TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Lee Allyn can’t help but smile remembering his mom, Norma Jean Jay.
“A nice, caring person,” he described her. “She would always carry around canned food and actually, for like, homeless people. With the easy-open lids, and hand that out to them… She was an artist, so she would actually teach art classes or even, I remember doing art projects and things like that with her when I was a kid. Little bit of a hippie at heart.”
Allyn also remembers the morning she was suddenly taken away.
Jay, who was 59 at the time, was living in a small home in the remote community of Three Points, southwest of Tucson.
“She liked having some land and just kind of being to herself a little bit,” Allyn explained.
Jay’s home became a crime scene for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department on July 17, 2006.
“I was at work that morning,” Allyn recalled. “I was working actually for a radio station at the time. And I came back to my house and there was cops there waiting. And just started questioning me, all these questions about my mom and this and that and everything going on. And it wasn’t til the end that they told me what happened. And it was rough. I kind of broke down there and I was a wreck for quite a while after that.”
Jay was stabbed multiple times in her home early that morning.
“Whoever it was, the person, tried to cover their tracks and tried to light the house on fire, to burn it down,” said Allyn. “And then somebody driving by saw the house on fire and stopped, called the fire department and was able to help put it out and that kind of saved all the evidence for the case, at least.”
That evidence has not yet led to an arrest, and Norma’s case went cold in the months following her murder.
“I guess they have the person’s DNA, but they don’t really know who that person is,” Allyn said. “[The suspect has] never been either caught for a crime or anything.
“It’s hard thinking about that that person’s still out there just living a normal life.”
Jay’s family wonders why Pima County Sheriff’s Department investigators hit a dead end.
“I feel like they’ve really dropped the ball on this,” Jay’s daughter Leonie Dodd said of the detectives assigned to the case.
Dodd says the family knows about evidence that seemingly points to a potential suspect.
“[Norma] had a diary and an appointment book,” she said. “And in that appointment book she had an appointment with a counselor for domestic abuse on that day, the same day that she was murdered. That’s pretty tall-telling right there. Like, she was already having troubles in the relationship, with whoever she had the relationship with.”
Allyn says the romantic partner in question wasn’t known to him, and that a previous boyfriend was cleared by detectives early in the investigation.
"You know, my mom kind of kept, for the dating, to herself,” he said.
Allyn says the stalled case has been frustrating, as has a lack of communication from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
“They kept me updated for the first few months,” he said. “But then after that, it was just kind of tailed off and didn’t really hear anything… No contact. Anything about it. It’s us always having to reach out to them."
“It’s unnerving, a little bit, if there is evidence out there, if they didn’t find something or if they didn’t follow up on things for that. Especially with how old the case is.”
The family is sharing the story with KGUN 9 hoping it leads to further developments in the case, or someone to come forward with new information.
“I’m really hoping that the Sheriff’s Department and whoever else can help solve cold cases can really get involved and get this thing solved and get him behind bars, if he’s even still alive,” Dodd said.
Detectives with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department were not available for an interview regarding Norma Jean Jay’s case. The department says the case is still active.
Dodd grew up in an adopted family in Colorado, not knowing her mother Norma Jay or her half-brother Lee Allyn. In 2017, she decided to use a 23andMe DNA kit to try to find her birth family.
“It was unnerving to actually do that kit,” she remembered. “To be like, ‘There could be some information out there. You might not find out anything.’”
Dodd did find a second cousin. That led her to the news that her birth mother had been murdered 11 years earlier.
“I spent a long time trying to find her and to learn that somebody had taken her from me before I even had the opportunity to meet her, yeah, it makes me angry,” she said.
The bitter news did lead to the discovery that she had a half-brother. Dodd looked up Allyn and built up the courage to introduce herself in an email.
At the time, Allyn knew he had a half-sister but did not know anything about her. He says he and his wife were talking about potentially meeting her one day just one week before Dodd first contacted him.
“It was one of my mom’s friends who told me she was out there,” Allyn said. “If it wasn’t for that, I probably would’ve thought, ‘Ah, some scam or something.’”
“We exchanged some 84, 86—whatever it was—some emails back and forth, getting to know each other,” Dodd recalled. “I said, ‘I have a week’s vacation in October. Nothing has panned out. Why don’t I just come meet you?”
The two siblings got emotional remembering their meaningful first meeting in Tucson in 2017.
“The minute I saw Lee, I felt an instant connection and I knew he was a good guy,” Dodd said. “I mean, it was just super easy… He was really thankful that I’m a part of his life. And I’m super thankful that he’s a part of mine.”
“I can see a lot of my mom in her, so it was definitely emotional for me,” Allyn said. “It was really good getting to know her. I felt like I got a piece of my mom back with all of that.”
In late 2018, Dodd moved to Tucson to be closer to Allyn and to get to know him better. The two are still seeking justice for their mother, but they are also grateful for finding each other.
Dodd is happy to finally know her birth family.
“They’re all awesome people,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for better family. It’s just awesome.”
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