As Laurel quadruple murder case heads to court, prosecutor suggests burglary as a motive
By Elizabeth Rembert , Food, Energy and Agriculture Reporter Nebraska Public Media, Harvest Public Media
Jan. 20, 2023, 2 p.m. ·
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A husband and wife accused of murdering four people in a small Nebraska town are scheduled to appear in court Monday. Nebraska Public Media’s Jackie Ourada spoke with reporter Elizabeth Rembert to catch up on the case before the hearing.
JACKIE OURADA: Elizabeth, let’s start at the beginning of this tragedy. Can you tell us what has happened so far?
ELIZABETH REMBERT: The murders occurred last summer in Laurel. Laurel is a town of about 900 people in northeastern Nebraska, about 40 miles northeast of Norfolk.
Around 3 a.m. on the morning of August 4th, Laurel Fire and Rescue responded to reports of an explosion at a house on Elm Street. They found 53-year-old Michelle Ebeling’s body – she’d been shot in the head and chest.
The walls and furniture of the home had been burned, it seemed like someone had recently tried to start a fire.
Six hours later, around 9 a.m., Laurel Fire and Rescue responds to smoke at another home on Elm Street. They found three members of the Twiford family there, shot to death. That’s Gene Twiford and Janet Twiford, who were married and in their 80s and their daughter Dana, who was in her 50s.
They found a pry bar next to the back door and evidence that someone had also tried to set this home on fire.
OURADA: Do authorities know who may have done this?
REMBERT: They have two suspects in custody.
Less than 24 hours after the four bodies were found, police arrested Jason Jones, who lived across from Michelle Ebeling on Elm Street in Laurel.
They had found his name attached to receipts and a gun found at the two crime scenes. Police found him with serious burns over a large part of his body, and airlifted him to a Lincoln hospital, where he stayed for nearly three months.
He’s charged with 10 felony counts: four counts of first-degree murder, arson and use of a firearm to commit a felony.
If he’s convicted of those first-degree murder charges, the minimum punishment is life in prison and the maximum is the death penalty.
OURADA: Gotcha. And who’s the other suspect?
REMBERT: About a month ago in December, police arrested his wife, 43-year-old Carrie Jones and charged her with killing Gene Twiford and hiding her husband from law enforcement.
Investigators say information on the couple’s phones indicate that Carrie “played a role prior to the murders.”
And it’s not the first time Carrie’s name has appeared in court documents.
Three Laurel residents filed protection orders – essentially restraining orders – against her in the months following the murders. Including the fiance of one of the victims. They allege Carrie threatened their lives and had bought a gun.
OURADA: And who were the victims?
REMBERT: Austin Svehla with the Norfolk Daily News has done some great reporting on this. He found that the Twifords were staples in the Laurel community.
Gene Twiford was a veteran who was very involved in Laurel’s American Legion post. His friends and neighbors said he was welcoming and always ready to lend a helping hand.
The whole family was active in their church. Janet cherished her role as a grandma and her daughter, Dana was a passionate Husker volleyball fan who never missed a match.
Michelle Ebeling had moved to Laurel more recently. She had a collection of about 500 salt and pepper shakers and her family said she was a loving and committed friend who could also be a little sassy and would say whatever was on her mind.
OURADA: Is there any indication of motive?
REMBERT: Yes, some court documents recently filed by the prosecutor hints at a motive. They say Jason killed the three members of the Twiford family in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate a burglary.
They also allege he killed Janet and Dana Twiford in an attempt to conceal the burglary and/or to conceal the other murders.
Committing a crime to hide another crime is called an aggravating circumstance. Prosecutors need to prove at least one aggravating circumstance for a person to be eligible for the death penalty, if they’re convicted of first degree murder.
OURADA: So what’s next?
REMBERT: Jason and Carrie are scheduled to appear in court on Monday, January 23 in Cedar County District Court in Hartington.
But Jason has already waived his appearance and said he will not be entering a plea, so we’ll have to wait to hear if he admits to or denies the charges.
Carrie could enter a guilty or not guilty plea.
And it’s possible we’ll learn more about why investigators decided to charge Carrie. Right now the judge has sealed a document with that information, but there will be a hearing Monday to discuss if that should remain sealed off to the public.
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