Heartless: The Crimes of Steven Nelson

Clint Dobson 1
Northpoint Pastor Clint Dobson

Few places are as empty as a church on Thursday. March 3, 2011, there were only two people working at Northpoint Baptist Church on Brown Blvd: Pastor Clint Dobson, 28 and church secretary Judy Elliot, 67. Clint Dobson had been a pastor at the church for three years. Young and enthusiastic, he was equally at home discussing the Office or Seinfield with the younger church members as he was talking over the deep spiritual concerns of the more senior members. It wasn’t unusual for people to appear at the church doors looking for help. Although the front door was kept locked, no one seeking help would be turned away.

We don’t know everything about what happened that day, but we do know that both Clint and Judy were at work by 8:30 that morning. Northpoint is a satellite church of First Baptist Arlington. The L-shaped building is shared by another small church. That church also had two people present. We know they didn’t hear anything unusual, but they did notice Judy Elliot’s car, a white Mitsubishi Galant, was gone sometime between noon and one.

We know that Judy’s husband became increasingly concerned when no one answered the phone at the church. He went to the church and discovered his wife’s car was missing and no one would answer the door. He called another church member who had a key. Through a window, the men believed they could see a pair of men’s shoes and immediately called the police around 4 pm.

They found a horrific scene. Both Clint Dobson and Judy Elliot were on the floor, hands and feet trussed up behind them. They were severely beaten and plastic bags had been tied over their heads with a black electrical cord and masking tape. The responding officer and Judy’s husband hurriedly opened the bags. Clint was deceased but Judy was still alive, although severely injured. Her jaw was broken and all her teeth had been knocked out. Her face was so swollen and disfigured, that her own husband could only identify her by her clothing. She was mumbling incoherently.

Clint had been deceased for an hour or more. The medical examiner would later testify that he survived a horrific beating in which he sustained 21 separate injuries, but the plastic bag had been placed so tightly over his head that he sucked in the plastic and slowly suffocated.

Judy was unable to help police. She hovered on the brink of death in ICU. While at the hospital, she coded twice and her injuries were so severe she needed a blood transfusion.
The office had clearly been ransacked. Judy’s purse and car were missing as was Clint’s phone and laptop. Police began tracking Judy Elliot’s credit cards. They learned her cards were used to buy items at The Parks, an Arlington Mall on the same day as the murder. Someone purchased jewelry and shoes. Surveillance video showed two men using the cards.

Peggy
Judy Elliot

At the same time detectives were obtaining the surveillance footage, other officers were interviewing two women who had come forward. The women told Arlington Police that a pair of their acquaintances, had been laughing about the murder. The women said that when a news story came on the television regarding the murder of an Arlington pastor, both men made “inappropriate comments” and flashed items they claimed belonged to the pastor. The women further said that the men had been trying to rob people recently and that Nelson had new shoes and clothing. Police now had names and soon they had photo graphs to match up to the surveillance video. The person using Judy Elliot’s credit cards within hours of her near fatal beating was Stephen Lewayne Nelson.

anthony springs
Anthony Gregory Springs

Within hours of learning this information, Arlington PD arrested Anthony Gregory Springs, the man who was with Nelson. Springs had Clint’s cell phone and the keys to Judy Elliot’s car. He told police that he didn’t participate in the killing, but that Nelson had picked him up in the white Mitsubishi Gallant around 2 pm. Nelson told him he had killed a man and probably the woman as well. They went to the mall and Nelson bought items for them both with the credit cards. He said Nelson had given him Clint’s phone.

Springs actually had an alibi for the time of the murders. Police were able to confirm his alibi and cell phone records would later confirm he wasn’t in the area at the time of the robbery and murder. That isn’t to say Springs was any kind of saint. He has been in prison since this for another aggravated robbery. He was out there committing crimes, but he was no Stephen Nelson.

March 3, 2011 marked the intersection of two lives, two men on very different trajectories. Twenty-eight year old Clint Dobson was a man of faith and he believed in putting his faith into action. He was actively involved in trying to make the world a better place. He had fallen in love and married. He had gone to Seminary to become a pastor. Friends and family also remember him as someone who was warm, outgoing, with a great sense of humor. He once described his “super power” as being the “world’s best parallel parker.”

Nelson
Stephen LeWayne Nelson

Twenty-four year old Stephen Nelson had just been released from an in-patient treatment program. He already had an impressive criminal history starting from the age of 13 years old. He served juvenile probations and had been sent to TYC. His most recent troubles were from May 2010 after he had strangled and pulled a knife on his then girlfriend. This wasn’t the first attempt at turning Nelson’s life around and he was good at tell the counselors what they wanted to hear. His counselor wrote that Nelson had made great strides in anger control and learning how to work for things instead of grabbing at “fast money.” Nelson wrote that he knew how to keep from going back to jail. He completed the anger control counseling days before the murder. He was still on probation for the violent assault.

Between the murder and the arrest, more witnesses came forward. At 1:45, just more than an hour after the murder, Nelson sold Clint’s laptop to a man at a tire shop. The next day when the news broke, the man brought the laptop in to the police. He had thought the man who sold him the computer was Clint because all the paperwork in the laptop bag had that name on it. Two women at a QT were approached by a heavily tattooed man with dollar signs on his eyelids who showed them a phone and said it came from “that dead preacher in Arlington.” Nelson has dollar signs tattooed on his eyelids.

A woman named Brittany Bursey came forward to say that Nelson, Springs, and her nephew showed up at her house in a white Mitsubishi Gallant the afternoon of the murder. Nelson was introduced to her as “Romeo.” Springs told her that the car was stolen and Nelson had cards. He was offering to buy free gas for everyone. When she questioned Nelson, he admitting that he had “hit a lick,” which is street slang for robbery. He told her that “somebody was strangled and somebody got beat half to death…I think I killed her, too.” She described his demeanor as “Nonchalant. He didn’t really show any emotion or any care about anything.”

That night, Nelson went clubbing with his girlfriend. She testified that he was normal that night, untroubled.

Police located Nelson at his mother’s home just blocks from the church. He barricaded himself inside, but police were able to talk him out.

Nelson might be contained in jail, but he wasn’t’ safe, not by a long shot. While in jail he broke light bulbs, flooded his cell, threatened jailers and assaulted one of them. He flew into a rage during a visit. He was found in possession of a shank, narcotics, and even razor blades. All of that pales in response to what he did to Johnathan Holden. Holden was incarcerated in the same cell block as Nelson. His crime was breaking into a car, most likely to sleep. Holden suffered from mental illness and often ended up arrested for petty crimes.

TCSO pic.png
Nelson after fighting TCSO deputies.

According to the other inmates, Nelson tricked Holden into helping him with a “fake suicide attempt” to get the guards attention. Holden stood in front of the cell bars and let Nelson loop a blanket around his neck. Instead of the fake attempt, Nelson strangled Holden. He held him there until his legs stopped kicking, then grabbed a broomstick and celebrated by performing a “Chuck Berry Dance” on top of a table by using the broomstick like a guitar.

Nelson would insist Holden had committed suicide, but his DNA was under Holden’s nails as he had tried to escape once he realized Nelson’s intentions.

Nelson testified at his own trial. He claimed that Springs and another man went inside and remained outside. They did the crime while he waited outside.  But he was forced to admit that he went inside after the attack.  When he was arrested, police found his bloody shoes in his mother’s house. He had stepped in Clint and Judy’s blood. It was splattered on his shoes and he left his tracks at the murder scene. He also left fingerprints inside the church office and some white, metal studs which came off his belt. The studs were good evidence that he had been part of a violent struggle, especially when phone forensics placed the men he accused at another location at the time of the crime.

Nelson tried to claim they were still alive and he just stepped around them to rob them. His attorney had to prompt him. “Did you feel bad about that?” He agreed that he did.  He showed no emotion while discussing it. He couldn’t even fake the emotion in front of the jury. Unsurprisingly, he was found guilty in only 90 minutes. The evidence was overwhelming.

Upon being convicted, however, he showed emotion for the first time: rage. He was taken to the holdover cell behind he courtroom. He howled and screamed and managed to break the sprinkler system with his bare hands. The courtroom began flooding with black water as court personnel rushed to grab boxes of evidence off the ground and subdue Nelson. The day before his trial resumed, he was found to have razor blades in his possession.

At the punishment phase, the jury heard all about Nelson’s behavior in jail, including the murder of Holden. He wasn’t even safe behind bars.

Nelson’s attorneys claimed that he had never gotten the help he needed. He first acted out at the age of 3 when he set his mother’s bed on fire. They pointed out that his father was incarcerated most of Nelson’s life and was a negative influence. Nelson got into trouble with Oklahoma juvenile authorities at the age of 6. Ronnie Meeks, with the Office of Juvenile Affairs in Oklahoma, testified that Nelson finally ended up in the custody of Juvenile Affairs while they tried to rehabilitate him. Once, Nelson stole Meeks’ truck while he was being transported from one facility to another. Meeks remembered Nelson well. “That’s the thing I remember about Steven. I don’t remember ever seeing any remorse about anything.”

Nelson moved to Texas with his mother and siblings. Mary Kelleher, a psychologist and juvenile services supervisor, testified that Nelson’s criminal history in Texas dates to 2000 when he was 13. At 14 he was committed to the Texas Youth Commission. Even at that young age, he was  unrepentant. When she asked him why he kept committing crimes, he just said that he was bored.

She also testified about his home life. His mother tried, but was very frustrated by Steven. She did everything she could. He had two siblings who turned out fine, but from an early age, Nelson seemed destined to a life of crime. The jury sentenced Nelson to die by lethal injection. He has exhausted all appeals and remains defiant, writing poetry from behind bars. I’ve read it and it isn’t bad poetry. I say that as a former English teacher. But it’s self-indulgent and narcissistic. Every poem is about him because that is how Steven Nelson sees the world.

Two men. One whose epitaph reads “He was generous of heart, constant of faith, and joyful of spirit.”

The other who took that joyful life. Unrepentant. Cold. Heartless.

StevenLawayneNelsonsmaller
AP Photo/Michael Graczyk

SOURCE NOTES: Here are some of the public articles I relied on in my investigation. In addition I reviewed some of the primary sources such as reports and photographs which may be obtained with open records requests.

http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/arlington/article18655806.html

http://murderpedia.org/male.N/n/nelson-steven.html

https://www.texastribune.org/library/data/texas-prisons/units/polunsky/

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/crime/article24738796.html

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/rev-clinton-dobson-murder-felon-found-guilty-of-capital-murder-in-texas-pastors-suffocation-death/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/rev-clinton-dobson-update-two-charged-with-suffocation-murder-of-texas-pastor/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/texas-pastor-rev-clinton-dobson-suffocated-in-deadly-robbery-say-arlington-police/

https://www.dallasnews.com/news/arlington/2011/03/07/men-arrested-in-arlington-pastors-death-laughed-and-bragged-court-papers-say

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1363019/Minister-dead-inside-Texas-church-body-spotted-window.html

The Cult of Domesticity: A Podcast Review

icon_domesticAccording to Wikipedia, “The culture of domesticity (often shortened to “cult of domesticity”) or cult of true womanhood was a prevailing value system among the upper and middle classes during the nineteenth century in the United States and Great Britain. This value system emphasized new ideas of femininity, the woman’s role within the home and the dynamics of work and family.”

 

But also? The Cult of Domesticity is a super fun podcast. From their Facebook page,

“Two best friends, one podcast. Join us as we share discussions from 725 miles apart. Not an actual call-your-dad cult. Ashley and Courtney take turns telling each other true crime, history, or current events stories. However Ashley is in New Hampshire and Courtney is in Ohio. Check out our social media for the recipe of the week and additional information on our topics! We are on Itunes, Soundcloud, Google Play, Podbean, and Chorus.”

I first became aware of this podcast via Instagram where they are very active (@thecultofdomesticity) and decided to give it a try. I was instantly hooked. After true crime, history is my jam. This is a conversational podcast where the two hosts, Ashley and Courtney tell each other a story, just like the description says. It’s informal and chatty, definitely in the banter category. My one complaint with so many of these style podcasts is that they are culturally unaware. By that I mean that they don’t recognize history and literary references. They don’t recognize movie or television references older than ten years. It’s limiting. Not these ladies. Although they are young, they are still very aware of the world at large, particularly history. It’s like you put Wine and Crime and Stuff You Missed in History Class in a big blender with dash of the Food Network and it works.

There are occasional tech issues. Sometimes  you get funky noises from the microphones but not so much as to put me off. I’m not one to sneer about production values. There is some awkward laughing and inside jokes, all of which lend to the charm. Simply put, the hosts are engaging. Their lengthy friendship is comfortable to hear and soon you feel like you’re part of the club.

You don’t have to start at the first, although the first episode. I jumped around as I binged earlier episodes and I didn’t find it disconcerting at all.

Ashley and Courtney were gracious enough to answer some interview questions for me.

Tell me how y’all named your podcast. When I first saw “Cult of Domesticity” I expected something more along the line of knitting or cooking, not crime and history.

Courtney: We actually called our dorm room the Cult of Domesticity as a joke. Ashley and I both enjoy cooking, baking, crafting, and all the domestic arts but that part of our friendship was folded into watching true crime documentaries, paranormal shows, and me telling Ashley about the weird history I had read about. So I think we are challenging the perception of domesticity where yes we can still do everything a 1950s house wife did but we choose to do it while watching dateline or a documentary.

Ashley: Also, it was something our mutual friends could identify with us pretty quickly, and they were the original target audience, because we are so awkward with people we don’t know.

I’d love to know about your process. How do you decided what topic to cover and how do you divide up the work?

Courtney: The topic process is easier for us to divide up because we tend not to tell each other what we are discussing, so the response is genuine. Personally, I have a giant spreadsheet divided into several topics so I won’t go down into a serial killer black hole or bore everyone with my abstract historical loves.

Ashley: I really like that Courtney is so organized with the spreadsheets and whatnot, because I do not usually operate that way. But it does help to keep us from focusing on any one thing too long, especially since we do tend to cover darker topics and that can be hard to listen to for weeks on end, let alone to research constantly.

Courtney: Dividing up the work has changed as we go along in the process. Initially, Ashley did all the editing which was a god send to me because I hate the sound of my voice. We have come up with a system where we edit our own episodes and if someone cannot edit that week then it is no difficulty for the other to do it. I tend to be the person posting on our social media and responding to emails right now because I have more time. However Ashley does all our amazing Instagram art and designed our logo.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a podcaster?

Ashley: I learned that I sniffle SO MUCH! Also, that podcasting is a lot more time-consuming than I originally thought it would be. But the community we’ve found, especially on Twitter, is so amazing, and it’s nice to have people who started around the same time we did to compare notes with.

Courtney: I love how supportive the podcasting community is. They have definitely helped us learn how to improve and grow our own podcast. Additionally, I have learned all of my vocal ticks and how allergic to my cats I am editing them out.

Tell me a little about yourselves away from podcasting.

Courtney: I just graduated with my masters in history where I studied the eighteenth-century British Empire. This is basically why I am the long winded one! So I am currently job hunting. When I am not podcasting or job hunting, I am often crafting, baking, or taking care of the many animals in my house. My favorite type of craft right now is knitting but I am learning to quilt and make candles.

Ashley: I always feel like I’m such a boring person now, because it feels like all I do is work. I finished my associate’s degree in paralegal studies last year, and the day after graduation I moved halfway across the country. Now I’m working in a pharmacy and it’s a huge difference but in a good way! When I’m not at work or doing podcast stuff, I’m either sleeping or reading. So there’s that.

Finally, which episode is your favorite and why?

Ashley: My favorite episode so far is probably Episode 7, our Halloween episode about the Salem Witch Trials. It’s a topic I’ve always been interested in, and the episode has a special place in my heart. There’s so much more I wish I had thought to include in that episode though, and so much more still to learn about what really happened. Also, Courtney’s reactions to my telling of the story make me laugh every time I think of them.

Courtney: Episode 16, the Kirtland Cult Murders, or Episode 20, Snake in the Bed, because they were interesting for very different reasons. The Kirtland cult murders has such a personal connection to me because I live ten minutes from the site and it impacted so many around me. Of course after we recorded my mom informed me that she went to school with the property owner’s daughter… things you wish you knew growing up. As for snake in the bed, I love the amazing story of Alexander the Great but Ashley and I had so much fun laughing over the ridiculous nature of his life.

So if you’re like me and love all things crime, history, and culinary, this podcast is definitely for you.

Cowtown Crime Verdict: A delicious treat

 

Deadly Affection: The Suzanne Parsons Story

With the purity of hindsight, the warning signs are easy to see. John St. Angelo was always going to kill one of his wives. He was a loaded weapon, just waiting to go off, and when he finally did explode, all his rage and fury was directed at the newest ex-Mrs. St. Angelo, Suzanne Parsons. As prosecutor Allenna Bangs would later say, “She wanted to leave that house, and John St. Angelo didn’t want her to. But she did leave that house and didn’t come back. That was the beginning of the end for Suzanne Parsons. You just don’t leave a man like John St. Angelo until he’s ready for you to go.”

john-st-angelo

St. Angelo and Suzanne married in Florida in 2010. They had known each other for many years, but the romance was new. It was the third marriage for St. Angelo and the second for Suzanne. At first, everything was golden. Both were extremely successful, professional people and business owners. St. Angelo’s children from his second marriage often lived with them, something that added stress into the relationship. Another source of stress was St. Angelo’s explosive temper.

That temper had gotten him into trouble before. In 1986, while living in Lebanon, New Hampshire, St. Angelo was arrested and charged for assaulting a man and damaging his vehicle. The man’s crime was he had previously dated St. Angelo’s new wife. This wife (whom I have decided not to name because everyone deserves some privacy) was in the vehicle with St. Angelo when he spotted the ex-boyfriend outside a fast food place. The man spotted St. Angelo heading for him and tried to leave, which enraged St. Angelo. He wanted a confrontation so he kicked and damaged the man’s door until he got him to open it. Other people saw this and called the police. The wife insisted she didn’t see anything. Although she never filed a complaint, people who were close to her have said they were alarmed by his controlling ways and suspected things were not good. The couple divorced and St. Angelo soon had a new woman in his life.

I am going to refer to this second wife as “K” rather than her name. K suffered such extreme abuse at the hands of St. Angelo that it greatly exacerbated her mental health issues. She has repeatedly been hospitalized for these issues and deserves some peace. In 1990, K and St. Angelo were both living in Lebanon, NH. Neighbors heard a violent assault and called the police. When the police arrived, they found St. Angelo gone and K with a bleeding face.

She admitted to police that “every day I pray not to get hit,” but at the same time, she cried, refusing to tell police the name of her boyfriend. He was arrested anyway and ordered to stay away from her, but repeatedly violated that. He insisted he “accidentally” struck her face with his watch. He told the police that he just had a bad temper. While he minimized his actions, the officer noted in his report that St. Angelo was “extremely argumentative.” He was ordered to join a counselling program. Not that it helped much. St. Angelo didn’t want to be helped. He just wanted what he wanted.

The happy times for John St. Angelo and Suzanne Parsons wouldn’t last very long. His business floundered and when K had another breakdown, the kids were added into the mix. In an effort to save their new marriage and make a fresh start, they moved to the DFW area in 2010 to be closer to Suzanne’s family.

suzanne-parsons

Abusers like to keep their victims away from support and their family and this move backfired on St. Angelo. He continued to bleed money. Suzanne thrived in the Fort Worth Real Estate market. She had her realtor’s license for 8 years and her warm, friendly personality made her a favorite at the ReMax on Heritage Trace in Fort Worth. Suzanne loved living near her family, but the happier she became, the angrier and more bitter St. Angelo became. She finally had enough and the couple separated, although she continued seeing her husband. May of 2013, they took a trip to Mexico and that is where things went horribly wrong.

After an evening of drinking, St. Angelo became angry and called Suzanne “a spoiled whore.” He began punching her. “Where are your brothers now, bitch? No one can save you here.” He then strangled her until she lost consciousness. Police were called to restrain him. When Suzanne arrived back in the airport, her daughter Jessica hardly recognized her mother. One eye was purple and swollen shut. She had severe bruising to the sides of her neck and petechial hemorrhaging on her face. Petechiae are tiny blood vessels that burst and are often a classic sign of manual strangulation. The restricted blood flow causes pressure to build until delicate capillaries rupture, resulting in red marks.

Suzanne immediately filed for a protective order in which she described this incident. She also wrote that he “breaks things, screams, and has threatened me.” She filed for divorce. In June, while St. Angelo was moving items from the house, he got into an angry confrontation with Suzanne’s brother. He hit her brother in the head and arm with the claw end of the hammer leaving bloody gashes. St. Angelo claimed it was in self-defense, that her brother had attacked him and he had to defend himself. Two of his children were there to back up his claim, but there were numerous witnesses unrelated to the parties involved who told police that Suzanne’s brother was down on the ground while St. Angelo was standing over him swinging the hammer. St. Angelo was arrested and later plead guilty to the charges.

Unfortunately, as so many abused women do, Suzanne let St. Angelo back into her life. On Christmas day, she went to his house to spend time with him, but when she tried to leave, he slapped her and dragged her back into the house by her hair. He made her promise to return and bring all her jewelry to him before he would let her leave.
At the same time, K was lodging complaints that St. Angelo was calling her non-stop and harassing her with text messages. He was doing the same to Suzanne and it became a problem at the ReMax office. Things were now so bad for St. Angelo financially that he was working as a handy man. Suzanne asked her office manager to find work for him and she did. He was good at construction, but he just couldn’t leave Suzanne alone. He would send threatening emails and texts one minute, then turn around and apologize and send something conciliatory.

December 28th was classic John St. Angelo. He wanted to talk to Suzanne about something, or more likely accuse her of something. He called, texted and emailed, but she was busy at work. Finally he sent a threatening email demanding she respond. She told him who he could contact about work questions and that he would have to wait until the next day to talk about anything personal. She was too busy to deal with him.

Suzanne was also unsettled. Records show that she had called Fort Worth Police Department that morning to report a possible prowler. She thought there was a man lurking outside her house, but when the police responded, they found no evidence of a man and left. Suzanne would later go outside and discover a window screen pried open and a fire that had been set outside her pool. The fire damaged property, but given its proximity to the house, it could have been far worse. The Fire Marshall responded and determined the cause of the fire to be arson. Someone poured gasoline on Suzanne’s patio and lit it on fire. The backyard was securely locked—unless you knew the trick of accessing the door that opened to the alley behind her house. She told police and the arson investigator that she was suspicious of St. Angelo. He had become fixated on the idea that she was dating again and he was furious.

The next day was a string of furious emails with insults and threats. St. Angelo referred to her as a gold-digger, ironic since she was the financially sound one, and a whore. This last was in response to her refusing to meet him for drinks. In his head, if she didn’t want him, she must have someone else. Never mind that they were divorced, and she could see anyone she wanted. He sent her an email promising to be “that thorn in your garden forever” and saying he hoped she would “expire and karma will be your payback.”

The next day, December 30th, co-workers would remember that Suzanne was very nervous. St. Angelo was present at the Remax office on Heritage Trace. He taken a pair of Suzanne’s glasses as “collateral” and was demanding money for her car. She had a check for him.

Suzanne’s co-workers heard her screaming after 4:00. They ran to her door, but it was locked. A co-worker ran for the master key. She opened it to find St. Angelo kneeling over Suzanne, stabbing her with a large butcher knife. Blood was everyone and Suzanne wasn’t moving. The co-worker pushed a chair at him to make him stop what he was doing. “Well, that’s done,” he said.

The two female co-workers fled. They both called 911 and left the building. A third co-worker ran to get help from a male co-worker. They came back to find the door had been re-locked. St. Angelo had left through a window. Suzanne was clearly dead. At trial, they were asked how they knew. Did they check for a pulse? They did not. There wasn’t anywhere to check.

Suzanne had been stabbed 23 times and her throat slit. The majority of the violence was to her head, face, torso and neck. She had one deep wound to her back and defensive wounds to her hands. She was missing a nail. Another nail was torn.

Police were immediately looking for St. Angelo. They went to his house and found the car he had been driving, but his other car was missing. K was called to come over. She brought St. Angelo’s sons who were able to tell police that guns were missing. K was so distraught, she had to be hospitalized. St. Angelo was nowhere to be found.

New Year’s Eve at around 11:00 a.m., a call came into Fort Worth 911. On the line was a woman who has remained unnamed in news reports. She told police that she had met St. Angelo a few months before when he had done some work on her house and that they had become friendly. He showed her a knife and said he had killed his ex-wife. According to her, he had been there all night. She told the 911 operator that they had been “praying” but that he was armed and was suicidal. Later, she would admit that he had spent the night alternately praying and terrorizing her.

John St. Angelo Arrested
Swat vehicle during stand off, Photo credit: Waco News Tribune

 

Police coordinated with SWAT. A five hour stand off followed. St. Angelo shot at officers from both the front and rear of the house. Negotiators tried to talk him out, but he refused. Officers finally shot tear gas in through the windows. They rushed the house as St. Angelo shot himself in the face. He managed to knock out one of his teeth. That was all. In the bathroom where he had barricaded himself, they found the tooth, the bloody knife, and a meth pipe. If St. Angelo was on methamphetamine, that might explain his loss of control. He certainly seemed like a man on a downward spiral. They also found the check Suzanne had promised him for the car. Incredibly, around everything else that happened, he had remembered to take the check with him.

book in

At the hospital, officers briefly spoke to St. Angelo. He told them “I loved that woman to death.” He made another claim, one that his defense attorney would offer up as a legal justification at trial.

He claimed to have killed Suzanne in self-defense. He told a SWAT negotiator that Suzanne came at him with a knife, so he took it away and stabbed her “15 times” in self-defense.

At trial, he testified that all their problems were Suzanne’s fault. It was her drinking that caused problems. It was her relationship with his children that caused problems. It was her spending that caused problems. Somehow, she became the violent one. Somehow, she caused his million-dollar business to fail. He said that she pulled out the knife and threatened to kill herself. He initially took the knife away from her to save her life, but she attacked him and he was forced to stab her to save himself. He said he only recalled stabbing her three times. Assistant District Attorney Allenna Bangs played the recording of his conversation with SWAT negotiators in which he admitted to 15 stab wounds, still a far cry from the actual 23, but he claimed not to recall saying that. He couldn’t recall slitting her throat either.

St. Angelo claimed that Suzanne treated him differently when he was a wealthy man, but had little use for him after his business failed.

The defense called St. Angelo’s son to try and bolster claims about what a great guy his dad was. Prosecutors didn’t cross-examine the child much. There wasn’t any point. St. Angelo’s family has suffered enough. St. Angelo tried to bring K around to his side as a witness. He called her until he was blocked from calling her number and then wrote her letters. He apologized for yelling at her, but told her God wanted her to forgive him and help him. She testified for the prosecution, although she minimized the abuse.

The jury rejected his claims and sentenced St. Angelo to life in prison. There was little to celebrate. Suzanne’s family was relieved, but that wouldn’t bring her back. That wouldn’t undo the years of harm to K or the children. As prosecutor Bangs said, “John St. Angelo terrorized the women in his life for 30 years and it culminated in Suzanne Parson’s death.”

Source Notes:

http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/fort-worth/article16527941.html
http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/fort-worth/article16221680.html
http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/fort-worth/article16341110.html

https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/St-Angelo-Folo-SG-010114_Dallas-Fort-Worth-238398521.html
https://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/2015/03/26/fort-worth-man-found-guilty-of-killing-ex-wife-after-jury-rejects-his-claims-of-self-defense

Fort Worth Man On Trial For Ex-Wife’s Murder
http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/crime/article3850894.html
https://law.justia.com/cases/texas/second-court-of-appeals/2016/02-15-00107-cr.html
https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/SWAT-Surrounds-Fort-Worth-Home-on-Tip-of-Realtors-Killer-238273931.html

http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/crime/article16384868.html

 

 

 

True Crime Story Time: A Review

I have a marked fondness for podcasts that don’t tell me stories I already know and lately I’ve been binging on non-American podcasts like this gem from down under. I haven’t known any of the crimes they have presented. . They don’t have a website, but they do have previous experience. Casey and Samantha previously hosted Just Another Murder Podcast which had a completely different format that was more humorous.

True Crime Story Time plays it straight. Unlike most podcasts with dual hosts, there is no banter. It’s a scripted show, but where this podcast shines is in the rich detail and exceptional narrative. They really do their research and both women have a gift for storytelling. They may be serious, but they aren’t boring. They trade off on the script, going back and forth without break. Because they are pros, the production quality is top notch.

Although the themes are mature, there is no strong language and I love the accents which help remind me that I’m not in Texas anymore. There is no padding which keeps the podcasts down around the thirty minute mark which is perfect for a lunch hour listen.

In particular, Darcey’s Story, Bonus Episode 3 really got to me. The story was horrifying and compelling. I might have cried a little and I am not a crier unless there is a dog involved, but that one really got me.

So, if you like serious, scripted true crime like Casefile or Minds of Madness, this is a great, shorter-length podcast.

Cowtown Crime Verdict: The perfect lunchtime bite

Garden of Angels: The Murder of Amy Robinson

In the northeast corner of Tarrant County, tucked at the end of a rough roadway, there is a field of crosses, each cross remembering a life stolen by violent crime. Hours of labor have transformed that weed-choked field into Our Garden of Angels, a place of peace and remembrance with paths, benches, and a gurgling waterfall. Families gather there occasionally, just to be in a calm place where they don’t have to shoulder the burden of grief alone. There, they are among those who truly understand.

This unique memorial for murder victims began with a single cross to remember a beautiful, young woman named Amy Robinson.

Amy-Robinson.jpg

Nineteen year old Amy Robinson had dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher, but that hope was far away. She was doing well learning to live on her own and hold a job. Amy had been born with Turner’s syndrome, a chromosomal disorder which inhibits physical and mental growth. She was extremely petite, only four feet five inches and she had the mental capacity of a 14 year old. But she was learning how to live on her own and every day she rode her bicycle to her job sacking groceries for Kroger in Arlington, Texas. Amy was sweet and trusting. She was very social and didn’t like to be alone and had no reason to be suspicious when two of her co-workers stopped to offer her a ride on her way to work one day.

Robert Neville, Jr. and Michael Hall had both been fired by Kroger, but Amy didn’t know that. Two hours after she was supposed to be at work, her supervisor called to say Amy had never arrived. Alarmed, her family called police immediately. Police spoke with current and former co-workers. Neville admitted knowing her and even meeting her socially, but he denied having seen her in months.

Neville was someone Amy would never have trusted if only she’d known his background. He had prior convictions for burglary and had only been out of prison for 8 months. As a juvenile, he had been prosecuted for molesting younger children including an 11 year old girl, a 9 year old boy, and a 7 year old boy. He also had a history of abusing animals. When Neville was 14, he threw kittens off a roof. Two years later he tied a cat to a tree by its tail and repeatedly hit the cat with a pole. He had been fired for ridiculing a mentally challenged co-worker and had refused to sack groceries for minority shoppers. He had a fascination with white supremacy. That was the tie that bound Neville and Hall together.

Hall also didn’t like people of color. He was a follower, not a leader, and he was happy to let Neville take the lead. As they were drinking at a house belonging to Neville’s grandmother, Neville mentioned how he would like to go “just go out and kill somebody.” Hall suggested they purchase guns. They bought a pair of .22 caliber rifles and practiced shooting. They formed a plan to be serial killers and selected their first victim, a mentally impaired black man whom they worked with. Neville would later claim in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram interview that they had “a bet to see who could shoot and kill the most people between the two of us.” They particularly wanted to kill “blacks or Mexicans—anybody as long as they weren’t our color.”

On February 15, 1998, the duo made a decision. Upon checking the work schedules, they learned the black coworker wasn’t going to be at work that day, but Amy would be and she was part Native American. They found her riding her bike to work and offered her a ride which she accepted. These weren’t strangers to her and she didn’t know they had been fired. They promised her that they were going to take a ride and then they would drop her off. Instead of taking her to work, they drove her to a field in the Northeast corner of Tarrant County, an isolated place tucked off a rough, pitted road. Amy worried she would be late for work.

Neville stopped at the field, pretending to have a flat tire. Neville and Hall took their weapons out into the field while Amy sat in the car listening to the radio until Hall came back. He convinced her that she needed to go talk to Neville, that he was waiting for her over by a tree. Neville was waiting for Amy, and he was armed with a crossbow. He shot at her several times, grazing her hair with an arrow. She fled for the car but Hall shot her with a pellet gun in the leg. She cried from the pain as he began peppering her with pellets. Neville then brought up the .22 caliber rifle. They took turns shooting Amy. Neville shot her in the chest with the rifle and Hall shot her in the chest multiple times with the pellet gun.

She went to the ground, shaking and crying, then she called Neville by name. It was the last thing Amy would ever say. The pair became worried someone would overhear them so Neville shot Amy in the head to finish her. They had maneuvered her back into the field where she wouldn’t be readily visible from the road. They abandoned her body and left her bicycle with her.

Meanwhile, Amy’s family and friends were frantically looking for her. Her face stayed on the nightly news. It occurred to Hall and Neville that they might have missed a chance to rob Amy, so they went back to her body and took the small amount of cash from her pocket. They then used her body for target practice.

As so many narcissists do, Hall just had to brag about what they had done. He told his step-brother who went to the Arlington police. As police focused on Neville and Hall, they made for the border, but were arrested in Eagle Pass trying to cross into Mexico on March 3rd. Once detained, both men spent a lot of time boasting to reporters and investigators. They openly laughed about torturing Amy. Hall went so far as to imitate the sounds she was make and act out his shooting of her. He described how she begged to live, but died with Robert Neville’s name on her lips.

The interviews would come back to haunt them. Both men claimed diminished mental capacity as a defense, but the juries saw the videos of them laughing it up about torturing and killing Amy. The described her as “easy prey” and talked about how they wanted to be serial killers. Hall specifically mentioned that they chose Amy “because I didn’t have to put bruises on her to get her in the car.”  He bragged about being the one to convince Amy that she was safe with them and even getting her to leave the car and walk over to Neville. He said she might have gotten away if he hadn’t been there to help Neville.  Asked if he had any remorse, on the Fox 4 video that was played, he laughed and said “I wouldn’t want to be her. She had to take a lot of pain.”  The juries sentenced both men to death.

Amy’s grandmother, Carolyn Barker wasn’t satisfied. For her, the media was too focused on the perpetrators and not on the victim. It seemed to her that Hall and Neville wanted to be famous. Every time the murder was covered, she had to look at their faces, hear their words, listen to everyone talk about their upbringings and mental status. What about Amy? Amy was the one who should be remembered.

cross

Carolyn went to find the place in the weed-choked field where Amy had died. She says that part of her Native American beliefs are that a person’s spirit separates from the body and ascends to the afterlife at the place of death and that place becomes sacred. She marked that sacred spot with a cross. Amy had never liked being alone, and when other families in a grief support group expressed interest, she encouraged them to place their crosses beside Amy’s. This was no ordinary support group, but Families of Murdered Victims, and from there the unique memorial to crime victims was born.

Neville was executed February 8, 2006. Hall was executed February 15, 2011, thirteen years to the day from when he murdered Amy Robinson. Although it was financially and emotionally draining, Amy’s mother and sisters made the journey to see the executions. Her grandmother Carolyn did not, choosing instead to celebrate Amy’s life among her fellow angels. Her mother Tina said that she needed to see their final justice for herself. Both men expressed regret and apologized to the families.

Neville claimed to have become a Christian and told them he would see Amy on the other side and apologize to her and tell her how much her family loved and missed her. Hall also claimed to have found Christianity and said he wished he could make things right.  Amy’s sisters weren’t interested in forgiving him. Amanda expressed that she believed he was not remorseful but playing for cameras right to the end. Ruth said she felt like a weight had been lifted from her and she was glad Hall died the same day Amy did. It felt right to her.

From the four original crosses, Amy’s field is now home to more than 160 crosses, tangible reminders of lives taken in violence. Carolyn Barker’s love for her granddaughter transformed her grief into something beautiful. She wanted Amy’s memory to live on and she has succeeded. The memorial has been named Our Garden of Angels. You can take a visual tour from their website and read more about some of the precious lives remembered there at http://ourgardenofangels.org/.

 

 

 

SOURCE NOTES:

http://ourgardenofangels.org/

http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/death/US/neville1011.htm

Neville’s Appeals: Neville v. Dretke, Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2004 WL 2049335 (N.D. Tex. 2004) (Habeas)
Neville v. Dretke, 423 F.3d 474 (5th Cir. 2005) (Habeas)

http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-5th-circuit/1209854.html

http://www.murderpedia.org/male.N/n1/neville-robert-james.htm

Hall v. State, 67 S.W.3d 870 (Tex.Crim.App. 2002). (Direct Appeal)
Hall v. Texas, 537 U.S. 802, 123 S.Ct. 70 (2002). (Remand)
Hall v. State, 160 S.W.3d 24 (Tex.Crim.App. 2004). (Direct Appeal After Remand)
Hall v. Quarterman, 534 F.3d 365 (5th Cir. 2008). (Habeas)

Click to access 06-70041-CV.pdf

http://www.murderpedia.org/male.H/h1/hall-michael-wayne.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Got the Hell Out: A Podcast Review

First, Happy Valentines Day. Nothing says love like an Old Testament, Polygamist, Doomsday Cult, right?

From their website:

I spent 10 years in an Old Testament, Polygamist, Dooms Day Cult. If you want to learn more about the time I spent there, listen to the damn podcast! It was one hell of a ride and I soooooo look forward to telling all the grizzly details! Jump onboard, I promise you won’t be disappointed!!!!

That’s how Debby, one of the main hosts of “I Got the Hell Out” introduces herself and she does not lie. If you’re as fascinated with cults as I am, you won’t be disappointed at all. Her co-host is Laura. By day, Laura is a pharmacist, and by night, she’s a badass interviewer.

Laura leads Debby through aspects of her life in a doomsday cult. The unnamed cult is intriguing as the leader gradually twists recognizable fundamentalism into something more bizarre and oppressive. I learned about this podcast via Instagram before the first episode dropped and was immediately interested in the insider perspective of a cult.

Debby is flat out funny. She is like that one friend we all have who is irreverent, borderline crude, but so straightforward and honest that you simply must laugh with her. Laura does a great job of steering Debby back to topic and teasing out new facts. This could be a monologue, but Laura shapes it into a story. It’s hard to compare IGTHO to other podcasts because I can’t think of anyone else who has this sort of first person knowledge of their subject matter. Debby isn’t telling us about doomsday cults. She’s telling us about her life and it’s compelling.

The themes are mature and so is the language. This isn’t a podcast to put on with tender ears around, but that’s why God gave us headphones, right? Production values are good. There’s no distracting echo or background noises. There is some banter, but it’s minimal and related to the topic.

As a fun aspect, they invite listeners to send in their favorite alcoholic Kool-Aid beverage recipes and pick one to share each week so you can “drink the Kool-Aid” along with them.

If you want to give them a try, start at the beginning, because there is a story there. You will learn how Debby ended up in a cult, what kept her there, and just how she managed to get out. She’s one strong lady! You can find them all over social medial. Just go to the website igotthehellout.com and check out the links. You can email questions and Debby does her best to incorporate those into the show. They also have links to multiple interviews so have a listen and get to know Laura and Debby a bit better.

Cowtown Crime Verdict: Drink the Kool-Aid. It’s good for you.

custompatreonigtho2

Smiling Assassin: The Kaufman County DA Murders

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
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.

courthouse
Kaufman County Courthouse

 

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.

Hasse Crime Scene 2.png
DPS troopers walking past evidence markers on Grove Street, Photo credit: Associated Press, Dallas Morning News, David Woo

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 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.

Crime scene_ lubbock

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.

 

Segway
Photo credit: CBS, KTVT

 

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.

 

Storage search
FBI search of Williams’ storage facility, photo credit: Target Justice: 48 hours, CBS

 

 

weapons stockpile
Evidence, including the weapons stockpile, as shown in court, photo credit: Target Justice: 48 hours, CBS

 

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.

couple

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.

McLelland

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.

 

Eric-Williams-112014
Photo credit: Dallas Morning news

 

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.

http://www.kaufmanherald.com/hot_news/article_6bdeebda-8600-11e4-96dd-9725c54eff63.html
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/target-justice-48-hours-probes-texas-prosecutor-killings-hasse-mclelland/

While researching this case, I discovered true crime author Katherine Casey has book about these murders coming out in March. I’m excited to read it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaufman_County_murders
Kaufman County Murder Trial: Day 3 Updates
http://www.ktre.com/story/27520981/day-one-of-kaufman-da-murder-trial-concludes
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/woman-to-plead-guilty-in-connection-with-2013-kaufman-murders/
Kim Williams Testifies In Kaufman Trial
http://www.kaufmanherald.com/hot_news/article_6bdeebda-8600-11e4-96dd-9725c54eff63.html
http://www.kaufmanherald.com/around_town/article_9e2e02b0-bfdc-11e7-8f38-c30f7ae031ce.html
https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Closing-Arguments-Set-in-Ex-Officials-Capital-Murder-Trial-285933291.html
https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Eric-Williams-Sister-Speaks-out-About-Kim-Williams-Murder-Sentence-287065121.html

 

 

 

All Crime No Cattle: A Review

All Crime No Cattle is a “conversational true crime podcast hosted by Texas natives Erin and Shea.”  New episodes drop every Wednesday. Crime is bigger in Texas, y’all.

Ain’t that the truth? I’ve really enjoyed watching the evolution of this podcast. I met Shea and Erin through a MFM fan group. They were launching their podcast just as I was launching my blog. I only review podcasts that I really like, but I knew after episode 3 that this podcast was going to be a winner.

The banter works great because they are a real life couple and you just can’t fake the chemistry of two people who live together. Their style is Texas with just the right amount of twang. I don’t notice any accent at all to their voices, which naturally means they sound authentically Texan. For a new podcast, I haven’t noticed the technical struggles I hear with many start ups.

This podcast is in the same realm as My Favorite Murder, but a little more serious than say, It’s About Damn Crime Crime or Wine and Crime. It’s less serious than Casefile or Murderous Minors. I especially love the fact that I am learning about cases I don’t know well, or even at all. I’m pretty steeped in Texas crime, but I had never heard about the lynching of Allen Brooks in episode 3. If you are looking for a place to start, that’s an excellent episode to try out.  I also enjoyed the recent Matamoras episode. I was a college student during the 80s Satanic Panic and the name “Matamoras” has long conjured images of murder and ritual but I’d never really heard the story.

I reached out to Shea and Erin for a brief interview.

1. First, tell me a bit about how you became interested in true crime. I love to hear about the genesis of a murderino.

E: I’ve been interested in true crime since I was a little kid watching Unsolved Mysteries and Dateline with my mom. In high school I admittedly became a little obsessed, reading any book I could get my hands on about serial killers or forensics. It became such a deep interest that in my first year of college I majored in psychology with the intent on becoming a criminal profiler for the FBI! I ended up going into anthropology but I never lost my true crime roots.

S: I’ve always had a casual interest in true crime, but I was a little overwhelmed at first after meeting Erin and realizing her deep fascination with the genre. Although I didn’t quite understand at first, her love of true crime rubbed off on me, especially after binging and discussing podcasts and tv shows like Serial, Making a Murderer, and Forensic Files. It fascinated me how much more there was to know and talk about.

2. When did you decided to start your own podcast? How did you go about making the idea a reality?

E: When we first really started listening to true crime podcasts we jokingly threw around the idea of making our own, as I think a lot of listeners do. After months of talking about it we started getting more serious about the idea, but it always seemed like a far-fetched goal. For me, the technical aspect of recording and figuring out the equipment that we needed was daunting so I assumed that our own podcast was just wishful thinking. But Shea really spent time learning and researching all about the behind-the-scenes aspects of podcasting and one day announced to me he had picked out all of our equipment and we were ready to go! That made everything a stark reality, and it was a bit scary. Yet everything else fell into place surprisingly easily.

S: I think we had been throwing the idea around for about a year. I kept going back to the idea of doing something creative with Erin that we were both passionate about and would bring out each of our talents. A podcast seemed like a natural fit. For months I did research on equipment, podcast hosting sites, and the do’s and don’ts of podcasting. I have previous experience as an audio technician and a musician and that knowledge really helped on the recording side of things. I knew Erin was an amazing writer and researcher and I could handle the technical end, but the clincher was we are best friends in real life who love talking about true crime. That’s what really made me believe we could make it work.

3. What do you think has been the biggest challenge? What’s your favorite part of podcasting?

E: We knew we wanted to do a conversational-style podcast with a bit of banter. We also knew that it would be intrinsically more difficult to cover serious cases while still maintaining any sort of witty repartee. That balance between covering these soul-crushing, devastating cases while still throwing a few jokes around has been delicate but I think we’re getting better with each episode. We also wanted to make a concentrated effort to present cases about people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and other minorities, but the clear difference in media coverage and attention these types of cases have in our culture make many of these hard to research. Still, we’re continually trying our best to present diverse stories. My favorite part of our podcasting is the weeks where Shea presents the case he’s been working on so I get to lay back and listen to a story I don’t know much, or anything, about! It’s like being a part of the audience and it’s been a fun experience.

S: For me, it’s the editing. Since our podcast is about an hour long per episode, we have to edit out a lot of breaths, word fumbles, and other stupid mouth sounds. I also have to complete several steps to process the audio to make it sound as good as I can. It has turned into a second job, but one that I actually enjoy. What I have found to be the most helpful is designing a post-recording workflow to help with the consistency of the audio quality as well as save time. My favorite part of the podcasting experience is when we delve into interesting discussions which bring out details about a case that neither of us individually had considered. It’s neat to hear that kind of discussion happen organically with a case you’ve worked so hard to research.

4. Describe your creative process. How do you choose your subject and how do you divide up the work?

E: We each decide independently what cases we are going to cover. We try to find cases in a different part of Texas or a different time period in order to represent our state and our history as holistically as possible. We also have to make sure any subject we choose has enough information on the crime, investigation, prosecution, or other details in order to fill the hour time limit we have.

S: Like we say in the intro episode, it’s a weekly podcast where one of us is telling the other about a specific true crime case. We work pretty much independently from each other as far as the research and writing goes. This helps to get genuine reactions and conversations about the cases we cover. It also gives us each about a two week research period per episode. Additionally, we have the Lone Star Lunatic series episodes, which are much bigger or complicated cases involving serial killers or other major crimes. We research, write, and present those cases working together throughout the process because generally they are too much for one person to handle alone.

5. How have you found the podcast community? They seem like a pretty supportive group. Have you had people who helped?

E: The true crime podcast community has been so wonderfully supportive! We have made so many friends just on Twitter and Facebook with independent podcasters just like ourselves who are doing great work. I consider the community an awesome bonus to this entire experience.

S: We have had a great experience with the podcast community so far. Several podcasts larger than us promoted our show since the beginning, which has really helped our audience to steadily grow. We are always happy to do promotional support for other podcasts that we believe in.

6. What is your favorite episode so far and why?

E: My favorite episode so far was episode 3, the Lynching of Allen Brooks. The history and social issues at the turn of the 20th century were incredibly interesting to research in order to give context to the case. It is still so fascinating to me that a mass spectacle lynching in downtown Dallas has nearly been forgotten and I hope that we did a small part in helping tell Allen Brooks’ story.

S: My favorite episodes have been parts one and two of Robert Ben Rhoades, the
Truck Stop Killer. There are not many resources out there, if any, that fully tell the story of this serial killer from beginning to end. I’m so proud of the work we did in compiling this massive amount of information from multiple sources together into a cohesive story.

7. Tell me a little more about yourselves away from podcasting.

E: I love arts and crafts, board games, video games, and bad movies. We are really big nerds at heart. I have a master’s degree in anthropology and I focused on zooarcheology and bioarchaeology (the study of animal and human bones in archaeological contexts). Because of my studies I have a strong interest in bones and a passion for osteology. I actually collect and process animal bones that I find while out hiking to add to a comparative collection I’ve been amassing over the past couple of years. I know that might be a major red flag to those of us in the true crime community, but my love stems from a purely academic interest in bones and the information you can glean from them about an individual’s life. It’s actually pretty helpful in studying true crime since I know a decent amount about pathology, trauma, and the identification of human remains. We also have amazingly supportive friends and family and the two best dogs in the world.

S: I love being outdoors. You’ll often find me fishing, camping, or playing disc golf. We both are members of the archaeology societies in our county and state and we try to make it to as many archaeological field schools as we can every summer. If you follow us at all on social media it’s probably not surprising that our lives also revolve around our dogs, Nelson and Brienne.

I appreciate Shea and Erin’s empathy for victims and sensitivity in not sensationalizing cases.  They don’t doctor the stories up with dramatic music. The best banter style podcasts are the ones that make you feel as if you’re sitting in a room listening to your friends chat and that’s exactly how All Crime No Cattle makes me feel. So if you like your crime with a Texas flair, this is a great podcast for you to try.

Cowtown Crime Verdict: A Rising Texas Star

Preacher Man: The Sins of Tommy Ray Kneeland

Courtroom
Kneeland clutching his Bible as he is led to the courtroom by Winkler County Deputy Sheriff Jack Speer for arraignment. Photo Credit: May 10, 1974 The Odessa American, staff photo by Eugene Porter
Tommy Ray Kneeland was an enthusiastic youth minister. He taught Sunday school and drove the church bus. He loved bowling and attending gospel concerts with his wife and two young children. But in his spare time? He also like to torture and murder young women. His little hobby came to a screeching halt in 1974 when of these young women survived.

Kneeland was born in Kermit, Texas in 1949. Kermit is the county seat of Winkler County in West Texas. It’s a typical Oil Boom city that flourished in the 50’s and 60’s. Tommy Ray Kneeland was born into this small, but thriving community. In 1970, he lived across the street from Nancy and Gene Mitchell and their twin three-year old daughters. Like so many people in Kermit, Kneeland’s family was heavily invested in the oil and gas industry.

Nancy Mitchell
Nancy Mitchell, Credit: Odessa American

September 15, 1970, Nancy Mitchell filled a prescription around 8 p.m. Her husband worked very late and she was often home alone in the evening. Shortly after arriving home from her trip to the pharmacy, she put the twins to bed and called her uncle. Her husband arrived home at 12:45 to find the children sleeping, but his wife gone. Her purse with cash and cigarettes was sitting there in easy view. The only thing missing was Nancy. Her clothing was found out on an isolated roadway. Her dress, underwear, bra, slip, and pantyhose were scattered, cut into pieces and shredded by a knife, but no blood.

June 4, 1971, less than a mile from the place her clothing was found, an oilfield worker found the badly decomposed body of a woman. Dental records confirmed this was the body of Nancy Mitchell. Determining a cause of death was difficult, but the medical examiner thought she had died of asphyxiation. Traces of plastic were also found. The location was an oil lease owned by Tommy Ray Kneeland’s father.

When Nancy Mitchell went missing, police had spoken to Tommy, but there was nothing to make them suspicious. He was a polite, well-groomed, church-going, young man. They barely even noticed when he moved to Euless immediately after the body was found. Meanwhile, Gene Mitchell was going through hell. Even though he had a rock solid alibi from having been at work, people looked at him funny. There were rumors that he had killed his wife. His three-year-old twins were too small to understand and cried inconsolably for their mother.

Kermit, Texas.png
Kermit, Texas circa 1970s. The “red I” to the right side is the pharmacy.

Euless, Texas in in the NE corner of Tarrant County. It’s the ‘E’ in the area known as HEB. Once in Euless, Kneeland found work as a carpet layer. He married a woman and they had two children. As always, he became very involved in a local church. Reverend Robert Owens of Hurst Christian Church was impressed with the enthusiastic youth minister and Sunday school teacher. He described Kneeland as outgoing and charismatic. The teens flocked to Kneeland who was so trusted he even drove the church bus.

A year after Kneeland moved to the DFW area, the bodies of two teens were found dead in Fort Worth. Friday, June 30, 1974, 17 year-old Jane Handy and 15 year-old Robert Gholson borrowed a 1961 white Ford Fairlaine from Jane’s father.

Ford Fairlaine.png

They told him they were headed to a party, but the pair really intended to drive all the way from Oklahoma to Dallas for a concert. It’s a three hour drive, but they didn’t get very far before the Fairlaine broke down near Ardmore, Oklahoma. The teens began hitchhiking. Both had run away before and weren’t afraid to brave the world on their own. Their first ride took them as far as Gainesville, Texas. That’s where they met Tommy Lee Kneeland. Kneeland often had to drive long distances for work. He told the kids he would take them to Hurst and that from there it would be easy to hitch a ride to Dallas. They happily climbed in with him.

Instead of taking them to Hurst, he drove them to a seclude area in the east of Fort Worth, a party spot for local bikers just off a popular trail. He bound their hands with wire coat hangers. Based on what we now know about his history, he always had a gun. I’m assuming this is how he was able to control two people. He wasn’t a large man, only standing 5 foot 7 with a slender build. Kneeland knocked Robert to the ground and began raping Jane. She fought for her life, thrashing and screaming for help. Frustrated, he tried to gag her, but then she got her hands free. She fought him hard. He pulled a knife and stabbed her six times in the chest and six times in the back. He then slashed her throat and in his fury began stabbing her face until it was obliterated.

He looked over where Robert had been laying, but the teenager was gone. He’d gotten to his feet and run for his life. Kneeland caught up with him on the tail and stabbed him just as he had Jane: six times in the back and six in the chest. He slit the boy’s throat, but didn’t take his rage out on his face.

The next morning, bikers found Robert’s body on the trail and called the police. It was only while searching the area for evidence that they located Jane. Because of the damage to her face, Jane wasn’t identified until police ran her prints. She hadn’t been reported missing yet due to her tendency to run away. It was after being picked up as a runaway that her prints ended up in the system.

Tarrant County Medical Examiner Felix Gwozdz described the wounds as extremely deep and violent, the result of an intense attack. Stranger attacks are the most difficult cases to solve and with no way to link the teens to Kneeland, the case went cold. It would remain that way until 1974.

bridge
Credit: Lee Switzer. Arlington-Bedford Road Bridge, University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu;

April 23, 1974, 16 year-old Danita Cash went to pick up her brother near the old Arlington-Bedford Bridge which crosses a channel of the Trinity River. I’ve seen stories that her brother had gone there with friends for target practice and I’ve seen stories that the boys were fishing. Either way, Danita had gone to fetch her brother. The bridge is now closed, but in 1974, the area was heavily wooded and off the main path. Growing impatient with waiting, Danita honked her horn to get her brother’s attention. Like brothers so often do, he ignored her. A strange man responded, though and he asked if she needed help. She assured him she was fine and he left. She waited a bit for her brother, then honked again.

The man came back and this time he had a gun with him, a sawed-off, 12 gauge shotgun. He forced Danita to come with him, bound her hands with twisted wire and put carpet tape over her mouth. She desperately struggled to free herself. She kept trying to speak to him. He reached down to loosen the tape so he could hear what she had to say and that’s when he lost control of the truck. He veered off the road and into the mud. The man gunned his engine, but the wheels just dug in deeper. Incredibly, he let her go. He was afraid someone would stop to help and see Danita bound in his car. “Take off,” he told her. “I’ll kill you if you tell the police.”

She ran all the way back to her car and drove straight home to her mother who immediately called the police. The truck was gone by the time police made it to bridge, but they found a sanding disk of the type used by tile or carpet layers. It was believed the man had put it under a tire to get the traction needed to escape the mud. Danita had a good description of her kidnapper as well as his truck. He had a unique truck, a vintage 1957 pick-up with a distinctive toolbox. Soon police narrowed in on an unlikely suspect, a local youth minister and carpet layer. They put Kneeland’s picture in a photospread. Danita identified him easily.

In the stakeout that followed, police saw Kneeland ready his truck for painting.  Kneeland realized he was being watched and called the police himself. He said he wanted to come in and “clear things up.”  He came in to talk and soon confessed, not just to the kidnapping of Danita, either. He admitted to the unsolved murders of Jane Handy and Robert Gholson. Then he started talking about Nancy Mitchell from Kermit.

Kneeland admitting kidnapping his neighbor at gun point. He raped her, then put a plastic bag over her head to suffocate her, but she was taking too long to die. He tried injecting air into her arm, but Nancy stubbornly clung to life. Kneeland stabbed her repeatedly and slit her throat. He left her body on his father’s land and went back to life as normal.

Police were deeply suspicious that Kneeland was possibly responsible for the unsolved rape and murder of Benbrook teenager Carla Walker, but Kneeland never confessed to the crime and was never charged. The best break down of the Carla Walker case I’ve ever heard is the Texas-based podcast Gone Cold. It was this podcast where I first heard the name Tommy Ray Kneeland. I became fascinated with the story and began digging further. Episodes 4 and 5 break down the suspects. Episode 7 features an interview with Kneeland’s wife at around the 15 minute mark. I cannot recommend this series highly enough. Carla Walker deserves justice.

Kneeland’s wife insists that he never raised a hand against her. He was a good husband. She never worried when he was out that he would be unfaithful because he strongly disapproved of women who dressed provocatively or showed too much skin. He did come home frequently with blood on his clothes. She said he simply cut himself at work all the time and she washed the blood without thinking about it.  Kneeland has been a suspect in many other murders around the area. Given the opportunistic nature of his crimes, I believe he committed other crimes out there which we will never link to him.

Everyone was shocked when Kneeland was placed under arrest. His father insisted that he was always a good boy. His pastor went to visit the young minister in jail and referred to him as “one frightened boy.” Kermit and Fort Worth are very far apart. Kneeland was arraigned for the Fort Worth murders and the kidnapping, but then had to be transported across the state to answer for his crime against Nancy Mitchell. Gene Mitchell was relieved to have the crime solved, but that didn’t undo the years of hell he and his daughters had endured.

arraigned
Kneeland being arraigned before a Kermit Justice of the Peace. Photo credit: The Odessa American, 11 May 1974, Staff photo by Eugene Porter

In a plea agreement, Kneeland was sentenced to 10 years for kidnapping Danita Cash and two life sentences for the murders of Jane Handy and Robert Gholson.  He was sent back to Kermit for trial there. Because of the publicity, the case was transferred to another county. The offense Kneeland committed against Nancy were all stacked: Kidnapping, murder, abuse of corpse. The prosecution, Winkler County DA Mike Fostel asked the jury to sentence Kneeland to 270 years. The jury sentenced him to 550 years.

In a perfect world, that’s where the story would end, with Kneeland in prison. But the 1970s and 80s there was a movement away from incarceration. Prisons were overflowing and to ease the crowding, prisoners were paroled at unprecedented rates. It made sense to release those serving steep sentences for drug and property crimes, but a predator? Anyone could get three for one good time. September 16, 1987, just 12 years and 9 months after he had been incarcerated, Tommy Ray Kneeland was paroled.

Mike Fostel was shocked. Due to a glitch, the parole notifications had gone to the county where the prosecution had been transferred and not Winkler or Tarrant Counties. They didn’t have the chance to object. During his brief incarceration, Kneeland had been up for parole three times.

Kermit didn’t want Kneeland to return there but that was fine, because the city of Hico was ready to welcome Kneeland with open arms. Some family or friends had started a petition there to help him get parole. A local pastor had written letter to parole board talking about how his family would welcome Kneeland and he had a place to stay. He later claimed  he didn’t know what Kneeland was actually in prison for.

Kneeland re-married, this time to a woman with two children, was again active in church and started his own business. However in July 1994 he was stopped for expired registration and found to have two rifles in his truck including a loaded semi-auto under his seat. This was a violation of his parole.

Residents of Hico admitted to mixed feelings. Some insisted they were sure he was rehabilitated. They described him as a hard working family man, a good Christian. Of course, that’s how people described Kneeland before he started raping and killing. These people thought it too harsh to send Kneeland back to prison, but considering he was known to kidnap women at gunpoint, the violation is alarming. Other residents of Hico confessed to being relieved. Many said they didn’t know what he had been in prison for and were shocked.

Tommy Ray Kneeland is the classic example of how the appearances can deceive. Underneath the preacher man façade was a dark savagery only revealed by his terrible crimes. Thankfully, Kneeland is still housed in the Stiles Unit, never again to be released. The release of such dangerous men as Tommy Ray Kneeland and Kenneth McDuff caused Texas to once again overhaul parole laws, tightening them, but the moods of the public swing like a pendulum and I see a movement for compassion and rehabilitation. Those are lofty goals and while I agree with the sentiment, I hope we never again lose sight of the importance of keeping dangerous predators locked up.

Stiles
Stiles Unit, Jefferson County Texas

Sources Notes:

Researching an older case can be challenging. Here are some of the places I located information.

Kneeland’s appeal can be read here. It is a subscription service but you can pay per report if you are interested enough.

The Gone Cold podcast was an invaluable resource and I highly recommend it. You can listen to it on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever pod catcher you prefer.

Most of my other resources were difficult to locate and require a subscription to Newspapers.com . If you do have a subscription, the best coverage was the Odessa American.