The Texas Cadet Killers: Revisiting The Adrianne Jones Murder

Adrianne Jones [Tarrant County Sheriff's Office]

On December 3, 1995, Texas teen Adrianne Jones was in her bedroom for the night, talking to her boyfriend, Tracy Smith, when she received a call from a “friend.” She clicked the line over, and as her mother walked by her room, she noticed Adrianne’s entire demeanor change as she spoke to her so-called friend. Her mother, Linda Jones, didn’t think much of the call at first, but it was a key part in what would shatter many lives in less than 24 hours.

Adrianne Jones

Adrianne, 16, was a beautiful, bright-eyed teen who took honors courses at Mansfield High School in Mansfield, Texas, a small suburban city in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Adriana spent a few hours each night studying for classes after daily school track practice. She was so exceptional at cross-country that she helped her team qualify for regionals. Even with a demanding schedule, Adrienne also managed to work 20 hours a week at a local fast-food joint, Golden Fried Chicken.

Many students at Mansfield High School described their fellow classmate Adrianne as charming, attractive, and popular. She had so much school spirit that, Carla Hays, editor for the school newspaper, praised her. “Her school spirit was just so awesome,” said Hays. “I could see her becoming a cheerleader someday.”

However, Adrianne also craved attention, by Linda’s admission. Though she especially liked recognition from attractive teen boys, Adrianne was never considered promiscuous. She was considered a flirt, sure, but a respectable flirt who had clear boundaries. Boys were equally vying for her attention. She numerous suitors who’d have loved the chance to simply hang out with Adrianne.

Murder in Small Town Texas

Driving down an isolated country road, a farmer noticed a lifeless body weaved into a barbed-wire fence, close to the Jones Pool Lake shore in neighboring town, Grand Prairie. The victim’s head was caved in on the left side, and bullet holes were clearly seen on her left cheek. The victim was later identified is Adrianne Jones.

From Adrianne Jones' obituary

From Adrianne Jones’ obituary

Upon investigation, authorities determined that the victim was probably attacked by surprise. Detectives described the killing as an up-close “execution.” She’d obviously been bludgeoned on her head with an object, but authorities said it was the gunshots that killed Adrianne.

“It takes a cold-blooded person to shoot a pretty young girl in the face from two to four feet away. That girl was mangled, and it was sickening to look at,” one of the detectives on the case said.

Back at home, there were no signs or indications that Adrianne was abducted from her home. Instead, it seemed to detectives that whoever killed her, knew her, and she likely went willingly with the culprit. With that in mind, Grand Prairie detectives Dennis Clay and Dennis Meyer set out interviewing kids at Adrianne’s school, trying to determine if anyone was angry with her, or maybe even jealous of her popularity. They walked away with a long list of people to interview, but given Adrianne’s popularity, the investigation turned out to be more confusing and exhausting than they anticipated.

Interviews and Suspects

The detectives interviewed a number of students, family members, coworkers, and acquaintances, but after lie detector tests and alibi checks, most were cleared. David Graham, a then-18-year-old cross-country athlete and battalion commander at Mansfield High School’s Junior ROTC program, was also questioned (although he initially wasn’t on the list of people to be interviewed).

David wasn’t considered a suspect, or even close to being on the detectives’ radar. In fact, they didn’t even seek a polygraph test from him. Although they both ran cross-country and saw each other occasionally during meets, hardly anyone realized that Adrianne knew David.

The sole connection happened when Linda contacted Adrianne’s track coach, seeking any information possible to help find her missing daughter. Going on the name Adrianne gave her as the person calling in on December 3, Linda asked the coach if there was a David that ran cross-country. Linda clearly remembered the phone call, and recalled her daughter mentioning, “Oh, that was David from cross-country, and he’s upset about something.”

David seemed distraught by Adrianne’s murder, even openly crying at times. Authorities cleared him as a suspect. They turned their attention to, and eventually arrested, Bryan McMillen. Brian, a local teen who battled severe depression, was reportedly obsessed with Adrianne, to the point of harassing her at work. “He began to bother her so much that when she saw him coming, she started ducking her head behind the counter,” said Linda. However, detectives only had scant circumstantial evidence at best, and after Brian passed a polygraph “with flying colors,” he was released from jail and cleared as a suspect.

Back at square one, authorities began delving into any tidbit of information that could help them solve the murder. They went back to a statement given by Adrianne’s little brother, who said he saw a pickup truck drive away from the family home the night she disappeared. Tina Dollar told detectives that Adrianna once showed her a photo of David — in his pickup truck. The information was indeed helpful, but there still wasn’t enough of a connection to consider David a suspect.

Deadly Love Triangle

David was in a relationship with Diane Zamora, a then 18-year-old student who attended the nearby Crowley High School. By August 1995, they were inseparable, and soon after, became engaged. Both had high aspirations. While David planned to become a fighter pilot, Diane planned on becoming an astronaut. They were focused, determined, and planned to conquer the world hand-in-hand.

David Graham and Diane Zamora [Crowley High School Yearbook]

Yearbook photos of David Graham and Diane Zamora [Crowley High School Yearbook]

Girls that knew David described him as a “good catch” and one of the “last cool guys on Earth.” Fellow classmate Angela Lockhart said David “always acted like a gentleman.” Apparently, Adrianne agreed with the other girls’ assessment of David, so much so that she reportedly hooked up with him inside a vehicle at a school parking lot during a cross-country meet (although exactly what happened would later be disputed).

Shortly after their “hook up,” David began feeling pangs of guilt, despite bragging to friends about his encounter with Adrianne. The guilt ate at him so much that he eventually confessed his indiscretion to Diane. Understandably, Diane was jealous and angered, but no one would have anticipated what was to come next, especially from two honor students without even a tardy slip on their flawless high school records.

A June 24, 1996 Fort Worth Star-Telegram file photo of David Graham and fiance Diane Zamora after having received appointments to the U.S. Air Force Academy and Naval Academy, respectively. (Robert J. Ruiz/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)

A June 24, 1996 Fort Worth Star-Telegram file photo of David Graham and fiance Diane Zamora after having received appointments to the U.S. Air Force Academy and Naval Academy, respectively. (Robert J. Ruiz/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)

Nearly a year had passed since Adrianne’s murder, and both David and Diane graduated high school and moved forward with their lives. David was attending Basic U.S. Air Force Cadet Training in Colorado Springs, Colorado, while Diane was attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Though apart physically, they communicated frequently. Diane’s squad leader, Jay Guild, said Adrianne talked about David incessantly and would often have crying fits if she didn’t hear from him. “She missed him a lot. She often talked about him very strangely, as if she didn’t trust him but she still wanted to be with him. It was very odd,” said Jay.

David and Diane’s obsessive relationship began falling apart, primarily due to Diane’s paranoia and jealousy. She started confiding in Jay, flirting with him, and as they spent more time together, Diane invited him to listen to her secrets and private thoughts.

At on point, Jay, curious about Diane’s inability to trust David, asked if he had ever cheated on her. When she said that David did indeed cheat in the past, he asked what she did about it. Diane responded that she asked David to kill the other girl.

Jay didn’t want to believe Diane, but she later told the same story to her two roommates. The roommates were as skeptical as Jay, but Diane’s demeanor was so serious that they reported the conversation to a Navy chaplain. Within days, Texas detectives were on a plane to Annapolis.


Confessions and Convictions

At first, Diane admitted nothing at all. She told detectives she’d made up the story to make herself look “tougher” among other cadets. With no evidence and no confession, nothing could be done, except to suspend Diane and send her home while they investigated the matter further.

Instead of flying home, Diane flew to Colorado Springs and into the arms of David. Detectives weren’t far behind. When they arrived to the U.S. Air Force Academy, they began drilling David, but he insisted that he had no idea why Diane would tell such an outrageous lie.

Whether it was his own guilt or the endless questions from detectives (probably both), David cracked under pressure and confessed. He wrote a four-and-a-half-page confession letter that outlined the entire incident. He admitted to extreme guilt and shame, but insisted that Diane coerced him to kill Adrianne by threatening to leave him if he didn’t. “I didn’t have any harsh feelings for Adrianne, but no one could stand between me and Diane,” David wrote.

David described the murder in gruesome detail, starting with how he picked up Adrianne in a Mazda Protege while Diane hid in the hatchback. As they drove down a country road, Adrianne relaxed in the passenger seat, while Diane snuck out of the hatchback with a dumbbell in her hand. She began brutally hitting Adrianne over the head with the dumbbell, but David wrote that Adrianne didn’t die as they had hoped. “I realized too late that all those quick, painless snaps seen in the movies were just your usual Hollywood stunts,” he wrote.

Somehow, Adrianne managed to escape. She opened the car door and attempted to run, but her injuries prevented her from getting too far. David grabbed a Marakov 9mm, followed her, and shot her twice, execution-style, in the face. The couple sped away, and ended up at a mutual friend’s house, drenched in blood. Scared and confused, they asked the friend if they could change clothes and spend some time together.

Diane Zamora holds the gun used to kill Adrianne Jones during testimony Wednesday, Feb. 11, 1998, in the capital murder trial at the Tarrant County Court House in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Jill Johnson, Pool)

Diane Zamora holds the gun used to kill Adrianne Jones during testimony Wednesday, Feb. 11, 1998, in the capital murder trial at the Tarrant County Court House in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Jill Johnson, Pool)

A jury convicted both David and Diane of murder, but the lengthy trial ended up turning the couple from devoted, obsessed lovebirds to utter adversaries. To this day, Diane maintains that she’s innocent. Although she admits she was with David on the fateful night Adrianne was murdered, she insists she only went to talk to her, and that David acted alone during the killing. “I didn’t go out there with the intention of killing her. And when he did that, I didn’t know what to do,” Zamora said in a 2007 prison interview.

Meanwhile, David still insists that if it weren’t for Diane’s ultimatum, the murder would’ve never occurred. He continues to express guilt about the murder, and said that his prison sentence is appropriate, despite being coerced by his former girlfriend.

David and Diane both remain in prison, serving life sentences. Diane is currently housed at the William P. Hobby Unit (HB) women’s prison, while David remains behind bars at the Darrington Unit (DA) prison.

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Read more:

Baltimore Sun

New York Times

Main photo: Adrianne Jones [Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office]