Clarke County's Unsolved Murders, Part 4

Series 4 of Clarke County’s unsolved murders this week will focus on the infamous murder of beloved school teacher, Deborah Herrington. This murder shocked the community to its core, and is still talked about today.

The Clarke County Tribune would like to remind everyone about these murders in hopes it may possibly shed new light on the cold cases. Any information you may have on these crimes, whether you think it may matter or not, could help bring these unsolved murder cases to an end. In some cases, alleged murderers were arrested but never convicted, resulting in the cases still being open.

These cases are all still active. If you have any information on these unsolved cases, please contact the Crime Stoppers hotline number at 1-855-485-8477. All calls are anonymous and may result in a reward.

In next week’s edition, we will review missing persons from Clarke County.

Deborah Herrington

For thirty years, the most notorious murder in Clarke County has gone unsolved: the death of Deborah Herrington.

Miss Herrington’s death was a major shock to the citizens of Clarke County because most people in the county knew and loved her. She was an algebra teacher at Quitman High School, and it was her dedication at work that helped make the discovery of her murder.

Miss Herrington was known to be very punctual when coming to work. When she didn’t show up to work the day following Christmas break, her principal, James Morgan, grew concerned.

In fact, it was Mr. Morgan who drove the two blocks to her house and knocked on her door to check on her. He made sure to go to both the front and side door, but he was unable to get a response. He immediately became more concerned and notified the city police of the situation.

Former police chief Billy Kemp and Police Chief Jimmy Ivy responded to the call and found a grisly scene once they gained entrance from the side door: Miss Herrington’s fully clothed body lying in the kitchen doorway.

In an interview afterwards, Billy Kemp stated that “It was immediately apparent she had been either stabbed or shot.”

By 8:45 that morning, a full investigation was underway as law enforcement officers searched for evidence to find who could commit such a heinous crime.

The Clarke County Coroner at the time, Butch Wright, determined that her death would have been around 6:30 to 7:00 p.m. the previous night January 3, 1990. The autopsy report on her body indicated that she had been stabbed four times, including twice through the heart.

Investigators inside the home found where Miss Herrington had already eaten and washed the dishes. They had also spoken with the victim’s mother and were able to piece together what the final few minutes of her life must have been like.

Miss Herrington had been talking on the phone to her family in Laurel when she heard a knock on her front door. She ended the call with her family so that she could answer the phone. Since it was dark outside, she had to turn on the porch light to see who it was. That light would remain on the rest of the night. Neighbors commented that they noticed the light because it was unusual for it to be on.

Authorities believe that Miss Herrington knew her killer. There was no sign of forced entry, a struggle, or burglary to be found. Investigators did find an array of evidence, however. Bloody footprints were discovered on the back porch. The footprints were small, so it initially led authorities to suspect a small woman of the crime. The killer left ample forensic evidence that authorities carefully collected and documented and sent off to the Mississippi Crime Lab for analysis.

“Some very good forensic work was done in that case,” stated Sheriff Todd Kemp. “However, in 1990, Mississippi didn’t have the capability for DNA profiling. The fingerprints were matched against numerous individuals. Hundreds have been sent to the state crime lab to try to get a match on them. To this day, there have been no hits on those fingerprints.”

In the upcoming weeks after the murder, authorities grew frustrated as no new evidence ever came up. They had conducted polygraph tests on numerous people, but the tests only provided negative results. Authorities interviewed all of Herrington’s students only to discover that her students loved Miss Herrington and only described her as a dedicated teacher who would do anything to help them.

Eventually, a reward was offered for any information on the identity of the killer. Up to that point, there had only been suspicions about possible motives and suspects, but there was no concrete evidence to point to any individual as the killer. The investigation had also become muddled due to rumors that were being spread around involving Miss Herrington’s private life.

By October of 1990, a Grand Jury had been called to hear testimony from at least 21 witnesses. It was hoped that the Grand Jury would be able to notice something that authorities were missing that could help lead to an arrest. They made suggestions to redirect the case, but still no arrests were able to be made.

Authorities and the community alike were frustrated about not being able to find the killer, and the case was actively mentioned in the public and newspaper all the way up to 1997. Although the case stopped making headlines after years of no new evidence or leads, authorities have never given up on finding justice for Miss Herrington.

“In 2006, MBI had a cold case unit and submitted all the blood from Miss Herrington’s murder scene, and they were able to develop a DNA profile - a male of West African decent,” explained Kemp.

Since the DNA profile was created, the DNA of numerous suspects has been sent off to be compared to the profile. So far no matches have been made, but the case is still very active, and they are continuously sending off the DNA of any suspects they may find.

With 30 years passing since the murder took place, there is a chance that her attacker may no longer be alive, though.

“It is my belief that the potential suspect or suspects may be deceased,” stated Kemp. “It was such a long time ago that it is always a possibility.”

No matter what, authorities are still striving to solve the case of who murdered Deborah Herrington. With the great forensic work that was done at the time of the murder and advances in technology, there is always a chance that authorities will still be able to solve her case in the future.

Obituaries

Guilliam Rex Graham, 85, of Quitman, Mississippi, passed away on September 23, 2020, at Anderson's... READ MORE