Every year at the end of July, I start thinking about Dusty Tittle. I met Dusty in 2001 while on a road trip from St. Louis to New Orleans. Traveling along the Great River Road into Greenville, Mississippi my cousin and I spied Dusty and 3 other men taking a break from their prison labor duties at an abandoned gas station. We got out to talk to them and take pictures. I ended up writing to Dusty and 2 of the other men on and off for the next few years.
After I met Dusty he spent the next couple of years in prison. Although we had stopped writing, I checked in on him often via the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) website. On the site, you can look up an inmate and see the facility in which they are being held. I don’t know how common this is, but it seemed like every time I checked on Dusty they had moved him to another place. I think they must have moved him 5 or 6 times. It seemed like a lot. I never asked why. But the more they moved him the more I checked. I don’t know if the system is set up to track IP addresses and searches but in case it was I wanted “them” to know that someone was watching and paying attention. That someone cared about him and his whereabouts.
Dusty ended up getting out for a short time. He got a job and joined a church but one day he showed back up on the MDOC site. He had re-offended and was in the Houston Mississippi Jail. So I kept checking to see where they’d end up sending him. And then one day he no longer appeared in the search results. I waited and waited and kept searching the regular inmate locator section and also the parolee section. Nothing.
Finally, I did a Google search and found an article in his local paper. It read that on July 17, 2007 Dusty Tittle was found dead in his jail cell in Houston, Mississippi. Allegedly, he hung himself. His body had been shipped off to Jackson where the Mississippi Crime Lab was doing an investigation but I never found any subsequent published findings of that investigation.
Coroner Andy Harmon is quoted as saying, “The cause of death appeared to be self-inflicted through hanging.”
I had my doubts.
I got a letter from a mutual friend in 2011 in which he wrote:
“Well before I close this I must tell you the bad news about my little buddy Dusty. Back in about 2005 or maybe 2006 somehow he was hanged in our county jail and died. They say he done it to himself but I have my doubts.”
Another Google search then turned up some court papers indicating that Dusty’s mother, Bonnie, tried to sue the City of Houston, Police Chief Billy Voyles, Sheriff Jimmy Simmons, and two city employees on the grounds that Dusty “died as a result of suspicious circumstances and negligent acts conducted by employees of the City of Houston Police Department and Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Department.”
If you read the papers, it’s very clear that Bonnie didn’t know what she was doing and the court caught her out there on the bunch of technicalities. She didn’t file her complaint the “right” way. So they picked it apart, dismantled her complaint, and sent her on her way. She apparently had 10 days to fix it and re-submit but I don’t know if she ever did.
I found one of Dusty’s cousins on Facebook and wrote to her to ask about Dusty’s life and his mother. She confirmed that he had a pretty rough life. She said that Bonnie was in some sort of nursing home but didn’t tell me the name. I sent her a photo that was taken of Dusty the day we met. It’s a really nice picture. I photoshopped out his prison number, which was written on the collar of his white t-shirt, so that it just looks like a nice photo taken on any old day. In 2013 I finally made it back to Mississippi for the first time in 12 years. I went to Houston to visit Dusty’s grave. I also tried to find his mother while I was there but I had no luck.
I lot of things have changed since 2007. The MDOC has a new website and their press release archives only go back 2 years. The Chickasaw Journal also has a new website and its archives only go back to 2012. The jail that Dusty hung himself in is no longer the jail. A big brand spanking new complex – the Chickasaw County Regional Correctional Facility – has since been built. Sheriff Jimmy Simmons is set to retire at the end of 2015. The Mississippi State Legislature has already signed a bill to commend Simmons for his 24 years of faithful service.
So I guess that’s that. Few people remember Dusty. No one knows what happened to him. And no one ever will.
By the way, Dusty Tittle was born on this day in 1974. Today would have been his 40th birthday.