Accused Podcast: The Case of Elwood Jones (S4E1)

One of my favorite true crime podcasts, Accused, is back for its fourth season and I’m ready to dig into it!

If you’re unfamiliar, Accused is a true crime investigative podcast created by Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Amber Hunt and photographer Amanda Rossmann, two people I’m fortunate to call former colleagues (although I’d hardly say I earn that esteem). I actually interned at The Enquirer when the first season about the murder of Elizabeth Andes was being recorded in a tiny little broom closet-size space, and now, it’s on Wondery. How cool is that for them?!

Each season investigates a new case. The fourth season is covering the 1994 murder case of Rhoda Nathan, 67 of of New Jersey, who was brutally beaten to death in a Blue Ash (a suburb of Cincinnati, about 15 minutes north of Downtown) hotel.

Elwood Jones was later convicted of, and sentenced to death, in her murder. At the time of the murder, Jones was 42-years-old. He was sentenced three years later.

Now in 2022, he’s 69-years-old, older than the person he supposedly killed, proclaiming his innocence. But he’s exhausted a lot of his appeals and the only reason he hasn’t been killed yet is because of COVID-19 delaying the execution and the fact that Ohio, like other death penalty states, has “struggled” to procure the “medicine” needed to kill people like Jones.

First, like the podcast, I think it’s more appropriate to title my blog post after Jones rather than Nathan because the family of the latter didn’t participate in the podcast. And if Jones is innocent …

Additionally, the reason I’m doing a rundown of my initial thoughts after listening to the first episode rather than waiting for the entire season to finish and then reviewing the whole season is because I think the true crime genre is more fun to put markers down of my thoughts in real time rather than waiting to see everything on the table, as provided by Hunt and Rossmann.

In other words, I want to put all my cards on the table to see where I’m right and/or wrong as the season progresses. I have my own biases, of course, which is why I’m doing this; we’ll see how it pans out.

Pictured is Elwood Jones.

So, after listening to the first episode, here are my takeaways:

  • One of the initial items that turns police onto Jones is that he went to the hospital shortly after Nathan’s death with an injury to his hand, which a doctor later ascertained (and notified police) was infected with bacteria one finds in someone’s mouth, and that in particular, this incident seemed manifest of something nefarious. First, I must point out that bite mark evidence is junk science. Secondly, even if the doctor is correct that the infection on Jones’ hand came from mouth bacteria, how did they prove that the bacteria came from Nathan’s mouth? Obviously, the prosecution later adds circumstantial evidence to paint the picture, but that’s why bite mark analysis is junk, in part.
  • The initial scene in the hotel where Nathan was killed in her hotel room while those she was staying with went downstairs for breakfast is rather confusing. At first, it seemed lucky for Nathan, as far as that goes for someone near death, that a cardiologist and a nurse were also staying at the hotel to help administer first aid. Of course, that’s if she had suffered cardiac arrest like they all thought rather than being beaten to death. How does a cardiologist, nurse and other witnesses mistake cardiac arrest for someone being beaten to death? I can understand the chaos of the situation and if she was face down, then perhaps they didn’t see the extent of her injuries (although, wouldn’t your first move be to try to get her over onto her back?). That confusion didn’t ensure Nathan’s death, but it likely ruined the investigating police’s ability to properly maintain the crime scene.
  • Sticking with the hotel, presumably someone needed access to the hotel room. I’m not sure what the status of hotel rooms was in 1994: Were they like a physical key we use to get into our front doors? Or the card keys that you slot in? Surely they didn’t have the ones like nowadays where you just push up against a pad? In any event, the other option is that the person knew Nathan and she let them in, but it appears as if she was taking a shower when she was attacked, so that seems unlikely.
  • However they got into the room, what’s most intriguing is how they did know Nathan would be in the room? Hunt explains that Nathan, who was with Elaine Shub, her friend of 48 years and others, that Nathan was known for not being a morning person; hence, the others went down for breakfast while she got more shut-eye and was slower to get ready. Did someone break-in to the hotel room (like had been happening prior) looking to steal items, got spooked by Nathan’s appearance and killed her? Or did they somehow know she’d be in the room because they’d been stalking her? Or were they connected to her and knew she’d be a morning straggler?
  • One of the biggest items Hunt dangles before us is the idea that Nathan’s pendant she wore was found in Jones’ vehicle, but that Jones (and his initial defense attorney), think it was planted by the police in a frame job. So, we’re not merely dabbling in police incompetence, as has been the case in a great number of murder cases, but an active attempt to frame someone for a crime they didn’t commit. It’s worth pointing out here that the Blue Ash Police Department was unfamiliar with handling homicide cases since they simply weren’t common there. Again, I have a predisposition to not believe everything the police tell me, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least that they’d frame someone, particularly given the pressure of trying to solve what for many of them was their first homicide case (even though they did bring in the help of a seasoned homicide detective from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office).
  • That said, as Hunt and others note in the podcast, when you take the totality of the circumstantial evidence thus far — the pendant being found in Jones’ vehicle, the infected hand, the fact that Jones worked at the hotel and had access, and that he already had a rap sheet — the case seems compelling against Jones. We shall see.

What makes this season of Accused especially compelling is what Hunt notes at the beginning: Jones is on death row. This is the first time the podcast has covered someone who is set to die for his crime … unless he’s exonerated.

I’m looking forward to episode two and I’ll bring you my thoughts thereafter. I, of course, welcome your thoughts on episode one only here (nothing further that would spoil my real time reactions please).

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