Family Ties

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

"I didn't want her on it," Martin says. "I hated her at the time."

As Martin crusaded to find Kathy's killer, Shelley stood by her man, refusing to listen to any suggestions that Markwardt may have been involved in Kathy's death. She told friends that he picked her up that day after class, same as always, wearing the same clothes.

For many years Shelley, angry at the accusations, would not talk to her parents. "The next time they'll see me is in my coffin," a neighbor quotes her as saying.

The Odoms' 1980 wedding: He still wasn't ready to 
settle down.
The Odoms' 1980 wedding: He still wasn't ready to settle down.
Parenthood had a maturing influence on Mike and 
Kathy Odom.
Parenthood had a maturing influence on Mike and Kathy Odom.

The Markwardts still lived in an upstairs bedroom of the same house in quiet Brae Acres, helping to take care of Greg's two elderly aunts. A longtime neighbor, who asked that her name not be used, says she occasionally hired Greg for odd jobs, such as building a backyard deck.

She never believed the rumors that he may have been involved in a murder, but she remembers nights when she could hear his voice booming through the neighborhood, yelling at his aunt or wife. John Loftin says Shelley would often stand up to Greg, sometimes with a pistol in her hand. Shelley could be a "fireball," he says.

Loftin occasionally lived with the Markwardts after he fell back into drugs with Greg in 1996, he says. Markwardt started many mornings with a 16-ounce bottle of Schlitz Malt Liquor, Loftin says. "This guy was immune to anything," he says.

Buddies again, Loftin hired Markwardt for his sign business, and the two traveled around the country on work projects. They often ended up at Loftin's family farm in Louisiana. After dinner at the farm one night, Loftin showed Markwardt a scrapbook filled with mementos of Kathy Odom and news clippings from the murder. Loftin says now that he was in love with Kathy. He wanted Markwardt to see the photos and articles.

The next day, Loftin says, the book was gone. He confronted Markwardt: "I was ready to kill him. But he just said, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' " Markwardt left that night. Loftin never saw him again.

The investigation into Kathy Odom's killing had faded into the stack of cases piling up on the desks of Harris County detectives until 1998, when Sheriff Tommy Thomas formed a cold-case unit to do nothing but investigate previous unsolved murders. He assigned two detectives to the new unit: veteran homicide investigator Roger Wedgeworth and Frank Martin's nemesis, Harry Fikaris.

One of the first cases they picked was Odom's. DNA technology had made tremendous leaps in the previous five years, so the two investigators served a warrant on Markwardt to collect more of his hair, blood and saliva for analysis.

The detectives were driving Markwardt home after collecting the samples when he made a startling statement. "He said, 'Oh, by the way, I don't think I've ever mentioned it before, but I was having an affair with Kathy,' " Fikaris recalls.

The two investigators were incredulous. In the 11 years since the murder, he had never mentioned an affair. "Everyone we talked to said Kathy was afraid of Greg," Fikaris says. "People were saying she couldn't stand him."

But Markwardt's new claim put another twist on the case. An affair might explain the presence of his DNA on the victim, at least in the minds of jurors.

"Once he came up with that 'we were having an affair' deal, I thought it was over," Wedgeworth says. "I didn't think there was anything we were going to be able to do." Even worse, the original DNA evidence had degraded or was used up in prior testing, so there was not enough left to compare with Markwardt's. Once again, the investigation stalled.

Even Frank Martin lost some of his steam. Shelley was talking to her parents again. There were family moments, the Christmas dinner or birthday, when Shelley would bring her husband. Six years ago, when Frank and Sharlene Martin moved back to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the Markwardts helped them move, the dutiful daughter and son-in-law. "He tried to stay so, so friendly with us," Frank Martin says.

Over the years, Greg Markwardt had lost his party-boy looks. His cheeks grew puffy and he sported a belly roll that crept over his waistband. He and Shelley liked to take cruises to Mexico or power around the gulf on his boat, dubbed Elsie's Joy, after his mother.

In November 2002, Greg Markwardt celebrated his 50th birthday. Odom's murder must have seemed like long ago. He hadn't heard from the police in years. Shelley had a good job at an oil company. After all the years of caring for his elderly aunts, Markwardt was in line to inherit the estate.

"I'm pretty sure in his mind he figured he had gotten away with it," Martin says.

On the shelf over his desk, next to a signed picture of Don Knotts, Roger Wedgeworth has a one-word sign: "Patience."

He remembers sitting at his desk in October 2002, chatting with Harry Fikaris, when the talk turned to new developments at Cellmark Orchid Labs in Dallas. The lab researchers, who handled most of the cold-case unit's DNA evidence, had been experimenting with getting DNA material from the necks of victims of choking. Either Fikaris or Wedgeworth -- they don't recall which -- suddenly remembered the lamp cord tied to Kathy Odom's wrist when she died. For 15 years it had sat in a paper bag in the property room, the one piece of evidence never examined for DNA. There didn't seem to be any point to it.

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