The adults in Shakeisha Lloyd’s brief life failed her. It’s not that they didn’t love her. She was very loved. It’s not that they weren’t doing their best. They tried. But the truth is that they utterly failed to protect her resulting in her death at the age of ten, just a day after she completed 4th grade. Surviving family members remember her as a sweet, cheerful little girl who loved singing.
Photo credit: TCU Magazine
Photo credit: Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Shakeisha lived with her extended family in the historic Stop Six neighborhood of Fort Worth, Texas. Stop Six is primarily an African-American community that was once the sixth stop on the Northern Texas Traction Company, a trolley line that ran between Fort Worth and Dallas. They’re best known as the home of the Dunbar Wildcats and their multiple basketball state championships under the guidance of legendary coach Robert Hughes. If she had survived, Shakeisha would have gone to school there. Instead, her mother met a man named Edward Lewis Lagrone.
Like so many inner city, blue collar communities, Stop Six was ravaged by drugs and gangs in the 80s and 90s like they were natural disasters that laid waste to families and the infrastructure. In 1985, Shakeisha’ s mother began dating Lagrone. Allegedly he made a living as a cook, but everyone knew Lagrone’s real job was as the local drug dealer. Crack had ferocious grip on Stop Six and Lagrone was deep in the culture. Pamela Lloyd only dated Lagrone for six months, but that was enough for him to ingratiate himself to the family. He would come by to visit with the children.
No one questioned why a grown man would be so invested in the children of a woman he briefly dated. As for Pamela, she was struggling with her own addiction to crack and Lagrone was her supplier. She was willing to ignore everything else to keep him closer. There were eight people living in Shakeisha’s house. She had a older brother, Charles, a baby sister, her mother, her uncle Dempsey, and two elderly great aunts, seventy-six-year-old Carolina “Caola” Lloyd and eighty-three-year-old Zenobia Anderson. Other family members were frequently there. Shakeisha was especially close to another great aunt and uncle, Beverly and Billy Lloyd. Their daughter Kendra was the exact same age as Shakeisha. Kendra was her cousin and her best friend in the world.
In spite of there being so many people around, we know Lagrone had plenty of alone time with little Shakeisha. In 1991, Pamela noticed physical changes in her daughter that concerned her. She was gaining weight and her breasts were growing. One night after her bath, Shakeisha told Pamela, “Mommy, something is moving around inside of me.” Pamela took her daughter to the hospital for an examination and learned that her 10 year child was 17 weeks pregnant.
Shakeisha admitted to her mother that Lagrone had been raping her for two years and that he said he would kill her if she told. She could remember nine different times she had been raped by Lagrone, but it’s hard to know how much occurred. Child predators spend time getting close to a child and gaining their trust. The goal is to have access, but to also ensure that the child doesn’t tell. The process of gradually escalating intimacy and control is called “grooming” and frequently includes lavishing attention on lonely children.
The predator starts out with little things, kissing or cuddling before moving into fondling and ultimately full intercourse. Threats and guilt are used to maintain control of the child. The child victims are often conflicted. How can someone make them feel so good and yet so bad at the same time? They believe from all the attention that this person must love them. If they tell about the bad parts, they’re harming this person who loves them. As with any confession, the longer they silent, the harder it becomes to tell. They become afraid that no one will believe them. Shakeisha had told no one. Not even her cousin.
Pamela wanted to do the right thing. She reported him to the police. But she also contacted Lagrone. At first he denied “messing with” Shakeisha and hung up on her. But later he called back and apologized. He said he was sorry for what he had done and that he would take care of the baby. She told him she was pressing charges.
The next day, she instructed Shakeisha to call Lagrone’s beeper, fearing that he might not call her back, but he would call Shakeisha. He did call back and she told him Shakeisha need to have an abortion which would cost $895. He said he would pay.
May 29th was the end of the school year. Shakeisha should have been looking forward to the summer and 5th grade. She should have been riding her bike or playing with Barbies. She should have been giggling with Kendra and dancing around singing as she loved to do. Instead, her mother was negotiating with Shakeisha’s rapist to pay for her abortion. Lagrone offered Pamela $1,000 to pay for the abortion and another $500 just for her. All she had to do was withdraw her complaint. He told her he would be by on Thursday with the money.
Pamela didn’t withdraw the complaint. She was trying to do the right thing by her daughter. She had brought this man into their lives and allowed him access to her children. She was going to protect her daughter now. But communicating with Lagrone would prove a fatal mistake. She should have known better. She really should have.
Lagrone was more than just a drug dealer. He had already been to prison before. Lagrone was already a convicted murderer.
On October 6, 1976, Lagrone shot and killed a man named Michael Anthony Jones in a dispute. He was sentenced to 20 years. While on parole for this offense, he began dating Pamela. In 1990, he has several pending arrests for dealing drugs and was facing more prison time. He was also under investigation for a double homicide committed in December of 1990. Someone broke into an apartment with a shotgun and killed a Clifton Demerson, 39 and Mary Demerson Daniel, 40. According to police, a note in Mary’s possession implicated Lagrone.
This was the man Pamela let into the lives of her family, her vulnerable children and fragile elderly women. She wasn’t bothered by Lagrone being on parole. At the time, she was newly paroled herself after serving time for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. She was deep into her addiction. Her uncle Billy Lloyd warned her about Lagrone. Everyone knew he was a dangerous man. But Pamela just knew that he brought her drugs. She would later comment that she thought he was great with children because he bought lots of presents to the children of the people he sold drugs to. He lavished attention and gifts on the kids of parents whose minds were clouded with drugs.
Although he was a convicted murderer who had threatened to kill the child victim of his new sexual assault charge, Lagrone hadn’t yet been arrested. Arlington Police Department were aware he lived in their city and had the warrant, but they just hadn’t gotten around to it yet citing “a heavy caseload.”
After the conversation where Pamela refused to drop the charges, Lagrone had his new girlfriend Anetta Daniel go with him to the Winchester Gun Store. He couldn’t legally buy a gun, but he gave her the money to purchase a double-barrel, pistol-grip, slide-action Winchester shotgun. She brought the gun out to him and he put it in the trunk of his car.
The next day was May 30, 1991. Pamela woke up around 4:00 am and went to get a drink of water. She was startled by a banging on the door demanding to be let in. Shakeisha’s brother later said he recognized the voice and begged him not to answer the door, but Dempsey Lloyd opened the door to find Lagrone standing there. Dempsey asked Lagrone what he wanted at that hour. In response, Lagrone shot him. Dempsey grappled with Lagrone for the shotgun, but he was weakening quickly.
Lagrone wrestled the shotgun away and went into the first bedroom. There he found Caola Lloyd. Caola was suffering from terminal cancer and was blind and mostly deaf. Lagrone executed the elderly woman with a single shot.
From there he went into the kitchen where he found Zenobia Andersons washing out some clothing. He also executed her with a single shot.
“Run, Mama” Shakeisha cried out. She and Charles were also running for cover, but first Shakeisha stopped to hide her 19 month old baby sister. This altruistic act probably cost her life as Lagrone caught up with her. Ten year-old Shakeisha threw up her hands to shield herself. When Lagrone shot, the bullet traveled through her hands, dismembering fingers and slammed into her cheek, exiting her jaw on the opposite side. He then placed the gun to the back of her neck and pulled the trigger a second time.
On the way out, he leveled the gun again at Dempsey. Dempsey begged for his life, but Lagrone shot him again anyway. Incredibly, Dempsey survived to identify Lagrone as the shooter. Pamela and Charles would also identify him. He was arrested almost immediately. Although there were three living victims and extensive forensics, Lagrone would deny he was the shooter. He also denied being the man who had impregnated Shakeisha, but unlike Lagrone, DNA doesn’t lie. He was the father.
Pamela Lloyd Tutt
At trial, Lagrone put a witness who testified that another person was bragging about the murder. Lagrone’s grown son Erik Williams, AKA Omar Anderson. His son wasn’t the most credible witness, having shot three men in three incidents, one of whom had died. That’s right. Just five months after the Lloyd family murders, Lagrone’s son also killed a man. At the time he testified for his father, he was a known gang member and drug dealer who was under indictment for murder. The jury rejected his testimony in favor of more credible evidence.
After the conviction, the jury heard more about Lagrone’s past including the drug dealing and the previous murder. They also heard testimony from two sisters, both aged fifteen at the time who had been abducted at gunpoint by Lagrone who sexually assaulted and terrorized them in 1986. He threatened them before releasing them and they didn’t tell until he safely behind bars.
The jury sentenced Lagrone to death in just 25 minutes. The violence and drugs didn’t stop there. They continued stalking this community and this family. Lagrone’s son is now serving a life sentence for the murder he was convicted of. Pamela’s addiction was too big to ignore. After Shakeisha’s murder, it only increased. She married the father of her baby girl, but he was also a violent man. In 1997 she shot and killed her husband Gene Tutt. She said it was self-defense. A plea agreement of five years was agreed on in 1999. This meant she was incarcerated on February 12, 2004, date Edward Lewis Lagrone was finally set for execution.
Charles also couldn’t be there. He, too, had fallen prey to the scourge of drugs, dying of an overdose at the age of 22. Shakeisha’s beloved aunt and uncle Beverly and Billy attended the execution as did Kendra, now 24. Lagrone was defiant to the end, refusing to admit responsibility and refusing to apologize. Kendra wept bitterly in front of reporters. She said she didn’t want to hate another person, but he had raped and killed her best friend. She was disappointed that he couldn’t at least apologize. Her father, Billy expressed relief that Lagrone would never again harm another person.
Pamela said before her release that she now accepted responsibility for her role and was ready for a change. She was ready to step away from drugs and men who had dragged her down. Upon release, she left the state and now resides in Missouri. I hope she has found her way.
When I look at the picture of Shakeisha, I’m filled with rage. She deserved better from the adults in her life. Her face is so innocent, so joyous. What a waste of a sweet, precious life.
Source Notes: The following are all sources I have used in this article, particularly murderpedia and clarkprosecutor, both of which list numerous other sources they relied on.
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.
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.
Photo credit: WFAA
Photo credit: WFAA
Photo credit: NBCDFW
Photo Credit: Google Earth Image
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Robert Neville, Jr.
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.
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/.
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)
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.
On August 6, 1983, Betty Lou Beets reported her sixth husband, Jimmy Don Beets missing from their home in Gun Barrel City, Texas. Jimmy Don was beloved in the community. He was a big, loveable bear of a man, a Dallas firefighter and a laidback cowboy. Betty Lou told investigators her husband had left the house to go fishing the day before and she hadn’t seen him since. An immediate search was launched, but with no results.
Six days later, Jimmy Don’s boat washed up near the Redwood Beach Marina on Cedar Creek Lake. Liz Smith, the owner of the marina spotted the green boat bobbing in the water. Two of her customers went out to check on the drifting vessel and spotted Jimmy Don Beets fishing license. Parks and Wildlife personnel spent weeks dragging the lake, looking for Jimmy Don’s body. His heart medication and glasses were also found in the boat and it was assumed he had trouble and had fallen overboard.
Gun Barrel City sits on the edge of Cedar Creek Lake, a man-made lake just sixty miles south of Dallas. The 34,000 acre lake is a popular get away spot, close enough to commute to Dallas daily, or a place to retire. It offers a small town lakeside feel, but with all the amenities of a big city just within reach. It was here that Jimmy Don planned to retire from the Dallas Fire Department. The location seemed perfect for him. Jimmy Don was an avid fisherman and Betty Lou already had a trailer on the lake, surrounded by a dense forest of pine and oaks.
The small community rallied to support Betty Lou. How unlucky could one woman be? Her last husband had just gone off and abandoned her and now another husband had vanished. Betty Lou was holding up awfully well, but everyone grieves differently, right? Perhaps she was just stoic.
Privately, though, people were already beginning to ask questions. Bodies just didn’t disappear in this man-made lake. Then there was the matter of Betty Lou’s attitude. A chaplain from the Dallas Fire Department went to visit with Betty Lou during this difficult time and he was taken aback when she immediately began asking if her husband had life insurance and how much she could get.
Betty Lou never had trouble attracting men. She married her first husband in 1952 at the age of 15. She’d had a hard upbringing. Born in 1937 to a pair of young sharecroppers, she was raised in a small pine cabin in Virginia without electricity or running water. Her mother suffered from mental illness and spent long periods of time hospitalized. Her father was a heavy drinker. A bought with measles left Betty Lou’s hearing severely damaged. Due to her mother’s illness, she spent her teen years caring for her younger siblings. Like so many girls of her time, she escaped her parents’ household by marrying in order to set up a house of her own. She was just 15 and Robert was just 18, but early on they seemed happy enough.
Betty Lou and Robert Branson would remain married for 17 years before divorcing. It would be her longest marriage. Betty Lou and Robert had six children together including her daughter Shirley, and son Robert “Robby” Branson II. Accounts suggest that neither spouse was exactly faithful. Betty Lou often escaped the drudgery of being a young mother and housewife to go honky-tonking. At one point, the couple moved to Mesquite, Texas to try and start over and save their marriage, but it didn’t work. Robert worked long hours and soon Betty Lou slipped off to drink and dance while her eldest daughters watched the other children.
Still, she was devastated when Branson left her for another woman and she began drinking heavily. Robert didn’t always pay her child support. This was the first time she had ever been truly on her own and it was hard. Eldest daughter Faye repeated her mother’s choices and moved out at 15 to get married. Taking this as her cue to lighten the load, Betty shipped out the other children. She sent a daughter and Robby to live with their father. Although she promised them it was a temporary visit, she wouldn’t see them again for five years. Another daughter went to live with Faye. Shirley went to stay with friends. The only child she kept was three year old Bobby.
Just a year later, she would remarry. Her marriage to Billy Lane was short, but violent. There is little doubt that he abused Betty and left her bruised, but the two couldn’t seem to stay away. They would break up and reconcile over and over. While they were apart, Betty Lou took malicious pleasure in tormenting Billy. She would go to the same clubs he was at and slow dance with other men while staring at her estranged husband. The marriage ended when Betty shot him twice.
Betty Lou claimed that Billy had forced his way into her house. (source: Buried Memories, by Irene Pence)
“That’s when I reached behind my back and got my gun. He didn’t act afraid. Maybe he thought I was bluffing. He took another step toward me, so I fired at him. Can’t remember how many times, but I kept firing until I saw him stagger out the back door.”
Billy’s teenaged daughter told a different story. She said that Betty Lou, who was living apart from Billy at the time, called and asked Billy to come over. Billy told police he came over in response to this invitation but the two argued, as always. He said he was leaving when she suddenly started firing. This scenario seems likely since he was shot twice in the back. One of the bullets caused so much nerve damage he was never able to walk properly again. He was lucky to have survived. Betty was charged with attempted murder.
Incredibly, the charges would be dropped down to a misdemeanor when Billy told the authorities he had threatened her during a fight. Of course, friends noted that Betty Lou was Billy’s angel while he was in the hospital. She was as loving and sorry as she could be. Betty Lou and Billy would marry again, but that reconciliation wouldn’t last longer than a month. Once the charges were reduced, she had what she wanted. I suppose that technically makes Lane husband number two and husband number three. Either way, he was lucky to survive marriage to Betty Lou. Other men wouldn’t be so lucky.
Six years later, Betty Lou married her third husband (or fourth, depending on how you’re counting), Ronnie Threlkold. She had taken Bobby and moved off once again for a fresh start. This time she’d gone to Little Rock, Arkansas. This marriage was also marked with violence on both sides. Ronnie slapped Betty Lou and she retaliated by slashing the tires on his truck. She also went after him with a tire iron during an argument. She moved back to Texas and Ronnie came with her. Betty was insanely jealous and accused Ronnie of sleeping around with everyone, including her grown daughters. Ronnie finally had enough and packed up to return to Arkansas. As he was packing his car, he heard the sound of an engine gunning, the only warning he had as Betty Lou tried to run Ronnie over. He dove out of the way in the nick of time, cowering between two parked cars as she sprayed him with gravel.
Less than a year after divorcing Ronnie, Betty married Doyle “Wayne” Baker. Betty Lou had a type and Wayne fit it to a ‘T’. He was tall and tan with dark hair and eyes. His work as a roofer kept him fit. Wayne was a hard worker, but he was also a hard drinker and just seven weeks after they married, Betty Lou and Wayne separated. They divorced, but the divorce was as short-lived as their first marriage. Betty was seriously injured in a car accident. As she recovered, Wayne came back with hat in hand, begging for another chance. They remarried. For Betty Lou, a new start always required a new location. Doyle’s boss owned a place on Cedar Creek Lake and the two had spent a lot of time down there. Betty Lou bought a half-acre lot down in Gun Barrel City and Wayne bought the trailer, a nice spot right on the lake.
The happiness didn’t last. One October evening, Betty Lou confided in a couple of her children that Wayne had slapped her and hit her. Her children immediately jumped to her defense and told her to divorce him, but Betty said she would handle it in her own way. The children were all shocked. They like Wayne. He had been nothing but nice to them and they had never seen him mistreat their mother. But they also knew how she was. Betty Lou could be sweet or she could be mean as a cornered rat snake, depending on her mood. Wayne was known to get in the occasional bar fight. Maybe he really did hit their mother.
Betty and Shirley sat outside with a quickly assembled bonfire. Shirley asked her mother what she was going to do about Wayne. “I’m going to kill him,” Betty Lou replied. Shocked, Shirley at first thought her mother might be joking, but soon realized she was serious. She desperately tried to convince her mother to get another divorce, but Betty Lou wasn’t having it. Wayne owned the trailer, she explained to Shirley. Betty Lou just owned the land and she wasn’t about to start over again. Wayne had to go and she had been planning it for a while.
Betty Lou pointed out a hole in the backyard area. She had cajoled some e construction workers to dig for her so she could put in a barbecue pit. She told Shirley that Wayne was going to go in that hole and she would build her patio on top. That night, Betty Lou sent Bobby to stay at a friend’s house. The next morning, she called Shirley to say that the deed was done and she needed Shirley’s help to drag Wayne into the hole, but not until the cover of darkness. Betty Lou also called Wayne’s boss to say Wayne wouldn’t be coming into work. She claimed they’d had a fight and he stormed off to buy cigarettes and hadn’t come back.
Wayne’s boss was shocked. They had a big job planned that day and Wayne was really responsible. That wasn’t like him at all. After three days without his best employee, the boss went by Wayne and Betty Lou’s trailer. He was surprised to see Wayne’s new truck and assumed that meant he had returned. Of course, Wayne wasn’t seen again, but Betty remembered to pick up his last check from the roofing company. Wayne’s boss was sure something was wrong with the situation. A man just doesn’t go off and leave his brand new truck, but he had no proof. Betty Lou filed for divorce claiming desertion. She sold the truck and settled down to live in her trailer, but she was never without a man for long.
Two years later, she would be married again, this time to Jimmy Don Beets.
Jimmy Don was financially well off. He owned his own house and he had a boat on Cedar Creek Lake. The two met at the Cedar Club, a smoky bar where Betty Lou was a waitress. After a day at work, Jimmy Don liked to stop by for a beer and some company. He was a native Texan and liked his women curvy, blonde and bubbly and was quickly smitten with the waitress. Betty Lou like her men tall, dark, and financially well off. Jimmy Don fit the bill.
He had his own place at a neighboring lakeside community, Glen Oaks. It was a three bedroom and entirely paid for. Jimmy Don had been smart with his money. He also owned a nineteen foot Glastron fishing boat and tidy life insurance policy. The one downside with his house was that he had no lake access there. He had to use a friend’s dock. Betty Lou’s place was right on the lake, so it was only natural that he moved in with her.
He had a grown son and rented the place to his family. Jamie, the son, and Betty Lou hated one another on sight and the relationship only got worse from there. One day the house mysteriously burned down. It might have been saved, but somehow the water had been turned off. Good thing Jimmy Don had insurance on the place.
It was around this time that Jimmy Don’s niece discovered a new life insurance policy in her uncle’s name. She thought it was odd because he already had a good life insurance policy through the City of Dallas. Also, the policy information all went to Betty Lou’s daughter in Mesquite. She asked her uncle and he was surprised and told her to cancel it. When he confronted Betty Lou, she played it off as a misunderstanding.
Betty Lou was proud of her trailer. She was always neat as a pin, but she kept after Jimmy Don to help her with beautification projects. The first thing she wanted was a shed and she was very particular about where it should be. She wanted it built over a cement block patio. Jimmy Don agreed that a shed would be useful but he didn’t think the location was right. Why, he could see where the land had sunk in a bit under the patio, but she would not be deterred. She wanted a shed and she wanted it right there. Always indulgent, Jimmy Don built the shed just where she had wanted it.
Next Betty Lou wanted a wishing well. Jimmy Don had rebuilt his Glen Oaks house after it burned and he agreed to build the wishing well for her out of leftover brick. With the help of her son Robby, he spent three days building a four-foot-tall wishing well intended to be a planter. It was a dirty, sweaty job under the broiling August sun, but as Jimmy Don reportedly told Robby, “Whatever Betty wants, Betty gets.” (Source: Buried Memories).
Spinning her web like the black widow she was, Betty Lou put the next part of her plan into motion. Once again, she enlisted one of her children as her partner in crime. First she went to Shirley and explained her plan. Shirley was furious. “You promised me would never kill anyone again!” She refused to help. Apparently, she was okay with her mother killing one husband, but a second one? That was a husband too many.
“I’m going to kill, Jimmy Don,” she announced to Robby. He was shocked. Jimmy Don was the nicest of his mother’s husband’s to date, but she brushed aside his concerns. After a lifetime of living hand to mouth, Betty Lou was ready to cash in. Jimmy Don had plenty of assets and life insurance. She instructed Robby to take his brother and stay gone for several hours. He was to come home alone. She would take care of the killing, but petite as she was, she needed help getting the body out of the house.
Betty took her .38 and went into the bedroom where her husband lay sleeping. She shot him twice, once in the chest and again in the head. First she wrapped him in the bedspread and then she pulled a blue sleeping bag out of the closet. It was a mate to the one she and Shirley had wrapped Doyle Wayne Barker in. She called her daughter and told her she had done it. Again she wanted Shirley to come over and help, but Shirley refused. It was late and Shirley was a newlywed. Betty Lou was on her own until Robby came home.
With his help, they took the body out to the freshly complete wishing well and dumped him inside. Shirley did show up very early the next morning, while it was still dark out, and she asked her husband to stay in the car while she went inside. She came out later and only said that her mother and Jimmy Don had been fighting and he had gone off to Dallas, but everything was going to be okay. That didn’t sound like Jimmy Don. He wasn’t the kind to storm off. His truck was still there as well. Her husband knew something was up, but he kept his mouth shut. Where Betty Lou was involved, it was better not to ask questions.
Later that morning, Betty Lou filled her wishing well with peat moss and flowers. She’d had them in the shed, just ready to go. She instructed Robby to get Jimmy Don’s boat and help her stage the drowning. They placed the fishing license, pills, and glasses and then pushed the boat out. The boat was docked at the back of the property away from prying eyes.
Betty Lou was less than happy to hear that she was expected to wait seven years for her missing husband to be declared dead. She wanted Jimmy Don’s money now. She started looking around for ways to get her hands on his money. What followed was a struggle over the estate between Betty Lou and Jimmy Don’s son, Jamie. She put Jamie’s things out of the Glen Oaks house and tried to sell it without his knowledge. He had to get an attorney to take out a restraining order against her to keep her from selling off items of the estate. She still managed to forge Jimmy Don’s name to the boat title and sell it. She also faked a power-of-attorney form giving her the ability to dispose of his possessions. One day she was seen fiddling with the air conditioning unit of the Glen Oaks house. A little while later, the house burned to the ground for the second time. Firefighters determined the cause to arson.
Robby didn’t have his mother’s ability to stay quiet about his crimes. He told his common-law wife and his grandmother. Likewise, Shirley told their sister Phyllis about Mama’s crimes.
Never long without a man, Betty Lou took up with a new one. His name was Ray Bone and he was a bad, bad man. Ray had done time in the penitentiary for murder. He was known to be just plain mean. All of Betty Lou’s kids were a little scared of him. When rumors hit his ears about the husbands in the yard, a couple of Ray’s friends payed some visits to Robby’s common-law wife and other acquaintances. They never spoke about the rumors again.
Insurance companies don’t like to pay up when there are allegations of arson. Betty Lou was furious when they refused and she rushed off to her attorney. First she couldn’t collect the death benefits, then she couldn’t collect the fire insurance. Her attorney was a man named E. Ray Andrews. E. Ray suggested she seek a “Determination of Death” to speed up the process. She filed for a death certificate, swearing before a judge that there were no other heirs. March of 1985, the judge declared Jimmy Don Beets deceased and granted Betty Lou’s request to be named administrator of his estate, clearing the way for her to inherit everything, the life insurance money, the widow’s pension, and the house.
Just before she got her hands on it all, something happened.
That something was a Henderson County Sheriff’s Deputy named Rick Rose (1947-2015). In March of 1985, a jail informant was brought to his attention. This informant was charged with a drug case, but he had information to trade. Rose was skeptical. It would have to be something good. The informant offered to tell him who had killed Jimmy Don Beets. Well, that had Rose’s attention. It seems Ray Bone hadn’t been the only man in Betty Lou’s life. She’d had a one-night stand with a man while drunk out of her mind and blabbed about the dead husband in her wishing well. She even told the man that she had her husband build the wishing well before she killed them and that her son helped her dispose of the body.
Ray Bone’s attempt to put a lid on the rumors had failed. Even a conspiracy of two can fail. Shirley had talked to her sister Phyllis. Phyllis talked to a friend and that friend called Crime Stoppers. Rick Rose was now hearing the same story from multiple sources.
Meanwhile, Jamie had gotten wind of his step-mother’s antics. He filed a protest to have the “Determination of Death” set aside for a new trial because she had failed to include all the heirs. Betty Lou’s windfall would be delayed just a tiny bit longer.
Police were narrowing in on Betty Lou, but just before they could serve a search warrant for her trailer, it burned. Like the house on Glen Oaks, this was arson. Undeterred, police went out the next day to search the property. They tipped the wishing well over and dug it out. Inside was the blue sleeping bag containing the mortal remains of Jimmy Don Beets.
The trailer was burned, but not entirely. Police recovered 19 guns, including a .38. There were matching projectiles from a .38 located inside the sleeping bag. Taking down the shed was a tougher prospect but finally they were able to get underneath and there they discovered yet another blue sleeping bag, with yet another husband. Doyle Wayne Barker was no longer missing.
Doyle Wayne Barker’s grave; Photo from Henderson County Sheriff’s Department
An arrest warrant was issued for Betty Lou Beets. Surprisingly, a tip about her leaving town came from Ray Bone. He called Rose to let him know they were leaving his house in Mansfield. He told them exactly where they would be when. Mansfield Police Department was called in. They set up on a bridge and swooped in. Inside the truck were numerous guns, ammo, and Betty Lou’s clothing and jewelry.
The trial itself was a circus. Black widows make for great press and Betty Lou was blonde and pretty. Robby and Shirley both testified against her. Incredibly, she blamed them for the murders. She claimed she’d had nothing to do with the murders. Her story–at that time–was that Jimmy Don was very drunk. He and Robby started fighting and she heard the shot from the bedroom. She testified that she had helped her son hide the body in the wishing well, but she denied knowing that Wayne was also buried on the property.
The jury didn’t buy it. They convicted Betty Lou of murder for remuneration, that is for killing for financial gain, and sentenced her to death. Throughout the numerous appeals, Betty Lou would tell many different stories. She became “born again” and bonded with her notorious cellmates including pick-axe killer, Karla Faye Tucker and Darlie Routier.
In 1990, an execution date was set. Betty Lou’s attorneys peppered appellate courts with complaints. They claimed she was incompetent at the time of trial. They claimed she’d had a series of head injuries which caused her behavior. They claimed her father sexually abused her–the first time she had ever made such a claim–and that the memories had been repressed until now. They claimed all of her husbands had brutalized her, beating and raping her daily. Experts hired by the defense diagnosed her as suffering from Batter Woman’s Syndrome and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, two things which were very much in the news at the time.
Media picked up the story and somehow the woman who had never admitted her crimes was suddenly a woman who desperately shot her husband in the midst of a beating. There was never any evidence to support this. One picture surfaced showing Betty Lou with a black eye and a bruise on her chin. Her hair and appearance likely place this as from the time she was married to Billy Lane who was known to have struck Betty Lou. She now said “What my husbands began, the State is going to finish.”
photos from deathpenaltyinfo.org
You couldn’t escape the interviews. She was all over the media. In her pictures, she looked frail or elderly, but the steel was still there. The stories became more and more elaborate. She claimed to have been raped, dragged out in a field, strangled and left to die. She was even featured on Good Morning America.
Her appeals finally ran out. February 24, 2000 Betty Lou Beets was taken to Huntsville, Texas for her date with needle. Protesters stood outside, crying and holding up that picture of Betty Lou with the black eye. She had no final words.
The Texas Council on Family Violence declared:
“Beet’s life is a chronicle of virtually uninterrupted physical, sexual and emotional abuse. She was severely abused as a child and was battered by multiple husbands. Beets suffers from severe learning disabilities and a hearing impairment she has had since early childhood. She also suffers from organic brain damage caused by repeated blows at the hands of abusive men.”
The Council has done good work and I know they had the best intentions, but their pity was misplaced. Men who kill multiple women get called serial killers. Women get called Black Widows, but don’t let the cute moniker fool you. She may have only killed two husbands, but not for lack of trying. I’ve no doubt that her hard life shaped the woman she became, but many people have rough lives. They don’t think that entitles them to murder other people for personal gain. Betty Lou Beets learned early on that anything she wanted in the world, she would have to take. She took that to extremes and sadly Doyle Wayne Barker and Jimmy Don Beets paid the price.
He looks harmless enough. Photos show a man with an earnest, slightly nerdy face. He wasn’t an imposing figure, standing a mere 5 foot 9 with a slender build. He liked dogs, cooking, and fishing. He had no criminal record and held down a job. In the mid-1990’s he was working office jobs and living in Arlington, but he had done warehouse jobs and sometimes he drove a forklift. He was the sort of man you might notice, or you might not. There was nothing that stood out about him. But in 1996 and again in 1999, he caused waves of panic for women in the DFW area, because Dale Devon Scheanette was a serial rapist and a brutal killer.
25 year-old school teacher Christine Vu lived with her Fiancé, Thang Khuu at the Peartree Apartments in Arlington, Texas. On Tuesday, September 17, 1996, Khuu got off work early and came home. He was surprised to find their apartment locked and dead-bolted from the inside. Thinking Christine might be in the bathroom, he went and smoked a cigarette and then came back, only to find the door still locked. He went to a payphone and called but there was no answer. He came back to try one more time, but found the door unlocked.
He went inside where he discovered a scene from his worst nightmares. Christine was naked, face down in the bathtub. Her hands and feet were bound with duct tape, with a strip of the tape connecting them down her back, as if she had been “hog-tied” with duct tape. Detective Ed Featherstone was assigned the case. Initially he was very suspicious of Khuu. After all, we know it’s usually someone close to the victim. Khuu was extremely cooperative and DNA from semen recovered from Vu’s body excluded him as the rapist and killer. In addition, police discovered a fingerprint off the deadbolt lock on the front door. Heartbreakingly, Thang Khuu was most likely sitting outside smoking a cigarette while his fiancée was being killed.
Christine had been sexually assaulted, strangled, and drowned. The print on her door didn’t match anyone who had a reason to be in Christine’s apartment leading police to conclude that they might have that rarity, a stranger killing on their hands. Within a few months, this would be confirmed.
Wendie Prescott also lived at the Peartree apartments while she saved her money to go to beauty school. Wendie was expected at a Christmas Eve shopping trip. Her family became concerned when she didn’t appear and didn’t answer repeated calls so her aunt and uncle went over to check on her. She was left exactly like Christine: naked, bound by duct tape, floating in her bathtub. Detective Tommy Lenoir was called to the scene but it didn’t take him more than a minute to know what he was seeing, the genesis of a serial killer. He immediately called Featherstone to tell him they had another one.
Not only were the two women killed in an identical way, but the apartments had identical floorplans and décor. Then there was another piece of evidence that confirmed it if there was any doubt. Once again, the killer left behind a print, this time in the dust on a TV stand. He also left behind DNA that would match back to Vu’s rapist and killer. Police were hopeful that the prints or DNA would lead to a suspect. Surely the killer was in the system. This couldn’t be a first crime.
Christmas morning at the Peartree apartments was chaos. Word spread rapidly and all the single women were breaking their leases and moving out. Family members had descended, loading up cars with possessions. It made getting statements or canvassing potential witnesses extremely difficult. The exodus also made it easy for the killer to move out without attracting attention.
To the police’s consternation, the DNA and prints led nowhere. The ran the prints through AFIS, the American Fingerprint Identification System and were surprised to get no hits. For months, police pursued promising suspects, obtaining DNA samples that they hoped would lead to a resolution, but again and again, they got no match. They did clear over 200 suspects. They held their breath, wondering when he would strike again, but nothing. Gradually, they began to breathe again. What had happened to him? Perhaps he moved away. Perhaps he had died. Whatever the reason, he seemed to be gone.
February 23, 1999, 22 year old Chima Benson was a senior at UTA. On that night, she went to sleep in the AKA sorority house. She awoke with a man on top of her. He put a gun to her head and he told her, “Do what I say, and I won’t kill you.” He raped her orally. Chima wasn’t the sort to give up easily and she bit him, hard enough that he would forever carry a scar. Unfortunately, this enraged him and he beat her so severely she would need two facial surgeries to repair the damage. He raped her and left her naked, incapacitated and bloody on the floor of her bedroom. Police got a DNA sample from the semen and one more clue. He wasn’t wearing a mask. Chima got a good look at his face. She has been outspoken about her ordeal, even discussing it while she was on the Big Brother TV show. She now works as a TV host.
Detective Lenoir soon received a tip. He heard from Wendie Prescott’s best friend and the last person to see her alive that until recently, she had lived in the AKA Sorority house, in the very same room that was now Chima Benson’s. “That should have been me,” she said. She believed the killer might be her ex-boyfriend who had been stalking her. The tie between Peartree and the AKA house couldn’t be ignored. When the crime lab compared the DNA of Chima’s attacker with that of the Bathtub Killer, it was a match. He was back.
They were hopeful when comparing it to the boyfriend that the case would finally be solved, but he was excluded. The killer was still at large. But at least they now had a physical description of the man, as well has his fresh injury. They went back and began checking the DNA against other sexual assaults. They got another hit, a sexual assault from Grand Prairie. Then another. It’s unusual for a killer to de-escalate from murder to rape instead of the reverse, but the Bathtub Killer had done just that. Forensics would tie him five rapes following the two murders. The killer had morphed into a serial rapist.
Victims included Adrienne Fields, who has also been outspoken as a minister for other victims. In the Source Notes, I’ve included a link to an interview with her.
Adrienne had seen the story of the murders in 1996. She had a feeling of doom, so strong that she moved out of Arlington to Grand Prairie. Although she couldn’t explain it, she was sure that man on the news would come after her. She was right. October 26, 1999, she woke up in the night to the sound of someone running. She sat up in time to see a man in a mask rushing at her. For two hours he sexually assaulted her.
During the ordeal that followed, he told her that the “The Devil kept making him do it.” and also “You’re not like the others.” She knew then that this was a serial rapist. He knew her name and other information, making it clear he had been stalking her. When he was done, he simply walked away. DNA testing confirmed that the Bathtub Killer had indeed attacked her. The fear would hold her prisoner. At night she roamed her house, checking locks on the doors and windows. She didn’t sleep soundly until a year later when police would call her to say they had the rapist in custody.
As so often happens, it was an advance in science that dropped the final puzzle piece into place. The FBI had a new AFIS system: I-AFIS. This system could rotate prints and locate points of comparison where none had been matched before. The best latent print was the dust print from Wendie Prescott’s TV Stand, so Sgt. Gary Kohn submitted that print. Two weeks later, he had a result, and a name: Dale Devon Scheanette. Scheanette had been recently arrested on a burglary charge. Crime Scene Officer Joel Stevenson examined the prints and confirmed they were a match. But what about the print from Christine Vu’s door? He compared those, and again: match. Excited, the two men took the information to the detectives. They had a suspect.
Detective Lenoir quickly checked the name against the case book. Dale Scheanette had lived in Peartree Apartments during the murders. Nothing had ever stood out about him and at the time he had no criminal history. He hadn’t voluntarily donated DNA. Police quickly located Scheanette still living in Arlington. He denied ever having been in the victims’ apartments, but he couldn’t answer why his print would be in both locations. Once again, he refused to voluntarily give a DNA sample or to allow inspection of his penis for damage. But now police had the evidence needed for a Search Warrant to compel him. They found the scar to his penis and DNA matched. He was charged, indicted, and brought to trial in 2003.
There wasn’t much Scheanette’s defense team could do. J.R. Molina, lead attorney for his defense team summed it up saying, “We put on our defense that the evidence was insufficient, but we were fighting that science … fingerprints in the apartment, and they had DNA. That’s some pretty strong stuff.”
January 8th, 2003, sentence was pronounced on Dale Devon Scheanette. The rape victims all testified against him at the punishment phase. They told the jurors similar stories of rape, beatings and sodomy. They were threatened should they ever come forward. After what they suffered and the threats, it’s important to remember that these are only the known victims. It’s entirely credible that others suffered at this man’s hands, but were too afraid to report the crime. The women formed tight bonds during that trial. They supported one another through the grueling process and hugged and cried when the jury sentenced Scheanette to death by lethal injection.
Scheanette never spoke about his crimes. Not to detectives, not to reporters. He never admitted guilt, so we will never know what was going on in his head. Why did he de-escalate? How did he choose his victims? He remained a cipher.
He filed numerous appeals, all based on sufficiency of evidence and procedural matters. He didn’t assert actual innocence, but he didn’t offer an alternative explanation either. As his own attorney noted, there wasn’t much to say about the strong forensic evidence. He asked for pen pals on an anti-death penalty site. Again, he complained about capital punishment being wrong and how the system was flawed. The irony is thick there.
After he had exhausted the legal process, his sister wrote appeals on his behalf, but his time ran out on February 10, 2009. Members of Wendie Prescott’s family chose to attend. Christine Vu’s family did not. Scheanette ignored them all. According to ClarkProsecutor.org, his last words were not a statement of love for his family or plea for forgiveness. “My only statement is that no cases ever tried have been error-free. Those are my words. No cases are error-free.”
I have mentioned my ambivalence to the death penalty before, but I think I can speak for women everywhere when I say I feel safer without that man in the world. We all fear the monster in the night, but it is hard to feel safe when you see him and realize that anyone could be a monster inside. You can’t tell by the face he wears. He could live anywhere. Even next door.