Missouri’s newest state park is not all trickling streams and pine-needle coated hiking trails. The piece of land has a bloody past … and it wasn’t that long ago.
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources website the state purchased 1,230 acres in 2015, land which has now been designated the “Jay Nixon State Park” named for outgoing Governor Jeremiah “Jay” Nixon, who leaves office on Monday.
The park is a picturesque northern-Ozarks remote oasis, located in Reynolds County near the Iron County line, which includes a mountaintop 64-acre lake and is situated adjacent to Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and near Johnson Shut-Ins State Park.
It’s said the park will only be accessible by the Ozark Trail. The only road leading into the property is hard to maintain due to the rugged terrain and soil found there. But it’s a small section of road leading through the very corner of the expansive property that created so much heartbreak and tragedy for two families and lots of friends and acquaintances only six short years ago … recent enough that the idea of the land becoming a celebrated park named after an outgoing still-living state official has hit a nerve.
June 11, 2010
To understand the feelings surrounding the announcement you must first know the back story.
This story appeared in the Daily Journal on June 12, 2010:
Two Middlebrook men are dead following a murder and subsequent police shooting incident late Friday (June 11) evening. All indications are the double tragedy stemmed from a long-time dispute over an easement through property several miles to the south off State Route N.
According to police reports and sources close to the incident, 54-year-old Thomas E. Hennessey Jr., who (spent) much of his time living in Dedham, Maine, shot and killed 63-year-old Carl M. Jones, of Middlebrook, outside the Town and Country Supermarket in Ironton at about 10 p.m. Friday.
Information uncovered since the shooting has led law enforcement to believe the shooting was likely premeditated. Records show Hennessey had words with Jones earlier in the evening at a local ballgame. He then apparently followed Jones to the grocery store and confronted him in the parking lot and opened fire.
A witness sitting in a vehicle beside Hennessey’s truck said just before he began firing a semi-automatic weapon, he accused Jones of lying in court.
Hennessey owned a 1,200 acre tract on Proffitt Mountain approximately eight miles south of State Highway 21 on Route N.
Jones, along with several family members, owned several hundred acres adjoining Hennessey’s land. Both properties were accessed by way of a deeded easement off Route N.
According to both Jones and Hennessey, disputes over the use and treatment of the gravel easement road began about a dozen years ago. In the time since, both men had been to court repeatedly to make statements regarding access and incidents over the roadway. Additionally, Hennessey had been involved in disputes with other landowners whose property was intersected by the easement, or who also had use of the court-ordered right-of-way.
One of those neighbors told how Hennessey had threatened her with a gun during a particularly violent argument on the road several years ago.
Court records in Reynolds County tell the tale of the embattled road and the parties involved in the entanglement. Ironically, neither Jones nor Hennessey lived on the properties they owned there. Jones used his property as an investment and hunting land, while Hennessey had done some work developing a lake on his portion and was trying to actively sell it and sever his ties to the area, according to statements he had made in recent months.
The properties sit near the Iron and Reynolds County border, and over the years, law enforcement officers from both jurisdictions had been called to investigation incidents related to the easement.
Jones was a full-time, lifelong cattle farmer raised on the Middlebrook farm where he still lived, while Hennessey had previously lived in the St. Louis area and dealt in land and other investments in several states. Most recently he had been living in Maine, but had returned back to the area in recent weeks to attend to some business.
“While both men admittedly were not fond of each other as a result of the longtime disagreement, they seemed to continue on with their daily lives without much interruption stemming from the dispute — that is, until Friday.
Police records and a press release detail that Jones arrived at the Town and County grocery store just before 10 p.m. Friday. He had reportedly been at a ballgame earlier in the evening with his wife. The couple had two small children, and he also had grandchildren in the area.
Jones reportedly told his wife he would stop at the store and then meet her at their Middlebrook home. Hennessey approached Jones on the parking lot of the store and again exchanged words, then opened fire. According to sources close to the investigation, Hennessey’s weapon was empty of rounds when it was confiscated minutes later. Jones died at the scene.
After shooting Jones, Hennessey got in his truck and headed out of the grocery store parking lot and south on Main Street. An Ironton police officer, alerted to some sort of incident, attempted to pull Hennessey over. Police reports show the driver appeared to be pulling his truck over to stop, but then attempted to run over the officer as he walked up to the vehicle.
Hennessey then continued down Main Street, at which time he reportedly put the truck in reverse and rammed the pursuing police car. At that point the officer, yet to be identified by police, drew his weapon and fired three shots toward the rear of the cab of Hennessey’s truck. One shot struck Hennessey in the back of the neck. By that time the suspect had put the truck back into drive and it rolled across the roadway and stopped in a parking lot a short distance away.
Hennessey was pronounced dead at the scene at short time later.
Per department policy, the officer was placed on administrative leave pending the completion of a routine investigation into the department-related shooting.
A search of Hennessey’s truck immediately following his shooting turned up the weapon believed used to kill Jones, along with a large quantity of ammunition.
At this time it’s still unclear if Hennessey had planned the attack well in advance, or if it stemmed from the argument earlier in the evening. According to a source, Hennessey had reportedly had some health concerns, and was to receive the results from some recent medical tests earlier in the day Friday. He had indicated earlier in the week that he planned to return home to Maine in coming days.
The Hennessey property spent the next few years entangled in the civil court system. The land was listed with a real estate agent at the time of the owner’s death. After several months it was decided the property would remain for sale. In theory any proceeds from its eventual sale would go to the Hennessey estate or to settle debts against the property or otherwise incurred by the owner … including any wrongful death judgement which might be awarded to the Jones family.
The DNR was initially contacted about any interest in the property for a state park at least three years before the deaths of Jones and Hennessey, but at that point showed no interest in buying the land as listed. Now comes word the state agency began inquiring about the land in 2014 and settled on a purchase price and closed the deal in 2015 using funds collected from the “Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration” settlement with the American Smelting and Refining Co. … funds collected as result of lead contamination in Southeast Missouri’s historic lead mining region including St. Francois and surrounding counties.
A granddaughter of Carl Jones took to social media when the initial story of the new park was published on Thursday and began an online petition to have the new park renamed in her grandfather's honor instead of carrying the name of the then-sitting governor.
"I think it would be more appropriate to be named in memory of Carl than Jay Nixon," said Carl's wife, April Crocker-Jones. "Carl loved the land that we hunted on. He worked hard to get us an easement to our land back there. Our entire family hunts the Proffit Mountain area. Carl had hunted back there his entire life. I don't think Jay Nixon knew much about the area or he wouldn't have had his sign put up on display in front of a murderers house.