Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TOP STORY >> Son admits he killed mother

Leader staff writer

The Beebe man charged in April with brutally murdering his mother pleaded guilty Tuesday and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jeffrey T. Likes, 40, did not speak in court except in response to Circuit Judge Robert Edwards’ questions. Yes, he answered, his guilty plea was offered willingly and he knew he was waiving his right to a jury trial and to confront the witnesses against him.

No, he did not want to make a statement, so why he killed Nancy Wiggs, 59, remains unanswered despite a plea from her sisters who came from Ohio for the sentencing.

“We would like to know how and why you could do such a horrific thing to the one person who believed in you the most,” Tammy Bragg and Linda Zimmerman asked in a prepared statement read by Prosecuting Attorney Chris Raff. “You not only took her life, you took a big part of ours.”

Assistant Beebe Police Chief Ron Lewis and Capt. Eddie Cullum, who investigated the murder, said that although Likes never said why he did it, they believe there were arguments over money and Likes using his mother’s car. Drugs likely played a part as well.

Likes was charged April 2 after he was arrested April 1 in Kansas City, Mo., by the fugitive division of the Kansas City Police Department.

Dressed like a businessman on a trip, he was eating a sandwich and drinking a bottle of water when he was arrested, Lewis said.

Wiggs’ body was found March 31 after her sisters called neighbors for help when they couldn’t reach Wiggs by phone. Wanda Wallis-Olson, Wiggs’ neighbor in the Fetcher addition, said Likes would not let them talk to Wiggs. She was resting, he told them.

The investigation revealed that Wiggs’ was likely killed two days before her body was found. Much of that time, Likes was coming and going from the house.

Lewis said after he obtained Likes’ cell phone number, tracking him was not difficult. Phone companies work with law enforcement agencies, he said, providing they fill out the required paperwork.

To find Likes, he worked with AT&T and Verizon. When Verizon told him Likes’ phone calls were bouncing off a tower near the Kansas City International Airport, it was obvious where to look for him, Lewis said.

Likes had spent time in prison, said Cullum. He described Likes as “a mama’s boy,” who got into trouble a lot and counted on her to help get him out.

Wallis-Olson said Likes and a parade of wives and girlfriends lived with Wiggs at 401 Lee Lane.

Wiggs’ husband died less than two months before she was murdered and she was expecting a large insurance settlement, but Lewis and Cullum said they didn’t think that money was a point of contention between the two.

Wiggs was a petite woman weighing only about 100 pound, the police officers said. Her injuries, described by the prosecutor as multiple stab wounds and blunt force trauma, were extremely vicious in nature, they said.

Lewis said Beebe police were aided in their investigation by crime scene investigators with the White County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI, the Kansas City Police Department and the Pulaski County probation office, which supplied the warrant for Likes’ arrest in Kansas City for breaking probation.

Lewis called it the most important case he’s worked in 30 years of law enforcement. He said he had gotten to know Wiggs’ sisters and friends and they counted on them to get justice for her.

Bragg, the youngest of the three, said the plea and sentencing had helped. “It gives us a little closure,” she said.

They are a small family, only three sisters and four children between them. Now there are only five. Because Likes murdered their sister, they have also lost their nephew, they said.

During court, the prosecutor gave Likes letters his aunts had written to him. They said afterward that they may contact him later to try to get answers to their questions, but for now they are relieved that the plea and sentencing are over.

“God bless the system,” Zimmerman said as the family was leaving the courtroom.