife. He was jailed for 35 years, but Tom Le Noir knew that under the Texas parole system, Reeves could be out in seven... and he could kill again.

"We've got to go through all this again," he told colleagues. We've got to win the battle - and put him away for life..." They needed an eye-witness who saw what happened to Emelita - and there was one, happily playing with toy trucks at the home of Reeve's sister Pat - she and her husband now looked after him - four-year-old Theo. The bombshell breakthrough came after psychiatrist Dr Jean Howard, who had been monitoring the child's mental state, told Detective Le Noir that she had asked the child what happened to his mother. Theo replied: "Mommy fell. Hit her head on the tub." When Dr Howard asked: "Who hurt mommy " the child replied: "Daddy."

When Jack Reeves faced his second murder charge in the Bosque County courtroom in August 1996, it was Detective Le Noir who told the jury what took place when police took the child to Lake Whitney and asked him what had happened to his mother.

Attorney Andy McMullen, prosecuting, claimed that Reeves had tired of his wife, resented paying money to her family and so killed her at home and buried her body by the lake - an act witnessed by his four-year-old son. But Wes Ball, defending maintained there was no evidence that Reeves had killed his wife and that the prosecution had not proved his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. "You may not like Jack Reeves and the things he has done," Wes Hall told the jury. "But you have heard no evidence that he is a murderer." Jack Reeves was found guilty of murdering Emelita and jailed for 99 years and fined $10,000. He was ordered to serve at least 55 years - a life sentence for a man of 66.

Tom Le Noir recalls that after the case, the jury gathered round to shake his hand. "This had never happened before in 20 years of police work," he said. "It just shows that when you try to do a good job some people do appreciate it."

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Date:Jun 25, 2012
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