In spite of their infamous reputations, there is something about serial killers that compels society to revisit their crimes and re-live what could best be described as nightmares by the families of victims, survivors of the crimes and law enforcement who worked countless hours in their attempts to bring the killers to justice. Netflix recently premiered Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, allowing viewers to hear Bundy in his own words as we continue to seek explanations for the actions of one of America’s most prolific serial killers. He is far from the only one and is joined in infamy both dozens of other killers whose actions revealed the extremely dark side of human nature. In the State of Texas, between Galveston and Houston, lies Interstate Highway 45 (I-45). Between the years 1971 and 1996, the bodies of 30 women were recovered in what became known as the Texas Killing Fields. Some of the murders were solved but the majority have remained unsolved and currently classified as cold cases. The barbarity of the crimes coupled with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearances of the victims, have cast an ever darker cloud on some of Texas’ worst murders. Author Katheryn Casey has revisited the killing fields and this is her account of what she learned as she stepped back into time and explored the serious of murdered that rocked Texas and caused many to wonder if any young woman was safe.
On Thursday, June 17, 1971, Colette Anise Wilson was a typical thirteen year-old girl in Alvin, Texas, but she could not have known that it would be her last day alive. Her remains were found several months later in November of that year. Her disappearance and murder became a de facto script that would be played out over and over again as more young women met a similar fate, leaving families looking for answers that made sense and detectives under enormous pressure to solve crimes that had never before affected the towns along I-45. The grief that engulfed the families is captured movingly by Casey and reveals the innocence of the young women, robbed of a full life through a chance encounter that had deadly consequences. A common theme that I saw in the book and one that was to be expected, is that none of the families were ever the same again. Each surviving family member handled the grief in their own way with some becoming committed activists in helping other parents of murdered children and others sinking further into misery. In this book, Casey keeps their daughters’ legacies alive and gives the families a voice that needs to heard and remembered.
Readers who are sensitive to this type subject matter should beware that the descriptions of the crimes are graphic. Forensics is crucial to the murders and through Casey, we revisit the crime scenes in order to understand what detectives faced as they came to understand that a deadly epidemic had commenced on the I-45. At certain points in the book, I felt a slight chill come over me as I read the stories of the murders. And what was more chilling, is the anonymity of the killer(s). Authorities have long believed that many of the murders were the work of one person, a serial killer that had picked Texas as his killing field. In truth, we do not know for sure how many killers did in fact roam the I-45. It is quite possible that several claimed the lives of multiple women over the course of more than twenty-five years. Casey does not attempt to answer that question but the narrative does leave the question open.
Towards the end of the book, there was one section that stood out in particular in which Casey recalls a conversation with retired FBI profiler Mark Young. During their discussion about the I-45 murders, he remarked “at any one time, there are about six hundred serial killers in the U.S.. Of those, maybe half are active. The others have aged and stopped killing, or they’ve stopped for other reasons, like sickness, or they’re in prison for other crimes.” Considering the population of the United States is well above 300 million people, that does not add up to significant portion of the population. But I believe that even one serial killer is far too many. But as Casey explores in the book, how do we know who is a serial killer? By her own admission, she might have let Kevin Edison Smith come into her home if he had presented himself in a non-threatening manner. His conviction for the murder of Krystal Jean Baker highlights the fact that we do not know who among us has the capability to be a stone cold killer. Further, there is a chance that at least once in our lives, we have crossed paths with someone who has killed or has the ability to commit premeditated murder.
There is always the possibility that one or more of the I-45 cold cases will one day be solved. However, the passage of time and the loss of critical evidence may prove to be too much for even the most seasoned investigators. But for anyone who is making an effort to understand what did happen during that twenty-five year stretch when the Texas Killing Fields ran red with blood, a blueprint is needed to provide a map of where and when to look. Kathryn Casey has done that and more in this eye-opening and hair-raising account of serial murder in the Lone Star State.