Angela Mischelle Lawless was born on August 2, 1973, in Sikeston, Missouri. She grew up in Benton with her parents and two siblings, a brother, and a sister. In 1992, she was a 19-year-old freshman at Southeast Missouri State University studying to become a nurse. Mischelle was an active member of her community and well-liked. There was no reason to suspect that anyone would want to harm Mischelle in any way. However, on November 8, 1992, her life would be tragically cut short.
The Death of Mischelle Lawless
Mischelle was found on the side of the exit ramp at the junction of Interstate 55 and Highway 77 in Benton, MO– just one mile from her home. Her body was found by then Deputy Sheriff Rick Walter. The scene was grizzly, blood was everywhere, and Mischelle was slumped over into the passenger seat. She had been bludgeoned and shot to death.
After investigating the scene, it was determined that Mischelle had exited her vehicle and somehow, perhaps in a fight, ended up going over the guardrail and down the slope of the embankment. There was a lot of blood at the bottom of the embankment that trailed back to her car, suggesting that she had been beaten severely and then drug up and over the guardrail before being placed back in her car– perhaps unconscious.
Due to the state that Mischelle was in, it was not immediately obvious to the investigators that Mischelle had been shot. However, they found three spent shell casings for a .380 caliber firearm in the car. The autopsy would confirm that Mischelle had been shot three times. Once point blank in the face, once in the back of the head, and once in her back. The autopsy also showed that Mischelle had defensive wounds, as well as foreign DNA under her fingernails. Her putting up a fight was not a surprise to anyone, as she had a green belt in karate.
The first suspect in the case was Mischelle’s long-time boyfriend, Leon Lamb. She had gone to his house around 11:30 and had left around 1:00 a.m. When questioned, Lamb claimed that nothing was amiss. She came over, they had sex, spent some time together, and then left. They polygraphed Lamb, but he passed, and they couldn’t determine that he had been on the scene.
Oddly enough, when Deputy Sheriff Walter discovered Mischelle’s body, 23-year-old Mark Abbott had walked into the Scott Country Sheriff’s Office to report that he had come to the scene of Mischelle’s accident and was hoping they would call an ambulance. He stated that when he walked up to the car, he saw her slumped over, so he reached into the partially lowered window to pull her up. He realized she was injured due to all the blood, and he left quickly to try a pay phone. However, the pay phone was dead, so he came to the Sheriff’s Office instead. When asked if he saw anyone else at the scene, he claimed that he saw a white car with several Hispanic men driving away.
A big break?
There were not very many leads at all, but 4 months later, a big lead came in. It was reported that 3 inmates were briefly in jail with a 17-year-old Illinois boy who confessed to killing Mischelle. Joshua Kezer was the young man who allegedly confessed, so the investigators compiled information to determine if he was their guy. They showed a picture of Kezer to Abbott, who positively identified him as the man driving the white car. Kezer did not fit any of the descriptions of what Abbott had previously said he had seen, but they went forward and arrested Josh Kezer for 1st-degree murder.
This arrest confused many. Kezer had never encountered Mischelle before. He was a high school dropout with a tough history. He insisted he was innocent and even tried to prove that he was 350 miles away the night of the murder. Mischelle’s family was also unsure; they couldn’t fathom Mischelle stopping on the side of the road for a stranger.
Despite no physical evidence to support his being involved, the case against Kezer moved forward. During the trial, someone who knew Mischelle was sitting behind Kezer, and based on the back of his head, she was convinced that he was the man that Mischelle had argued with during a Halloween party the week before the murder. She would end up taking the stand and insisting that Kezer had been to that party and had become belligerent with Mischelle when she kept turning him down for a date. The party’s host was shocked and gave the list of who was at the party to the defense attorneys, stating that she knew everyone at the party and Kezer was not there. However, that did not get brought before the jury. A luminol test on Kezer’s jacket showed spots of something all over it; the DA insisted it was Mischelle’s blood, although it had not been tested. The three inmates were also brought in to testify about Kezer confessing.
After 3 and a half hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a verdict of guilty of 2nd-degree murder. Kezer was sentenced to 60 years in one of the most dangerous prisons in the country. Kezer says he was nearly assaulted during his time there and witnessed a lot of violence.
A miscarriage of justice for Mischelle Lawless
10 years into his prison sentence, things changed for Kezer. Rick Walter, the Deputy Sheriff that had found Mischelle, had been elected to Sheriff. Walter was never certain that they had gotten the Lawless case right and seriously doubted that Kezer had committed the murder. Soon after becoming Sheriff, he reopened the case and brought in an independent investigator to go over the case. This was not a popular decision, and Walter received death threats.
However, the investigation found that there were many issues with the case against Kezer and that it was likely a huge miscarriage of justice had occurred. They tested the spots on the jacket and found out they weren’t even blood. They found out about the guest list, and the woman who testified about seeing him at the party said she felt pressured to make the testimony that she did. It was also found that after the three inmates testified, they received deals and later admitted they lied about everything to get those deals.
In December of 2008, Kezer’s case was reviewed by Judge Richard Callahan, and two months later, he declared Kezer an innocent man– no retrial was needed. Judge Callahan felt there was no way Kezer could have done it, and it was terrible that he had spent any time behind bars for the murder. Kezer was released after spending 16 years in prison and later sued and was able to settle for an undisclosed amount. He donated $10,000 to the investigation of Mischelle’s murder as it was evident that a killer was still out there.
Walter spent the rest of his time as Sheriff investigating Mischelle’s case, which is actively being investigated today. It is reported that there are half a dozen potential suspects they are looking at, but publicly there were some names that have come up several times that many believe are involved.
the investigation continues
Walter had extensive DNA work done on the evidence, and it was found that Leon Lamb’s DNA was under the nails of Mischelle. However, it was known that they had sex that night, and it is just as likely that the DNA got under her nails then. The relationship between the two had its ups and downs. They were a jealous couple who often argued, although Lamb claims they did not argue that night. Friends of the two also said they couldn’t see things becoming violent.
Another result of the DNA testing showed that Mark Abbott’s DNA was on several spots of Mischelle’s clothing. He had claimed he had reached in through the open window and pulled her up. However, this would have been with one hand, and he would have only touched her in one place. Yet, his DNA was in places he would not have touched in this scenario. His story about who he saw at the scene always changed as well. Abbott claims that he never knew Mischelle, but a friend of Mischelle disputes that saying that they had met, and the friend even warned Mischelle to stay away from Mark Abbott. She said to stay away from the Abbott boys as Mark had a twin brother Matt and both were known to be involved with drugs. Some wonder if Mischelle knew things she shouldn’t. To make matters even more complicated, they don’t know if it was Matt or Mark who went into the Sheriff’s office that night, as the two brothers were known to switch places from childhood.
There have been very few updates on this case until earlier this year when the current DA announced that she had reached out to the Missouri Attorney General’s and Highway Patrol offices to help with the case. This was not a well-investigated case when it first occurred, and it has been difficult for investigators to comb through the evidence as nothing had been digitized or organized. Cold Case teams from both agencies are working to help digitize and organize the case files and evidence to make things easier to work through. They are also getting fresh eyes on the case from independent agencies to ensure that whatever happens next in this case that is done with fidelity to the truth. Hopefully, the next update is that an arrest has been made, and Mischelle will have justice at last.
- “48 Hours” probes Missouri murder mystery – CBS News
- State investigators taking a new look into 30-year-old Mischelle Lawless murder case | News | WPSD Local 6
Researched by Alley of The Squonk & The Hag