Grant and Amanda Hayes
When former St. John resident Laura Jean Ackerson went missing on July 13 from her North Carolina home, friends feared for her safety, according to reports.
Those fears were realized on July 25 when human remains, which began washing up in a creek about 60 miles outside of Houston, Texas, were confirmed to be that of the 27-year-old single mother.
According to police, Ackerson was killed and dismembered by her ex-boyfriend and his new wife, Grant and Amanda Hayes, both also former St. John residents.
Musician Hayes, 32, who goes by the stage name Grant Haze, was a regular presence on the St. John nightlife scene, playing weekly gigs at Island Blues in Coral Bay before landing a regular gig at the Parrot Club in Cruz Bay.
Hayes and Ackerson, who were never married but had two children, aged 3 and 2, together, moved to St. John around 2008 with their elder son. Ackerson got pregnant with the couple’s second son during the 10 months the couple lived on island. Sometime during their stay the two split and Hayes began a relationship with Amanda Perry.
Laura Jean Ackerson on St. John, above, with Grant Haze, the father of her two children.
Perry, 39, arrived on St. John from New York around 2007 and was hired as the director of the now defunct St. John Artists’ Association (SJAA). In an interview with St. John Tradewinds at the time, Perry described herself as a former actress and self-taught painter.
During her time with the SJAA, Perry opened an art supply store in the Lumberyard Complex. That store eventually closed as the SJAA dissolved and Perry then worked at several island businesses, including the Beach Bar, before moving back to the states with Hayes.
Perry and Hayes married and lived for a time in New York. The couple eventually moved to North Carolina to be closer to Hayes’ two children with Ackerson, with whom he was involved in a bitter custody battle, according to numerous reports.
Perry and Hayes also had a child of their own about two months ago, according to pictures posted on Hayes’ Facebook page.
Hayes had primary custody of their children, according to reports, and Ackerson was last seen when she went to drop the two off with Hayes after her weekend visit on July 13. Which is when officials believe Hayes and Perry killed Ackerson, dismembered her body, packed the pieces into coolers and transported them in a rented U-Haul trailer to Texas.
The couple towed the U-Haul and drove — with all three children — to Fort Bend County Texas, where Perry’s sister lives and dumped the body parts in a creek about 100 yards from Perry’s sister’s house.
Hayes and Perry were arrested on Monday, July 25, at Hayes’ parents house in Kinston, North Carolina. The two are charged with murdering Ackerson and are scheduled to next appear in court on August 16. Until then, the couple will remain in the Wake County, North Carolina, jail after being denied bail. Perry’s sister has not been charged with any crimes.
“Relatives of Amanda Perry Hayes in Richmond, Texas, told investigators that she and Grant Hayes had come to visit her sister after Ackerson was killed, said Craig Brady, chief deputy for the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office,” according to a report in the Raleigh, North Carolina, News Observer. “While there, relatives said, the pair carried coolers they brought from Raleigh to Oyster Creek. Investigators from Raleigh and Fort Bend County searched the creek Sunday afternoon and found parts of a torso they think is Ackerson’s caught in the weeds growing in the creek, Brady said.”
Divers also found a leg and head, which police used to identify Ackerson’s remains, according to reports. Her hands have not been recovered. Investigators immediately expressed puzzlement about Hayes and Perry transporting the body through five states, according to the News Observer.
“It was puzzling, Brady said, that someone would kill, dismember the victim and drive more than 1,000 miles, past any number of secluded locations seemingly better suited for hiding a body, then dump it only 100 yards from the home of someone with whom they were so easy to link,” according to the North Carolina newspaper.
“So they drove through, what, five or six states and over a 40-mile-wide swamp in Louisiana, all so they can bring the body here?” Brady was quoted in the News and Observer. “Fortunately for police, criminals just aren’t very smart.”
Officials found several coolers and a machete in Perry’s sister’s house. The body appeared to have been dismembered at least partly with a saw, according to reports.
The children were taken into custody by police and released to Hayes’ parents, according to the North Carolina newspaper.
Last week Ackerson’s father filed for custody of his two grandsons, according to charlotteobserver.com.
“Rodger Ackerson said the two children need to be protected and taken care of,” according to the report. “The boys are now in the care of the mother of the man accused of killing and dismembering 27-year-old Laura Jean Ackerson.”
In Kinston, more than 100 church members at the Grace Fellowship Church, where Ackerson attended, hosted a memorial service last weekend for the murdered mother, according to abcnews.com.
ABC News’ 20/20 website included a video interview of Ackerson’s brother Jason Ackerson. He said that Laura Ackerson was scared of Hayes and feared for her safety.
“He was very controlling and very manipulative,” Jason Ackerson said about Hayes in the interview with ABC News 20/20. “It was hard to contact her without her fearing for her life from her ex-boyfriend. We should have taken the threats more seriously.”
In the interview, Jason Ackerson called Hayes and Perry “monsters.”
“Grant Hayes and his wife are monsters,” he said in the ABC News interview. “I hope anybody who knows them, follows them or enjoyed their music understands that.”
The grisly murder was also covered by CBS News’ 48 Hours Mystery and will likely be the subject of an upcoming news special on the network. CBS News officials reportedly called the Beach Bar last week asking for information about Perry.