Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Jessica McCord

On Super Bowl Sunday, my dear husband and I decided we were not at all interested in watching football.  We switched on Oxygen instead and came across a Snapped marathon.  Snapped is a show about women who "snap" and commit crimes.  A lot of times, their crimes have to do with ex-husbands or ex-lovers.

We happened to catch the show about Jessica McCord.  It was an episode that really hit close to home because it reminded my husband so much of what he had been through with his ex-wife.  The only difference is, he's still living.  Jessica McCord's ex husband, Alan Bates, and Alan's second wife, Terra, unfortunately, are no longer alive.

Like my husband's ex wife, Jessica McCord grew up in a troubled home.  Jessica's father was an abusive man who cheated on and beat Jessica's mother.  Jessica grew up in a war zone, being used as a pawn.  She was troubled in high school, even though she was very bright.  Alan Bates, by contrast, had a stable home life.  He was one of the most popular guys in school... the kind of guy Jessica reportedly made fun of with her goth friends.

Apparently, Jessica McCord was a fan of movies, especially those that involved good and evil-- superhero themes.  Alan Bates, who came from such a healthy family, supposedly represented good to her, a contrast to her evil upbringing.  My husband's ex-wife is frighteningly similar in this regard.  She tried to claim my husband's parents because they were more in line with the type of family she wished she had.  And the ex is also a big movie buff... she loves fantasy novels, role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, and fantasy religions.  My husband's ex met her third husband playing Dungeons & Dragons; Jessica McCord met hers playing a similar but updated game.

Somehow, Jessica and Alan hooked up and she got pregnant.  Alan was led to believe the child was his, though Jessica later claimed he wasn't the father of her first child.  They married and Jessica dropped out of school, later earning a GED.  Meanwhile, Alan graduated and started college at the University of Montevallo.  He wanted to work in the theater doing set design.  Within two years, Jessica was pregnant with their second child.  My husband married his ex when she had a young son by her first husband.  She claimed to be on birth control, but quickly got pregnant after their wedding.  Two years later, she was knocked up with her third kid, despite being on birth control.  

Jessica was supposedly unhappy as a housewife.  She was convinced Alan was cheating on her, even though he was busy in college and worked constantly to bring home enough money to pay the bills.  She decided she wanted to go to college, too.  She wanted to "be someone".  Meanwhile, she didn't take care of the housework or the kids.  Alan found himself having to pick up her slack.  The marriage finally crumbled and the two got a divorce.  My husband likewise had to work non-stop to take care of his ex-wife and their kids.  Ex refused to work and slept all day, while my future husband toiled in the military and later at a toy factory.  He supported three kids, his ex, his ex's sister, and niece.  Neither ex nor her sister worked.  

Jessica later had a baby with another man, someone she had heard was about to come into money.  They never married.  When their relationship eventually failed, she demanded child support, but wouldn't let him see his daughter.  And he didn't press the issue because he was afraid of what Jessica was capable of. Again, my husband paid exorbitant child support for three kids, one of which wasn't his.  And he didn't press for visitation because it was too traumatic.  

A few years later, Alan Bates met a lovely woman named Terra Klugh.  They hit it off and decided to get married.  Jessica was incensed.  She did everything in her power to make Alan's life a living hell.  She refused to let him have any contact with his daughters.  She took them out of school, ostensibly to "homeschool" them, even though she was unqualified.  She moved them around and evaded Alan when he wanted to exercise visitation.  She told the girls their father didn't care about them and refused to let them talk to him on the phone.  She also got married to Jeff McCord, a cop from Pelham, Alabama, by whom she eventually had two more kids.  These are all things my husband's ex wife did after he told her he planned to marry me.  

When Alan Bates finally had enough of his ex wife's fooling around, he sued for sole custody of his daughters.  He also had her thrown in jail for violating his visitation rights.  Jessica was livid that this man dared to demand his rights.  She vowed to get him.  And she did.  When Alan finally won the right to raise his daughters, she set up a trap to murder him.  Originally, she meant to just kill Alan, but his wife Terra happened to be with him, so she had to go too.  Jessica and Jeff McCord murdered these two people in cold blood, then drove them to Georgia in Alan's rental car.  They pulled over, set the car on fire, and then gleefully went home to clean up the mess from the fatal shots from the 44 caliber pistol Jeff McCord had used to extinguish two innocent lives.  My husband's ex didn't kill my husband, but did threaten him on many occasions and once, when she thought he was sleeping, said she wanted to slit his throat.

I was so taken by Jessica McCord's story that I decided I wanted to know more.  I read M. William Phelps' book Death Trap.  I can't say the book is the best one I've ever read by a true crime author, but I can say the story is shockingly familiar.  I often wonder what would have happened to my husband if he had fought harder for his daughters.  His ex wife was capable of intense rage and violence and she swore he would pay for their divorce.

Jessica McCord, like my husband's ex wife, has five children by three men.  And every time her relationships failed, she cut her children's fathers out of their lives, just like my husband's ex wife has.  My husband's ex wife, like Jessica McCord, pulled her kids out of school to "homeschool" them.  She has told them that their father doesn't care about them.  And her third husband by many accounts is "weird".  He has a police record of abusing animals.  I only wonder what might have happened if my husband had tried to avail himself of the court system to exercise his parental rights.

I'm sorry the cycle is doomed to continue... but I am glad my husband is alive and well.  Too bad Alan Bates can't say the same... and his daughters, along with the rest of Jessica McCord's kids, are now without their parents.  While I can't say M. William Phelps' book is brilliant, the story is fascinating in a sickening way.


Please click the above link first.

Because certain people can't control themselves, comments are currently turned off for this post.  Below, you will find a link to the episode of Snapped that prompted this post.

My review of M. William Phelps' book...

Death Trap... reminds me of what might have been

Feb 12, 2012 (Updated Feb 12, 2012)

Review by knotheadusc in Books

Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros: Fascinating case.

Cons: Book is not particularly well written.

The Bottom Line: Death Trap is a cautionary and tragic tale to guys who want to do the "right thing" by a woman.

Last Sunday, while everyone else was watching the Super Bowl, my husband Bill and I were watching a Snapped marathon on the Oxygen channel. For those who don't know, Snapped is a television show about women who "snap" and commit crimes. I have seen the show many times and have often been inspired to read more about the cases that are profiled. Such was the case last weekend when Snapped profiled Jessica McCord. The case was so startling to me that I had to look for a book about it. That's how I found M. William Phelps' true crime book Death Trap (2010).

Who is Jessica McCord and why does she merit a book?  

In February 2002, thirty year old Alabama resident Jessica McCord was on the brink of losing custody of her two oldest daughters to her ex-husband Alan Bates and his wife, Terra. Jessica's second husband, Jeff McCord, was a police officer in Pelham, Alabama. As an officer of the law, he was duty bound to protect and serve the public. But as Jessica McCord's husband, he was duty bound to help his wife off her pesky ex-husband who demanded access to his daughters from their marriage.

Since her divorce from Alan Bates, Jessica McCord had refused to cooperate with court orders allowing Alan Bates visitation with their kids. She had moved the girls, taken them out of school to "homeschool" them, removed the mailbox to prevent her ex-husband from serving her with legal documents, and refused to answer the telephone when he called, wanting to speak to their kids. She wanted Alan Bates to pay child support, but he was not to influence her children and she did everything in her power to prevent him from doing that.

Young love gone wrong 

By most accounts, Jessica McCord and Alan Bates never should have gotten together in the first place. They met in high school. Alan Bates was an honor student who loved the theater. He had a very bright future ahead of him in set design. Jessica Callis was a misfit from a broken home. Her natural father regularly beat her mother and abused the kids. When her parents divorced, Jessica found herself being used as a pawn. Nevertheless, somehow she buried the pain of her childhood by mocking those who came from good homes. She had made fun of people like Alan Bates. And then, for some weird reason, they started dating and Jessica eventually got pregnant.

Alan Bates was a fine young man who wanted to do right by his pregnant girlfriend. The two got married. Jessica dropped out of school and got her GED. Alan graduated with honors and won acceptance to the University of Montevallo to study theater. The young couple moved to the college town and tried to make a go of it. Jessica had their second daughter in 1992. Meanwhile, Alan worked non-stop to care for his family and get an education.

Jessica was displeased with being a housewife saddled with two babies. She was jealous of Alan's "freedom" and academic accolades. She was convinced he had a girlfriend at school. Their marriage crumbled in 1994.

Several years later, Alan met Terra Klugh, a woman with whom he was much more compatible. Even though Jessica had another child with an ex boyfriend, she was furious when Alan moved on. There was no way her daughters would have a stepmother, and Alan would have to pay for "abandoning her". What's more, she was determined to get married again, too. Just before Alan married Terra, Jessica married Jeff McCord, who stepped in as daddy to Jessica's brood. She went on to have two more kids by her second husband.

Alan Bates only wanted to have a relationship with his kids, but his ex-wife made it impossible for him to be a father. When he'd finally had enough of Jessica's blatant disregard for his rights, Alan went to court to compel her to cooperate. At the very end of his life, it looked like he'd finally prevailed. But Jessica and her husband had a nasty surprise for Alan and his second wife, Terra. M. William Phelps outlines how Jessica and Jeff McCord carried out their plan to be rid of Alan forever and the court case that put Jessica and Jeff McCord in prison.

My thoughts

I can't say I "enjoyed" reading Death Trap, because it is a true crime book about how two innocent people were murdered trying to do the right thing. In the wake of the murders, five children lost their parents to prison or death. Three families were left to grieve for lives prematurely ended or ruined.

However, I can say that I was fascinated by this book, mainly because my husband was once married to a woman very much like Jessica McCord. Like Alan Bates, he wanted to do the right thing. He paid child support and tried to maintain contact with his kids until it became impossible. Unlike Alan Bates, my husband never pursued his parental rights in a court of law. I don't know that my husband's ex would have resorted to murder, but I honestly wouldn't put it past her if she got desperate enough. So on that level, Phelps' book was very interesting to me.

I don't think this book is particularly well-written. Phelps has a habit of using sentence fragments to make dramatic points. That style became annoying to me after awhile. It seemed amateurish and sensationalist. In the course of writing this tale, Phelps jumps around a bit, making it tricky to keep up with the story. He also includes a number of asides in parentheses which were distracting. The photos in the book did show up well on my Kindle, at least.


I read this book because it was the only one available about Jessica McCord's case. Because the case was so personally relateable to me, Death Trap was well worth reading. However, I think Jessica McCord's case would have been handled better by a different writer. I would recommend Death Trap to anyone who wants to read Jessica McCord's story, though.