Family Ties

A tale of two sisters, and a father who wouldn't quit pursuing a killer

It wasn't the only time Markwardt tried to grope her, Loftin says. "She said, 'Don't ever let me be alone with him.' " Greg was a "hard-dick dog," he says. "He wanted her so bad he couldn't stand it."

By early spring of 1987, Kathy told Portelance she was getting obscene phone calls. She thought it was Greg. Kathy said she was scared.

Fikaris and Wedgeworth used science to finally make 
an arrest in the case.
Fikaris and Wedgeworth used science to finally make an arrest in the case.
Frank Martin (with Sharlene) kept dogging authorities 
to find his daughter's killer.
Frank Martin (with Sharlene) kept dogging authorities to find his daughter's killer.

The day began as a typical Tuesday in Dove Meadows. Bonnie Rigdon called Kathy Odom for their regular morning chat. Tasha had an earache, Kathy said, and she was watching TV on the couch.

A few hours later, Lorna Portelance, who had moved out of the neighborhood, began wondering why she hadn't heard from Kathy for their daily session of girl talk. Then Mike Odom called. He wanted to know if she'd heard from Kathy. Portelance was fixing dinner, so she asked her husband, Gerard, to drive over to Dove Meadows to check on Kathy.

He could tell something was wrong as soon as he pulled up. The porch light wasn't on, even though it was dark. Inside, he could hear the television, but there were no lights on and no one answered his knocks. He drove to a nearby convenience store to call the sheriff's office.

The first officer to arrive found the front door unlocked. Using his flashlight to navigate through the darkness, he moved down the hallway. In the first bedroom he found the baby, 12-week-old Shawn, lying on the bed crying. The second bedroom was empty.

He opened the door to the third bedroom, letting the flashlight beam sweep across the floor. It landed on the body of a woman lying naked, face up, covered in blood.

Detectives would call it a "lust murder," the attack was so frenzied, so out of control. Her throat was slashed and she had been stabbed ten times in the chest and six times in the abdomen. The walls were splattered in blood. Semen was found on her vagina, mouth, abdomen and anus. A lamp cord was tied to one of her wrists, suggesting she had fought for her life.

The officer found four-year-old Tasha on the couch, lying motionless in the dark. She was covered in bruises, including red welts on her neck where she had been strangled. She was so battered that the officer initially reported two murder victims.

Frank and Sharlene Martin arrived an hour later to find their daughter's house surrounded by yellow tape and the street lined with patrol cars. None of the officers would tell them what had happened, only that they should go to the hospital to see grandchildren Tasha and Shawn.

Several hours later, sitting in the hospital where Tasha lay in a coma, Frank Martin remembers looking up at a TV newscast that informed him for the first time that his 27-year-old daughter had been murdered. He says, "I just sat down outside and cried."

It was nothing more than coincidence, a twist of fate that Harris County Sheriff's Detective Harry Fikaris was working in dispatch that night of March 3, 1987. He still remembers the call, the first report that a mother had been killed with her children still in the house.

Fikaris, 46, rail-thin with gray hair, round glasses and a tightly trimmed mustache, would ultimately spend ten years working on Kathy Odom's murder. In the windowless squad room of the Harris County cold-case unit, he pulls out an overstuffed binder chronicling the twists and turns of the investigation.

There were numerous signs suggesting that Kathy knew her attacker. There was no evidence of forced entry. And, beyond the scene in the bedroom, there didn't appear to be the typical debris from a prolonged struggle with an intruder.

Clues were scarce. All the blood tested by investigators matched the murder victim's. There were no usable fingerprints, nothing incriminating.

At first, attention turned to Mike Odom, the husband, as it usually does in these types of cases. But Odom was working at the time of the murders and he passed a polygraph.

Detectives pursued myriad other leads. Neighbors told of a mysterious door-to-door salesman spotted in the area that day. There was an ex-con who had visited Mike Odom a few days earlier.

Early on, friends and neighbors told detectives about Greg Markwardt's apparent obsession with Kathy. Reports show that a "confidential informant" called detectives to point the finger at him.

Frank Martin thought Markwardt was acting strangely from the start. Shelley and Greg had been notified of the killing but were nowhere to be seen that night.

They did appear at the hospital the next day, when Tasha was just coming out of her coma. Sharlene Martin, Kathy's mother, says that when Markwardt walked into the room, "Tasha looked up and then immediately looked down, and I saw fear in her eyes."

But Tasha remembered nothing about the afternoon her mother was killed. Because of fear the attacker might return for her, she was hospitalized under an assumed name and there were orders not to leave her alone.

Two nights after the murder, Frank Martin says, he got a call at 2 a.m. A nurse said the Markwardt couple was trying to visit Tasha at the hospital. Frank Martin ordered the nurse not to let them in.

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