Middle Tennessee Mysteries

Shelby County: Serial Killer Henry Lee Jones

Feb 04, 2019 at 10:00 am by Michelle Willard

Henry Lee Jones

On Jan. 30, 2019, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the conviction of an accused serial killer and set his execution date.

Henry Lee "Bam" Jones was convicted of killing three people by strangling them before cutting their throats. But Florida Department of Law Enforcement suspects he is responsible for many more murders across the Southeast.

Law-enforcement agencies across the South have re-examined unsolved cases involving the Jones's alleged signature: bindings and cuts to the neck.

So far, he has only been connected to the murders of Keith Gross and Carlos Perez in Florida and Clarence and Lillian James in Tennessee. 

The Victims

Keith Gross

Keith Gross, 24, worked at Kitchens to Go, a custom kitchens showroom in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He was described by family and friends as likable and dependable. They also said he was turning his life around "from being the who liked to drink beer and watch The Simpsons into a leading showroom salesman and kitchen cabinet designer."

Clarence and Lillian James

Clarence James, 82, was a veteran of World War II who had retired from the Memphis Park Commission.

His wife Lillian was 66 years old and worked the night shift in the environmental services department at Methodist Central Hospital in Memphis. She did not drive, so she usually took the bus to work and had one of her children pick her up at the end of her shift.

Around 1:30 Saturday morning, Aug. 23, 2003, her daughter Margaret Coleman went to the hospital to give her mother a ride. She assumed her mother had found another way home and decided to check on her later that day.

On the afternoon of Aug. 23, 2003, Coleman called on her mother and step-father.

When she arrived, she found the front door ajar and the normally tidy home ransacked. When she called out for her mother and received no response, she dialed 911.

Bartlett Police Department officers responded and found Clarence and Lillian dead inside the house.

Both victims had multiple injuries including strangulation and signing of being bound, but the causes of death were determined to be exsanguination from a slit throat.

Carlos Perez

Carlos Perez is a 19-year-old day laborer who lives in Wilton Manors, Fla., outside Fort Lauderdale.

He worked at Dependable Temps, a day-labor service where Jones also sought work.

Jones admitted to knowing Carlos through the temp agency and that the two had bought cocaine together on a couple of occasions, but he denied seeing Carlos on the day he died.

The Suspect

Henry Lee "Bam" Jones grew up in a family of 14 children in Cleveland, Mississippi. He said he suffered abuse at the hands of older relatives who "beat him with belts, cords, hangers and water hoses."

He had several juvenile convictions but his adult criminal career began in 1981 when he was 18 years old, according to a 2008 article in the Commercial Appeal by Trevor Aaronson.

It all started Aug. 4, 1981 when Jones was arrested, and he got into a skirmish with police. He was in a stand-off in an apartment after his 17-year-old girlfriend accused him of abuse. In response, he locked himself in the apartment with their infant child.

When the police entered the apartment Jones resisted and fought several officers from the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Police Department.

Jones was arrested and charged with two counts of battery on a law enforcement officer.

While out on bail, he stole a 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix while on a test drive by forcing the car salesman into the trunk.

Jones was stopped by a Florida State Trooper just north of Jacksonville, which is more than 325 miles north of Fort Lauderdale. Instead of going back to jail, he fled the scene when the trooper asked for his driver's license.

Like a scene from Smokey and The Bandit, they end up in a high-speed chase that ended when Jones turned onto a dead-end road and drove into a series of railroad tracks. Jones then ran into the woods as police search for him with a helicopter and search dogs.

Jones is charged in Broward County, Florida, with robbery, kidnapping, grand theft, possession of a firearm while engaged in a felony, and carrying a concealed firearm.

While in jail, Jones decides to escape rather than face trial. His freedom was short lived.

In March 1982, Jones is convicted of assaulting an officer (the first charges) and receives one year and one day in prison.

In September 1982, he is convicted of robbery and kidnapping and is given two 30-year prison sentences to run concurrently. He also entered a guilty plea for his escape and another five years is added to his sentence.

If he had served his full sentence, he would not have been released in 2017.

Despite being cited for more than 30 violations, including 11 assaults and one inciting a riot, Jones is released in July 1997 because of overcrowding in Florida jails.

Jones was far from a reformed man. Over the next few years, he is convicted of stalking, violating a restraining order, battery/domestic violence, resisting arrest without violence, grand theft and burglary in three separate incidents.He is also accused of attempting to rob a school's vending machines and possession of marijuana and battery, but these charges fail to stick.

In the battery/domestic violence, resisting arrest without violence, grand theft and burglary incident, he is only spends 126 days in jail.

In 2002, Jones was accused of drugging and raping a mentally handicapped teenage boy. According to a police report, Jones choked and raped the boy for three hours in an abandoned apartment building. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges. 

The Murders

Keith Gross

On Sept. 9, 2002, Jones committed what is believed to be his first murder.

Keith Gross was a dependable guy so when he failed to go to a friend's house to watch a Miami Dolphins' game and was late to work that Monday, Keith's boss and friend Ken Walker walked to his house to check on him.

Walker arrived to find the house locked. Curious, he looked through a window and saw Keith naked on the floor, hog-tied and still with a sheet over his head and neck.

Walker called police who reported Keith had been raped and had his throat slit.

During an interview, Walker told them of a man named Bam who had dreadlocks, gold teeth and tear-drop tattoo under his left eye.

Fort Lauderdale Police Detective Mark Shotwell brought Jones in for questioning but discounted him as a suspect, focusing instead on Walker. The investigator believed the murder was committed by a gay man, not Jones who appeared to be heterosexual.

“We are looking for leads and asking the gay community to help if they have any information,” Shotwell said in an interview with The Express, a weekly gay newspaper in South Florida.

Investigators didn't connect Jones to the murder until late 2003 when they discovered his footprint matched bloody prints found at the scene.

Jones remains the prime suspect in that case, although he has never been indicted.

Clarence and Lillian James

On Aug. 22, 2003, Jones had made his way to Bartlett, Tennessee, where he once lived.

He was with Tevarus Young, a 20-year-old homeless male prostitute, who he picked up in Florida.

Young said Jones paid him for oral sex before driving north for two days through Florida and into Shelby County, Tennessee.

As they drove through Bartlett, Jones parked on Bartlett Boulevard and approached an elderly man sitting in his home's garage. The man was 82-year-old Clarence James.

“Hey, pops, how you doing?” Jones asked Clarence, according to testimony from Young at trial.

As Jones and Clarence spoke, Clarence asked Young if he would move a lawn mower into the backyard. When Young returned, the garage door was closed and the men nowhere to be found.

Young entered the home through the front door to find Jones with a rope and two towels, all covered in blood, he testified during a 2004 trial.

Jones hog-tied Clarence and cut his throat before doing the same to Lillian James.

After removing the bindings from the couple, Jones and his accomplice burglarize the home and left.

Young said Jones threatened to kill him if he reported the crimes. He also testified that Jones raped him in the car at a rest stop after the murders.

Jones stopped in Mississippi and bought a white Lincoln Town Car. Young drove the Dodge they took to Tennessee as Jones followed behind in the new car.

As the men made their way back to Fort Lauderdale, Jones used Lillian's credit cards to pay for gas along the way.

The two men are apprehended on Aug. 25, 2003, in Florida, two days after the murders. Young was pulled over near Melbourne, Florida, by a Brevard County Sheriff’s deputy who found the young man has an outstanding warrant.

Jones is allowed to leave in the Lincoln but told to come back that day for the Dodge. He doesn't.

Instead, the next day, Aug. 26, 2003, Jones took Carlos Perez to a motel in Fort Lauderdale.

Carlos Perez

Carlos left his home early on the morning of Aug. 26, 2003, looking for temp work. It's unclear what happened, but he ended up checking into a motel in Melborne, Florida, with a tall black man who drove a white Town Car.

On the morning of Aug. 27, 2003, a housekeeper entered the room rented to Carlos to find the 19-year-old wrapped in a comforter and blood soaking the bed.

His cause of death was having his throat slit. He also showed signs of strangulation and anal sex.

Carlos had abrasions to his anus, wrists and ankles – the former suggesting sex and latter suggesting he was bound – and bite marks on his neck.

The Brevard County, Florida, medical examiner testified that Carlos was laid face down then his hands were tied at the wrists, his legs were tied at the ankles. During a sex act, the rope around his neck was tightened and released multiple times.

The expert witness said Jones cut Carlos's neck multiple times, going deeper with each cut until jugular vein was cut.

Forensics techs used an alternative light source to find evidence of shoe prints from at least four people in the room. They also found evidence of someone attempting to wipe away fingerprints. The pillow cases, towels, and washcloths were missing from the room.

DNA from cigarette butts left in the room was from Carlos and an unknown woman. Her DNA was also found on Carlos's penis but DNA from the anal abrasions did not match Jones or the unknown female.

However, two pubic hairs found in the room matched Jones's mitochondrial DNA.

During their investigation, Melbourne Police detectives traced the Town Car back to Jones through its license plate, "69BAM." When they found a credit card from a murder victim in Tennessee had been used at a nearby gas station, This led them to Bartlett police who were looking for Jones too.

When they compared the James and Perez crime scenes, they determine that the same person is responsible for all three deaths.

Almost a month after Carlos's death, Jones was found by a fugitive hunter following another brief car chase in Fort Lauderdale. A search of Jones's car reveals a pair of Nikes that match the shoe prints from the motel.

Further questioning of Young resulted on Aug. 30, 2003, in an indictment of first-degree murder in Tennessee. The men were then extradited to Tennessee.

The Trials

A Shelby County Grand Jury indicted Jones on two counts of first-degree murder on Oct. 7, 2003, for the deaths of Clarence and Lillian Jones (pictured here). The state filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty.

During a pretrial hearing, prosecutors asked the court to introduce evidence from Carlos's murder.

They argued the similarity of the crimes sets a modus operandi that was "so distinctive and so strikingly similar to the modus operandi in the James murders that proof of the Perez murder was admissible as evidence on the issue of identity."

Prosecutors also sought to introduce evidence from Keith Gross's death.

The judge ruled evidence from the James murders but not Gross's could be presented even though Tennessee state law says "evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible."

This ruling would eventually result in Jones's conviction being overturned on appeal.

During the 2004 trial, the jury heard evidence from three murders and found Jones guilty of the cold-blooded killing of Clarence and Lillian James.

Because he was sentenced to death, the Tennessee Supreme Court automatically reviewed the verdict. The high court ruled the evidence from Carlos Perez's death should not have been admitted and ordered a new trial.

After Jones's conviction, Young entered a guilty plea on two counts of facilitation of first degree murder in return for two concurrent thirteen-and-one-half-year sentences. He has completed his sentence and returned to Florida.

A second trial for Jones was held in 2009, during which the jury heard similar evidence with the exception that evidence from the death of Carlos was excluded.

After two weeks of testimony, the jury found Jones guilty and sentenced him to death on all counts.

In October 2013, Jones was convicted of the first degree premeditated murder of Carlos Perez. During the trial, Jones waived his right to counsel and represented himself.

On Jan. 30, 2019, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the conviction. His execution date was set for April 8, 2020.