Family Ties

The Odoms' 1980 wedding: He still wasn't ready to settle down.

The pictures on the wall show the two sisters as little girls, snapshots of smiles and ribbons in their hair. In one portrait they are posed in matching red dresses with white page-boy collars. Kathy, the elder by 18 months, is maybe ten years old, all mischievous grin and twinkling eyes. Sister Shelley looks uncomfortable, the tiny grin more forced, the eyes serious and dark.

"They both married drug bastards," says Frank Martin, gazing at the photo of his smiling daughters.

Martin is 67 now, a straight-backed man with snow-white hair. In his slow Oklahoma drawl he's trying to explain what it's been like for the last 17 years, living with the obsession and hatred.

"I just couldn't let it go," he says. "It was like part of my life just stopped."

For Martin, it was always about his two little girls; two sisters, their lives entwined forever. One would die young, murdered in her home; the other would spend all these years living with the man Martin believes is the killer.

This is a story about family. And it's a story about a bunch of kids growing up in nice neighborhoods in southwest Houston. But this is no Ozzie & Harriet. It's closer to Beverly Hills 90210, except instead of sipping wine spritzers in Malibu, these teenagers slid into the world of heroin and cheap quaaludes.

Frank Martin moved his wife, Sharlene, and two daughters from Oklahoma to Houston in 1971. He sold cars until he started his own company, Frank's Sign Service, repairing electrical signs.

Growing up, the sisters were inseparable. "Where you found one, you found the other," says their friend Bonnie Rigdon.

Kathy, a skinny cutie with a long face and a wide smile, was 16 when she started dating Mike Odom, a broad-shouldered kid who was popular with the girls at Sharpstown High School. "Kathy was a very sweet girl, very naive," says John Loftin, Odom's best friend at Sharpstown. "Kathy was madly in love with Mike."

It was the '70s, the days of Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Everyone hung out at a teen club called The Happening off Braeswood, where they spent long days and nights playing pool and pinball. On many weekends they would score drugs, grab a bottle of whiskey and head to the beach near Freeport.

The couple shared a zest for getting high, Loftin says. And they zoomed past smoking a little weed and zoning to loud rock and roll and moved right into the world of hard drugs. "Mike and I both got strung out on heroin," he says. Mandrex, slang for methaqualone, a smokable form of quaaludes, was another popular drug of choice.

To help pay the bills, Odom and Loftin were dealing, or "slinging pills." One supplier, whom they never saw, would leave bags with hundreds of quaaludes in a hiding place behind a store.

In 1977, Odom, then 20, agreed to help a guy he met at The Happening buy a half-ounce of heroin for $450. They met in the parking lot of Jim's Coffee Shop off Hillcroft and went off to score. The buyer turned out to be an undercover cop. Kathy, waiting in the restaurant, was taken into custody but never charged. Odom pleaded guilty to possession with intent to deliver and got a six-year sentence.

"Kathy was devastated," Rigdon says. But they were back together two years later, the day Odom was released. "It was the worst possible thing that could have happened," Loftin says. "They went right back to drugs."

In 1980, Mike and Kathy were married in the Now and Forever Chapel off I-45. She wore a long white dress; the groom and his party wore light blue tuxes with velvet lapels. Sister Shelley was a maid of honor.

Odom joined Kathy's father to learn the sign business. Kathy became pregnant. But Odom wasn't ready to slow down. In 1983, Odom, high on various substances, bolted when a cop spotted his Trans Am speeding down I-10. He led officers on a chase through west Houston, zigzagging along streets at nearly 100 miles per hour, until he crashed into a police roadblock.

So much for Kathy's salad days.

Shelley met her life mate while she was still in high school, just like her big sister. She was 16, already running in the same partying circles as Kathy, when she was introduced to Greg Markwardt, 25. He was a tall, handsome guy with long hair, dark brown eyes and a wisp of a mustache. And Greg was recently divorced from Mike Odom's sister, Fran.

"Greg was kind of Mike's hero," Loftin says. "Greg was the cool guy on the block. If you needed drugs or you were buying pot, Greg was the man we went to."  

Even in his younger years, Markwardt had hung with an older crowd and appeared to be more hip to life beyond classes and controlling adults. He was boisterous and friendly, a slap-on-the-back kind of guy.

And he always seemed to have money. His parents divorced when he was 14 and he lived with his wealthy great-aunt and great-uncle, Linda and Dominic, in a stately brick two-story house with a circular driveway in fashionable Brae Acres.

"Greg just latched on to Shelley," Loftin says. "She was young, real impressionable, and he brought her into the whole drug scene."

Soon, Shelley stormed out of the house after a fight with her mother and moved in with Markwardt. "It was almost like Shelley didn't exist anymore," says her friend Rigdon. "He kept her completely isolated."

Kathy and Shelley, once inseparable, grew apart as Shelley sunk into the netherworld of heroin addiction. Shelley lost weight, turning stick-figure-thin. Sometimes Shelley would show up for family gatherings and "she was like a zombie," Rigdon says.

When Shelley and Greg appeared at her parents' home, Frank and Sharlene Martin suspected them of stealing in order to buy drugs. One time, Sharlene's credit cards and ATM card disappeared. Police later produced pictures that appear to show Markwardt using the card, holding his arm across his face to try to hide from the camera. In another picture he seems to be wearing a wig and a fake mustache. But his aunt paid back the money, and Frank Martin didn't file charges.

On April 4, 1983, Markwardt's great-uncle Dominic died, leaving him and his sister $300,000, partial interest in the Brae Acres house and the keys to his El Camino. A few months later Greg and Shelley were married. She was a June bride, but there was no big wedding with cakes and tuxedos -- just a quick ceremony by a justice of the peace. Frank and Sharlene Martin weren't invited.

The honeymoon wouldn't last long. In 1985, a Houston police officer pulled up behind Markwardt's orange pickup truck, parked on the side of the road with both doors open. He spotted Markwardt trying to hide a double-barrel shotgun under the seat. A search of the truck found a syringe, a spoon and two small bottles of cocaine.

Three months later, a maid cleaning a room rented by Shelley at the Holiday Inn off the Southwest Freeway found drugs, syringes and a nine-millimeter pistol. When Greg and Shelley showed up later that day, Greg told the arresting officers he had used Shelley's credit card to rent the room to entertain three prostitutes the previous night.

The couple pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine. But their sentence of eight years' probation turned into two years of hard time after they both flunked drug tests. Before going to jail, both needed methadone treatment to stave off the shakes and chills of withdrawal.

When she was processed into the Gatesville prison unit, Shelley weighed 100 pounds.

In every way, the Dove Meadow development of Spring is a long way from Gatesville. It is a quiet neighborhood of brick houses, two-car garages and basketball hoops. Kathy and Mike Odom and their new baby girl, Tasha, moved into a house on Golden Dove in 1986, when it was a new subdivision, fresh with recently planted trees, open fields and the promise of some semblance of the American dream.

The move to Spring, far from their old Houston haunts, provided a chance for Kathy and Mike to start over. "They were trying to hold on to their marriage," Bonnie Rigdon says. "I thought the move would be good for all of them."

With an investment from Mike's mom, he and longtime friend John Loftin purchased trucks and started their own business, Service Neon Signs.

Kathy settled into a new life as a suburban housewife, developing a close friendship with next-door neighbor Lorna Portelance, who had a young son the same age as Tasha. The Odoms were the portrait of a "young, struggling couple," trying to make a living in the neighborhood of white picket fences, Portelance says now.

To help with the bills, Kathy brought in children to baby-sit during the day. In the summer she would fill a plastic swimming pool with water in the front yard and the kids would rush over to splash around.

"I think life was good for her," Portelance says. "She was home with her kids, and her husband was home every evening." There were arguments, although the couple was determined to hold it together, especially after the birth of son Shawn in December 1986.  

But shadows from their past life soon appeared along the quiet lanes of Dove Meadow. Greg and Shelley Markwardt, fresh out of prison, started showing up without warning in the middle of the day.

"Kathy didn't like for them to come around," Portelance says. "When they did come around they were always trying to persuade Mike to go off and do bad things with them."

Shelley seemed to resent her sister's new life. "Kathy was trying to be a mother and a good wife and baby-sitting other people's kids," Portelance remembers. "There wasn't a lot of common ground."

There was another source of friction. Kathy told her friends that Greg was making moves on her. Rigdon says Greg couldn't stop complimenting Kathy about her tummy -- "he seemed obsessed with her stomach." One day Kathy showed up on the Portelances' doorstep, frazzled and out of breath. She explained that Greg had tried to kiss her and pull off her clothes, while Shelley was in the next room giving Tasha a bath.

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.

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.

Markwardt told detectives that, on the day of the murder, he dropped off his wife at Houston Community College at 11:30 a.m. for her bookkeeping classes and picked her up at 2:30 p.m. In the early afternoon, when detectives believed Kathy had been murdered, Markwardt said, he was hanging out with an old friend named Hampton Robinson III, yet another one of the shadowy characters who seemed to flow through the sisters' lives. Robinson, a rogue member of a wealthy Houston family, was also a friend of Charles Harrelson (the father of actor Woody Harrelson), who was convicted in 1982 of murdering U.S. District Judge John H. Wood; Robinson ultimately testified against Harrelson.

Using Robinson as a reference didn't do much to persuade detectives, and Markwardt quickly moved to the top of the list of suspects.

Eleven days after Odom's murder, the Markwardts arrived at the sheriff's detective headquarters to answer questions. Greg calmly told his story. But after a few minutes he asked if he could go put more money in the parking meter. He got up and strolled out the door -- and never came back.

Three weeks after the murder, on March 25, Shelley Markwardt showed up at her parents' home. Shelley was angry, Frank Martin says, and she and Greg were fighting. Martin remembers Shelley admitting that she had seen Greg make a move on Kathy weeks before she was murdered. He says she told him they had visited her because Greg was "high on drugs and needed love."

The next day Shelley borrowed Martin's Buick to get her belongings from the Brae Acres house. When she still hadn't returned two days later, Martin reported the car stolen.

It was recovered on April 1, outside the clinic where Greg and Shelley went for methadone, and officers thought they may have caught a big break. Inside the car they found a bag of dirty men's clothes that looked like Markwardt's. There appeared to be blood on the clothes, but the lab tests were inconclusive.

It was one more dead end in an investigation that would lead to many dead ends. There were no eyewitnesses; Tasha remembered nothing. There was no physical evidence. No murder weapon. Markwardt, who now communicated with police only through an attorney, refused to take a polygraph.

There was little more to go on than the suspicions of Frank Martin, who was wrestling with the death of his daughter. A blunt man who collects Elvis statues and old oversize liquor bottles, Martin was sure that the Harris County detectives were botching the case. He felt they did a shoddy job collecting evidence, especially after Mike Odom cleaned up the house and moved out all the furniture within days of the murder. In 1988, Markwardt's alibi, the mysterious Hampton Robinson, died after a lengthy illness, apparently without investigators ever getting an official statement from him.

The more detectives appeared to lose interest, the more Martin fumed. He would spend long hours at his daughter's grave. Some days he would park outside the house in Dove Meadow, not sure what he was hoping to see.  

"Frank was so bitter and focused on this, it was all he could ever talk about," Bonnie Rigdon says. "It was just too much for him."

John Loftin and Martin started following Greg Markwardt, hoping he might provide some clues. Eventually Martin hired Markwardt at his sign company, under the theory that it was smart to "keep the enemy close."

"He was always hoping Greg would slip up and hang himself," Loftin says.

Martin talked about killing Markwardt and making it look like an industrial accident, if he ever had proof that he had murdered Kathy, Loftin says. "I told Greg, 'Frank's going to spin you into the high line, brother.' He wouldn't say nothing. He just went white."

As the years passed, Martin kept up the pressure on detectives, writing letters and calling the sheriff, the district attorney, even local politicians. In 1993, a photo of Martin standing next to Kathy's grave ran on page one of the Houston Chronicle along with a story headlined "Bad Reputation for Investigations." In it, Martin called sheriff's investigators inept. Then-sheriff Johnny Klevenhagen, in turn, called Martin "a nut case.''

Harry Fikaris was soon assigned to the case. The first move was to use new DNA testing procedures on the semen samples from Kathy Odom's body. In police terms, the results "failed to eliminate" Markwardt because they matched 2.1 percent of all white males, including him. However, that was enough reasonable doubt to make the D.A.'s office reluctant to prosecute.

Desperate for any leads, detectives took Tasha Odom to a forensic hypnotist, trying anything to jog her memory. It didn't work.

As the case foundered, Fikaris became Martin's whipping boy. The father called the detective constantly, often berating the "sorry son-of-a-bitches" for their lack of progress and competency.

"I can't blame him for anything he did," Fikaris says. "There was nothing we could do at that point. But at least he had someone to bitch to."

When his daughter was buried, the slash across her throat covered by a scarf, Frank Martin purchased a set of spaces around the grave to create a family plot. On Kathy's grave he placed a headstone listing her children and family members -- everyone except Shelley.

"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 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.

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.

"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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