Alberta Odell Jones. Louisville, Kentucky.


Alberta O. Jones. Age 34
A fearless and trailblazing Black woman prosecutor

AUGUST 5, 1965

Alberta O. Jones was a trailblazing Black lawyer and attorney. Born in Kentucky, she graduated at the top of her class from the newly integrated University of Louisville and then Howard University School of Law. In 1959, Jones became one of the first Black women admitted to the Kentucky bar, and in 1965 became Louisville’s first woman prosecutor. She also helped to educate and register Black voters, and she negotiated a contract for boxer Cassius Clay, her neighbor, who would become Muhammad Ali.

A profile at the time in the Louisville Courier-Journal was headlined, “Hard to Keep Up With, That’s Alberta Jones.” “When I got back home, a lot of people said, ‘You’ve got two strikes against you. You’re a woman, and you’re a Negro,’” she told the paper. “Yeah, but I’ve got one strike left, and I’ve seen people hit home runs when all they’ve got left is one strike.”

The night she disappeared, August 4, 1965, Jones had received a call from a friend, according to Flora Shanklin, Jones’ sister. Although it was late, Jones agreed to meet her friend. Shanklin said their mother offered to go too, but Jones decided to go alone. She never came home. 

In the morning, Shanklin said, the family reported her sister missing. Jones was found that day by two boys, who saw her body floating in the Ohio River. The car Jones had been driving was found a day later, several blocks away.

In the initial investigation, Louisville police discovered bloodstains, fingerprints and pieces of brick in the car Jones had been driving, which was parked near the section of the river where her body was recovered. Investigators believed Jones had been hit in the head with a brick, thrown off the nearby Sherman Minton Bridge and drowned due to her injuries. An autopsy confirmed the manner of death.

Investigators interviewed nearly 400 people, including the friend who Jones went to meet that night. She said Jones had left her home around 2 a.m., according to a newspaper account at the time. She was never named as a suspect in the case. Two witnesses reported having seen two men force a screaming woman into a car that matched the description of the one Jones had been driving that night. 

Many theories arose surrounding the motive for Jones’ murder. She might have been targeted for her work as a prosecutor or for registering Black people to vote. Others speculated she had been the victim of a robbery or targeted by the Nation of Islam for her work aiding Clay. 

Three years after Jones’ death, her purse was found hanging off the Sherman Minton Bridge in near-perfect condition, containing her wallet and ID but no cash, a partial dental plate and several key rings. Investigators were unable to develop any leads, and her case went cold.

In 2008, the FBI discovered a match for a fingerprint found inside Jones’ car, prompting the Louisville police to take another look at the case. It lead them to a Black man who had been 17 years old at the time of the murder, and was still alive and living in California. During a polygraph examination, it was noted that the man denied any involvement in the murder, but that “deception was indicated” when he was asked about the circumstances surrounding Jones’ death. But the man maintained that he had no involvement in Jones’ death and was never named as suspect. 

In a letter to the police chief, Kentucky’s commonwealth attorney, R. David Stengel, said that most of the physical evidence collected from the 1965 investigation had been lost and that witnesses interviewed then had either died or could not be located. The polygraph interview also couldn’t be admitted in court. Citing the loss of evidence and key witnesses, Stengel ultimately said he would not pursue the case. 

A few years later, Lee Remington, a professor at Bellarmine University in Louisville, began researching what happened to Jones and urged the Louisville police and the federal government to reinvestigate.

In 2018, the FBI added Jones to its list of cold cases. Her case remains unresolved.

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Inside Investigations: Who Killed Alberta Jones?

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