Have the Texas Killing Fields murders been solved? Killer suspects as Netflix drops new true crime series
The Texas Killing Fields are the subject of the latest true crime series to drop on Netflix
and live on Freeview channel 276
The latest true crime docuseries to drop on Netflix is that of the newest instalment of Crime Scene, with the third season investigating the Texas Killing Fields. Created by Joe Berlinger (The Times Square Killer, The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel), the new series focuses specifically on the murders of four Texas women whose bodies were found in the 1980s and 1990s.
This is what you need to know.
Who were the victims?
- Brenda Jones, 14, found in 1971
- Colette Wilson, 13, found in 1971
- Gloria Gonzales, 19, found in 1971
- Debbie Ackerman, 15, found in 1971
- Maria Johnson, 15, found in 1971
- Rhonda Johnson, 14, found in 1972
- Sharon Shaw, 13, found in 1972
- Alison Craven, 12, found in 1972
- Kimberly Pitchford, 16, found in 1973
- Suzanne Bowers, 12, found in 1979
- Brooks Bracewell, 12, found in 1981
- Georgia Geer, 14, found in 1981
- Michelle Garvey, found in 1982
- Heide Villarreal-Fye, 23, found in 1984
- Laura Miller, 16, found in 1986
- Audrey Cook, 30, found in 1986
- Donna Prudhomme, 34, found in 1991
- Lynette Bibbs, 14, found in 1996
- Tamara Fisher, 15, found in 1996
- Krystal Baker, 13, found in 1996
- Laura Smither, 12, found in 1997
- Sarah Trusty, 23, found in 2002
- Terressa Vanegas, 16, found in 2006
- Jessica Cain, 17, found in 2016
- Kelli Cox, 20, found in 2016
- Sondra Ramber, 14, last seen October 1983 - not found
- Shelley Sikes, 19, last seen May 1986 - not found
- Suzanne Rene Richerson, 22, last seen October 1988 - not found
- Tot Harriman, 57, last seen July 2001 - not found
Have the murders been solved?
For the most part, the murders of the Texas Killing Fields have not been solved, including the murders of Heidi Willareal-Fye, Laura Miller, Audrey Cook and Donna Prudhomme, who are the focus of the new series from Netflix.
A number of suspects have surfaced over the years, coming to the attention of local law enforcement.
In 1972, Michael Lloyd Self, a convicted sex offender, became a suspect for the murders of Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw and, after hours of interrogation, he confessed to the murders. He aided in the discovery of the bodies; however, in the ensuing months, Self actually retracted his confession.
Self claimed that he had been tortured into making the confession, alleging that he had been subjected to suffocation with a plastic bag, cigarette burns and being assaulted by police chief Don Morris. He was convicted of killing Shaw however, following his death in prison in 2000, it’s widely believed that he was wrongly imprisoned.
Whether or not Self was innocent is closely tied to that of a man called Edward Harold Bell, who had previously been arrested at least 12 times for exposing himself to children. After being imprisoned for the murder of a man named Larry Dickens, Bell wrote a number of letters to the Harris County Attorney, claiming to have murdered five girls in 1971, and six more between 1974 and 1977.
Bell claimed that he did not remember the names of most of his victims, but did name Debbie Ackerman, Maria Johnson, Colette Wilson and Kimberly Pitchford. He said that he killed two other girls who he had allegedly abducted from Webster in 1971, who were later identified as Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw.
However, Bell was never charged with these murders due to lack of evidence. He remained a suspect in the eyes of the police until his death in 2019.
Mark Rolan Stallings, who was serving two life sentences at the time for separate crimes, confessed to killing Donna Prudhomme in 2013, however he was never charged with the murder. Stallings remains a suspect in the Prudhomme case, and is also a suspected for the murder of Audrey Cook.
Clyde Hendrick, who holds a previous conviction for “abuse of a corpse” in relation to 30-year-old Ellen Beason in 1984, was also on the police radar, but no evidence tied him to the crimes. Another suspect was Nasa engineer Robert Abel who owned a ranch right next to the land where the women had gone missing. In 1993 following an FBI profile, police were granted permission to search his property which turned up no evidence.
Both have denied any connection to the killings.
It’s believed by many that the murders are the work of multiple different serial killers, with Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields director Jessica Dimmock saying: “I think it’s three serial killers operating in very similar territories… One kind of gets away with it, and it becomes more possible because it’s kind of shown that the police are not going to chase it down.”
She explains: “Each decade has its own [serial killer] - you know, it’s not like three different [killers] operating over 30 years. It’s like one in the 70s, there’s one in the 80s, there’s one in the 90s… there’s pretty good indications that that’s the case. And yes, of course, there might be other victims.”
Three people have been convicted in regards to the victims found around the Texas Killing Fields - in 1987, Gerald Zwarst and John Robert King were both convicted of aggravated kidnapping in relation to the disappearance of Shelley Sikes, who disappeared in 1986, although her body has never been found. Both Zwarst and King were sentenced to life in prison. They were offered deals in exchange for details about where Sikes’ body could be found, but neither provided accurate information. King died in prison in 2015, and Zwarst also died whilst behind bars in 2020.
In April 2012, 16 years after Krystal Jean Baker’s body was found, a man named Kevin Edison Smith was arrested and convicted of her murder. Back in 2009, Smith had been arrested on a drug charge in Louisiana and, around the same time, a detective tested Baker’s dress for DNA. Using technology not available at the time of Baker’s disappearance, a DNA match was later confirmed.
In 2015, William Lewis Reece, who was convicted in 1998 for the kidnapping and attempted murder of Sandra Sapaugh and, in 2015, had his DNA match the murder of Tiffany Johnston, confessed to killing Jessica Cain and Kelli Cox. Reece’s confession led investigators to the burial sites for Cain and Cox. In 2016, Reece also confessed to the kidnapping and killing of Laura Smither.