Questions remain in Groves woman's drowning death

Questions remain in Groves woman's drowning death

After a Father’s Day that Craig and Linda Sexton will never forget for all the wrong reasons, the Sexton family is frustrated and wants to know what happened in the death of their 26-year-old daughter, Melodie Fay Sexton, who was found dead on June 19 in Lake Ivanhoe from an apparent drowning.

Now, almost two weeks after Melodie’s death, the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office said it has identified a person of interest in the case and toxicology reports will go a long way to determining what might have caused the Groves native’s death and whether or not foul play was involved.

A preliminary autopsy report released last week suggested an “accidental drowning” as a possible cause of death, but Tyler County Sheriff David Hennigan warned against using the preliminary autopsy as the final word on what caused Melodie’s death.

“We have not ruled this death accidental,” Hennigan said, “we are still investigating this case and we reached out to the Texas Rangers to give us a hand with this (investigation.)”

In what has been a roller-coaster of emotion for the Sexton family, which celebrated a marriage in the family just six days after Melodie’s death, Craig said this week he is upset with how the investigation is being handled by the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office and said there are all kinds of clues that suggest foul play was involved in the death of his daughter.

“They have botched this investigation from the start,” said a visibly agitated Sexton, who admits he and his wife have struggled mightily with the passing of their daughter. “They wanted it declared an intoxicated, accidental drowning from the very start to keep from upsetting their happy little community of Ivanhoe,” Sexton explained as a possible motive for investigators to “botch” the investigation.

But Hennigan said while he understands the family’s agitation and fragile emotional state right now, he insists that his investigators are working hard and doing everything they can to determine whether or not Melodie’s death was the result of foul play, or if it was indeed an accident.

A major sticking point right now for investigators is they are awaiting toxicology reports from the state crime lab in Austin to help them determine what exactly was in Melodie’s system at the time of her death and how much.

“We’re consulting with the Rangers regarding anything we can do before the toxicology, but they’ve pretty much told us we need to wait on the toxicology report before we can pursue any more statements for the simple fact, we want to ask questions based on what we find in the toxicology, and that’s going to take three to four weeks,” Hennigan said, referring to the amount of time it’s going to take before the department receives the toxicology report.

“We hate that it takes that long, because you want to ask things right away, and eliminate the rumor that people are out there putting their stories together and things like that,” Hennigan said, adding that despite scuttlebutt to the contrary, everybody but one person, who has been identified as a person of interest, was questioned the day Melodie’s body was found and submitted a written statement. As for the person of interest that was not questioned that day, he had left before the body was found, Hennigan said, but was later summoned back after the body was found and provided a statement.

Abnormal Behavior

Whether it’s Melodie’s father, Craig; her best friends Jamie and Emily, or David Spradley, her longtime boyfriend and father of their three-year-old son Jack, everyone concludes there were certain items that didn’t leave Melodie’s possession: her cell phone and her cigarettes. Not to mention everyone is adamant that there’s no way Melodie would’ve left Jack alone in the lake house where the family was staying Saturday night.

“There’s no way she would’ve left her son, no way,” said Jamie Harrison, 26, Melodie’s best friend who knew her since Kindergarten. “Even if she would’ve left to take a walk, she would’ve taken Jack with her, that’s just how she was.”

Throw in the fact according to friends and family that she never went anywhere without shoes on and it muddies up the notion that Melodie would have walked some 50 feet from the lake house to the dock – by herself – to take a swim at approximately 1 a.m. Sunday morning after she had chosen not to swim at all during the day in the lake on Saturday.

“It’s so suspicious all the way around,” said Craig, “we suspected something was wrong when she was reported missing, because she would not leave without Jack.”

However, Hennigan said on Wednesday that a pair of flip-flops that family members identified as Melodie’s were found by the dock, which may explain what Melodie had on her feet if she did walk to the dock that night.

“Something Happened”

According to Spradley, who had been in a relationship with Melodie for more than four years, the two were experiencing one of the best periods in their history and were even discussing getting married in the very near future.

But those plans were interrupted before ever taking shape. In what was to be a relaxing and fun weekend at Lake Ivanhoe, where Spradley’s parents and grandparents both own properties, the night began to turn sour when Spradley had to drop Melodie and Jack off at the lake house so he could tend to his friend, who had been injured riding a golf cart that Spradley was driving. At around 12 a.m. Sunday morning, Spradley dropped off Melodie and Jack and returned to his mother’s house a few minutes away.

“I shouldn’t have left them there alone, none of this would’ve happened,” said the 25-year-old Spradley.

When Spradley returned around 1:45 a.m., he went to check on his son in the bedroom where the boy was asleep. He then went out back to look for Melodie, and noticed his friend, whose name is not being disclosed because he is considered a person of interest, and Spradley said his friend was “in the water with his back turned towards me.” Spradley said he hollered at his friend several times, but that his friend “didn’t want to come out of the water.”

“I had to tell him five or six times to come out of the water, and finally I had to get really mean before he came to the dock, and I asked him ‘have you seen Melodie,’ and he said ‘no.’”

Spradley admits he was afraid that something intimate might have gone on between his friend and Melodie while he was gone, but his friend assured him nothing had happened. “He’s always told me that nothing like that would ever happen.”

Spradley said he and his friend returned to the house, and he started calling and texting the last people Melodie had spoken to on her phone. One of those people he called was Emily Johnson, who’s known Melody the last four years. She said, despite some accounts given to law enforcement that Melodie was intoxicated the night before the drowning, that when Johnson spoke with Melody at 12:33 a.m., in a conversation that lasted about four minutes, Melody sounded fine and was venting about an argument she had gotten into with Spradley’s mother. What did puzzle Johnson was the fairly abrupt nature in which Melodie hung the phone up.

“She never hung the phone up like that,” Johnson said.

In looking for Melodie, Spradley said he walked around the lake house, walked through the woods and even drove around the area shouting out her name. When he finally returned home, sometime between 3 and 4 a.m., he said he laid on the couch waiting for Melodie to arrive and his friend passed out asleep in the house.

He said all kinds of scenarios were playing in his head as to what happened to Melodie.

“In my mind, maybe she was passed out somewhere, maybe she went for a walk, met somebody along the way or somebody picked her up because she called them to come get her,” Spradley said. And while it didn’t make any sense to him that she would leave behind her son, cigarettes, cell phone and shoes, he still considered she may have stepped outside. “There were times she had gone out before, but I just didn’t know. It wasn’t until I woke up in the morning at 7 a.m. that I realized something really wrong had happened.”

When the morning passed on Father’s Day and there were still no signs of Melodie, Spradley’s thoughts turned grim.

“By 2 p.m. I knew she was either abducted or in that lake. Logic told me something was very, very, very wrong.”

As to why he didn’t call police when he couldn’t find her initially, Spradley said “I looked for her, but like I said, she had disappeared the night before a couple of times and at that point at 3 a.m., there’s most of me that hopes ‘oh well, nothing really bad has happened here, she must be nearby, or something. But I was worried sick, naturally. And when dawn came three or four hours later, I drove to my aunt’s house around the lake, I drove to my parents, went out walking, hollering, and looking.”

And now with his friend, who he’s known for the last two years, as a person of interest who just so happened to be swimming in the same area where Melodie’s body was found, Spradley doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions.

“The only thing I could say, is that he’s one of those people, when he has so many drinks in him, he doesn’t have complete control over himself,” said Spradley, “now, I’ve seen him out of sorts several times but he’s never been violent.”

Craig Sexton said family and friends have been instrumental in helping the Sextons cope, and he said the Spradley family has been very kind in reaching out with their best wishes. He said moving forward, he simply wants justice for his daughter.

“I just want to remember her as being the nice person she was,” he said, fighting back tears, “who would hurt her? She wouldn’t hurt a dadgum fly. Why would somebody kill her? That’s what we don’t understand, and we want to know who killed her and why they killed her.”