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Cold Case Closed: The Murder of Jana Reynolds

In 1988, the small town of Mount Vernon, Illinois was still reeling after the heinous murders of the Odle and Dardeen families. This small community had been devastated by more than fifteen murders in the mid to late 1980’s in Jefferson County. On the morning of May 6th, 1988, the community once again suffered an unimaginable tragedy when the mutilated body of Jana Marie Reynolds was found in her bedroom.

Jana Marie Wellmaker was born January 15th, 1966, in Mount Vernon. She met her husband Jeff Reynolds in high school, and they married in 1987. Jana was a licensed practical nurse working at Good Samaritan Hospital in Mount Vernon while seeking her associate degree in nursing from Rend Lake College. She was set to graduate in May of 1988, but a week before graduation tragedy struck.

Jeff was working the night shift at a local printing company at the time. On May 5th, 1988, he kissed his wife and left for work around 10 pm. When he arrived home the next morning, he noticed that Jana’s car was still in the car port. Jana typically would have left for school by now. Jeff went into the house and immediately noticed that the back door appeared to have been broken into. He made his way to the bedroom and found his twenty-two-year-old wife’s body lying on the bed in a puddle of blood.

Jeff made a panicked 911 call and neighbors could hear him screaming hysterically. When investigators arrived, they found the deceased body of Jana in the bed with her thermal pajama bottoms and panties pulled down and hanging around her ankle. Her pajama top had been pulled up to expose her breasts. Her body had been horribly mutilated with stab wounds and lacerations. According to the podcast episode Cold Case Files: Eyes at the Window, Jana’s throat had been cut and her wrist so badly lacerated that it was barely attached to her arm.

Investigators quickly eliminated Jeff Reynolds as a suspect. His alibi was solid, he had been at work all night. The medical examiner determined that Jana had most likely been killed between 12pm and 3am. People who knew Jeff and Jana were shocked and unable to determine a motive for the murder. “They’re pretty quiet and mind their own business. They don’t party or things like that. There are no reports of any problems with her. She just lived a good, normal life” said police chief Ron Massey (Bosworth, 1988). Jana had been in nursing school and spent most of her time studying. There didn’t seem to be any obvious suspects.

Police interviewed a number of people in the case including Albert McDaniels. Albert McDaniels had been seen in the area the night of the murder, bringing him into suspicion. He agreed to go the police station to give his statement. He voluntarily gave head and pubic hair samples, blood, and saliva samples when requested. A hair fragment had been found at the scene. Although DNA testing was not yet available, pathologists were able to compare the hair fragment from the scene to Albert McDaniel’s provided samples. They were not a match.

Samples from other suspects were also taken and compared to the hair fragment including another man, Joe Tucker. Tucker had also been spotted in the area. He agreed to provide a hair sample from his head, but no other samples were taken. The hair sample did not match the fragment from the scene, but the pathologist stressed that the suspect could not be ruled out without pubic hair samples. Despite investigating over 300 leads in the case, Jana’s murder case grew cold.

In August of 2001, the Mount Vernon Police Department decided to take another look at the now thirteen-year-old case of Jana Reynolds. An alternate light source that was not available in 1988 was used to reevaluate the evidence. Stains were found on Jana’s pajama pants and underwear that were soon confirmed to be seminal fluid. There was enough fluid present to extract DNA and build a profile of the killer.

The investigators went back to Albert McDaniels and compared his DNA samples to the DNA profile of Jana’s killer. It was not a match, and no other evidence could place McDaniels inside of the house where the crime occurred. At this point, Albert McDaniels was eliminated as a suspect. Police continued to compare the DNA to other suspects, however, and soon found a match. The seminal fluid on Jana’s body belonged to Joe Tucker.

Police had to drive to Springfield, Missouri, to track down Joe Tucker. Since 1988, Joe had found himself in quite a bit of trouble in Illinois and was now working in Missouri. In September of 1988, Joe was sentenced to two years for drug charges. In 1990, he was sent back to prison for another three-year sentence for theft. He returned to prison again in 1996, this time receiving a four-year sentence for burglary and four years for drugs. Quickly paroled, he found himself back in prison in 1998 on a six-year sentence for burglary and five-year sentence for aggravated battery. He was once again free by 2002 but was arrested for the murder of Jana Marie Reynolds.

While awaiting trial, Tucker was sent to Menard prison due to parole violations. He adamantly denied being the perpetrator but admitted he had known Jana. The two had briefly been co-workers at a fast-food restaurant in the early 1980’s. He denied ever being at Jana Reynold’s home in 1988. He wanted so badly to build a defense that he sought the assistance of another inmate at Menard.

The inmate, who also had a long history of criminal behavior, suggested that Joe Tucker document everything that happened and his involvement in the case. Joe did just that, but the inmate suggested that the one-page document was not sufficient and told him to provide more details. The revised document, now six pages, outlined the entire crime and even included a diagram of the Reynold’s home. The jail house “lawyer” quickly turned the letter over to prosecutors.

Despite arguments from the defense, the inmate was allowed to testify, and the confession was admitted into evidence. The inmate testified that he was not offered anything in exchange for his testimony and was not working as an agent of the police when he obtained the confession letter. He testified that Tucker admitted to entering Jana’s house on May 6th around 12 am with the intent of burglarizing the home and raping Jana. He also confessed to killing her. The inmate testified that he advised Tucker to pin the crime on his friend, Albert McDaniels.

Albert McDaniels provided testimony that he had been near Jana’s house burglarizing houses. He claimed to have a poor memory of the night and was unable to recall many details. The defense presented evidence from McDaniels’ statement in 1989 in which he told a friend that he had an affair with Jana Reynolds and suggested that the best time to go to her home was between 11 pm and 7 am when her husband was at work. He now denied that any of that ever happened.

Joe Tucker took the stand in his own defense and testified that he met Jana Reynolds in 1982 or 1983 while working together at a fast-food restaurant. He now claimed the two had a sexual relationship beginning in 1983. He admitted to going to Jana’s house with his friend Albert McDaniels the night of May 5th, 1988. He claimed that he introduced the two and then went to the bedroom to have consensual sex with Jana. He stated that McDaniels came in the room as he was finishing and demanded to have sex with her. When she refused, he claims McDaniels murdered her. He said he didn’t come forward because he was threatened by McDaniels.

Joe Tucker was found guilty of ten counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. During his sentencing hearing, another local woman gave testimony that Joe Tucker stalked her and sexually assaulted her around the time of Jana’s murder. The statute of limitations had passed on her case, so this was her only chance at justice. He is currently serving his sentence at Western Illinois Correctional Center. He continues to appeal his conviction. Without advancements in forensic technology and the use of DNA evidence, Jana Reynold’s murderer would still be a free man and her family denied justice.




References

IDOC (Accessed 2021) Tucker, Joe C. Jr; Retrieved at: Illinois Department of Corrections - Inmate Search (state.il.us)

Southern Illinoisian (1988) Jana Reynold Obituary; Southern Illinoisian

People V. Tucker (2017) People V. Tucker; 2017 IL App (5th) 130576; May 30th, 2017

Muir, J. (2002) Suspect finally in custody in 14-year-old murder case; Southern Illinoisan; 10 May 2002

Bosworth, C. (1988) Killing stuns Illinois community; St. Louis Post-Dispatch; 08 May 1988

Cold Case Files (2021) Eyes at the Window; Cold Case Files Podcast; January 7th, 2021; Available on Apple Podcasts

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