Convicted double murderer Jacob Ind and the woman who was once his most fiercely loyal supporter - she wrote a book about his case - have begun furious attempts to discredit each other in advance of his long-sought retrial in the 1992 killing of his parents.
At stake in their feud is Ind's criminal defense: That he killed his mother, Pamela Jordan, and stepfather, Kermode Jordan, after enduring years of their physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
That was Ind's defense during his 1994 trial - which he also plans to testify to this time around - and it was the premise behind Mary Ellen Johnson's 1997 book, "The Murder of Jacob."
But now, the two no longer agree, and their back and forth allegations have created a seemingly bizarre sideshow as Ind awaits his new trial date. Among the personal charges:
- When he was a teenager, Ind says Johnson, a then 43-year-old housewife, took an interest in him, struck up a correspondence and eventually was hired by his criminal defense team as a private investigator to get him talking about his parents' alleged abuse.
It was because of the abuse that the 15-year-old Ind said he hired a friend, Gabrial Adams, 18, to help him kill the Jordans while they slept on Dec. 17, 1992 - shooting, stabbing and spraying the couple in their faces with bear mace in a brutal attack.
- The hundreds of hours Johnson spent with Ind ended up sparking a love affair that would span most of his 25 years in prison.
- Each time the relationship appeared to be ending, Ind said that Johnson threatened to derail his attempts at freedom. He said he's speaking out now to "protect" himself against her possible attacks at his retrial.
"She'll do anything to destroy me," the newly-married Ind told The Gazette in an interview at the Teller County jail. "If I'm not getting out to go to her, she's going to make sure I never get out."
- Responding to the allegations, Johnson called Ind a "psychopath" who belongs behind bars. She has disavowed her book and says she no longer believes Ind was abused.
"Knowing all the lies Jacob has concocted, do you think I don't agonize over the contents of 'The Murder of Jakob?'" Johnson asked in an emailed statement. "If he would lie so much about me, would he also lie about the abuse he supposedly suffered?"
In a phone interview with The Gazette, Johnson initially balked at defining her relationship with Ind as "romantic" because they never had physical contact and she thought of him more as a "friend."
She later admitted to being in love with him after being confronted with dozens of letters she'd written to him from the time he was 15 through age 24. Ind had previously had the letters scanned and preserved in an iChamber online storage account, where he permitted The Gazette to access them.
Still, Johnson denied the validity of any letters or pages not directly bearing her signature or "written in my hand - not computer generated," insisting that she's been harassed by Ind and his wife over the years and "wouldn't put anything past either of them" to forge the letters.
Ind's wife, Denise, who lives in Ireland, disputed the charges. "Neither myself nor my husband have harassed or threatened the woman who abused him since the age of 15," she wrote The Gazette in an email. Johnson's letters to Ind "have been in the possession of his lawyers for over a decade," Denise Ind wrote.
The Gazette hired handwriting expert Stephen Koschal, who has worked for the U.S. government and the FBI, to validate 60 of the typed and handwritten letters by authenticating Johnson's signatures. He compared them against her signed 990 tax form for her charity, The Pendulum Foundation, and determined that despite "slight variants" explained by "changing moods," "all letters signed either as 'Mary Ellen,' 'ME' initials, or signed in full 'Mary Ellen Johnson' are by the hand of Mary Ellen Johnson, an author."
In this article, The Gazette is quoting only those letters signed by Johnson or otherwise verified by her.
Threats and blurred boundaries
Letters show Johnson did threaten to jeopardize Ind's case the first time he accused her of "emotional molestation" in July of 2000.
She criticized him for using her letters against her because, "The proper way to handle a relationship when it ends inside (prison) is to return everything to the former beloved," she wrote in a July 10, 2000, letter. "That's how honorable cons respond."
"Keep your mouth shut, not for my sake, BUT FOR YOUR OWN," she warned, telling Ind he's "upsetting" other inmates who could hurt him. And if he doesn't stop, she won't testify on his behalf, she said.
At the time, Ind was filing what is called a 35 C motion for a new sentencing hearing after Colorado passed legislation protecting juveniles against life in prison without parole. Ind's case was the main beneficiary of Johnson's charity, The Pendulum Foundation.
"My testifying or not testifying, my helping or not helping, depends on YOUR behavior," Johnson writes. "I will not warn you again. If I EVER so much as hear one more nasty word from ANYONE about what you or your people have said about me, I will go to the warden and will shut you down on every front. Think this through, Jacob. You NEED me on your side for anything that happens in court, should you be so lucky as to receive a second chance."
Johnson says Ind's accusations came only because she was ending their relationship.
"I had no idea what he was talking about, but I wondered if I had written things that could be construed as inappropriate. After all, I was so much older and at times I did respond to his declarations of love," Johnson told The Gazette.
It was a concern, the letters show, she had long wrestled with.
In 1994, shortly after Ind's conviction, Johnson wrote that she was worried about "crossing boundaries" with Ind that his parents had previously crossed.
"Sometimes they were a parent, sometimes they were a lover, something they were your friend, sometimes they were your tormentor. They never had a fixed role," Johnson wrote.
"I wasn't exactly a therapist, and I wasn't exactly a friend, and I wasn't a real investigator, and I wasn't your mother and I wasn't your aunt or godmother and I wasn't your lover. I was all of those things and none of them," Johnson wrote. "I, a supposedly moderately well-functioning adult, was confused as to my role and my feelings, so what the hell was I doing to you? ... I did to you exactly what your parents did. I crossed the lines. And that was yet another form of abuse."
To the Gazette, Johnson defended the blurred boundaries she was referring to as "intimate" conversations she was "charged" with having as Ind's investigator in the effort to expose the abuse he'd suffered. Under normal circumstances, those conversations would not be appropriate outside of a romantic relationship, and that's what could have been confusing to Ind, she said.
Ind said he was confused, because "I thought it was cool having a grown woman talking to me about sex," and he did grow to care for Johnson. But he also argues her behavior was "creepy," recalling her once stroking his fingers suggestively through the open slit in the visiting booth.
Throughout the years, she also flashed him, sent him nude photos and touched herself in front of him, he said.
In the July 10, 2000, letter Johnson accused Ind of "spewing half-truths or outright lies about photos and what we supposedly did in the visiting booth."
An 'inappropriate' affair?
Even if their romantic relationship had begun when Ind was 15, that would not be illegal. The age of consent in Colorado at the time was 15. Protections for juveniles dating persons more than 10 years older, and laws pertaining to luring and enticing would not be added until the 2000s, local criminal defense attorney Ted McClintock said.
And Johnson acting as Ind's investigator would not meet the threshold for putting her in a position of trust, which is reserved for parent-like figures, McClintock said.
"I'm sure some people would still consider it inappropriate," McClintock said.
Regardless, Johnson declared it inappropriate herself, long fearing the day the relationship would be exposed because, as she wrote just after Ind turned 18, "if you step back and look at it through various viewpoints, the case could be made that I'm one step above a child molester ..."
She worried in another letter on July 20, 2000, that people would "hone in on the bare facts about me, as in, she was 28 years older than he was. Therefore, she had to be abusing him. No discussion about who I am as a person, a human being. I'm a stereotype. A case study. Just as they hone in on you as a murderer. ... You are much more than an emotionally disturbed kid who killed his parents. Just as I am much more than an older woman who fell in love with a young man."
She continued, "You say you are baffled as to why I can't see anything wrong with how I felt and what I did re: you. In the eyes of the world, killing two people is very wrong and they are baffled by your attitude. I can't make you feel that you did anything wrong by killing your parents. You have a thousand reasons why you feel justified in doing that. Well, let's turn that around. I don't feel that I did anything wrong either. People have sexual feelings about other people every minute of their lives. The fact that I had sexual feelings for you as a young man wasn't wrong. You had them about me."
Johnson responded to the passage saying, "That's true," but clarified "young man means a grownup, not a 15-year-old."
The beginning and the end
Letters suggest it was Ind's looks that initially drew Johnson to his case. She repeatedly mentions how attractive he is, once calling his 16-year-old body "studly" and suggesting that were she younger she would be interested in him.
Johnson argues any comments made about Ind's appearance were only to boost his self-esteem: "That might have been inappropriate, but I certainly didn't mean it that way."
A year later, she wrote suggestively about sexual positions with the then 17-year-old Ind. In her interview with the Gazette, Johnson did not deny writing the passage but called it "a joke," because Ind was serving life in prison and they could never actually be together.
Really, Johnson said, she was "confused and intimidated" by Ind, who she says continuously "played" and "conned" her over the years.
And then when Colorado prison chief Tom Clements was murdered by a released inmate in 2013, Johnson said she became fearful that if she did not continue the relationship she could meet the same fate if Ind was released.
"After Clements' murder, did I dare walk away?" she questioned.
Johnson said Ind had already threatened to kill her once following his conviction in 1994, and she heard through a second party that he repeated the threat two years ago while he was at Limon Correctional Facility.
Ind called both allegations of death threats "patently absurd."
"Every phone call and piece of mail is monitored in DOC and they take threats very seriously," he wrote in an email to The Gazette.
The Gazette requested Ind's disciplinary record from the prison, which showed he'd received 13 sanctions between 1995 and 2008 for getting into a fight, having contraband and not following rules, among other minor infractions, but it did not show any recent discipline or reported death threats made to others.
Johnson declined to provide any of Ind's letters to support her claim.
It was around that time when Johnson said she broke off their relationship for good, but it wasn't because of the alleged threats.
The end came while the two were together in a contact room discussing the finality of death following the recent suicide by one of Ind's friends. Johnson said Ind patted her arm and told her, "Don't worry about it, when you die, I'll be fine. Sure, it will suck for about a week, but I'll be fine."
Johnson took offense.
"I thought, huh, so I've been visiting you for all of these years because I was concerned that someday you would be alone and it would be so terrible, and you're telling me, 'No, it's fine, I don't really care?'" Johnson said to The Gazette. "And I thought, 'Good,' because now I don't have to visit anymore and I won't, and I haven't."
Johnson said she's since declined interviews with prosecutors related to Ind's retrial, and she doesn't plan to testify for or against him:
"I don't want to be involved in this. I'm done."
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