Family Ties

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

But if Cellmark could get an assailant's DNA material from a victim's neck, why couldn't they retrieve it from an electrical cord?

"We didn't have anything to lose," Wedgeworth says.

If the cord had been stored in a plastic evidence bag, the skin residue and fluids would have degenerated. But the paper bag helped preserve the material. Cellmark's conclusion: Greg Markwardt's DNA was on the cord.

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.

"We couldn't believe it," Wedgeworth says. "We knew it was the only shot we had."

After all the years of angry accusations from Frank Martin, Fikaris was finally able to tell him of a breakthrough.

"I was just stunned," Martin says. "I said, 'I wish I could be there with you when you handcuff him and take him away from that house.' "

On December 18, 2002, the detective duo knocked on the door of the Markwardts' Brae Acres house. His aunt said Markwardt had gone grocery shopping, so they waited across the street. When he pulled up in his SUV, Markwardt seemed to know why they were there.

Calm as always, he told them he needed to put away the groceries. "I have a lot of frozen stuff," he said. The detectives helped him unload the grocery sacks.

Then, after 15 years of twists and frustrations, Fikaris arrested Markwardt for the murder of Kathy Odom.

Today Markwardt sits in a cell at the Harris County jail, where he's been held without bond since December 2002. He could face the death penalty. He says he's innocent, and his court-appointed attorney, Allen Isbell, discounts the DNA findings.

"It's a circumstantial-evidence case," the lawyer says. "You can't prosecute him just because his father-in-law believes he did it."

While the DNA on the lamp cord is a "difficult piece of evidence," it is not unexplainable, the attorney says. After all, this was his sister-in-law's house, and Markwardt was often there. Although he admits Markwardt was no angel, Isbell suggests that at trial the defense would likely introduce evidence about Kathy's lifestyle.

"There will be competing stories if we get into the moral life of Kathy Odom," Isbell says. "Close friends of hers would not like to think she and Greg were having an affair."

A trial is unlikely until next year. Sources say Markwardt has often been in the infirmary, apparently suffering from a liver ailment. Six months after his arrest, his great-aunt Linda died, leaving him hundreds of thousands of dollars and part ownership of the house. But Frank and Sharlene Martin filed a wrongful death suit, tying up the estate.

After the arrest, Shelley frequently visited her husband in jail and continued to proclaim his innocence. "She's told me she doesn't have any plans to divorce him," Isbell says. "She's always expressed to me that she was supportive of him."

To Fikaris, Shelley is still a mystery. She refuses to give investigators a statement and is "defensive," he says. After living with the case for so long, he still wonders what she could tell about Markwardt and the life they were leading all those years ago.

"I still think she knows what really happened," Fikaris says.

Last winter, Shelley moved out of the stately house on Brae Acres after 25 years. Sharlene and Frank Martin helped her in the move, at one point wrestling with a heavy gun-storage safe. As they pulled it off the wall, her father saw something lodged on the floor.

He recognized the dusty plastic case instantly. It held Kathy's sunglasses, an expensive pair he bought her years ago. He had always wondered what happened to them. Now, after all these years, he found the glasses in Greg and Shelley's room.

A few weeks later, Shelley moved to Bartlesville to live near her parents, who believe her husband is a killer. She refuses all requests to discuss her sister's murder and the allegations against her husband.

From pictures, she looks healthy, no longer the skinny girl. Her hair, once long and gray, is cut short and dyed. She's in a bowling league. According to her mother, she attends church regularly. She often sees Tasha, who lives with the Martins. Now 21, Tasha is a dead ringer for her mother.

Sharlene Martin, a tiny spitfire with a more-than-passing resemblance to Tammy Faye Bakker, says she doesn't know if her daughter still writes Markwardt. "I don't have any idea," she snaps. They never talk about the murder. "It's a closed subject for us."

Frank Martin still fumes, full of suspicions and eager to confront Markwardt in a courtroom, but Sharlene doesn't want Shelley going back to Houston for a trial. "That part of her life is over," she says.

Sharlene doesn't want to talk about the past. She struggles to explain what it's been like for all these years, wondering if her son-in-law is her daughter's killer.

"You just try to put these things out of your mind," Sharlene says. "We just went on and tried to be family."

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