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December 16, 2021 30 mins

As TV producer Leah Rothman sets out to reinvestigate the horrific murder of 35 year-old JoAnn Tate and the savage attack on her two young daughters, she travels back to where it all took place: St. Louis, Missouri. Melissa, who barely survived that night, shares the moment-by-moment, gut-wrenching account of what she and her family endured, including what happened when her uncle found them and screamed “Who did this to you?!” To everyone’s surprise, Melissa gives him a name. The hunt is on for the killer.

WARNING: This episode contains explicit descriptions of a violent crime that may not be suitable for all listeners.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Yeah, he told my mom they tried to kill me
and my sister. I don't I didn't do that, and
got me confused with someone. But I did not do that.
Of course it's going to say that he didn't do it.
No one would want to ever admit that they had
hurt children or a woman in such a brutal and

(00:23):
violating way. I was so ready to not talk about
this anymore. I thought we were done. I hadn't really
locked away for so long because I learned that when
you tell secrets, paw, things could happen to you. But
I know what I know, and she I said, I wrote,

(00:44):
you talked to you. M I'm Leah Rothman, a TV producer,
writer and director. Over the years, I worked on a
lot of shows with topics ranging from addiction, kidnappings, and cults,

(01:06):
to parenting issues, celebrity profiles, and homemakeovers. There was also
this one show where people had sex in a box
on stage, but we'll skip right past that one. But
it's stories of injustice, injustice of any kind that I
feel most compelled to expose anyway. In the fall of

(01:31):
I was working as a staff writer on Crime Watch Daily,
a nationally syndicated true crime television show. When I was
given a new assignment, my boss asked me to go
through some transcripts and try to make sense of what
was supposed to be a profile piece on a true
crime author. Was there enough fair and if not, what
do we need in order to tell that story? But

(01:53):
after going through all the interviews and footage, I made
the case we needed to focus on a different story.
It was about one of the most horrific crimes in St.
Louis history, the murder of Joe and Tate, the vicious
attack on her two young daughters, Melissa and Renee, and
the conviction of Tate's one time lover, Rodney Lincoln, who,

(02:17):
after more than thirty three years in prison, still claimed
he didn't do it. God knows. I'm no angel. Never
in my life could I I would? I M a job?
No what. A couple of months later, the episode entitled

(02:38):
Who Killed Joe and Tate aired and that was supposed
to be the end of it, but it wasn't. It's
what happened next that no one saw coming. I hope
you guys do the fucking right thing. I have been
a puppet of this city for years, I'm done, and

(02:59):
it jumps started a messy and complicated chain of events that,
over the course of the next several years, would change
the lives of so many, including strangely me. Since then,
I haven't been able to let go of the nagging
and haunting feeling that my work on this story is

(03:19):
not done. My gut has been telling me to go
back and look at everything again. Forget what I think
I know about Joe and Tate, Rodney Lincoln, and how
this case was investigated and prosecuted. So that's what I'm
going to do. The truth will finally be revealed. I'm

(03:40):
not sure I'm ready for any of it. This is
the real Killer Episode one A bad feeling. Yeah, m

(04:22):
it is unpressure to welcome you into the Saint Louis
the local clim The last time I was in St. Louis,
it was a whirlwind. I flew in with a camera
crew to shoot a ton of interviews in just a
few days. This trip is going to be different. Starting

(04:44):
route to Lynn, head south on Gloria Avenue, then turned
right onto Victory Boulevard, I start with driving due west
two hours to the rural town of Lynn, Missouri, population
around that's where Joe and Tate's brother Nathaniel Clenny and
his wife Lorie live on their sprawling thirty two acres

(05:05):
of land. Nat greets me on this very windy day
as I pull into their driveway. Hi, Nott, how are
you good? I know, it's good to see you here.
Almost it's been over a year, isn't it. I think
it was like the spring of we barely get through

(05:28):
the screen door and into their modest home when Nat
and Lorie launched into a comedy routine straight out of
the nineteen forties. To be fair, I think I may
have egged them on, you know how long we've been together? No,
forty long years, forty the best years of your life.

(05:49):
It Actually that was kind of mean to say that.
That's not a Christian attitude. You know. If I didn't say, well,
I have another saying she tells everybody we met on
a blind day, And I said, we did, I tell

(06:09):
everybody blind? But we know we're just joking. These guys
are just joking. That's how when we were seventeen, so
we basically grew up together. Just a little over a
year after they meet, the nineteen year olds will be
forced to grow up faster than anyone could have ever imagined.

(06:33):
It starts innocently enough one spring morning in nineteen eight two,
when Joanne's boyfriend Jerry Woodward calls looking for her. Okay, so, um,
I'm sorry, but can you tell me about April seven,
nineteen eighty two, the day that we were, the day

(06:53):
that uh we found joy in. Yeah. Well, um, uh,
I had I had, I had a I had a
boatload of stuff to do that morning. Um, And Jerry
called me. He says, I can't get older Joy. I said, well, else,
she's probably over at my sister Abby's house. So I

(07:15):
called over there and I said no, she wasn't over there.
And I said, okay, Well Jerry called me back and
I said, well, maybe she went to the store. And
around what time was this? Do you remember? It was
after I went to school? Yeah, it had to be
somewherees between yeah, my college first classes, probably things about
eight or nine or something. Jerry, Jerry. Jerry was supposed

(07:37):
to go down to see Joanna and they were going
to go to the park and sit at the park
and just kind of beat boyfriend and girlfriend, you know,
hold hands and stuff and all that neat stuff. And
guys don't like to do. So he says, I can't
get ahold. And for some reason, all of a sudden,
I heard this voice say, good come from a religious background. Thing.
My mind was very Penny cost A, very religious, so

(07:58):
I believe in God. But I heard a voice that
go and so I said, come pick me up. And
so we got there and I went up to the
door to knock, and nobody answered, and the same voice said,
pushed the door, push, push, And I pushed it. And

(08:19):
when I pushed the door open, and I could see
my sister laying in the middle room, uh with no
clothes on, with an object sticking out of her inside
the first floor brick rear apartment at four eighteen for
our street. Joe and Tate is found lying face down
in a pool of blood on the floor of her

(08:39):
daughter's bedroom. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. There
was blood splatter everywhere, on the lampshades, on the walls, everywhere.
No matter where you look, you saw blood splatters. I
was looking around, I'm going like, this is crazy. I
went to my sister. I think I went to her

(09:01):
first and touched her. She was cold to the touch,
so she's been dead for a long time. So I
went into kitchen and called the police, and I every
time I called them, Uh, the anti was a joke.
I said, this is no joke. Fifth District is not
that far from here. It's just a few blocks and
there's no police here. So I called up mom. I said, Mom,
you got to get over her. Joyant's dead. And so

(09:22):
Mom said, come pick me up. So I drive all
over to my mom's house, which is probably two or
three blocks away, about the same distance as the police station.
I picked mom up, and I bring her back and
right away she runs to the children. She took their
covers down. She could see there. It was a mess,
that bloody mess. Not and Joanne's mother, lou Clenny, finds

(09:42):
her granddaughters, seven year old Melissa and four year old Renee,
lying in their beds, barely clinging to life. St. Louis
Metro police arrived minutes later. They said, if we hadn't,
we hadn't found him. When we did, they said, they
were real close to dat, but something told you to

(10:04):
open the door, to push the door open. A voice.
M look at that. You can't make this up. Yeah,
he's got goose bumps. Well, he said, push your door open.
Someone to say them little kids was an angel. God
Joe saved my babies. It's funny when I look back

(10:40):
at the pictures of me and Renee. Renee was often
in dresses. Renee was a little blind hair thing, whispy
blond hair and his eyes. Just a little round faced kid.
She's so cute. I was a little crumbum. I was
always dirty, always always awkward. That's Melissa Daboor now. Back

(11:05):
in she was Melissa Davis, just seven years old. Her sister,
Renee Tate, was four. There was also an older sister
who mostly stated her boyfriends. I had auburn brown hair,
its wild and crazy, and skin that got so dark,
like from the slightest sun exposure. I had two large

(11:28):
front teeth, and I was missing my eye teeth, so
I had a toothy grand Almost forty years to the
day and less than four miles away from where it
all happened, Melissa agrees to share her story with me
once again. A warning, what you're about to hear is
incredibly gruesome. If you feel comfortable, we'll go. Yeah to

(12:01):
that day, the day before everything changed. I was really
excited because Mama was taking us to Hyde Park. Hyde
Park was down the alley and across the street from
our house. But it was so much fun it never
got boring. You know. We walked down that gravel at

(12:22):
gravel Alley and looked both ways across the street, and
the moment my feet hopped up on that curb across
that sidewalk, I was a little rocket. I would hit
all the points, to all the high points, slide the merry,
go around, see saw. Mama is hung back with Renee
because when thee was slower and smaller, but my mom

(12:46):
followed me everywhere I went and watched close as she could.
I loved that park. We were probably only there for
an hour or two, but I remember becoming aware at
some point there is this weird feeling in my belly,
and I remember walking up to her with my sister.
My sister was picking dandylions, I think, but I told

(13:08):
my mom I felt like something bad was going to happen,
and I really think that she just did not listen
to me at that moment. My mom knew that I
was a kid that was prone to imagination of flights,
to fancy a little strange. Well, she didn't believe you.

(13:28):
I don't think she believed me. And I remember telling
her I didn't want to go home, and she's like,
of course, we've got to go home. Where are we
going to go? You know what I mean? Like, come on,
a silly girl. But Melissa won't let it go. She
says she has a bad feeling again during dinner, at bathtime,
and as Joanne reads a nighttime story to the girls. Eventually,

(13:51):
Melissa gives up the exhaustion of the day wins out.
I think it all hit me at once, because I
remember with my mom and she handed me my teddy
bear and kiss me, and I kissed my teddy bear.
That the next thing I know, I was in a
very deep sleep and then I was dolted away. What

(14:15):
woke you? I believe it was a loud noise, in
a scream. Definitely a loud noise. It was maybe a commotion,
but it was loud and deep, and I woke up.
My mom was on the floor, there was blood everywhere.

(14:38):
There was a naked man mixed in my back. I
felt so confused and scared, and I don't remember exactly
what he said first, but I I asked him. I
said why is my mom on the floor? And he
said she sleep but Joanne is not sleeping, and Melissa

(15:06):
doesn't have time to process what she's seeing. The next
thing she knows, the man scoops her up and carries
her to her mom's room, where he throws her on
the bed. And this man has the most blank expression
on his face and started taking off my clothes. And

(15:27):
I got very irritated and mad I said stop stop
taking no, it's no, no, don't take my clothes. I
was suddenly there without any clothes. The man then tries
to sexually assault Melissa, but she fights back. He tried

(15:47):
to make me do oral on him, and I bait
him there. He was mad at me for fighting him,
and he straddled my legs and I remember seeing at
I guess the back of his like by his hip.
He had a knife and he was hiding it from me,

(16:12):
and I was so scared, and I knew right away
he was going to hurt me. And he just started
stabbing me. I kept thinking, why is he doing this

(16:32):
to me? Why is he hurting me? Where is my mom?
The man stabs Melissa multiple times. She's somehow, even at
seven years old, has the wherewithal to play dead, and

(16:54):
when she thinks he's not looking, tries to get away.
As she scurry across the bed, he grabs her, slices
her from her vagina to her rectum, throws her back
on the bed like a rag doll, and stabs her
once more in the chest. Bloodied and exhausted, Melissa plays

(17:16):
dead again. This time it works. She feels the bed
ease up and hears him walk away. She sneaks a
peek and sees the man in the kitchen washing off
the knife in the sink. For the time being, he's
occupied and this could be her chance to run out
the front door. But Melissa can't leave her four year

(17:36):
old sister behind. So I thought, I'm gonna help her,
Nae and I slowly crept out of that room, and
that's when I realized how much pain aison, how bad
it was. But before I could say anything to her,
I heard him turn off that water, So I crawled

(17:57):
into her bed, and that's where I found my dog,
And then I forget turning my head to the left
and seeing my mom. I was only maybe five or
six ft from her, hiding under Renee's bed. The family

(18:20):
dog Tricksie licks Melissa's wounds. Total silence, then a terrifying sound.
I remember hearing the feet and then seeing the feet,
and he went to look for me and didn't find me,
and he's asking Rene. He's like, where is she? When

(18:44):
he was just four four years old and she was crying.
I felt the bed shake a little bit, and then
I saw a lot of blood hit the floor, a
lot of blood, and he walked away. That didn't move
anymore after that. Melissa drifts in and out of consciousness.

(19:09):
The next time she opens her eyes, she sees the
man has not left. He was smoking cigarettes at the
end of my mom's bed and watching TV. You're under
the bed, and how could you see him? This is
Rene's bed. My mom's bed was catacorner to Rene's in

(19:29):
her own room, so the end of Mom's bed. It
was great here. I was under Rene's bed and I
could see his face. His face did not reflect any
of the carnage that was around him. He was waiting
for us to die well. Melissa tries to stifle the

(19:53):
sounds of her suffering. Complex thoughts run through her young,
terrified mind. I just kept waiting, thinking Mom was gonna
wake up, or someone will have called the police, or
he'll leave. But it didn't happen, but it was weird.

(20:16):
I was thinking about a lot of things, like I'm
gonna die, it's going to be on TV. I thought
a lot about the people that would feel bad that
I died, Like little girls mean to me because I
kissed her little brother in her cheek in kindergarten, she
punched me in the stomach. I thought she'd feel bad
when I died. You were actually having those thoughts as

(20:39):
you were lying underneath renames, and I just remember thinking,
he's going to get out and do something else to us,
or he's going to go somewhere because he doesn't want
to be caught here. I had seen enough shows at
the age to know that bad guys will often run away,

(21:02):
and I remember at one point falling asleep, thinking why
won't he just go. Melissa, who's been stabbed several times,

(21:22):
wakes to the sounds of her little sister's desperate cries.
She looks around and realizes the man is gone. She
wanted water, so I made myself set up. I remember
really hard to set up. I started to walk into

(21:43):
the kitchen and I threw up, and I remember stopping
trying to shake my mom awake, and I was like, Mom,
may wake up, and she didn't wake up. So I
went into the kitchen. Melissa fills a tin measuring cup
with water and slowly walks back to her sister resting

(22:06):
along the way, and she just looked really weird to me.
There was something wrong with her face and her neck.
When I try to pull it up, I don't get details.
My brain won't let me completely go there. When Renee

(22:26):
took a drink of that water, that water came out
of her throat and she cried. There was no water
in her tears, and I wanted to stay through and
hold her, but I was so tired, and I made

(22:46):
my way back to my bed. I fell asleep. When
we talk about Renee, you know, when I when we're
talking about what happened to her, I think it's almost
like a micro snapshot of the whole situation, just the
atrocity and the violation, and just lack of any kind

(23:10):
of he'd have any hesitation about heart and a little kids.
It's times like this I'm reminded of what exactly it
is that I'm doing. I'm asking Melissa to relive these

(23:34):
really horrible details and memories, which continue to affect her
to this day. I'm thankful for Melissa's trust. She's promised
me that in the course of making this podcast, if
it's ever too much, she'll tell me. And in a
later episode we are going to talk a lot more
about Melissa's memories and what she can and can't remember.

(23:56):
But clearly some memories are in sharp focus. I can
remember certain sensations with the blood, like feet sticking on
the floor or walking through it. I remember seeing it
on the sink in the kitchen, Remember my bed sticking
to my skin, and being on the floor under the bed,

(24:17):
the fuzz and dust and grit of a floor sticking
to me. So you get back into bed, yeah, and
um what happens? I get back into bed, and I
remember pulling the sheet up on me and just closing

(24:38):
my eyes so quickly, and part of me knew my
sister was over there suffering, and I couldn't keep my
eyes open to do anything, to say anything. I remember
right then that loathing of self loathing is where the
seed was planted. If I would have been able to

(25:00):
get up, if I would have been able to get
help the small chance my mom might still be here.
I couldn't do anything. I couldn't do anything. I passed out.
The next time Melissa opens her eyes, it's because she
hears pounding on the door. She wonders if the man

(25:21):
has come back to finish them off, and the door
flew open. I remember hearing the door knob hit the
wall when it flew but I realized right away it
was my uncle Nad. And it was a whirlwind because

(25:44):
he was very confused and he was very scared. And
he went and started to my mother. It was saying, Joanne, Joanne,
what happened? Joanne? Who did the seed? He was trying
to shake her awake, and he was so shocked and

(26:04):
and he asked me, he said, who did this to you? Guys?
Who did this to you? And I said, Bill, Why
did you say Bill? He's freaking out, And I'm like
it took me a moment, but I was like Bill. Bill.
For some reason, that was the name I knew to say.

(26:25):
That was to me, I think the name I knew
him by. When this man was attacking you, when you
were on the bed, how far was your face from
his face? Maybe, like I mean at times half a foot,
most time a foot foot and a half. Yeah, I

(26:46):
knew that name. I knew that man as Bill. Coming
up this season on The Real Killer, h you want
to hear the story about the bad band. It wasn't
hard to find men in her past who had some

(27:08):
history of violence or some incident of violence. I told
him that Bill drove a Volkswagen and Bill had worked
at my mom's car. Does your that's him? I said,
his name's not Bill. Keep saying that's him, that's him?
Hopefit so walked up to means that you're in big trouble.
Ars to the batman was in prison and the rap

(27:32):
you think of him or talk about him again. But
yet I always felt like I was being watched fist
two years with twelve and you know what they hate
more than anything, John molestedes. Did you want harm to
come to him? I wasn't opposed to add I knew
nothing about investigating. I read these police reports and I

(27:53):
saw that lineup photo and I was just like, you've
got to be kidding me. There's a lot of TIS said,
there isn't any evidence. You can't make up evidence. I shouldn't,
And I just remember thinking what are we even doing?
Should I even be a lawyer anymore? I said, something's

(28:14):
not right, something it's not right. Yeah, I swear the
shape of his face changed, the color of his eyes changed,
and I realized at that moment that I was seeing
what is victim soul. At the last moment before they died,
he was in a house with a woman and two

(28:37):
little girls, and he said it was a bloody mess.
You absolutely need to go talk to him. Hello, you
have a call at no expense to you from an
inmate at Camsas Department of Correction, Hutchinson Correctional Facility OHO.

(29:08):
The Real Killer is a production of a y R
Media and I Heart Radio, hosted by me Leah Rothman.
Executive producers Leah Rothman and Eliza Rosen for A y
R Media. Written by me Leah Rothman, Senior Associate producer
Eric Newman, Editing and sound design by Cameron Taggy, mixed

(29:29):
and mastered by Cameron Taggi, Audio engineering by heyesus C
Mario Studio engineering by Tom Weir and Kelly McGrew. Legal
counsel for A y R Media. Gianni Douglas, Executive producer
for I Heart Radio Chandler Mays. If you're enjoying The
Real Killer, tell your friends about it and leave us

(29:51):
a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
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