A vicious murder in the mountains of Virginia. The depraved assassin goes on the run. Who brutally gunned down the unsuspecting victim, and why?
November 27, 2016: Thanksgiving weekend, a chilly Sunday night at the water treatment plant in Appalachia, Virginia. Around 2 a.m., police are called to the plant to do a welfare check on the overnight employee.
When investigators arrive, their headlights illuminate a shocking scene: A woman is found lying on the cold gravel driveway, murdered, shot multiple times.
Wise County Sheriff's Investigator Duane Phillips tells Crime Watch Daily the killer made no attempt to hide the body.
"It's laying here in the middle of the open," said Phillips. "Indications we have are that she was shot at fairly close range."
And investigators believe her killer was lying in wait.
"Based on the evidence that we've seen, she was surprised by her attacker," said Phillips.
The innocent victim is Janina Jefferson, a single mother of three, a larger-than-life personality from nearby Big Stone Gap, Virginia.
Jefferson, 38, was a jack of all trades. She worked the evening shift at the Appalachia Water Treatment Plant.
"She loved the water plant. This was a job that she had wanted for a long time," said Janina's friend April Hall.
And she had a creative side. She painted store windows around town and had a design-your-own-glass business, all to provide a good life for her two sons and daughter.
"Janina was a hard worker. And her priority were these kids. So everything that she did was centered around those children," said April Hall.
Then Janina Jefferson met a man.
"I remember her being really excited and telling me she had something going on, and I begged her to tell me what it was and she said 'No, I'll tell you if it works out,'" said Hall.
And it did work out. His name is Eric Jones. He came from one of the town's well-known and respected families.
"His mom is wonderful woman, very sincere, a godly woman," said Hall.
Before long, Janina and Eric were head over heels.
"They were always laughing and cutting up and the way they looked at each other, Janina really loved him and he loved her, he was so caring towards her and so sweet," said Hall.
And sweet toward Janina's kids too. For the couple, it was all good. Eric Jones was going to be the new man of the house, but first, their wedding.
Now tragically, Janina Jefferson was gone. And with no video surveillance at the water treatment plant cops start at square one. They're interested in talking with everyone close to Janina.
"Everyone's a suspect," said sheriff's investigator Duane Phillips.
Janina Jefferson is dead, shot multiple times outside her job at the water treatment plant.
"The gun has not been located," said Wise County Sheriff's Major Grant Kilgore.
Investigators tell Crime Watch Daily they are looking at many people. But one person tops their list.
"Everyone's a suspect, but we went where the evidence led us to, and that led us back to Eric," said sheriff's investigator Duane Phillips.
Janina Jefferson's husband Eric Jones.
But could it be? He is the son of a pastor from a prominent family in town. He tried to be a second father to Janina's three kids. But now he was wanted for questioning.
"I can place him in the area prior to the murder, and also after the murder," said Phillips.
"There is some video of him at the local convenience store," said Kilgore.
Investigators say right after the murder, they have Eric Jones on surveillance walking into a convenience store.
"It shows Eric Jones walk in, get a six-pack of beer out of the cooler, another small item, and pay for it, and then leave the store," said Kilgore. "Going to go home and watch the game, or you know go watch TV. Didn't seem like he was upset or -- there was no indicators that anything had just happened."
Turns out Eric Jones was a wolf in sheep's clothing. A convicted felon, he's got a rap sheet a mile long.
"She told me the story. But she also told me things are different now," said Janina's friend April Hall. "'Let's give him a chance, you've got to give him a chance,' and I thought 'OK, if you're going to, so am I.'"
His history of crimes is serious, including attempted murder for hire.
"He was trying to kill a mother and her two children," said Grant Kilgore.
The intended target was Karen Martin, a single mother whose kids were 7 and 8 years old at the time. And she knew her attempted assassin.
"He was friends with my cousins and, you know, I hung around him," Martin tells Crime Watch Daily.
Karen Martin says she and her two kids went to sleep one night and woke to an inferno.
"I called 911 and told them, I said that my house is on fire," said Martin.
Wise County Sheriff's Investigator Charles Curry was one of the first on the scene. They managed to save all three lives. But investigators' antennae go up when they smell gasoline inside the home and find spent matches outside on Karen Martin's car, which had also been doused with the accelerant.
"Through the investigation it was determined that she did [have enemies] and it came out it was a murder-for-hire case," said Curry. "It was determined that there was two individuals who were paid with crack cocaine to burn that residence with those three people in it. Eric Jones was one of the suspects involved. Eric was not arrested immediately 'cause he went on the run."
Then two months later, Eric Jones' luck came to a screeching halt when he was pulled over for a traffic violation in Texas, 1,300 miles away.
Wise County Sheriff's Major Grant Kilgore spent four days in a car with Eric Jones transporting him back to Virginia.
"He said very little. He slept most of the time," said Kilgore. "He seemed very unconcerned about the charges he was facing. There was no remorse to be seen."
Jones was indicted on seven felony charges, including three counts of attempted capital murder for hire. He eventually pleaded guilty to two felony charges and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He served five years.
"His mother had told me that he was sorry for what he did, but he never personally told me," said Karen Martin. "I mean, you have to forgive. It's something that I'll never forget."
So Janina Jefferson knew about Eric's brutal past, but was willing to look the other way. She loved him, wanted to be with him and believed he had changed in the 15 years since he'd committed that awful crime.
It seems like she saw the good in everyone.
"She did, and you know what, when I met him, he was the nicest guy ever," said April Hall. "Like, if you had to write down things and check them off about somebody being reformed or whatever, he fits that. He did a lot of things for the community, a lot of things at church."
But two years later, the cracks in the foundation began to show. April says the beginning of the end started at a Fourth of July party.
"She said that Eric had shot a gun off at the block party, and you know, he wasn't supposed to have a gun, so she was really upset about it," said April Hall.
At what point do they separate?
"I think she tried one more time after that, with some hesitation that they were going to stay together, and then the next thing I know she's just, she's crying every day and saying 'All right, that's it, I can't, I can't do it anymore," said April.
Janina Jefferson filed for divorce, and the day it was finalized, there was an incident where Jones allegedly attempted to strangle her.
"She told me that he came to the water plant and she said things just got out of hand, and that she felt like she had to get a restraining order," said April.
Eric Jones was arrested for strangulation and trespassing. A judge let him out on bail.
"She said 'I've got a gun.' She said 'I feel like I need that for my protection,' and she said 'I'm really scared.' I said to her, because I had seen the good side of things, I said 'Janina, don't worry, it's gonna be OK,'" said April
But tragically, it would not be OK. Janina Jefferson is now dead, and Eric Jones is on the run, again.
Eric Jones is on the run, hiding out after allegedly gunning down his ex-wife Janina Jefferson.
"We have evidence we feel is overwhelming evidence against Eric," said Wise County Sheriff's Investigator Duane Phillips.
The manhunt is on. Cops start searching in the secluded areas surrounding the water plant.
"We did ground searches, vehicle searches, then we actually brought in choppers on three different occasions, and then a specially equipped airplane that has some of the most sensitive photography available. Flew all the areas that we possibly could with that device, there was no indication that Eric was in any of those areas where there's a body or, you know, there hiding out in a cabin or tent," said Grant Kilgore.
No sight of Eric Jones anywhere. But Jones has had practice running. He's done it before. Last time he managed to elude capture for a couple of months.
Eric Jones may be enjoying his freedom right now, but cops tell Crime Watch Daily that one of his buddies, Jacob Rowland, isn't as lucky. They've made one arrest so far.
"An associate of Eric Jones's," said Kilgore.
This person may have allegedly helped him prior to and after the incident.
"Part of his charge was the fact that he did transport him to the scene where Janina was murdered," said Kilgore.
Do authorities believe it's possible there could be other people out there who may have assisted him?
"I believe that there is, yes," said Duane Phillips.
Has Eric Jones's family been cooperative?
"I have spoken to his mother, God-fearing lady, she has been devastated by what has occurred, and I feel that she's being cooperative with us as much as she can," said Phillips.
Crime Watch Daily wanted to talk to Jones's mom, Pastor Sandra Jones, to see what she knows about her son's whereabouts. No one appeared to be home at the residence.
Janina Jefferson's eldest son Trey Lomax says he and his siblings are left to deal with what authorities believe Eric Jones savagely took from them.
Are you angry?
"I was for a long time, yeah," Trey tells Crime Watch Daily.
What are you feeling right now?
"I don't know," said Trey. "I do have closure, I don't let it eat at me every day, just 'cause I know that she's in a better place. I don't want to say that I'm looking forward to being there, but. I just know that my mom's watching me."
Janina's friend April Hall is still in shock her friend is gone.
"Sometimes it's just hard to believe this really happened," said April.
And she's haunted by the advice she gave her.
"Telling her 'Hey, don't worry, it's going to be OK,' and gosh, that's the hardest thing for me every day is I think 'Why did I say that to her?' Why did I say it was going to be OK, because obviously it wasn't OK."
Even authorities are deeply affected by this heinous crime.
What's been the hardest part for you in all of this?
"In the sense of the murder is this family losing a loved one. And then in the sense of him not in custody, is he's out there walking free while this family suffers," said Charles Curry.
It's been almost a year since Eric Jones went on the lam. The U.S. Marshals Service has made this case a priority.
"In the realm of fugitive cases we work, his has been moved up to a major case for the U.S. Marshals Service, which means extra resources, extra financial assistance, extra eyes, extra investigators," said Deputy U.S. Marshal Jim Satterwhite.
"Eric Jones is very charismatic and he can cross all social boundaries, from street-level gang members to church members to people who have status within their communities, and is well-liked by those people," said Grant Kilgore.
Do you think he could be dating multiple women?
"He is very busy in that category," said Kilgore. "He likes women and multiple women. Somebody is dating him somewhere."