Our card today is James Foote, the Seven of Clubs from Florida.
And James’ story is unlike any that I’ve told you since we launched the deck earlier
With this bonus episode, I want to tell you a story that shows the power of what these
decks can do.
So you’re going to hear from the guy who invented the decks, about what inspired it,
and how they’re changing cold cases.
And I’m going to tell you how one of the first ever cold case decks led to a life-changing
discovery for James Foote’s family.
I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.
On November 15th, 2004, Donna Foote had just woken up for her 6 a.m. shift at a Fort Myers
Florida hospital, when she realized her husband Jim wasn’t in bed beside her.
She knew that Jim had gone out with some friends for karaoke the night before, and he hadn’t
been home yet when Donna had gone to bed, but she fully expected him to be next to her
when she woke up.
Donna didn’t have time to immediately investigate her husband’s whereabouts because she had
to get ready and go to work, and she hoped that by the time she got there, she’d have
a message from him explaining his absence.
But there was no voicemail or page from Jim when Donna got to work, so pretty soon she
called home to see what the heck was going on, but there was no answer.
Throughout the morning, Donna kept calling and kept leaving messages on their machine
at home demanding Jim call her.
Now Jim having a late night out with friends wasn’t unusual.
Donna was well aware that Jim was going through a phase in his retirement where he was socializing
a lot, and he would routinely hit up bars in Fort Myers if he knew that they were having
Donna told our team that her husband was a friend of the friendless, which just meant
that he liked to strike up conversations with people, and he could befriend pretty much
The night before was a Sunday, and Donna’s daughter Casey had come over and they had
all had dinner together.
Jim was just heading out for karaoke when Donna was getting ready for bed, and when
he kissed her goodbye, everything was fine.
When Jim went out, he was always home by the time she got up for work, which is why she
was so worried about him now.
All morning her emotions were ping-ponging from worried to angry, back to worried, and
And then finally, mid-morning around 10, Donna’s worst fear, the worst case scenario she’d
been trying to push out of her mind the whole morning, was realized.
I was at work, and two people came in, a police officer and I guess a social worker or a victim
advocate, I really don’t know, and they said, your husband’s been in an accident.
Well, I’m in the hospital.
Oh, no, he’s been murdered.
The next thing Donna knew, she was being escorted out of the hospital and driven home
by the social worker.
Still in a state of shock, Donna considered what she’d just heard.
Maybe the whole thing was a big mistake.
Who would want Jim dead?
Her precious Jimmy, who was liked by everyone.
The two lived quiet lives for the most part, and they were due on a tropical cruise with
their best friends in less than five days.
Within a few hours, people were swarming Donna’s house.
Her parents rushed there.
Her daughter left work and came over.
Her best friend even got on the next plane out of D.C. and headed straight to Southwest
Casey, Donna’s daughter, who was Jim’s stepdaughter, was also in shock.
Again, she had just been at their dinner table the night before, just hours ago, and everything
had seemed totally fine.
I mean, I was like wrapping Christmas presents for him like the night before, like, you know
what I mean?
It was like mid-November.
So I’m like, oh, just sitting there wrapping presents.
I mean, you just don’t think that like your last meal with someone’s like the last time
you’re going to see them.
Overcome with emotion, Donna was faced with all those critical decisions right after an
How do you make funeral plans for your 47-year-old husband?
Wills and last wishes were not part of their dinner table conversations yet, because they
were still busy living their lives.
When detectives got to Donna’s house around two that afternoon, there was a vibe shift.
Obviously, Donna had a lot of questions, like who Jim had been with when he was murdered,
who Jim had been with when he was murdered, and where had he been?
Officers told Donna that Jim had been shot sometime around 1.30 a.m. Sunday in the parking
lot of a place called The Office Pub in Fort Myers.
As best they could tell, Jim was shot before he even made it into the bar, so there were
almost no witnesses and no surveillance footage to help.
He was found bleeding from the chest as he lay on the ground next to his car with his
wallet and jewelry still on him.
His body was taken to the medical examiner’s office for autopsy, and his death was ruled
a homicide by gunshot wound.
After detectives filled Donna in on everything they knew, they started asking her questions.
They wanted to know about Jim’s last movements and about their marriage, and Donna told them
everything had been fine the night before, and it wasn’t unusual for Jim to be out
for karaoke while she was in bed.
If Donna had to prove to police that she’d been worried sick about her husband, all they
had to do was play the voicemail messages that she’d been leaving on their home machine
Jim, where the bleep are ya?
You know, call me, page me when you get in, you know, and nothing, nothing, nothing.
Donna told police Jim being a late-night bar fly was just the dynamic of their relationship
at that time.
Jim was six years older than her and had already retired, and he didn’t like just sitting
at home and watching TV every night.
He liked to keep busy.
I liked my job.
I liked to go to work.
So I couldn’t go out partying all night long.
You know, you did your stuff.
Maybe you played golf during the day.
He would go to the pool.
And then at night, you know, he just didn’t want to sit and watch television.
Well, when you get up at four in the morning, I have to go to bed early.
So he would definitely attract not the best element.
Some of the wrong friends.
Donna told police that she met Jim back home in New Jersey in 1990, and they fell for each
Jim was tall and had this huge bright smile and a bushy mustache that covered his entire
They got married in 91, and years later, Jim, an ironworker, was injured on the job and
had to go on disability.
He told Donna that he was ready to live somewhere warm.
So in 1999, they made the move to Fort Myers.
They bought a condo and loved the lifestyle in Southwest Florida.
They went on three cruises a year with their best friends and kept busy on weekends by
going out, going to the pool and to the beach and just having fun.
Donna told detectives that Jim was fun-loving and often socialized with people she didn’t
He would meet people at the golf course or out of the bars, and they’d be fast friends.
His outgoing nature was actually one of the many reasons she loved Jim.
Donna told police that Jim was going through a partying phase.
He was the type that just couldn’t sit still for very long.
And when he got into something, he became obsessed over it.
She said he went through a working out phase where that was all he focused on, and one
time he got into fishing and went all day every day.
Now, this particular phase he was in was a karaoke bar obsession.
So in that regard, retirement was a challenge for Jim.
He was feeling restless.
Detectives said that they were going to try and find witnesses, and they left Donna to
continue planning for Jim’s funeral.
When our team was in Florida interviewing Donna for this episode, she recalled those
first few weeks being very hard.
Not only did she not know who killed her husband or why, but there was so much to do and figure
Donna said that she would take on one task at a time between breakdowns.
I would do that and tell myself I can do this, and then I’ll come home and I’ll meltdown.
And then, like Casey said, we’d buy Christmas presents and, you know, I would unwrap them
and then say, okay, today I’m going to return these three presents and then I’ll meltdown.
Weeks went by with very little news on Jim’s death.
Donna said police had virtually no leads.
They said they had tracked down a man who stayed with Jim until first responders got
there, but that he didn’t have a ton of helpful information.
Desperate for answers, Donna wanted to talk to the man.
So they thought they heard gunshots.
And what this person told me is he said, help, I’ve been shot.
And then you can see the body.
You could see the people running out.
And one person stayed with him, and I called him.
He was equally as hysterical as I was.
And I said, did he say anything?
You know, you always wonder, did he tell my wife I love her?
You know, stupid things like that, you know.
And he said, no.
Donna and Casey started an investigation of their own to see if they could turn up any
information that would be helpful.
But what they soon realized was just how little evidence law enforcement actually had.
I mean, honestly, I really don’t know of any evidence that they have, like not one thing
from the scene.
I don’t, I know that there was a person sleeping in their car when it happened that they let
go from the scene.
And I don’t even think interviewed.
And that was about it.
I mean, I don’t, they said that they never recovered anything.
So there was nothing you could compare to a firearm, nothing.
Police had to move on and work on other murder cases in the months following Jim’s murder.
And eventually, Donna questioned whether or not she would ever find out what happened
to her husband.
She was going through all the stages of mourning.
And after having him cremated, she put Jim’s ashes in a closet at home, unable to even
display them or spread them in his honor.
We kind of just gave up and let it see what happened.
And I will tell you that I was mad at him.
I was mad at Jim.
You know, they can tell you all about the grieving process.
I’m still mad at him.
So I haven’t gotten past the anger.
Finally, three long years after Jim’s murder, in the fall of 2007, information came in from
an unlikely source, and it changed everything.
So the prisoners are playing cards because I guess that’s what they do all day.
And here he is playing, he goes, oh, I killed that ****.
The Fort Myers Police Department had received a letter from an inmate who was locked up
He said that he knew who killed James Foote.
Police traveled to Miami to interview the informant who said that he knew another inmate
Detectives located the other informant at a different jail who verified the information
and said Dollar Bill was a man named Derrick Lamar Hamilton.
The informant said that in the summer of 2007, they were all in jail together playing cards
and that the cards had faces of murder victims on them.
And when Derrick came across Jim’s card, he confessed to the crime.
He said that he was a victim of a murder.
And when Derrick came across Jim’s card, he confessed to killing him.
As police continued to work to verify the information, there was one thing that convinced
them the tips were credible.
The inmate said Derrick told them that he had killed Jim with a .32 caliber gun that
had been stolen in a burglary.
Now the caliber of the gun was never released to the public, so Derrick wouldn’t have
had any way of knowing that information if he wasn’t good for the shooting.
According to court records our reporter Emily obtained, the informants went on to say that
Derrick said Jim deserved what he got because he owed him money for drugs.
Police tracked down and arrested Derrick Hamilton on October 17, 2007.
Derrick told the officers that someone must be just trying to pin the murder on him and
he didn’t do it.
They took him to the Lee County Jail where he was charged with felony murder.
When this all went down, Donna happened to be up in New Jersey because after all of those
years of having Jim’s ashes in the closet, she had finally decided it was time to honor him.
I get it on the plane, I take it up to New Jersey, I meet my friend, she comes from DC,
she meets me there and I sprinkled it in the ocean, stayed in Atlantic City for a few days
and flew home.
When Donna got back home to Florida, right as she was wheeling her suitcase inside, her
phone was ringing.
It was a detective who said, quote, I just wanted to let you know we arrested the person
who killed Jim, end quote.
Donna had never heard of a man named Derrick Hamilton.
And after that, Donna’s phone was ringing off the hook as the news spread.
The cold case cards, which started in Florida, had led to other tips about unsolved murders
around the state, but Jim’s was the first to result in an arrest and the press ran wild
Headlines and articles full of card game puns ran in newspapers and TV stations all
The cards were the brainchild of Tommy Ray, who at the time was a special agent for the
Florida Department of Law Enforcement, better known as FDLE.
Tommy worked in policing for decades and had a habit of asking inmates if they had any
information about any unsolved murders any time he was in a jail or prison for an investigation.
That simple, open-ended question of, hey, what do you know about other murders paid
off all the time.
You know, at that time, I think it was like 37 years I had been in law enforcement.
So I knew how much criminal intelligence are in each one of the prisons, in the jails.
So at that time, I mean, I was thinking, well, if I could just interview every inmate in
this prison, you know, about these cold cases, there’s no telling how many we could solve.
So in 2005, Tommy pitched the idea of putting the photos of 52 murder victims or missing
people in the hands of inmates by way of decks of cards.
So at one of the cold case assessment team meetings, I brought up, I said, look, I got
this idea and I mean, it was a packed house.
So I said about putting unsolved murders on these cards and let’s put them in the jails
and missing persons as well.
One of the lieutenants with the local sheriff’s office said, Tommy, that’s about the dumbest
idea I ever heard.
And he said, you’re going to have my guys chasing their tails as far as like all these
false confessions and false leads.
And I basically told him, you know, if your guys are worth their salt, they’ll know in
about five minutes whether, you know, this is a legitimate call or not.
And so a lot of people wasn’t on board, but then some of them were like, yeah, that might
be a good idea.
Tommy got the green light and a grant and handpicked 52 unsolved cases to feature in
the very first deck.
They started small and only passed them out in a local jail.
So we put in the 52 cases.
We put them into the local jail there in Polk County in Bartow, Florida.
And within a couple of months, we get a call.
You know, at first it was like, OK, cards are in, nobody’s calling, everybody’s losing
interest, you know, that kind of thing.
I’m like, hey, give them time, you know, don’t give up.
Not long after that, two cases were solved because of tips that had come in from inmates
seeing the cards.
And in 2007, the first ever statewide deck was distributed.
That’s the deck that Jim Foote was on.
Media coverage of the success spread, and pretty soon Tommy was getting calls from law
enforcement agencies all over, wanting to know how FDLE went about making the cards.
I even got a call from Queensland, Australia.
I had a constable, Sue Stallins, call me up and she goes, I just saw on the Internet,
you know, your idea.
And she said, it’s such a great idea.
We’d like to start something here.
How do you go about it?
More than a dozen different U.S.
states today have adopted the idea and printed their own cold case decks.
For years, Tommy tried to keep track of all the new decks that were being printed, but
eventually it was just too many to keep up with.
But from his count, at least 30 cases have been solved directly because of the cards.
Incarcerated people talk to each other, and Tommy credits them for knowing when to come forward.
I mean, before we even got the cards and a couple of them, they were like, look, if this
was drugs or this was a burglary, I would never turn another inmate in.
But this is a murderer.
This could be my mother, father, sister, brother kind of thing.
So this, you know, is something that I may be in here for doing something bad, but I’m
not a murderer.
A lot of people in there, they’re not criminals.
They’ve made mistakes.
And, you know, there are some criminals in there, but for the most part, a lot of them,
they want to do the right thing, you know.
And this gives them an opportunity to do the right thing.
And one of the cases, I don’t recall which one, the guy didn’t even want to take the
reward that was being offered, you know, from Crimestoppers.
And my understanding, after he was out and I think he was just in there for a DUI or
something, it wasn’t a major offense.
And he ended up giving the reward to the family of the victim.
Tommy is happy that so many other states have run with his idea.
He said at the end of the day, it’s about getting answers and getting justice for victims.
And sometimes taking an approach that’s a little out of the box is worth a shot.
I just know from myself working homicide cases, satisfaction and the joy.
I mean, there’s never really, to me, closure for the family members because they’ll think
about it for the rest of their lives.
But it gives them somewhat satisfaction.
One less thing to worry about, you know, or be on their mind about this case not being
solved and what actually happened.
So, you know, it’s it is satisfying in that regards.
For so many years, these cards have only been tools used within law enforcement.
Based on the feedback that we’ve gotten since we launched the show, most people had
never even heard of them until now.
But sharing them with the public opens up so many doors for potential new leads.
I’m so appreciative that the word is getting out and it’s been spread.
And like I said, there’s a whole new generation of people out there that don’t know
anything about it and can come forward with information, you know, whether it be in
prison or just from the media of the cards being talked about.
Every week you hear me talk about a different case that’s on a cold case card, our
reporters have collected so many different decks from South Carolina, Colorado, Utah,
Idaho, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Kentucky, D.C., North Carolina, Indiana,
Nebraska, California, Oregon, Washington, Missouri, honestly, so many more places in
between. And our team is still collecting decks today that we didn’t even know existed
before, all to tell the stories of the victims who are still awaiting justice.
Do you think if he wasn’t Jim wasn’t on the deck of cards, do you think it would have
been solved? No, no, absolutely not, because I don’t even know if he knew his name.
Like if he was if say there was like a story or something about it, the guy could have
been like, you know, I killed him.
Or if they were just like talking about what they did and why they were in jail playing
regular cards, I feel like he would have been like, I killed some guy or whatever.
But I mean, I don’t even know if he would have known his name if he didn’t know him.
It’s just some guy.
Derek Hamilton ended up pleading no contest in Jim Foote’s murder, and he was
sentenced in 2009.
Donna said that, of course, it felt good to have him held responsible, but that doesn’t
mean she understands.
I mean, according to what police said, Derek killed Jim over a drug debt.
But Donna says that the only drug Jim liked was marijuana.
And it goes without saying no one’s life is worth a weed debt.
I would love someone someday to explain to me what closure is.
How can you have there’s no I don’t believe there is anything your loved one is gone.
It would be nice to know why.
But is that going to change anything?
Donna agreed to doing an interview with us because she feels like if anyone is
considering printing new cold case decks, this should be their sign to do it.
Without Jim’s seven of clubs getting into the right hands, they might still be waiting
for answers today.
Cold case decks aren’t even just a law enforcement tool anymore.
Nonprofits and victims advocates all around the U.S.
have printed decks by paying for them out of pocket or even crowdfunding.
We think it’d be worthwhile to get a cold case deck in every U.S.
state, which is why the deck is funding a grant through the nonprofit Season of
Justice to help fund printing of new decks.
If you’re listening to this and want to apply for a grant to create or print a
deck, you can find information on that on the Season of Justice website,
The Deck is an AudioChuck production with theme music by Ryan Lewis.
To learn more about The Deck and our advocacy work, visit thedeckpodcast.com.
So what do you think, Chuck?
Do you approve?