Ulysses Thomas could only watch while his neighbor was killed.
He could see it happening Monday night through the metal grate covering the open front door of the 7th Ward shotgun double. But he could not get inside, where Renata Vaughn’s ex-boyfriend was stabbing her to death in front of her two children, he said.
“I was the one trying to get in there,” Thomas said. “He looked at me, and he kept doing it.”
Police said the ex-boyfriend, 48-year-old Anthony Jones, then set fire to the house and tried to flee but was arrested at the scene — the grisly conclusion of what friends described as a chronically abusive relationship.
Mary Johnson said Vaughn, 36, grew up on Milan Street, and that her job involved providing at-home care for elderly patients. She was a sweet, giving person to friends, Johnson said, the mother of a 12-year-old daughter and an 8- or 9-year-old son.
Johnson said Jones was the father of those two children and that his behavior toward Vaughn was a constant source of trouble.
Vaughn had moved to the house in the 2400 block of Touro Street, where she was killed, in large part to get away from Jones, but somehow he got her address and would often stop by, Johnson said.
“Just pop over at this girl’s house and do her wrong, every time he would come over,” Johnson said.
She said that at one point, Jones burned Vaughn’s car. Neighbors also suspected him of stealing her truck in the past week. In the days immediately before the killing, she said, Jones called Vaughn’s mother, threatening to kill them both.
Another longtime friend and neighbor of Vaughn’s, who declined to give her name, said Jones arrived at the house Monday evening begging for a ride, and Vaughn refused.
The neighbor recalled that she had been lying down for a nap when she suddenly heard a commotion.
“All of a sudden, I heard another rumble,” the neighbor said. Then she heard Vaughn’s daughter at her door, shouting, “Help me! He’s over here stabbing my momma up!”
Thomas, meanwhile, rushed out to try to intervene, but the metal grate on Vaughn’s front door kept him from entering. He said Jones stared him in the eye and kept attacking Vaughn. The couple’s son was stuck inside the house, Thomas said, screaming, “Get off my momma! Stop stabbing my momma!”
As police arrived, Thomas said, Jones closed the door behind the grate.
Officer Juan Barnes, a spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department, said “officers immediately attempted to gain entry into the residence through the front door” but were blocked by the metal barricade. Barnes said officers then went around to the back of the house and entered there.
At that point, an officer encountered Jones and ordered him to release both Vaughn and their son. Jones let the boy go but started throwing “objects and weapons” at the officers, police said.
Police said officers then realized the front of the house was on fire and pulled back; they captured Jones after he finally tried to flee the burning structure out the back door.
Vaughn was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
The interior of the house was badly damaged by the fire, although the other half of the shotgun double did not appear to have sustained significant damage.
This was not the first time domestic violence has stripped the Vaughn family of one of its daughters. Vaughn’s sister Teita died in October 2014, months after her boyfriend attacked her with a piece of a ceramic slow cooker in a case that was ruled a homicide, nola.com reported last year. A manslaughter charge against Teita Vaughn’s boyfriend was refused in May.
Thomas said if someone could have gotten to Renata Vaughn sooner Monday night, she might have lived. “Somebody’s life was on the ground, literally dying, suffering,” he said.
Another neighbor, 32-year-old Keary Cheneau, said Jones was combative as police led him from behind the house to Touro Street. “He was basically out of it,” Cheneau said.
Police spokesman Tyler Gamble said Jones was taken from the scene to a hospital and that he had no information as to whether Jones had been booked as of Tuesday. Police intend to book him on second-degree murder and two counts of cruelty to a juvenile.
Jones was convicted of crack cocaine possession and possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in 1995, according to court records.
He also was arrested on a count of simple criminal damage to property in 2011. The victim in that case waived a stay-away order, and the case was refused, according to court records.
Editor’s note: this story was altered on Feb. 17 to reflect the correct age of the suspect, Anthony Jones.