Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bones to Talk With

Double Homicide

It was a hot, humid day in Ellis County, Texas, on July 29, 1993.  Only those who had to be were outdoors working.  A road crew member smoothing the gravel on Cutoff Road that afternoon noticed something white lying about a hundred feet away in the thick foliage not far from the bridge over Smith Creek.  Whatever it was, the object was clearly out of place. 

He and another man climbed over barbed wire and brushed past the brambles and thorns.  Soon they smelled an offensive odor and then saw that the form was human, nude and female, lying partially on her back.  One of the men watched over the body while the other went to the nearby town of Telico to call the police.  What neither had noticed at first but had seen as they'd drawn closer was that she was missing both her head and her hands.

The police arrived quickly to remove the corpse, which from the amount of bloating and decomposition appeared to be a day or two old.  They assumed, writes Bill Cox in Born Bad, that the killer had removed the head and hands to prevent identification.  Possibly he did not know much about the new science of DNA analysis and might have assumed that without fingerprints or a face, no identification was possible.

But they were in for another shock.  While searching for the missing body parts, investigators came across another body.  Nearly three hundred yards from the girl lay the fully clothed body of a young male, clearly no older than 15.  He was face down on the creek bank, 20 feet or so from the bridge.  He had not been dismembered. 

This body was difficult to reach, so the Telico Volunteer Fire Department assisted with the removal and a team of investigators remained in the mosquito-infested area to go over the crime scene until it was too dark to see.

An autopsy at the Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office, which served a number of Texas counties, indicated that the boy had been shot twice in the head with a .22-caliber weapon, and the girl had been shot in the back with a similar weapon and stabbed multiple times.  Her head had been removed at the base of the neck with either a hunting knife or an axe, and there was a lot of damage to her remains that indicated that the killer had stayed with the body for quite a while. The medical examiner, Dr. Sheila Spotswood, thought it was among her worst cases. 

"This is the only case I've seen," she said on a Forensic Files documentary devoted to the case, "where someone had this much mutilation after death." 

On top of the dismemberment, the female victim had extensive wounds on her abdomen, thighs and genital area, some of which appeared to be intricate carvings.  There was a long, deep cut through her stomach that looked almost like an autopsy incision.  In fact, it seemed that her killer had reached into the stomach with his knife to stab at other internal organs like the liver. Both of the victim's nipples had been cut off, there were numerous bruises on her body, and where she had been eviscerated, her intestines had been pulled out and exposed.  At the place where the hands had been severed, some bruises suggested the use of handcuffs. 

It seemed to be a sexual crime, since her clothes had been removed, but there were no clear signs of sexual assault, either on the body or at the crime scene.  While decomposition prevented a definitive analysis, it looked to Spotswood more like a crime of extreme hatred or anger than rape/murder.  There was also an element of fascination with the corpse, otherwise known as necrophilia.

Fly larvae stages helps determine time of death
Fly larvae stages helps determine time of death

Samples of fly larvae on both bodies, as stated in reports from the attorney general's office, provided an estimate of time of death as being two days before, between the evening of July 26 and the morning hours of July 27.  Insects had obliterated some of the wound openings, but the ME believed she had an accurate read on what had caused them.  Nevertheless, she enlisted the assistance of forensic entomologist Dr. Neal Haskell in Illinois for a second opinion.  Insects were his specialty, and he set to work to recreate the conditions in his lab for a scientific analysis.

Hair strands in barbed wire
Hair strands in barbed wire

Cox points out that, given what they had, they faced a real puzzle: why remove the head and hands of one victim but not the other?  Perhaps the mutilation had nothing to do with hiding identities.  Maybe there was something darker going on, but what?

Solving this puzzle could help them with motive, but they also realized that perhaps the boy's body had fallen to a point where the killer could not easily have gotten to it and thus had no choice but to leave.  This victim may have been spared the indignity simply by chance.

The lack of clear answers was maddening.

Looking for the girl's clothing and for other evidence of the killer after the bodies were removed, detectives came across a barb on the barbed wire fence that had caught several long blond hairs.  They collected these as possibly belonging to the girl, since it was clear that to leave her where she was, the killer had crossed over this fence from the road.

For her, they had no clothing or identifying features to work with, so they searched the boy for some form of identification.  They got lucky.  In his pocket was a black wallet with a library card from Terrell, a town in the adjacent county, bearing the name "James B. King."  They now had a lead, but it might have to wait until the library opened the next day.  A few calls that night to local police departments came up with missing person's reports on two kids from the tiny town of Garrett--a boy and a girl.  The boy's name was Brian King.

It did not take long to find his family.


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