Jack and Elaine Denney - Locust Grove, OK, Christmas Day 2007
Jack Raymond Denney was born on October 29, 1942, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Elaine Childress was born November 24, 1941, in Wellington, Texas. Both graduated Sperry High School in 1960 and were married on January 21, 1961, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Together, the couple lived in Alvin, Texas and Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, before settling in Locust Grove in 1981. They had 2 children: Chris and Sarah.
Jack had recently retired from the Grand River Dam Authority as a Superintendent of Mechanical Maintenance after 27 years of service. He loved to build and work with anything mechanical. He enjoyed gardening and dancing. He also had a passion for old cars and hot rods. Jack loved being with his wife and took good care of his family and household. He especially enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren.
Elaine enjoyed sewing, cooking, and gardening. She was a dedicated homemaker and was known for her organizational skills. She loved to play board games and ride as a passenger on the golf cart with her grandchildren. Elaine also thoroughly enjoyed decorating for each holiday and sending cards to family and friends. She also had a fondness for each and every one of her animals.
Jack and Elaine Denney lived a happy retirement. Jack loved to tinker in his woodshop, while she became locally famous for her homemade candies and baked goods. A couple known for loving each other, loving their kids and loving their community. The Denneys were known as the “grandparents of the neighborhood,” according to Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault. And so, the Christmas season was particularly special for the Denneys. Elaine, 66, was busy making her trademark holiday breads and peanut brittle on Christmas morning, while she and her husband waited for their adult children and grandchildren to arrive. She loved to give them out as gifts. They loved getting and giving collectable Christmas ornaments for the tree. Her son Christ and his family lived 4 hours away in Alan, TX, but drove up every holiday to spend with them. Her daughter lived nearby and was a high school teacher along with her husband. Christmas day, Elaine is staying busy in the kitchen making her goodies and Jack sits at the kitchen table and reads his paper and they wait for family to arrive. Sarah arrives with her family first, and is concerned when no one meets them at the door as they always do. She walks inside, the door unlocked, and sees what she believes is a black trash bag at first. As she gets closer, she realizes it's a large pool of blood. They immediately call the police. Both were in the dining room. Elaine was lying on her back and had been shot in the head, dressed in Christmas attire but with no shoes on, what happened to her is something she wasn't expecting. Jack was on the floor near the table with his head beneath a chair, shot right where he was sitting. There was blood everywhere. Because it was Christmas and most local investigators were off for the holidays, local police make the call to the OSBI for help. Investigators noticed Jack's open wallet on the table with no money inside, although credit cards were still present. There were also spent bullet casings on the table. There were firearms in the house, farm equipment still present, nothing missing from Elaine's purse that was still there, so investigators didn't think this was a clear cut robbery gone wrong. The rug in the entry way had been rolled up. A single palm print was recovered from the dryer that didn't match Jack or Elaine. So they explore other motives. Concerned neighbors gathered around the property as investigators pored over the scene for clues. There was “a lot of blood,” and it looked like somebody had fired a gun in the elderly couple’s dining room and not stopped until they ran out of bullets, Chennault recalled. It was inconceivable to neighbors and investigators that anyone could hold any sort of grudge against the Denneys. One neighbor suggested there were known burglars in the area, but again, investigators didn't believe this was the motive. Then why was Jack's wallet found open? Investigators believed it may have been a case of mistaken identity and that Jack opened his wallet to show the killer his ID and prove who he was. Though no evidence was found to support this theory. Neighbors said they didn't see or hear anything out of the ordinary. Not even gunshots. Billy Scott, the couples nephew, lived close and checked in on them every day. He shows up on scene. He is anxious and jittery and says he was the "last person to see them alive", that he brought in a newspaper on the 23rd of December around 11:30 am. He says Jack was in the shower and Elaine gave him money for the paper... but investigators thought something was off. Billy was way too forthcoming with information. Investigators always pause at behavior like this because all too often, killers like to inject themselves into the investigation. So, They take him back to the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office for a formal interview. There they find out Billy has a affinity for firearms. He told them he owns a Bolt Action .44, he says he actually owns 3 of them. But no firearms were taken from the crime scene. If Billy had motive of taking the firearms, he would have done so at the time of the murder. They put Billy through a polygraph test. He passes. He could also account for his whereabouts during the murders and his prints do not match that left at the scene. They have on choice but to move on and look for other suspects. They looked at a man who worked under him whom felt Jack was a whistleblower and Jack had disciplined him. But nothing came of that either. Their funerals were held Sunday, December 30, 2007, at the Locust Grove High School Gymnasium. The case quickly hit a dead end. For months to follow, investigators like Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations (OSBI) Special Agent Vicky Lyons refused to give up, though. Lyons recalled walking the neighborhood and stopping anyone unfamiliar to take their fingerprints, hoping to match an unidentified print that investigators found on the Denneys’ drier. They Denney's lived on the outskirts of town, so detectives thought the killer must have had some reason to be in the area in the first place. They were even told that there was an old camp in the woods that some unknown person was living in, but when they visited the camp, they found nothing. They swept the neighborhood, talked to neighbors, but found nothing. About a year after the murders though, authorities received a bizarre letter from Cherokee County prison inmate Justin Walker, who had recently been locked up on an assault and battery charge. In it, Walker confessed to the murders.
"I did unlawfully and willingly take the couples lives, I shot and killed them both, and robbed him from his black wallet,” Walker’s letter read. Investigators were skeptical at first, but knew they had to follow up. Jack's wallet was brown. I saw it in case files. Investigators even confess that there were things that were correct in the letter, but a lot that wasn't. “It was a widely known case, so he could have picked up information, and this could be an attempt to get notoriety, to get attention,” District Attorney Jack Thorp said. Still, Walker had “nothing to gain” from the confession, according to Chennault, so investigators conducted a prison interview with Walker, even having him draw them a sketch of the Denneys’ house. The drawing was "not perfect, but we talked about it, the other investigators and I, and it was enough,” Chennault said. “We felt we definitely had a good suspect.” Investigators compared the palmprint on the drier with Walker’s, but there was no match, and Walker never said how or where on the body he shot the victims, so prosecutors declined to charge him. More than four years passed, and Walker was released in June 2012. OSBI requested that he visit their office for a follow-up interview, but this time, Walker recanted his confession completely. In fact, he said he didn’t even remember making it. “It was a real kick in the gut,” Chennault said. In the years that followed, Lyons retired, but was later tapped by Thorpe to help him look into the state’s cold case files. Chief in their mind was the murder of the Denneys. They interviewed people who originally worked the case, and Thorp reached out to local news stations to do segments on the anniversary of the murders, entreating the public for help. Ten years after the murders, acting on a tip from a former mental health professional who had treated Walker, authorities finally had enough to issue an indictment. Walker apparently told the mental health worker, during a stay at a Wagner hospital, that he killed the Denneys — but that he had intended to kill someone else. Walker’s girlfriend told him that her uncle had molested her when she was a child, and Walker was trying to get even, but hit the wrong house that Christmas in 2007. Because of HIPPA, the worker was unable to disclose this information, until a grand jury subpoena, which basically gets around HIPPA, was served. This testimony is what lead to Walker's arrest for the murders. Walker initially plead not guilty, claiming a mental disease or defect. Thorp studied the prior cases against Walker, finding that he had always been found competent to stand trial, and he eventually agreed to a plea deal in March 2019: two counts of second-degree murder. Already serving 10 years on a firearms conviction, Walker was handed 40 more. The Denney family, in attendance in court, listened as Walker accepted the 40-year sentence from the judge. That sentence won't start until he finishes a 10-year sentence for another unrelated crime. His testimony completely contradicts what he had said before though. He says he was high and stumbled on the Denney's house. He said he went in to rob them and ended up in a struggle with them and that he freaked out after he shot them and took off without robbing them. Investigators say he never told the truth of what happened that day. Justice was bittersweet for the Denneys’ family and friends, because it never became clear exactly why Walker had killed the beloved elderly couple. “Now, Walker will spend nearly 50 years in prison, and our prayer is that the family of Jack and Elaine Denney will find some closure to the terrible tragedy of Christmas 2007,” Thorp said, according to local ABC affiliate KTUL.But whose palm print was on the dryer? It was discovered that they belonged to the funeral operator who had stumbled up the stairs on the way into the Denney's house that day. You would think they would have cleared all who were at the scene that day immediately, but somethings police work just isn't done how it's supposed to be done. SOURCES:
Homicide for the Holidays - Christmas Heartbreak S3 E3