“For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 (RSV)
On the night of December 14, 2016, I’m sitting at my desk looking out of the window at the Christmas lights, through the snail vines on the driveway trellis, when suddenly three gunshots pierce the air.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
I quickly crouch underneath my desk, it sounds that close, as I look up at the clock on top of the curio cabinet. It’s 9:24 pm. An eerie silence follows. People start gathering outside at the corner bar while a man is sobbing loudly in the middle of the road confirming what we all fear. ‘He killed her! He killed my brother! Oh my god!’ I was outside in the yard standing underneath the trees in the dark, with tears running down my face. In a matter of minutes, fifteen cop cars, including a coroner with silent flashing lights, pull up one right after the other, the white double wide mobile and the sobbing man now hidden from view. After everybody went back inside the bar and all the police cars leave, the coroner is still there when the sun comes up. I couldn’t finish editing, ‘The House of 3 Murders’ knowing, three people just died two acres away in a double homicide/suicide. People were evil then, as they are evil now, was my disgusted reasoning, as I tossed and turned all night. For days, I couldn’t get the sound of the gunshots or the man’s sobs out of my mind and when the snail vines freeze on the trellis in winter I can see the boarded-up, abandoned, white double wide mobile clearly and still ask God why.
I went to visit a friend, who’s lived in Needles all of her life and told her what I’d seen and heard in the Valley the other night. We talked about how terrible the tragedy was and how we couldn’t understand something like this could happen in a small desert community, but, even Needles, (pop.5,007), has its’ own dark tales to tell.
She asked if I heard of Jimmy Joe Cox and I told her no. She continued, “The town was divided over whether he killed his girlfriend or not. It was a topic nobody cared to talk about. He came from a fine family and didn’t have a criminal record. It was scary, knowing someone that lived here for years, could be a murderer. Whenever I saw him in his yellow dune buggy, I turned the corner and whenever I saw him at the grocery store, I went down a different aisle. He was just that creepy to me…”
In The San Bernardino Sun, printed on May 13, 2010: ‘Needles, CA: Man, 71, Arrested in Death of Girlfriend in 1982’
‘Jimmy Joe Cox was arrested on Wednesday at the Needles Sheriffs’ station and is expected to be charged with murder today. He has always been a suspect in the Dec. 23, 1982 disappearance of his live-in girlfriend, Carole Spearman, 26. Witnesses saw the couple arguing at the Sundowner Tavern that night and the victim’s severed hand was found the next day wrapped in a plastic bag along the Colorado River near the Topock bridge. A week later, Cox contacted Sheriffs’ investigators expressing concern that it could belong to Spearman since he hadn’t seen her in a week . He then, filed a missing persons’ report. It was another year before Spearman’s head was found near the Topock Marina. Her body has never been found. A motive hadn’t been released, but records show Cox was abusive to his girlfriend. He was arrested months before her disappearance for burning her with a road flare.
Spearman’s family who lives in New York, said they had ‘no idea Cox was abusing her but they were grateful someone had been arrested. ” It’s 28 years waiting for the news that someone is going to be held responsible,” said Spearman’s younger sister, Catherine Axberg. She was 11, when her sister went missing, but she remembers the letters that Spearman always signed, ‘I love you immensely and profusely,’ and the handmade doll furniture that Spearman mailed to her.
Axberg describes her sister as ‘a voracious reader, an honest and thoughtful woman, who never forgot a birthday’ and a talented crafts woman who also made jewelry. Sheriffs’ investigators took over the case in 1989 from the Mohave County Sheriff’s Department. The county’s cold case team headed by Detective, Ken Ford reopened Spearman’s case and began re-interviewing witnesses.’
Online that evening, I asked FB’s Memories of Needles Past and Present Page, if anyone knew Jimmy Joe Cox personally. A minute later, a message pings on my phone. It’s a Needles-born, past resident, that was a dispatcher at the Police Department in the early 80’s. Like everyone else, he went to ‘The House of 3 Murders’ to drink a few beers with his friends on a Friday night. He said Jimmy Joe Cox was there one night with some of his friends and lit candles on a large piece of concrete where the foundation of the house used to be and performed satanic rituals, surrounded by tall salt cedar trees and didn’t seem to care if anyone watched, he was surprised. Out of curiosity, I google: ‘satanic rituals’: ‘ Satanists/Occultists place a great deal of importance on ‘Numbers,’ it read. ‘Before they do anything, they ask themselves two questions. 1) Is the plan of this action in accordance with the astrological lineup of the sun, moons and planets? 2) Is the timing of this in accordance of the numbers it will produce? I also google, “What do Satanists think about murder?”
‘The ethical practices, according to the writings of Anton S. La Vey, provide the direction for Satanists in the Satanic Bible. One of the 9 practices, is number 5, which represents: Vengeance, instead of ‘turning the other cheek.’ Number 6, represents: All the so-called sins, as they please, for physical, mental or emotional gratification. Number 7, represents: ‘Man as just another animal, sometimes better, more often worse, than those that walk on all fours, who, because of his divine and intellectual development has become the most vicious animal of all.’
Satanists are a diverse group. A few of them are so inspired by the concept of an all-consuming evil, they actually commit murder. Richard Ramirez, the so-called, ‘Night Stalker,’ who terrorized California in the mid-80’s, scrawled Satanic symbols, numbers and yelled satanic slogans, while committing his murders. During court appearances, David Berkowitz, aka, ‘Son of Sam’, claimed a demon commanded him to kill people. Germans, Manuela and Daniel Rudy, an American teen, Ricky Kasso and a heavy metal group called, ‘Hatred’, all committed gruesome murders while involving the name of ‘Satan’. The popularity of Satanism in music and movies along with the isolated, but widely publicized Satanic murders created an infamous era, ‘The Satanic Panic’.
Printed on December 23, 1983, The Arizona Republic claimed, ‘A possible satanic ‘cult’ involvement had been an integral part of the investigation’ —but didn’t go into detail. In the 70’s-80’s, there were three young Needles girls missing and murdered, as other victims were found dismembered in trash bins, raped, strangled and buried in Arizona as well as along the California, Oregon coast.
In 1974, Debbie Starkey was in her early 20’s and lived in Needles for a few years before her death. One night she and a friend went to a party in the desert between Needles and Kingman. Debbie was 3 months pregnant when she was found faced down in the sand, raped and strangled with her bra straps. Her remains were found buried near the Franconia siding on the ATSF. Her cousin commented on a thread, “Debbie was mentally challenged, she thought like a 10 year old, so sweet and innocent, which made it even harder for our family to accept her tragic death…”
In May 1976, Robin Jennings, 22, finished her waitress duties at Sambo’s on West Broadway for the night, when she disappeared. ‘She was intelligent, friendly and trusting’, her close friends remember her fondly. Her remains were found several years later south of Needles. “And no one could convince me, she committed suicide by jumping off the Needles Bureau Bridge at midnight, either,” confided a close friend online.
In 1978, William Floyd Zamastil 57, was convicted of rape and murder of a Wisconsin woman after she was abducted on her way to pick up her husband and her body was found at an old U.S. Army or Air Force base in Tucson, Arizona. He also bragged about the Bradshaw murders he committed in Canoga Park, outside of Barstow, California. The siblings, Malcom 17, Jacqueline 18, had hitched a ride with Zamastil from Vegas and were both raped and bludgeoned to death with a socket wrench in a remote area. Authorities suspected Zamastil of at least five other homicides, including Nikki Bunch, which he later denied.
In 1974, Zamastil lived in Needles and was working as a mechanic at Phillips 66 Gas Station on the corner of Cibola and Broadway, when Nikki Bunch went to get a loaf of bread at the old Buy Rite Market nearby and never returned. Although Zamastil was immediately a suspect, relatives and close friends claimed it had to be someone Nikki knew. Jimmy Joe Cox was a close neighbor and also, became a suspect.
The sweet 16 year old girl was a member of the NHS class of 1976 and loved by all her classmates. Her body was found two years later in 1976 at Gravel Girty Wash. With the help of friends from the Needles community the Nikki Bunch Memorial Field was erected in 1980 .
Another message pings. “He’s a piece of shit. Why would you keep his name alive?’ It was a cousin of the 12 year old boy, Patrick Mello, that went missing on July 28, 1995 and is still a cold case. ‘That SOB killed him. I know he did. We tried to get him to admit to it but he sat in a blank fucking stare. He took that shit to the grave.”
Jimmy Joe Cox was Patrick Mello’s stepdad and was known to be abusive towards the boy. He’d been married into her family for years, she claimed. What kind of person was he? She messaged back: ‘Ok, so he had bars on the kids windows only. The doors were locked from the outside at 6 pm every night. We were not allowed out of the room. He locked the fridge and the cupboards so we couldn’t eat, he had a toilet in his bathroom made out of drugs—there’s so much I don’t want to put it all in text.’ Someone commented on a thread in Memories of Needles Past & Present Page: ‘He had some pretty evil friends. He sold his girlfriends like property and he even had orgies in his backyard. I think people were just afraid to say anything for fear of their own lives. Needles just didn’t feel like Needles anymore. It was a real scary time.’
Three people had been brutally shot to death at the ‘House of Three Murders’ on the old River Road in 1949. The number ‘3’ is the first sacred number, the first ‘perfect’ number that represents the pagan trinity. Satanists/Occultists will multiply and add three to other sacred numbers to create new numbers. However, they also group three’s in two’s and three’s for the purpose of ‘intensification’.
It suddenly became clear why Jimmy Joe Cox was spotted at ‘The House of 3 Murders’ performing satanic rituals. He claimed his innocence to his family and friends for years, disregarding the facts: he was an abuser, had a violent temper and a known Satanist. In the end, he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, where he died of cancer, on July 7, 2015, admitting to 9 murders, including Nikki Bunch and Robin Jennings. Cox’s Public Defender, Edward Wilson, stated at the time of Cox’s sentencing, he didn’t believe there was sufficient evidence to convict without reasonable doubt, especially since much of the evidence was circumstantial, relying mostly on testimony. The case was on appeal.
“We’re always out there hunting and searching and we want to bring people to justice, no matter how long it takes,” said Sgt. Frank Montanez, of the Mohave County Sheriff’s Department. “Cox killed somebody so young and stepped right back into society doing his thing. This is justice delayed.” added, Detective Ryan Ford.
Special thanks to Needles Regional Museum, Needles Library and Needles residents for your contributions.🌹