April 15, 2019 | By Zachary Sampley

This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.


On April 2, 2024, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office 4th Judicial Circuit announced an arrest in the 1996 Valerie Ames case.

Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters announced that Jerry Philips, 69, was arrested in North Carolina and is facing charges in Ames’ killing.

Waters credited the JSO Cold Case Unit detectives for their investigative efforts, as well as Project: Cold Case, for their advocacy work with Ames’ family.

*Project: Cold Case now blurs the image of those arrested in these investigations as a way to keep the focus on the victim.

Original Spotlight Article below..

It’s August 10, 1996 – a Saturday afternoon.

A woman enters her father’s apartment. He’s in jail, and she wants to check on things and make sure all doors are locked. She opens an unlocked door, and sees an unfamiliar woman lying dead in a pool of blood.

The name of the dead woman is Valerie Ames. Her murder has never been solved, and her daughters grieve for her to this day.

Ames was the mother of two young daughters, ages five and nine at the time of their mother’s murder. The two girls and their grandmother were in England when they received the phone call informing them of Ames’ death.

Prior to Valerie Ames’ murder, the resident of the apartment and his live-in girlfriend had been arrested. After the arrested resident was informed about Ames, he and his family told police they did not know her. According to the police report, they said she looked a little familiar. The apartment where Ames’ body was found was located at the Courtyard Apartments at 1606 King Street in the Riverside area of Jacksonville.

Living and working in Arlington, Ames did not have a car and did not drive across town. None of her friends or family recall driving her to that side of town on the day of her murder.

According to her daughter Michelle James, three months prior to her murder, Ames contacted authorities to report that she had been assaulted by a police officer. After initial contact with the police, Ames’ cooperation wavered and charges were never filed. That officer was looked at following Ames’ murder, but was cleared.

According to James, people have told the daughters their mother was pregnant at the time of her murder. But law enforcement says there is nothing in the case file to indicate that.

A woman allegedly contacted police informing them she had information on the Ames murder and would make a deal with police, according to James. James said, “Not too long after she contacted police, the woman was found dead but I’m not sure how she died.”

Michelle James remembers her mother with love. “She was a wonderful woman. I was very young at the time, but I remember she had the face of an angel and a heart of gold. She always did the best she could for me and my sister,” said Jones.

James’ last memory of her mother was at her fifth birthday party, a Barney-themed event. She remembers her mother giving her a Barney stuffed animal.

“You see people get upset with their mothers and don’t treat them great. They don’t realize how much they take having a mother for granted. My mom missed out on birthday parties and being with her grandkids. And we all will never get to experience them together,” said Jones.

Ames loved animals, especially horses. She loved to go horseback riding. When she visited Texas, horseback riding was always on her to-do list. Dancing was one of her favorite things to do, as well. As a child, she performed ballet.

The death of Valerie Ames had a life-altering impact on Michelle James’ sister and grandmother. They were both very close to Ames and were heartbroken by her death. A few months following the murder, the grandmother was so heartbroken and worried that they all ended up moving out of Jacksonville.

Over the past 20 years, it has been difficult to find any information on her mother. James said, “It was like she disappeared. No pictures or documents.”

James and her family stay positive and optimistic that her mother’s case will one day be solved. The family’s only hope is to find who was responsible for Ames’ death. Just the name of who murdered her mother would bring some closure, James says.

Valerie Ames case was featured in November 2018 on the UNSOLVED series aired by First Coast News in Jacksonville, Florida.

If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Valerie Ames, please call the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at (904) 630-0500. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a $3,000 reward, call First Coast Crime Stoppers at (866) 845-TIPS.

Please use the buttons below to share this case in hopes that someone, somewhere will come forward and give this victim and family the answers they need and justice they deserve.

If you have a loved one that is the victim of an unsolved homicide please submit their case here for consideration in a future Cold Case Spotlight post.

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