Murder he text

When Nicole got a message, she went running... But who was waiting?

Published by: Dawn Murden and Sharon Ward
Published on: 23 August 2012

The door slammed shut and I heard the stomp of feet running up the stairs. Uh, oh, someone had upset my daughter Nicole, 22.
‘What's wrong love?' I asked, going up to her bedroom. She was laying face-down on her bed.
‘John broke up with me,' she sobbed, turning to face me. Her cheeks were stained with tears.
My heart went out to her. She and John had been teenage sweethearts, together since she was 16.
‘Oh darling,' I sighed, reaching in for a hug. ‘It might do you both good to have a bit of time on your own?' That just made her cry harder. ‘I'll never love anyone as much as him,' she cried.
And if I was honest, John had practically become another son to me and my hubby Rick, 51. He even called me Mum! I guess I'd miss him, too.
But they were only young, so perhaps it was for the best. There was no need for Nicole to rush into things at her age.
For a while, there really was nothing I could do to make her feel better. She just went through the motions. In fact, she only came out of her room once in a while to go to softball practise. It was a great passion of hers. She was on a softball scholarship at Fordham University.
A few weeks later though, she seemed to have a spring in her step again. Her hair was in curls and she'd put some lippy on.
‘Someone's making an effort,' teased her brother Ricky, 16. ‘Where are you heading off to?'
‘A party,' she said, looking shy.
‘Have fun,' I told her. ‘You deserve it.' Oh well, that should cheer her up a bit! The next day, she had a huge grin on her face.
‘I met someone last night,' she admitted. ‘His name is Steve Kemmerman, Mum.'
‘See, I told you things would only get better,' I smiled, choosing not to probe any further. ‘Just please don't rush into things.'
But over the next few weeks, she went on a couple of dates with this new guy.
‘Text me when you're coming home,' I'd tell her.
‘Stop fussing, Mum,' she'd laugh. ‘I'm fine.'
‘That's my job,' I'd tut.
Things soon fizzled out with this new chap, but Nicole told me they were still friends. Also, John was back on the scene.
‘You're on one minute, off the next,' I chuckled, rolling my eyes at him whenever he came round to see her. ‘I can't keep up with you youngsters.'
A few weeks later, they were very much back on track. Nicole had gone to his place for the evening.
Can I borrow some money from you in the morning, please? Love you, she text me that night.
Of course. Love you too, I replied.
It wasn't until about 11am the following morning that I realised she still hadn't come home. It wasn't unusual for her to stay at John's, but she'd normally be back by now. She had softball practise today and never missed it. But when I rang, she didn't answer.
I decided to call John. Nicole would nag me later for being over-protective, but something was niggling at me.
‘Nicole left last night,' he told me. ‘She said she was coming home... She's not there?'
‘No,' I replied, my voice shaking with fear. ‘Call me if
you hear anything.'
I tried Nicole's phone again, still no answer.
Call me when you get this, I text. I'm worried about you.
Suddenly, my phone beeped.
I'm in New York, it read.
Huh? Why on earth would she be there? That was over 90 miles away. And anyway, that text didn't even sound like Nicole...
I rang again. Still no answer. Battery about to die, a text came back.
Something was wrong. I decided to look up her phone bill on the internet. In the call history, I saw that she'd sent that text to me at 11pm... Then there were about 30 calls and texts until about 2am. All to a number I didn't recognise. So I dialled the number. A man answered.
‘Is Nicole there?' I asked.
‘She's with my mate in New York,' a gruff voice said back. ‘Don't call again.'
Then the line went dead. Frantic with worry, I went straight to the police.
‘This is her picture,' I said, showing them a photo. ‘I have a terrible feeling.'
Leaving them to it, me and Rick then spent the rest of the day driving around the neighbourhood to see if we could find her car.
‘I'm sure she's fine,' Rick kept mumbling. That evening, we still hadn't heard anything from her. As I sat, nervously tapping my hand on the side of the phone, the 10 o'clock news came on. A body had been dumped in a field just 30 minutes away from our house. I jumped up and turned it off straight away.
‘That wouldn't be her,' Rick said, as if reading my thoughts.
But half an hour later, a police car pulled up outside the house.
‘I'm afraid we have some bad news,' the officer said. ‘We believe the body found today is your daughter Nicole's.'
Even though a part of me had half expected it, the reality had hit me in the chest like a ton of bricks.
‘No!' I cried, gripping Rick's hand as tight as I could.
‘She was stabbed to death,' they added. ‘We believe the man who did this was the one using the phone number that you had given us.'
I felt numb. So I'd spoken to her killer.
Rick saw the police to the door, while I walked up to Nicole's room. Her make-up was spilled out over her
vanity table and her pyjamas were tucked under her pillow waiting for her. But Nicole wasn't coming back.
Collapsing on to her bed, I felt so hollow, so empty, so lost.
The next day, the house was full of friends and family, all trying to help. Rick put on a brave face, but I hid in Nicole's bedroom. I couldn't face anyone.
‘I can't believe you're gone,' I whispered.
The next thing I knew, the police were back.
‘We've got him. His name is Stephen Headley,' they said. ‘He was texting Nicole from his friend's phone, pretending to be a bloke called Steve Kemmerman.' I knew that surname. Hang on...
‘Nicole went on a few dates with Steve Kemmerman some months ago,' I blurted out. ‘So it was his mate?'
‘Yes. We think he text Nicole when she was on her way home, asking to meet,' he said. ‘He was using Steve's phone. We believe he tried it on with her...' the officer said.
Apparently, after the attack Headley had confessed the murder to his mum. She'd called the police.
But then he'd run off, straight into the path of a truck.
‘He's now in hospital with a fractured back, ankle and ribs,' the officer said. ‘We have charged him with murder.'
It was only then that we were allowed to see Nicole's body. Me, Rick and her brother Ricky visited her at the funeral home.
‘My baby,' I gasped.
Nicole was zipped up to her neck in a plastic bag. I shuddered when I thought of the injuries that were hidden underneath. We now knew she'd been stabbed 30 times in the head, back and face. Her throat had been slit.
She was pale and lifeless, her face tinged purple from the bruising. This wasn't how I wanted to remember my beautiful daughter.
A few days later, hundreds of family members and all of Nicole's softball friends came to say goodbye at her funeral.
It felt so surreal. The last time I'd seen these girls I'd been standing on the sidelines, cheering them all on.
‘Go, Nicole!' I'd cheered.
‘Thanks Mum,' she had mouthed back.
Now they all stood dressed in black, their faces looking sombre and devastated.
Even though it was an incredibly sad day, we wanted to cherish Nicole's memory rather than focus on her grisly death. In the middle of the room, we placed a huge photo of her blowing a kiss on the wall.
‘I miss her so much,' I cried to Rick. Two weeks later, the police told us they had enough evidence to charge Headley with first-degree murder.
Before the case could be brought to court though, he needed a mental health evaluation. We had to be patient.
‘He murdered my daughter,' I raged. ‘I have to see him brought to justice.' At long last, the trial began. Now we'd finally get some answers...
‘Did you stab Nicole and leave her to die?' quizzed the prosecutor. At first, Headley, 30, lied, claiming that she'd come at him instead.
But then he admitted that he'd been angry with Nicole - so angry that he couldn't stop.
He'd met Nicole at that party, the same night his friend did, and had become infatuated with her. But he'd known he wouldn't stand a chance with my beautiful daughter. That's why he'd text her on his mate's phone, it was the only way he could lure her to his car. So he'd killed her when she'd turned him down.
‘She was my girlfriend. I should have protected her,' John sobbed to me. ‘No,' I told him. ‘You made her so happy. You did nothing wrong.'
Worse still, this wasn't even the first time Headley had hurt someone. This ugly, unshaven man standing in front of me in the dock was a registered sex offender. He'd groped an 11-year-old girl six years ago and was still on parole.
I felt sick as guilt consumed me. Should I have asked Nicole more questions about her personal life?
No, I realised. Nothing could have stopped this. But those questions will never leave me.
Finally, Headley pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.
‘I did it,' he shrugged. Fury raged inside me. There wasn't a hint of remorse.
Sentencing will take place in September, but Stephen's looking at around 30 years in prison.
‘It's disgusting,' Rick said, when he heard the news. ‘He'll be out by the time he's 60, but...'
‘We'll never see Nicole again,' I said, finishing his sentence.
Knowing we had to do something, we started up a campaign, Justice For Nicole.
We've got a website, had t-shirts printed, and stuck posters and signs outside the house. We've also started a petition. Hopefully, we'll be able to change the law and impose a mandatory life sentence on people like him.
The pain is still so raw, sometimes it's all-consuming and feels like it will never go away. I wander aimlessly through her room, torturing myself with all the things we'll miss.
I'll never see my daughter walk down the aisle, I'll never meet the children she would have had. All we can do now is hope that justice is served.
I pray every night. My little girl was only just finding her feet in the world, but that evil, emotionless monster destroyed all that.
Gina Ayres, 45, Deptford, New Jersey, USA