Grandmother of Adrian Jones watched videos of abuse, felt grandson's pain
For weeks, the two DVDs sat near the television in Judy Conway’s home.
She knew they would hold some answers in the death of her grandson. But she also knew they were full of images and video clips that would open a gruesome window into the hellish life little Adrian had to endure inside a Kansas City, Kan., home. A life she couldn’t rescue him from.
So she waited. And when she thought she’d gathered enough courage, she put one DVD in the player, only to shut it off before anything came on the TV screen. She did this several times. The words of warning from the woman who had given her the DVDs echoed in her mind:
“I just want to prepare you,” the woman said. “It’s the most horrific thing I have ever seen.”
Conway would come to understand the raw truth of those words. Those DVDs would make her face an evil she never imagined existed or can yet explain. They would make her feel rage at the “monsters” who took Adrian from her and photographed and filmed their abuse of him. In the end, the 7-year-old’s body was fed to pigs.
On Wednesday, the woman whom little Adrian Jones called “Nana” plans to sit in a Wyandotte County courtroom as a judge sentences her grandson’s father to prison for murder. She’s already gone to the sentencing of Heather Jones, Adrian’s stepmother, who pleaded guilty last year and in November received life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Michael Jones pleaded guilty March 31, avoiding a trial where the grandmother had hoped to hear details about what happened inside the house where Adrian lived and ultimately died of what authorities believe was starvation.
Conway wanted to know not only why her grandson died but whether anyone — an adult relative who sometimes lived in the home, a one-time nanny, a neighbor — had called authorities to report the abuse. She, as well as The Star and other media outlets, have been unable to see Adrian’s child welfare records; officials have said any release of documents could jeopardize prosecution of the case.
“I wanted to hear what Mike had to say,” Conway said. “I wanted to hear what Heather had to say. I just wanted them to know that I was there. And that I was there for Adrian.
“I wanted to stand and say, ‘Hey, that was my grandson, and now hopefully I’m going to get some answers.’ I feel cheated, again.”
Adrian’s maternal grandmother said she wasn’t consulted before Michael Jones’ plea was accepted. She thought prosecutors were pursuing a “hard 50” sentence, and not the life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years that Conway says she was told Jones will get.
The Wyandotte County district attorney’s office did not address several questions submitted by The Star. But in a statement, the office said everyone involved did “everything possible” to present a solid case to prosecutors and that the district attorney “has done everything legally possible in this case to achieve justice for the victim, the family and Wyandotte County.”
Yet Conway doesn’t feel either sentence is enough for what Adrian endured.
One day earlier this year, as she prepared herself for a trial that now will never be, she again put the first DVD into the machine and pushed play.
An up-close profile of her grandson, and his abuse, filled her television screen.
Conway threw up.
Caught on surveillance cameras
Michael and Heather Jones lived with Adrian and six girls, ranging from 10 years old to under 2, in the house they rented in the 5200 block of North 99th Street. The children reportedly were homeschooled.
Watching over them all: surveillance cameras, 30 or so.
They were pointed toward the living room. Bedrooms. Kitchen. Even the master bathroom, where the family’s most horrible secrets would be revealed.
Jennifer Hoevers saw a few cameras during an April 2015 visit to the house she and her husband had rented to the Joneses in the summer of 2014. She didn’t think much of it at the time.
“As far as we knew, they were security cameras,” Hoevers told The Star. “He was a bail bondsman, and it’s a dangerous job. And the world is a crazy place.”
She couldn’t have known how crazy. Not until she stumbled upon some of what those cameras had captured.
“Now it’s just a nightmare,” she said.
After Michael Jones was arrested in late November 2015, the Hoevers — a military family who lived out of state at the time — reached out to Heather Jones. The Hoevers knew a few details from news reports but had no idea then that the place had become “a house of horrors.”
Former Wyandotte County Prosecutor Jerome A. Gorman said at the time, without elaborating, that the case was “one of the worst things” veteran police investigators had ever seen.
Authorities had been called to the home the day before Thanksgiving for a domestic disturbance, and Michael Jones was later charged with aggravated battery and aggravated assault.
While at the home, officers learned that Adrian had not been seen in several months and might have been killed. Police haven’t said how they received that information.
Investigators soon found human remains, later identified as Adrian’s, in a barn on the property.
After Heather Jones was charged and jailed, and all the children were placed in state custody, Jennifer Hoevers told her that she had found photos of Heather’s children and some of their belongings. At one point, “she asked me if I would get pictures of the kids off of Facebook and send them to her,” Hoevers said.
Heather Jones gave her access and passwords to her social media accounts. Hoevers surfed around on Facebook and on the woman’s iCloud looking for photos to send.
A photo of Adrian also appeared. One of his profile, with obvious abuse to his face. Blood and bruises.
As Hoevers found more photos and videos — including images of him strapped to an inversion table and marks on his skin from what appeared to be a stun gun — the evidence of abuse only intensified.
“I think I was just in shock for a while,” Hoevers said. “Of course I couldn’t stop digging for them.”
She found private messages between Heather Jones and her husband, photos of Adrian’s injuries — swollen hands from being tied up, a bruised and bloody mouth, rotting teeth from apparent malnourishment — that appeared to have been taken by Heather Jones. More photos showed an emaciated Adrian standing naked in a white-tiled shower stall on what would have been one of the last days of his life.
Hoevers called Detective Brad Lancaster, who was the case’s lead investigator until he was killed in early May 2016 while responding to a call to assist other officers, and gave him what she had found.
Eventually she reached out to Conway. Hoevers thought Adrian’s grandmother should know what she knew about how her grandson had lived and how he had suffered before he died.
The message from Hoevers came just before Thanksgiving, shortly after Conway watched a Wyandotte County judge sentence Heather Jones to life in prison. Adrian’s maternal grandmother finally had been able to speak out for the little boy she had last seen in December 2012.
The year before, Adrian and his sisters were removed from the care of their mother, Conway’s daughter. No abuse was alleged.
“She loved her kids, and she would never hurt them,” Conway said.
On that 2012 day, Conway and her teenage granddaughter, Keiona Doctor — Adrian’s half-sister and his oldest sibling — got an unexpected call from Michael Jones. They could see Adrian and his two sisters for a few hours. It was Christmas Eve.
Though Conway had wanted to take all the children home with her in 2011, she says a state worker contacted Jones. And he wanted custody of his three kids.
After rushing to a Toys R Us that December day and wrapping gifts in the car, Conway and Keiona met up with Adrian and his two sisters at Jones’ bail-bond business in Topeka.
“They all looked healthy,” Conway recalled. “I saw no signs of anything.”
Keiona said her brother appeared to be a typical, rambunctious 4 1/2-year-old eager for attention from her and his Nana. She still has a photo on her cellphone from that day, of her brother kissing her — the same photo that hangs on Conway’s refrigerator.
“My heart still kind of drops when I see it,” Keiona said.
At that Christmas visit, Jones gave Keiona $100, hugged her and thanked her for always caring for his children and keeping them safe.
“From what I saw,” Conway said, “I never thought Mike would hurt the kids.”
After that day, when Adrian opened a Nerf football, prehistoric toy animals and other presents, Conway and Keiona never saw him again. The two tried to call Jones several times and texted him about seeing the kids. When Conway didn’t get a reply, she kept trying, sending text birthday messages to the kids through Jones and texting Heather Jones.
Anything to see the grandchildren. Anything for Keiona to see her siblings.
“We had absolutely no idea where they were,” Keiona told The Star. “We were constantly being told they were no longer in Kansas.”
At one point, Heather Jones said the family would never move back to the state.
In 2014, Conway got another call out of the blue from Michael Jones. He told her they were going to have to put Adrian in a psychiatric hospital.
“I said, ‘Please, tell me what’s going on,’ ” Conway recalled.
“He’s just got problems,” Jones told her.
When she pressed for more information, Conway said, Jones told her that Adrian had “turned into a pedophile and has sexual predator tendencies.” Her grandson would have been just 6 or 7 at the time.
She thought of Adrian, the one who was “100 percent little boy,” who loved Easter egg hunts and playing football. Her grandson told her once that he was going to play the game when he grew up and wanted to know if she’d come see him. When he smiled his wide smile, people would melt.
Conway wanted to visit him in the hospital, but Jones told her family members wouldn’t be allowed. And then he hung up.
Now she knows — by looking at time stamps of photos and talking with Hoevers — that several months after that call, her grandson was living through a hell she could never imagine. Not until she saw the photos that Hoevers had found.
Treated like an animal
In one image, Adrian is in handcuffs. In another, he stands with his hands above his head in a punishment position.
In many of the images, Adrian was in the shower stall.
“He looked like the worst child you can imagine from a Third World country,” Conway said during a recent interview.
She began to describe images from the DVDs. How he was kept outside some nights, forced to stay in an in-ground pool that hadn’t been cleaned and contained a few inches of stagnant water.
“In one of these videos, he found a little container (outside) and opens it up and smells it and then puts that one down,” Conway said. “He finds another and picks it up. You can see him put his finger in there and eating what was on there.”
Conway heard that Heather Jones had shown one of those videos to one of Adrian’s sisters, saying, “See, that’s what kind of animal your brother is.”
In one picture, there’s a plate of food in front of Adrian, taunting him. His hands are down at his side, possibly restrained. Deep in his mouth was a bar of soap.
“They would put that bar so far in his mouth and set food down there,” Conway said, shaking her head. “And he was so hungry. But it was a way they could walk away and know that he couldn’t eat because that bar was so far up in there.”
Included on the DVDs is a picture of pigs, at least four of them, that Hoevers said Heather Jones told her were purchased for the sole purpose of disposing of Adrian’s body. All authorities found were scattered remains.
“I’ve gone from being super, super hurt, which I am every day, to really just this rage that I never thought I had in me,” Conway said.
From what she’s seen, Michael and Heather Jones treated her grandson like an animal. From what she has seen, they never called him by his name, she said.
On the top of screen grabs from the surveillance cameras, which show an abused and dying Adrian, are just two words:
‘What took you so long?’
More than once, Conway has awakened at night, shaken and unable to go back to sleep.
There in a dream was Adrian. Heather and Mike, too.
Adrian’s Nana could tell her grandson was hurting. She reached out and scooped him up in a blanket, holding him against her chest as he wrapped his legs and arms around her body.
“I’m so glad you’re here, Nana,” Adrian tells her. “What took you so long?”
In her dreams, she holds him tighter, his head buried against her. In her other hand, she grips a gun and stares at Adrian’s father and stepmother kneeling in front of her.
When she wakes from dreams like these, Conway’s heart beats so fast she can feel it in her ears. She can see her grandson’s face. Almost feel little Adrian.
“I go to bed thinking about him,” Conway said. “And wake up thinking about him. ... I hoped to have more answers.”
All the information she has gathered — a few court records, a judge’s memo sealing her grandson’s case, copies of pictures and posts from Heather Jones’ Facebook page — fill a manilla folder. She has another full one at work.
After Adrian’s father is sentenced Wednesday, she hopes to fill more folders with child welfare records from both Kansas and Missouri. She prays they’ll tell her if anyone tried to help her grandson. Did anyone call? If so, were the hotline calls investigated?
Prosecutors have said the family had a history with child welfare agencies in Kansas and other states. But they haven’t elaborated.
Did the system fail Adrian?
“I don’t believe there is any word in the dictionary to describe what he went through and the abuse he suffered,” Conway said. “I know there are evil people in the world, but I just don’t understand how anyone can do that to a child.”
At some point, she may want to visit Heather and Michael Jones.
“Just to find out why,” Conway said. “Why did they have to do this? They had my number. All they had to do is pick up the phone and call me. I would have taken him. I would have taken all of them.”
She’s in therapy to work through post-traumatic stress disorder, which started after Adrian’s death and intensified after she saw the images of his abuse. She has turned to fitness, biking twice a week on gravel roads and hills and routinely doing yoga and gym workouts to keep her mind focused.
Conway also spends time with her granddaughters. Keiona, the one who helped raise Adrian when he was a baby and who moved in with Conway when he and two sisters went to live with Jones, is now a thriving college student who wants to study psychology. She red-shirted track this season, her mind still flooded with images and thoughts of the brother she lost.
Keiona draws strength from her grandmother, whom she calls “our backbone.”
“She knows that my heart literally drops when I hear new information about Adrian,” Keiona said. “She’s always wanted the best for me and my siblings.”
The two girls who lived with their brother and at times saw how he was treated are in therapy and getting to know their biological mother again. Conway’s daughter is working with the state to regain custody of the two sisters.
As for Conway, she knows that even though she’s sobbed many times in the last 1 1/2 years, she’s not done crying. May never be.
Just last week as Adrian’s Nana drove home from her lawyer’s office in Lawrence, she broke down. Not because of a memory or an image from one of the DVDs. No, she looked out and saw streams of sun illuminating the blue sky.
It’s times like these, she thought, that Adrian would have loved to play outside.
She couldn’t keep the tears in.
She’s still fighting for Adrian. Working to improve the system for kids like him who somehow slip through cracks. Hoping to have stronger oversight of homeschooled children in Kansas.
In a way, watching those DVDs helped her. She knows that now.
“For some reason, and I don’t understand it myself, but I wanted to take on all the pain that he felt,” Conway said. “I wanted to be a part of that. I want him to know that even though I wasn’t there, I loved him and he didn’t leave this world feeling unloved, which is what they wanted him to feel like.
“He was loved, and nobody can take that away from him.”