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Authors: Corey Mitchell

Murdered Innocents

BOOK: Murdered Innocents
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Praise for
Murdered Innocents
by Corey Mitchell
 
 
“A gory, yet sensitive, true crime tale that will scare the hell out of you.”
—Poppy Z. Brite, bestselling author of
Liquor
and
Lost Souls
 
“Corey Mitchell uncovers yet another level of the insanity behind the world of youth and violence.”
—Aphrodite Jones, bestselling author of
The Red Zone
and
A Perfect Husband
 
“A compelling book with provocative details of a city’s response to lost innocence; whether justice was delivered or denied, Corey Mitchell presents a solid case that hope for healing never fades.”
—Joyce King, author of
Hate Crime: The Story of a Dragging in Jasper, Texas
 

Murdered Innocents
by Corey Mitchell is not a book you will read and forget. On this journey through a botched investigation, questionable interrogations and the eight year ordeal of the victims’ families, Mitchell raises questions about the pursuit of justice that will haunt you for a long time to come.”
—Diane Fanning, author of
Through the Window
 
“Author Corey Mitchell takes us right inside the search for justice—a disturbingly long and convoluted search at that. Mitchell leaves us questioning the very nature of justice in America. A haunting and thought-provoking book.”
—Sue Russell, author of
Lethal Intent
 
“Corey Mitchell proves that he is the leading voice of true crime with
Murdered Innocents
, a complex, frightening, and frustrating tale of Texas terror.”
—Dennis McDougal, author of
Blood Cold
and
The Last Mogul
MURDERED INNOCENTS
COREY MITCHELL
PINNACLE BOOKS
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
For Audra,
A great teacher, a best friend, a wonderful wife
PROLOGUE
Friday, December 6, 1991
Hillside Center, West Anderson Lane
Austin, Texas
11:47 p.m.
 
Smoke.
Austin police officer Troy Gay saw the smoke rising from the strip center mall in North Austin just off MoPac Freeway. Officer Gay had served as a police officer since 1987; however, he had just begun to work in Austin one month earlier.
Officer Gay was working an overtime DWI assignment on this blustery Friday night. He drove his marked police cruiser around the Shoal Creek area, east on Anderson Lane. It was a thriving area with several shops and restaurants, not to mention the expansive Northcross Mall, which was teeming with teenagers.
The smoke began to rise from the area of the Hillside Center strip center. Hillside was typical of the strip center malls that were taking over Texas towns like the bubonic plague as it swept through medieval countrysides during the Dark Ages.
Officer Gay drove up Anderson Lane to Rockwood Lane and saw the smoke billowing up from behind the buildings. He circled his cruiser around to the back side of the stores down a dark alley. As he rounded the corner, he slowed the vehicle down so he could make sure he spotted the location of the fire. It did not take long before he saw flames spew out of the middle of a set of metal double doors. The yellowish orange flames flicked out of the crack in the door like the tongue of a demon.
At the same time, the doors of the building next to the fire opened up. A man peered out and saw Officer Gay. Jorge Barney, owner of the Party House Depot, asked Officer Gay what was going on.
“Sir, I need for you to grab your belongings and get out of there,” Gay ordered.
Barney complied and retreated back inside his store.
Officer Gay popped the gear of his patrol car in reverse and backed up out of the alleyway. He headed for the front of the stores to determine which business was on fire. He pulled around front and scanned the stores. There was a copier shop, a women’s clothing store, a pizzeria, and the Party House Depot. He noticed smoke poring out of the Party House Depot. He also noticed it poring out of the business next door: I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt.
Gay grabbed his radio microphone and contacted dispatch. He spoke calmly. “We have a fire in a small business at the corner of Burnet and Anderson Lane.”
One problem.
Officer Gay mistakenly gave the wrong address.
Officer Dennis Smith, driving a different patrol car, also spotted the smoke. He radioed in the correct location of the fire. Officer Smith turned his vehicle around and made a beeline for the strip center.
Officers Gay and Smith exited their vehicles. They walked around back into the alleyway. This time, Gay noted, the flames had stopped. Something peculiar, however, caught his eye. Water began to gush out of the bottom of the double doors. This did not make any sense as the Austin Fire Department (AFD) firefighters had not yet arrived at the scene. Unbeknownst to Officer Gay, a PVC water pipe burst from the yogurt shop ceiling because of the intense heat. A torrent of water rushed out of the pipe, onto the floor, and out the back door. The two officers decided to head back to the front of the store and wait for the firefighters.
The officers cleared the area in front of the yogurt shop. They asked Barney to move his car. A space was cleared for fire engine #8, driven by Henri LaCaille, and captained by Lieutenant Rene Hector Garza. Firefighter David Deveau was the designated tailboard man. The lumbering candy-apple-red fire truck pulled directly in front of the entrance to the yogurt shop. Lieutenant Garza and firefighter Deveau leaped from the truck and immediately suited up. Officers Gay and Smith made sure that all of the nearby businesses were cleared so no one would get hurt.
It appeared to be a routine fire call.
Engine 8’s job, according to Garza, was “to make entry, find the fire, and put it out with our water that we carry and hoses.”
“Deveau, I want you to remove the rack line,” Garza instructed his charge. The rack line is a 1¾-inch hose line that is attached to the fire truck. Deveau did as he was told. He was ready for the attack line on the fire. Suited up with handy talkies (handheld radios), hand lights, flame-retardant jackets, protective face pieces, and air packs, the two men were prepared to enter the store.
Gray smoke seeped out the front door. Garza realized that the fire was still burning. He noticed the shop windows were covered with black soot. The firemen approached the front door. Garza’s motto was: “You try before you pry.” He walked up to the front door, grasped the door handle, and pulled. It did not open. He was forced to pry it open. A wave of smoke greeted the two firefighters. Garza glanced up at the ceiling at the front of the store. Smoke scampered across the ceiling like Linda Blair’s deleted Spider Crawl scene from
The Exorcist
. Slowly his eyes adjusted to the view in front of him. It appeared as if there were several dining tables with wooden chairs stacked on top of them. This was the dining-room area of the yogurt shop.
Garza and Deveau got down on their bellies and began to crawl through the front of the store. Being low to the ground provided better visibility in the heavily smoke-filled room. Deveau began to charge the water hose. As the water flowed, he led the way to the back of the store. Garza attached himself to Deveau’s hip. Neither man could see more than a few inches in front of them. The billowing smoke practically blinded their path. Even the hand lights they carried provided little assistance.
Garza and Deveau inched their way up to the counter. They did not see any flames. They worked their way along the counter until they reached the right-hand side. They found themselves in a small hallway that went from the counter to the kitchen, located in back of the store.
They now saw the fire.
Garza noticed flames whipping above a large walk-in cooler, which was used to store yogurt. The two firefighters sloshed through the water on the floor. Garza pointed out the hot spot to Deveau, who stood up and opened the nozzle of the fire hose. Instead of a forceful rush of fluid, water merely dribbled out.
Garza tapped Deveau on the shoulder again. He signaled with his hands and said, “I’m going back outside.” Deveau understood and nodded. Garza headed back out so he could increase the water pressure. He grabbed onto the hose and used it as a guide through the dense smoke. Once at the entrance, he signaled to LaCaille to increase the water pressure. Garza immediately headed back inside to assist Deveau. The two men began to “knock out” the fire (douse it with water), which caused steam, which then further doused the flames. Within one to two minutes, the firefighters had the conflagration under control. Only a few glowing embers remained.
Garza needed to ventilate the room. The combination of smoke, steam, and darkness created a claustrophobic enclosure. Neither man could see. Garza ran his gloved hands along the wall searching for a door or window to open. He felt something and began to reach for it when Deveau grabbed his shoulder. Using his hand light, Deveau directed the lieutenant’s eyes to the ground. He pointed with his other hand to something that looked familiar.
“Is that a foot?” Deveau shouted through his protective mask.
“Yeah, I think it’s a foot,” replied an anxious yet composed Garza. “I want to take a closer look.”
Garza stepped back and crouched down for a more thorough inspection. As he scooted backward, he bumped into something. He looked back and down. He could not make it out at first. Once he shone his hand light, he realized what he had bumped into.
It was an arm.
Garza realized it was from a different person. It was the body of a young girl. She lay flat on her stomach, with her right arm underneath her chest, clutching the air with her right hand. She was completely naked and facedown in more than an inch of mucky water. A cash register drawer lay beside her head.
Steeling himself, Garza looked up at Deveau and shouted through his face piece, “Stay put! I’m gonna get some more help!”
Deveau gave him the thumbs-up and watched as his boss went for more help. He stood alone in the smoke-filled, pitch-black room, with two dead bodies at his feet.
Garza made it outside, scuttled over to the fire truck, and got on the radio. He knew something was not right. He walked over to the battalion chief, who assumed control while the men were inside the building.
“Something’s wrong. We’ve got two victims. Both of them are naked. One is completely burned,” Garza informed the chief. “I don’t think we should do anything. Something is wrong here.”
Firefighter LaCaille stepped up. “I’m ready to go in, sir!”
“No, I don’t think you should,” Garza warned his charge. “Something’s not right.”
Garza went back in the store. He slowly made his way to the back kitchen area, using the hose to guide him. As he came upon Deveau, he noticed a tiny light escaping from within the acrid smoke. It came from the back double doors. The room still needed to be ventilated, so he headed toward the doors, leaned his shoulder against one of them, and it opened easily. As he turned around, he saw the burned body within inches of his feet. As the smoke rushed out of the building, the scene became clearer.
It was worse than he imagined.
A second charred corpse stared back at him. The eyes were open, but clouded with a dark, milky sheen. An upside-down smile like that of a possessed clown stared back at him. It was the head of another body. It appeared to be positioned underneath the first charred body. The charred body was unrecognizable as a specific person. The lower torso was distinguishable; however, it appeared to have suffered charring and rupturing, or splitting, due to the intense heat from the flames. Both charred bodies were burned beyond recognition. The third body appeared to be completely nude as well.
Garza and Deveau both got a better look at the two charred bodies. They appeared to be female. Not only were they nearly completely burned, but their hands were bound behind their backs. One of the bodies was draped over the other at a forty-five-degree angle. The legs of each female were spread open. Their backsides lay upon the hard, messy floor. The fire did not burn beneath them and left the two females with undamaged flesh on their backsides. They appeared to have gags tied over their mouths.
Garza surveyed the scene. He had never seen anything like it.
But it was not over.
As the smoke dissipated, fourth body came into focus. Twelve inches away from the stacked bodies lay a third charred body on its side, right next to a metal rack shelf that lined the east sidewall. A metal ceiling rod rested in between the corpse’s legs. Once Garza got closer, he shone his hand light on what was once a human face. Now it was simply a mixture of black and blood.
At that point, Garza exited the yogurt shop. He stepped through the metal double doors and outside into the back alley. A fire truck had arrived in the back and spotlighted the inside of the store with bright klieg lights. Garza would not return.
Inside the shop, Deveau’s face piece alarm screeched, which signaled that he was low on air. He waited until another firefighter entered the scene. Robert Kimmons came in to replace him. Deveau handed the hose to Kimmons and exited through the front entrance. When he stepped out, he was surprised to see almost twenty firefighters on the premises.
Deveau restocked with a new air bottle and headed back into the shop. By the time he returned, there were three more firefighters ready to take his place. Instead of adding to the crowded scene, he turned around and went back outside to converse with Lieutenant Garza. The two men who discovered the bodies were reassigned to clear smoke out of the adjoining businesses.
Back inside, firefighter Kimmons manned the hose and continued to knock down flare-ups. As he finished, he walked over to the pile of bodies in the back of the shop. He leaned in to take a closer look. He gasped as he saw something shiny positioned between the legs of one of the bodies. He peered even closer and saw what he believed was an ice-cream scoop with a retractable thumb mechanism used to release the ice cream. He believed the handle was sticking out and that the metallic scoop was shoved inside the corpse’s vagina. Kimmons recoiled and stepped back. He turned to leave and saw three or four more people enter the front entrance of the yogurt shop. They appeared to be firefighters and emergency medical service (EMS) technicians.
“Hey, guys, we need to be careful in there. We’ve got multiple bodies,” Kimmons instructed. “We want to keep it as clean as possible.”
The other men nonchalantly acknowledged his presence. Kimmons left through the front entrance of the shop while the group of men headed to the pyre.
As Kimmons walked out, he spotted Sergeant John Jones, of the Austin Police Department (APD). The short, portly African American officer was followed by a female television newsreader and a television cameraman from the Austin CBS affiliate, Channel 7. Just minutes earlier, Jones was called to the scene by police dispatch. At first, the report stated that a robbery had occurred and that there was a fire. Three bodies were discovered. Jones later stated that after he drove about one mile, dispatch called again. A fourth body was found.
Sergeant Jones spoke with the battalion chief and then ambled through the yogurt shop front entrance. By the time he arrived in the back kitchen and office area, the firefighters had the place entirely lit up. Jones had no problem seeing the aftermath. He described it as “wholesale carnage.”
“I looked in there,” he recalled in a slight Southern accent, “and said, ‘Oh, my Gawd. . . .’”
Sergeant Jones learned the name of two teenage girls who worked in the yogurt shop. Jennifer Harbison, seventeen, and her best friend, Eliza Thomas, also seventeen, who lived just a few blocks from the store. He had no idea who the other two girls were.
BOOK: Murdered Innocents
8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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