What happened at the Payne household? Double homicide revisited 

Jason and Nichole Payne
Scrrengrab of Jason and Nichole Payne (Image Credit: Dateline NBC)

Dateline NBC is set to revisit another mystery behind the murders of mother and son Nichole Payne and Austin Wages in its upcoming episode titled House of Horrors, which will premiere on Saturday, September 17, 2022.

The synopsis of the upcoming episode reads:

"After a mother and son are found dead, it takes nearly a decade to unravel the case, leading to an unexpected arrest."
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In December 2007, Nichole Payne, 35, and her biological son Austin Wages, 16, were shot in their home in Quitman, Texas. Nichole's husband and Austin's stepfather Jason Payne informed the police after he returned home with his daughter Riley. When the police arrived, they found Nichole's body in her bedroom and Austin's in the garage-turned-bedroom.

While Nichole was shot in the back of her head, Austin was shot in the face, with the police assuming that the son died by suicide after killing his mother. What initially looked like a murder-suicide case turned into a nationwide debate on double homicide after Jason was brought under the radar for multiple reasons.

Read on to find out what transpired and led to the deaths of Nichole and Austin ahead of Dateline NBC's upcoming coverage of the case in House of Horrors.


What happened in the Payne household in December 2007?

On the morning of December 11, 2007, Jason Payne dialed 911 after he found his wife and stepson dead in his house in Quitman, Texas. Jason said that he had returned with his daughter Riley after dropping off his son Joseph at kindergarten.

Police arrived and found Nichole's body in a bedroom downstairs with no weapons. A little later, Austin was found in the garage with a wound on his face, "on the mouth, kind of to the side," according to court documents. A rifle was recovered from between his legs.

According to the autopsy, Nichole's death was ruled a homicide, but the cloud around Austin's death was still unclear and was declared a suicide. Jason's statement on Austin's hostile behavior on the morning of the incident was used to further the claim.

Screengrab of Jason Payne from 'House of Horrors' (Image via Dateline NBC)
Screengrab of Jason Payne from 'House of Horrors' (Image via Dateline NBC)

However, the investigators' accounts and the autopsy reports' findings changed the trajectory of the case. Based on the findings from Jason's interrogation, Austin was "kind of ranting" about not being allowed to have a cell phone on the morning of December 11, 2007. Payne explained that while he was supposed to drop Austin and Joseph at school, he had to leave with Joseph and Riley because Austin failed to appear.

Jason said that he returned and discovered the bodies, but he neither checked to see if either was alive nor did he touch the bodies. But when he contacted 911, he said his wife and son were shot. The investigators thus questioned how Jason was confident they were shot when he claimed to not have touched the bodies.

The investigators also noted that the suggested time of the deaths of Nichole and Austin conflicted with the claimed account of who killed whom. As per the court documents, Nichole's body was warm while Austin's was cold and stiff, suggesting that Nichole died after Austin.

During the investigation, Nichole and Jason's relationship was also brought under the spotlight. Contrary to Jason's claims that the couple had "just little arguments here and there," Nichole's friends and a former partner testified that Jason was aggressive, hostile, controlling, and dominating towards both Nichole and Austin.

Jason's behavior had resulted in Nichole communicating with her friends from her closet and car. She had also confided in a friend that she wanted a divorce from Jason.


What led to Jason Payne's arrest?

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Jason Payne was finally arrested in September of 2008, eight months after the deaths of Nichole and Austin, and charged with the murders of his wife and stepson, or double homicide.

This came after authorities gathered appropriate evidence, including two large holes that looked like graves on Payne's property, according to a report by KLTV.

The court documents also added that during Payne's trial, he had contacted his mother while he was in jail and had asked her to destroy two tapes, the contents of which are still unknown.

The affidavit further stated that no fingerprints, smudged or otherwise, were on the rifle, indicating that someone wiped the weapon clean after it was fired. Austin could not have done this because he was deceased.

The additional piece of evidence was a rag cloth with Nichole's blood on it, along with traces of gunpowder. While Jason said that the blood was from a fishing accident months before Nichole's death, investigators claimed that Jason could have used it to either wipe Nichole's blood off of him or to clean the gun. Jason refuted the claims and argued that the gunpowder could have been dropped during the investigation.

Nichole's insurance policy was in question as well. The $100,000 policy had Jason, according to the court document in the case, as the sole beneficiary. After Nichole's death, when the insurance company failed to extract a statement from Jason regarding his wife's death, the proceeds were handed over to Payne's mother.

Screengrab of Riley and Joseph in 'House of Horrors' (Image via Dateline NBC)
Screengrab of Riley and Joseph in 'House of Horrors' (Image via Dateline NBC)

The last nail in the coffin, according to the KLTV report, was the therapy session with a younger Riley, who had witnessed his father kill Nichole.

Riley, whose age is undisclosed, will appear on Dateline's NBC coverage of the story. In a preview for the episode titled House of Horrors, Riley said, "I saw it happen, and I want people to know it happened."


House of Horrors will feature on Dateline NBC on September 17, 2022.

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Edited by Shreya Das