A Texas Crime Saga: Did Jana Rhea Williams Get Away With Cold-Blooded Murder in Houston’s Third Ward?

This true crime longform article is by Clarence Walker, a Houston, Texas-based true crime writer and Houston’s Cold Case Murder Historian. He can be reached at  cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com

On a breezy, cool, rainy day in Houston Texas’s “Third Ward” district on January 7, 1974, Albert Johnson, 29, had left work at a construction site where he labored daily to earn a decent living to support his wife and children.  Third Ward, founded in 1836, consists of six historic wards in Houston. Third Ward was located in Houston’s Southeast District. Stephen Fox, a Rice University historian, described Third Ward as “the elite neighborhood comprised of Victorian-era homes. Luxury homes in Third Ward were a stone’s throw from the ghetto – barren, crime and drug-infested place, often refer to where the low-income people lived.

Against the backdrop of war, politics, sports, the hippie and black power culture, plenty of manual labor jobs, as well as oil and rich resources for the wealthy became the anthem for this period in Houston. 1974 was also a year of political scandal in the White House. President Richard Nixon became the first president in U.S. history to resign from office over the Watergate investigation. As Vietnam War gradually wound down in 1974, popular songs like Rock the Boat, Rock Your Baby, Rock Me Gently, Sunshine On My Shoulders, Boogie Down Baby, I shot the Sheriff, The Night Chicago Died, Bennie And the Jets, as well as Time in a Bottle; all these hits fired up the Billboard Charts. A gallon of gas for a car only cost 55 cents in 1974. Average new car cost USD$3500-$5000 dollars.

Back to Mr. Johnson’s leisurely strolling down Blodgett Street. Suddenly, a “white over red” Mustang passed the guy. As the

construction worker continued walking, the shiny Mustang stopped in the street. “Hey come here,” a voice echoed from inside the vehicle. Bewildered, Albert Johnson couldn’t figure out this person, and what they wanted on a day like this. Leaning over into the car he spotted a white lady under the wheel and a black woman sitting on the passenger side.

Suddenly, before the construction worker reacted to what was about to happen, two shots hit him!  With two slugs inside him, Johnson screamed out, “why are you shooting me?”  Unable to run, gripped by excruciating pain, Johnson bled internally as he staggered from the road. Holding his chest the wounded man collapsed into his cousin’s yard at 2012 Blodgett. A police report documented Joyce Hicks as the cousin residing at this address.

Everything happened fast. Joyce Hicks, Thomas Dabney and Margaret Johnson who lived at 2011 Blodgett–rushed outside to where Johnson layed, gasping for breath. “Call an ambulance,” one witness cried out. Paramedics and Houston Police(HPD) patrol officers arrived quickly. But it was too late. Albert Johnson was dead. Witnesses gave a detailed description of the vehicle to HPD officers. “I was in my kitchen and when I heard the shots I looked out the window and saw the man staggering away from a “red and white” Mustang, a female witness told patrol officers. “It looked like two people were inside.” Meanwhile patrol officers issued an alert for a “red and white” Mustang. “The subjects in the vehicle are involved in a shooting that happened in the 2000 block of Blodgett,” an officer announced on the radio.

Shortly, officers at the scene received information that HPD officers M.D. Dean, R.T. Matthews and R.C. Darrow arrested the suspects in the Mustang in the 1800 block of Ruth Street, a location not far from where the shooting took place. Officers reported finding a .380 automatic in between the console and the front seat on the driver’s side. Arrested in the vehicle were:

 

(1) Jana Rhea Williams, white female, age 26.

 

(2) Toni Renee Bratcher, black female, age 23.

 

 A Full-Scale Homicide Investigation Gets Underway

Houston P.D. Homicide Detectives Johnny Bonds and Nelson Zoch were assigned to the case. Bonds fondly remembers that when he arrived on the scene and spoke with the witnesses and the officers who arrested the suspects that he felt confident of having a solid case against the shooter Jana Williams. When this author pressed Bonds about the confidence of the case against Williams, he stated, “For one we had a witness who said when they heard the shot they saw the victim standing on the driver’s side of the vehicle and Jana Williams was the driver.”  “And right after the shooting, when the patrol officers stopped the vehicle they saw Jana arm moving as if she was hiding something. So when the officers searched the car they recovered the murder weapon in between the console where Jana was sitting on the driver’s side.”

A crime scene officer recovered two fired shell casings in the road where the shooting took place. The body was taken to the morgue by McCoy and Harrison Funeral Home where an autopsy would be conducted. An autopsy proved the man died of two gunshot wounds, one shot struck the chin, the other shot went into the chest. Albert Johnson was later buried in Freeport Texas under the direction of Lundy Mortuary.

former Houston Texas Homicide Police Detective Johnny Bonds. Bonds worked the Jana Williams case.

Toni Bratcher Identify Jana Williams as a Killer

While Detectives Bonds and Zoch tied up loose ends on the investigation to file formal charges with Harris County District Attorney Office, Detective David Masse took Toni Bratcher’s statement. Potential charges could be filed against Bratcher if Bonds could prove she assisted or aided Jana Williams to shoot the victim. Massey thoroughly explained to Bratcher in cop language that he wanted to hear the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help her God. Toni calmly acknowledged she understood. “About a week ago, While Jana Williams, known as J.J, and I were staying with my mother in Kerrvile Texas, Jana received a call from her father who is a lawyer who said a black man with red hair had cashed checks and been using a credit card that her father had given Jana.  She asked if I did it or if I knew a black dude with red hair and I told her that I didn’t know anything about it.”  “She said ok and then said, “I just don’t like anyone screwing over my father.”

Toni further said in her lengthy statement that Jana had visited a girl named “Jean” on Ruth Street in Houston and Jana thought this “Jean” may have taken her credit cards while she was doped up on pills.  “We drove back to Houston on Saturday and on Monday morning we went to a office building on Texas avenue to see Jana’s father.”  Enraged over this guy who supposedly been freely using the credit card and cashing checks issued to her by her father, Bratcher said that she went to Oshman’s on Main Street with Jana where she purchased a .380 caliber automatic pistol. “After J.J. bought the pistol we went to eat and then drove to her house where Jana who been taking pills began firing the pistol at her garage.”  But police came after neighbors reported the shots. Police warned Jana not to shoot the gun anymore.

Once Jana and Bratcher drove to Third Ward in Jana’s red Mustang they went over to 5216 Austin Street to visit “Mother Dear”, who is Lucille Williams. “I was standing on “Mother Dear’s” front porch when I heard a shot and this is when I saw that J.J. shot at Alfred Ford.”

Ford was “Mother Dear’s” son-in-law.

When Detective Massey asked why Jana shot at Ford, Bratcher mentioned something about Jana had burglarized Ford’s house. Bratcher continued: “After this we drove off and we were going down Blodgett and Jana saw this black dude with red hair crossing the street.”   “She said, ‘hey he’s got red hair!’   “So she stopped the car and backed up to him. “Hey come here,” she told the guy.  “He walked up on my side and he said, “what is it?”   “This is when Jana pulled her pistol, reached across me, and shot the guy two times.”   Bratcher said the man, hollered, “what you shooting me for, and he ran off.”   Bratcher informed Massey that Jana was hyped up on drugs and happen to see this black guy with red hair and thought he was the culprit. “I didn’t know who this man was, neither did Jana,” the woman lamented.

When detectives attempted to question Jana Williams, “she immediately lawyered up,” retired Detective Bonds now recalls. After HPD firearms expert Floyd McDonald conducted a trace metal detection on Jana’s(right) hand the examiner gave Bonds and Zoch the good news. “The trace test revealed that the (right hand) of suspect Williams contained a metallic pattern identical to the pattern left by the .380 automatic.”  A subsequent test of the slugs removed from the victim’s body also proved to have been fired from the .380 purchased by Williams. Plus the firearm examiner matched the fired shell casings found in the street on Blodgett with the same deadly .380 pistol.

Detectives recovered the Oshman’s sales slip showing the accused purchased the .380 just a few hours before she committed murder. “Jana is our shooter,” Bonds told his partner Nelson Zoch. What disturbed both detectives was the reality this woman gunned down an innocent man because he was black with red hair.

 

Retired Lt. Homicide Detective Nelson Zoch.

 

A Texas Legend Defends Jana Williams

Charged with first-degree murder in the 179th District Court, Jana Rhea Williams faced up to life in prison. She was released on a $20,000 cash bail pending trial. John Williams, Jana’s father, was an attorney himself for one of Houston’s prominent law firms.

Mr. Williams knew his daughter was in deep trouble. Murder was far more serious than drug and petty theft charges. Jana was a troubled child with a bad drug habit but she still was daddy’s little girl. The wealthy gentleman hired the toughest and most expensive lawyer that money could buy. He called the “Racehorse”.

Richard “Racehorse” Haynes was a giant among famous lawyers in America.  Born near San Antoino Texas, Haynes served in the U.S.Marines during World War Two. He fought gallantly in the Iwo Jima battle at 17, winning a medal for heroic action. Winning some of the nation’s high-profile criminal trials, Racehorse Haynes, despite his nickname is more of a bulldog than a racehorse.

A pipe-smoking Texas gunslinger who is often attired in dark pin-striped suits and black ostrich-skin cowboy boots, reporters, judges and fellow lawyers describe Haynes as a mixture of folksy charm, tough-as-nails interrogator of witnesses, a silver-tongue orator prone to carrying out mesmerizing theatrics in a courtroom. Time Magazine named Racehorse Haynes as one of the best lawyers in the nation.

Writer Kinky Friedman expressed Haynes superiority. “He’s the most colorful silver-tongue devil to grace Texas since God made trial lawyers.”

“Being a lawyer is a high calling,” Haynes once said during a social function. “I look at it as being a Freedom Trustee.”

Since 1956, Haynes won acquittals for hundreds of clients charged with serious crimes.

 His most notable cases are:

–          Fort Worth’s billionaire T. Cullen Davis, acquitted in the murder of his stepdaughter, the murder of his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, and the shooting of another man. Haynes won another acquittal for Davis when police charged him for allegedly trying to hire a hitman to kill a judge in Cullen’s divorce case. Both cases were the subject of a book titled Will Blood Tell including a television miniseries.

–          Dr. John Hill was charged with poisoning his wife Joan Robinson Hill in Houston’s River Oaks. Racehorse convinced a judge to throw out the case based on prohibited testimony of a vital witness. This high-profile case spawned a best selling book “Blood And Money” including a television movie “Texas Justice.”

–          . Vickie Daniels was acquitted in the murder of her husband Lloyd Price Daniels, a prominent House speaker in the Texas legislature.

–          Won an acquittal in federal court for an international arms dealer.

–          Out of almost 50 women charged with murder, only two were convicted and got probation.

–          A Hell’s Angel motorcyle member charged with crucifying a woman by driving nails into her hands.

–          Fayette County Sheriff T.J. Flourney whose criminal involvement with the infamous “Chicken Ranch” prostitution operation in La Grange Texas. A memorable case among Texans, this true-life drama was made into a popular play and a movie called “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”.

With all the headline grabbing cases, the most heart touching for Racehorse Haynes is a pro-bono case where he received not one penny. Haynes won an acquittal for a poor hard-working construction laborer accused of stealing from the construction site. “No way he did it. It was someone else.”

Having discovered that a drug-induced Jana Williams previously spent time in a mental facility after using a blade to cut her arms, Racehorse Haynes filed a court motion to have her examined by a psychiatrist.

Legendary Texas Lawyer Richard "Racehorse" Haynes Got Jana Williams Off the Hook for a 1974 Murder in Houston.
Legendary Texas Lawyer Richard “Racehorse” Haynes Got Jana Williams Off the Hook for a 1974 Murder in Houston.

 

A Psychological Insight into Jana Williams’ Life History

Harris County Psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Sher examined Jana Williams to determine her mental capacity to stand trial as ordered by Judge McMaster.

Sher conducted the examination at the historic Jefferson Davis Hospital on March 13th 1974. Dr. Sher described the defendant appearance: “Miss Williamsis a 26- year-old white female, well developed and well nourished, approximately five-feet three inches tall, about one hundred ten pounds in weight.

Jana Williams stated in vivid details of being born in Grand Island Nebraska on December 13th 1947. Jana explained to Dr. Sher that she had only one brother. This beloved brother was described as a professional cattleman living in Texas. Although born in Nebraska, Jana said she was raised all her life in Houston Texas. “I quit school in the tenth grade at Memorial High School because I was tired and wanted to rebel against my parents who pressured me to do well in my studies.”  Prior to leaving Memorial High School at 16, Jana was sent to a boarding school in Arizona called the Judson School.  Her worried parents sent her there hoping a more strict and structured environment would correct the problems within their youngest child. Yet even this strategy failed because Jana, stubborn and rebellious, defied authorities. She was sent home back to Houston.

Other past history revealed the accused killer was not married but had a six-year-old son by a man she didn’t identify. When Dr. Sher brought up the criminal offense filed against her, Jana stated she “supposed to have murdered someone identified as Albert Johnson.”   In a calm tone, while puffing a cigarette, Jana explained that her lawyer Racehorse Haynes advised her not to talk about the murder, but, she injected, my lawyer said, “if I’m found guilty I could go to the penitentiary. I don’t want to spend all my days in the pen,” ahe stressed. Having left both Memorial and Judson schools, Jana now grown, moved to Chicago Illinois where she dived head-first into the drug scene with female friends. “I began using marijuana, she recalled. Then I began using heroin.”  Heroin was a popular drug for addicts during the 1970s’.  “My heroin habit cost $175.00 a day. I was able to afford it because of my parents’ trust fund.”  Wired up on heroin, the Texas girl met a handsome guy and moved to New York where she stayed awhile. Trouble followed. She was arrested for drug possession, theft, and stealing a car. “I was tired of walking so I stole the car,” Jana said, recalling the incident in a humorous tone.

Returning to Houston in 1969, Jana resumed using heroin. At time of her arrest, Jana attended beauty school. Dr. Sher concluded the defendant suffered no delusions or mental defect and was competent to stand trial.

A Moment of Truth Or Too Much Reasonable Doubt?

A jury trial began in January 1975 for Jana Rhea Williams. Participants like former homicide Detectives Johnny Bonds and Nelson Zoch who investigated the murder including the famous Richard “Racehorse Haynes and co–counsel Ray Bass was interviewed by this author to recap the evidence presented by Assistant District Attorney Andy Tobias. Tobias evidence was straightforward. First, he presented evidence proving that:

(1) Jana Williams purchased the murder weapon.

(2) She was caught with the murder weapon.

(3) She had the motive to shoot a black man with red hair whom she thought had been cashing checks that belonged to her.

(4) Right after the shooting, a trace metal test showed she had the same pattern and grooves of the weapon visible on her hand

(5) Toni Bratcher, Williams dope friend, testified it was Jana who called the innocent black guy over to her car and shot him because the man had red hair similar like the guy that Jana’s father had described to her.

Attorney Ray Bass now practicing law in Austin, says the detectives and the district attorney thought they had a clear-cut case against Jana Williams, “but we debunked the trace metal gun test by HPD firearms expert Floyd McDonald.”  “And by the time Racehorse Haynes finished with Toni Bratcher, the state’s star witness, the jury felt that it may have been Bratcher herself who killed Mr. Johnson.”

Johnny Bonds said Racehorse Haynes kept him on the witness stand for hours all because he mistakenly wrote that the suspect’s car headed east towards Almeda road instead of the car being headed westbound. “It was just a typo and he tried to rip me a new butt.”

During Jana’s trial, Racehorse didn’t rely exclusively on calling defense witnesses to rebut the state’s case. He chose to make his case through superb cross examination of the state witnesses. Third Ward witnesses who saw the victim staggering away from Jana’s red Mustang were at times confused and even agreed they wasn’t quite sure if the shooting took place on the passenger side of the car or the driver’s side. One witness insisted the victim was standing on the driver’s side where Jana sat when the shots were fired. Yet no witnesses actually fingered Jana Williams as the shooter except for speculating she was the shooter because she, in fact, was the driver.

Court Charge Read to Jury

Following a brief recess, the court returned to order as Judge I.D. McMaster prepared to read the court’s charge to the jury. Three weeks after the trial had begun, now the state’s witnesses including homicide detectives assembled for the last time, like characters in a mystery play, waiting in suspense for the final drama to play out. In reading the murder charge, Bonds and Zoch were confident that the jury would convict Jana Williams.

“We had the murder weapon, the murder weapon was found between the seat where Jana was sitting, plus the witnesses saw the victim standing on the driver’s side of Jana’s car when he was shot,” Bonds now says, reflecting back thirty-eight years ago. Judge McMaster explained the legal terminology of murder in Texas. McMaster re-emphasized the law surrounding the accomplice-witness testimony of Toni Bratcher.

“A party to an offense may not be prosecuted for any offense in which he/she is required to furnish evidence or testify.,” McMaster explained to the jury.  “In this case, Toni Bratcher is an accomplice-witness as matter of law.  And the evidence and testimony that Miss Bratcher provides in a court of law cannot be used against her.” He cautioned the jury of the importance of the corroboration of an accomplice witness testimony against another defendant.

McMaster further explained to the jury that the testimony of Toni Bratcher was sufficient to convict Jana Williams if Bratcher testimony proved credible. Defense

Attorney Ray Bass told the jury the state failed to prove Jana Williams guilty of murder.  “The state wants you to convict Miss Williams of murder just because a faulty trace metal test showed she supposedly held a gun (right) after the victim in this case was shot.”   “But we brought forth expert evidence that HPD trace metal test was unreliable.”   Bass ridiculed testimony of witness Toni Bratcher who fingered Williams as a killer. “To believe what Miss Bratcher said on that witness stand is incredulous. Homicide officers threatened her into making false allegations against the defendant.”

Bass posed an intricate question:”How can we rely on a trace metal test when there’s evidence to show that nitrate found on a discharged weapon or on a person’s hand can also be found on other types of  metal?” It was high noon when Racehorse Haynes stood before the jury to deliver his argument, a perfect moment for a showdown.

The courtroom master attacked the state’s evidence with a vengeance. Racehorse insisted it was Toni Bratcher, his client’s friend, who most likely shot Albert Johnson to death. “Miss Bratcher is a prostitute, drug user and thief. Can we trust what she says about Jana Williams killing Mr. Johnson in Third Ward on Blodgett Street?”  “I suggest to you, you cannot trust the testimony of Miss Bratcher.”

“You heard the witnesses at the scene testify. One witness said it appeared the white lady (Jana Williams) was driving the car when she heard a shot, looked out the window, and saw Mr. Johnson fall backwards. Then another witness said they were not sure who was driving when the shots were fired when the Mustang drove off.”

Haynes admitted that Jana Williams, in fact, had fired the Oshman purchased weapon at other people in Third Ward– which explained why police found evidence that she’d been holding a weapon based on a trace metal test. He indicated that after Bratcher, not Williams, had shot Albert Johnson, Bratcher (prior to HPD officers arresting her) had washed her hands while using a public restroom.

“This is why police found no trace metal evidence on Bratcher’s hands because she washed the evidence off,” Haynes argued. “Bratcher recalled how “high” she was on pills and could not remember everything that happened that day while she rode with Miss Williams. And the reason she couldn’t remember things because she didn’t want too,” Haynes pointed out. “Because she’s the killer.”

Racehorse reminded the jury to consider the guilt-or-innocence of Jana Williams on its merits, devoid of the emotional impact that murder inflicts upon human emotion.

“Judge McMaster has instructed that Miss Williams cannot be convicted on accomplice-testimony unless the witness testimony corroborate the evidence beyond a shadow of doubt. And there’s too much doubt in this case that my client murdered Albert Johnson on January 7th 1974. My client is not guilty.”

Prosecution Argument

Assistant District Attorney Andy Tobias challenged the jury to look past all the “smoke and mirrors” offered by Racehorse Haynes and Ray Bass. Tobias argued it was no coincident that when Jana Williams purchased the .380 weapon from Oshman that she intended to kill a black guy with red hair, a black guy who she thought had been cashing her father’s checks. “You heard from Toni Bratcher that she  got “high” with Jana before Mr. Johnson was killed– and when they left “Mother Dear’s” house in Third Ward right after Jana shot at Mr. Ford, she spotted a black man with reddish hair and decided to shoot him.”

Tobias appealed to the jury to use their common sense in deciding the evidence against the defendant. Picking up the .380 weapon, Tobias held it up for the jury to see. “Who purchased this gun that killed Albert Johnson?”  “Who had the motive?”

“Who said they didn’t like the idea of someone messing over their father?”  “Who wanted to find a black man with red hair?”

“It was this defendant, Jana Williams, “Tobias said, his voice rising. Tobias reminded jurors not to dismiss the metal trace evidence showing the defendant had held the .380 pistol right after the victim was killed. “When patrol officers stopped the red Mustang that Jana was driving right after the shooting–you heard the officer testify he saw Jana trying to hide the gun where it was found between the driver’s seat and the vehicle’s console. And the gun proved to be the murder weapon.”

Tobias recapped the eyewitness testimonies.  “Witnesses saw the victim standing at the driver’s side of the Mustang when the shots were fired.” Tobias admitted the witnesses occasionally may have appeared a bit confused about the rapid chain of events when the shooting took place but he harped on Jana Williams as the guilty killer with a motive to kill a black man.

“Albert Johnson was an innocent man who had gotten off from work headed to visit relatives on Blodgett–when this defendant,  Jana Williams, saw him. And when she saw him she figured he was the black guy with the red hair who had cashed checks on her father. So she decided to kill him.”   “Toni Bratcher had no motive to kill anyone. But this defendant did.”    “It was tragic for Albert Johnson to get off from work, minding his own business, when this defendant killed him in cold blood.”

“Find this woman guilty of murder,” Tobias said.

Following deliberations the jury rung the buzzer, signaling a verdict.  “We got a verdict,” a spectator called out.   “We were sure the jury found Jana Williams guilty,” retired homicide detective Johnny Bonds told this author during a telephone interview. The jury returned to the courtroom and took a seat. A sheriff baliff passed the verdict slip to Judge McMaster. “Will the defendant please rise,” the judge stated. “We the jury find Jana Rhea Williams not guilty of murder in the first- degree.”

Jana Williams exhaled a relief of happiness upon hearing the verdict. She hugged her attorneys and family members as she left the courtroom. Prosecutor Tobias was stunned. How could the jury find the woman not guilty? Johnny Bonds, Nelson Zoch and other HPD officers were dumbfounded.  “What else the jury needed to convict that old girl of murder,” Zoch now reflects back to the day of the acquittal.

Prosecutor Tobias had never lost a homicide trial and had the “smoking gun” connected to the killer. Detectives and the prosecutors agreed on one thing: Racehorse Haynes had pulled off one of his masterful defense for a guilty woman.

Surprisingly, the Houston Chronicle and Houston Post, both major newspapers in the city, obviously didn’t cover the case. Houston Chronicle only published a small, half inch article about the acquittal. The Post did not publish a word.

Houston Forward Times, a popular black-owned weekly paper published a headline feature titled: “Not Guilty in Slaying of Innocent Man: All-White Jury Did Did Not Believe Her Woman Companion.” Forward Times article stated: “Racehorse Haynes beat all the testimony supplied by District Attorney Office which consisted of police investigators, the Oshman’s salesman who  sold Janice Williams the murder weapon including black people who reportedly seen Williams and Bratcher flee the scene.”

“They let her go,” one detective was quoted in the article. Retired HPD lawman Johnny Bonds who worked the investigation protested the “not guilty”. “I don’t recall having a murder weapon and the jury comes back with a “not guilty.” Bonds liken the thirty-eight year old case to the acquittal of Casey Anthony in Florida. Anthony was acquitted of killing her child in 2011.

Time heals bitter wounds. Nelson Zoch proudly served the Houston Police Department for thirty more years. He served as a Murder Squad Lieutenant fow over twenty-four years, retiring in 2004. Zoch is an author of the book: Fallen Heroes of The Bayou City: Houston Police Department 1860-2006.

Prior to retirement in 1988, as a Houston Police Officer, Johnny Bonds became the most heralded officer in the history of the department by solving, against all odds, the 1979 triple murder of the Wanstrath family. The sensational case was the basis for a bestselling book “The Cop who Wouldn’t Quit”. Meanwhile, at age 85, the legendary Racehorse Haynes still practices law.

When people ask the famous lawyer why he still practicing law, Racehorse, always ready to unload a wisecrack, says: “I’m still learning how to practice!”

An article from Houston Forward Times.

 

A Troubled Life

One ugly truth about the human condition is that a troubled life often leads to more troubles. Trouble hovered over Jana Williams’ life like a dark cloud after she beat the murder rap, a senseless murder that former detectives Bonds and Zoch believe without doubt that she got away with. Racking up arrests on drugs and theft charges, finally in 1977, the once accused murderer luck ran out. While residing in a plush hi-rise condo on Memorial Drive in Houston, police charged Jana Williams with burglarizing an apartment to steal drugs. A jury sentenced her to five years in prison.Williams’ famous lawyer didn’t represent her on the burglary as she was led away in handcuffs.

On December 6th 2012, Nelson Zoch, the detective turned author, who assisted Johnny Bonds with the homicide investigation of Williams back in 1974, reminisced about the acquittal of Williams with this journalist outside the HPOU(Houston Police Officer Union) building.

“I once saw Racehorse Haynes, Jana’s former attorney, at a social event celebrating Confederate soldiers and we spoke briefly about old Jana Williams. Zoch said he told Racehorse, “Jana was guilty of murder, you know”.   “He looked at me and just smiled.”

Jana Williams’ once troubled life came to an end in 2003. She died in Jacksonville Florida.

3 comments
  1. I met Jana in 1970 at Starlite Village Hospital near Center point Texas. I was there for alcohol addiction and she was a heroin addict. We became friends, more than friends actually. She was a very difficult person to deal with. She used crude language and at times seemed to have no consideration for the feelings of others. Her father John Williams worked in the law firm of Leon Jaworski in Houston. He was one of the nicest persons I’ve ever known. He tried everything he could to help Jana. He bought her new cars which she proceeded to wreck. He would visit and treat Jana and I to a movie and a meal. I had a big problem with alcohol, but I had feelings for Jana. I wanted to help her too. I left Starlite village in late 1970. I quit drinking for a while and worked in the oilfield. In 1973 I was having alcohol problems again and drove to Starlite Village for help. Jana was there. We paired up again. We enrolled in beauty school in Kerrville TX. Her father asked me to take her as I had a new 442 Oldsmobile we could use. I hated cosmetology school, but I cared about Jana. One day we decided to take a little “vacation”. We headed to San Antonio-drinking beer all the way. Jana wanted to go to Houston. She had her father’s Gulf Travel Card and another credit card-probably the same ones the Red haired black guy was using later. She knew some really bad people in Houston-mostly black. Her father had bought her a really nice little house in the third ward I think. Anyway she wanted to get high on Christmas Trees-Touinals. They really screw you up. She left and I couldn’t find her. Luckily for me she left the credit cards in my glovebox. I was broke. I bought some gasoline with one of the cards. I returned to Starlite Village and gave the cards to the director. About a week later Jana’s dad brought her back. She still had pills in her pockets. She was mad at me for leaving Houston without her. I tried to explain and make up with her, but she wasn’t having any of it. I talked to her father and told him I used the Credit Card. He told me not to worry and asked me to keep taking Jana to beauty school. I told him I had to go back to work and he offered to help me if I would continue helping Jana. I told him I’m sorry, but that wouldn’t ever work out. I left and went back to work for a few months, but starting drinking heavily again. I returned to Starlite Village and was told Jana had killed a black guy in Houston. I called her dad and he said she was in jail and some people were threating her on the outside and he wasn’t going to get her out on bail right away. He told me how to write her in the jail-which I did. I later Received a letter from her, but the envelope was addressed to me but the letter was to someone else. He bought the Mustang for her when I left a few months earlier. Anyway, I left Starlite and returned to work I often wondered about Jana. She was messed up, but I loved her. I finally came across this True crime Reader story a few years ago. I’m almost 73 years old now. I was about 30 when all this happened. I’ve been sober almost 35 years. I still think of Jana and cry a little sometimes. What a waste and a shame her life was like it was and ended like it did..

  2. my name is timothy williams and jana williams was my biological mother, i am trying to locate my family…when jana was arrested in 1976 i was placed into foster care and never got to know her. if you know someone who knows or has any info on my mothers family please have them contact me: lostboy424@gmail.com. thanks

  3. Thank you for writing this article. I am Albert Johnson’s niece. My uncle was a loving son, husband, father, brother, uncle, and friend to many. He was MURDERED and she got away with it. JUSTICE did not prevail.

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