LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Mother’s Day weekend is always a somber occasion for a once-prominent Las Vegas family.
Forty years ago, the body of 18-year-old Jamey Walker was found in a wash near Lake Mead. She had been raped and murdered.
It took 35 years before a suspect could be identified and sentenced. A rookie reporter named George Knapp was at the scene of the murder those four decades ago.
Walker was a deeply religious honor student, cheerleader, high school prom queen and a third-generation civil rights activist from a prominent westside family.
On May 10, 1981, Mother’s Day, her crushed body was found in the Las Vegas Wash after being tossed from an overpass high above. She’d been kidnapped from her home and held for ransom before being raped and murdered.
The family had been awaiting news, but not this.
“So, my whole family was in just a panic, trying to figure out what happened,” shared Gayla Walker Thornton, Jamey’s cousin.
Thornton was only 8-years-old at the time, but she idolized her cousin and remembers the grief that overwhelmed the Walkers, especially Jamey’s mother, Eleanor.
“I feel like I’m letting my daughter down if I don’t find out what happened,” Eleanor said during a May 7, 2004, interview with the I-Team. She told us she thought about her daughter every day.
Eleanor had reached out to the I-Team, not knowing we had been at the murder scene the day the body was found 23 years earlier.
From the beginning, the grieving mom worked the case herself, making copious notes. She stayed in touch with Metro cold case detectives and lobbied news reporters to keep Jamey’s story alive.
In 2011, Eleanor accompanied us to the spot where the body was recovered. It was the first time she’d ever been there and a difficult moment for everyone present.
From the beginning, the person at the top of her list of suspects was former professional boxer Willie “the Cannon” Shannon, a hulking man who lived near the Walkers. He later served prison time for raping another young woman.
Metro homicide detectives had a long list of suspects, one that included Shannon. Police records show that multiple generations of cold case detectives made Jamey’s murder a high priority.
Detective Dave Hatch was also contacted by Eleanor years after the murder. She didn’t know that Hatch had also been on that overpass the day Jamey was found.
The cold case detective and his successors pursued DNA evidence multiple times. By 2010, the technology had advanced enough to confirm the involvement of Willie Shannon. He was arrested in Florida and sat in the Clark County jail for more than five years, awaiting trial.
On the day Eleanor was scheduled to give a deposition in the case, her frail body finally gave out. She died before she could see Shannon who entered an Alford plea, one in which he didn’t admit guilt.
In 2017, Nevada’s parole board rejected Shannon’s first request to be released. However, a few months later, he was set free, and returned to his family in Florida.
“Well, we were informed, I got a letter two days after they let him out,” Thornton revealed. “And so that was very offensive, and just, I struggled with this intensely my whole life, but especially as an adult.”
Thornton is now a school counselor and has a daughter named Jamey.
Mother’s Day is not a happy time for the Walker family. They suspect some of their neighbors knew about Shannon and two possible accomplices, but kept quiet.
Perhaps the final chapter of Jamey’s story has yet to be written.