The Deck - James Winston III (9 of Clubs, Kansas)

Our card this week is James Winston the third, the nine of clubs from Kansas.

In February 2020, James was sitting in his Wichita, Kansas apartment when suddenly two

people barged in in the dead of night, shot him and fled, leaving behind a heartbroken


Investigators think they know the motive behind James’s murder, but their investigation has

been frustrated by a lack of cooperation from the very people that they think hold

the answers.

I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.

It was just before 3 a.m. on February 16th, 2020, and a woman named Tara Hampton had just

arrived at her friend James’s apartment complex.

James had called Tara up an hour or so prior and had invited her to come over and hang


When Tara walked up to his door, she noticed that it was slightly ajar.

No big deal.

He had told her over the phone that he’d leave it unlocked, and she could just let herself

in whenever she got there.

So she did just that.

She stepped inside and looked down the hall into James’s bedroom, where she saw him lying

on his bed.

She walked towards his room, and she must have assumed he was asleep because he wasn’t

moving or responding to her, but then she saw blood, and lots of it.

Tara pulled out her cell phone and frantically dialed 911.

Within minutes, first responders were on scene.

It was clear James had been shot multiple times, but he was still somehow clinging to

life, though unconscious, so EMS rushed him to the nearest hospital.

Once EMS cleared out, investigators started their sweep of the apartment.

Right away, there was something they found rather odd.

Nothing seemed out of place.

No sign of a struggle.

Nothing appeared to be missing, and it seemed like the shooter hadn’t left anything behind

other than the 10 spent shell casings, which were collected and eventually uploaded to

the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, or NIBIN.

The casings were two different calibers, which right away told police that they might be

looking for more than one suspect, but they were struggling to find anything else to collect

as evidence.

Detective Robert Chisholm with the Wichita Police Department responded to the scene that

he said that it was pretty clear right away that they would be strapped for evidence.

From what we can tell, they walked up, they shot him, they ran off.

They didn’t go through the house, didn’t appear to have been searched, anything like that.

Once the casings were collected, investigators started the process of looking for any areas

that might have had the shooter’s DNA.

They searched dusted for fingerprints, swabbed all the doors and door handles, and any other

areas they felt like might have been touched by the shooter or shooters.

They searched for any shoe prints inside and outside his apartment, but their thorough

searches turned up nothing.

While they were searching every nook and cranny for something, anything to hang their hats

on, they got word that James had passed away in the hospital.

He’d been pronounced dead not long after arriving.

At the same time, word of the crime was spreading like wildfire.

Friends and family started to gather outside of the apartment waiting to find out what

had happened to James.

Investigators eventually came out and told them what happened, and they asked everyone

to come down to the station for interviews.

Several of the people agreed to interviews, including some of James’ family members,

even his kid’s babysitter.

But possibly most importantly, James’ girlfriend and the mother of his six-week-old daughter

Valen Burrell agreed to be interviewed as well.

A reporting team spoke with Valen for this episode, and she said that when police were

questioning her, she honestly felt like a suspect, but she was willing to answer any

questions they had if it would help them catch James’ killer.

This whole time, like, my head is just spinning so fast because we have a six-week-old baby

and she’ll never get to, I’m thinking, you know, she’ll never get to touch her dad, she’ll

never get to see her dad, she’ll never get to smell her dad, she’ll never have her own

dad and she’s only six weeks old.

James had five other kids by other women, and Valen was worried for them too.

One of his kids was a newborn who was literally just hours old.

Two of James’ kids lived with him, but they were thankfully at their grandma’s house that


And as Valen sat there at the police station, she couldn’t help but think of those six kids

who were now fatherless.

But Valen pushed through her tears and answered police’s questions, the first being how she

had found out that something had happened to James.

She told investigators that she was sleeping soundly that morning, finally getting some

rest after a long weekend of celebrating her birthday.

But at some point, she woke up, and before drifting back to sleep, she decided to do

a quick scroll through Facebook.

Still half asleep, Valen thought that she saw a post with a picture of James’ apartment

and what looked like his car parked out front.

It was a link to a news story posted by local ABC affiliate Cake News, so Valen clicked

on the story to get a closer look.

And that’s when her stomach dropped.

She didn’t even read the story, but she could see clearly now that it was James’ apartment

in the picture, and she knew right away that something terrible had happened.

Valen dropped everything, ran to her car, and drove to James’ place, still barefoot.

Investigators asked Valen if she knew of anyone who would want to hurt James, and what

she told police echoed what everyone else they interviewed had to say.

There were some people who had it out for him.

Everyone pointed the finger at the same family, the McPhersons.

It was well known that the McPhersons held a longstanding grudge against James because

they blamed him for the death of one of their family members in 2017, Maya McPherson.

You see, at one point, Maya and James were a couple.

They lived together and had two kids.

But during their relationship, James was going through some turbulent times.

He was struggling with substance use disorder, and that led to some run-ins with the law

and ultimately jail time.

Now while he was locked up, Maya passed away from a drug overdose, which the McPherson

family blamed James for, claiming that he pressured her back into drugs after she’d

gotten clean.

After her death, Maya’s mom, who we’re gonna call Wilma, got custody of their two

kids since James was still in jail, but once he got out, he regained custody.

Maya’s family was far from happy about this, so the McPhersons took James to court and

fought for custody, but ultimately, the judge sided with James.

But it’s not like Maya’s family was totally cut off.

The end arrangement was that James got custody of the kids throughout the week, and Wilma

would take them on the weekend.

The McPhersons weren’t happy about that.

At the time of James’s death, Wilma was in the process of taking James to court again.

I mean, things were messy, and some of Maya’s relatives had even gone as far as making death

threats toward James.

But it wasn’t just verbal threats.

Police learned that earlier that very week, James and one of Maya’s male relatives got

into a physical altercation.

Detective Chisholm wasn’t under the impression that the fight was too violent.

It wasn’t reported to police, and to his knowledge, nobody needed medical attention.

But any kind of fight like this before someone dies is something that’s really gonna stick

out in hindsight, right?

And there was something else police learned about the McPherson family that really raised

some eyebrows.

Another one of Maya’s male relatives, who’d also been pretty vocal about his feelings

toward James, had just finished serving a prison sentence for domestic battery.

He’d been released from prison just a matter of hours before James was killed.

Investigators knew that they needed to track this guy down, but not before they finished

interviewing everybody else who came to the station.

James’s family and friends said aside from the issues with Maya’s family, James’s

life had been quiet recently.

After Maya died in 2017, James was determined to turn his life around for the sake of his


He got clean, got a well-paying job at a meatpacking plant in Wichita, and he never looked back.

He’d recently gotten his first apartment and was doing his best to provide for his


Sure, he had struggled with substance use in the past, but that was all behind him.

He was moving forward.

He had the biggest heart of anybody that I knew, and he would give you his absolute last

without even thinking about it, without question.

He was very dependable.

He was a very, very, very great dad, and nothing was more important in this world than his


But as they interviewed more people, it became clear that the McPherson’s weren’t moving


At least based on what the police heard from the kid’s babysitter, who we’re going to

call Tanya.

Tanya actually did some housekeeping stuff for James on the side, and she was there the

day that James was killed.

She’d been there doing some dishes and some other light housekeeping while he was at work,

and she said that while she was working, two men stopped by the apartment.

They were Maya’s relatives, and they were looking for cigarettes.

Now Tanya said that this wasn’t exactly abnormal.

I guess people often came over to James’s apartment to get some cigarettes from her

because she was known in the area as this kind of go-to person for that.

But just in case those two guys were somehow connected to James’s murder, Tanya gave police

their names.

While detectives were conducting these interviews, officers were canvassing James’s neighborhood,

hoping that someone had seen something and was willing to talk.

But as they knocked on door after door, their hopes were dashed.

No one had seen anyone or anything suspicious that night.

Only one neighbor even reported hearing anything.

They said that they heard gunshots at around 2 a.m., then a woman screaming at around 3,

which police figure was Tara discovering James.

But the canvass did uncover something helpful.

A house across the street from James’s apartment had a few surveillance cameras, and that really

gave detectives something to work with.

You can actually see the footage in the blog post for this episode on our website,

At 2 10 a.m., the camera caught a sedan slowly driving down the street beside James’s apartment.

Then it parked on the side of the road.

Seconds later, at 2 12 a.m., two people are seen getting out of the car.

They walk out of frame in the direction of James’s apartment.

And then 40 seconds later, they are seen running away from James’s apartment, darting toward

their car.

I mean, they are booking it.

It’s easy to miss them in the footage because they’re running so fast that they just look

like blurs across the screen.

Seconds after you see those blurs, you see the car’s taillights pop on, but not the


And the car peels out of its parking spot, then drive to the intersection, turns left

and continues out of frame.

Now, even though we’re talking about a case from 2020, we are somehow still dealing with

really crappy footage.

The quality itself is pretty low.

And coupled with the fact that the stretch of road isn’t well lit, it is so difficult

to make out honestly anything about these people, gender, race, clothing, and it was

even harder to know what kind of car they were driving.

But investigators found another surveillance camera further down the street.

And using that, they were able to grab a high quality image of the car that they were looking


A light colored Chevy sedan, possibly an Impala or a Malibu.

Aside from giving police a car description, this footage told them three other important


One, it confirmed what they had already suspected.

There were two shooters.

Two, thanks to the timestamps on the camera, they knew the exact time that the attack had


And most disturbingly of all, was number three.

The whole ambush took less than a minute, only 40 seconds.

To police, this meant that the killers had one intention that night, to kill James.

It was a calculated hit job, but by whom?

In the days following James’s murder, police tracked down the three relatives of Maya’s

who were brought up in their initial interviews.

Police contacted the two guys who came by that day to get cigarettes, but only one of

them was willing to talk to investigators.

He wasn’t super cooperative with the questioning, but he denied any involvement in James’s death.

I can always think, you know, I mean, it sounds reasonable to me that they were there for

something more than just cigarettes.

But once again, as far as what I can prove and move forward with at this point, I don’t

have any reason to say that they weren’t just there to visit and get cigarettes.

So investigators moved on to Maya’s other relatives that they wanted to track down.

Specifically, the one who’d been released from prison just hours before James was found

dead in his bedroom.

But that guy wouldn’t cooperate with an interview either.

He wouldn’t so much as provide an alibi.

He was completely closed-lipped.

And this was a frustrating pattern with many of Maya’s family members.

The male relatives on the McPherson side were non-cooperative.

We interviewed a number of them.

They weren’t very cooperative at all.

As the days and weeks passed by, the tips slowed down and hope that James’s killer

would be caught faded.

They had almost no physical evidence to work with, and the people they needed to talk to

were refusing to cooperate.

Things were at a standstill.

James’s case seemed to go cold and his family was left to pick up the pieces.

James’s sister, Danielle Winston, said losing her brother left a hole in her life that she’ll

never be able to fill.

Because he was more than just her brother.

He was her best friend.

They had different mothers and were only three months apart, so they grew up telling everyone

that they were twins.

She’d watched him go through a lot of struggles throughout his life, but she also had a front-row

seat to him overcoming those.

He was just becoming a man.

He was immature for a lot of his life.

Life wasn’t important until it came to what had to be important.

A battle with his children, fighting for custody of his kids after his wife had passed.

He succeeded.

He won that battle.

He got himself a job, a good job, $20 an hour job.

He got his first apartment.

He was doing everything right leading up to his death.

Not a gang member, not a violent person, a funny lovable drunk, but funny and lovable.

Danielle said that her brother was an incredible poet.

He didn’t like to share his poems much, but would often give them to her, and she keeps

a poem that he wrote about her proudly displayed in her living room.

It almost sounds cliche to say that my brother didn’t have a bad bone in his body because

he’s my brother.

You can ask a million people, I swear they’re all going to say the same.

That boy walked in, and there was just a light.

It was a light inside of him that was dim for no apparent reason.

He was literally at the peak of greatness, of doing great things, of these kids never

wanting for anything.

It clicked.

It finally happened.

Forget the streets and interests about these kids, Team Winston, Team Winston, Team Winston.

He was definitely at his peak of becoming the man that he was supposed to be.

And I was taken from him.

Valen also got to witness James becoming his best self.

One of her favorite memories of him was an interaction at the supermarket that happened

just a few months before his passing.

I was trying to teach him how to budget his money.

And we went into Walmart, and he was just so excited.

He was so excited about everything.

He was so excited that he was going to learn how to budget his money.

So I said, OK, I’m going to show you how to get groceries with $40.

You can get a couple meals with that.

This was way before inflation.

But we go in Walmart, and we’re on the second aisle.

I’m like, OK, you don’t need a list.

You just need to know what you’re getting.

There’s a little kid on the aisle.

He’s screaming.

And his mom said, I don’t have any money.

I don’t have enough money for that.

We just have enough money to get the things we came for.

James only had $40 and gave the kid 20 bucks.

So I was like, what are you doing?

And he was like, he wants a toy.

His mom can’t afford it.

And he was like, he’s crying.

But he just loved people.

He loved kids.

He just didn’t want to see anybody hurting.

He didn’t want to see anybody suffering.

Memories like that are what James’s family clung to

as they grieved the loss of a giant in their lives

and came to grips with the fact that his killer might never

be caught.

For months, the investigation was stagnant.

But in June 2020, there was finally

a development in the case.

Investigators got a hit in the NIBIN.

Some of the casings found in James’s apartment

matched some bullets found at another scene

of another murder.

The other murder happened in Kansas City, Missouri

on June 6.

That’s about four months after James was killed.

There was a big outdoor gathering

and a huge fight broke out.

Lots of shots were fired.

And one man was killed.

His name was Montel Ridley.

Investigators in James’s case did some digging,

but they couldn’t find any connection

between Montel and James besides the bullets

that they were killed with.

The two victims didn’t seem to know each other

and detectives weren’t aware of any strong connections

any of their suspects had to Kansas City.

But the two cities are only about a three-hour drive apart.

So it could have been anyone on their suspect list

or the gun could have been a street gun

that found its way to Missouri.

This lead didn’t give detectives much information,

but they wouldn’t have to wait much longer

for another development,

one that would give them a lot more to work with.

A month later in July, police got another NIBIN hit.

This time it was because one of the murder weapons

had been recovered in Kansas City, Missouri.

There’d been a carjacking that led to a big police chase

and ended with the suspect wrecking a stolen car.

Now the suspect bailed and the police weren’t able

to catch him or positively identify him,

but inside the stolen car, they found a gun,

which they took into evidence.

And as was protocol, they test fired the gun

and uploaded the casings to NIBIN

to see if there were any matches to other crimes.

And lo and behold, there were two.

With all of this information,

investigators were able to track the gun

back to the original purchaser,

a woman from Wichita who we’re gonna call Stacy.

As far as Detective Chisholm knows,

Stacy didn’t know James or any of the suspects in his case,

but she was known to associate with a rough crowd.

Through some digging, police learned that she herself

didn’t have a criminal record

and she actually did purchase the gun legally.

Detective Chisholm reached out to Stacy,

explained the situation to her and asked her

if he could just ask her some questions.

No, originally she acted as if she wanted to cooperate,

but it was, you know, very,

she wasn’t answering questions

and then she was going to get back to me.

She had to look at something

and she had to check her paperwork

or she wanted to do this or she wanted to do that

and she’d call me back.

Of course, she doesn’t call back.

I call her again after multiple attempts,

go to her house, multiple attempts to make contact.

She does call me,

but then doesn’t provide any more information,

doesn’t wanna talk to me, hangs up.

That’s been our relationship, you might say.

She is not what I would call cooperative.

Detective Chisholm said it’s frustrating

that she won’t talk because he thinks

that she may hold the information

they need to close the case.

And he doesn’t have enough probable cause

to execute a search warrant for her house

or charge her with any kind of crime.

She’s just not being cooperative.

And that lack of cooperation

when dealing with local law enforcement

in and of itself does not constitute a crime.

Right now, I can’t tell you if the gun was stolen from her,

if it was borrowed by somebody,

if it was sold to somebody,

or if even she’s a suspect.

Because once again, in the videos,

you can’t tell race, sex, gender of the persons involved.

But I don’t have any other information right now

that would lead me to know or connect her

to either one of these young men who were killed.

Since those NIBIN hits,

there has been little movement in James’s case.

But Detective Chisholm hasn’t given up the fight.

He’s still trying to track down

some of Maya’s relatives for questioning.

And he’s also looking out for anyone with a vehicle

similar to the one that killed her.

He’s also looking out for anyone with a vehicle

similar to the one caught on surveillance cameras.

It’s just very difficult to get past

that James’s life was so centered at that moment.

I mean, there wasn’t a lot of external noise in his life.

Even though it’s been two years

since the last big development in this case,

James’s loved ones haven’t given up hope.

Valen told us she thinks it’s only a matter of time

before James’s killers are caught.

The thing that I know about people

is that relationships change.

So the people who you think

are gonna keep your secret forever will not.

We asked her what she would say

to the person who took James’s life if she got the chance.

I would just let them know that they took away

a very, very, very beautiful soul from this earth.

They put out a light and a very bright soul.

And it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right.

And he still had so much life to live.

And he still had kids to raise and kids to be a part of

and memories to make with his kids

and birthday parties to celebrate.

And he’s not gonna get to do that anymore.

And it’s because you guys were selfish or you got mad

or you decided to use a gun instead of your mouth

to have a conversation.

And at some point in time,

we gotta put the guns down and start talking.

For James’s family and friends, it’s been excruciating

trying to figure out how to move on

without their sweet, loving, goofy James.

When they took little James two years ago,

they definitely took half of me.

And I have not been able to recover.

So many different emotions as a sister losing a brother

is no greater or no less than a mother, a wife,

a girlfriend, a baby mama, a niece, a nephew.

Pain is pain and I carry it heavily.

My life will never be the same.

It will never go back to being normal.

There is no more normal.

This is the new normal.

Your brother’s gone.

So you as a human, how could you function in society

when you know that someone murdered somebody close to you

that was close to them?

Doesn’t that make you think

that maybe they were close to me too?

Do I know my brother’s murderer?

Do they sit on my couch with me?

Do they come to family functions?

Do we bump each other in the club?

Do y’all want to talk to me and hug me?

James’ family has gone two long years without answers.

His six children are having to grow up without their father

and the monsters who took his life

are still roaming the streets.

James’ loved ones deserve answers

and James deserves justice.

If you have any information about the murder

of James Winston III in 2020,

please contact Detective Robert Chisholm

with the Wichita Police Department

at 316-268-4609.

Or you can email coldcase at

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with a brand new episode.

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