Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carroll Edward Cole

Murder in Dallas

Dallas police are no strangers to violent death, and Det. Gerald Robinson expected no surprises when he was called to examine a woman's corpse at 6:00 a.m. on Wednesday, November 12, 1980. The body had been found 45 minutes earlier on Bryan Street, an inner-city neighborhood of honky-tonk saloons, cheap lodgings and greasy-spoon restaurants. Tempers flared often there, and the results were sometimes fatal.

Robinson found the victim nude from the waist down, her blouse ripped open. Bruises on her neck suggested strangulation as the cause of death. Her torn slacks lay 20 feet away, hastily concealed in a clump of trees. Drag marks and abrasions on the woman's flesh showed that she had been hauled across dirt and gravel after she was killed and stripped. A driver's license in the victim's pocket identified her as 32-year-old Wanda Faye Roberts, residing five blocks north of the site where she was found. Postmortem tests revealed no sexual assault, but they proved that Roberts had been drinking heavily before she died.

Police scoured the Bryan Street bars and soon found one where Roberts was known as a regular. The bartender recalled her latest visit, on the night she was murdered. Roberts had left the bar around 2:00 a.m. with another frequent customer, known only as "Eddie." Det. Robinson filed the clue but could do nothing with it. He needed a suspect, and there were thousands of "Eddies" in Dallas.

There was nothing Robinson could do but wait.

Near midnight on November 30, 1980, 43-year-old Sally Thompson's two sons brought a girlfriend home to visit at her Dallas apartment. They saw lights burning in the living room and heard the TV playing, but the door was locked. Knocking and rattling the knob, they waited several minutes before a stranger opened the door. He was slender, average height, with dark hair and a thin mustache. He reeked of whiskey and appeared disoriented, but he offered no resistance as the boys pushed past him.

They found their mother lying on the floor, facedown beside the couch, with her jeans and panties wadded around her ankles. Frightened now, the boys fled to a neighbor's apartment and summoned police. Offices found the stranger standing beside Thompson's corpse and took him into custody without resistance. The man identified himself as Carroll Edward Cole, residing two blocks from the Thompson apartment. When questioned, he recalled meeting Thompson at a nearby bar and accepting her invitation to come home for sex. Cole had been undressing her, he said, when Thompson suddenly collapsed. Paramedics on the scene found no signs of violence on her body, suggesting possible death from an overdose of alcohol or drugs. Cole was detained until a medical examiner completed the autopsy, listing Thompson's cause of death as "indeterminate, and then he was released.

Det. Robinson reviewed the Thompson file next morning, noting that Cole's middle name might be shortened to "Eddie" by friends. He also noted that Cole's Lemmon Avenue address was a halfway house for felons on parole, located within two miles of the Wanda Roberts murder scene. A call to the halfway house told Robinson that Cole had arrived in Dallas on October 8, 1980, two days after his release from a federal lockup for mail theft. After missing curfew several times, he had left the halfway house on November 3, but called back to negotiate a second chance on the night Wanda Roberts was murdered. A further background check on Cole revealed an extensive criminal record, including a 1967 Missouri conviction for felonious assault on an adolescent girl.

That afternoon, Robinson led a team of plainclothesmen to pick Cole up at his workplace, a Toys R Us warehouse. In custody, Cole repeated his story about Sally Thompson and admitted a casual acquaintance with Wanda Roberts. They had quarreled the night she died, Cole said, but he had no idea who had killed her.

Carroll Edward Cole (police file photo)
Carroll Edward Cole
(police file photo)

In the midst of the interview, Det. Robinson was called to visit the scene of an officer-involved shooting. As if disappointed by the interruption, Cole launched into a murder confession, describing the death of a woman he'd met in a Dallas saloon. It took several moments for Robinson to realize the details fit neither Sally Thompson's nor Wanda Roberts's murders. This one, apparently, had been committed on November 9. A swift records check identified the victim as 52-year-old Dorothy King, found dead in her apartment on November 11, 1980. Again, the coroner had blamed her passing on an overdose of alcohol.

Returning from that errand, Robinson decided to start from scratch. "Now about that girl in the bar," he began. "Tell me about her."

Cole frowned and replied, "Which one?"


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