Daughters of woman connected to Dixie Mafia reflect on childhood
BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - It was Sept. 14, 1987. Vincent and Margaret Sherry were murdered in their Biloxi home.
The hit was pulled off by a group of criminals known as the Dixie Mafia over a “Lonely Hearts” scam run out of Angola prison in Louisiana to swindle gay men.
Vincent Sherry, a circuit court judge and law partner of eventual Biloxi Mayor Pete Halat, was blamed for taking some of the money that was being funneled through the law firm from the scam.
Margaret Sherry, a Biloxi city councilwoman, also paid the price.
The leader of the fraud? Kirksey McCord Nix, who was already in prison for murder.
Dixie Mafia leader Mike Gillich Jr. helped to plot the murders.
Nix’s inside connection was LaRa Sharpe, his girlfriend who worked in the Sherry-Halat law firm. In a 1990 WLOX interview, Sharpe talked about her ties to it all.
“I had a lot of knowledge about what was going on,” she said. “I had some participation because of the association that I had.”
RELATED: Remembering the Sherry murders, Lonely Hearts scam and those involved
Sharpe had two daughters. At the time of the murders, they were 11 and 8 years old, and they had a front-row seat to a twisted and sometimes frightening life few people have experienced.
One of them still lives on the Coast, and her name may sound familiar: Heather Eason.
Eason is a former teacher and long-time community organizer who began the Comeback Coolers program to help victims of natural disasters. Eason said she’s still living with the fallout of her life with her infamous mother.
Now, decades later, she and her younger sister Aimee Gilmer are ready to talk.
“This is one of those things, whether it’s selfish or whether it’s not selfish . . . it’s just a story,” Eason said. “To be honest with you, it’s something that I have to get out of me. I need to put it down and if somebody pays any attention to it, that’s fine, and if they don’t, that’s fine too.”
Gilmer also wants to use this as a catharsis.
“I hope that people see that that there are so many sides to a story,” Gilmer said. “I don’t want to use the word victim, but my sister and I feel victim to my mother’s wrath of what she was living.”
At ages 10 and 6, it all seemed almost normal for Heather and Aimee – even the trips with their mother to Angola, Louisiana’s state penitentiary
“If I told you it was all gloom and doom all the time, I’d be lying,” Eason said. “I mean, there was definitely some of that that happened a little bit later in trials, but in the midst of all of this – in the midst of us going to see Kirksey in Angola, I mean – I liked going there. Now, as an adult, I’m looking at, I’m saying to myself, ‘Why in the heck would you bring your kid there?’”
Early memories are innocent ones – even memories of a murderer.
After all, Kirksey Nix provided the family with a house in Ocean Springs after Sharpe divorced her husband and moved from Chicago.
“In a lot of ways, I kind of considered, as a child, Kirksey as a really nice man,” Eason said. “You know, I don’t want to say like a hero, but he was always very kind to my sister and I. He was an artist; he would paint pictures of us and for us, and he would make things. He was a craftsman . . . I felt like he was a good guy who had probably gotten involved with the wrong people and made mistakes in his life.”
There are also fond memories of Mike Gillich who bought the chocolate Eason sold for her school.
“He’d buy just boxes and boxes and boxes of these things,” she said. “So much so that I ended up winning a bicycle in sixth grade for selling the most chocolate bars, and it was because he bought most of them.”
But the innocence would soon disappear.
In 1991, Sharpe was already in Louisiana state prison for wire fraud. It was also the year that she was indicted in federal court for her role. Eason was just 16, and reality set in – particularly around Nix.
“I didn’t feel threatened around him,” she said. “When things started going south and the trials started happening, I started feeling very threatened. Because when things started to get real, people would say, ‘You’re the Sherry murderers’ to my mom, and knowing that this scary person, Kirksey, what he was capable of – what I believe he was capable of – at that point I became fearful.”
It wasn’t just the criminals that frightened the sisters.
“I had a lot of anger toward the press,” Eason said. “There were times that we would walk home from school, and we would be filmed . . . and they’d have to call and get them off our lawn. I’m sure they were looking for mom, but we were walking home from school . . . it literally was like living in a movie. Walking in and out of courthouses with the cameras on you and the sketch artists in the courtroom. Things like that. So, it was very – it was a lot.”
Just before Sharpe went to federal prison for the first time in 1992, Eason no longer had a guardian or a home in Ocean Springs.
The school district was about to kick her out, so Eason made a grownup choice to stay in her high school.
“I got married at the age of 16.”
That was when Eason’s childhood ended, and the life of her child began a year and one day later.
“There were a lot of really, really hard and difficult things that happened to myself and my sister in a lot of different ways simply by being LaRa’s daughter,” Eason added.
As both Eason and Gilmer look back at their lives, they picture a jigsaw puzzle.
As a way to put it together, they are collaborating on a project of video blogs and podcasts for a website and eventually, a book.
“I’m finding in my research that it does bring back certain things,” Eason said. “Originally, I had done it for a timeline, but also what I’m recognizing is how bad it really was.”
Their lives are literally a storyboard on a wall.
“I think that just because there’s so much stuff that’s happened during our lives and trying to put this together,” Eason said. “It’s important for us to have a space to put those things chronologically so things don’t kind of meld together that way we can create efficiently and effectively this project that we want to do.”
The project is not to re-litigate their mother’s history; it’s to recover from it.
For Gilmer, it’s not about blaming her mother.
“I’ve never chosen a guilty or innocence side, even wanted to know or hear the conversation out of her,” she said. “I’ve never really needed that to know what I dealt with and how I lived and what I went through.”
In a WLOX interview in 1990, Sharpe said this about her children:
“If something happens to me, I want my daughters to know that I was trying to do the right thing. It’s very important to me that my daughters do the right thing and I hope they’ve learned by my mistakes.”
Eason said her mother has apologized.
“She’s apologized for the things we went through,” she said. “I don’t know that she understands the depth of the things that we experienced.”
And she has forgiven her.
“It’s been a long time ago...” Eason said. “...and I think she was probably trying make our lives better although it happened the wrong way.”
Helping others – especially children – is the hope.
“I want to just show people that kids are resilient and they’re strong and they can overcome the obstacles,” Gilmer said. “For me, we beat Biloxi’s odds. Biloxi put these odds against us, and we beat them.”
Eason has used the experience as a way to teach others.
“You know, I used to tell my students all the time, ‘It’s very easy to create a difficult life, and it’s very difficult to create an easy life,’” she said. “I just knew what I wanted my life to look like and how I wanted it to be. So, I just battled. I mean, there were a lot of battles. It’s a battle to be poor.”
She wants others to be inspired by her journey.
“I think a lot of times we think that things are unachievable. But if you know somebody that has gone through a similar battle that you’ve gone through, that have experienced the same kind of thing and they made it out to the other side, I think it gives you hope.”
The website the sisters have started is called “The People You Think You Know.”
Sharpe was released from federal prison in 2002. She now lives in Florida, and did not want to be interviewed for this report.
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