"One of the worst things about life is not how nasty the nasty people are. You know that already. It is how nasty the nice people can be."
It was the 1st of January 2009. Dana Clair Edwards was due to visit her parents, Deborah and Darrell Edwards, at their Fredericksburg ranch. It was New Year's Day and the 32 year old had been looking forward to spending it with her parents and brother Darrell Jr.
Dana Clair lived in an apartment in Alamo Heights ,San Antonia, Texas, United States with her little Jack Russell dog Grit and Maltese dog Toby. She was besotted with them both. They were both beautiful little rescue dogs and they loved her as much as she loved them. Grit had been her constant companion for 11 years and Toby was a recent addition to her family. They were great company for her especially as she worked from home.
Dana and Grit
The night before she was due to go to the ranch, she went to a party with friends. It was New Year’s Eve.
That was what Dana Clair loved doing the most. Spending time with her dogs, friends and family. She was a warm and friendly person. At just 23 years old, she broke five vertebrae in her neck and suffered a serious spinal cord injury in a car accident and that caused her to drop out of medical school. She dreamed of being a surgeon one day. Even though she had to change her plans and career, that did not prevent her from maintaining a positive attitude and achieving great things. She worked at the family construction business and was a talented decorator and designer.
The New Year's Eve party was a quiet enough affair. It was just a small gathering of friends and instead of having a big and loud party, they ate good food and played board games, chatted and just had fun. Dana Clair stayed until 12.45am so that she could ring in the New Year with friends. It was a short drive back to her apartment from her friend's house and she didn't want to stay too late as she wanted to walk her dogs and then get up early to go to the ranch the next day.
Dana and Grit
But Dana Clair never made it to the ranch and didn't make any contact whatsoever with her family. It was so out of character. Deborah and Darrell were concerned when they couldn't reach her. The last time they had spoken to her was on the 31st of December at 5.30pm. They knew she was going to a party that night but were extremely worried when they heard nothing at all from her on New Year's Day. That is why they made the decision to drive from the ranch to her apartment.
They arrived at her apartment in the early hours of the 2nd of January.
When Deborah and Darrell arrived at Dana Clair's apartment, the apartment seemed normal in terms of how it looked but there was an eery silence. Dana Clair's two dogs, Grit and Toby, usually greeted her parents at the door but there was no sign of them. As they walked through the apartment, they made a harrowing discovery. Dana Clair was lying on the floor between her bathroom and office face down. There was a towel covering her face. When Deborah touched her leg, it was cold. They were too late. Dana Clair was dead.
Darrell and Deborah Edwards
In the midst of the devastation, little Toby emerged frightened from a hiding place in the apartment. He was clearly shaken. There was no sign of Grit anywhere in the apartment. Grit was missing.
Initially, in the investigation, there was a belief that Dana Clair's death was accidental and she may have fallen and smacked her head off the floor. But that quickly changed. The autopsy revealed the cause of death was asphyxiation due to ligature strangulation and there were lacerations and indications of visible blunt force trauma to her head. This was no accident. Dana Clair had been murdered.
Police needed to retrace her movements. They knew she had been to a New Year's Eve party and had made it home after the party. So they needed to figure out if someone was waiting for her at home, if she arrived home with somebody or if someone later entered the apartment.
There was no sign of a robbery in the apartment, there was no forced entry and nothing had been taken. The only thing missing was Grit. That led police to believe that Dana Clair may have been killed by someone close to her and the obvious place to start their investigation was to speak with everyone who had attended the party.
Police recovered the body of Dana Clair's dog, Grit, on January 7th. Grit’s badly beaten remains were found two miles from Dana’s apartment and he appeared to have been dropped from the Olmos Basin Overlook. Police believed the attack on Dana Clair and Grit was not an opportunistic attack but a personal one.
It didn't take long for police to focus their investigation on one person. Jon Thomas Ford. Thomas was at the party that night. Thomas and Dana Clair had dated for two and a half years. While they never lived together, it was a serious and committed relationship. But in the Summer of 2008, it became apparent that the two of them wanted different things in life. Thomas wanted to change careers and Dana Clair wanted to settle down and have children so in September 2008, Dana ended their relationship.
Dana Clair and Thomas
It was clear that Thomas was devastated by the break down of the relationship. He wrote letters to Dana Clair expressing how much he loved her and how devastated he was. He was so distraught that he couldn't sleep. Despite that, they remained on good terms and as they had many of the same friends and lived in the same area, they socialised together. When Thomas had a 40th Birthday party, he even invited Dana Clair. That was in October 2008 and they met at a few other parties between October and December. On the 23rd of December, Thomas asked Dana Clair to meet him at his house. He bought a christmas gift for her. She was there for around five hours trying to console Thomas and discussed their relationship. Even though Dana Clair did not want Thomas to be upset, she did not want the relationship to continue either. When she ended it, she meant it.
Thomas knew that Dana Clair would be at the New Year's Eve party that night. A mutual friend told him so. It didn't appear to bother him and he said that he was fine with it. So if that was the case, why were police focused on him? Thomas was well liked in the community, he has a popular man, described by most as a "nice man" and was from a really wealthy family. It was clear he was heartbroken over the end of his relationship but having a broken heart was not a crime.
However, an incident at the party and the events that followed are what convinced police that all was not as it seemed with Thomas.
Thomas and Dana Clair
The night had started off in a normal manner. The party was at Mary Minor's house. Before Thomas went to the party, he stopped off at another friend's house where he met one of his friends and then they both went on to Mary's house. There was nothing too eventful about the night until a group of people decided to play "Apples to Apples." A card came up in the game about marriage and one of the women at the party teased Thomas about it. He told her afterwards that he was not happy about it. Seemingly, it touched a raw nerve regarding his relationship with Dana Clair. He left after that. He did not even wait around for midnight and to ring in the New Year. He left before 11.30pm. He claimed the party was no longer fun.
According to Thomas, he went straight home and got into bed. It took him less than 5 minutes to get home in his white Chevy Tahoe and he was asleep before midnight.
His friend's account of what happened after the party didn't match with the details Thomas had provided to police. They agreed that Thomas left the party early but they said that they wanted to drop off his beer at around 12.45 am but when they drove by his house, his car was not there so they didn't stop.
CCTV footage taken from the area around Dana Clair's apartment revealed some clues. A white SUV, similar to Thomas's car, was seen entering and leaving the complex a couple of times. It left again at 11.30 pm and headed north on New Braunfels toward Nacogdoches. At this time, Dana Clair was not in her apartment, she was still at the party. After the car left and headed north, it disappeared from view but just a few minutes later, a person could be seen on camera walking back from the north of the intersection and heading back towards Dana Clair's apartment on foot. It was not clear who this person was from the CCTV footage but he was wearing light coloured pants and a dark top. This was similar to the clothes Thomas had worn to the party. The person entered Dana Clair's apartment complex at 11.42pm.
Dana Clair arrived home from the party at 1am. She walked her two little dogs , Grit and Toby, before heading back inside.
Just after 2 am, the man who had entered the complex at 11.42 pm left. At 2.07 am, the white SUV was seen heading south on New Braunfels. Over an hour later, the SUV pulled into Dana Clair's apartment complex and left 4 minutes later.
Thomas was charged with murder.
The Prosecution faced a difficult task. There were a number of items that had mysteriously ‘gone missing’ from the case. These items included Dana’s fingernail clippings, her underwear that she was wearing the night she was killed and CCTV footage. This CCTV footage provided a clearer image of the SUV that entered Dana’s apartment and without it, the only CCTV footage that was available was grainy and difficult to make out. Nevertheless, it was the Prosecution’s case that Ford entered Dana’s complex in his SUV and then parked it outside and entered on foot and waited for her to return home.
The Prosecution claimed his cell phone records proved he was at Dana Clair’s apartment complex that night. A call that was made to Thomas’s phone that went straight to voicemail bounced off the towers beside Dana Clair’s apartment instead of his own. Then a text that was received at 1.32 am, bounced off the tower two miles from Dana Clair’s apartment, the location where Grit’s body was found. It was their case that Thomas waited for Dana Clair to come home, killed her and then took Grit to a location two miles away and they believed his cell phone showed his movements in this regard. They also presented the towel to the Jury that was found covering Dana Clair’s face. It had Thomas’s DNA on it.
The Defense claimed that Thomas went straight to bed that night. It was their case that his car was outside his own house and the two witnesses had failed to see it due to how dark it was. They also felt that the DNA found on the towel was there from when Thomas visited Dana Clair ten days before she was killed. They also said that the white SUV that could be seen driving into Dana’s complex was a common car and in no way could be connected to Thomas.
It took the Jury eight hours to deliberate and they convicted Ford of the murder of Dana Clair and recommended that he be sentenced to forty years. He will be eligible for parole in twenty years and has lodged an Appeal.
Throughout the Trial, Dana Clair’s father brought the ashes of Dana Clair and Grit with him to Court every day and for her memorial service, her brother arranged a service where puppies were also available to be adopted in Dana’s memory. Every puppy was adopted.
When Dana Clair ended the relationship with Thomas, she tried to help him move on. She was kind and considerate towards him and certainly did not want to hurt his feelings in any way. But the man who people thought of as nice was far from it. He was full of rage and jealousy the night he killed Dana Clair. He was so jealous that he killed little Grit because he knew how much she loved him. Had Thomas revealed his true colors earlier, Dana Clair would never have given him the time of day. He was the opposite of everything she stood for.