Hard Time

The evidence points away from Roy Criner's guilt in a savage crime. But the state still has what counts most -- a conviction.

Now law enforcement was focusing on her final hours. The investigation of Ogg's murder, coordinated by Montgomery County Sheriff's detective Sherman Sauls, soon determined that her body had been discovered less than three hours after she had last been seen alive.

Several potential suspects emerged immediately. A neighbor recalled a gray pickup truck pulling into Ogg's driveway about the time of her disappearance -- the same truck the neighbor had seen Ogg exit two days earlier, accompanied by a couple of unidentified men. Acquaintances of the victim told investigators that her family had a history of abuse and violence, and that Ogg had periodically taken refuge in their homes.

Ogg's uncle Mike McCoy reported to Sauls that he'd talked to his niece on the phone the afternoon of her death. Ogg had told McCoy her parents were away and she was about to head from her home in Porter to his place near New Caney, some six miles away. From there, he stated, Ogg was to have accompanied him and various family members to a dance at a local club, something they'd done together before. But she never showed up.

Piecing together statements from various Holly Ridge residents, police determined that Ogg had last left home at approximately 5:30. A neighbor told investigators she saw Ogg briefly visit a nearby resident, construction worker Mark Spurlock, at about that time. Spurlock said he was home, asleep, and didn't recall any such visit. He later took a lie-detector test; the results, according to a police report, showed "deceptions."

Within a couple of minutes, Ogg stopped at a convenience store at the subdivision entrance, where she bought a pack of Marlboro Lights. Ogg was in good spirits, the clerk later recalled. She told the clerk she was headed for a party in Conroe with some friends.

That wasn't the only reference to such a bash. A friend of Ogg's gave police a letter the victim had written the day before the killing, in which she stated that she hoped to go to a party that weekend "because there are these fine guys that are gonna be there. Their names are Randy, Bobby and I forget the other guy's name."

Ogg was referring to three of her newest friends: brothers Bobby and Billy Nobles and Randy Deshayes, who lived together in Holly Ridge. All three had a history of encounters with the criminal-justice system; Bobby Nobles and Deshayes were on probation for a burglary earlier that year. And though police apparently were never aware of it, Nobles was scheduled to go before a judge in early October to have his probation revoked for several offenses, including throwing a brick through a woman's car window.

Ogg had been with at least two of the three a couple of days before her disappearance, when she'd called Cherylann Flutka and another friend, Michelle Tatum, in Pasadena. Flutka and Tatum were going to spend the weekend out of town, and Ogg said she wanted to go with them. But Tatum's mother, who was driving, rejected the idea. Oddly, Ogg persisted in a pleading way, both friends remember. "It was like she was scared or something," says Tatum.

Suddenly, a man grabbed the phone from Ogg and said, "You'll feel pretty bad if something bad happens to her, won't you?" Ogg took back the receiver and dismissed the comment as a joke, but her friends were unconvinced. "She seemed uneasy," Flutka says. "She had a catch in her voice. It just wasn't her."

Flutka now says she doesn't know who was on the other end of the line, but Tatum's mother, Peggy Almand, recalls that both women identified Deshayes and Billy Nobles as present with Ogg when the call was made. "Billy and Randy," she says emphatically. "Those were the ones that were making the comments."

According to the rather sketchy police reports, investigator Sauls contacted the three men Ogg had mentioned in her letter -- two of them the same ones identified by Almand as being in on the mysterious phone call. All of them denied seeing Ogg the day she died. Three days after the killing, Deshayes and Bobby Nobles agreed to meet the detective for questioning at his office in Conroe.

In the middle of that interview, Sauls got a call from deputy Hoot Gibson, who worked in the Porter area. A man named Mike Ringo had approached Gibson with some information about "a blond-haired young girl being beaten up, raped and possibly killed," Sauls wrote in his report.

Ringo told Sauls that around 10 p.m. on the night of the murder, he was hanging out at the house of his friend Terry Hooker when an acquaintance, Roy Criner, arrived in a maroon double-axle pickup truck. Criner worked as a logger, and having just finished a long day's work in the woods, was covered with grease and sweat.

Criner, Ringo said, told them he'd picked up a hitchhiker on North Park Drive between Porter and Kingwood. The hitchhiker, a young woman, was drunk. Criner said he took her behind a school, thinking he would have sex with her; when she started crying, he grabbed her hair and jerked her down in the seat.

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