Category Archives: Crime
Deliver Us: Three Decades of Murder and Redemption in the Infamous I-45/Texas Killing Fields – Kathryn Casey
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.
The film “Black Mass” featuring Johnny Depp as the notorious Boston criminal James “Whitey” Bulger, took us inside the old Boston underworld and the power struggle between the Irish and Italian organized crime organizations that turned the city into a battle zone. Bulger’s story, due in part to documentaries, media coverage and books, is well-known. But what isn’t widely known, is the story of the Winter Hill gang’s most efficient and feared killer, Johnny Martorano. In the film, Martorano is played by actor W. Earl Brown. Howie Carr presents us with this chilling account of Martorano’s early life, his descent into the crime world, affiliation with Bulger, arrest and decision to become a testifying witness against the Winter Hill gang and numerous individuals targeted in law enforcement investigations. And what he reveals is a gritty underworld full of corruption, drugs, sex, money and murder. All of the infamous Boston gangsters make an appearance including, Donald Killeen, Indian Al, Wimpy Bennett, Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo and Tommy King.
Martorano’s life reads like a story straight out of “GoodFellas” or “The Departed” except that this isn’t fiction. This is the city of Boston, in the 1960s and 1970s and the mayhem that ensued. The murders are brutal, the crime heinous and nothing is spared in the book bringing home the reality of the streets of Boston during those times. At some points in the book you may feel as if you’re sitting next to Martorano and the crew at Basin Street South or Chandler’s as they plot their next crime. As a father of several children by different women, husband, hitman, loan shark and enforcer, Martorano is a man of many faces able to change from one to the other when necessary and in an instant. At the time of the publication of this book, Bulger was still at large. Since then, he has been captured and is currently incarcerated and will spend the rest of his life in prison. Martorano served 12 years in prison, was released and currently resides in Milford, MA. His days with the Winter Hill gang are long gone but his reputation and past actions continue to live on as Bulger and the gang continue to be examined in books, films and documentaries.
Beginning in 1993, female homicides in Juárez City, Mexico began to increase at an alarming rate. Tragically, the overwhelming majority of the crimes have gone unsolved denying the families of the victims their day in court for justice for the loss of their loved ones. The city was founded in 1659 and sits across the United States border from the town of El Paso, Texas. In 2010, there were on average 8.5 killings per day in Juarez City. Drug cartels and drifters from the U.S. have maintained an iron grip on the city making it one of the most places on earth. In recent years, the murder rate has declined and the city continues to make progress in reinventing itself and its image. However, the struggle with its dark past and deadly trend of femicide that has not fully ceased continues to haunt Juarez. Teresa Rodriguez, a correspondent for Univision, has conducted her own investigation into the murders resultng in this chilling and informative account that reveals the severity of an epidemic that continues to plague Mexico.
Their names are not known worldwide and their families are simple and hardworking. But their murders and the inaction of the Mexican government and complicity of local police reveal a system in which officials are unwilling and unable to stop the crisis that has gripped the country. In their faces we see our sisters, mothers, aunts, nieces and friends. Most of the women are from low income poverty stricken areas who work brutally long hours barely earning a minimum wage. They are often faced with a long commute on deserted stretches of roads that serve as a haven for criminal elements. Some of the women are never seen again becoming yet another statistic is a growing list of violent murders and sexual assaults. Rodriguez’s book is a dark premonition of things that will come if the Mexican government fails to address the crisis. For hundreds of women in Juárez there is no justice and their families are left to grieve without the benefit of closure. Their cries have been ignored and the deadly trend that was once confined to Juarez has now spread to other parts of Mexico including Toluca, a city I visited in December, 2013.
Mexico is a beautiful country, full of history, good food and beautiful people. Yet it is plagued by extreme violence fueled by the drug trade and a disturbing pattern of femicide that has never been confronted. Vice News, the international news organization based in Brooklyn, New York, recently did a story on the rise of the female homicides in Mexico and the struggles the families of the victims face in obtaining justice. The people of Mexico face a long road in reversing the disturbing trend of murders but as more attention is drawn to the crisis, it might result in long overdue action by the Mexican government. And authors such as Teresa Rodriguez continue to do their part in exposing a regrettable, tragic and hauntingly disturbing trend.