Fort Worth was a dangerous place to be a woman in the early 80s. They were vanishing, dying and being attacked in unprecedented numbers for the area. The women were white, black, Hispanic and native American. They were shot, strangled, and bludgeoned. They lived everywhere from the working class streets of south side to more genteel ones of TCU. They were moms, professionals, secretaries, nurses, teenagers. The only constant was the seeming randomness.
There might not be one obvious pattern, but it was clear that a predator had made Fort Worth his hunting grounds. Although they denied it at the time, Fort Worth Police Department had formed a task force that grew to 40 officers. For years they aggressively pursued thousands of leads. Interviews, polygraphs, and the limited forensics available at the time were used to sift thorough suspects and look for connections between victims, but when a predator chooses a stranger at random, the links can be impossible to find.
Some cases would be solved, both by luck and dogged police work. Others would linger, unsolved, cold, leaving families without answers and victims without justice. For those cases that did reach a resolution, a startling picture emerged. There wasn’t a single predator hunting Fort Worth. There were multiple predators, and the women of Fort Worth were their prey.
The killings abruptly stopped, leaving the unsolved cases as a horrific footnote to the decade of big hair, dance pop, and neon lycra. As time moved on, so did the police. There were always new investigations, fresh murders that were raw and immediate in their demands, stretching attention further and further from the those earlier crimes that cooled and then went cold.
But the victims were never forgotten. Certainly not by their families and friends. For them, the cases were always painful, a wound that couldn’t heal. Police remembered as well, but what could they do? They needed evidence that didn’t exist, or rather, they needed a way to read the evidence they did have. In many cases, there was biological evidence just sitting there, taunting them with an identity so close, but locked in the genomes and alleles of his DNA. For the cases to progress, something would have to change.
DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, the genetic blueprints of all living organisms, was first uncovered in 1869 by a Swiss physician and biologist, Friedrich Miescher. Miescher found nucleic acid left behind in surgical bandages. It would take more than a century for science to unlock the secrets hiding in our cells and longer still for forensics to develop a means of creating and comparing profiles.
This new, dramatic evidence was first used in the United States in 1988 to convict a man named George Wesley of the rape and murder of Helen Kendrick, 79. The New York trial was a media show that put science on trial, not George Wesley. Science prevailed.
In the bustling new world of forensics, DNA was a game changer. Not since fingerprints had such a reliable source of identification been utilized. DNA was a fantastic tool when a victim pointed at her attacker. Eye witness identification can be problematic, but with DNA, there was a concrete answer. The innocent were exonerated. The guilty were convicted. But to compare the DNA found at a crime scene, you had to have a known suspect, someone to compare it to. Then came CODIS.
In 1994, the FBI began CODIS, an acronym for the Combined DNA Index System, a program of support for criminal justice DNA databases. The National DNA Index System or NDIS is the national level version of CODIS, containing the DNA profiles contributed by federal, state, and local participating forensic laboratories. For the first time, local police could take an unknown sample and have it compared against an enormous database of known offenders. They would also eventually be able to compare to other unknown offenders in an effort to identify serial predators.
The larger the database, the more effective. For CODIS to work, it needed samples. In 2004 Texas required all convicted felons entering the penitentiary to give DNA for CODIS. They immediately solved 14 murders. That same year they also solved 81 sexual assaults, 40 burglaries, and four robberies in Texas alone. In 2005, a new law required the system to go back and take samples of everyone who came in before April 2004. Even more cases were solved.
Cold cases continue to be solved through a mix of detective work and scientific advancement. It’s time to re-examine these killings from the 1980s. If anything, recent developments in the news have shown us that justice may be slow, but it can still arrive, even 40 plus years later.
Over the next several weeks, I will look at some of the known killers that stalked Fort Worth in the early 80s–Curtis Don Brown, Lucky Odom, Juan Mesa Segundo, Faryion Waldrip, Ricky Lee Green– and then at some of the still unsolved cases in an ongoing series, The Hunting Grounds. I’ll also discuss legal issues facing cold cases including the backlog of DNA testing and time limit statutes that prohibit prosecutions.
You can expect to see a new article in this series every other week, starting with Curtis Don Brown on May 14th. Brown was every woman’s nightmare, the stranger in the night, crawling in through the windows. He would be caught in a murder by fate mingled with accurate police instincts. Only years later would science reveal just how lucky police had gotten when they nabbed the man who went by the nickname “Bandit.”
This is the second part of a series. If you missed it, part one begins here.
Because he was a juvenile, the 323rd Judicial District Court of Tarrant County had exclusive jurisdiction over Ethan Couch at the time he was charged with four cases of Intoxication Manslaughter. The first question the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s office (TCCDA) had to grapple with was whether or not to ask the judge to certify Couch to stand trial as an adult. Texas Family Code Section 54.02 sets out the rules for when a juvenile court waives its jurisdiction and transfers the accused to an adult court.
There are two types of certification, one is used when the person is still a juvenile (under the age of 17) at the time he is charged, the other is for when the person was a juvenile at the time the offense was committed, but is an adult at the time of adjudication. If you’re at all familiar with this story, you know that the first type of certification is what applied initially, but the second type would be relevant later. Contrary to what you might think watching the news, very few juveniles are certified. It’s typically only done for the most serious felonies such as murders and sexual assaults. These are also the types of cases likely to get news coverage which can skew the perception. The cases you already know about are the ones most likely to have a juvenile certified.
In Tarrant County, the number of juveniles certified is generally in the single digits. If the TCCDA Office wants to certify a juvenile, he must be at least 15. They must file a petition asking the judge to certify the juvenile. The judge first orders a complete diagnostic study. Once that is done, the judge next conducts a hearing weighing the factors listed in Section 54.02(f) to weigh the safety of the community against the welfare of the juvenile. Playing heavily into the decision are the sophistication and background of the juvenile, previous criminal history, and the likelihood of appropriate rehabilitation of the juvenile. I’m not sure I’ve seen a juvenile certified for Intoxication Manslaughter before, although TCCDA asked for it on previous occasions. That’s because it’s a crime of recklessness rather than intent and substance abuse issues seem appropriate for rehabilitation.
Juvenile justice is a like walking a tightrope. Given what we now know about developing brains, when do we choose to make a teen face adult consequences over more youthful ones? Prosecutors chose to leave Couch to the juvenile system. Many factors played into this decision, but one of those was the judge. You see, prosecutors can try to have a juvenile moved to adult court, but the person who has the final decision on certification is the judge. At the time, the sitting judge was Jean Boyd. For over 20 years, Judge Boyd made those decision as judge of the 323rd District Court. She was known for favoring long probations and being very stingy with certifications, even for murder cases.
Prosecutors Richard Alpert and Riley Shaw knew they didn’t have a realistic chance of her certifying Couch, but they did hope to convince her to send him to a Texas Youth Corrections (TYC) facility. Intoxication Manslaughter is a second degree felony punishable by 2-20 years. Alpert was seeking a determinate sentence which would allow the defendant to begin his sentence in TYC. At the age of 19, he could be paroled if he had showed progress in rehabilitation or transferred to an adult facility if he had not. If the name Richard Alpert sounds familiar to readers, he is considered the Texas’ foremost authority on vehicular homicide and was the prosecutor on the Chante Mallard case which I covered in “Depraved Heart: The Killing of Gregory Biggs.”
As they were gearing up for trial, Alpert and Shaw received word of a not-so surprising development. Given the overwhelming evidence, Ethan Couch was going to plead guilty before the judge and hope for the best. It was a tactic that had always served him well in the past. That’s right. He had a history of alcohol related offenses. February 2013, just five months before the fatal crash, a Lakeside police officer found Couch peeing in the parking lot of a Dollar General at 1 am. In his truck was a naked 14-year-old girl, beer, and a 1.75-liter bottle of Grey Goose. D Magazine describes the exchange as follows:
The officer asked the clearly intoxicated 15-year-old Ethan what he was doing.
Ethan replied, “What’s it look like I’m doing?”
Tonya was called to the scene. The officer’s microphone captured the conversation between the mother and son.
“By the way, I didn’t know you snuck out,” Tonya says.
“What do you mean, I snuck out?” Ethan says. “I told you I was—”
“Well you’re not going to tell your dad that after you go out drinking and doing this,” she says.
“I drank one beer,” he says.
“It doesn’t matter,” she says.
Couch was cited for minor in possession. He appeared with his mother Tonya Couch. She paid his fine and he was ordered to attend an alcohol awareness program and perform community service. He did neither. Not one single hour. Again, Tonya would claim this was her fault for not understanding. During civil litigation, Tonya was asked about the girl. She shrugged it off. She didn’t know who the girl was or how she got home and she didn’t care. Ethan was her only concern.This incident just underscores Couch’s history. He acted out and one or both parents covered for him. If one parent punished him for something, the other one came along and bailed him out. The family dynamic was toxic.
When Ethan Couch was 9, Tonya and Fred Couch divorced. The divorce was extremely hostile, fueled by Fred’s temper and Tonya’s self-medication with drugs and alcohol. Ethan Couch became his parent’s pawn. They fought one another over him, used him to get back at one another, rarely keeping the visitation schedule. Both used money to buy his affection. He had anything he wanted: a motorcycle, a four-wheeler, a pool, the best education money could buy. He was a good student, but his parents did nothing to encourage it and even interfered.
At 13, Ethan was driving his new truck to school. A concerned principal called the parents. Fred Couch shouted her down, exclaiming that Ethan was the best driver he knew. He threatened to just ‘buy the school’ if they complained further. Then he transferred Ethan to a ‘homeschool’ program. It’s unclear if he ever graduated.
Fred first found Ethan passed out from drinking rum at the age of 14. He was angry because Ethan wouldn’t be around to shoot off fireworks. Tonya denied knowing her son was still drinking, but Ethan’s girlfriend at the time testified to drinking with Ethan and Tonya just a week before the crash. Ethan was also using other drugs, especially cocaine. If Fred did try to take something from Ethan in punishment, Tonya would swoop in and give it back to Ethan. Ethan learned how to game the system from an early age, pitting his parents against one another to get what he wanted.
He saw his parents engage in extremely risky behavior. Fred was once cited for driving 95 miles per hour and was known to engage in road rage incidents. He was arrested for DWI. According the civil case depositions, he told the officer he made more in a day than the policeman made in a year. Tonya wasn’t much better. She was once charged with reckless driving for running someone off the road. She paid a $500 fine. Fred owned a successful sheet metal business and would yell and bully others to get his way. Tonya just went for the checkbook. They divorced, remarried, and divorced again after the crash.
True to form, his parents purchased the best legal team they could find for Couch, attorneys Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn. Both attorneys were Board Certified in Criminal Law. Neither one comes cheaply. If Wynn’s name sounds familiar, he was the defense attorney on the Chante Mallard case.
The parent’s also employed an expert, a psychologist, Dr. G. Dick Miller. On Dr. Miller’s advice, Ethan Couch was sent to rehab. The family chose Newport Academy, a luxurious facility in California with equine therapy, cooking classes, basketball, swimming, mixed martial arts lessons, massages, and a matching price tag of $450,000 per year. Against Dr. Miller’s advice, the parents checked Ethan out and brought him home after just 62 days and $90,000.
Although Couch was pleading guilty, there would still be a trial. Texas has a bifurcated trial system. The first part is the guilt/innocence phase, the second is punishment. Couch’s plea erased the need for the first part and really, this case was all about the punishment. Richard Alpert knew it wouldn’t be easy. Judge Boyd was notorious for her efforts to redeem even the most hardened juvenile offenders, but Alpert had built his career on cases like this. He isn’t just any expert on Intoxication Manslaughter, he literally wrote the book. His manuals on DWI Prosecution and Intoxication Manslaughter have gone through multiple printings from Texas Criminal and District Attorneys Association Press. He knows everything there is about a building a punishment case.
December 2013, Alpert and Shaw laid out Couch’s misdeeds before Judge Boyd. She heard about his callous disregard for others, his serious substance abuse issues, and the horrific night of the crash. By now, there were seven civil lawsuits seeking damages from families of Couch’s victims and survivors. The other teens from that night testified about Ethan’s legendary drinking parties. One friend testified regarding multiple instances of Ethan Couch driving while impaired. Ethan’s circle of friends had abandoned him. But not his parents.
The defense denied nothing about Ethan Couch’s past. In fact, you might say they doubled down. They cleverly shifted attention from Ethan to his parents by putting Tonya and Fred on trial. They paraded teachers and social workers from Ethan’s past to talk about what a sweet, smart little boy he was before his parents spoiled him rotten. His parent’s divorce and remarriage and next divorce all damaged him. They treated him like an adult. Poor, little rich kid living in his 4,000 square-foot ranch-style house with a pool, numbing his pain with booze and drugs.
Ethan didn’t testify, which is unusual in guilty pleas where the defendant is seeking probation. There isn’t much to be gained by silence. The usual trial tactic is to put the defendant on the stand and let him apologize and say he accepts responsibility and wants to do better. Perhaps Ethan’s attorneys were afraid of what their cocky client would say. After all, he wasn’t really sorry.
Throughout the trial, Couch sat quietly, not even participating in his own defense. He stared off as if his thoughts were elsewhere. The defense didn’t call Tonya or Fred to testify which made it easier to paint them as the villains. Instead they called their psychologist, Dr. G. Dick Miller. This was why he had been hired, why he had spent over 50 hours with the family in preparation, why he had been paid $15,000. Dr. Miller laid forth the heart of the defense case. Ethan was a victim of over-indulgent parents. He didn’t know right from wrong because his parents had never taught him. He had never felt the consequences of his actions. Simply put, he was too rich to know how to act.
Then the word fell out of his mouth, that ridiculous portmanteau: Affluenza. Attorney Scott Brown would swear he had never heard Miller say that term before. Miller would later say in a CNN interview that he regretted saying the term, but once it was out there, it stuck. Ethan Couch would forever be Affluenza Teen. Miller went on to say that his parents had taught him, “If you hurt someone, say you’re sorry. In that family, if you hurt someone, send some money.”
The Texas Juvenile Justice System is heavily slanted towards probation. Misdemeanor offenses can only be punished with probation. The reasoning is obvious. If anyone deserves a second chance and help in changing, shouldn’t it be children? Boyd always operated on that principal, sometimes to the frustration of prosecutors.
But never assume that the system is fair. Rehab and counseling don’t come free. TYC is overcrowded and overburdened. But if a family can pay for inpatient treatment, well, that relieves the burden a little, doesn’t it? The defense argued that TYC couldn’t meet Ethan Couch’s needs as well as Newport Academy and since the Couches would pay the whopping price tag, that was the best option. They would even agree to stay away from their son, like a “detox” from their toxic love. Money can buy everything in the system, but especially in juvenile justice. It’s a dirty little secret that defendants pay for probation and those who can’t pay often end up doing time.
Prosecutors argued that Ethan was a spoiled brat with a substance abuse problem who would never understand consequences unless someone forced him to. He had killed four people, paralyzed one, and seriously injured nine more. Rehabilitation is a great thing, but sometimes, justice demands punishment. Let him get therapy in jail.
When Boyd pronounced her sentence: 10 years probation, the court room practically exploded. Court bailiff’s hustled the judge out as the assembled survivors and families expressed their outrage.
To Eric Boyles, who lost both his wife Hollie and daughter Shelby, “Money always seems to keep Ethan out of trouble. Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If you had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different,” he said to reporters.
Richard Alpert was disgusted with outcome. “There can be no doubt that he will be in another courthouse one day blaming the lenient treatment he received here.” A reporter for ABC’s 20/20 asked Alpert what would have been justice. “Justice would have been if the system had held him accountable.”
But while most were expressing their outrage, there was another contingent who wondered if Judge Boyd had known she was setting Ethan Couch up to fail. If he had gone to TYC and been granted parole, he would only serve two years. By placing him on probation, he would be under the court’s control for 10 years.
But of course, probation comes with conditions and Ethan Couch would never make a probation.
He may have walked into the court looking like an clean cut, All-American boy, but his Facebook profile shows what he looked like at the time of the offense. That was the real Ethan. And he had no interest in changing.
Coming up soon…Part 3 of Wrecked: Civil Suits, Beer Pong, and a detour to Mexico
WARNING: This article contains graphic and upsetting descriptions of human and animal mutilations. There are some photos of animal skulls and maggots. I chose not to use the crime scene photos because of their horrific nature, but at the end I will link to an episode of Forensic Files which does show the photos. Use your own discretion.
We know a lot these days about what makes a serial killer. There are always outliers, but we know they often have horrific childhoods, particularly early childhood. Jason Eric Massey was born January 7, 1973 to parents with severe substance abuse issues. His father abandoned them immediately. His mother was young alcoholic and abusive. The birth of her first child didn’t affect her lifestyle. She would leave her toddler son in the car while she went into clubs. Two years later, she added a daughter. She beat them severely with a wooden paddle or a belt for any minor infraction. She kept the food in her room. If she found them sneaking in after food, she’d beat them. She moved constantly, staying just a step ahead of landlords looking for payment. At times they were homeless, living in her car. Jason and his siblings would show up at school as thin, hungry, dirty children with unexplained bruises.
Then there were the men. His mother brought a constant stream of men into their lives, often leaving the children alone with these men. It’s not surprising that one of them sexually assaulted Massey. By 9 years of age, Massey was bigger and stronger enough to take out his intense anger on those smaller than he was. He savagely beat a younger child with a tree branch. He also moved on to animal torture.
In the 1970s and 80s, there was a lot of discussion about what came to be known as the McDonald’s Triad, a purported predictor of homicide and sexual sadism. The Triad was animal cruelty, bed wetting, and arson. We now know that those are not predictors of violence, but rather indicators of extreme child abuse. They’re still huge, red warning flags because severe childhood abuse is one of the known contributing factors in serial killers.
Shortly after the beating of the younger child, Massey strangled and mutilated a cat. For the rest of his life, he would engaged in animal torture and murder. He was moving into his preteen years and the mutilation and torture would become twisted into his sexual fantasies. By fourteen, he was drinking and taking drugs and fantasizing about demons and power. He developed a fascination with fires and started numerous small ones.
In high school, he became obsessed with a girl who didn’t return his feelings. Massey had no notion of normal relationships. He began stalking the girl, calling her house. He killed her dog and painted the blood on her car. He had branched out from just cats to dogs and also cows, keeping their skulls as trophies.
It’s believed that around this time he started keeping a journal. His mother found it when he was 18 and had her son committed. If the entries were anything like his later ones, it’s no wonder. Unfortunately, he was soon released and immediately began again with the animal mutilations. He frequently talked about killing young girls, writing about them in the same way he described his animal killings, but people who knew him blew off the talk as self-aggrandizement. Sure he idolized Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and Henry Lee Lucas, but that didn’t mean Massey was a serial killer.
But he wanted to be one.
In fact, that was his plan. He wanted to be the famous serial killer of all time, so he practiced on animals, keeping his trophies in a cooler, and he plotted and planned until he found his first victim. In 1993, Massey met 13 year old Christina Benjamin. Christina innocently flirted back with Massey. He was smitten with her. July of that year, Massey told his friend Christopher Nowlin that he had met a girl and was in love. He said he wanted to kill her, carve her up like one of his animals. He was stopped by police for a traffic offense. In the car he had knives and the body of a dead cat with a rope tied around his neck.
July 23, 1993, James King hear a sound late at night, a car beeping its horn. He looked outside and saw his 14 year old son Brian run out to talk to the driver of a tan car. James went to the restroom. When he returned, the car was gone and he assumed Brian had gone with him. It wasn’t until the next morning that he realized his 13 year old step-daughter Christina was gone as well. James King and his wife Donna Benjamin waited to see if the kids would return because at that time, police didn’t worry about missing teenagers. They would “turn up.” When Brian and Christina stayed gone for a full day, James and Donna reported them missing.
July 28th, Police responded to a call of animal cruelty in Telico, Texas in Ellis County. Ellis is located just below Dallas. It’s the bottom right of the counties which ring Tarrant and Dallas, and the US Census counts it as part of the DFW Metroplex statistically. Ellis is largely still rural, but in 1993, it was especially so. On that date, the Ellis County Sheriff Department arrived to find a mutilated calf behind a pizza restaurant. A young, blond male had been seen running away and he left behind his car, a tan sedan that was towed. At the time, they had no clue it might be related to the disappearance of two teens.
July 29th, just a day later, there was another shocking discovery in Telico. Next to a remote highway, work crews found the nude body of a young girl. She had been shot with a .22 pitsol, stabbed, decapitated and her hands removed. Both head and hands were missing. Her body had been shockingly mutilated. She was disemboweled, her body transected by long incisions like an autopsy that exposed her orgrans. Her thighs and genitals had long, intricate carvings. Her nipples had been cut off. The extensive injuries made identification difficult. The usual methods of dental records or fingerprints were unavailable.
Not far, a second body was discovered. 14 year-old Brian had been shot twice in the back of the head with a .22 pistol. His body was fully clothed and not mutilated. In Brian’s wallet was his library card. The sheriff’s department contacted his father who told them that his son was missing. Then asked about Christina. Was she the girl with him? It seemed likely. Donna and James told the police that Christina had recently broken a foot. X-ray records confirmed the fractures of Christina and the Telico Jane Doe matched.
In addition, there was long, blonde hair caught on nearby barbed wire that was consistent with Christina’s. DNA would later provide the more definitive confirmation. Due to the small size and rural nature of Ellis County, Dallas County Crime Lab provided assistance. At the crime scene, they discovered a blond hair on Brian King’s leg that did not match him or Christina. Stuck to his sneaker was a single tan fiber belonging to the interior of a Japanese-make vehicle.
Meanwhile, police were processing the tan Subaru seized during the calf mutilation investigation. Inside they found three blood stains. In the trunk was a blood stained leaf. There was a roll of duct tape with blood on it, a hammer and a hatchet, a receipt for .22 ammo. A bracelet was dropped by the blond man running from the scene of the calf mutilaion with the name JASON on it. He might as well have left a big neon sign behind.
Almost immediately, police received an annonymous call that they should look at Jason Massey. Considering he went around talking about how he wanted to murder and mutilate young girls, it’s not shocking. They heard he had been seen the day of the murders at a local car wash vacuuming his tan Subaru. When the story broke on the news, the owner remembered Massey being there and called police who seized the contents of the carwash vacuum. In them, they found an appointment card from Massey’s probation officer and multiple strands of Christina’s hair in a bloody red bandana.
To be certain which day the murders had occurred, they turned to a forensic entomologist. He examined the maggots and hatched some of his own in order to give an accurate age of the larvae found on the bodies. By doing this, he could deciseively say Christina and Brian had been deceased for two days. They were killed the same night they left in a tan car.
Police learned that Massey’s cousin owned a .22 caliber pistol that Massey had “borrowed.” Multiple people had seen Massey with the gun. The Walmart clerk who had sold the bullets, two knives, and handcuffs to Massey was able to ID him. At Massey’s house, police found the handcuffs, knife box, and newspaper articles he had cut out about the crime.
The fiber on Brian’s shoe matched the interior of Massey’s car. The blood on the car seats was tested and confirmed to come from Brian and Christine. Forensics and witness interviews painted a grim picture of the crime. Christine had agreed to sneak out and meet Massey. Perhaps she was nervous enough to ask her brother to come with them.
Perhaps she thought Brian could protect her from Massey. Instead, Massey drove them to a secluded location and shot Brian twice in the back of the head while still sitting in the car. Christine jumped out and tried to run, but Massey caught her and brought her back. There was no evidence of sexual assault. That isn’t where he got his pleasure. He shot her and dragged her back, then stabbed her multiple times. The gunshot did not kill her. It’s not known which of the other injuries were fatal. She was likely dead before the worst of the mutilations occurred.
Massey smirked during his arrest. He relished the media frenzy that followed, basking in the attention. There was a mountain of evidence, but in tiny pieces. Put together, the pieces made a whole picture, but conviction wasn’t a sure thing. It was a circumstantial case, even if the circumstances were damning. Then during the trial, a bombshell. A hunter in the woods stumbled upon a rusty cooler. Opening it revealed Massey’s trophy case. In the cooler were 31 skulls of animals, and a set of four spiral notebooks. These notebooks bore the title “Slayer’s Book of Death” and they were the ramblings, the fantasies, the plans and recollections of Jason Massey. It was his blueprint for murder and mutilation. He detailed his crimes against animals. He particularly liked strangling them and decapitating them so he could keep the skulls. Massey wrote that killing gave him an “adrenaline rush, a high, a turn on, a love to mutilate.”
Massey wrote of his admiration for famous killers, particularly Bundy, Manson, and Lucas. He aspired to be even more, the most famous serial killer of all time. He set a goal of 700 victims in 20 years, working out how many people he would have to kill a month to hit his total. He named girls he wanted to add to the list. The journal starts with his fantasies of rape, torture, mutilation, and cannibalism, but then moves into specific planning.” Massey wrote that he wanted “to grab society by the throat and shake ’em with terror until they’re awake and realize what’s up so they will remember who I am, when and why I came their way.”
Both sides only had a single day to process the new evidence. For the state, it was exactly what they needed, a glimpse into the mind of a wannabe serial killer. For the defense, it was devastating. The jury only needed 15 minutes to convict Massey of capital murder. After the verdict, the jury learned more about Massey’s background and his crimes against animals and robberies. He was sentenced to death.
Massey was executed April 3, 2001. As so many before and after him, he claimed to have found religion. Maybe he had. He grew from a boy to a man on death row. He expressed remorse and I can only hope it was genuine. He apologized to the families of Christine and Brian. He told them that “she didn’t suffer as much as you think” and said that he had thrown her hands and head in the Trinity River. He apologized to his family and said he was relieved his journey was at an end. “Tonight I dance in the streets of gold. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Would Massey have become a serial killer? He certainly had all the makings. Horrific childhood. Severe substance abuse. Animal mutilation. Fire starting. Sadistic sexual fantasies. At the trial, several experts testified that there isn’t a known treatment for such a strong case of anti-social personality disorder. As a society, all we can do is warehouse them or put them down like rabid dogs for our own safety. Maybe someday we will progress enough that we can do something meaningful to stop the process. The warning signs were there. If we can’t unmake the monster we have to stop him from being created. Otherwise, innocents like Christina and Brian suffer, just two kids who never had the chance to grow up because wannabe serial killer.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking of the criminal justice system as a conglomerate being, a monolithic entity, a machine chewing up lives and spitting out justice. We have a visceral reaction to the idea of an impersonal system controlling our lives. Too often, we fail to realize is that just as a machine is made of parts, a system is made of people. Judges, police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, court clerks, jailers, bondsmen, are all just people. They are good people, bad people, parents with grown children and single millennials, they have dogs or maybe cats. You get the point. The system is just made up of people. People like me and people like Mark Hasse.
Mark Hasse dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice. He graduate from SMU Law School in 1981 and went straight to work for the Dallas District Attorney’s Office. Mark made a name for himself by taking on the toughest cases, specializing in organized crime. He left to go into private practice, working as a defense attorney but also moving into the areas of family law and aviation law. That last might seem like an odd fit, but Mark had a commercial pilot’s license. He loved flying and he loved planes. That love almost stole his life when he was critically injured in a 1995 plane crash. He also loved rescuing dogs. You might say Mark was married to the job. At least, there was never a spouse or kids in the picture, but he did have a large, loving family and he had nieces and nephews to spoil.
I doubt that was on his mind when he drove to work on January 31, 2013.
Criminal law had always held Mark’s heart. In 2010, he went back to work as a prosecutor, this time in Kaufman County. He moved there to work with newly elected District Attorney Mike McLelland as his Chief Felony Prosecutor. Kaufman County sits just east of Dallas. It’s mostly white and rural, and like so many similar places, the scourge of meth had sunk its teeth in deep. In recent years, Kaufman County experienced rapid growth as a bedroom community due to its proximity to Dallas, bringing with it big city problems. The meth trade in Texas is largely controlled by white supremacy gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood and Aryan Circle. With Mark’s experience prosecuting organized crime, he was a natural fit for aggressively pursuing those groups and soon developed a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense guy, the kind of prosecutor the skinheads didn’t want to mess with.
I doubt his reputation was on his mind when he parked behind the Kaufman County Courthouse just after 9:00 am.
He was probably thinking about that day. He was probably thinking about dockets, and witness meetings, and evidence exchanges. He was probably so focused on the minutiae that make up a typical day in the life of a prosecutor that he didn’t notice the man with the gun until he was right there on top of him. According to witnesses Lenda Bush and Kelley Blaine, Mark was walking, briefcase in hand, towards the courthouse when a masked man dressed all in black ran up to him brandishing a gun. The man shoved Mark who reflexively shoved back. The man pressed the gun to his neck. Mark raised both hands and pleaded for his life as the man shot him eight times, then jumped into the passenger side of a waiting car that sped away. Lenda Bush, a former police officer turned lawyer, gave chase to the vehicle. She was so shocked that she had difficulty dialing 911 and trying to follow the car which ultimately got away. There was no license plate on the car. She returned to the scene and gave Mark CPR until the ambulance arrived. He wouldn’t survive the trip to the hospital.
It was a hit in broad daylight just feet away from the courthouse.
Shock waves radiated through-out the criminal justice community. I heard about it within hours. My husband saw the murder on the news and called to tell me someone was assassinating District Attorneys. A sheriff’s deputy walked me to my car that day.
Within a week, there was a safety meeting at my office. We were advised to vary our times for arriving and leaving. Some people carried mace or alarm whistles. We walked in groups and had investigators escorting us. Everyone was sure that the ABT ( Aryan Brotherhood Texas) had finally gotten Mark. Who else would commit such a brazen hit? Which of us would be next?
As Mark was laid to rest and his family created a memorial fund for the children of Kaufman County, a massive manhunt was underway. FBI, the Texas Rangers, the Department of Public Safety, and the local sheriff’s department were all called in.
District Attorney Mike McLelland came out to give a press conference. He spoke to reporters with tears in his eyes. “I hope the people who did this are watching, because we are very confident that we are going to find you. We’re going to pull you out of whatever hole you’re in. We’re going to bring you back and let the people of Kaufman County prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”
While everyone else was concerned with investigating the ABT, the local sheriff had another suspect in mind. He immediately went to interview a disgraced former Justice of the Peace, Eric Williams.
In 2012, Mark Hasse had prosecuted Williams for stealing computer equipment after he was caught on surveillance video taking the items. The incident cost Williams his political career and his legal one after his law license was suspended. Williams had been extremely angry and publically blamed Mark Hasse and Mike McLelland of a “political assassination.” He blamed them for ruining his life.
Williams removing equipment on surveillance
Williams answered the door with his arm in a sling and told Sheriff Byrnes that he’d recently had shoulder surgery. He had an alibi in his wife and, although suspicious, Byrnes had nothing else to tie Williams to the crime.
At the beginning of March, a member of the 211 Crew, a prison gang, shot and killed the director of the Colorado Bureau of Prison. It was a bold crime. He simply knocked on the front door and executed the man when he answered. The killer would die in a hail of bullets on the highway.
Our security measures at work tightened. They were coming for us. Everyone scrambled to hide our home addresses. We had frequent emails on how to keep safe. I know I looked over my shoulder when going to my car every night. There are reports that a Kaufman County judge had taken to wearing a bullet proof vest. McLelland went armed. It’s not paranoia if they’re really after you.
Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia both had degrees in psychology. Cynthia told a friend that both were extremely concerned about Williams. They believed he was the type not to take humiliation well. Williams had been offered a plea to a misdemeanor for the thefts but he refused, confident he could represent himself and win. He was utterly humiliated by the felony conviction, even though he wasn’t sentenced to any jail time. Cynthia and Mark were both sure he was plotting some sort of revenge, even though he smiled to their faces. They had been worried even before the attacks started.
March 30, 2014, Cynthia answered a knock at the door. She would never have opened the door to Williams, but at seeing the policeman with a SWAT helmet on, she opened the door. Security had become a daily occurrence. But this was no police officer. Cynthia and Mike were shot repeatedly in extreme overkill. The first officer on the scene testified there was blood everywhere.
Investigators exit the home of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland near Forney, Texas April 1, 2013. Authorities have launched a massive investigation into the weekend killings of McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, which occurred months after an assistant prosecutor was shot dead in the same county. REUTERS/Tim Sharp (UNITED STATES – Tags: CRIME LAW) – RTXY54D
Once again media descended on Kaufman County. Williams didn’t shy away from the attention. He rode out on his Segway to give interviews. He told Jack Douglas of CBS-KTVT
“My heart goes out to all the families that have been affected by this tragedy. And especially to the people that work at the court house. I worked there for several years while I was going to law school and so I know that it’s a tight-knit family – that this is devastating to them,”
All of this was said with his trademark smirk. He might not have been smiling if he’d known police were narrowing in on him. They knew he had lied about the shoulder surgery. He’d also made a serious miscalculation.
The day after the McLelland’s were murdered, a man sent an email to Crime Stoppers. The message began “Do we have your attention now?” The email went on to say that unless certain judges resigned, the killings would continue. The caller knew specific information about the crimes, including the type of ammunition used.
They had surveillance video of a white Crown Victoria driving through the neighborhood at the time of the crime. What they needed were direct links. They went to see Williams and were surprised when he invited them in. He was arrogant enough to let them see his guns and sights. The information they gained that day allowed them to obtain a search warrant.
They found the title to a white Crown Victoria, guns, and numbers written down by the phone. Those were the ID numbers assigned to the Crime Stoppers emailer. That is how anonymous call-ins work. Computer forensics would show that immediately after his conviction, Williams began stalking Mark Hasse. He was also the mysterious emailer.
Once the dominoes began falling, they didn’t stop. A friend of Eric Williams called in a tip about a storage facility. Williams had asked the friend to rent the facility for him, but didn’t want it in his name. They quickly obtained a search warrant for the storage facility and when them lifted the door to the unit, there was the white Crown Victoria. There was also enough guns, body armor, and crossbows to outfit a swat unit.
Williams was arrested and with him, his accomplice, the woman who had driven him the get-away car when he gunned down Mark Hasse and again for the McLellands, his wife, Kim Williams.
Kim Williams would be the star witness against her husband. She testified that she was addicted to pain killers and was under her husband’s influence, but that she was a willing participant. “His anger was my anger.” She believed everything he told her.
Although she was testifying without a plea agreement, Kim was hoping for mercy in her sentence. She testified about the planning and execution of the crimes in chilling detail. She told the courtroom that her husband had always talked about killing people who he felt were conspiring against him. When he was going to trial, he warned her that they would tell lies about him. In particular, he told her they would put up a woman named Janice Gray, a former court coordinator he had dated before Kim. Gray might be going to testify that he had threatened to kill her when they broke up, but he assured Kim it was a lie. She says she believed him. He also was extremely angry with Judge Glen Ashworth whom he blamed for leading prosecutors to Janice Gray.
Williams had a hit list. His first target was intended to be Judge Ashworth. According to Kim Williams, her husband has started making napalm and storing it in pickle jars. He also bought a crossbow. These items were among those recovered from the storage facility. The plan was to go to Ashworth’s house following the Super Bowl. Ashworth lived just down the street, so it would be easy to go in and shoot him with the crossbow. Williams was then going to gore out his stomach and fill it with the napalm.
But Williams switched gears abruptly. He decided to kill Hasse first. He wanted to make a statement and gun Mark Hasse down outside the courthouse in view of everyone. Kim testified they were both very excited that morning. Williams dressed all in black with a ghoul mask.
She detailed the crimes, describing all the while how excited and happy Williams was. He was living his fantasy. He had decided to impersonate a police officer when they went to the McLellands’ and modeled the outfit for her like he was walking a runway. She sat outside as it sounded like the shooting went on forever. When he ran back out to the car, he told her he had to shoot Cynthia and additional time because she was moaning. He couldn’t leave a living witness, so he shot her in the top of the head. They celebrated that night with steaks on the grill and Williams made ready for the next people on his list, Judge Ashworth and County Court at Law Judge Erleigh Wiley, another person Williams believed had wronged him.
Rather than get involved in arguing whether Williams was justified in being angry about his prosecution, the special prosecutors tried him on the case involving the most innocent victim, Cynthia McLelland. Her only crime was being married to Mike. She was a beloved mother, grandmother, and a respected psychiatric nurse.
The jury only took an hour and forty minutes to convict Williams of killing Cynthia. He was sentenced to death. Kim Williams later pled guilty and was sentenced to 40 years.
Perhaps the only thing more shocking to those of us who make up “the system” than the murder of own was the identity of the murderer. He was also one of our own. It’s true in investigating murders that the killer is usually someone the victim knows. It’s always the spouse, the roommate, the ex-boyfriend. We fear the stranger when we should instead be looking closer to the smiling assassin next to us.
Source Notes: I relied on the following sources. I highly recommend the CBS 48 hours and the Kaufman Herald which were my two primary sources.