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.