Meekiah Wadley Murder: How Did Jerry Lee Henderson Die?

Investigation Discovery’s ‘On The Case With Paula Zahn: A Call for Answers’ chronicles the brutal murder of 28-year-old Meekiah Wadley in Richmond, California, in January 1999. Despite strenuous efforts from the investigators, the perpetrator of the heinous crime couldn’t be identified for more than two decades until cutting-edge forensic technology was brought into the picture.

How Did Meekiah Wadley Die?

Meekiah Wadley was born on April 2, 1972, to Doug Wadley. She lived in an apartment with her 18-month-old daughter in the 1300 block of Carlson Boulevard in Richmond, California. The child’s father had died even before her birth, and Meekiah was raising her on her own. Her sister, Quila Wadley, described her as “a friendly, outgoing person, always smiling,” while her father called her “the best daughter in the world.” She was like a second mother to her niece, Devinee Peterson, then 10, who reminisced, “My favorite auntie. She was beautiful, outgoing, and smart. Loved to hang out and have fun.” 

Naturally, it came as a shock to her immediate neighbor when he heard blood-curdling screams coming out from Meekiah’s apartment at around 7:30 am in the morning of January 9, 1999. He was friends with Meekiah and knew she had an infant daughter inside. When the neighbor tried to enter the apartment, he found the front door locked. He then tried the back door, which was latched too. Suddenly the screaming — which had been going on for about 30 seconds since the neighbor’s arrival at the young mother’s doorstep — stopped, and the panicked neighbor immediately called the police.

The Richmond police officers entered the apartment through the then-unlocked back door to find the 28-year-old lying on the ground, face down and motionless, at the entrance of her bedroom door. She was naked from her waist down, with her shirt pulled up, her wrists tied with shoelaces, and her face and head covered with a blanket. The shoelaces were taken from one of her high heels lying nearby, and they also found a buck knife under Meekiah’s body. It seemed evident to the police that Meekiah had been a victim of sexual assault.

However, the police found that Meekiah was still alive; her body was warm, but they could not find a pulse. Meekiah was rushed to the hospital, where she, unfortunately, succumbed to her injuries. The autopsy report stated her cause of death to be asphyxia by smothering. The medical examiner found defensive lacerations on her arms and wrists, indicating that she had put up a fight with her killer. There were also injuries on her lip, and the examiner hypothesized that she was murdered while the perpetrator attempted to silence her.

Who Killed Meekiah Wadley?

The investigators interviewed Meekiah’s neighbor to learn that he had seen a black man wearing a grey hoodie and beanie walking away from the apartment. While they also could not find any signs of forced entry, they discovered that the screen of her bedroom window had been unscrewed. They also found the apartment was in complete disarray, indicating that there had been a violent struggle inside the house. However, it was stated on the show that the detectives were surprised to learn that Meekiah had not been a victim of sexual assault.

Sgt. Lori Curran of the Richmond Police Department hypothesized that Meekiah might have been sleeping or watching TV on the couch when she was stunned by the assailant. He might have gone on to rape her if not for the helpful neighbor rushing to the scene after hearing the screams, and the perpetrator had to quickly flee after smothering her. All the evidence pointed toward her hypothesis, and the detectives bagged all the forensic evidence they found at the scene, including the bloodstains found on her clothes and unknown fingernail clippings. 

When the police interviewed Meekiah’s family, they learned of a man, Stephen, whom she met at a local junior college. Her friends stated she considered the relationship to be platonic, but he might have had strong feelings for her. As per the show, Stephen had a common-law wife and child in Oakland, yet he allegedly flirted with her. The officers were interested in him when they found he had been with Meekiah the night before; they had gone to watch a movie and dropped her daughter off at her sister’s. But they couldn’t find any DNA evidence that linked him to the homicide, and he was ruled out as a suspect.

With no new leads or evidence, the case went cold until it was briefly re-opened in 2002 when the investigators created a DNA profile from a bloodstain found at the crime scene and evidence on her hands. They sent it to the state Department of Justice in 2002, but it yielded no results. The case was again re-opened in 2020 when another DNA profile was created using the forensic evidence found underneath Meekiah’s fingernails. It was sent to the California Department of Justice’s DNA Data Bank Program in October 2020. Nearly a year later, the police learned that it matched Jerry Lee Henderson.

Jerry Lee Henderson Died From a Drug Overdose, as Per the Police

The new DNA profile was tested with genetic genealogy, and it yielded a match with a potential relative of Jerry Lee Henderson in April 2021. The detectives were dismayed to learn that Jerry was dead, and they tracked down an immediate relative in September 2021 to conduct a buccal swab. On September 17, 2021, it was confirmed that Jerry’s DNA matched the fingernail clippings retrieved from the scene of Meekiah Wadley’s murder.

Meekiah’s family stated that Jerry was a mutual friend and had never considered him a potential suspect. According to police reports, Jerry had died 11 days after the murder of a suspected drug overdose on January 20, 1999. The police could not offer any motive behind the homicide but consider sexual assault to be the most plausible one as of now. Following the determination, Meekiah’s sister, Quila, told Oxygen, “I just want people to know there is hope. Don’t give up. I don’t care how long it takes.”

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