A decade ago, Dwight Lamon Jones was a stay-at-home dad living in a million-dollar Scottsdale home. What caused him to snap and murder six people?
Just before dawn on the morning of Monday, June 4, 2018, Phoenix Police Department SWAT officers, dressed in armored vests and black tactical gear, swarmed the Extended Stay America hotel on 69th Street and Shea Boulevard in Scottsdale.
Acting on a tip, Scottsdale and Phoenix police had tracked suspected spree murderer Dwight Lamon Jones to a room on the first floor. An unemployed 56-year-old who had lived at the hotel for nine years, Jones was wanted for killing six people during a five-day rampage – including a Fountain Hills couple less than 24 hours prior. Most of the victims were legal or psychiatry professionals gunned down in broad daylight in their offices.
As the sun rose, the Phoenix law enforcement tactical team quietly evacuated adjacent rooms of the hotel one by one. At 8:02 a.m., they had just cleared the first and second floor when a sudden bang broke the silence, followed by seven to eight staccato pops. Then there was nothing.
“We believed Mr. Jones detected [the officers’] presence and he began firing at them,” Scottsdale assistant police chief Rich Slavin said in a press conference, just hours after the standoff. “The gunfire stopped and [the officers] methodically moved forward, clearing carefully, ensuring they were safe.”
The SWAT team tossed canisters of tear gas toward the broken window and a cloud of white, noxious gas enveloped the hotel room. A half hour later, a robotic drone captured the first image of the killer, his body lifeless, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
It was a sudden and violent end to a massacre that gripped Valley residents and garnered nationwide attention. In a press conference later that afternoon, police announced for the first time the killer’s presumed motive: revenge.
For nine years, police say, Jones languished in his hotel room, stewing in resentment and self-pity following his contentious divorce from Valley radiologist Dr. Connie Jones. Then, suddenly, he snapped. The multi-day spasm of violence that followed was focused on people Jones held most responsible for his sad predicament, including a world-renowned forensic psychiatrist who had testified in the Joneses’ divorce trial. The ultimate target of his rage – his ex-wife – was not harmed.
The killer’s suicide left a slew of unanswered questions. Nine years after the fact, what pushed him off the deep end? How did his ex-wife escape his rage? And could her warnings have prevented the slayings?
In the months preceding his rampage, Jones was active on Twitter and social media, waging a campaign to discredit his ex-wife with lurid accusations and paranoid conspiracy theories. But some of his missives betrayed a more vulnerable, sincere side. In March, Jones sent a Twitter message to a female friend of his teenage son: “this is [son’s name] dad. please tell [son’s name] happy belated birthday and i love and miss him. i tried to tweet him, his mom blocked me and my family 2 keep us apart! you 2 make a nice looking couple! please follow.”
It was highly relatable and sympathetic: a father trying to connect with his estranged son. Reading it, one is tempted to entertain the notion that maybe Jones wasn’t completely horrible, maybe struggled mightily, and maybe was pushed into a psychological blender by a brutal divorce and biased system, as he claimed.
Maybe. But the reality is: Jones exhibited dangerous, psychotic tendencies long before his marriage crumbled.
The couple met in 1984, when Connie, then 18, was on summer break after her freshman year at Wake Forest University. Jones was then 22 and an enlisted man stationed at the U.S. Army base in nearby Fort Bragg.
In a late June interview with NBC’s Dateline, Connie recalled Jones being a gentleman soldier. Unlike Connie, he was not academically talented – escaping high school with a G.E.D. – but had lofty ambitions and wanted to be a lawyer. He was also Connie’s first boyfriend. More worldly. A protector.
When Connie enrolled in medical school at the University of North Carolina, Jones quit the service and followed her. A year later, they were married, moving to Texas as Connie pursued a dual residency in psychiatry and radiology. Jones, however, never seemed to hold a job for more than a few days, frequently butting heads with supervisors, Connie told Dateline. A few years into the marriage, she began to suspect Jones wasn’t just indolent and authority-averse, but mentally ill. She maintains he was frequently verbally and mentally abusive toward her. When he was depressed, Connie says he wouldn’t leave the bed for days. Connie encouraged Jones to seek help, but he refused.
In 1997, during her fellowship in breast imaging, Connie gave birth to their son. For a time, Jones’ mental state seemed to improve. The family relocated to Scottsdale, where Connie found success as a radiologist specializing in breast imaging, and as a lecturer and educator. Jones’ problems worsened, however. His penchant for verbal abuse metastasized into physical violence. In 2007, he struck Connie and broke her sternum, according to Maricopa County divorce records. Two years later, he pinned her to a couch with a knee in her chest.
When Connie tried to leave, Jones threated to kill her and their son. She started sleeping with a knife under her pillow and placed recorders throughout the house to capture evidence of violence. “Dwight was a very troubled man for many years,” Connie said in a June 12 press conference. “If I left him, he would kill me… He also considered murder-suicide of all three of us.”
The tension reached a breaking point on May 6, 2009. Jones was berating his then 11-year-old son for his performance at school basketball practice when Connie intervened. As the argument grew heated, Connie secretly recorded their conversation. “I’ll show you. I’m gonna show you,” Jones shouted at his wife. “I’ll take you out to this… pool and drown you.”
Dressed in pajamas and a robe, Connie called 911 from the garage and waited for police. Inside the house with his son, Jones shut and locked the door. After an hour-long standoff with Scottsdale police, Jones walked outside with his son in front of him “like a human shield,” Connie said in the police report.
Jones was arrested on multiple charges and involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. Six days later, Connie filed for divorce – a messy, contentious marathon of recrimination and denial that dragged on until late 2010, when Connie was granted full custody of the couple’s son.
Jones was infuriated, and would cling to his feelings of persecution and anger in the years that followed. Not just against Connie, but against the people who supported her effort to be free of his madness.
On Thursday, May 31, forensic psychiatrist Steven Pitt made plans with his fiancée, Natalie Collins, to meet after work.
At 5:18 p.m., she texted him. “Are you on your way?”
“10 minutes max,” Pitt replied. He and Collins, a lawyer, were meeting Pitt’s friends for dinner. Pitt wouldn’t make it.
Educated in Michigan, Pitt emerged from medical school with an acute interest in that shifting nexus where medicine and the law intersect. His insights into the criminal psyche made him highly sought-out in legal circles. He earned fame working for the prosecution in the JonBenét Ramsey case in the late 1990s and Kobe Bryant rape case in the early 2000s. Later, he helped profile possible suspects for the Phoenix Police Department’s Baseline Killer task force.
He was also a fixture in the so-called “expert witness” circuit – the somewhat controversial practice of renting out one’s expertise for civil and criminal defense cases. Valley criminal defense attorney Richard Gaxiola hired Pitt on several such cases and attests to his sway over judges and juries. “He had that movie star persona,” Gaxiola says. “Once he started talking, people were transfixed. He was at the top of his field.”
At the same time, Pitt was not one to tailor a diagnosis to appease a client, the attorney says. “If his diagnosis didn’t square [with our legal goals], he would just say ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t help your case.’ Everybody knew he had integrity.”
As it happens, Pitt was also a central actor in the Joneses’ divorce case. In July 2009, Connie and her attorneys retained the physician to do a risk-assessment of Jones, hoping to demonstrate his violent and unpredictable tendencies. In a four-hour interview with Pitt, Jones insisted his wife had fabricated the violence and was, in fact, the one who was abusive to their son. A judge said Jones’ claims of child abuse were “egregious and unsubstantiated,” according to court records.
Pitt determined that Jones had anxiety and mood disorders, was narcissistic, antisocial and paranoid. “Without psychiatric intervention and treatment, Mr. Jones’ mental state is going to continue to unravel,” Pitt wrote in the psychiatric evaluation. “He will become increasingly paranoid, likely psychotic, and pose an even greater risk for perpetuating violence.”
Ultimately, Connie paid Pitt more than $25,000 for the work-up – money Jones regarded as a bribe to depict him as unstable. Jones’ enmity toward Pitt was suggested in a series of YouTube confessional rants he posted in the months before the murders, and conclusively proved by the single .40 caliber pistol round he deposited into Pitt’s body, less than five minutes after the 59-year-old psychiatrist got off the phone with his fiancée and stepped out of his Phoenix office near Scottsdale and Bell roads on May 31.
Witnesses reported hearing shouting outside the office, and then a loud pop. Pitt collapsed to the ground. Jones fled in his 2001 gold Mercedes with unique gold rims.
After Pitt’s murder, police had a few, meager leads. There was a witness that described the killer as a bald, white man wearing a dark, short-brimmed hat. Jones, however, was black.
Touch DNA was also discovered on a .40 caliber shell casing recovered from the murder scene. When the killer loaded the gun, he left behind trace evidence of DNA from his fingertips. If police could match that DNA to a suspect, they could identify the killer. But the DNA did not match anyone in the national DNA database.
Then, there was another murder.
Connie Jones lived in fear of her ex-husband for nine years.
“I felt like I had a personal terrorist,” she said in the June 12 press conference. “I felt we would be in a situation where he was trying to kill me.”
Certainly, hers was no garden-variety failing marriage. After the 2009 confrontation at their Scottsdale home, Connie took out four separate orders of protection against her husband. She also hired a Scottsdale divorce attorney, Elizabeth Feldman, a partner at Burt Feldman Grenier. Feldman assigned an investigator to the case, a former police officer named Rick Anglin, who became Connie’s full-time bodyguard both during and after the divorce.
“It was my job to protect both Connie and her son,” Anglin said in the same June 12 press conference. “Elaborate measures were taken for their protection. We had three safe houses, countless rental cars… 24-hour security.”
As part of the divorce settlement, the court ordered Jones to get psychological help, but there was no evidence he ever complied. Instead, he holed up at the Extended Stay America, his room strewn with meager belongings.
Connie was ordered to pay him $100,000 in a lump sum and spousal support of $6,000 a month for five years, and cover his extensive legal fees. Jones was ordered to pay $550 per month in child support. Each month at the hotel he paid $1,666 and spent most of his days at strip clubs from noon to night, according to Connie.
While Connie received primary custody of their son, Jones was mandated to have supervised visits. But when Jones was ordered to pay the $250 fee for supervision, the visits ceased.
Meanwhile, Jones’ anger festered. In his YouTube confessional videos, he articulated his theories and mindset of persecution. He became convinced that counselors drove a wedge between him and his son. The lawyers, psychologists and judges had conspired with his ex-wife; Connie had abused their son and lied about the domestic violence incident, Jones claimed.
“Three words that helped her: Black, man and gun,” Jones said in a YouTube video.
Connie, however, says the court system failed her, and that Jones should never have received even supervised visitation rights. He was a continued threat and once tried to kidnap their son from a scheduled visit.
“I thought that the courts, when they heard that, would help us; they would stop him. They did not,” Connie said. “What he did do was use the courts to further his torture and harassment of me.”
The justice system’s inability to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill – or, perhaps, the lack of resolve to do so – may also have failed Jones’ victims. After assaulting his wife, Jones pled guilty to a single count of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, which prohibited him from owning a firearm for 12 months. After Connie’s orders of protection expired, Jones was allowed to purchase a .40 caliber gun.
“There was nothing preventing him from having a gun,” says Allie Bones, the chief executive officer of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. “Which is disturbing, considering the pattern of abuse and the fear that Connie lived under.”
Because Jones didn’t commit further crimes, there was nothing Arizona police could do, says criminal profiler Enzo Yaksic. “There is little that law enforcement can do aside from enforcing protection orders issued by a judge,” he says. “Firearms can be confiscated, but motivated offenders will usually find a way to acquire the means to carry forth their plans.”
Meanwhile, the financial toll of the divorce meant Connie could no longer afford full-time security. By then, Anglin couldn’t walk away. He had fallen in love with Connie. They married in December 2013 and moved to an isolated cabin in Flagstaff, where extensive security measures became a way of life for the family.
“We had always predicted he was going to be a threat,” Anglin said. “We were certain that [Connie] was going to be the one who would have this final confrontation.”
Paralegal Veleria Sharp, 48, staggered out of the Scottsdale law office, holding her bloody head in her hands. Crossing 75th Street, she flagged down a party bus and collapsed on the road.
“Oh my God. She came running toward my vehicle,” the 911 caller said frantically. “There was blood… dripping from her face.”
It was about 2:15 p.m. on Friday, June 1 – less than 24 hours after Pitt was killed.
Sharp was a longtime employee of Burt Feldman Grenier, the law firm that had represented Connie in her contentious divorce nearly a decade prior. It was located only a 10-minute drive from Pitt’s office.
Sharp was later pronounced dead at the hospital. When police followed her blood trail back to the office, they found a second deceased victim – Laura Anderson, a 49-year-old paralegal. Neither had worked on Jones’ divorce case. If Jones had come looking for Feldman, he didn’t find her.
Scottsdale and Phoenix police quickly connected the two murders to Pitt’s slaying. The same .40 caliber gun had been used in all the killings. “We had a match linking this homicide to the others,” Slavin said.
Ten hours later, just after midnight, police received a call about another shooting, this one seven miles from the law firm. Hypnotherapist and life coach Marshall Levine, 72, hadn’t returned from work that night, and his girlfriend had gone to his office to search for him. She found him dead of two gunshot wounds in his office in a brown, typical Phoenician office complex on Hayden and Mountain View roads.
Levine was not part of Jones’ divorce case. But as part of the proceedings, the suspect’s son was required to see a counselor – who happened to share an office space with Levine.
While none of the three victims was personally connected to the divorce, it’s not uncommon for killers to target places and institutions related to their rage, says Mark Safarik, a criminal profiler with Forensic Behavioral Services International. “What directed Jones’ anger was the divorce and his ex-wife,” Safarik says. “So he had the memory of these locations that are tied to the divorce, whether the people in them are actually a part of them or not.”
By 2018, Connie Jones hadn’t heard from her ex-husband in years. The scant supervised visits with their son had long ceased.
On June 1, Connie and Anglin had just returned from a cruise when they heard about Pitt’s death. After the paralegals were killed in Scottsdale, Anglin was the first to suspect Jones. “I knew immediately,” Anglin said at the press conference.
He further connected Levine’s offices to the same office he had been to many times with the Joneses’ son. Anglin contacted the police. “I told them how the three crime scenes were directly linked,” Anglin said. “I also told them where he was at. I knew where he was because he was staying at the same extended-stay hotel for nine years.”
Using that lead, police began searching for Jones. Reviewing surveillance video from the shootings, police were able to spot his distinct gold Mercedes at two of the crime scenes. On Sunday, June 4, police traced Jones’ route to a house in Fountain Hills, where his Mercedes had been spotted on June 3 between 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. Inside the house on Golden Eagle Boulevard and Sunridge Drive, police discovered the bodies of Mary Simmons, 70, and her longtime boyfriend, Bryon Thomas, 72.
The couple had been shot and killed with Thomas’ own .22 caliber pistol. Police say Jones used to play tennis with Simmons and they had a “social/recreational relationship,” but haven’t given any indication as to why Jones wanted the couple dead.
“For Mary to be murdered the way she was, with no answers, is unacceptable,” says her tennis coach, Scott Wightman. “Nobody still knows what the tie is. Did he know her from tennis? I’ve heard he asked her for money at one point. None of the questions were answered.”
In a sad twist, Thomas was dying of cancer and planned to marry Simmons, Wightman says.
Around 3:30 p.m. that afternoon, police spotted Jones driving and observed as he disposed of a paper bag in a trash can near Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard. It was later determined to be the same .22 caliber pistol used to kill the couple. Meanwhile, police had sent a detective to retrieve a DNA sample from Jones’ son to compare to the profile on the shell casing. “Within about four hours, we had a positive hit on Mr. Jones,” Slavin says. “That connects him to all our scenes.”
As police closed in on the hotel, Jones took his own life. As this issue went to press, Phoenix and Scottsdale police were not granting interviews on the case, “as it is still an ongoing active investigation,” Kevin Watts, public information officer for the Scottsdale Police Department, told PHOENIX.
After Jones’ suicide, Connie, Anglin and their attorney Feldman spoke to reporters. “We know we were the primary targets of Dwight Jones, and we are grateful to be alive,” Connie said. “I really have been on high alert for nine years.”
The couple declined a further interview with PHOENIX.
After the murders, police also discovered the hours-long, rambling videos that Jones posted on YouTube – manifestos that he called “exposing lowlifes.” The last video was uploaded on May 25 – just six days before Pitt’s murder. The videos have since been removed from the site.
So what triggered Jones to launch his killing spree, so many years after the event – his divorce – that evidently motivated him?
While Jones hadn’t had contact with Pitt for years, criminal justice experts say it’s not unusual for killers with grudges to wait years to seek revenge. According to Yaksic, 15 percent of serial murderers are motivated by sustained anger, and 20 percent of those killers target their victims for the sole purpose of exacting revenge.
“Revenge is an emotion that becomes more powerful as time passes in those with defects of character,” says Yaksic, the founder of Atypical Homicide Research Group in Boston. “Jones may have held out hope that his situation would improve – which could explain his inactivity over those nine years – but eventually depression and anxiety consume positive thoughts.”
Meanwhile, Connie and Anglin likely have their cruise to thank for saving their lives. They may have successfully kept the location of their Flagstaff home secret, but Connie – with ongoing case-work in the Valley – would not have been terribly difficult to track down, had she been in town during the spree. “She told me, ‘If we weren’t on that cruise, we’d probably be dead, because we were definitely on his list,’” says a close colleague of Connie’s, who asked to remain anonymous.
The couple told Dateline they’re looking forward to living a normal life without security measures. Closure, in a sense – albeit at an unspeakably high price.
“[Jones’] death is the best thing to come out of this ordeal,” Connie says. “I hope that where he is going, he will finally get what he deserves.”
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