Preacher’s Kid, Part One

Cozzie Merrill Jones was a classic case of the Preacher’s Kid Gone Bad, in the extreme.  The errant PK syndrome was one I first encountered at about age ten.  My best friend (also named Tim) was the son of a lay minister who preached at several country churches in Clark County, Illinois.  Tim’s oldest brother was the classic rebel against his father and his upbringing and became well known to local police as a drinker and troublemaker.

Young Cozzie took the syndrome to a higher—or perhaps lower– plane.

Born in 1916 Cozzie was one of five children of Cozzie Montana  and Daisy Jones.  His father was a Pentecostal minister who had preached in West Terre Haute since at least 1910.  C.M. Jones could not support the family as a preacher, so his primary occupation for years was as a butcher in various grocery stores in Terre Haute and West Terre Haute.  The family lived on South 4th Street in West Terre Haute.  Cozzie, described as good looking and a flashy dresser, was a musician. He married Lula Berry of Terre Haute in 1938.  On the original marriage license, Lula’s age was listed as 22.  Later the license was emended to show that she was actually just over 16 at the time of the nuptials.   Thus, it seems evident that Cozzie had a proclivity for younger women.

Just when young  Cozzie’s  rebellion began, or what early forms it took are unknown, but by April, 1941 he was on parole from the state reformatory for auto theft and back on S. 4th Street with his parents.   One their neighbors  was the Edith Idelle Barton, daughter of Mrs. Mack Rogers.  The 24 year old Cozzie and twelve-year old Edith became friends.  One of their meetings led to a “petting party” and death.

According to Cozzie they agreed to meet after Edith attended a church service on Saturday, April 19th.  His story was that Edith slipped out the backdoor of her home after her mother had gone to bed.  She was wearing only a nightie.  Using his father’s car he drove her to Sugar Creek west of town.  There he had consensual sex with her.  When they heard a car, Edith, fearing it was her father looking for her, panicked and fell into the water.  Strong, 24 year old Cozzie said he was unable to save her and fled.

When Edith was discovered missing the search began.  Her “nude and battered body” was found in the creek on Sunday afternoon.  The search for the “killer” soon turned toward Cozzie Merrill Jones.  Rev. Jones told police his panicked son returned  home early Sunday morning and alluded to what happened.  The minister begged his son to turn himself in and tell his side of the story.  Young Cozzie, seemingly seldom one to take responsibility, yelled, “Hell, no,  this will mean either the hot seat or blue hole for me.”  He then tossed the car keys on to the porch of the house on S. 4th and fled on foot.  He was later picked up as he walked along the road to Paris, Illinois.

He was taken to jail in Terre Haute where extra security was put in place.  Police feared  that West Terre Haute citizens still mindful of the horrific unsolved mystery of a ten-year old West Terre Haute girl in 1929, might try to lynch young Cozzie.  Two days before Pearl Harbor, a jury needed only 31 minutes to convict him of 2nd degree murder, convinced  that Cozzie had raped and then murdered Edith when she tried to escape him.  He was sentenced to life in the state prison at Michigan City.  Meanwhile another West Terre Hate family grieved the brutal loss of a child.

There he stayed until he escaped in 1961.

His escape would lead him on a cross country rape and murder spree.    But that is the second part of his story.

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17 thoughts on “Preacher’s Kid, Part One

  1. I would like to know if this is a true story. My dad had a piano player in his big band back in the 1960’s who ended up being Cozzie Merrill Jones, we knew him as Steve Palmer and didn’t know this man was not a good person. He ended up in the Florence Prison, where he died in 1973. I’m trying to find out more about Cozzie Jones so I’m wondering if this is the same Cozzie Jones that you’re writing about, if you had more info on him. It was a scary part of our lives and my family is lucky to all be here.

    I would appreciate any help, if possible.

    Thank you,

    1. I will soon follow up with the rest of the Cozzie Jones story, but this Cozzie Jones escaped from the Indiana State Prison in 1962 and went on a cross country killing spree. He was captured in Arizona in 1963 and spent the remaining years of his life in prison.

      1. Thanks for your response. My family knew him as Steve Palmer. My dad had a band when I was growing up. He hired “Steve Palmer” through the Musicians Union. “Steve” played the piano beautifully but he would disappear for a few days and come back scruffy looking, he had even painted his car once. We are also very lucky that we are all still here. My mom says it’s probably because “Steve” really liked my dad for some reason. “Steve” was arrested for murdering a little girl here in Tucson and I do believe that it was shortly after that, that he was arrested and put in prison. I was pretty little when all of this happened but, I do remember him somewhat. I don’t think I liked him for some reason.

      2. That is fascinating story. Do you have any photos of the band that might include Steve/Cozzie?

      3. I will have to ask my parents. I do have a DVD that I recently had made from my family movies that he is in. I had no idea who that man was in the movie til my sister and my parents said, “there’s Cozzie”. It’s pretty far into the DVD though and it’s a pretty fast picture of him.

      4. Sorry if you got a repeat of my response.

    2. Yes this the same person……. I have no problem telling you my story….

      1. I would love to hear how you got to know him and the circumstances. My family has always been curious about him cause we sure didn’t know a lot about him. He even had a tuxedo and maybe other clothes that had the name, Steve Palmer in them, so we don’t know if he killed this Steve Palmer and stole his clothes or if he just came up with this name and had the name sewn into his tux/clothes.

    3. Yes Laura; regretfully same man I knew when I was a Sergeant with Pinal County Sheriff’s Department.
      I believe he also killed a couple of sister’s in Tucson- thinking Fritz twins or siblings?. Long time ago.
      He was a small man, but real hard dark eyes and a smirk when he spoke..I’ll never forget Cozzie, along with others like Gary Tison and his son’s while on their killing spree.

      1. Would love to hear more of your thoughts on Cozzie.

  2. I know alot about this story, because in 1962 I met Cozzie M Jones…..

  3. Lucinda Hutcherson February 5, 2012 — 4:41 pm

    My mother and I also knew Cozzie Jones. We lived in Tucson and my mother met his wife and him at the corner drug store. He kept wanting to take me to see him play the piano. I was 13 at the time and my mother somehow became suspicious. I do remember him taking my mother and me to see his home, but he seemed more interested in me than my mother. Anyhow I was blessed with a protective mother of an only child. I remember he would come over to the house and we would hide in the dark behind the door so he would think we were gone. I know I gave a pajama party once and really believe he was behind the cement block fence watching us. After that he seemed to move on and I saw in one of the drugstore newspapers that he had killed a little girl named margarita bejarano. I will never forget the shock of knowing how close i was to a serial murderer and really didn’t know it at the time. I heard he tried to escape from Tucson and was killed by a state trooper. Not sure about that but I am sure that I was intended to be one of his victims but lucky enough to have a mother with good intuition. Its not something I will ever forget even now at age 63.

  4. I haven’t heard from you in quite sometime. I have been wondering if I was going to hear more about Cozzie Jones???

    Hope you’re doing well.

    1. I have been out of circulation due to spinal surgery, but did post a sddecond part of Cozzie’s story. I also obtained some of his Indiana prison records which may lead to another installment on him.

      1. May I ask the name of your father’s band. I heard from another person who encountered Cozzie at the time and he was always tr
        ying to get her to go to a nightclub to hear him play.

  5. WOW…we knew Steve Palmer also. him and his wife used to live near us on Pastime in a house court [as it was called back then] next to the bus barn. His wife just wasn’t there one day and we never heard what happened to her. I used to go places with him, I was about 6 and he was a lot of fun. He never touched me but I knew things like he had a gun and many other things. We moved to Los Altos and he followed me home for school. We bought a house on Blacklidge [sp] and he turned up again, this time he wanted to take me away for the day to Colossal Cave and my Dad said No we had family plans and I couldn’t go with him. By then my parents knew he wasn’t ok. When we got home that night there was a news report how he had been arrested in a shootout and if anyone had any details of his goings on before his arrest the should contact the police. when I got home for school the next day there were 2 cops waiting to talk to me. After all the questions they ask I heard them tell my parents had they let me go with him that day he would have killed me..I had way to much infromation on his life and he would have never wanted me to start talking. I have no idea what all I knew…not after all these years but I am grateful my Dad said no to him.

    1. Fascinating. Thank you for commenting. It all adds to the story of Cozzie.

      Date: Fri, 28 Dec 2012 03:40:33 +0000 To:

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