Authors: Diane Fanning
Tags: #True Crime, #Murder, #Serial Killers
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Herb flipped on the porch light and peered out the door’s peephole. He saw a young girl with a bent head. He opened the door to a horrifying sight. The girl’s clothes were saturated with blood. She swayed in the glow of the porch light.
He opened the door and led her into the still-dark house. “Marlene, take care of this little girl. I need to call 9-1-1.”
Marlene stood in the doorway of the bedroom. She switched on the kitchen light. An intense image of red branded itself on the surface of Marlene’s eyes. “My God. My God. What happened to you?”
For a second, Herb froze, unable to remember how to dial 9-1-1. Then he stabbed in the numbers. As soon as he heard the answering click, he blurted, “I have a little girl...” He glanced at the pathetic form desperately clinging to life. He thought of his own grandchildren. He could not utter the word “dying.” “She’s covered in blood. I need an ambulance. I need police. Please hurry.”
Krystal mimed a writing pen. Marlene stepped into the kitchen area for a pen and pad of paper. Herb hung up the phone.
Marlene handed the pen and paper to Krystal. Herb knelt by her side. He held her hand. He stroked her hair, trying to get it out of the blood caked on her face.
The young girl scrawled: “The Harrises are hurt.”
“Who did this to you?”
scratched across the paper ...
St. Martin’s Paperbacks
NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
THROUGH THE WINDOW
Copyright © 2003 by Diane Fanning.
Cover photograph of Tommy Lynn Sells courtesy AP/Wide World
Photograph of window © Steven Puetzer/Nonstock.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Printed in the United States of America
St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / April 2003
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This book is dedicated to two heroic survivors,
Krystal Surles and Fabienne Witherspoon;
to Kaylene Harris, who made the final sacrifice;
and to all the known and unknown victims who preceded her.
FOLLOWING the trail of crimes left by Tommy Lynn Sells was a complicated and sometimes contradictory journey. I intruded on the busy days of numerous members of law enforcement along the way. More often than not, I spoke with investigators with technically open cases who were restricted in the information they could impart. Nonetheless, this situation did not inhibit their generosity with their time.
Thanks to: Lt. Terry Ward, Little Rock, Arkansas; Detective Jeffrey Stone, St. Louis; Don Swann, Taney County, Missouri; Mike Curti, former Winnemucca Police Chief, and James Bagwell, former Humboldt County Sheriff, in Nevada; Detective Karen Wright, Tucson; Lt. Richard Podgers, Lockport, New York; Detective John Kemp, Jefferson County, Illinois; Capt. Diana Sievers, Illinois State Police; Investigator Donny Branch, Jackson County, Florida; Sgt. Rick Westfall, Charleston, West Virginia; Detective Sgt. Jim Arnott, Greene County, Missouri; Sgt. Buddy Cooper, Missouri Highway Patrol; Lt. Jimmy Hand, Gibson County, Tennessee; Detective Chris Schoonover, Lexington, Kentucky; Agent Steve Tanio and Public Information Officer Kym Koch, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation; and Lt. Larry Pope, Val Verde, Texas. A very special thanks to my two favorite lawmen, for whom I have the greatest respect for their dedication, tenacity and commitment, Texas Rangers Sgt. John Allen and Sgt. Coy Smith.
On the legal side, many thanks to Prosecuting Attorney Jim Kopp, Bexar County, Texas; Assistant District Attorney Ard Gates, Kingfisher County, Oklahoma; State’s
Attorney Gary Duncan, Jefferson County, Illinois; Prosecuting Attorney Rodney Daniels, Taney County, Missouri; Mary Anne Wiley in Governor Perry’s policy office in Texas; retired Judge George M. Thurmond, Val Verde County, Texas; Diana Hancock, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; Brenda Loudermilk, Attorney General’s Office in Austin, Texas; and Larry Fitzgerald, Texas Department of Criminal Justice. And lots of appreciation to the private sector attorneys who helped me to understand the wran-glings of the law: Larry Sauer and Will Harrell in Austin and Ron Friesenhahn in New Braunfels.
Others who provided invaluable assistance in my research were Jeff Marcinik of the Humboldt County Public Library in Winnemucca, Nevada; Larry Sonntag, M.S., LPC-CCDS in New Braunfels; Iris Taber in Dallas; JoAnn Settle in Ina, Illinois: Fernando Perez and Noel Sanchez in San Antonio; Herb and Marlene Betz in Del Rio; Jenna Jackson, producer for
; Claire J. Weinraub, producer for
; Scott Fulmer of Investigations Across Missouri; and friend, former neighbor and top-notch investigator, Dan Phillips of Mission Investigations of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, the Rio Grande Valley and Louisiana.
Thanks to Tommy Lynn Sells for hours of interviews, prolific correspondence and a mountain of legal documents. And thanks to his mother, Nina Sells, his great aunt Bonnie Walpole, and his mother-in-law, Virginia Blanco.
A compassionate acknowledgment of my gratitude to the family members of victims, who allowed me a glimpse into the blackest moments of their lives: Crystal Harris, Kathleen Cowling, Anna Walker, Joni Settlemeir, Joeann Dardeen, Anita Knapp, Inez Cowling, Pamela Surles, Lorene Bible and Susan Wofford. I will never forget you.
On a personal note, I want to thank writer Suzy Spencer, my mentor, cheerleader and gentle critic for putting her hands behind my back and giving me a shove.
To David Ferguson, News Editor of KNBT–KGNB radio in New Braunfels—thanks for pumping up the jam.
To Wayne—I would never have persevered without
your unending emotional support, toleration and love.
And, finally, I must honor my huge debt of gratitude to the three people who made this book possible: my agent, Jane Dystel; St. Martin’s Press executive editor, Charlie Spicer; and the man with the scrupulous eye, my editor, Joe Cleeman.
A chill teased the air across South Texas in the early morning hours of December 31, 1999. In less than twenty hours, thousands would light fireworks to herald the coming of a new century, the promise of a new beginning. Just west of Del Rio, on the Guajia Bay, nothing so remarkable heralded the departure of one young life and the end of innocence for another.
Down a dark, narrow road, the six inhabitants of a double-wide mobile home were fast asleep at 4:30 A.M. The man outside the residence first tried to trip the lock on the back door with his knife blade, but failed. The family dog started barking in the pen. He let the black rottweiler smell his hand and patted him on the head until the animal was quiet. He removed the screen from the window above the air conditioner and pushed up on the sash, but the latch lock was drawn, holding the pane in place.
He moved on panther feet to the front of the house. The window to 14-year-old Justin Harris’ room was raised to the welcome coolness of a mild December. Outside, the open window was an invitation to the man lurking in the shadows. He removed that screen and set it off to the side. Beneath his makeshift entryway, a large metal tub rested. He stepped up on its edge, unaware that in the dark water below his foot, two ill-tempered snapping turtles waited for him to slip. From his perch, he pushed the sash up a bit farther until he created an opening large enough for entry. Carefully, he threw one leg up over the windowsill and into the room. He paused, his ears tuned to catch the slightest
noise. He hoisted the other leg into the room and eased himself down to the floor.
Justin, blind from birth, thought one of the girls was messing with him again, and said, “Will you all stop coming into my room?” then went back to sleep.
The intruder walked into the next bedroom and struck his lighter. There was a very small girl sleeping on the bed, 7-year-old Marque Surles. Her heart-shaped face looked even more innocent in repose than it did by day—nose smooshed in the pillow, delicate eyelashes feathered on its case. Her body curled up in a loose, comfortable ball. He stared at her in the flickering light. Then, he turned away.
He walked down the hall to the other end of the trailer. Spinning the ridged wheel on his lighter again, he saw a woman, Crystal Harris, and a young girl, 12-year-old Lori Harris, fast asleep. He touched the woman on the leg. She did not stir. He looked down at her long hair splayed across the pillow, at the curves of her body undulating beneath the covers. He shook his head and stepped away.
He went back down the hall to explore the one remaining bedroom. Stepping across the threshold, all he heard was the quiet flow of breath from the two occupants in the room. He inhaled a heady smell: part sweaty child, part air freshener, part blooming female adolescence.
He pulled the door closed behind him. In the top bunk, 10-year-old Krystal Surles stirred, and he froze in his tracks. No thread of light penetrated the room. He was unable to identify the source of the noise. His right hand squeezed the knife handle until it left a deep impression on his palm. In two steps, he was leaning over 13-year-old Kaylene “Katy” Harris on the lower level of the bed. “Wake up,” he hissed into her ear. He lay down next to her and held one hand to her trembling throat while his other hand wielded a hideous twelve-inch boning knife.
Without responding, he slit her shorts. He cut her panties. He sliced her bra in two. Then he returned the knife to the terrified child’s throat while his free hand danced
across her small body. She jerked free, tumbling out of bed on the side that was closest to the wall.
She shouted, “Go get Mama!” as she surged toward the door. But he was already there blocking her escape. His knife stabbed, drawing first blood.
“Look, you cut me.”
He flipped on the light and looked at the fresh wound on her arm, and pulled her toward him. Above, Krystal awoke with a start, peering through the slats of the bunk. First she saw Katy; a hairy hand was clasped over her friend’s mouth. Then, her worst nightmare came true: she saw him—the monster under the bed lived! He stood behind Katy, holding a wicked-looking knife to her throat. As the 13-year-old struggled, Krystal looked in her eyes. She received an urgent message that was as loud and clear as if spoken: “Do not move.”