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.


  1. I think it's terrible that your husband would give up on his children and leave them with an unstable mother and a "weird" stepfather. Any good parent would risk their own life to keep their kids out of harm's way.

  2. Thanks for your input, nanny braun. I agree with you that it's "terrible" that my husband had to let his ex wife and weird husband raise his daughters. I wish he had been able to take them from her and give them a fighting chance. Actually, I mostly wish he'd had those kids with me instead of her. I guarantee that if he had, he would have been able to be a proper father to them. Unfortunately, fathers in the United States often don't get a fair shake in court and end up spending thousands of dollars with no positive results.

    How dare you judge my husband's situation? You make it sound like it's an easy thing for fathers to do, getting full custody from their children's mother. It's not. I don't know where you come from, but waging a legal war costs a lot of money that my husband didn't have because--like a GOOD and RESPONSIBLE father-- he was paying court ordered child support to the tune of $30,000 a year. And taking time away from a new job to fight in court for his kids in a state on the other side of the country would have prevented him from being able to support them. Which would you prefer? A dad who spends all his money on pointless court battles or a dad who spends his money to support his children? And tell me, if he did get custody of his kids, would you be one of those idiots who would berate him for taking them away from their mother and making them live on the other side of the country?

    Your comment is very judgmental and ignorant. You clearly know nothing about Parental Alienation Syndrome, which is a very real thing. If you are an actual nanny, I'd recommend that you spend some time researching PAS. You need to educate yourself. Moreover, since you know nothing about PAS or our particular situation, I'd appreciate it if you kept your uninformed comments to yourself.

  3. Gotta agree with Nanny, sorry. I had a Dad who didn't fight for me. I never forgave him.

    1. I'm truly sorry your dad didn't fight for you. I'm assuming you are now an adult. Did you ever ask your dad why he didn't fight, or did you just quit speaking to him? If you did talk to your dad about this, did you take the time to consider whether or not his side of the story had any merit? Or are you just pissed at him because your parents' didn't stay together? Did you just take your mother's word for what happened between them or have you actually tried to find out the whole truth and considered all sides of the story?

      It's easy to leave a comment on a blog, shaming someone you don't know for "abandoning their kids" just because you happened to be abandoned by your dad. But I'll bet you haven't given any thought to a perspective other than your own.

      Everybody's different. Your dad may very well be worthy of your contempt. But I know not all men are bastards and not all dads "abandon" their kids out of choice. Your dad's story is very likely not the same as my husband's is-- or maybe it is. Have you bothered to ask him?

      It's really not fair or smart to paint every situation with the same broad brush, not that I really care what you think of me. You don't even know me, so your comments can't be personal. I'm just offering you some perspective in case you ever end up in a situation like mine and my husband's.

      I wish you luck with your family problems, but it's neither my husband's fault nor mine that your dad didn't fight for you.

  4. Knotty, there is something that seriously doesn't smell right about your story. You defend your husband abandoning his kids with his ex-wife and somehow you think that's justified. I feel very sorry for you and your husband. He has been married to two crazy women. I guess he really knows how to pick 'em.

    1. Hey nmcpeny2125,

      My husband and I just celebrated ten very happy years together. So yeah, I guess he did pick right this time. ;-)

      I wouldn't expect a drive by commenter to understand the intricacies of my husband's situation. Clearly, you have no empathy and for that, I feel very sorry for you and anyone who happens to know you.

      What's the matter? Were you abandoned by your father? Or are you a jilted ex-spouse who alienates your kids from their other parent? Something smells pretty rotten about your comment, too.

      I love how you blame the victim. Based on your comment, I have to wonder if maybe you think Jessica McCord and women like her are heroes.

  5. Good article on this case. I really beleive Jessica MCord is mentally ill. Sounds like your husband's ex was too. I understand why he didn't pursue it, when the kids are older they usually see through the bad parent.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Aitch. I have gotten a ton of hits on this article. In fact, did the Jessica McCord episode air today? Because I have gotten dozens of hits on this in just the last hour or so.

      I don't know what will happen with my husband's kids. There are other issues that complicate matters with them-- namely their religion, which my husband no longer practices. They are now young adults, though, and responsible for themselves. Their mother's third husband is apparently their dad now, just as my husband was "dad" to ex's son. I suspect when #4 is shitcanned, there will be a new dad for her two kids with her current husband.

      Anyway, I appreciate the pleasant comment. As you can see, I've gotten a ration of shit from several people for this particular post.

  6. Doing a Snapped marathon myself.

  7. I just need to post in support of fathers out there who "give up." My stepdad gave up many years ago because his first wife was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who pulled guns on him threw bricks through car windows and then called the police on him and had him arrested. My step dad passed away a year ago, and loved his daughters to his grave. He told me many times that he gave up because he was in fear for their lives. He was a passive man dealing with an extremely aggressive woman who told all of us lies about both of our dads. You'd have to have been in the room with her to know what it feels like to be controlled by someone who was so mentally ill. Her 5 daughters are still alive. One out of Five still has contact with her. As they became adults their own paranoid tendencies took over and they haven't been able to have solid relationships-- or try to build one with my step dad-- she had them too far gone. So sad.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jane. Your stepdad's situation sounds terrible! And I'm sure it was just awful for his daughters, too.

      I think people who have never encountered this type of woman have no idea how bad it can get. Narcissistic rage can be truly terrifying.

  8. Oh and-- just as the originator of this posts states. The courts back in the 60s and still today would rarely give custody to the dad, especially after all the lies she told and even had published in the local paper.

  9. You know, I think it's incredibly ignorant that people would justify the abandonment of children on the father's end.

    My entire thesis and academic career has been the paternal influence on female criminality, how fathers affect/effect their daughters' crimes and capacity to commit them or other forms of violence and it's this sentimental, sensationalist bullshit that perpetuates the vicious cycle of prioritizing motherhood/mothers or maternal rights over fathers and their very important contributions.

    Yeah, it's a fairly rough go in any American judicial system to obtain full custody or legitimacy on the father's end but, so the hell what? Life is HARD. You pursue, persevere and persist until you conquer your aspirations--and, responsibilities.
    When you sleep with someone or conceive, you make a conscious decision that invokes a likelihood of being a parent--and, you have a moral obligation to be the best damn one you can be regardless of the risks you run personally.

    I don't get why people are so quick to escape with their own skins instead of fighting to rescue their kids from an evident headcase. It's plain cowardice and contempt.

    The difficulty of the legal system is a cop out defense; ever heard of Gunn Britt? Why not watch that documentary and then come back and harp about how the state fails, how fathers are justified in leaving--in fact, dig up as many cases as you can if you think it'll fester your delusions.

    I'm not saying you're bad people, I'm saying you're extremely simplistic and nihilistic as well as naive. You have a responsibility as a parent to protect your kids even at the risk of your own life, something Alan Bates followed through on. The fact that you'd use his case to illustrate the "sense" or "logic" of leaving children with an unstable parent to save your skin is a great disservice to his memory and cause.

    1. You know, I was just going to tell you to fuck off, Ms. Kittie. But instead, I'm going to tell you that you don't know what you're writing about. You're a woman and as such, you can't possibly understand. I once came from a similarly ignorant standpoint, thinking that men had a fair shot in family court. I've wised up since then.

      I only hope you never end up in a situation where you learn how goddamn stupid you really are when it comes to this subject.

      And now, I am going to tell you to fuck off.

    2. Oh, and if you are Canadian, then you really do need to shut the fuck up. Canada is not the United States. It's a different system.

  10. So, you're telling an academic whose studied the American judicial system, female criminology and patriarchy that she knows nothing about men, masculinity, the male identity and the like?

    And, you're telling me that I said they had a "fair shot"? Learn to read--in fact, just LEARN. When you've gotten some academic or clinical qualification to offer some legitimate commentary, then call me so we can compare notes--because I sincerely don't get where you're coming from. Aside from being quite ignorant and simplistic, I can't say I see much here.

    Let's get existential, philosophical since you can't get rational--NOTHING'S fair in this life. You can only hope to glean what you can and forge your own justice and legacy against the grain.

    I know for a fact that fathers are openly demoralized, devalued and just written off in a lot of instances simply because of the sexism and simplicity (of which I'm sure you can empathize) in the courts and daily life.

    The irony is that fathers actually affect their kids more so than mothers influentially because of--well, I'm not going to get into that since it's just one long argument involving gender roles and patriarchy; things of which I'm sure you have no inclination towards.

    I honestly don't care if it's fair or not--parents have a responsibility to exhaust all of their options and energies on protecting and ensuring the welfare of their kids to the utmost of their abilities. If your hubby has emotive or security issues, he can do his due diligence and deal with that therapeutically or otherwise--the answer isn't (and never will be) copping out of paternal responsibilities altogether.

    Living and knowing full well that you copped out doesn't look too much better than being six feet under--how can he live with that guilt and knowledge? Seriously, how can he function knowing his kids are residing with and being raised by a headcase, and that her craziness is likely imprinting and impairing their relational and developmental trajectories?

    There's clearly no point in arguing with you and your jaded justifications; I don't and probably won't value your input either way since you have no claim laid to this issue whatsoever. You have no business assuming some plight of defense when you so childishly broadcast the menial mediocrities of your life--exes, kids, and otherwise. You really are a "housewife" in a very bare sense in being constrained and resigned to the fanatic fantasies of an idyllic kitchenette oblivious to the actualities of the academic and contemporary world. It's people like you who perpetuate the idiocy of inaction altogether.

    And, have fun with that. Oh, and how was the Gunn Britt read?

    Alright, I'm done with you losers. I'll "fuck off" and you enjoy "fucking up" as usual.

    1. Please do fuck off. Really.

    2. By the way... I would have no way of knowing you're an academic because I don't know you personally and I certainly can't tell you're an academic by your inflammatory comments on my blog. Moreover, you've blocked your profile, which to me, is very telling indeed.

    3. Ms. Kittie,

      I am knotty's husband and the man you are impugning for lacking both the courage and resolve to fight to the death for his children. Are you serious? What good would I be dead? Even though you bill yourself as an academic (unsubstantiated since you've blocked your profile and so your claim cannot be properly vetted), it's obvious your research deals only in generalities, so your frame of reference is "big picture". Did you ever consider that knotty is not dealing with the big picture here in her blog, but instead has related the Jessica McCord case directly to my own?

      For the record, I left my ex-wife and kids to re-enter active military service six months before she filed divorce papers. I took an assignment 250 miles away that immediately increased my annual salary by 40K. Before leaving I pleaded with her to sell our house and join me. She refused.

      The job I had required me to travel 10-15 days out of each month. And I was on a probationary period lasting three years. When my ex-wife and I divorced, I agreed to what amounted to $2550 per month in spousal maintenance and child support. I also agreed to pay the house note while she found work. That left me with $600 per month to live on.

      One month after we divorced she announced that she was packing up the kids and moving across the country. That left me in a situation where I was new on the job, traveled six months out of the year and barely had enough to get by. How long do you think I could have lasted taking her to court? Sure, I could have retained an attorney and taken her to court, but I couldn't do that and pay child support. And I've had to take time off from a new job. Guess what? If you aren't at work, it's awful hard to rate your performance and recommend you for retention. Did you ever think about that?

      The truth is I assumed risk. I traded having full custody of my children for the possibility that I could have a permanent relationship with them once they were adults and could have a life of their own. I misjudged their mother and didn't expect her to go to the lengths she did to alienate them from me. I kept a door open with them that they themselves closed.

      So, lump me within your generalities if you must, but if you are an academic, as you say, then you'll think twice before assuming that every case is the same. By the way, you do yourself an injustice by devolving into character assignation like you've done earlier today. Such actions totally deflate your argument and make you out to be a liberal feminist who lacks impartiality.