Like any densely populated and cosmopolitan city, Dallas has a rich and disturbing history of crime.
On the second floor of the Dallas Police Department’s Jack Evans headquarters is a room piled high with boxes containing a century’s worth of incident reports and arrest warrants, department newsletters and newspaper clippings. Vintage badges, patches and patrolman caps fill several glass display cases. Books containing city code and local true crime stories line metal shelves, and a heavy, rusty ball-and-chain leg cuff occupies a dark corner.
Dallas Police Senior Cpl. Rick Janich, curator of the forthcoming Dallas Police Museum, is working to transform these artifacts into a proper exhibit. Meanwhile, when his schedule permits, he shows visitors around, allowing them to sift through handwritten records and black-and-white photos. He might even show off the collection of handguns and badges, stashed under lock and key, that once belonged to famous lawmen such as Prohibition-era police chief Elmo Strait.
The museum will be a popular attraction — after all, the Dallas Police Department has groupies, Janich explains.
Fans of the show ‘Dallas SWAT’ will show up at police headquarters looking for stars of the reality TV show, he says, “hoping for an autograph.”
Perusing the evidence, there is no reasonable doubt that our neighborhood has been the scene of some of the worst criminal offenders and best detectives in history.
THESE ARE THEIR STORIES.
Detective Pettie and his cold case files
In January 1984 Marie Jenkins Zickefoose was discovered dead in her bed in her Skillman-Northwest Highway apartment, an open magazine at her side. Investigators guess she was reading when her killer struck. Her brother, his bloody and lifeless body nearby, apparently visited at the wrong time, interrupting the crime. Though investigators lifted a good print from the scene, they could not track down the murderer.
The family of 41-year-old Jill Bounds, who was bludgeoned to death in her White Rock-area home in 1988, is still seeking answers.
And whoever killed 44-year-old Myra Barrett in 1991 inside the Uptown-area boutique she was preparing to open — the fulfillment of an entrepreneurial dream — just might get away with murder.
The idea does not sit well with Lake Highlands resident Ron Pettie, a retired Dallas police detective and reserve officer who dedicates some 50 to 60 hours a month these days to cracking unsolved mysteries.
Several oversized binders stuffed with letters of commendation, newspaper clippings and photos form a tippy tower in Pettie’s home office.
Information on murder cases that have gone cold fills one particularly fat book. Thousands of Dallas murders remain unsolved, and he can only investigate a handful at a time.
Flipping through pages — crammed with photos and copious detail about murder scenes, lists of victims’ acquaintances and evidence collected — Pettie explains that “someone out there is still actively seeking closure” in the cases he has chosen to re-examine.
“In the Zickefoose case, for example, the retired detective who worked it told me it still weighs on him. He said he got real clear prints. It is the kind of thing you can retest with the latest technology,” Pettie says.
“Jill Bounds’ mother persisted until she died a few years ago trying to solve her daughter’s murder. Now Jill’s sister has taken up the cause, and I meet with her on a regular basis.”
He hopes to solve some cold cases, he says. But meanwhile, he adds, “It helps the loved ones to know that someone still cares, that someone is still looking. That is a big part of why I do this.”
The Vietnam War in the late 1960s resulted in a scarcity of young men eligible for Dallas’ police force, so the department lowered the minimum age requirement. Pettie joined in 1969, when he was 19. Pettie obtained a court order declaring him an adult.
“Us youngsters were kind of a pain to the older officers,” Pettie recalls with a grin. “‘Kiddie Cops’ is what they called us.”
Despite his youth, Pettie quickly rose through the ranks to detective.
Old photos reveal a younger Pettie working crime scenes, using tape to lift fingerprints after a bank robbery/shootout — one of the pictures was taken by Pettie’s friend, Dallas Morning News photographer Jack Beers, best known for his famous photo of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald.
Pettie treasures the black-and-white print of himself that Beers gave him.
“He died the day after he delivered this picture to me,” Pettie says. “His photo of Oswald was famous, but another photographer got the better picture a split second later — that one won the Pulitzer that year. [Beers] was never the same after that.”
In one playful photo, Pettie is wearing a Sherlock Holmes getup. In most, he sports lustrous sideburns and wstylish jackets.
Yes, he admits when prompted, being a detective made you incredibly cool.
“Detectives, for a while there, were gold, almost untouchable,” he says. “We did not have to wear the uniform, and we did what we needed to do with little restriction.”
During the 1970s and ’80s, Pettie worked hundreds of crime scenes. “You were exposed to things, had to look at things, that no one should ever have to see,” he says.
Yet he enjoyed many a success:
He acquired several of the prints that helped convict Guy Marble Jr., the so-called “Friendly Burglar Rapist”.
He and a partner in 1972 tracked a kidnapper involved in the abduction of Amanda Dealey, daughter-in-law of the Dallas Morning News publisher; they lifted prints from a pay phone used for a ransom call.
“Blonde Freed in Kidnap,” the papers read the day after her rescue.
He was instrumental in putting away several members of the Marrs clan — in a span of 30 years and two generations, the Marrs family and associates committed thousands of residential burglaries in Dallas and Park Cities and at least one murder.
“Yes, thousands,” Pettie says. “If you even printed the actual number of burglaries they are responsible for, no one would believe you.”
Pettie and his team’s police work on that case resulted in Texas’ first organized-crime conviction.
Pettie later worked Internal Affairs, where he exclusively investigated crimes committed by city employees. A 2011 Dallas Morning News photo shows Pettie escorting police officer Quaitemes Williams, under arrest for beating a handcuffed prisoner.
“Not my best moment,” Pettie says, explaining that while city employees must be held accountable, it is difficult to detain a fellow officer. “Some of them need to be gone — but sometimes these guys can make a mistake in a split-second decision that can ruin a career. Those are tough.”
Pettie has spent practically his whole life doing police work. He met his wife, Debbie, through the DPD (she worked in the DPD communications department before becoming a schoolteacher). He served on FBI and IRS task forces and won more awards and commendations than he can count. He still can’t tell you why he started or why, after retirement, he can’t stop (or why he owns all those binders filled with mementos, for that matter). When prompted he pauses, shakes his head. “You know,” he says, “I have no idea.”
The Dallas Police Reserve has existed for more than 60 years. Its members are professionals, often in fields of law or medicine, who undergo rigorous certification and dedicate at least 16 hours a month to police work. The reserve is a nonprofit enterprise. Visit dpdreserves.org to learn more.
Help solve cold cases
Information about cold cases like those police reserve detective Ron Pettie is working can be found on the Dallas Police Department’s new blog, dpdbeat.com, which launched in February to help police disseminate important information.
“We did that for several reasons,” explains Maj. Max Geron. “No. 1 was because it’s another avenue to be able to release information to the public and the media at the same time.”
Historically, police have relied on partnerships with local media in order to propagate information to the public, but there is only a finite amount of space and time that news outlets can dedicate to the police beat.
Although media partnerships are still important to the police, social media has given the police department a platform that allows it to skip the middlemen and release as much or as little information as they deem appropriate, directly to the people who need to see it.
There’s a wealth of information available on dpdbeat.com, including a list of cold cases.
“Before, there was really no other place where you could have gotten this stuff,” Geron says. “There were some news agencies that would do an occasional weekly feature on a cold case, and they’d go out and interview a detective or whatnot, but there was no way, that we could see, for us to put this information out there. And the blog gave us a place for that.”
Aside from the blog, the DPD is ramping up its use of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
In August, the Dallas Police Department launched a YouTube series called “In Depth.” In each episode, Senior Cpl. Melinda Gutierrez interviews a detective about a case, going over “pertinent facts and information to get a fresh set of eyes in the community on the cases,” Geron says. “To see if there might be additional information to help us solve the case.”
Because of the new video series, the police have had at least one instance in which additional information helped move a case along, Geron says.
So far they have filmed two episodes of “In Depth,” and the media relations office has been exploring ways to make the videos as professional as possible. Aside from “In Depth,” the DPD YouTube page also features a series called “A Day in the Life,” which gives a behind-the-scenes look at various departments within the department.
The website and social media pages also allow the Dallas Police to relay information during emergency situations, Geron points out.
Since the department launched dpdbeat.com, it has received almost 1 million views. The department has more than 54,000 fans on Facebook and 42,000 followers on Twitter.
“When we talk to people, they say, ‘Hey, you guys are leading the way on social media,’ ” Geron concludes. “It’s just been revolutionary. And it’s fair, and it’s balanced distribution of information, and in my line of work that’s imperative.”
Robert Sadler and his pursuit of the “Friendly Burglar Rapist”
No one would listen: the lonely pursuit of a serial rapist
In a month’s span, Cesar Benitez attacked three women in their Lake Highlands homes before police caught him. A composite sketch of the suspect garnered tips from the public — one led police to Benitez, who was linked by his DNA to all three attacks. Faced with overwhelming forensic evidence, Benitez pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 85 years in prison.
Circumstances were different 40 years ago, when one serial rapist terrorized approximately 80 northeast Dallas women over a period of three years before police finally nabbed him.
Robert Sadler — an author, private investigator and retired cop who lives in Lake Highlands — led the behind-the-scenes effort to catch Guy William Marble Jr., who was dubbed, during the height of his infamy in 1977, the Friendly Burglar Rapist, or FBR.
“I wish we had DNA evidence back then,” Sadler says. But DNA would not be broadly available in crime solving for another 15 years.
Had it not been for the innovation, creativity and persistence of Sadler and his partner Tom Covington, the clever and clean-cut Marble — a husband, father and advertising exec by day — might have eluded the law and continued raping much longer. Sadler and his partner believed the FBR’s crimes followed a pattern that eventually would lead to murder if no one stopped him.
In the late 1960s, Sadler was tough and streetwise — a Vietnam vet and a beat cop who joined the force when he was just 20. He worked undercover, at times posing as a wino. And he was exceptionally creative.
“I went to Oklahoma State University to major in fine arts with the intent of being a painter,” he says. “But [the core classes] bored me. A comedy movie inspired the idea of joining law enforcement.” Because he was a minor, he had to be legally emancipated before he was sworn into the department in 1968.
In 1972, when the DPD started a crime analysis program at the Central Patrol Division, they tapped Sadler to oversee it. Sadler’s artistic inclinations made him a good choice.
He placed large city maps on his office wall and used stickers to plot crimes — a retro version of today’s info-graphic.
“The visuals helped. I think it forced the sergeants and [subsequently] beat cops to take more accountability for their neighborhoods,” he says.
When a man began terrorizing area women — chatting in their ears as he raped them, telling one he was her “Friendly Burglar Rapist” — Sadler was the first to notice a pattern.
In 1974, he noticed a rape report strikingly similar to one he had reviewed several months prior. At the time, Sadler was analyzing only Central Division reports.
He asked his chief, Robert O. Dixon, for access to citywide reports. Sifting through thousands of them, he determined about 10 cases altogether could possibly be linked.
Sadler noticed multiple connections: Most of the rapes occurred in the Northeast Police Division’s Vickery Meadow area, which was then a bustling community for young singles. The attacker stalked his victims, looking for plants or other indicators of a female occupant. Donning a nylon mask, he typically entered unlocked doors or windows while the women slept. He cut phone lines, which he later used to bind his victims. He stole money from the complainants’ wallets and usually removed their IDs (later, Marble would admit to investigators that he enjoyed seeing the photograph, age and description of the woman he would be raping). A woman in her 60s was among his victims. A mother and her adult daughter were victimized in two separate incidents. He covered women’s heads with pillowcases or pulled their own nightgowns over their faces. He held his knife to many throats but never cut anyone. Victims described him as “polite.”
Catching this serial rapist was not Sadler’s job, but it became an obsession.
Sadler and Covington, a crime prevention officer at the time, grew equally preoccupied with tracking the movements of the FBR. They pursued a single-rapist theory even when the brass told them they were wrong.
Armed with data from exhaustive research, they shared their theories with senior investigator Reba Crowder, Sadler says, but she dismissed them. She believed that the rapes were the work of several different perpetrators.
Not content to sit by, Covington and Sadler say they spent hours in the field surveying the rapist’s ground.
“We wanted to refine our feel for where and how he was moving through his turf, and we were constantly looking for him,” Sadler says.
A note is scrawled on an old pad — Sadler says he probably wrote it while sitting in his car in the middle of the night, overlooking a cluster of Vickery Meadow apartments:
“Trying to be vigilant and for what? … To catch the man the department doesn’t give a damn about? And for what, I keep asking myself. The victims care. Tom and I care. I guess we care, but no one else.”
Concedes Sadler, “This is my side of the story. Some in the department might say, ‘Sadler is full of it’.”
But events following Crowder’s departure from the case show that Sadler and Covington were on the right track.
One victim got a good look at her attacker. Unlike today, the department did not employ a sketch artist, but the witness worked with an unofficial artist to develop a composite drawing.
Incoming investigators John Landers and Truly Holmes listened to Sadler and Covington, and they directed a tactical team to stake out a specific area, a Vickery Meadow complex, based on the researchers’ data and predictions.
Just a few nights later, on Valentine’s Day 1977, Officer Barry Whitfield spotted Marble peeking into apartment windows there and apprehended him.
Whitfield was lauded as a hero, but he credits Sadler and Covington.
“The Dallas Police Department took a quantum leap forward in the area of crime analysis as a result of their work,” Whitfield notes.
The media light never shined on the two behind-the-scenes researchers, but through a 1977 commendation, investigators acknowledged that the men led police to the rapist.
“These officers were more knowledgeable than anyone in the department when it came to the ‘Friendly Burglar Rapes,’ ” wrote investigator Truly Holmes. “The information they amassed resulted in their accurately predicting the next movement of the rapist.”
In custody, Marble confessed to 81 rapes. Charged with various counts of rape and aggravated burglary (which at the time, according to presiding judge Henry Wade, carried a heavier sentence than rape), he was sentenced to 60 years in prison, but he was eligible for release after 20 years. In May 1998, the 51-year-old Marble went free.
While in prison Marble married a French woman. Paperwork shows he was denied a French visa. Sadler says no one is sure where he is now.
“We do know that he was supposed to register as a sex offender and never did,” he says.
Several things changed in the Dallas Police Department during Sadler’s years as a crime analyst.
For example, Sadler developed a standardized list of questions, requiring officers taking a crime report to ask for specific descriptions, such as height, weight, hair color, eye color and ethnicity of suspects. This gave analysts a more focused list from which to draw connections between crimes.
In addition, strides were made in the way law enforcement treats victims of sexual crimes.
“Victim blaming was rampant in those days — in the department, in the media — stories about the victims’ lifestyles and how they invited the attacks ran in the paper,” Sadler says. “Great strides were made in rape-crisis counseling and education during the FBR era, aided in no small measure by Tom Covington’s wife, Janie Covington.”
Janie Covington volunteered at Dallas’ Rape Crisis Center, spent long nights at Parkland Hospital with victims and lectured publicly about prevention and how to cope after an attack.
“The rapist’s three-year spree opened a multitude of doors in crime prevention,” Tom Covington notes. “All of the publicity that came from [this case] helped change the public attitude about rape.”
It is clear that Guy William Marble Jr. — the years searching for him and the fact that the old man is free and unregistered — still occupies a large space in Sadler’s head.
In 2012 Sadler published a 540-page book documenting his experience. The tome, “One Step From Murder: The True Story of the Friendly Burglar Rapist,” is dedicated to Covington, Chief Dixon and the victims:
“To the women of Dallas who were the prey of the FBR,” reads the opening page, “Tom and I never forget you.”
Neighborhood resident Robert Sadler’s book, “One Step From Murder,” about his hunt for a serial rapist in the 1970s, is available on amazon.com.
‘The Wire’ — Lake Highlands version
Is it possible that “The Wire” was based on Lake Highlands apartments? Well, it wasn’t, but there are some striking similarities between early 2000s Forest-Audelia area apartment communities and the Baltimore projects, which provide the setting for the acclaimed HBO crime drama, “The Wire”.
Today, the apartments of Lake Highlands aren’t exactly bastions of wholesome or violence-free living. But conditions have improved, at least according to Dallas Police statistics, which show the area dropping to No. 5 on the city’s violent crime hotspots list (it topped out at No. 2 a few years ago).
Crime is still a problem, but it clearly was worse in the early 2000s. In 2004 Dallas was one of the nation’s deadliest cities, and Lake Highlands criminals played a significant role in that violence.
A 10-year-old Dallas Morning News article (Michael Grabell, Tanya Eiserer and Holly Yan; Jan. 2005) blamed the bloodshed, in large part, on Dallas’ drug trade. Apartment complexes, the reporters noted, were “killing fields.”
“In 2003 elements of Dallas’ murder machine made the move from Pleasant Grove, up Buckner Boulevard and into the Lake Highlands area,” the article reads, “[where] six men were shot and killed and another six were wounded.”
In 2009 Sr. Cpl. Tracy Glenn told the Advocate that Bent Creek was our neighborhood’s absolute worst apartments, but that it had improved ever so slightly by then thanks to lasting effects of a concentrated police effort a few years before. Inside the Bent Tree gates (incidentally, just a mile from some of Lake Highlands’ nicest $450k-plus homes) existed another world — a very dense community suffering the obvious effects of poverty and all the bad things that come with it.
Here is what was happening there in the early ’00s, according to the aforementioned report:
Drive into Bent Creek on Forest Lane near Audelia Road. Pass through the mechanical gate. Turn right and follow the patchwork wooden fence, where gaps that allowed people to cut through between complexes are repeatedly covered up with boards. Go to the back of the complex … where a pushers’ paradise thrived. The back parking lot dead-ends into woods, allowing dealers a view of who’s coming and going … Just minutes from Interstate 635, Bent Creek was convenient for customers not only in Dallas but also in Garland and Richardson … The dealers’ clientele included customers from all walks of life. The dealers’ “good-eyes” perched in the front, watching the main gate, sometimes alerting others over walkie-talkies. “Runners” transported money and drugs through the breezeways between clients and dealers. But these dealers were just middlemen in a larger Dallas drug trade. With stash houses in Pleasant Grove and Oak Cliff, they were just providing supply for demand.
Similar to plotlines in “The Wire.” It was within these and similar nearby environs that several young black men were violently killed or wounded by gun.
A glut of tony apartments built for young singles of the ’80s and ’90s transformed to dens of drugs, violence and gang activity as years and zoning changes that prohibited singles-only apartments took their toll.
“Several of the murders bore witness to an odd juxtaposition,” the 2004 article notes. “At Providence Apartment Homes, an apartment that overlooked formerly well-maintained tennis courts became a murder scene. At Bent Creek Apartments, a shooting broke out in a parking lot divided by carports and lined with sculpted shrubbery.”
In just 33 days, the Autumn Ridge Apartments saw three murders —“Corey Wooten, 24, known to his friends as ‘Kinfolk,’ Corey ‘Hook’ Clark, 16, and Howard ‘Pee Wee’ Simon, 19, all were gunned down. Only Simon survived. Police believed all were gang and drug related,” according to the 2004 piece, which describes several more incidents of “murderous violence”: the near-death of rapper Mr. Pookie, a Berkner alum.
More murders in Lake Highlands were not tied to drugs but to egos and antisocial behavior. Like the guy nicknamed “Pooh Bear” who became engaged in a shoot-out at a birthday party and lost his life.
Help arrived in December of that year, in the form of Dallas Police Department’s Operation Kitchen Sink (OKS). Here is how northeast division commander David Brown (now he’s police chief) at the time described the name of the project:
“Because I’ve been at this station for four years, and I was thinking that we had done everything but throw the kitchen sink at the problem,” Brown says. “And now we’re doing that, too.” By the end of the month-long sweep, police had netted 1,188 citations and 197 arrests, 50 for felonies. A tip from a Providence resident helped solve one of the shootings.
Resident crime activists recently invited Brown, now the head honcho of the Dallas Police Department, to a special breakfast and presented him with the “Kitchen Sink” award. “Operation Kitchen Sink resulted in a newfound pride in our neighborhood police force and a throw-everything-you’ve-got-at-it approach to police work,” says Bill Vandivort III, who presented to the police chief a symbolic kitchen sink. He explains that Brown’s example back then led to present day success, including the 2013 capture of a serial rapist in Lake Highlands.
OKS — with its month-long 24/7 surveillance of troubled apartment communities — brought about a significant decrease in crime. But it was not entirely sustainable, Brown says.
Did the effort at least provide some lasting effects? “At the time we made our point, and it did result in some positive changes,” Brown says.
Experts at the time suggested that apartment owners needed to take more accountability for their tenants — background checks, zero tolerance on drug dealing, evictions for criminal behaviors. Today Councilman Jerry Allen and Dallas Police representatives meet regularly with dozens of apartment owners who are willing to implement practices that will improve safety and quality of life for their tenants and surrounding Lake Highlands neighborhoods.
Experts back in the OKS days also stressed the need to focus on children from poor and broken homes whose only role models are adults engaging in criminal behavior; they need mentors and an opportunity to take a different path.
Lake Highlanders have advanced in this area as well — see Forerunner Mentoring, Kids-U, Hamilton Park youth football and The New Room community center — all available on the advocatemag.com archives — for just a few examples.