Sunday, September 15, 2002

Scotty Jester had been working at Copeland’s of New Orleans for just a little over a month, helping out his friend, Ronnie Owens, who cleaned the place after hours. Owens had always wanted a cleaning business, and this was a start.

“I love to clean,” said Owens, who works at a downtown motel during the day. “This is the kind of work I’ve always wanted to do.”
Still, they were spooked by the darkness out there on Hanes Mall Boulevard in the silent hours before dawn.

They usually arrived some time between 1 and 2 in the morning and left before 4. They would drive there in Owens’ Lumina, unload the buckets of cleaning fluids, the mop and the vacuum cleaner. They had one key for the double doors. They would bring everything inside, quick, and lock up.

A dark and lonely place

Tuesday morning, they fixed themselves a cup of Mr. Pibb and got to work. Jester started in the restroom. Owens ran the vacuum cleaner.

Copeland’s is a lively enough place during business hours, with its soft light and New Orleans-style jazz playing on the sound system. But at 1:45 in the morning, it’s a dark and lonely place.

At 10 minutes before 4, Owens’ was done. He shut off the vacuum cleaner and wound up the cord. Scotty’s cigarettes were lying on the counter. So was the cup of Mr. Pibb.

“Scott, are you done with your drink?” he called out.

No answer. The keys were gone. So were the buckets and the mop. Owens went outside, expecting to see Jester loading up the car. The car was gone, too.

Owens walked around to the back of the building. He walked through the darkness to where they’re building a Hooters. He walked down the hill to Fuddruckers. He thought he might find his friend there, laughing over what was only a prank.

Owens said he thought about calling the police, but didn’t. Jester didn’t have a driver’s license, and Owens didn’t want him to get him in trouble for driving without one. He called Debbie Snyder, who runs the cleaning service that has the contract with Copeland’s. He called his girlfriend to tell her she would have to find another ride to work. He called Wal-Mart, thinking that Jester may have gone there to buy a CD. And he waited.

“I got to thinking, Scott would not have taken my car and left the door unlocked and left his cigarettes.”

Police found Jester’s body about 6:30 a.m. in the grass at the interchange of U.S. 52 and I-40. They say that he was kidnapped from Copeland’s and shot when a planned robbery went bad.

Friends from way back

Owens and Jester had been friends since they were teen-agers on the south side of town. They hooked up again a few years ago, and recently Jester had been staying with Owens in Davidson County.

The vacuum was running Tuesday morning, so Owens didn’t hear a thing. He doesn’t know what Jester said there in the dark, or why the robbers didn’t come inside, looking for money.

“The man saved my life,” Owens said. “If they’d a come in there and seen me, they’d have shot me just like they shot him.”

Snyder runs Snyder & Co. Cleaning Service in Davie County. Copeland’s is her only contract in Winston-Salem. She tries to avoid cleaning late at night. But the restaurant needs to be cleaned, seven days a week, no matter what. If Owens had called in sick before his Tuesday morning shift, she would have gone. “I could have been there,” she said.

Copeland’s called her Tuesday, after Jester’s slaying. Are you coming to clean tonight?

Snyder didn’t want to go. But she did.