Family members and friends of a “fun” and “beautiful” 32-year-old Tama woman found dead Wednesday in a home near where she grew up were left stunned and with questions Thursday.
“Kerry Lea O’Clair-Jefferson’s life came to an unexpected and tragic end far too soon,” according to a family statement provided by Nate Roberts, a cousin. “It’s an ongoing investigation, and even the family doesn’t have answers to their many questions.”
A Tama police officer found O’Clair-Jefferson between 2:30 and 3 p.m. Wednesday at 104 Harmon St. in Tama, according to authorities. The Tama County Medical Examiner’s office has ruled O’Clair-Jefferson’s death a homicide and Ginger Jefferson, 57, has been taken into custody as a material witness.
Thursday evening Tama police said O’Clair-Jefferson died from sharp force injuries to the neck.
Tama police Chief Jeff Filloon said on Thursday that Jefferson is O’Clair-Jefferson’s mother-in-law. He said O’Clair-Jefferson’s husband was arrested outside the house Wednesday evening but not on charges related to his wife’s death.
He was wanted on a warrant out of the Meskwaki settlement, and Filloon said he’s not considered a suspect at this point.
On Aug. 24, O’Clair-Jefferson wrote on her page that she and Dustin Jerome Jefferson were celebrating their ninth anniversary. Dustin Jefferson, on his Facebook page, lists his marriage status as “separated.”
Public records list Dustin J. Jefferson as a relative of Ginger Jefferson.
Dustin Jefferson, 38, has a lengthy criminal history in Iowa, according to online court records. He has felony convictions for going armed with intent and willful injury causing serious injury. He also has convictions for drug and alcohol-related charges.
Ginger Jefferson’s criminal history includes drug, alcohol and theft-related convictions, according to online court records.
Authorities haven’t provided information about how O’Clair-Jefferson died, but they did thank Tama residents for providing them information about the death.
The Meskwaki Nation Tribal Police Department is assisting in the investigation, along with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, and O’Clair-Jefferson’s family said both Dustin Jefferson and Ginger Jefferson are members of the Meskwaki tribe.
The home where O’Clair-Jefferson was found Wednesday is not on the settlement, family said.
On O’Clair-Jefferson’s Facebook page, she is listed as a graduate of South Tama High School, a student at Marshalltown Community College and a former employee of the Iowa Veterans Home. She lists her home town as Toledo, and family said she was staying temporarily at the home where she was found Wednesday.
According to the family’s statement, she was “first and foremost a daughter and sister.”
“But what she took the most enjoyment out of was spending time with her two nieces,” Roberts said, reading from the statement. “We all loved her dearly and will miss her deeply.”
In the hours that passed after news of her death broke, dozens of friends and family members wrote messages of grief and shared memories on O’Clair-Jefferson’s Facebook page.
“A true and honest friend taken way too soon,” one person wrote. “It hurts so bad to imagine that you are no longer just a call or text away. I am lost!!! You were amazing!!!”
On the South Tama Class of 1999 Facebook page, a friend wrote, “A sad sad day today for those mourning the loss of an amazing woman.”
That friend also is organizing a floral arrangement to be displayed on behalf of the class at O’Clair-Jefferson’s memorial service.
O’Clair-Jefferson’s criminal history includes convictions for drug and alcohol-related charges.
Reporter Alison Sullivan contributed to this story.