This Day In History: January 11

Changing the day will navigate the page to that given day in history. You can navigate days by using left and right arrows

On January 11, 1959, the Jackson family—Carroll, 29, his wife Mildred, 27, and their two young daughters—are driving along a dirt road in Virginia, returning home from a family visit, when they are forced to stop and are abducted at gunpoint. A few days later, their car is found empty on the side of the road, with keys in the ignition, Mildred's purse on the seat and dolls scattered about. The family's disappearance triggers a massive search-and-rescue operation and remains a terrifying local mystery for two months.

That's when two men stumbled across the bodies of Carroll Jackson and his one year-old daughter Janet, dumped in a remote area of Fredericksburg, Virginia, hidden under some brush. A short time later, Mildred Jackson and her five-year-old daughter Susan were found buried in a shallow grave, just outside an abandoned building. Their bodies bore signs of torture and rape.

That location proved to be the break in the case—and a signal to authorities that a serial killer was on the loose.

Police had discovered that building two years earlier, while investigating the shooting death of a young woman named Margaret Harold, who had been out for a drive with her boyfriend near Annapolis, Maryland. The killer had swerved in front of the couple’s car, approached with a .38 revolver and shot Harold point-blank in the face, while her boyfriend managed to escape and call authorities. When police arrived at the scene, they found that Harold had been disrobed and sexually assaulted post-mortem. Nearby, in an abandoned building, they discovered a stash of pornographic pictures—a tantalizing but inconclusive clue.

Now, with two, possibly three, brutal sexual crimes committed in and near that building, investigators were reasonably certain that the murders were linked. The media jumped on the story, and tips poured in. While most proved worthless, one pointed authorities towards an itinerant jazz musician named Melvin Rees.

Rees was eventually found in West Memphis, working as a piano salesman. Margaret Harold’s boyfriend picked him out of a lineup and a search of his home turned up a .38 pistol. The most damning evidence, however, was a note paper clipped to a newspaper article about Mildred Jackson, in which Rees described his horrific crimes in detail.

Detectives also found evidence that linked Rees to the slayings of four other young women in the Maryland area as well, although he was never convicted in those cases. Rees stood trial in February 1961 for the murder of Margaret Harold and in September 1961 for the murders of the Jackson family; he was convicted of both and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1972, and he died in prison from heart failure in 1995.