Family recalls officials discovering Cliff Allyn’s body, arresting cousin
D'IBERVILLE -- Jennifer Smith wanted to believe her son just ran off with a girl -- like others had tried to tell her when he went missing -- but she knew in her heart something was terribly wrong.
"I had a bad feeling inside but I was trying to be positive," she said. "I knew he wouldn't just leave. I knew that. In my heart, I knew that. I just kept listening to everybody telling me he'd probably run off with a girl."
Her son, Cliff Allyn, 16, a Vancleave High School freshman, wasn't the type of kid to run away. He loved hanging out in his room playing with his Xbox, playing basketball or running track. He loved practical jokes, and one time put a fake snake in his mother's room, a prank, she said, that had her screaming until she realized it wasn't real.
"He loved to joke," she said. "He loved to ask questions. He was always laughing and smiling and he loved to play sports. He was on the cross-country track team at school and he liked the ROTC. He was interested in all kinds of things. He wanted to be a jack of all trades. He talked about going to Ole Miss for college and he taking about going in the military. He had so many dreams, so many."
Early Thursday evening, police K9s found Smith's missing son dead, buried under brush in a thick patch of woods about 200 yards behind his grandmother's home in rural Vancleave, the family said. Allyn had been staying there in the last year to help care for his grandmother, Kitty Johnson, after she suffered a series of strokes.
Smith's nephew and Allyn's cousin, Dexter Mandoza Kelley, 19, of Meridian, has been arrested on a charge of murder. He is being held at the Jackson County jail pending a bond hearing. Kelley had moved in to a mobile home with his relatives on Johnson's property about three weeks earlier. She said he was supposed to stay two weeks and go.
Allyn's body was taken to the state Crime Lab for an autopsy. The results are pending. When reports of her missing son first came out, Smith said she had gotten her days mixed up because she works shifts. She initially said it was Monday he went missing, but it was actually Wednesday afternoon.
Allyn was outside his grandmother's home on Nanny Road playing basketball with Kelley and Kelley's brother the last time his grandmother saw him.
She went out there about 45 minutes later and didn't see him.
"I looked back in the house and looked in his room and looked in the shed," Johnson said. "Then, I saw his ball out in the field (in my backyard) behind the dog house. He didn't leave that ball outside. He always brought it in."
Johnson said she knew something wasn't right.
"Cliff was gone," she said, burying her head in her hands as she cried, "He wasn't here."
The word gets out
Johnson sent a text to her daughter telling her Allyn was missing.
Smith and her boyfriend, Delbert Sledge, headed straight to Johnson's home. She searched his room and saw that her son's cellphone and wallet were missing. His phone charger was there, she said, and she knew he'd take it with him if he left.
Kelley had come back to his grandmother's home by the time Smith got there.
"I told him, 'you were the last one with my son, where is he?'" Smith said. "He was trying to act like everything was normal."
Johnson said she asked Kelley, too, if he had done something to harm Allyn.
"I told him to look me in the eye and tell me and he told me 'no,'" Johnson said.
Sledge said he searched and searched for Allyn in the woods.
"There was this little black dog and that dog kept running out in this one area in the woods," Sledge said. When a deputy got there, he said he asked him to turn on a spotlight but he couldn't because he was the only one on duty.
Kelley joined Sledge in his search for Allyn at one point but said it made him nervous because Kelley kept trying to get behind him.
"He had his hands in his pocket," Sledge said. "I didn't know if he had a knife. I kept thinking if I find him (Allyn), I don't want him there with me. I just thought he might do something. He was real antsy, real nervous. Now, I realize we were close to where Cliff was."
When police found the body, relatives said, Kelley took off running.
"That says everything," Sledge said.
Smith and Sledge had been at a cellphone store trying to get Allyn's phone records to trace his last activity, and they arrived about 20 minutes after Allyn's body was discovered.
When they drove up, they heard Johnson screaming and saw Kelley sitting on the back of a boat trailer surrounded by two deputies.
"They got Dexter up and walked him down the road to a police car," Sledge said. When Smith saw deputies place handcuffs on Kelley, Smith ran after him.
"'You did it, didn't you?'" she said to Kelley. "I wanted to get my hands on him. To me, he's no longer my family. I don't know who the hell he is, but he isn't my nephew. This was my baby he [allegedly] took from me. That was my darling. That was my everything."
A history of violence
Prior to Kelley's arrest in Allyn's killing, he had other run-ins with the law.
Police arrested him after he cut his father with a knife, and another time when he punched his brother and threatened to stab him and other family members.
Smith said she had heard Kelley had problems with drugs at one time, but said she had no idea he was "messed up" or Allyn would not have been staying there.
In a police report obtained by the Sun Herald, Kelley's mother told police she had tried to get her son admitted to a mental hospital because of a "mental disorder."
"If I knew about him doing these other things, my son would not have been out there," she said. "He'd be here with me."
But, she said, "He's not crazy or he wouldn't have gone out in the woods and covered my son up.
"They probably aren't going to give him what he deserves, so they can try to lock him in a mental hospital," she said. "But he (allegedly) took my son's life so I don't think he deserves a life where he can eat and breathe. If my poor little boy can't enjoy life, I don't think he deserves to."
Visitation is from 9 to 11 a.m. April 9 at Bradford O’Keefe Funeral Home on Porter Avenue in Ocean Springs.
The funeral service follows in the funeral home chapel at 11 a.m. Guests are asked to wear red and white, as Allyn was a fan of the University of Alabama.