T hey were two different people, Jenae and Mercedes; on that everyone could agree. Mercedes was outgoing, bubbly, the life of the party. She’d jump on a table and karaoke to Ginuwine’s “Stingy” on Instagram Live, or don a sombrero and pretend to eat a giant papier-mache taco for a TikTok, or teach a photographer to twerk at a photo shoot. In Houston, where she’d lived for the past decade, she couldn’t go to a club or restaurant without being totally mobbed, with people recognizing her from her work as a video vixen or from her sultry posts on Instagram, where she’d pose in form-fitting activewear or gyrate to Jazmine Sullivan in a thong bikini.
Jenae was a daddy’s girl who made her father cook smothered chicken for her and her friends and take down her TV whenever she moved. She’d have spa days with her mother at her home, curling up next to her in the same spot on the couch under a blanket. Her younger half-sister London idolized her, and as kids she would sit on the handlebars of Jenae’s bike as she rode, the feet of her 4’11” frame barely touching the pedals. She’d order four different appetizers at a time when she went out to eat, so she could take a taste of each one. And as flawless as she looked on Instagram, she’d burst out laughing while taking pictures, telling her friends to hurry up because she couldn’t suck in her gut any longer. “Girl, I’m over it. Let’s go take a shot,” she’d say.
“Mercedes was more the fun party person. Everyone wanted to be around her. Perfect — makeup, hair perfect. Just beautiful,” says her friend and manager Monica Jets. “Janae got one eyelash on, curled up in bed with a bonnet on her head. That was her element.”
As Mercedes Morr — the voluptuous, smooth-skinned, lush-haired model who partied with Drake and had brands like FashionNova sponsor her on Instagram — 33-year-old Jenae Gagnier had more than two million followers who breathlessly followed her every move. “I can only imagine what a man could fantasize about Mercedes Morr because of her Instagram,” says Stefania Okolie, the reporter who broke the story of Morr’s murder on ABC 13 Eyewitness News. Most people only learned her real name after one of her followers became so obsessed with her that he violently took her life, leaving YouTubers breathlessly speculating about her killer’s true motives and the influencer ecosystem shaken. “It’s a super scary reality that this could happen to any of us,” says Jets, who has hundreds of thousands of followers and manages other Instagram models as well. “And now it has.”
To hear her father Mark Gagnier tell it, Morr always had an entrepreneurial streak. He and his ex-wife, Jeanetta Grover, met when he was a 22-year-old private just out of basic training in El Paso and Grover, also a military kid, was just 19; they had Mercedes just a few months after they wed, then moved back to the Los Angeles area to live with Mark’s family and manage his restaurant, splitting up shortly thereafter. Mercedes was a girly girl, fastidious about her personal appearance and laser-focused on business at an early age. At just 12 years old, she and her father’s girlfriend’s daughters would make $60 a pop using their garage as an impromptu hair styling studio to braid hair. “She always loved fashion, and she always loved money,” Mark says.
As a teenager, Jenae was bright but aimless, hanging out at the Wal-Mart parking garage with her friends and ping-ponging between her father’s home in California and her mother’s in Texas while they struggled to discipline her. As a teenager, Jenae would frequently talk about how much she couldn’t wait to move out of the house, so on her 18th birthday, her father bought her luggage, causing her to burst into tears, something they’d joke about later in her life. Jenae also went to multiple high schools, and would occasionally get into fights with other young women: “I guess there was jealousy,” Gagnier says. “I’d always hear little stories about ‘these girls at Magic Mountain did this or did that.'” Jenae’s sister London says these altercations were rarely prompted by anything Jenae said or did: “a lot of the times, it really was because she was such a pretty girl.”
After graduating from high school, Jenae briefly enrolled in school to train to become a dental assistant, but ended up moving to Las Vegas with a boyfriend. It was there where she began dancing professionally at strip clubs using the name Mercedes Morr, with “Mercedes” intending to connote luxury and “morr” a reference to the fact that “she always wanted more,” her mother Jeanetta says. At first, her parents didn’t approve of her decision to start dancing; London remembers that when Jenae first told her what she was doing in Vegas, she was terrified of her being upset with her or judging her. But at a certain point, her success was tough to argue with. “She was making so much money it was disgusting,” says Mark, who says she made $4,000 to $5,000 every weekend. “And you know, when you’re 18, 19, and you have that kind of money, life is just one big party to you.” To pay for dinners, she’d take out a duffel bag and pay for $150 or $200 bills all in ones.
For dancing, Mercedes was a means to an end, a way to pay the bills before she amassed a following to become an influencer full-time. But it also helped her network and build out her tremendous following. “All of the girls who are the top girls on Instagram, they all started out at the club,” says Marquis Trill, a content creator and influencer who did an interview with Mercedes after her first professional photo shoot back in 2013. It was through her time dancing in Houston, which she eventually made her home base, where she met celebrities like Offset and Drake, who dedicated his album Certified Lover Boy to her. London says that when she went out with Jenae in Miami in 2019, they ended up at the strip club Toosie’s in Drake’s private section, where he gave them stacks of cash and let them order whatever bottles they wanted. (Drake’s team did not respond to a request for comment.)
“I think the reason why so many people loved her in the industry was the fact that they met her and she didn’t treat them any different. She would give them attitude if need be and she didn’t gas them up because it was Drake, because it was Travis Scott, because it was Offset,” London says. “She didn’t care about any of that.“
Though she’d continue to dance on and off for years, Jenae eventually transitioned full-time to modeling and making personal appearances. She had plans to roll out a leggings line and a hair extensions line; at the time of her death, she was well-known in the Houston area as a Black female entrepreneur and was on the motivational speech circuit. Despite her enormous success on social media, she was comfortable in Houston and had no desire to move out of the city. “Black entertainment in the trap, in the hood, you can only do so much until somebody comes along and says, ‘Hey, I wanna manage you,’ maybe a white manager. The big industry management companies after you did all the hard work and they see millions of followers. But you gotta change your style and change everything up, and you gotta work with people you don’t know,” Trill says. “She was probably stacking her money and was happy where she was at.”
Right before she died, Mercedes was about to move into a new house in the Houston area with her boyfriend, who lived in Alabama; Jets remembers her FaceTiming him while they were taking a tour of the house. It was the first time, her sister says, that she’d started talking about getting married and having kids. “A lot of times her relationships didn’t work out because they didn’t accept her,” London says. “They liked her. They liked her name and what came with her, but they couldn’t understand her fame and that at the time she was still stripping, and they wanted to tell her to stop. She didn’t like to be controlled. But [her last boyfriend] really accepted her for her.”
At the time of her death, Mercedes “was really starting to put pen to paper and do some things,” her father says. The last time he spoke to his daughter was August 17th, when she texted to tell him she would need him to stay with her for a few days after she moved into her new house, because her boyfriend wouldn’t be down there yet and she was scared to be alone. Her mother Jeanetta had also planned to meet Mercedes’ new boyfriend when they planned to visit her in Washington, D.C. She’d also planned to come to Houston and decorate her new home. But Mercedes never ended up taking that trip, and she never ended up moving.
Over the years, Mercedes would occasionally have to deal with security concerns. A few years ago, Mark says, when she was living in New Orleans, one of her followers doxxed her and posted her address on Instagram, which prompted her to move to a new apartment in Houston. “These girls have these huge followings. They’re really celebrities,” says Monica Jets, who says she encouraged Mercedes to move into a high-rise rather than a house out of security concerns. “But they don’t have the backing of a celebrity as far as security and all of that stuff.” Once, Monica even took her and another model to go shooting to learn self-defense, but Mercedes didn’t like it; she’d just cover her ears and jump whenever the gun went off.
As part of her standard contract for personal appearances, Mercedes did require security to accompany her to clubs; she had also moved to a gated community on the outskirts of Houston, the Cortland Sugarland apartments in Richmond, Texas. But Mark says Mercedes was largely unbothered by trolling comments and harassment on social media, seeing it as part and parcel with her life as a public figure. “She was very paranoid. Everything scares her, from being sick to getting a cut,” London says. “If she felt like she was in fear of her life, someone would have known about it.” Mercedes tried to take precautionary measures by posting photos from places other than her home, or posting only after she left a given location, but like many content creators, she wasn’t always judicious in that regard; even on her Instagram feed now, her apartment door is visible in the background of her photos, though she blurred out the address.
“As time goes on, you’ve been doing this for five, 10 years, you kinda get comfortable,” says Trill. “You kinda think nothing could happen to you. But you slip up. You’re human. Maybe you forget to lock the doors, you’re on FaceTime and someone can see the restaurant behind you.”
It’s still unclear how, exactly, Mercedes’ killer found her, or how he entered the house; the Richmond Police Investigation did not respond to repeated requests for comment, citing the ongoing investigation. But Mark Gagnier says that on August 29th, he had just come back from a fishing trip in Key West when he received a frantic phone call from his daughter London. London said that Mercedes’ friends had contacted her because they hadn’t heard from her and she hadn’t updated her Instagram stories in a few days; unusual for someone who made a living from her robust online presence. The last time they’d talked was on Thursday night, when Mercedes had FaceTimed her on the way back from a pool party the NBA player James Harden had thrown. With this grieving process, I have the luxury of grieving a little bit better than a lot of other people do,” she says. “Because I got to tell her I love her and I got to see her face before everything.”
At first, Mark assumed she was sleeping late from a night out and just wasn’t answering her phone, which had happened a few times before. Then, after arriving at her house with his girlfriend that afternoon, he saw her BMW in her garage. “That’s why I kicked the door down,” he said.
When Mark opened the door, he found Mercedes at the bottom of her staircase, curled up in a ball. At first he thought there had been an accident and that she had fallen, because of the way her leg was twisted up underneath her. Then he noticed Mercedes was only half-clothed, and asked his girlfriend to get her something to cover her up. When she went upstairs, he says, she found 34-year-old Kevin Accorto from Wellington, Florida, lying by Mercedes’ bed, a knife stuck in his chest. “By the looks of the apartment, he had cut himself and bled all over the apartment for two days,” Mark says. “There was blood everywhere — in the kitchen, the bathroom, freezer. Droplets, puddles, droplets, puddles.”
Mark says he was still breathing when they arrived, but he would be declared dead shortly after police arrived on the scene. “He was gurgling and jerking and stuff. I screamed, ‘what the fuck did you do?’ And that’s when I saw the writing,” he says. During his time in the house, Accorto had scrawled various messages in Mercedes’ lipstick on the walls: “Janae led me to think she cared about me but wore another man’s ring,” said one, an apparent reference to an Instagram post from May where she showed off a ring her boyfriend had given her. Others said “I should’ve stayed in Florida” and “I wish I’d never met her”; the one that drew the most attention from online commenters was, “I was used for money,” with the “money” dramatically underlined.
As news of her death circulated, so too did misinformation. Rumors spread that Morr had died of HIV/AIDS or COVID-19, or that she had been robbed and killed by dancers who had set her up. Perhaps the most widespread rumor, however, was that Morr had known her attacker personally, despite the fact that the police had explicitly stated otherwise. The most common narrative , propagated among YouTube tea (or gossip) channels, was that she had worked as an escort or sugar baby and had bilked money out of the wrong client. One popular YouTuber summed up the case as a cautionary tale about “the dangerous games that women play with these men and think they’re getting over on them, doing the things they do to finesse certain guys.” He labeled the video “dangerous simping,” a term used by many on the internet (particularly in the men’s rights community) to describe men who fall prey to the wiles of beautiful women.
To a degree, Jenae’s death was prime fodder for misogynists fostering ire towards women commoditizing their looks online. The fact that there was no sign of forced entry, which usually indicates that the victim knew their attacker, further fueled speculation (London believes Accorto attacked Jenae as she was coming out of her car from the street into the house, as she never parked in her garage). So did the “I was used for money” message from Accorto. “There are women who take money from men in this industry. Do they deserve to be killed for that? Absolutely not,” says Okolie. London believes people are making assumptions about Mercedes’ relationship with Accorto based on her status as a former dancer and Instagram model. “People already assume the worst about Instagram models — that they’re gold-diggers, that they’re users,” she says. “It made it easier for people to sell the story, instead of actually getting at the truth.”
Mercedes’ friends and family members deny that she had a sexual or any other kind of relationship with Accorto. “She got 2.2 million followers. She gets booked to go to the club. She’s making money. She probably got five different streams of income. She don’t need to fuckin jeopardize herself [by escorting],” says Trill. “And let’s just say if she was, for who she is and how long she’s been in the industry, she’s gonna deal with top tier celebrities — NFL players, celebrities. She’s not gonna drop to that kind of person.” But like many influencers, Morr did charge fans for access to premium content on her OnlyFans, and she regularly received gifts and cash payments from admirers, some of which would be delivered to her address, as her father learned when one of Morr’s friends from Las Vegas told him he had sent her a bean bag chair at Morr’s funeral. This is how her father believes Accorto may have gotten her address. “If I knew what I know now, nothing should’ve ever come to her address. It should’ve all gone to a P.O. box,” he says.
For those within Mercedes’ tight-knit Houston influencer community, the mood has been somber. “There’s not much you can do to protect yourself because you don’t know these people [who follow you],” says Kayla G., Mercedes’ friend and fellow influencer. “You don’t know what they look like. All you can really do is try not to be alone and watch your surroundings.” Monica Jets, Mercedes’ manager, says she is constantly having conversations with her friends and clients about security. “It’s all we’ve been talking about — what can they do to do more, be safer,” she says. “I’m preaching to them now: whenever you make stories on Instagram, save them and post them later. Post them when you’re not there. If you go out of the country, save all your stuff when you get back. I tell them not to be flashy, but of course they are flashy. That’s why they are who they are.” She would like Instagram to add a feature preventing people from uploading stories contemporaneously, so influencers won’t have to reveal their locations and can automatically post content later, but she isn’t holding her breath.
Even London has watched her Instagram following explode after her sister’s death, a macabre byproduct of her celebrity. “I don’t really know who’s looking at me now, because I’m Jenae’s sister,” she says. “I have so many more people looking at me now. And I don’t want that attention.” She says she is constantly looking over her shoulder and tries to avoid large crowds after her sister died.
Gagnier says that since Jenae moved to Houston, they haven’t lived more than a mile apart; he’s still kicking himself for not checking in with her when he came back from his trip to the Keys. Once, he says, he proposed moving to Corpus Christi so he could do more fishing. “She said, ‘Dad, I’m over here because of you. You’re not going nowhere,'” he says. “[We] just wanted her somewhere where she was nice and safe.”
Mercedes’ Instagram is still up, with her following slowly ticking up even in death — new strangers scrolling through glamor shot after glamor shot, falling in love with a woman they never knew and never will. “She was so loving and such a kind spirit,” her mother Jeanetta Grover says. “She was Mercedes Morr to so many. But she was Jenae Gagnier to her family and her loved ones, who miss her dearly.” Some of her followers still send her well wishes and others blame her for having committed the egregious sin of being attractive. “It’s not fair women aren’t allowed to be beautiful,” says Jets. “Men get to live their lives and not be preyed upon. It’s sad women don’t have that right.”