After my editor assigned me to write up a collection of some of Houston's creepiest tales for this week's cover story Houston Babylon, I took to Facebook for some group-sourcing of ideas and leads. That thread ballooned into an 158-post beast. Far too many good stories came in for me to include them all in this week's feature, and we've been running the spillover here, here and here. (And there is more to come.)
I made every effort to spotlight stories that have slipped deep into the recesses of this city's gargantuan memory hole. Each new generation tends to forget the history of the one that preceded it here. Maybe that's common to all cities. Maybe New Yorkers, Chicagoans and San Franciscans forget just as swiftly as Houstonians...But the older I get, the more I am astonished at how little younger Houstonians know about what happened here when I was a child in the 1970s and a young man in the 1980s.
Some stories we considered too high-profile include Dean Corll (though he is mentioned in passing), the Pixy Stix murder, the Blood and Money case, and Andrea Yates. Some of those cases were also simply too ghastly for me to want to ponder for long; the same goes for the 1973 Willow Meadows spree-killing of several little girls who were gunned down as they walked home from school.
I also tried to include stories that were linked somehow to others and I was amazed and chilled at how many were. In some cases, it's my belief that some of these tales have never been told in full, or at least not in a prominent enough venue.
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The Karla Faye Tucker murder, which I didn't include here because of its notoriety, had a strong connection to the killing of Bill List, which is in this story. (The List killing is also more tenuously connected to the Corll / Elmer Wayne Henley murders.) A survivor of the Poe Elementary school bombing went on to achieve a tragic infamy of his own.
Finally, local histories have tended to gloss over this city's dark side, choosing instead to cite the ever-increasing tonnage coming and going from the Ship Channel, the scientific wonders of NASA and the Texas Medical Center, the financial feats of banker/developers such as Jesse Jones, and the gargantuan deeds of the great oil men.
That's fine, but that's only half of Houston's story. It's high time the dark side comes to light. Contrast is the key to any great portrait.
Special thanks to Mike Vance, redoubtable local historian and head honcho at Houston Arts and Media. Vance gave me the Heights House of Horror story and led me to professor Stephen R. Hardin and his equally erudite and entertaining book Texian Macabre. (Hardin also furnished the title to the story.) Thanks also to Sherrie Tatum and Jeff Statton, who spoke so freely about their painful memories.