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Restorative Support for Families
After Traumatic Death:
Building a Bereavement-Informed Community
Friday September 21, 2018 &
Saturday, September 22, 2018
Texas Children’s Hospital
Pavilion for Women

BIC workshop 2018 save the date GTP

 

 

Scream at the Sky by Carlton Stowers

Lessons I found helpful from this book when I compiled Murder Survivors Handbook:

The book Scream at The Sky, by Carlton Stowers, has as its subtitle: Five Texas Murders and One Man’s Crusade for Justice.  He tells a true story of families impacted by the murders of five young women, who did not know each other.  The killings started in 70’s. Fourteen years later, a cold-case detective put fresh eyes on the murders that spanned a period of seventeen months.

There are many families one rarely hears about who are living with the open wounds of unsolved cases for many years and often lifetimes.  There are few specific resources for families whose loved ones have been murdered; there are even fewer resources for folks who wait years to find out what happened to their loved ones.  You’ll often hear them say, “It seems like no one cares.”

It is natural thing to come up with ideas about why something happens.  We all do it. When there are no answers, families decide what they think happened, as in the case explored by Stowers’ book.  One of the families impacted by this serial killer concluded that one of the victims’ mothers “wild” friends killed the woman’s daughter. They were so convinced that their theory was true that they would not even sit with the woman at her daughter’s funeral.  This belief was played out again and again, with rejection and ostracism contributing to this mother’s life-long mental health problems.  Fourteen years passed before the real culprit was identified by cold-case detective John Little.

Lesson: Don’t Give Up

Stowers’ book, Scream at the Sky, provides a reason for families to not give up hope for answers.  As I review this, I learn that the Golden State Killer has just been arrested.  Families have waited 40 years for this outcome. Authorities are currently piecing together many possible murders by this suspect.

Lesson: The Value of DNA Finds

Forensic DNA was first used by Sir Alec Jeffreys, who used this science to convict Colin Pitchfork in 1984 of the Enderby murders in Leicestershire, England.

District Attorney Barry Macha, in Wichita Falls, Texas was plagued by the unsolved murders of two women he thought were linked. The latest cold-case detective retired after a decade and a half of investigating these still unsolved cases.   Instead of assigning a detective ready to finish out his time to retirement, Macha hired someone new to investigation to take a fresh look—John Little. Little had been a brick layer but wanted a career in law enforcement.

Macha gave John Little the case files to review. Little learned that one of the victims, Terry Sims, was connected to him.  His sister’s husband was best friends with Pete Sims, Terry’s uncle who was with Terry’s father when he died of a car accident. That was not the only personal connection he had.  The prime suspect, Donnie Ray Gibson, was someone who lived in his community and someone he had gone to school with.

John Little also made two new discoveries. One was of a print that had not been tested. He also found one new suspect, Farylon Wardrip, who had said he knew another woman, Ellen Blau, who had been murdered.  At the time, Wardrip had served eleven years of a thirty-five-year sentence for the confessed murder of Tina Kimbrew and was out on parole.  Little wanted to find DNA to tie these other murders together, so he and Macha devised a plan to find “abandoned interest evidence.”

Lesson: Abandoned Interest

Abandoned interest evidence is explained in an article for ABC by Jan Crawford Greenburg, Dennis Powell, and Therese Cook, in 2007.

Detectives are solving crimes using sweat collected from a steering wheel, or saliva from a discarded cigarette butt. In a Detroit case, it was spit on a leftover cinnamon roll that sent a man to jail for car theft.

“DNA is like fingerprints, only better. It is just more precise than fingerprints. At this point it is more reliable than fingerprints.”

Little found out where Wardrip worked and made his outpost the laundromat across the street. He went day after day, washing the same clothes, until his wait paid off.  Wardrip was sitting in a truck with his wife, eating lunch which included cheese crackers. After Wardrip got out to go back to work, he threw a cup he had been drinking from into a trash bin. John Little walked up on the pretense of needing a “spit cup.”  He saw a cup with cheese cracker crumbs on it and hoped it was the right cup.  Wardrip said, “Help yourself.” That cup was analyzed, and it was a DNA match with evidence gathered at the crime scenes. Wardrip was found guilty of five murders that had haunted grieving families and law enforcement for years.

Thanks to Carlton Stowers we get a full perspective on great work by dedicated criminal justice professionals who refuse to give up on their quest to obtain justice for the families of murdered loved ones.

Connie Saindon, MFT; Author: Murder Survivors Handbook, real-life stories, resources and tips and The Journey, Learning to Live with Violent Death

 

Survivors of Violent Loss exists to build a lifeline of hope and healing by providing support and education to those who live and work with violent death. Coping isn't easy. Survivors of Violent Loss can help. www.svlp.org (619) 685-0005

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