Investigation Discovery’s ‘Murder in the Heartland: The Killing Kind’ chronicles how James Skinner was murdered brutally inside his Brownstown residence in Illinois in September 2017. The police took less than a week before they had the killer responsible for the murder behind bars, using old-school police work to apprehend the murderer. If you’re interested in finding out more about the case, including the perpetrator’s identity and current whereabouts, we’ve got you covered. Let’s begin then, shall we?
How Did James “Jim” Skinner Die?
James “Jim” Skinner was born to the late Barbara (Kistler) Hoover and Melvin Skinner in rural Brownstown in Fayette County, Illinois, on January 31, 1961. He worked as a carpenter, handyman, and farmer, hauling and trading livestock. He was a member of the Carpenter’s Union- Local 377. His employer, Jacob Benjamin, recounted Jim as hard-working, while his former girlfriend, Teresa Wyatt, described him as “a generally likable person.”
On September 17, 2017, Fayette County Sheriff’s Office received a call at 4:30 pm from State Police requesting a dispatch to rural Brownstown, Illinois. Jim’s son, Ryan Skinner, had found his father’s body. He claimed he had unsuccessfully called his dad a couple of times before pulling up to the residence and discovering the body. When Ryan called 911 from a cousin’s home, he claimed his father might have committed suicide. However, when the officers arrived at the scene, they found it was a homicide.
According to investigators, the blood splatter found on the headboard and the wall was low-speed cast off instead of high-speed blood splatter, similar to a gunfire wound. Their hypothesis proved correct when Jim’s body was transported to the coroner’s office. His autopsy report stated Jim had died from a massive blunt force trauma to the head, and the officers discovered a bloody sledgehammer in the victim’s front yard. The blood and hair on the hammer belonged to Jim, and it was determined to be the murder weapon.
Who Killed James Skinner?
While the investigators worked with the hypothesis of it being a suicide, they interviewed Ryan, asking whether Jim was suicidal. He replied his father had recently visited the doctor and wondered whether he had received some bad news that might have prompted him to take his life. They also found blood transfer on the door frame, leading them to believe the assailant might have blood and other DNA evidence on their clothes. The officers located Jim’s phone by his bedside and saw a number had called him 12 times on the morning of his murder.
The police interviewed neighbors who claimed they saw a white pickup truck in front of the house at the time of the murder. According to the show, Ryan took about 35 minutes to report the crime when he discovered his father’s body. They also found Jim had received $1,000 in wages from his employer after a successful cattle run the day before his murder. The missing money had them wondering whether Jim was killed for the money, and the time discrepancy implied Ryan was a chief suspect in the crime.
However, Ryan was cleared as a suspect after his alibi of being out of town was checked out. The detectives interviewed regular customers at Jim’s drinking haunt to learn he was frequently seen with Missy Watkins. According to the show, Missy had several run-ins with the law and was found to hang out with older men for financial gain. When she was brought down to the station for questioning on September 18, Missy claimed she worked as Jim’s part-time housekeeper in exchange for monetary help.
She insisted she had a platonic relationship with the victim and was home on the morning of the murder, though the investigators expressed their doubts about her claims. The police considered her erstwhile boyfriend, Jeff, a suspect, chalking out a jealousy angle as well as financial gain. However, Jeff was out of town and was ruled out as a suspect. The 30-pound murder weapon also made the police think Missy couldn’t murder her own. They wondered whether she could have hired help for the slaying.
When Missy was again brought in for questioning, she came in a white pickup truck, similar to the vehicle seen by witnesses at the time of the murder. She stated the automobile belonged to her old friend of three decades, David “Leroy” Bright. He lived about 20 minutes from Jim’s house, and the two met ten weeks ago through Missy. According to investigators, Missy had a similar relationship with Leroy as she shared with Jim. The police also suspected a resident, Matt Sefton, because he drove a similar white pickup truck.
However, the army man was cleared as a suspect after his commanding officer vouched for him on the day of the murder. The case took another twist when Dean, Jim’s brother, found Leroy at Jim’s home while driving by his dead brother’s residence. He also accused Leroy of stealing a chainsaw, and the police found it more suspicious he returned to the crime scene. On September 22, the subpoena for Jim’s phone records arrived, and the detectives found it was Leroy who had called the victim 12 times.
Where is David Leroy Bright Now?
The police charged Leroy with two counts of first-degree murder the following day after he came down with Missy to the station. The officers found bloody clothes inside his vehicle, and the blood tested positive for Jim. The cell phone records also placed him near Jim’s house on the day of the murder. Though Leroy refused to talk about his crime or state he had any help, the prosecution claimed he murdered out of sexual jealousy. They alleged Leroy had gone over to Jim’s home and found him sleeping.
Finding such an easy target, Leroy smashed Jim’s head with the sledgehammer and fled the scene with the money to misdirect the police with the robbery angle. He was convicted of both counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison on November 10, 2020. Court documents also state he will be on three years of mandatory supervised release once out of jail. According to the official prison roster, the 74-year-old is incarcerated at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center. His inmate records state he will be eligible for parole in December 2047, and his earliest release date is January 2051.