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Woman faces murder charge after police find son's hidden body

Police say they found the body of her son in a wooden box concealed behind a false wall in her home after a missing person's report was made.
Map showing Gulfport, Mississippi.
Posted at 9:08 PM, Jan 25, 2024

A woman in Mississippi is facing a murder charge after police say the body of her 42-year-old son was found concealed out of sight in a wooden box behind a false wall in her home in the coastal town of Gulfport. 

The Gulfport Police Department said 66-year-old Jerri Lynn Roby — who also uses the last name Israel — was arrested on Jan. 20 and charged with one count of first-degree murder in the death of her son John Allen Gaither.

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Police said their investigation — which began on Dec. 22 of last year — came after a family member contacted police, prompting a welfare check regarding a missing person. 

Officers arrived that afternoon to the woman's home just blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. 

Officers left and returned to the home multiple times, including on Dec. 27, when they say they noticed discrepancies in the woman's story. 

Police say Roby became "increasingly uncooperative" with police, changing her story. 

Police say that amid the investigation they learned that Roby had been convicted of murder in Florida in 1995, and said she had been accused of attempting to discard the body in multiple locations in Florida in that case. 

Gulfport Police Department

That information helped police obtain a search warrant for the residence where on the morning of Jan. 18 detectives discovered the wooden box behind a false wall with a body inside, later determined to be Gaither. 

Police said they found multiple handmade wooden boxes at her home. During the search of the home, Roby was transported to a local hospital for medical treatment, Gulfport Police said in a statement. 

A police spokesperson told CNN that Roby, who was referred to by the last name Israel by police in some references, tried to cover up the crime by writing messages to family members. 

Police said Roby attempted to pose as her son, assuring them that he was safe. Roby is being held without bond at Harrison County Detention Center and is considered to be a flight risk, police said. 

Police shared an arrest photo of Israel on social media.

It was unclear if she had retained an attorney, or if a court date had been set by Thursday.