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Three Years Later, Family Seeks Answers in Death of Jennifer Larry

Saturday, December 5, 2015, 6:40 pm News Flash Archive

Three years ago today, Mrs. Jessie Larry's life was turned upside down.

She remembers that Wednesday morning the Fifth of December 2012 well. Around 10 o'clock, she got a frantic phone call from her daughter Deborah, telling her that her other daughter, Jennifer, had been found dead in her apartment on River Road around 8 o'clock that morning.

She was only 27 years old.

*****

Mrs. Larry rushed over to Jennifer's apartment and found a large number of people milling about - policemen, EMTs with MEDSTAT, several of Jennifer's co-workers, her sister Deborah and her brother Darrell Larry, the Coroner Debra Sanders, assistant police chief Johnny Langdon Sr., and several other of Jennifer's friends.

Mrs. Larry entered the apartment and saw the body of her daughter lying on the floor in her bedroom. Her body was cold, and the Coroner later determined that she had been dead for several days.

Jennifer was a Registered Nurse who worked at the Greenwood Leflore Hospital. Her supervisor Deborah Robinson told the police she had worked her 12 hour shift on November 27th, but had called in sick on Friday November 30th, and had failed to show up for work Saturday or Sunday either.

When nobody at work had heard from her for five days, Ms. Robinson had sent a co-worker around to Jennifer's apartment to check on her. Getting no answer at the door, she and a friend had broken down the door, and discovered Jennifer dead on the floor.

*****

Jennifer Lashay Larry, called "Shay" by her family and friends, was a vivacious, outgoing young lady with a promising career in nursing. She worked as a top nurse on the Fifth Floor of the Hospital, but her contract was close to expiring, and she had plans to move to New Orleans to study to become a Nurse Practitioner.


November 22, 2012 photo
of Jennifer Lashay Larry

But now Shay was dead, and the Larry family was at the beginning of a long struggle to find out exactly what happened, and why she was dead. They are still searching for answers three years later.

*****

Shay had invited her family over to her apartment for Thanksgiving dinner two weeks before. She had prepared turkey and dressing, chicken spaghetti, meat loaf, corn bread, mac and cheese, yams - the whole traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Jessie, Darrell, another brother Anthony, and several others had enjoyed the time together that Thursday. But they noticed Shay wasn't looking well. Darrell said she looked "white as a ghost."

During the next two weeks, she would go to the After Hours Clinic because she continued to feel unwell.

On Saturday, November 24th, Shay's mother Jessie went shopping with her, and they went to have their nails done. It would be the last time her mother ever saw Shay alive.

Her brother Darrell saw her at Back Street Saturday night. Sunday, Jessie went around to her apartment to borrow her car, but she was out. Later that day, Shay went shopping at Walmart, where she purchased some beverages and a DVD.

Monday the 26th of November, Shay spoke with her mother on the phone, and told her she felt bad.

"Mama loves you," Jessie Larry told her daughter.

"I love you too," Shay replied.

It was the last thing any of Shay's family ever heard from her.

*****

The Greenwood Commonwealth ran a front-page story the day after Shay's body was discovered. It quoted Police Chief Henry Purnell as saying "there were no signs of foul play," but that the state Crime Lab had been called in and an autopsy would be performed.

The newspaper run an obituary on Thursday, December 13, 2012. Two days later, her family and friends buried her.

The newspaper reported that the date and cause of death were still unknown, and the investigation was continuing.

That was the last time the public read or heard anything more about the unexplained death.

*****

The Coroner, Debra Sanders, signed the Certificate of Death on December 11, 2012. Under "cause of death" she wrote "Pending" and left the remainder of the section blank. She recorded that the death had been referred to the Medical Examiner.

Shay's family still wanted answers, but they would have to await the results of the autopsy.

Dr. Erin Barnhart performed that autopsy the day after Shay's body was discovered. His conclusions were reported in his Autopsy Report, which has been obtained by The Taxpayers Channel.

The Medical Examiner's conclusions read: "Final Anatomic Diagnosis - Twenty-seven year old female with no acute injuries and no anatomic cause of death."

But even as the Coroner was signing the death certificate, the forensic toxicology lab in Pearl was about to discover the real cause of Shay's death. They received samples of her blood and urine from the Medical Examiner the day after the autopsy, and on December 11, 2012, they prepared a report that revealed the startling, and rare cause of Shay's death.

No traces of any drugs of any sort were found in Shay's body. Even though Shay had been a moderate social drinker, no blood alcohol was discovered either.

What they did find, however, were deadly levels of methyl alcohol, an industrial solvent that can be fatal when ingested even in small quantities. Shay's blood level of methyl alcohol was 161 mg/dl, which according to the toxicology report is about twice the level deemed toxic. The methyl alcohol content of her urine was higher still.

Based upon these findings, on March 11, 2013, Debra Sanders amended the Certificate of Death to declare the cause of death as "Methanol Toxicity." At that point, she was unable to ascertain how Shay came to ingest the methyl alcohol or the source of the poison.

*****

The Larry family is very dissatisfied with the Greenwood Police Department's investigation of their daughter and sister's death. They claim none of the family has been interviewed about her death, or their suspicions as to its cause. The police returned Shay's cell phone and laptop in May 2013, and the Larrys told The Taxpayers Channel that they haven't heard from the police since.

Greenwood Police Chief Ray Moore told The Taxpayers Channel that his detectives have spoken to the family this year. He stated that they were "informed that all leads had been exhausted and at this time there was no indication of foul play in Ms. Larry's death."

Chief Moore also stated that the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation has been involved and has also not uncovered any evidence of foul play.

Chief Moore concluded: "The case at this time remains open but inactive unless other information or evidence becomes available."

*****

Three years later, nobody knows how a lethal dose of methyl alcohol entered Shay's body or what its source could be. The Larry family believes that her illness just before she died was somehow related to her ingestion of the poison, which can take several days to work its deadly action.

It is unlikely that Shay took the poison deliberately, since she was not depressed and had a bright future ahead of her, she left no note or explanation, and methyl alcohol is a slow and painful method of death that a medical professional would know about and seek to avoid.

That leaves accidental ingestion, or deliberate poisoning by somebody else. There are cases where persons have been deliberately poisoned by methyl alcohol, since its taste can be masked in soft drinks or power / exercise drinks.

The Larry family suspects one or more persons of having an interest in harming Shay, but they claim that the police have never questioned them about their suspicions.

This week, Jessie Larry filed public records requests to the Greenwood Police Department to provide full details on its investigation, and to the State Medical Examiner for the full autopsy file in the case. She has also requested copies of Shay's medical records from the Hospital and its clinic.

Meanwhile, it's now been three years, and the family and friends of Jennifer Lashay Larry are no nearer finding out who killed their loved one than they were the day they first learned she was dead.

John Pittman Hey
The Taxpayers Channel

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