The Hunting Grounds, Part Six: The Monster’s Disguise

The Hunting Grounds is a multi-part series on the predators who made Fort Worth a dangerous place to be a woman in in the 1980s. I strongly recommend you start from the beginning of the narrative. Preview sets the scene, followed by  Stranger in the Dark and Cold Hit which discusses the creation of CODIS and the first Fort Worth Cold Case Unit. The Devil you Know and Caging the Predator address the issue of serial rapists who escalate to murder, and the first killer confined under the Sexually Violent Predator Act. This post is a continuation of A Friend of the Family.


victims
Vanessa Villa, 11; Francis Williams, 30 Melissa Badillo, 23; Maria Navarro, 32;

An 11 year-old child in her own bed. A black sex worker at a truck stop. A young, Hispanic mother running errands in her neighborhood. A woman from out of town on her way back to the bus station. The four have nothing  in common, except they all knew the same man, and he would eventually kill them. He would also get away with it for more than a decade.

Although many people had fled their Northside neighborhood after the 1986 murder of Vanessa Villa (See A Friend of the Family), Melissa Badillo and her sister Sylvia Sanchez had stayed. September 1994, Melissa left her five month old daughter with Sylvia and went out to run errands. She was never seen alive again. Melissa’s half-nude body was found in in a park near Riverside. She had been raped and manually strangled. Among those who came by the house to pay respects was the elder brother of Melissa’s best friend, Juan “Johnny” Segundo. His family had lived nearby for years. The case remained unsolved and a heart-broken Sylvia raised Melissa’s daughter with only stories and a picture to keep her memory alive.

Like so many in the 1980s, Francis Williams was a casualty of the crack epidemic. Her addiction led her into sex work to survive. November 15, 1994, her nude body was found face down in a drainage ditch just blocks from a truck stop. Although the area was frequented by sex workers, it wasn’t where Francis normally worked. She was known to walk the Lancaster/Rosedale area downtown. She had been raped and  manually strangled. In an odd twist, someone had spray-painted the letters “KKK” in white on her buttocks. Police weren’t sure if this was really a racially motivated crime or just a false clue intended to lead them off path. Perhaps it was a sick joke. There was no way to know if that desecration had even come from the killer or from someone who spotted her body.

Because of her lifestyle, Francis hadn’t been reported missing. She was frequently in and out of jails and moved around. Police identified her by her fingerprints. Her mother Emma and her two sisters had seen her just two days prior. Francis had gotten out of jail that Sunday morning and come by. They were able to tell the police that she had recently been seen around town with a Hispanic man, driving a red truck. They didn’t know his name.

During this same time, Dallas PD was working on two sex worker manual strangulations where victim was left in similar circumstances, in a ditch, half dressed. Police were focused on the sex worker angle and spoke to many of the truck drivers and women who knew Francis. The men all pointed fingers at one other. One claimed to have heard someone bragging about having killed a sex worker and painted her. One claimed to have knowledge that Francis had stolen from a drug dealer.

Aerial view Williams
Aerial view of location where Francis Williams’s body was found. Photo courtesy of FWPD archives

The police weren’t the only ones who focused on Francis being a sex worker. Unlike the sensitive reporting by Melody McDonald and Deanna Boyd who told Vanessa’s story, Francis’ murder was reported on by a male reporter and the headlines were very different. “POLICE SAY BODY THAT OF PROSTITUTE” screams the headline and underneath, “Officer says records show woman had 51 citations.” Most of the article is about the problem of prostitution in the area, how truck driver’s won’t park their trucks down there because women are always knocking on the doors. There is nothing about Francis as a person, as someone who had a family who loved her. Her criminal history is all convictions for prostitution and drug possession. She didn’t have a history of theft or violence or even dealing drugs. She didn’t harm anyone. She was just a woman struggling with addiction, trying to survive.

Thankfully, police records show that they took the murder investigation seriously. They worked all the angles. On Wednesday, November 16, a truck driver saw someone throw a garbage bag out. He looked and found it was full of female clothes and a wig. He decided he should call the police. Interviews with other sex workers who knew Francis well told police they had last seen her on n on E. Lancaster, an area she was known to work. She was seen by a friend standing behind the Windsor Hotel. Like so many murders in this time, there were two many suspects and not enough evidence and Francis’ murder was added to the list of unsolved cases.

Maria Navarro wasn’t a local. She came to Fort Worth from Corpus Christi to visit friends and maybe get a new start. A mother of three, she left her children in the car of her own mother, but she didn’t abandon them. She wrote numerous letters and called regularly. Maria had her own demons, particularly cocaine. She visited her friends and made new ones, even a boyfriend that she considered serious. Her husband and the father of her children had died the year before and substance abuse had been her coping mechanism, but Maria was hopeful. An argument with another woman turned into a fistfight and Maria found herself in jail. While there, she wrote letters to her boyfriend and family about her intent to rededicate herself to starting fresh. She pled guilty, served her time and was released. Her boyfriend had a more casual view of their relationship. He liked Maria, but didn’t want anything serious. But he cared and offered to pay for a bus ticket home to Corpus Christi.

Maria was thrilled. She called her mother on June 16th and told her she was coming home and even made arrangements to pick up her children. This was her new life, her fresh start. She also called her sister and gave her the same message. She was going home. When Maria didn’t show up as planned, her mother worried. She called police up in Fort Worth and reported her daughter missing. Maria’s boyfriend didn’t hear from her again and assumed she had gotten on the bus and moved on with her life. Maria’s friend she had stayed with at the Skyline Motel didn’t see her for several days and was surprised that Maria left all her things. She worried, but decided Maria just wanted to go home that badly.

June 17, 1995, children found Maria’s body in Buck Sansom Park. They were there to play baseball when they found her body in the bushes. There was “insect activity” that drew their attention, most likely flies at that time of year. She was nude from the waist down, wearing only a tank top and sandals. She had been raped and manually strangled. Like Francis, Maria was identified by fingerprints from her recent trip to jail. Police then matched her name to the missing persons report filed by her mother. Maria’s friend was able to describe some unique tattoos and jewelry which further confirmed the identity of the body. At the time, police were convinced her murder was related to that of a sex worker named Patricia Apodoca who was murdered the same day.

They questioned everyone, but could find no links between Maria and Patricia. Maria was not involved with sex work and although some people knew both women, there was no indication they knew one another. Patricia’s murder remains unsolved, or if it was solved, I was unable to find any record of it. Police took a hard look at Maria’s boyfriend, but he passed several polygraphs and seemed truly distraught. Her mother and sister took on the task of raising Maria’s three children. The family was impoverished, unable to raised the funds for a headstone leaving Maria Navarro in an unmarked grave.

September 4, 1995, Juan Mesa Segundo pled guilty to his third DWI which made the charge a felony. He was sentenced to 5 years in TDC (Texas Department of Corrections). His brother recalled picking him up in 2000 when he was released. He said his brother seemed to have aged since last seen.  He took his brother home to live with him in Keene Texas.  While in Keene, Segundo converted to Seventh Day Adventist and married a Filipino woman. For five years, Segundo lived under the radar.

Manny Reyes
Now Retired, Fort Worth Detective Manny Reyes

Then, in 2004 Texas required all convicted offenders to submit DNA to CODIS. In 2005, the state ordered all incarcerated felony offenders to be added to the system even if their convictions predated 2004. (See Preview for the use of DNA in prosecutions and use of CODIS to solve crimes). Detective Manny Reyes evaluated cold cases for biological evidence and submitted them to CODIS for possible DNA matches. Among the first cases Reyes sent was the very first murder case he worked: Vanessa Villa. The eleven year-old’s murder had haunted him and for 19 years he remained in contact with the family. Other cases with biological evidence were Frances Williams and Maria Navarro. At the time, criminologists didn’t think they had enough DNA in Melissa Badillo’s case.

The envelopes he got in return looked like any other mail, but they contained life changing information. He had an answer for Vanessa’s killer. The semen on her sheets and body belonged to a Juan Mesa Segundo. He had a name, an identity for the faceless monster. A warrant was quickly drafted. Vanessa’s family was shocked. They had lost track of “Johnny” Segundo over the years but he was a friend of the family. They had allowed him into their home.

Detectives quickly learned Segundo was not in custody. He was living in Johnson County which is just to the south of Tarrant County. The moved in an arrested him. In what would become a hallmark of his incarceration, Segundo denied knowing anything. He even claimed not to know who Vanessa was. Under pressure, he finally admitted knowing the family and having been in the home, but still denied knowing the child whose funeral he attended.

More envelopes came and Segundo’s DNA was matched to both Francis Williams’ and Maria Navarro’s murders. Detectives were shocked because they had never linked the crimes. Detective Boetcher, who had worked Francis’ case went to see her mother in person and let her know the killer was in custody. Segundo’s photo was shown to many sex workers from the area and they recognized his face as someone who had been around. They didn’t know his name, but multiple women picked his face out of photospreads as someone from the area. He was a local guy, mild-mannered, soft-spoken. The monster had been in disguise.

Melissa Badillo’s sister was shocked by the arrest and convinced he had something to do with her sister’s murder. He was someone they knew well. “We came from the same barrio,” she said.

In spite of the DNA matches, Segundo’s new church and community rallied around him. His wife and other church members visited him almost daily, convinced of his innocence. When jailors search Segundo’s cell, they found weapons, a toothbrush sharpened to a deadly point and other items, including two photos of young girls around 8-13 years of age.  One of the church members who had visited him regularly admitted he had asked for photos of her daughter, a girl near the same age as Vanessa. He told her he wanted to draw a picture of her daughter for her as a gift. Under questioning, she admitted he didn’t ask for pictures of son. He had never drawn the picture of her daughter but she insisted there was no harm in having the picture. The identity of the other girl was never found.

In 2006, Segundo went to trial for Vanessa’s murder. His lawyers did what they could to suggest the DNA was contaminated, but the jury convicted him. Everyone knew the real issue was whether he would receive the death penalty. The jury was told about his other crimes, the two known murders, the burglaries with intent so commit sexual assault, the long history of alcoholism.

The defense presented evidence of a difficult, chaotic childhood. The family had been very impoverished and the kids were shuffled around to different homes including an orphanage before moving to Fort Worth with an alcoholic mother and an abusive step-father. One of Segundo’s brothers testified that he suffered a severe head injury as a toddler. Segundo’s church members and family all said he was changed man. He had been out of prison for five years and–to their knowledge–hadn’t offended on anyone. Of course, they didn’t realize he was raping and killing back in the 80s and 90s. They said he was sober now and a productive citizen. He was active in the church.

A neurologist, Dr. Hopewell testified that  Segundo had an “extensive history of inhalant and alcohol abuse coupled with his head injury and difficult childhood caused him to be memory impaired although not ‘mentally retarded’.   She tested Segundo’s  IQ at 75, and that he had “very poor” insight, “poor” judgment, and “significant difficulty” with executive functioning.

The prosecution had more evidence that had never been made public before the trial. A 21 year-old woman who testified that Segundo dated her mother when she was very young, about 5. He molested her and forced her to perform oral sex on him.

While some family members testified for Segundo, others did not. A woman who identified herself on public message boards as Stephanie Hernandez wrote there in 2006:

I’m sorry to say that I’m actually related to this monster and if it weren’t for my father. He probably would’ve killed my mother & I. My mom stated she was surprised he didn’t kill us we lived in the same household as he did at one time. He hated my mom & was jealous of my birth. I have been reading on these victims and I am very sorry for your tragic e ENTs. Needless to say I do understand what you are going through. I too was a victim of molestation from a step family member. And do recall them two got along very well. I came forward and saved lives. I do wonder sometimes why didn’t he just end it with me cause I live with that pain for the rest of my life. I hope he is put down soon he’s a waste of society. There’s no way he will make it out here alive. May God wrap his arms tightly around these victims and their families. Justice is only halfway served while he sits awake with no remorse. Take him god & make this world a better place. God bless

They jury weighed the cost of what he had done and sentenced Segundo to death.

In 2010, a criminologist with the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office realized that DNA had progressed enough that they could now test scrapings that came from under Melissa Badillo’s nails. She had fought her attacker. DNA confirmed that her attacker had been Juan Mesa Segundo. Because Segundo was already on Death Row, he was never formally charged with Melissa’s death.

Segundo was scheduled to die in 2018, but he was granted a stay based upon his claim that he is intellectually disabled. The case is now in limbo pending further investigation of his mental status. At the same time the Fort Worth Star-Telegram printed  heartbreaking interviews with Vanessa and Melissa’s families, describing how their lives had been damaged by Segundo.

Segundo4Segundo has refused to speak about the crimes. Even family members close to him say he has never spoken to them. Whatever he knows, he is keeping it hidden inside, just as he keeps everything about his true, monstrous self hidden behind the disguise of a family friend.

 

 

Next Week I will update some stories previously covered, including a conviction, a stay of execution, and a new date with the death chamber.

 

SOURCE NOTES:

https://www.myplainview.com/news/article/DNA-links-convict-to-1995-slaying-8692651.php

http://murderpedia.org/male.S/s/segundo-juan.htm

https://caselaw.findlaw.com/tx-court-of-criminal-appeals/1014059.html

http://www.cncpunishment.com/forums/showthread.php?1610-Juan-Ramon-Meza-Segundo-Texas-Death-Row

https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/fort-worth/article219680490.html

https://www.dallasobserver.com/news/caught-cold-6405623

https://www.lubbockonline.com/filed-online/2011-07-02/police-say-dna-links-1994-slaying-23-year-old-woman-death-row-inmate

 

 

 

 

 

The Hunting Grounds, Part Five: A Friend of the Family

The Hunting Grounds is a multi-part series on the predators who made Fort Worth a dangerous place to be a woman in in the 1980s. I strongly recommend you start from the beginning of the narrative. Preview sets the scene, followed by  Stranger in the Dark and Cold Hit which discusses the creation of CODIS and the first Fort Worth Cold Case Unit. The Devil you Know and Caging the Predator address the issue of serial rapists who escalate to murder, and the first killer confined under the Sexually Violent Predator Act.


Vanessa Villa_familySomething was bothering Vanessa Villa on August 3, 1986. The 11 year-old Fort Worth Worth girl had been out of sorts all day and now she didn’t want dinner. She didn’t want to go to the store with her mother and aunt. She just wanted to lie in bed listening to a cassette of sad, Spanish songs. She might have been nervous about the school year that was about to start. School was hard for Vanessa. She was bubbly and outgoing and teachers liked her enough to make her an office helper, but her English was limited and so even though she was a bright child who loved art and history, she struggled. At times, she wanted to leave and go back to Mexico. She wrote in her diary, “Momma take me from this place. I’m scared.” But at other times she dreamed of being a cheerleader and had exchanged kisses with a boy. She lived a normal life for a girl on the Northside.

The Northside of Fort Worth has a long history of being a tight knit Mexican community. School might be hard, but Vanessa’s family had found a welcoming home in the neighborhood. Their extended family was all here. Vanessa made money selling Western belts and boots at the Bernal Flea Market, something she did earlier that day. Her friends and family remember her as not being her cheerful self. That night, she excused herself from the dinner table without eating. Vanessa’s mother stopped by her bedroom to check on her before leaving. The baby needed diapers and another child need new shoes for school. Vanessa was lying on the bed wearing blue jean shorts, listening to the sad music as a fan hummed in her open window, keeping the heat at bay. She repeated that didn’t want to go. Her seventeen year old brother was in his room, so her mother let Vanessa and the youngest children stay home while ran her errands.

Vanessa’s mother and aunt weren’t gone long, just a trip to the store and maybe stopping to talk to friends. Upon arriving home, the first thing Vanessa’s mother noticed was that her bedroom door was closed, which was strange because it was hot. The door had been open when they left in order to let the air flow through. She opened the door and was startled to find her daughter naked from the waist down. Her first instinct was to snap, “Cover yourself up!” But on closer look , she realized something was very wrong. Then she started screaming and Vanessa’s brother ran into the room.

It was a crime that shocked the community. There had been a steady creep of the problems facing the rest of the city, but a eleven year-old girl raped and strangled in her own bed? Chris Cook, a senior detective was called out to the scene, but he quickly called for another detective, one who spoke Spanish. Manny Reyes would always recall the first murder case he worked.

Vanessa had been brutally attacked, with ligature marks around her neck and half-moon cuts from finger nails dug in her thighs, yet no one had heard anything. Outside her window, police found a white bucket, the type markets used to sell pickles. The bucket was turned over and the fan had been pushed out of Vanessa’s window. Police believed her attacker had come in through that window.

At first, police pursued leads hard. There was a neighbor with a history of sexually abusing children, but he proved to have an alibi. This was the same year the discovery of DNA was announced. The idea of using it solves crimes was far away. The best police could do was test the semen for secretions. The neighbor was excluded from being the killer, but that didn’t bring police any closer to answers. Vanessa was laid to rest in a dove grey coffin with a lace veil over her face. Reyes watched people shuffle past to pay their respects and he wondered if one of them had done it.

Segundo1

The fifth name in the visitation book at the funeral is written in shaky hand, Mr. and Mrs. Juan Segundo. Juan and his wife, Rosa Maria were friends of the family. Rosa Maria worked with Vanessa’s mother at a nursing home. Juan, who went by Johnny, used to visit there until he was accused of molesting one of the residents and banned from being there.

Johnny was considered harmless by most people. He was small and soft spoken, but Rosa Maria knew he had a darker side. He drank heavily and could be abusive. In 1983, he came home covered with blood and refused to talk about it.  She went out to his car, looking for clues. Under the seat she found a woman’s purse. Segundo had been in and out of jail, mostly for marijuana and drunk driving, but also burglary. If she had any suspicions then about just how dangerous her husband was, Rosa Maria kept them to herself. She did leave him soon after.

People were eager to leave the neighborhood after Vanessa was killed. Too much violence and they were now suspicious of each other. Police were sure the killer was local. Everyone knew each other on the Northside. Vanessa’s killer was able to walk up to her house and away again without anyone noticing even though the heat of the evening had driven many outside. He belonged. A stranger would have been seen. Without any meaningful leads, the police moved on to new crimes and the tight knit community broke apart, but no one forgot, not Vanessa’s family or friends, and certainly not that young detective.

October 6, 1987, Irene K. was separated from her husband and staying with a friend on North Houston Street. She woke in the night to the feeling of someone touching her. Startled, she turned on a lamp to find a man with his pants down, kneeling over her. She screamed and he began punching her in the face. The man seemed very drunk to her as she fought back. Fortunately, Irene wasn’t alone. Irene’s screaming brought her friend running. The friend also fought the man who ran off and the women immediately called the police. Juan Segundo might have gotten away with the brazen attack if the friend hadn’t recognized him. She had worked with Segundo and considered him a nuisance. He was was always “hitting on” her and making sexual comments. Perhaps Segundo was actually looking for the friend that night when he broke in.

Thanks to her friend having recognized him, a warrant was issued for Segundo. Police were already looking for him because he had just made bond on his most recent DWI. Segundo was quickly arrested and charged with Burglary with intent to commit sexual assault. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison on June 28, 1988. Thanks to overcrowding and mandatory early release, he was back out in less than a year.

Ripley Arnold
Ripley Arnold Housing Complex before it was torn down in 2003.

His parole didn’t last very long. Sharon H. lived in the Ripley Arnold Housing Complex right across the street from the Tarrant County Courthouse, the very place Segundo had pled guilty to trying to rape Irene K.

Like Irene, Sharon woke to a naked man in her room. To keep her from screaming, her grabbed her around the throat and began strangling her. Later police would discover that he had removed a window pane to make entry into her bedroom. Sharon fought Segundo and was able to get free. Ripley Arnold Housing was a series of duplexes that were close on top of one another. Her screams brought neighbors running. They weren’t able to catch Segundo but they got a good look at him and were able to tell police who he was. Segundo was well known in the neighborhood. As one man told the police, “Johnny gets crazy when he drinks.”

How a convicted sex offender who had attacked a woman after being out of prison for less than a year was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor is a real mystery, but that is exactly what happened. Although Segundo was again charged with Burglary with intent to commit sexual assault and was eligible to be punished as a Habitual Offender, meaning he could have gotten anywhere from 25 years to Life, Segundo was only given a sentence of one year.

Segundo’s parole was revoked and he was sent back to prison where he was again released in 1993. Five days later he was arrested for threatening another man with a gun at a bar over a woman. He was released on bond because the courts were slow. Then in 1995, while drunk Segundo ran a red light and led police on a high speed chase through the streets of Fort Worth. He was once again released on bond. This DWI, Segundo’s third, was a felony. Apparently, DWI is more serious than rape, because when he pled guilty on September 14, 1995, he was sentenced to five years.

While on bond for the felony that would send him back to the pen, Segundo killed at least three times, crimes that wouldn’t be revealed for a decade, not until Fort Worth created it’s first Cold Case Unit and assigned a veteran detective, Manny Reyes, who had never forgotten that first case he had been assigned. For 19 years he had stayed in touch with Vanessa Villa’s family and when CODIS made DNA a formidable weapon in solving old crimes, hers was one of the very first cases he sent off for testing.

The results would shock everyone. Without DNA, Fort Worth police would never have discovered that four seemingly disparate crimes were actually the work of a serial killer and that he was loose on the streets, free to kill again.

Coming soon: The Monster’s Disguise.

 

SOURCE NOTES:

https://www.dallasobserver.com/news/caught-cold-6405623

https://www.lubbockonline.com/filed-online/2011-07-02/police-say-dna-links-1994-slaying-23-year-old-woman-death-row-inmate

http://murderpedia.org/male.S/s/segundo-juan.htm

https://law.justia.com/cases/texas/court-of-criminal-appeals/2008/17554.html

https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/fort-worth/article219680490.html

https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/fort-worth/article219680490.html#storylink=cpy

There are numerous other articles, especially from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from reporters Melody McDonald and Deanna Boyd. Many of these articles are not online and must be accessed through Fort Worth Public Library Archives.

 

 

The Hunting Grounds, Part Four: Caging the Predator

The Hunting Grounds is a multi-part series on the predators who made Fort Worth a dangerous place to be a woman in in the early to mid 1980s. I strongly recommend you read the first four parts of the narrative. Preview sets the scene, followed by Part One,  Stranger in the Dark and Part Two:  Cold Hit which discuss serial  killer Curtis Brown and how the advances in science uncovered his crimes. This article is a continuation of Part Three: The Devil You Know.

Reatha YearbookIdentifying the killer of Retha Stratton was the easy part. Within 48 hours of her murder, he was behind bars, but keeping him there would become a struggle. The typical time lapse from arrest to trial is on average a year in Tarrant County, but only 10 months after his arrest, Wesley Wayne Miller was on trial. Due to the intense publicity, the trial was moved to Ector County. There almost wasn’t a trial. Concerned with the lack of physical evidence as the trial date loomed, prosecutor Steve Chaney offered a plea of 35 years just one week before the trial to Miller’s defense team, attorneys Jack Strickland and Bill Lane.

Miller trial 2.jpg
Miller with attorneys Jack Strickland and Bill Lane in Criminal District Court Number Four of Tarrant County, Texas. Photo courtesy of UTA digital archives.

Miller did not accept immediately and the plea offer was nixed by then District Attorney Tim Curry.  Judge Gordon Gray intervened, saying Miller must be afforded the opportunity to accept or reject the offer before it could be withdrawn. He told the attorneys that he would honor the 35 year offer if Miller was inclined. He was not. The case would go to trial.

On one side were the citizens of River Oaks who firmly supported the Stratton family, sister Rona, parents A.J. and Doris. On the other, sat Miller’s parents Morris and Carol who believed in their son’s innocence. Carol repeatedly told the media that her son had been ‘tricked by the police’ into confessing. She did not believe he was responsible for the murder or the two sexual assaults he had been charged with.

He was charged with the rape of L.V., the 19 year old Saginaw woman after fingerprints at the scene were linked to Miller. He was a stranger and there was no legitimate reason for his prints to be in her house. He was also charged with rape of D.O. after a shoe print was determined to belong to a size 7 1/2 Kinney sneaker, a shoe Miller owned. She was one of the women who said her attacker ‘was built just like Miller.’  Miller was never charged in the other cases. Again, this was pre-DNA and there wasn’t any physical evidence. The cases discussed in  The Devil You Know were all linked by identical M.O.: the victim was home alone, receiving mysterious calls and hang ups, they were attacked in their bedrooms by a man with dark hair, very muscular body but short, around 5 foot 9 inches, who wore a stocking over his head and said the same things to them and forced them to perform identical acts. The victims all had similar appearances and ages. Police had no doubt Miller was the rapist, but there just wasn’t the evidence to charge him in all the cases.

In fact, the judge ruled that evidence of the serial rapes was not admissible, and not just at the guilt or innocence phase. It wasn’t coming in at all, not even when deciding punishment. After a two week trial, the jury deliberated for five hours before finding Miller guilty. His attorneys fought hard on his behalf, doing what they were supposed to do. They challenged the voluntariness of Miller’s confession, but Retha’s family and friends were all smiles, holding hands as the verdict was read, sure this part of their nightmare was at an end. The punishment phase was short. Without the rapes to talk about, there was nothing else the prosecution could bring up to show Miller belonged behind bars. At that time, anyone not previously convicted of a felony was eligible for probation, even for murder. There was nothing else in Miller’s past they could argue. He had no issues with drugs or alcohol, no other crimes, no problems in school. He was the smiling, all American athlete, voted “Best All Around Student” of his class just the year before.

Not allowing the jury to know about the sexual assaults left them with only Miller’s version of events, his statement where he painted Retha as a “tease” who provoked him to violence with her actions. We will never know what truly caused Miller to escalate to murder, but a more likely scenario is that he broke in to rape Retha, but she recognized him and her killed her to shut her up. Her jammed her underwear in her mouth to make her be quiet, then stabbed her 38 times before slitting her wrists to make sure she would never tell his secrets. The facts were brutal, and they were all the prosecution had.

Miller trialSteve Chaney argued for life in prison. Jack Strickland begged for probation, portraying his client as a scared kid. The jury compromised on 25 years. Both sets of parents burst into tears. As Strickland went over to comfort Miller’s parents, the judge remarked “That’s a win, Jack.”  Privately, Strickland and Lane agreed. Everyone knew it was a light sentence. Tim Curry publicly promised Miller would be tried for the rape cases and Chaney assured the family that it would be more than seven years before Miller became eligible for parole. Because Miller had been convicted of a crime involving a deadly weapon, he would have to serve what was called ‘agg time’ meaning he would serve at least a third of his sentence before he became eligible for parole.

There was a clerical error at the Texas Department of Corrections. Even though an affirmative deadly weapon finding was listed on the judgment and sentence, Miller wasn’t listed as a an “agg” offender in their system. Due to prison overcrowding, the actual time served was often brief. Miller came  up for parole in just two years.

At the time, victims weren’t notified and the parole hearing came and went without Retha Stratton’s family being aware, but Miller would come up  for parole on a yearly basis and keeping Miller, and other sexually violent predators would become the life’s work of Retha’s sister, Rona Stratton, and her friend Lisa Gabbert, also a victim of Miller’s serial rape spree.

For years, they flooded the parole board with letters, petitions, even graphic photos of the crime scene, anything to remind them of what Miller had done. Instead of taking the rape cases to trial as promised, Tim Curry’s office allowed Miller to plead to one case, with a charge of Burglary with intent to commit sexual assault. The punishment was 20 years to run concurrent with time he was already serving. He would receive no additional time. Even worse, the clock was ticking because eventually Miller would be eligible for mandatory release.

Mandatory release is exactly what it sounds like. All prisoners were allowed to accrue “good time.” If Miller behaved himself in prison, he must be released when  his years served plus good time equaled a specific number. For Miller, that came in 1991.

Rona and Lisa didn’t stop fighting. They fought Miller’s release back into the same community where he had lived. The idea of running into him at the local store, knowing he walked the same  streets was unacceptable. He would not be allowed to return to Tarrant County. TDC had trouble finding a county willing to accept Miller. Each time after the public learned of Miller’s potential release to their community, the outcry forced them to find another location until Miller was quietly placed in Wichita Falls. Rona Stratton compared Miller to the New Jersey garbage barge that couldn’t find a place to dock. “Nobody wants this guy and I don’t blame ’em.”

Miller was finally free, but that wouldn’t last long. June 7, 1992, in Wichita Falls, Laura Barnard had done some late grocery shopping. It was 11:00 p.m. when she parked in front of her home to unload her car. She noticed a stranger, a man with long, dark hair standing near a white truck across the street. There was something in the way he stared at her that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.  She stared back and then man got into the truck, but as she came back out for another load of groceries, there he was again. Again she stared back, wanting the man to know she had seen him. Again, he acted as though he was leaving. She turned back to the car and as she was lowering the trunk, she heard footsteps. Startled, she looked up in time to see him charging at her, running full speed. She dropped the paper towels in her hands and ran into the house, calling for her husband.

They went outside to look. At first they didn’t see anything, but then she felt the stare and pointed him out. He was trying to hide behind a tree. “That’s him.” Both got a good look at Miller as he walked briskly away. They also got the license plate of his white truck. The truck was registered to his father, Morris. Miller was tried and convicted for Attempted Assault, and he was sent back to prison.

Miller 1988
Miller, May 16, 1998 Courtesy of The Monitor

Rona and Lisa thought Miller would now serve the rest of his sentence, but five years later he was released again–sort of. This time he was required to spend most of his day in the Tarrant County jail, only being released for short periods with a GPS monitor on.  Miller was escorted to counseling and job interviews. As a condition, the parole board ordered Miller to complete a Sex Offender Treatment Program. Miller refused. His attorney, Jeffrey Gooch called a press conference where he complained about his client’s treatment. He claimed that Miller had not technically been convicted of a sexual offense and therefore the parole board had overstepped their bounds.

Miller had pled guilty to that Burglary with intent to commit a sexual offense, so the requirement stuck. He had only thought he was getting a good deal, but it came back to bite him with a vengeance.

Senator Mike Moncrief declared “He will be the most monitored man in Texas.”  Everyone was tense, waiting to see what would happen next. What happened, was that Miller refused to participate. The parole board revoked his release and he was sent back to prison for his refusal to participate in a Sex Offender Treatment Program. For the next six years, this would be the pattern. Each time he was given parole, he was immediately revoked for his stubborn refusal to agree to the rules, most particularly treatment. He seemed content to wait out his sentence. He would be released in 2007 with his entire sentence done. There would be no rules to follow, no monitoring, no counseling. Miller would be free.

But Rona Stratton and Lisa Gabbert had one more card to play, Title 11 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, also known as Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators. Civil Commitment is a response to public frustration over the danger of repeat offenders. It’s a way to confine those with a high risk of recidivism after the completion of their criminal sentences and force them into treatment and monitoring. The first such legislation was in Washington in 1990. Texas passed Title 11 in 1999 with Rona Stratton and Lisa Gabbert as passionate advocates. Twenty states have Civil Commitment legislation which has been extremely controversial because they allow indefinite confinement for people deemed predatory through a “mental abnormality or personality disorder”. For a thorough discussion of the issues, see Kansas v. Hendricks in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legislation providing there are sufficient procedural safeguards and that such legislation is for public safety and not merely punitive or Miller’s appeal from his Civil Commitment proceedings which challenged the Texas statute.

The Title 11 of the Texas Health and Safety Code begins with a legislative statement:

The legislature finds that a small but extremely dangerous group of sexually violent predators exists and that those predators have a behavioral abnormality that is not amenable to traditional mental illness treatment modalities and that makes the predators likely to engage in repeated predatory acts of sexual violence.

The law requires a person be a repeat sexually violent offender, meaning the person must be convicted of two or more offenses deemed “sexually violent.” Miller claimed not to be a sex offender but he had pled guilty to the Burglary with intent to commit sexual assault. That was one conviction, but Murder does not qualify unless it is found to have been sexually motivated. That specific language was added to the statute in 2005 as Miller’s release date drew near. Again, Retha’s sister was instrumental in seeing that legislation passed.

The procedure for declaring someone a Sexually Violent Predator is as follows. When a potentially eligible person grows close to release, they are referred for an evaluation by a multidisciplinary team for psychopathy and ‘behavioral abnormalities.’ If the committee decides the person meets definition of Sexually Violent Predator, they issue a petition to commit him. A jury trial follows in which both the state and the person are represented by counsel. The program is overseen by the Texas Civil Commitment Office.

In Miller’s case, the jury would have to hear the facts of Retha’s murder and make a determination if the crime was sexually motivated. The family would have to endure another trial. No murderer had yet to be committed as a sexually violent predator. The statute had only been used for pedophiles.

At the Civil
Rona Stratton and Lisa Gabbert, CBS 48 hours, Dangerous Reunion

In 2006, Miller was sent for evaluation. He didn’t have many of the normal risk factors. No violent family history. No substance abuse. His refusal to admit guilt and refusal to participate in treatment could be used against him. He also refused to cooperate with the evaluation, insisting that he didn’t remember the actual murder. But the main evidence would be Retha’s crime and the other sexual assaults. Several of the women would finally have their chance to testify. It would be their only day in court, their only opportunity to confront Miller about what he had done. They sat in the courtroom where he could see them, even as the prosecutor showed the jury graphic photos of Retha’s body.

On Miller’s side was his father, brother, and an aunt. His mother had passed after a battle with Alzheimer’s. Morris Miller testified on his son’s behalf. “No matter what he’s done, he’s still my son. And I’ll love him forever. I feel like Wes has paid his debt to society. I believe he should get out, not one day more than the 25 year sentence at the most.”

The state offered the testimony of Dr. Kenneth Price, a forensic psychologist who labeled Miller a “sexual psychopath” and offered his opinion that he was likely to offend again.

After hearing about Miller’s full history, this jury took less than two hours to declare Miller a sexually violent predator. Upon release, he would be civilly committed with a long list of rules to follow and intense supervision. He would be ordered to undergo treatment. If Miller ever wanted to be released, he would have to attend treatment.

Gary Fountain for The Chronicle File
Miller at his Civil Commitment hearing. Photo Courtesy of The Chronicle by staff photographer Gary Fountain

In 2007, Miller was released from TDC and required to live in a secure facility. He first went to another facility but was moved to live in Tarrant County’s Cold Springs Unit. He should have where he couldn’t prey on anyone else. After all, he had a long list rules and constant supervision. Although he was 46 at the time, he somehow began a romance with a female jailer who was only 21.

She wasn’t supposed to have contact with him. Any contact with Miller had with woman had to be approved by Miller’s supervising officer. But they could see each other, especially when she parked her truck so that he could past and see it. They would smile and wave at each other. The contact escalated to passing messages and sneaking conversations on the intercom. At the time she was still 20 and dazzled by this man everyone told her to stay away from because he was dangerous. They worked out a system to circumvent his phone privileges and the relationship began in earnest. When they were caught in the relationship, he was arrested and charged with violating his Civil Commitment. He pled guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He is still serving that sentence, but after that he will return to Civil Commitment, still unrepentant, still uncooperative. He has refused to discuss his crimes. But if he ever convinces the Texas Civil Commitment Office that he has been rehabilitated enough for release, you can be sure that Rona Stratton will be watching.

Next week, The Hunting Grounds will finally discuss one of the most notorious serial killers from Fort Worth, Juan Meza Segunda.

 

 

Source Notes:

Miller’s appeal from his commitment: https://caselaw.findlaw.com/tx-court-of-appeals/1410329.html

https://mylifeofcrime.wordpress.com/tag/retha-stratton/

The Odessa American: https://www.newspapers.com/image/300183013/?terms=wesley%2Bwayne%2Bmiller

The Fort Worth Star-telegram: https://www.star-telegram.com/news/state/texas/article27002044.html

https://www.star-telegram.com/opinion/editorials/article21512208.html

https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/fort-worth/article67027062.html

https://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/2011/05/05/two-violations-of-civil-commit

https://www.khou.com/article/news/local/convict-to-return-to-prison-for-jailhouse-romance/285-342720631

https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2008/nov/15/romance-with-jail-guard-lands-sex-offender-back-in-prison/

Health and Safety Code Title 11, Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators: https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/HS/htm/HS.841.htm

https://www.cbsnews.com/video/extra-wesley-wayne-miller-deposition/

Kansas v. Hendricks: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/521/346/

 

 

 

 

The Hunting Grounds, Part Three: The Devil you know

The Hunting Grounds is a multi-part series on the predators who made Fort Worth a dangerous place to be a woman in the early to mid 1980s. I strongly recommend you read the first three parts of the narrative, Preview which sets the scene, and Stranger in the Dark and Cold Hit which discuss serial rapist and murderer Curtis Don Brown. Originally part three was intended to Juan Mesa Segundo, but we will return to his story later. Instead we are moving out into the suburbs which seemed safer than the city, but that veneer of civility was an illusion.

 

Yearbook both

Looking at their senior pictures side by side, Wesley Wayne Miller and Retha Stratton are the perfect, couple, the American ideal. Although the two were not dating, they were friends. Retha was a popular, bubbly cheerleader at Castleberry High. Miller was captain of the football team, a three-sport athlete voted “Best All Around Student” in 1981, their senior year. Miller wrote in Retha’s yearbook, “I’d like to get to know you better. Your [sic] the best looking girl in our school and I hope to see a lot of you this summer, Love Always Wesley.”

Castleberry ISD is in River Oaks, a small suburb north of Fort Worth known as a bedroom community for blue-collar families and for the nearby Carswell Airforce Base. Seniors are always glad to escape the confines of school, but for the class of ’81, they were especially glad to leave. Since the start of that year, a rapist had stalked the senior girls.

 

January 23, 1981, Susan Davis, 16, was home alone when a man entered her room. “He walks in with a stocking overt his head, his face, no shirt on, jeans with, you know, his zipper open. And at that point I realized something really bad was going to happen.” Dangerous Reunion, 48 hours

Susan ran, but the man caught her and began threatening her. “Don’t scream or I’m going to hit you.” The man began punching her in her face. He ripped her panties off. At some point, however, instead of completing the rape, he fled. She never found out what spooked him.

River Oaks police took a report, but with little physical evidence, there wasn’t much else they could do– but they did tell Susan it was likely someone she knew. “I had to go back into cheerleading. And I was paranoid all the time about ‘Is this person in the stands watching me?’”

The record isn’t clear what led police to this conclusion. A masked intruder would make most people think this was an attack by a stranger, but from the very start, police thought it was someone who knew the victims. Was it the assailant’s familiarity with the house? The fact he struck at a time when she would be alone? Or did they know that just by playing the odds, they were likely to be right, because most sexual assaults aren’t committed by strangers. In the 1980’s, the terminology was “date rape” which is an unfortunate choice. Rape and sexual assault have nothing to do with a “date gone wrong.” They are predatory, deliberate acts of violence. Now, the preferred terminology is “non-stranger” sexual assault. See, research and studies by Dr. David Lizak

In 1979, clinical psychologist Nicholas Groth set out to categorize different types of rapists. After working with both victims and offenders, he set out three specific types.  First is the power rapist who derives comfort and satisfaction from dominating his victim. The second type is the anger rapist, who rapist is driven by rage against a specific group, women or men, causing him to lash out with violence. The third sort is the sadistic rapist who receives sexual gratification by causing pain to the victim. The types blend and rapists are most often a mix of these different elements.

The man who assaulted Susan showed multiple types. He gave specific orders to her, demonstrating control, but then hurt her, even as she complied. He left without completing the attack, which could have been a lack of confidence which is often found in power rapists.

Fortunately, studies have shown that most men aren’t rapists. How then do we account for the high level of rapes committed? One in four women is a victim of sexual assault. The answer is that most rapists are serial offenders. Studies show they often begin in adolescence and continue throughout their lives. This pattern held true here. The River Oaks Rapist wasn’t done with his one aborted attempt.
Reatha

Retha Stratton graduated in May along with close friends and fellow cheerleaders Amy Moody and Lisa Gabbert. Retha and Amy got an apartment together and Retha went to work doing data entry for the Ralston Purina company . Unknown to them, another young woman was raped in November.

L. V. (a pseudonym), 19, was home alone on November 11, 1981 in the nearby town of Saginaw, when she received several mysterious phone calls. Each time, a male voice asked for a person she didn’t know and she told him that no such person was there. She fell asleep and when she awoke, it was to a nude man with a stocking covering his face kneeling over her in the bed. He ripped the phone from the wall and told her he was going to rape her. She struggled, even though the man said he would kill her if she didn’t do what he told her to. He physically assaulted her for some time before finally leaving. She immediately ran to her parents’ room and called her boyfriend.  Sagniaw police processed the scene and came up with the first solid bit of evidence: a fingerprint on the telephone and in her bedroom. There were semen stains in her room, but this is before DNA. She described the man as muscular but only around 5 foot, six inches tall.

Police had a fingerprint, but the person it belonged to wasn’t in they system and without a known person to compare it to, that wasn’t much help. But it was something. The attack didn’t make the news.

It never occurred to Retha and her friends that they could become victims. Then on December 7, the unthinkable happened. Lisa woke up to find a man in her house, “And when I looked over I saw that someone was standing in the doorway with a red ski mask and panty hose over the mask. And he leapt on me. And we struggled. There was some choking. And then he tore back the covers. Opened my robe. And we struggled some more. And so he proceeded to rape me.” Dangerous Reunion, CBS 48 hours
Once again, the River Oaks Rapist demonstrate knowledge of his victim and her specific living situation. He walked right past Lisa’s disabled mother, who couldn’t move or speak, as if she were not even there, as if he knew she couldn’t interfere or become a witness. The rapist reminded Lisa of someone. She told a rookie patrolman that the man was built just like Miller, especially his arms. She didn’t think it was Miller. It couldn’t be Miller, of course,  but she wanted the police to know that the attacker had the same exact build.

Miller’s girlfriend, Roxy McDonnell lived just across the street from Lisa and the very next day, her younger sister became a victim of the River Oaks rapist. Again, the rapist struck when the girl was home alone and once again, he reminded her of someone. According to the CBS 48 hours:

“And we had just said to the dad, ‘Well, he’s built like Wesley. And has arms like Wesley’s.’ And he says, ‘Wesley, come here.’ And he said, ‘Let me see your arm.’ And he pulls his arm over. He said, ‘You mean it look just like this?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah,'” Lisa recalls. “And Wesley yanked his arm back and went upstairs. Without saying a word.”

Everyone was careful for a while. Shocked by the attack on their close friend, roommates Amy and Retha changed their locks, and didn’t come home alone, but gradually, they relaxed their guard. The River Oaks rapist stayed quiet for six weeks and life returned to normal for most people.

In 1982, Curtis Don Brown was still in prison for auto theft. Ted Bundy’s trials had faded from view. Instead recent news was the marriage of Lady Diana to Prince Charles, the identification of the AIDS virus, and the shooting of the Pope. The serial raps of teen girls in Texas suburbia was barely a blip on the local radar, much less the bigger news markets.

That would change on January 21, 1982. Amy came home to a scene of horror. A trail of blood led from the livingroom, down the hall into Retha’s room and back to the closet where her brutalized body lay partially in the closet as if she had fallen backwards. She had been stabbed 38 times with the majority of the wounds to her left breast. Her wrists had been slit and her bloody panties crammed into her mouth. She was nude from the waist down. The knife still protruded from her chest.

Locating the culprit wouldn’t take long. Miller’s pick up truck was spotted at Retha’s house around the time of the murder and he turned to his girlfriend, Roxy to help him hide the evidence. Claiming he had bloodied someone’s nose in a game of touch football, he handed her a pair of bloody jeans to wash. She took the jeans, but as soon as news of Retha’s murder broke, Roxy handed those jeans to the police. Police immediately began looking for Miller.

Miller lie detector
Wesley Wayne Miller being transport to take a lie detector test following his arrest and confession. January 23, 1981. Photo courtesy of UTA digital archives

January 23rd, just two days after Retha’s murder, there was a sexual assault of a woman in Lake Worth. She received several phone calls from a male voice asking if  “Ed” was there. The woman said there wasn’t a man in the house and hung up. Soon after, a young, athletic man around five foot nine inches and wearing a stocking over his head broke into the house and sexually assaulted her.

Miller was arrested later that day.

Within 48 hours, Miller was charged with Retha’s murder. He confessed to the Fort Worth detective C.D. Timmons, although he tried to lay much of the blame on Retha for her own murder. He told police that he went over to the house and Retha was “coming on to him.” He said they were kissing, but she refused to go further. Miller said this happened twice, that she would make sexual advances on him, but then back away. He said he lost his temper the second time and refused to stop “And we started fighting.” Next, he claimed Retha grabbed for a ‘ledge’ that was between the kitchen and the bedroom and a knife just fell to the floor. He thought she was maybe going to grab it, so he grabbed the knife instead and stabbed her. “I kind of lost my mind and I do not remember how many times I stabbed her . He said he hid her body in the closet and washed the knife, but then went back and slit her wrists to make sure she was dead. “I didn’t want her to tell on me,” he said. Then he thrust the knife into her chest and drove home.

As Retha’s heartbroken family and friends laid her body to rest, they at least had the relief of knowing that her killer wasn’t roaming free. What they couldn’t know, was that this was just the beginning of a decades long battle to keep Miller behind bars, a struggle that would make new laws and result in permanent changes to the way we treat sexually violent predators.

Next week, I will return with the next installment of the Hunting Grounds: Caging the Predator.

Jan 26 Funeral
Retha’s family at her funeral, January 26, 1982, photo courtesy of UTA digital archives

 

Source Notes:

Information for this article came from the archives of numerous newspapers, chiefly the Fort Worth Star-Telegram , the Dallas Morning News, and AP stories. Additional information came directly from parole records and police reports.

Dangerous Reunion, CBS 48 hours: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/dangerous-reunion/

The research and studies of Dr. David Lizak, https://davidlisak.com/wp-content/uploads/pdf/RepeatRapeinUndetectedRapists.pdf

https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications/2018-10/Lisak-False-Reports-Moving-beyond.pdf

 

 

 

 

Texas Podcast Round Up

The next post in The Hunting Grounds will be up later this week, but in the meantime, I wanted to share what keeps me going during my long commute. I haven’t reviewed a podcast in a while because life is busy and it’s messy and it’s summer in Texas. Summer means BBQ, lemonade, and tubing down the river. It also means lots of time sitting in the air conditioning listening to podcasts. So for this Monday, I want to shout out my top five favorite members of the Texas True Crime Posse.

ACNCI reviewed this podcast way back when they were shiny and new. Since then they have rapidly grown to dominate the Texas podcast scene, but in a good way. Husband and wife team Shea and Erin present cases in a conversational manner that still manages not to lose the narrative thread. Check out episode 22 which features an interview with yours truly. Extra thanks to Shea for working sound magic with my squeaky voice.

Gone ColdIf you love a serious deep dive, this is the podcast for you. Also produced by a husband and wife team, Vince and Erica have crafted a single narrator podcast that stands out for the depth of their research and sensitive interviews with family and friends of victims. I reviewed them here last November. They’ve been on a hiatus, but are about to drop new episodes which makes this the perfect time to binge their list.

Texas 10 31

Texas 10-31 is the Houston PD code for a crime in progress. Texans Hannah and Cassie host a very conversational podcast mostly focused on the Houston area, but they move freely about the state when they feel like it. Because they cover two cases per episode, that’s a lot of territory. What they bring to the table is an unmatched level of passion for their topic. I reviewed them here and they returned the favor in a special minisode on March 14th.

Lone StarThis podcast is still in single digits, but host Krista has already made her mark on the podcast scene. She does an exceptional job of explaining what the law is and how the system works due in no small part to her career as an investigator. This podcast includes interviews  placed seamlessly into the narrative. I highly recommend 10-4 Little Lady for an episode that will punch you in the gut. I haven’t reviewed this podcast yet, but you can be sure I’ll correct that soon.

Murder City

New kid on the block is Murder City, True Crime of Houston. The hosts offer a glimpse of the diverse communities that make up the fourth largest city in the nation. This is a dual host with a conversational style. I’m looking forward to seeing where this podcast goes and I will definitely review them when they get a few more episodes under their belt.

BONUS! I said I was giving you a top five, but this is Texas and we always do things bigger.

tx files

The above podcasts are all dedicated to true crime. Tx Files covers everything from crime to ghost stories, weird history, and aliens. Hosted by two men named Michael, this humorous podcast is a wild, weird ride. Definitely worth a listen as are all the podcasts on this list.

Childhood Interrupted: The Shakeisha Lloyd Story

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.

 

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.

lagrone2
Edward Lewis Lagrone

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.

Lagrone1

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.

 

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.

http://murderpedia.org/male.L/l1/lagrone-edward-lewis.htm
http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/death/US/lagrone896.htm
http://txexecutions.org/reports/318.asp
http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/unpub/02/02-10976.0.wpd.pdf
https://texasattorneygeneral.gov/oagnews/release.php?id=366
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/alt.thebird.copwatch/Z1WrIvhIvB0/AZVH8Di2b90J
http://caselaw.findlaw.com/tx-court-of-criminal-appeals/1323216.html
https://www.myplainview.com/news/article/Convicted-killer-of-10-year-old-he-impregnated-8770534.php

Heartless: The Crimes of Steven Nelson

Clint Dobson 1
Northpoint Pastor Clint Dobson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peggy
Judy Elliot

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

anthony springs
Anthony Gregory Springs

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

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

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

Nelson
Stephen LeWayne Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

TCSO pic.png
Nelson after fighting TCSO deputies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

StevenLawayneNelsonsmaller
AP Photo/Michael Graczyk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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