I-45 from Houston to Galveston, Texas is the bloodiest stretch of highway in America. Now, a new movie called Texas Killing Fields is in theaters. However, here are the basics on the murders that have haunted the area for decades. Just 50 miles long, over the past 38 years nearly 40 women and young girls have been murdered or vanished along this highway.
Their bodies have been dumped in fields, parks and the many bodies of water in the area, usually in a sickening state. As of today, the killer is still on the loose.
And detectives admit, they’re no closer to catching him—although scientific advances could finally the macabre dance of death. He first struck June 17, 1971. Colette Wilson, 13, had been dropped off from school band practice by the conductor at a bus stop. The young girl seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. Five months later her nude body was discovered 40 miles away.
She died of a single gunshot wound to the head and her flute was never located.
“I sometimes wonder what it would be like if Colette hadn’t died,’ her sister Alice Killough says, adding the girl’s death drove her dad to an early grave at 42.
‘She’d have her own children now.’
Two weeks later the killer struck again. Brenda Jones, 14, disappeared while walking to Galveston General Hospital—right off I-45—to visit a sick relative.
Her body was found the next day floating in Galveston Bay, a slip crammed into her mouth and dead of a head wound.
Gloria Gonzales, 19, disappeared on October 28, 1971 from near her home in Houston. Her corpse was found several days later—less than 35 yards from where Collette’s body had been found.
Before bloody 1971 was over three more girls would be dead. Alison Craven, 12, disappeared November 9, her body found four months later. Debbie Ackerman, 15, and her friend Maria Johnson, both 15, went to the mall November 11.
Their bodies were found floating in the water two days later, both shot in the back of the head, their feet and hands bound.
For nearly 40 years, the agony of loved ones has continued like an insidious twist of the knife.
Still no justice.
‘We’ve got no suspects, no closure and we’ve still got a serial killer walking around some place,’ says Tim Miller.
Miller’s 16-year-old daughter, Laura Lynn, disappeared in 1984 and for the distraught dad, the years have been agonizing.
‘It’s been a living hell,’ he says, wiping away tears.
As the years then decades passed, the carnage continued—and still no peace.
Who is the maniac stalking, raping, killing and beheading the women of south Texas?
Police fear there may even be even more than a single serial killer in the area.
Some—including notorious serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, who boasted of murdering more than 300 people in a 40-year rampage—have confessed to the slayings.
Lucas is dead now but detectives believe their man is still lurking, waiting, ready to kill again.
Criminal profiler John White believes the killer is a white male between the ages of 55 and 60.
‘He’s big and he’s strong, he’s an opportunist who picks girls using payphones at convenience stores,’ White says.
‘This murderer grabs and snatches or tricks them.’
The profiler adds the killer is above normal intelligence who drives a dark-coloured pick-up truck.
‘Two of the most gruesome mutilation murders where the girls were decapitated or their hands cut off were located in almost the exact same spot—26 years later,’ White says.
‘He beats them, then tortures them. And for almost 40 years, he’s gotten away with murder.’
Sandra Rambler disappeared from her home in 1983 and has not been seen since. Just 14, she left behind her purse and a new coat her father bought her.
‘She wanted to be a model,’ her dad Alton Rambler says.
‘I last saw her before I went to work. I remember teasing her for picking at some food on my plate, she was happy,’ he says.
But when he came home, the door was open and Sandra was gone. Her body has not been found and police believe she was murdered.
A dog discovered the body of cocktail waitress Heidi Villareal Fye, 23, carrying her skull to a nearby house.
She had vanished six months earlier walking to use the payphone at the same convenience store where Laura Miller disappeared.
“Many of these girls had the same look, the same hairstyle, were close to the same age, were on foot and their bodies found near water,’ says Det. Att Wingo, who worked on a number of the probes.
‘A lot of the detectives thought they knew who did it—they just couldn’t prove it.’
As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, the body count continued to mount.
Because many rootless people roam in and out of the Texas Gulf Coast area, a substantial number of the victims lie nameless in a chilly morgue.
The name ‘Jane Doe’ the only hint they walked through this life.
The area also has a high number of registered sex offenders.
And the families’ agony goes on.
Krystal Jean Baker, 13, disappeared March 15 1996.
The pretty teen was last seen using a telephone at a Texas City convenience store—like many of the other victims.
Several hours later fishermen found her sexually ravaged body. Krystal had been beaten and strangled to death.
The girl looked like Marilyn Monroe—her great aunt, Norma Jean Baker.
Her mum Monetta remains haunted.
“Someone is doing this when we least expect it and enjoying getting away with it right under our noses,’ she says.
‘This could happen to anyone’s child. Every time I see kids using that same pay phone, I just shudder.
‘There’s a crazy man out there who has no heart. I can’t understand why anyone would deliberately want to hurt my baby.’
He struck again in April 1997.
This time the victim was Laura Kate Smither, 12.
The aspiring ballerina vanished while jogging near her home.
Seventeen grim days later her body was found on the edge of a pond near I-45—she was nude except for one sock and a ring.
She had been decapitated.
And like in a number of other cases the only clue police had to go on was the dark pickup truck.
Laura Kate’s dad Bob believes the killer is a sadistic genious.
‘These were girls weren’t stupid. Not just any stranger could beckon them into a car,’ he says.
As the 1990s came to a close, the killing machinery seemed to slow down.
Fewer bodies were being found—and they were unrelated to the I-45 killer. Had he gone dormant? Was he in jail?
Or was he dead?
The graveyards and morgues of south Texas are filled with the monster’s twisted handiwork.
Det. Jared Stout compared unraveling the riddle to ‘solving a 3,000-piece jigsaw puzzle which is 3-D with ill-defined boundaries and all shades of colour but no shapes.’
“The world isn’t big enough for us not to find such a killer. But sometimes it seems like Star Trek... and whoever did this was beemed up to the enterprise.”