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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  October 8, 2017 2:00am-3:01am PDT

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i'm craig melvin. thanks for watching. [theme music] 'm craig melvin. and i'm natalie morales. and this is "dateline." i'm craig melvin. >> i'm natalie morales. >> this is "dateline" p. she was a married mother two of. >> there was nothing about her life that would raise any red flags. >> she amazed them all. her whole group of girlfriends at the gym. >> she was totally dedicated. >> heather, turn around. you've gotten smaller. >> a stunning 200-pound weight loss. and a whole new life came with it. >> you could see that transformation. you could see the confidence in her. >> then, she was gone. missing at school. >> i called all the girlfriends. >> we're going to find you one way or the other. >> the clues. an e-mail to her husband.
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and a secret she was reluctant to share. >> kind of a bombshell. heather was possibly seeing another man. >> what was really behind her sudden disappearance? that would be the most mind-blowing twist of all. >> do you think that heather would still be alive if she hadn't gone through this transformation? >> gosh -- welcome to "dateline." heather jones, a motivational teacher had shed pounds and past. here's andrea cannon with the last dance. there's a place in downtown tennessee. a hotspot not far from nearby beal state. street.
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they don't play the memphis blues in this club. in the sultry darkness of the rumba room, bodies sway to the beat of latin sounds. in april 2013, a woman named heather jones came in with her friend to dance the night away wearing a brand-new dress. >> how did she look that night? >> she had her head up so high, and her shoulders back and just beaming. she felt absolutely beautiful. >> reporter: there was a time not too long ago when heather didn't feel very beautiful at all. but on this evening, she had the night of her life. >> she really didn't sit down very much. she was being spun around and danced. >> reporter: just two nights later, everything spun out of control. >> breaking news about a missing germantown teacher. >> reporter: heather jones suddenly and inexplicably disappeared from her home. >> her car is in her driveway. her purse, keys and cell phone are missing.
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>> thinking of her being scared and hurt made you sick. >> reporter: what happened? the answer was sickening. >> you think, "oh my god, is that her?" >> reporter: the why more twisted and surprising than anyone could fathom. >> that's not normal. it's not natural. it's not right. >> reporter: how could all this darkness fall on a woman so sunny? >> i loved her. i loved her energy. she was -- if you could think of a color that is a person, like she would be, like, bright yellow. >> reporter: friends say heather could always light up a room. her cousin, diane perry, says that upbeat attitude is what drew them together from the time they were young. >> you two are more like sisters? >> definitely. very, very close. >> reporter: a bond that only grew as teenagers when heather moved from florida to tennessee, closer to diane. they became an inseparable pair and even went to college together in memphis. so it was only fitting diane was
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there the night heather fell instantly in love with a guy named chris jones. >> heather went to a new year's eve party on 1999. and she came home, and we sat down and talked and giggled about this new guy that she had met, chris. >> reporter: diane recalls that heather found chris fascinating. >> he dazzled her with his knowledge of wine and just his -- his knowledge of the world. >> she liked that? >> she loved that. she absolutely loved that. >> reporter: diane was surprised to see how fast the new couple was moving. within weeks heather and chris were living together. not long after, diane noticed a change in her cousin. a big one. >> they got very involved in a lot of online gaming and some things like that. and so they had a very, very sedentary lifestyle. and so that's when she gained, i would say, about 250 pounds. >> 250 pounds over how much time are we talking about? >> maybe a year and a half. i mean, it was a very short amount of time. >> that's life-changing. >> it was tough. >> did she seem depressed about the weight gain? >> absolutely, yes.
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>> reporter: her cousin recalls chris said he didn't mind what size heather was. a few years into their relationship, he asked heather to marry him. and it seemed his love didn't waver as the numbers on heather's scale only continued to rise after the birth of their two children. >> did he make her feel good? >> yes, she felt beautiful. she felt loved. she felt wanted. she felt taken care of. >> reporter: chris also took on the role of stay-at-home dad while heather worked and attended college part-time. >> it took her about ten years to get her degree from college, and it was almost to the day that she graduated from college that everything changed. >> reporter: at one point before graduation, heather tipped the scales at 400 pounds. but diane says that hard-won diploma now became a roadmap for heather, pointing her to a brighter and lighter future. >> she had so much more confidence. she saw a different life for herself.
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she immediately started working on her weight. >> reporter: and that's when she found a special group of new friends. women like her who joined this high-powered dance exercise class each week to improve their physiques and their lives. cari cooper was heather's dance instructor. >> when you leave your job, you leave that stress behind, you come here and it's like the happy hour. >> reporter: everyone in heather's life noticed that "happy hour" was doing wonders for her. >> i'd say, "heather, turn around." i said, "you've gotten smaller." and she's like, "yeah!" >> were the pounds just melting off of her in front of your very eyes? >> melting off. melting off. >> reporter: it was nothing short of a total transformation. in 18 short months, she went from this to this. >> i remember that she brought a picture of a before and then where she was now and was so proud. and she was like, "look what i've done." she was so proud of herself. >> reporter: no one was surprised when heather soon landed her dream job, teaching at an elementary school in
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memphis. fellow teacher jesika moxley was in awe of the amount of energy miss jones poured into her classroom. >> heather loved being a kindergarten teacher. from the moment that they stepped foot into the door, to the moment that they left, they were dancing, they were singing, they were playing. >> reporter: by april 2013, it was all coming together for heather jones. on a saturday night, she hit that rumba room dance floor to try out some moves she'd picked up at the gym and to show the world what she'd become. >> it was just so much fun. we were probably there for about three hours just dancing. >> reporter: three days later on tuesday morning, teacher jesika moxley headed to school, expecting to see her energetic co-worker heather already there. >> our school day didn't start until 8:00 or 8:30 that year, and she was here every morning by 6:30, 6:45. >> reporter: heather usually couldn't wait for the school day to begin. so jesika was
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surprised by what she didn't see that morning. >> i pulled into the parking lot, and i didn't see her car. i'm, like, "oh, what is going on?" >> reporter: thinking maybe she caught a ride to school, jesika made a bee line for heather's classroom. >> and i remember her door was closed, her lights were off. and i remember thinking, "her lights are off." and then, saying again, like, "her lights are off. like, she's -- she's gone. >> reporter: gone? what could that mean? as the search began to find the missing teacher, investigators would soon uncover a disturbing connection between heather's dramatic weight loss and her mysterious disappearance. coming up -- a closely guarded secret. >> i didn't even know his name. >> when "dateline" continues. because at a dr. scholl's kiosk
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andrea canning (voiceover): when heather jones, the newly svelte, newbie teacher, didn't show up for her kindergarten heather jones had transformed -- when she didn't show up back in april 2013, alarm bells went off among her fellow teachers and friends. >> heather would never miss a day of school. she was totally dedicated. >> reporter: home sick? it didn't seem likely. best friend melissa smith knew heather wasn't about to be sidelined by a little sniffle. >> there was no excuse for her not to be there. >> reporter: school officials
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couldn't reach heather on the phone, and when her cousin diane heard she was a no-show, she headed right over to heather's house in germantown where she saw an encouraging sign. >> there was relief when i saw the car in the driveway 'cause i thought she was there. i thought, "oh, she's sick." >> reporter: diane thought heather was probably just sleeping. >> knocking, knocking, knocking. please answer the door. >> reporter: but no answer. alarmed, she called heather's mother to bring over a key. soon germantown police arrived, opened the door and went in first. >> they say, "she's not in there." they say, nothing looks disturbed. >> is that a relief in any way? that she's not in there? >> no, no. it was terrifying. something is very much wrong. >> reporter: it was now a missing persons case. detective tony kemp took the lead and did his own walk-through of the house. >> did you find any signs of something that might have happened in that house? >> no. i did not see any weapons. i did not see any blood or anything in that house. >> reporter: but heather's car
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still in the driveway stuck in detective kemp's mind. >> obviously, if she left, she had to be on foot. or she had made contact with somebody for them to pick her up. >> reporter: the grapevine was now working overtime. friends from heather's dance class soon heard that she was missing. one of them was cari cooper, the class instructor. she also went over to the house. turns out cari knew as much about crime scenes as she did about dance moves. that's because cari's a cop in nearby memphis. >> well, i kind of took on that police officer role at that moment. and i combed, like, every inch of her property looking for anything. >> did you find anything? >> i found nothing. i look along the railroad tracks. >> the afternoon she disappeared, chris came to the police station wanting to help. >> i can't miss an opportunity. i didn't want to miss a call.
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i didn't want to miss the knock on the door. >> sure. >> i'm worried. >> chris told detectives something that could be vital to the investigation. he said heather had written him an e-mail the night before. the subject read, i'm sorry. in it, she mentions their little girl ava. it read, come get ava. i cannot face everyone with this. please forgive me. it is too much. please raise them to remember me as their loving mommy. how concerned were you when chris told you about this e-mail that his wife had sent, that heather had sent? >> i was concerned. it did not sound good to me. kemp thought the e-mail was open to all kinds of interpretations. all bad, it seemed. >> it basically sounded like i'm throwing in the towel. >> reporter: throwing in the towel? detective kemp asked chris if heather might be suicidal. >> has she ever talked about
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wanting to harm herself or anybody else that you -- since you've known her? >> not that i recall. >> reporter: friends and family police spoke to were adamant that heather would not take her own life. not after striving so hard to transform it for the better. but there was another possible explanation for what might have happened to this woman who had built such a promising future. police were about to uncover a secret she'd kept hidden from almost everyone. >> i didn't even know his name. >> reporter: just as heather was headed off into that bright new future, her past came calling. coming up -- >> the search heats up, and the secret is out. >> kind of a bombshell that heather was possibly seeing another man. >> this was definitely, you know, a person of interest that we needed to speak with. >> when date line continues.
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andrea canning (voiceover): heather jones had been missing for 24 hours. >> reporter: heather jones had been missing for 24 hours. her loved ones prayed for the best and launched into action. the memphis mother had recently lost 200 pounds with the help of a dance aerobics class. and now her gym friends pasted the after photo she was so proud of all over town. were you putting up flyers? >> oh, we had -- >> oh, flyers. >> we had flyers. we stopped at restaurants around germantown. >> reporter: cari, heather's
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friend and dance instructor, who also happened to be a cop, organized a search party. >> and we had our backpacks on. and we had good walking shoes. and we had snacks and towels and water. >> reporter: around lakes, parks, and railroad tracks, cari and the other women searched methodically not knowing what they might find. >> and i told all the girls, "y'all be prepared because we might find her, okay?" >> your foot hits something hard and you think, "oh, my god, is it her?" but it's a branch. you never know with each step. >> reporter: to put together the puzzle of what happened to heather and what she meant by that disturbing goodbye e-mail, detective kemp wanted to know more about heather, starting with her relationship with chris. detective kemp wanted to know
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>> i wanted to know more about their marriage and what's been going on between them the past year. >> reporter: he knew the major event in their marriage in the past year was heather's dramatic physical change. but friends and family said it was about so much more than just dropping pant sizes. as heather lost the weight, she gained a whole new outlook on life. >> she was kind of quiet and reserved back then when i very first met her. and to see that contrast from then until where she decided, "i'm going to make some healthy decisions in my life." i mean the butterfly description with her is a great description. just her coming out of her shell and becoming who she was created to be, you know? and you could see that transformation. >> reporter: in all different aspects of her life? >> yes. >> reporter: her cousin diane explained that once heather the butterfly started spreading her wings, she felt that just like her old clothes, her husband chris wasn't fitting anymore. he was not really part of -- >> exactly. >> reporter: -- the new life? >> exactly. >> reporter: the future? >> exactly.
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and i think he saw the writing on the wall. >> she saw that, i'm young. i'm healthier now than i've ever been. i'm prettier now than i've ever been. and i'm feeling good. i'm feeling confident. and i'm feeling independent. she didn't have just one choice anymore. the world was hers. >> reporter: detectives learned that in january 2013, heather moved out on chris without telling him. she had a name for it? >> she did. ninja style. >> reporter: so it was almost like "operation ninja style." >> yes. >> reporter: that she was going to move out on her own? >> it was, it was. >> reporter: heather moved into this rental house with the help of family and friends. >> she was backed by a lot of awesome girls. so she was ready. >> she would say, "you know, i don't have anything in my house but my crockpot, and my mattress, and my brown boots. but, that's okay because i'm happy." >> reporter: in his interview with police, chris said that after nine years of marriage, he and heather began to have some differences. but he said he had no clue she
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was going to move out on him and was even more shocked when he found out she had filed for divorce. >> i was totally side-swiped. did not see it coming. >> reporter: chris told detective kemp he'd been trying to patch things up with heather ever since. >> i want my wife. i want the family dynamic that we had. i want us to be together. i want to work things out. >> reporter: kemp questioned what heather had been up to while chris was trying to win her back. >> it's common a lot of times when a couple's going through a divorce that maybe that somebody was seeing somebody. and i asked him that. >> reporter: that's when chris confided in the detective that he feared heather had, in fact, moved on. >> is she seeing anybody else? does she have a boyfriend right now? >> yeah. >> and can you tell me what you know about that? >> the only thing i know is that they were friends from a younger age, and it's been going on for
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some time. >> reporter: when you're talking to chris, he brings up kind of a bombshell that heather was possibly seeing another man. >> yes, he did. he did tell me that he believed that she was seeing somebody. and i tried to get information from him about that person. >> i really don't know anything about the guy other than they've been corresponding heavily. >> did she talk about him much? >> she hasn't talked about him at all. she doesn't want me or anyone else to know about him. >> reporter: kemp discovered heather had been talking about this new guy, just not with her husband. >> they had started texting, i think, initially and, kind of facebooking. and just, "hey, how are you?" i think slowly those text messages and those facebook messages became very flirtatious. >> i didn't even know his name. all i knew was that she was talking to somebody. >> reporter: who was making her happy. >> that was making her happy, and she felt very special and very beautiful. >> reporter: but police did need a name, fast.
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chris was able to provide at least part of that crucial detail. >> can you tell me about him? can you start me off with a name. what's his name? >> edward's all i got. >> edward? >> yeah. >> reporter: did you think that this other man could be a game-changer in this investigation? >> to me, this was definitely, you know, a person of interest that we needed to speak with. >> reporter: detectives now launched a hunt for a man named edward. they wanted to know, did heather the butterfly leave behind her old life to build a new one with another man? coming up, the other man revealed. >> i would hide her, if that's what she wanted. americans,
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i'm meteorologist bill karins, now we're down to tropical storm nate and no longer a hurricane. 70 mile per hour winds racing to the north, northeast.
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it's going to be a fast-moving storm as it crosses into alabama and areas of tennessee by later this evening. on radar, some of the rain bands are intense off the gulf coast. we have a tornado watch until 10:00 a.m. this morning. we'll have to watch out for spin-ups from montgomery down towards the coastal areas. more as tropical storm strength from biloxi down to gulfport, mississippi. now back to msnbc programming. >> reporter: time, an investigator's worst enemy in a missing person's case, was ticking away. days passed, and heather jones hadn't returned to her rented house. the place where she hoped to start a new life without her husband. >> it sounds cliché, but she really vanished without a trace. >> yes. and that's what was making this so difficult. >> reporter: and she still wasn't answering her cell phone. the one police learned she used to exchange flirtatious texts
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with a mystery man. >> she is in the process of having an affair, whether local, long distance, i don't know. >> reporter: chris jones couldn't tell detectives much else about this other man, who he only knew by the name of edward. >> i've just seen their correspondence. sweetie and love you. >> how do you know about the correspondence? were you able to see some of the texting yourself? >> yeah. >> on her phone or? >> yeah. >> you must have had concerns about this other man? >> yes, i did. because he was one of the first names that we had come up with. >> reporter: detective kemp knew if heather had split town, as her good-bye email suggested, she hadn't driven away in her car. it was still parked in her driveway. >> you know what kind of car edward drives? >> i don't know anything about him. i really don't. >> does he live here locally, obviously, in germantown? >> no. >> memphis? do you know? >> not that i know of. i don't think he lives in memphis.
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>> reporter: detectives had to find edward another way, so they accessed heather's facebook account and mined it for clues. and there it was, a profile with a last name attached. >> and what was that name? >> edward raulerson. >> reporter: police dialed a phone number they found for ed. he told them he lived 500 miles away in eastern tennessee and agreed to make the eight-hour drive to germantown to be interviewed. detectives wondered had he made the trip once already that week to take heather away? and most importantly, could he tell them where she was now? >> just because you've got somebody living 500 miles away does not mean that they didn't have anything to do with this disappearance. >> reporter: police recorded ed raulerson's interview. during questioning, ed made a potentially important admission. >> i love her to death. i would do anything for her. you know, one of the detectives asked me, you know, who would she call if she wanted to disappear. i said, me. i'd be here in however many hours it took for me to get here
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today. >> reporter: but, he insisted, heather never made that call. and there was more. ed told detectives he was surprised by the first question he was asked when initially contacted by the police. >> detective cook called me and he said, "is your girlfriend there?" and i said, "yes, she's in the backyard." and he said "good, okay, so heather's, okay?" and i said, "heather's not my girlfriend. she's a friend of mine. we've been friends for 20 years." >> reporter: so if ed and heather weren't an item, and he was dating someone else, what exactly was going on? >> the detective wanted to hear from you immediately once they learned a name. >> oh yeah, once they knew who i was. >> reporter: detectives learned from ed that his relationship with heather went back decades, long before heather married chris. ed said he and heather met in 1993 when they were both teens living in florida.
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ed remembers they fell fast for each other. >> it was young love. they say you don't know what love is, but i do. >> reporter: ed said they dated for two years before he moved away. but that puppy love was something he never got over, even after heather married. >> were you still carrying that torch? >> yeah. but i didn't really let it show. i respected heather too much. >> reporter: around heather's birthday in the spring of 2013, after she had lost all that weight, ed told detectives he reached out to wish her well and got more than a thank you. heather had big news. she and chris had separated. >> at that moment in her life, she needed a friend. and that was what i was there for. i was there right when she needed me the most. >> reporter: but ed said that shoulder to lean on soon turned into something more. >> talking. just, you know, listening to her
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problems. and then it just, you know, progressed from there. >> progressed in what way? >> oh. you know, i'm a flirtatious person. and just became flirtatious. >> reporter: detective kemp scanned the recent texts between the two from heather's cell phone, and it appeared that things had heated up even more a few days before she went missing. >> there was some sexual content that i had noticed. >> reporter: ed says it was heather who first turned the texting into sexting. >> what did you think? >> it was partly that, you know, she was in a highly flirtatious mood that day. i wasn't really quite sure. >> did you bite? >> i bit. >> reporter: detectives wanted to know how much and whether ed was truly willing to drop everything to help heather start a new life in secret. >> no matter what it took, i
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would protect her. >> reporter: ed knew it probably didn't look good to police. >> i guess me admitting that i would hide her, if that's what she wanted, you know, i can understand them saying that, you know, maybe he's hidden her. >> did you hide her? >> i wish. >> did you drive to see heather that night? >> no. >> were you with heather that night? >> no. >> did you have anything to do with her disappearance? >> no. >> reporter: ed told police he was at home, far away in eastern tennessee and revealed that despite those steamy texts, he and heather hadn't actually seen each other in person in years. >> we had discussed seeing each other. i guess it would've been, well, about another month. >> reporter: ed insisted to police he had no idea where heather was, but he did give them a big clue. he told investigators that, in fact, he spoke to heather on the phone the very night she disappeared, and he heard
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something on that call that was alarming then, and even more alarming now. >> i called her. she answered. and immediately i could hear kind of arguing. >> reporter: ed said he heard a man's voice in the background during that call. but whose voice was it? >> the pieces of the case are about to fall into place. and all those flirtatious texts, turns out they aren't at all what you think. coming up -- >> i need to put that out of my mind. >> are you thinking this could potentially be our last chance to solve this? >> this was our shot. >> when "dateline" continues. plus, when you get a flu shot at walgreens, you help provide a lifesaving vaccine to a child in need through the un foundation. it's that easy to get your flu shot and make a difference.
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andrea canning (voiceover): as one day slid into the next and the next with still no sign of heather jones, >> reporter: as one day slid into the next and the next, with still no sign of heather jones, her gym friends got back to exercise class with the hope heather would dance with them once again. >> i kept that back door open to the gym. and i said, "heather, if you can hear us, we're dancin'. we're lookin' for 'ya. okay? if you're out there, you dance with us." we're gonna find you, one way or the other. >> reporter: detective tony kemp also vowed to find her. he was convinced heather did not run off with her old boyfriend ed. so he asked her friends what else would cause heather to leave her husband and children? that's when kemp began to flush out what really happened when heather moved out on chris. >> it was very scary. and it only continued to
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deteriorate. >> reporter: friends and family told him how, at first, chris tried to woo her with flowers and chocolates, but those loving gestures soon turned ugly. >> he would text her and call her. but this time, they were just, like, violent, you know, "you're not taking my kids from me." "i'm not going to let you leave." "you won't get away with this. i will come after you." >> reporter: then, friends said, chris started acting more desperate, and heather started getting really scared. >> he would show up at her work. he would show up at the gym. he started showing up at the house in the middle of the night. i just remember thinking, like, this is insane. like, you're, literally, stalking her. >> i got a lot of information on chris, on what these people thought of him, and it was not good. >> reporter: detectives decided they'd do more than just keep an eye on chris. they secretly attached a gps device to his car to track his movements.
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>> we wanted to know possibly if he could take us to where heather was at. >> reporter: they also asked chris to come in for a second interview. detective bryan wallace would lead the interrogation. >> are you thinking this could potentially be our last chance to solve this? >> certainly. this was our shot. >> reporter: detectives watched as chris' car made his way toward the police station, but then it stopped a quarter-mile away at a nearby mall. police thought he might be running an errand, but moments later, he popped up at the station. why had he parked so far away? chris was escorted in. >> thanks for coming out. >> hey, my pleasure. anything i can do. >> reporter: chris told detectives he went to heather's house the night she disappeared to talk. but before he could say much to her, he said her phone rang. >> and so she's like, "this is a call i've kind of been waiting for." and i said, "well, you know, i've really got a pertinent
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matter to discuss with you if there's any way you could possibly, you know, have him call you back or --" >> what was it? the pertinent matter? >> it was letting her know that i'd discovered that she'd been having an affair this entire time. >> is that who was calling her, the person you suspected? >> i kind of got that feeling that that's who was calling her. >> reporter: in fact, it was ed raulerson. >> i called her. she answered. and immediately i could hear, you know, her and chris kind of arguing. so, she's telling him to get out and he's constantly saying, "i need to talk to you. i need to talk to you. i just need two minutes." >> reporter: and ed said he heard something else come out of chris' mouth. >> he's talking to her. it's a matter of life and death. she asked him, "what do you mean, 'a matter of life and death?'" >> reporter: in his interview, chris admitted he and heather continued arguing when she hung up with ed, but he insisted she was alive when he went home. and he said she sent that disturbing good-bye email only after he left.
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>> i'm freaking out because i still, i don't know if this is a game. >> reporter: detectives had been analyzing that strange e-mail and asked forensic experts to comb through chris' computers seized at his apartment. a theory began to emerge. investigators now believed chris had written the e-mail himself. >> did you suspect that chris was posing as heather, sending that e-mail? >> yes, i did, because chris was an expert when it came to computers. >> reporter: and what's more, they suspected it was chris who sent those sexy texts to ed, not heather. they believed he'd stolen her phone and was pretending to be her. >> that is really weird that you're getting sexting from her husband. >> yeah, her husband. it's kind of one of them things, okay, i need to put that out of my mind. >> reporter: chris' plan, detectives thought, was to throw them off the trail, to make it
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look like heather ran off and was having an affair. but they didn't believe a word of his story or that his concern for heather was genuine. >> the reason you were freaking out is because she was dead. your actions after that make no sense. everything else after that was alibi. >> okay. so what did i do with her? >> that's what we're asking, chris. >> reporter: chris was sticking to his story, but the biggest break in the case was about to happen. what chris didn't know is that while detectives were turning up the heat inside the interrogation room, outside they sent some cadaver dogs over to the mall to sniff around his car. and now the team at the mall wanted to speak with detectives immediately. >> they said the dogs just hammered his car. they said they're all over it. >> reporter: they found the scent of human remains. >> i don't know why cadaver dogs hit on my car. >> i do. they don't just hit. they don't just pick cars out of the blue. >> what is it they're trained to
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detect? i mean -- >> the odor of decomposition. >> reporter: wallace had chris against the ropes, and he was finally going to get some answers. not just about what happened, but why. the startling revelation, heather's radical makeover of her body and life had put her life in imminent danger. coming up -- a whole new story from chris. was this all some awful accident? or could it be murder with a mind-blowing motive? when "dateline" continues. pill works fast? take the zantac it challenge! zantac works in as little as 30 minutes. nexium can take 24 hours. when heartburn strikes, take zantac for faster relief than nexium or your money back. take the zantac it challenge.
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xfinity mobile. a new kind of network designed to save you money. call, visit or go to welcome back to "dateline." heather jones's estranged husband maintained he knew nothing about what happened to her. welcome back to "dateline heather jones' estranged husband maintains he knew nothing about what happened to her. but police were hot on his trail. would it lead them to heather? >> i would love to help you. i really would. >> reporter: for hours, chris jones had been going over his story with detectives about what happened the night his wife, heather, disappeared. but after cadaver dogs found the scent of human remains in chris' car, detective bryan wallace wasn't buying his story. >> your story about what happened the night she disappeared is total bull [ bleep ]. >> reporter: wallace pushed him for the truth. >> how did it happen?
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did she fall? she did. was she drunk as [ bleep ]? what happened? >> that's exactly it. we're struggling over the phone, only this time we're outside on the steps. and she lost her footing, and she fell and hit the step, and i heard the crack. >> he said they were struggling over a cell phone. she slipped, fell backwards and hit her head and died. >> reporter: did you believe
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this new story? >> no, no. no way. >> reporter: finally, chris admitted heather was dead but insisted it was only an accident. still, the most important evidence was missing -- heather's body. chris told detectives he dumped her at a gas station. police went there, found nothing and checked security cameras. >> they've got videos from the last 15 days. they have looked at everything from 10:00 a.m. till 4:00 a.m., and your car never even pulls on the lot. >> reporter: chris then changed his story and said he paid someone to get rid of the body. >> i jokingly asked, "hey, you want to make a couple hundred bucks?" >> uh-huh. nope, nope. stop, stop, stop, chris. stop, this isn't working. that's crazier than first one. >> reporter: four hours into the interview, wallace sensed chris was out of stories and out of options. so the detective gave him one last chance. >> i said, "let's cut it out, chris. your time is running out. you need to tell us where she is, and you need to tell us now."
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>> reporter: the room went quiet, and chris motioned for a pen and paper. then he drew a map. >> i said, "this is where she is?" he said, "that's where she is." >> reporter: detectives raced to the area and followed chris' directions down a path into the woods that led to a clearing. >> once we could see an area on the ground where what had looked like a fire had taken place, once we got closer to that, we could tell that there was still a human form there. >> reporter: seven days after she disappeared, detectives had found heather. her body had been badly burned. >> we were brokenhearted. and we had lost her. and she was a big, smiling, beautiful part of our group. >> reporter: chris jones was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. now, the women who'd helped heather jones find the courage to leave her husband supported
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their friend in death, staring down chris jones at every court appearance. >> there's a monster inside who hurt our friend and that we want justice. >> reporter: prosecutors rejected chris' story that heather had died from an accidental fall. they believed he argued with her at her house that night, strangled her, and then burned her body in the woods. but the question remained -- why? heather's friends provided a surprising answer. they were convinced heather's dramatic weight loss got her killed. do you think that heather would still be alive if she hadn't gone through this transformation and bettered herself? >> yes. >> reporter: heather's friends and family said over the course of their relationship, chris used heather's weight as a tool to control her. >> at the beginning, he wanted her to be bigger, that he felt like that would be more attractive to him. and then, as she got bigger,
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then he would say to her that nobody else would want her because she was so obese. >> reporter: and when heather finally achieved her unbelievable transformation, she confided to her friends that chris didn't have the reaction she expected. >> she told me, "chris wants me to gain the weight back." i said, "heather, that's a control technique, okay? he wants you to stay at home. he doesn't want you to get out there. he doesn't want anyone else looking at you." >> reporter: according to her best friend, melissa, heather said chris even brought fatty foods to her, hoping she would pack the pounds back on. >> he would go up to the school with food, and she would not want any part of it. >> reporter: with the sole purpose of trying to get her to gain weight? >> is what she had told me, yes. >> reporter: friends said the new and improved heather never took the bait. and after enduring years of increasing unhappiness in her marriage, they said heather found out something that for her was the last straw. >> she discovered that chris was having an affair with another woman. >> reporter: that's when she
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finally spread her wings and found the courage to leave her marriage. and she never looked back. >> you could see just her spirit just lighting up, and her sense of security and what all the future was going to hold for her. >> reporter: in february of 2015 chris jones went on trial. heather's friends took the stand to help prove the prosecution's theory. when chris realized he'd lost control of heather, he took control in another way. >> find that man guilty of first-degree murder. >> reporter: prosecutors laid out their case to the jury. >> it wasn't an accident. >> reporter: assistant district attorney danielle mccollum. >> she didn't fall down. there was a struggle. he did strangle her either with his hands, or however he did it. he was up close and personal to her. and he was there watching that breath go out of her.
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>> reporter: but the defense stuck to the story chris told on tape, that heather fell and died after they struggled over a cell phone. >> he never admits to killing her. >> reporter: the judge asked chris if he wanted to tell his story to the jury. >> i think that i will choose to not testify. >> reporter: it was now up to the jury to decide his fate. friends and family filled the courthouse waiting for word, but there would not be a quick verdict. finally, after deliberating for a day -- >> "we, the jury, find the defendant guilty of murder first degree." in count two, it reads, "we, the jury, find the defendant guilty of abuse of a corpse." >> reporter: tears flowed for heather, a woman who worked so hard to shape her own life, free of chris jones, who will now likely spend the rest of his life behind bars. >> heather is at peace. heather is at peace. he will never hurt anybody again. >> reporter: even after his conviction, chris jones insisted that he didn't kill heather. he told "dateline" in a phone call from jail that he never tried to control heather, that he is absolutely innocent of
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murder of any type, and that his taped statements to police were coerced. the detectives said chris jones talked to them voluntarily and could have ended the interview at any time. as for cousin diane, she has obtained legal custody of heather and chris' two children. and heather's gym friends, they find comfort in knowing that before her death, heather achieved that remarkable journey, becoming the person she was always meant to be. >> she got to experience that before she left this earth. she got to experience what it was like to be as beautiful as she wanted to be, inside and out. i'm glad she did. >> reporter: that dance class where heather spread her wings still keeps a place for her, a heart with heather's name on it. a reminder of a woman whose transformation continues to inspire all who knew and loved heather jones. is she dancing? >> absolutely. >> we believe that. if you believe in angels, there is one dancing up there, i
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promise you. and every time we have class, she's dancing. >> that's all for this edition of date line oig. i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. 'm craig. and i'm natalie morales. and this is "dateline." this is "dateline." he was definitely charismatic. >> he was the new kid in town, super popular. all about adventure. >> this kid was like, awesome. >> he just jumped right into the culture. >> kind of liked to show off a little bit to the girls. >> they were neighbors just down the block. a family in fear. >> they had had their vehicles broken into. >> she was scared. >> someone had been sneaking into their home, and now someone was in their garage. >> i'm sitting there panicking.


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