The rolling hills of southeast Oklahoma stretch from Norman across to Arkansas and show little evidence of the vast deposits of crude oil that were once beneath them. Some old rigs dot the countryside; the active ones churn on, pumping out a few gallons with each slow turn and prompting a passerby to ask if the effort is really worth it. Many have simply given up, and sit motionless amid the fields as corroding reminders of the glory days of gushers and wildcatters and instant fortunes.
There are rigs scattered through the farmland around Ada, an old oil town of sixteen thousand with a college and a county courthouse. The rigs are idle, though-the oil is gone. Money is now made in Ada by the hour in factories and feed mills and on pecan farms.
Downtown Ada is a busy place. There are no empty or boarded-up buildings on Main Street. The merchants survive, though much of their business has moved to the edge of town. The cafes are crowded at lunch.
The Pontotoc County Courthouse is old and cramped and full of lawyers and their clients. Around it is the usual hodgepodge of county buildings and law offices. The jail, a squat, windowless bomb shelter, was for some forgotten reason built on the courthouse lawn. The metham-phetamine scourge keeps it full.
Main Street ends at the campus of East Central University, home to four thousand students, many of them commuters. The school pumps life into the community with a fresh supply of young people and a faculty that adds some diversity to southeastern Oklahoma.
Few things escape the attention of the Ada Evening News, a lively daily that covers the region and works hard to compete with The Oklahoman, the state's largest paper. There's usually world and national news on the front page, then state and regional, then the important items- high school sports, local politics, community calendars, and obituaries.
The people of Ada and Pontotoc County are a pleasant blend of small-town southerners and independent westerners. The accent could be from east Texas or Arkansas, with flat i's and other long vowels. It's Chickasaw country. Oklahoma has more Native Americans than any other state, and after a hundred years of mixing many of the white folks have Indian blood. The stigma is fading fast; indeed, there is now pride in the heritage.
The Bible Belt runs hard through Ada. The town has fifty churches from a dozen strains of Christianity. They are active places, and not just on Sundays. There is one Catholic church, and one for the Episcopalians, but no temple or synagogue. Most folks are Christians, or claim to be, and belonging to a church is rather expected. A person's social status is often determined by religious affiliation.
With sixteen thousand people, Ada is considered large for rural Oklahoma, and it attracts factories and discount stores. Workers and shoppers make the drive from several counties. It is eighty miles south and east of Oklahoma City, and three hours north of Dallas. Everybody knows somebody working or living in Texas.
The biggest source of local pride is the quarter-horse "bidness." Some of the best horses are bred by Ada ranchers. And when the Ada High Cougars win another state title in football, the town struts for years.
It's a friendly place, filled with people who speak to strangers and always to each other and are anxious to help anyone in need. Kids play on shaded front lawns. Doors are left open during the day. Teenagers cruise through the night causing little trouble.
Had it not been for two notorious murders in the early 1980s, Ada would have gone unnoticed by the world. And that would have been just fine with the good folks of Pontotoc County.
As if by some unwritten city ordinance, most of the nightclubs and watering holes in Ada were on the periphery of the town, banished to the edges to keep the riffraff and their mischief away from the better folks. The Coachlight was one such place, a cavernous metal building with bad lighting, cheap beer, jukeboxes, a weekend band, a dance floor, and outside a sprawling gravel parking lot where dusty pickups greatly outnumbered sedans. Its regulars were what you would expect-factory workers looking for a drink before heading home, country boys looking for fun, late-night twenty-somethings, and the dance and party crowd there to listen to live music. Vince Gill and Randy Travis passed through early in their careers.
It was a popular and busy place, employing many part-time bartenders and bouncers and cocktail waitresses. One was Debbie Carter, a twenty-one-year-old local girl who'd graduated from Ada High School a few years earlier and was enjoying the single life. She held two other part-time jobs and also worked occasionally as a babysitter. Debbie had her own car and lived by herself in a three-room apartment above a garage on Eighth Street, near East Central University. She was a pretty girl, darkhaired, slender, athletic, popular with the boys, and very independent.
Her mother, Peggy Stillwell, worried that she was spending too much time at the Coachlight and other clubs. She had not raised her daughter to live such a life; in fact, Debbie had been raised in the church. After high school, though, she began partying and keeping later hours. Peggy objected and they fought occasionally over the new lifestyle. Debbie became determined to have her independence. She found an apartment, left home, but remained very close to her mother.
On the night of December 7, 1982, Debbie was working at the Coachlight, serving drinks and watching the clock. It was a slow night, and she asked her boss if she could go offduty and hang out with some friends. He did not object, and she was soon sitting at a table having a drink with Gina Vietta, a close friend from high school, and some others. Another friend from high school, Glen Gore, stopped by and asked Debbie to dance. She did, but halfway through the song she suddenly stopped and angrily walked away from Gore. Later, in the ladies' rest-room, she said she would feel safer if one of her girlfriends would spend the night at her place, but she did not say what worried her.
The Coachlight began closing early, around 12:30 a.m., and Gina Vietta invited several of their group to have another drink at her apartment. Most said yes; Debbie, though, was tired and hungry and just wanted to go home. They drifted out of the club, in no particular hurry.
Several people saw Debbie in the parking lot chatting with Glen Gore as the Coachlight was shutting down. Tommy Glover knew Debbie well because he worked with her at a local glass company. He also knew Gore. As he was getting in his pickup truck to leave, he saw Debbie open the driver's door of her car. Gore appeared from nowhere, they talked for a few seconds, then she pushed him away.
Mike and Terri Carpenter both worked at the Coachlight, he as a bouncer, she as a waitress. As they were walking to their car, they passed Debbie's. She was in the driver's seat, talking to Glen Gore, who was standing beside her door. The Carpenters waved good-bye and kept walking. A month earlier Debbie had told Mike that she was afraid of Gore because of his temper.
Toni Ramsey worked at the club as a shoe-shine girl. The oil business was still booming in Oklahoma in 1982. There were plenty of nice boots being worn around Ada. Someone had to shine them, and Toni picked up some much-needed cash. She knew Gore well. As Toni left that night, she saw Debbie sitting behind the wheel of her car. Gore was on the passenger's side, crouching by the open door, outside the car. They were talking in what seemed to be a civilized manner. Nothing appeared to be wrong.
Gore, who didn't own a car, had bummed a ride to the Coachlight with an acquaintance named Ron West, arriving there around 11:30. West ordered beers and settled in to relax while Gore made the rounds. He seemed to know everyone. When last call was announced, West grabbed Gore and asked him if he still needed a ride. Yes, Gore said, so West went to the parking lot and waited for him. A few minutes passed, then Gore appeared in a rush and got in.
They decided they were hungry, so West drove to a downtown cafe called the Waffler, where they ordered a quick breakfast. West paid for the meal, just as he'd paid for the drinks at the Coachlight. He had started the night at Harold's, another club where he'd gone looking for some business associates. Instead, he bumped into Gore, who worked there as an occasional bartender and disc jockey. The two hardly knew each other, but when Gore asked for a ride to the Coachlight, West couldn't say no.
West was a happily married father with two young daughters and didn't routinely keep late hours in bars. He wanted to go home but was stuck with Gore, who was becoming more expensive by the hour. When they left the cafe, West asked his passenger where he wanted to go. To his mother's house, Gore said, on Oak Street, just a few blocks to the north. West knew the town well and headed that way, but before they made it to Oak Street, Gore suddenly changed his mind. After riding around with West for several hours, Gore wanted to walk. The temperature was frigid and falling, with a raw wind. A cold front was moving in.
They stopped near the Oak Avenue Baptist Church, not far from where Gore said his mother lived. He jumped out, said thanks for everything, and began walking west. The Oak Avenue Baptist Church was about a mile from Debbie Carter's apartment. Gore's mother actually lived on the other side of town, nowhere near the church. Around 2:30 a.m., Gina Vietta was in her apartment with some friends when she received two unusual phone calls, both from Debbie Carter. In the first call, Debbie asked Gina to drive over and pick her up because someone, a visitor, was in her apartment and he was making her feel uncomfortable. Gina asked who it was, who was there? The conversation was cut short by muffled voices and the sounds of a struggle over the use of the phone.
Gina was rightfully worried and thought the request strange. Debbie had her own car, a 1975 Oldsmobile, and could certainly drive herself anywhere. As Gina was hurriedly leaving her apartment, the phone rang again. It was Debbie, saying that she had changed her mind, things were fine on her end, don't bother. Gina again asked who the visitor was, but Debbie changed the subject and would not give his name. She asked Gina to call her in the morning, to wake her so she wouldn't be late for work. It was an odd request, one Debbie had never made before.
Gina started to drive over anyway, but had second thoughts. She had guests in her apartment. It was very late. Debbie Carter could take care of herself, and besides, if she had a guy in her room, Gina didn't want to intrude. Gina went to bed and forgot to call Debbie a few hours later.
Around 11:00 a.m. on December 8, Donna Johnson stopped by to say hello to Debbie. The two had been close in high school before Donna moved to Shawnee, an hour away. She was in town for the day to see her parents and catch up with some friends. As she bounced up the narrow outdoor staircase to Debbie's garage apartment, she slowed when she realized she was stepping on broken glass. The small window in the door was broken. For some reason, her first thought was that Debbie had locked her keys inside and been forced to break a window to get in. Donna knocked on the door. There was no answer.
Then she heard music from a radio inside. When she turned the knob, she realized the door was not locked. One step inside, and she knew something was wrong.
The small den was a wreck-sofa cushions thrown on the floor, clothing scattered about. Across the wall to the right someone had scrawled, with some type of reddish liquid, the words "Jim Smith next will die."
Donna yelled Debbie's name; no response. She had been in the apartment once before, so she moved quickly to the bedroom, still calling for her friend. The bed had been moved, yanked out of place, all the covers pulled off. She saw a foot, then on the floor on the other side of the bed she saw Debbie-facedown, nude, bloody, with something written on her back.
Donna froze in horror, unable to step forward, instead staring at her friend and waiting for her to breathe. Maybe it was just a dream, she thought.
She backed away and stepped into the kitchen, where, on a small white table, she saw more words scribbled and left behind by the killer. He could still be there, she suddenly thought, then ran from the apartment to her car. She sped down the street to a convenience store where she found a phone and called Debbie's mother.
Peggy Stillwell heard the words, but could not believe them. Her daughter was lying on the floor nude, bloodied, not moving. She made Donna repeat what she had said, then ran to her car. The battery was dead. Numb with fear, she ran back inside and called Charlie Carter, Debbie's father and her ex-husband. The divorce a few years earlier had not been amicable, and the two rarely spoke.
No one answered at Charlie Carter's. A friend named Carol Edwards lived across the street from Debbie. Peggy called her, told her something was terribly wrong, and asked her to run and check on her daughter. Then Peggy waited and waited. Finally she called Charlie again, and he answered the phone.
Carol Edwards ran down the street to the apartment, noticed the same broken glass and the open front door. She stepped inside and saw the body.
Charlie Carter was a thick-chested brick mason who occasionally worked as a bouncer at the Coachlight. He jumped in his pickup and raced toward his daughter's apartment, along the way thinking every horrible thought a father could have. The scene was worse than anything he could have imagined.
When he saw her body, he called her name twice. He knelt beside her, gently lifted her shoulder so he could see her face. A bloody washcloth was stuck in her mouth. He was certain his daughter was dead, but he waited anyway, hoping for some sign of life. When there was none, he stood slowly and looked around. The bed had been moved, shoved away from the wall, the covers were missing, the room was in disarray. Obviously, there had been a struggle. He walked to the den and saw the words on the wall, then he went to the kitchen and looked around. It was a crime scene now. Charlie stuffed his hands in his pockets and left.
Donna Johnson and Carol Edwards were on the landing outside the front door, crying and waiting. They heard Charlie say good-bye to his daughter and tell her how sorry he was for what had happened to her. When he stumbled outside, he was crying, too.
"Should I call an ambulance?" Donna asked.
"No," he said. "Ambulance won't do no good. Call the police."
The paramedics arrived first, two of them. They hustled up the stairs, into the apartment, and within seconds one was back outside, on the landing, vomiting.
When Detective Dennis Smith arrived at the apartment, the scene outside was busy with street cops, paramedics, onlookers, and even two of the local prosecutors. When he realized it was a potential homicide, he secured the area and sealed it off from the neighbors.
A captain and seventeen-year veteran of the Ada Police Department, Smith knew what to do. He cleared the apartment of everyone but himself and another detective, then he sent the other cops throughout the neighborhood, knocking on doors, looking for witnesses. Smith was fuming and fighting his emotions. He knew Debbie well; his daughter and Debbie's youngest sister were friends. He knew Charlie Carter and Peggy Stillwell and couldn't believe that their child was lying dead on the floor of her own bedroom. When the crime scene was under control, he began an examination of the apartment.
The glass on the landing came from a broken pane in the front door, and it was shattered both to the inside and to the outside. In the den there was a sofa to the left, and its cushions had been thrown around the room. In front of it he found a new flannel nightgown, a Wal-Mart tag still attached to it. On the wall across the room he examined the message, which he immediately knew had been written in nail polish. "Jim Smith next will die."
He knew Jim Smith.
In the kitchen, on a small white square table he saw another message, apparently written in catsup-"Don't look fore us or ealse." On the floor by the table he saw some jeans and a pair of boots. He would soon learn that Debbie had been wearing them the night before at the Coach-light.
He walked to the bedroom, where the bed was partially blocking the door. The windows were open, the curtains pulled back, and the room was very cold. A mighty struggle had preceded death; the floor was covered with clothing, sheets, blankets, stuffed animals. Nothing appeared to be in place. When Detective Smith knelt by Debbie's body, he noticed the third message left by the killer. On her back, in what appeared to be dried catsup, were the words "Duke Gram."
He knew Duke Graham.
Under her body was an electrical cord and a Western-style belt with a large silver buckle. The name "Debbie" was engraved in the center of it.
As Officer Mike Kieswetter, also of the Ada Police Department, was photographing the scene, Smith began gathering evidence. He found hair on the body, the floor, the bed, on the stuffed animals. He methodically picked up each hair and placed it in a sheet of folded paper, a "bindle," then recorded exactly where he found it.
He carefully removed, tagged and bagged the bedsheets, pillowcases, blankets, the electrical cord and belt, a pair of torn panties he found on the floor of the bathroom, some of her stuffed animals, a package of Marlboro cigarettes, an empty 7-Up can, a plastic shampoo bottle, cigarette butts, a drinking glass from the kitchen, the telephone, and some hair found under the body. Wrapped in a bedsheet and found near Debbie was a Del Monte catsup bottle. It, too, was carefully bagged for examination by the state crime lab. Its cap was missing, but would later be found by the medical examiner.
When he finished gathering evidence, Detective Smith began the fingerprinting process, something he'd done many times at many crime scenes. He dusted both sides of the front door, the casings around the windows, all wooden surfaces in the bedroom, the kitchen table, the larger pieces of broken glass, the telephone, the areas of painted trim around the doors and windows, even Debbie's car parked outside.
Gary Rogers was an agent with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, or OSBI, who lived in Ada. When he arrived at the apartment, around 12:30, he was briefed by Dennis Smith. The two were friends and had worked many crimes together.
In the bedroom, Rogers noticed what appeared to be a small bloodstain near the bottom of the south wall, just above the baseboard and close to an electrical outlet. Later, after the body was removed, he asked Officer Rick Carson to cut out a fourinch square section of the Sheetrock and preserve the bloody print.
Dennis Smith and Gary Rogers shared the initial impression that there was more than one killer. The chaos of the scene, the absence of bind marks on Debbie's ankles and wrists, the extensive trauma to her head, the washcloth stuffed deep in her mouth, the bruises on her sides and arms, the likely use of the cord and belt-it just seemed like too much violence for one killer. Debbie was not small-five feet eight inches tall, 130 pounds. She was feisty and would certainly have fought valiantly to save her life.
Dr. Larry Cartmell, the local medical examiner, arrived for a brief inspection. His initial opinion was that the cause of death was strangulation. He authorized the removal of the body and released it to Tom Criswell, owner of the local funeral home. It was taken in a Criswell hearse to the state medical examiner's office in Oklahoma City, where it arrived at 6:25 p.m. and was placed in a refrigerated unit.
Detective Smith and Agent Rogers returned to the Ada Police Department and spent time with the family of Debbie Carter. As they tried to console them, they also gathered names. Friends, boyfriends, co-workers, enemies, ex-bosses, anybody who knew Debbie and might know something about her death. As the list grew, Smith and Rogers began calling her male acquaintances. Their request was simple: Please come down to the police department and provide us with fingerprints and samples of saliva and head and pubic hair.
No one refused. Mike Carpenter, the bouncer at the Coachlight who'd seen Debbie in the parking lot with Glen Gore around 12:30 that morning, was one of the first to volunteer evidence. Tommy Glover, another witness to Debbie's encounter with Gore, was quick to provide samples.
Around 7:30 p.m., December 8, Glen Gore showed up at Harold's Club, where he was scheduled to spin records and tend bar. The place was practically empty, and when he asked why the crowd was so thin, someone told him about the murder. Many of the customers, and even some of Harold's employees, were down at the police station answering questions and getting fingerprinted.
Gore hustled over to the station, where he was interviewed by Gary Rogers and D. W. Barrett, an Ada policeman. He told them that he had known Debbie Carter since high school and had seen her at the Coach-light the night before.
The entire police report of Gore's interview reads as follows:
Glen Gore works at Harold's Club as a disc jockey. Susie Johnson told Glen about Debbie at Harold's Club about 7:30 PM, 12-8-82. Glen went to school with Debbie. Glen saw her Monday Dec 6th at Harold's Club. Glen saw her 12-7-82 at the Coachlight. They talked about painting Debbie's car. Never said anything to Glen about having problems with anyone. Glen went to the Coachlight about 10:30 PM with Ron West. Left with Ron about 1:15 AM. Glen has never been to Debbie's apt.
The report was prepared by D. W. Barrett, witnessed by Gary Rogers, and filed away with dozens of others.
Gore would later change this story and claim that he'd seen a man named Ron Williamson pestering Debbie at the club on the night of December 7. This revised version would be verified by no one. Many of those present actually knew Ron Williamson, a somewhat notorious carouser with a loud mouth. None remembered seeing him at the Coachlight; in fact, most of those interviewed stated emphatically that he was not there. When Ron Williamson was in a bar, everyone knew it.
Oddly enough, in the midst of all the fingerprinting and hair clipping on December 8, Gore fell through the cracks. He either slipped away, or was conveniently ignored, or was simply neglected. Whatever the reason, he was not fingerprinted, nor did he give saliva and hair samples.
Over three and a half years would pass before the Ada police finally took samples from Gore, the last person seen with Debbie Carter before her murder.
At 3:00 the following afternoon, December 9, Dr. Fred Jordan, a state medical examiner and forensic pathologist, performed an autopsy. Present were Agent Gary Rogers and Jerry Peters, also with the OSBI.
Dr. Jordan, a veteran of thousands of autopsies, first observed that it was the body of a young white female, nude except for a pair of white socks. Rigor mortis was complete, meaning she had been dead for at least twenty-four hours. Across her chest, written in what appeared to be red fingernail polish, was the word "die." Another red substance, probably catsup, was smeared over her body, and on her back, also in catsup, were the words "Duke Gram."
There were several small bruises on her arms, chest, and face. He noticed small cuts inside her lips, and shoved deep into the back of her throat and extruding out through her mouth was a blood-soaked greenish washcloth, which he carefully removed. There were abrasions and bruises across her neck, in a semicircle. Her vagina was bruised. Her rectum was quite dilated. Upon examining it, Dr. Jordan found and removed a small, metal, screw-type bottle cap.
His internal examination revealed nothing unexpected-collapsed lungs, dilated heart, a few small bruises along the scalp but no underlying brain injury.
All injuries had been inflicted while she was still alive.
There was no indication of binding on her wrists and ankles. A series of small bruises on her forearms were probably defensive wounds. Her blood alcohol content at the time of death was low,.04. Swabs were taken from her mouth, vagina, and anus. Microscopic examinations would later reveal the presence of spermatozoa in her vagina and anus but not in her mouth.
To preserve evidence, Dr. Jordan clipped her fingernails, scraped off a sample of the catsup and nail polish, combed out the loose pubic hairs, and also cut a portion of hair from her head.
The cause of death was asphyxiation, which was caused by the combination of the washcloth choking her and either the belt or the electrical cord strangling her.
When Dr. Jordan finished the autopsy, Jerry Peters photographed the body and collected a complete set of finger and palm prints.
Peggy Stillwell was distraught to the point of being unable to function and make decisions. She didn't care who planned the funeral, or what was planned, because she would not attend. She couldn't eat and she couldn't bathe, and she certainly could not accept the fact that her daughter was dead. A sister, Glenna Lucas, stayed with her and slowly took control. Services were planned, and Peggy was politely informed by her family that she would be expected to attend.
On Saturday, December 11, Debbie's funeral was held in the chapel at Criswell Funeral Home. Glenna bathed and dressed Peggy, then drove her to the service and held her hand throughout the ordeal.
In rural Oklahoma, virtually all funerals take place with the casket open and positioned just below the pulpit, so that the deceased is in view of the mourners. The reasons for this are unclear and forgotten, but the effect is to add an extra layer of agony to the suffering.
With the casket open, it was obvious that Debbie had been beaten. Her face was bruised and swollen, but a high-collared, lacy blouse hid the strangulation wounds. She was also buried in her favorite jeans and boots, with a wide-buckled cowboy belt and a diamond horseshoe ring that her mother had already bought her for Christmas.
The Reverend Rick Summers conducted the service before a large crowd. Afterward, with a light snow falling, Debbie was buried in Rose-dale Cemetery. She was survived by her parents, two sisters, two of her four grandparents, and two nephews. She was a member of a small Baptist church, where she had been baptized at the age of six.
The murder rocked Ada. Though the town had a rich history of violence and killings, the victims had usually been cowpokes and drifters and such, men who, if they hadn't taken a bullet, would've probably discharged their share in due time. But such a brutal rape and murder of a young woman was terrifying, and the town seethed with gossip, speculation, and fear. Windows and doors were locked at night. Strict curfews were laid down for teenagers. Young mothers hovered near their children as they played on the shaded front lawns.
And in the honky-tonks there was talk of little else. Since Debbie had made the rounds, many of the regulars knew her. She'd had her share of boyfriends, and in the days following her death the police interviewed them. Names were passed along, more friends, more acquaintances, more boyfriends. Dozens of interviews produced more names, but no real suspects. She was a very popular girl, well liked and sociable, and it was hard to believe anyone would want to harm her.
The police put together a list of twenty-three people who were at the Coachlight on December 7, and interviewed most of them. No one recalled seeing Ron Williamson, though most knew him.
Tips and stories and recollections of strange characters poured into the police department. A young lady named Angelia Nail contacted Dennis Smith and told him of an encounter with Glen Gore. She and Debbie Carter were close friends, and Debbie had been convinced Gore had stolen the windshield wipers from her car. It had become a running dispute. She had known Gore since high school and was afraid of him. A week or so before the murder, Angelia drove Debbie to the house where Gore was living for a confrontation. Debbie disappeared inside the house and had a chat with Gore. When she returned to the car, she was angry and convinced he had taken the wipers. They drove to the police station and talked to an officer, but no formal report was prepared.
Both Duke Graham and Jim Smith were well known to the Ada police. Graham, along with his wife, Johnnie, ran his own nightclub, a fairly civilized place where they tolerated little trouble. Altercations were rare, but there had been a particularly ugly one with Jim Smith, a local thug and small-time criminal. Smith was drunk and causing trouble, and when he refused to leave, Duke whipped out a shotgun and ran him off. Threats were exchanged, and for a few days things were tense around the club. Smith was the type who might return with his own shotgun and start blasting away.
Glen Gore had been a regular at Duke's place until he spent too much time flirting with Johnnie. When he became a bit too aggressive, she stiff-armed him and Duke took charge. Gore was banished from the place.
Whoever killed Debbie Carter tried awkwardly to pin the murder on Duke Graham and scare away Jim Smith at the same time. Smith was already put away; he was serving time in a state prison. Duke Graham drove to the police station and provided a solid alibi. Debbie's family was informed that the apartment she'd been renting needed to be vacated. Her mother was still not functioning. Her aunt Glenna Lucas volunteered for the unpleasant task.
A policeman unlocked the apartment, and Glenna entered slowly. Nothing had been moved since the murder, and her first reaction was one of raw anger. There had obviously been a brawl. Her niece had fought desperately for her life. How could anyone inflict such violence on such a sweet, pretty girl?
The apartment was cold, with an offensive smell, one she could not identify. The words "Jim Smith next will die" were still on the wall. Glenna gawked in disbelief at the killer's badly scrawled message. It took time, she thought. He was here for a long time. Her niece had finally died after a brutal ordeal. In the bedroom, the mattress was against a wall and nothing was in place. In the closet, not a single dress or blouse was still on a hanger. Why would the killer strip all the clothing from the hangers?
The small kitchen was disorganized but showed no signs of a struggle. Debbie's last meal had included frozen potatoes-Tater Tots-and the leftovers sat untouched on a paper plate with catsup. A saltshaker was next to the plate, which was on the small white table she used for her meals. Near the plate was another crude message-"Don't look fore us or ealse." Glenna knew that the killer had used catsup for some of his writings. She was struck by the misspelled words.
Glenna managed to block out the terrible thoughts and begin packing. It took two hours to collect and box the clothing and dishes and towels and such. The bloody bedspread had not been taken by the police. There was still blood on the floor.
Glenna had not planned to clean the apartment, just to gather Debbie's belongings and get out as soon as possible. It was strange, though, leaving behind the killer's words written in Debbie's fingernail polish. And there was something wrong with leaving her bloodstains on the floor for someone else to clean up.
She thought about scrubbing the place, every inch of it, to remove every remaining trace of the murder. But Glenna had seen enough. She was as close to the death as she cared to be.
The roundup of the usual suspects continued in the days following the murder. A total of twenty-one men gave fingerprints and samples of either hair or saliva. On December 16, Detective Smith and Agent Rogers drove to the OSBI crime lab in Oklahoma City and delivered the evidence taken from the murder scene, along with samples taken from seventeen of the men.
The four-inch square of Sheetrock was the most promising piece of evidence. If the bloody print had indeed been left on the wall during the struggle and murder, and if it did not belong to Debbie Carter, then the police would have a solid lead that would eventually take them to the killer. OSBI agent Jerry Peters examined the Sheetrock and carefully compared its markings with the prints he'd taken from Debbie during her autopsy. His first impression was that the prints did not belong to Debbie Carter, but he wanted to review his analysis.
On January 4, 1983, Dennis Smith submitted more fingerprints. On the same day, the hair samples from Debbie Carter and from the crime scene were given to Susan Land, an OSBI hair analyst. Two weeks later, more crime scene samples landed on her desk. These were cataloged, added to the others, and placed in a long line to someday be examined and analyzed by Land, who was overworked and fighting a backlog of cases. Like most crime labs, Oklahoma 's was underfunded, understaffed, and under enormous pressure to solve crimes.
While they waited on results from the OSBI, Smith and Rogers plowed ahead, chasing leads. The murder was still the hottest news in Ada, and folks wanted it solved. But after talking to all the bartenders and bouncers and boyfriends and late-night characters, the investigation was quickly settling into drudgery. There was no clear suspect; there were no clear leads.
On March 7, 1983, Gary Rogers interviewed Robert Gene Deather-age, a local. Deatherage had just completed a short stint in the Pontotoc County jail for drunk driving. He had shared a cell with one Ron Williamson, also locked up for a DUI. The jailhouse chatter about the Carter murder was rampant, with plenty of wild theories about what happened and no shortage of claims of inside knowledge. The cell mates talked about the killing on several occasions, and, according to Deatherage, such talk seemed to bother Williamson. They argued often and even exchanged blows. Williamson was soon moved to another cell. Deatherage developed the vague opinion that Ron was somehow involved in the murder, and suggested to Gary Rogers that the police concentrate on Williamson as a suspect.
It was the first time Ron Williamson's name had been mentioned in the investigation. Two days later, the police interviewed Noel Clement, one of the first men to volunteer fingerprints and hair samples. Clement told the story of how Ron Williamson had recently visited his apartment, supposedly looking for someone else. Williamson walked in without knocking, saw a guitar, picked it up, and began discussing the Carter murder with Clement. During the conversation, Williamson said that when he saw police cars in his neighborhood the morning of the murder, he figured the cops were after him. He'd had some trouble in Tulsa, he said, and he was trying to avoid more of it in Ada.
It was inevitable that the police would find their way to Ron Williamson; indeed, it was odd that it took them three months to question him. A few, including Rick Carson, had grown up with him, and most of the cops remembered Ron from his high school baseball days. In 1983 he was still the highest draft pick Ada had ever produced. When he signed with the Oakland A's in 1971, many people, certainly including Williamson himself, thought he just might be the next Mickey Mantle, the next great one from Oklahoma. But the baseball was long gone, and the police now knew him as an unemployed guitar picker who lived with his mother, drank too much, and acted strange.
He had a couple of DUIs, one arrest for public drunkenness, and a bad reputation from Tulsa.