Tim Miller Thinks He Knows Who Killed His Daughter, But Is He After the Right Monster?
Photo by Max Burkhalter
Shortly after Tim Miller's teenage daughter Laura went missing from her League City home in September 1984, he had a feeling he wasn't really searching for Laura but for her body.
Six months earlier, a dog had dug up a human skull in a pasture off Calder Road in League City, leading police to the rest of what turned out to be a 25-year-old woman who'd disappeared in October 1983. Heide Fye lived with her parents, about three blocks from the Millers. The medical examiner believed she'd been beaten to death. She was last seen at the same convenience store where Laura's mother dropped Laura off in September 1984. The 16-year-old had planned to use the pay phone to call her boyfriend and walk home afterward.
Miller was bothered by the coincidence.
A troubled girl, Laura had been racked with seizures since childhood. She took medication, but she still had episodes. The worst was when they happened at school. It didn't take long before she was too embarrassed to even go, and she started cutting class. Her friends' parents were afraid to let their kids sleep over. She sought acceptance where she could get it and recently had fallen in with a bad crowd.
But Miller did not believe Laura would run away. Something had to have happened. Miller went to the League City Police Department and asked a detective if they'd searched for Laura in the field where Fye was found. All that had been reported was that Fye was found in the 3000 block of Calder Road; he didn't have an exact address. Thirty years later, Miller says he remembers the detective's response. A dismissive eye-roll and a pat theory: Fye worked at a bar. Some guy took her out after closing time. She wouldn't consent to sex. There was a struggle. The guy killed her and dumped her. Isolated incident.
In what marked the start of a decades-long contentious relationship between Miller and League City police, Miller hounded detectives. He says he urged them to search that field for Laura or to at least give him the exact location. They told him to let them do their job and not to contact Fye's family.
Seventeen months later, in February 1986, kids riding dirt bikes through the fields off Calder Road smelled something rotten. It turned out to be the skeleton of a woman, maybe 25 years old, who'd been shot in the back. Her body could have been dumped in the field in the previous six weeks to six months. She was lying about 200 feet from where Fye had been found. She has never been identified and is known today as Jane Doe.
Police found another body that day: Laura Miller's skeleton lay just 60 feet away from Jane Doe. The medical examiner was unable to determine how or when she died.
In 1991, yet another woman's body was discovered in the field. The medical examiner estimated her age to be about 31, and it appeared that she'd been beaten to death. Twenty-four years later, she is known only as Janet Doe. Over time, that patch off Calder Road became known as "the killing fields."
One of the most significant things to come out of Laura's death was that Miller, a construction contractor, went on to create a volunteer organization called Texas EquuSearch, which assists in missing-persons cases. But another byproduct of Laura's death was not so positive: three decades of enmity between Miller and the League City Police Department, which Miller has accused of incompetence and a failed investigation.
The two parties haven't agreed on much, but they agree on this: Janet Doe was not killed by the same person who killed the other three. Because of the five-year gap, and because she was found farther away from the others, laid out in the open, her death appears to have been the work of another killer. Police say they have different suspects for Janet and the first three.
Here's where Miller and the police disagree: Miller believes he knows who killed Laura, Fye and Jane Doe. And in August 2014, he filed a wrongful death suit against that man in Galveston County District Court.
Miller filed his suit shortly after the accused, Clyde Edwin Hedrick, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in an unrelated cold case from 1985. In that case, prosecutors combed through Hedrick's past and spoke with a series of women who implicated him in the Calder Road murders, but he's never been charged.
Hedrick denies any responsibility in those murders, and he and his supporters think Miller's crusade against him influenced the jury's decision.
Miller hopes to force Hedrick into a deposition this month. He hopes to prove, through the lawsuit, that Hedrick killed Laura. But his motivations go beyond that. Miller figures the 61-year-old Hedrick will die in prison, so it's not about punishment. If it were up to Miller, he'd grant Hedrick immunity in Laura's death if he'd only reveal Jane Doe's identity.
"There is one thing worse than having a murdered child," Miller says. "And that is probably knowing that your child is out there dead somewhere and never being able to say good-bye."
On paper, the lawsuit is about money: He's afraid that, should Hedrick confess, filmmakers and publishing houses will come knocking on his bars. Miller's petition seeks damages for wrongful death and mental anguish, and he wants a high-dollar award to prevent Hedrick from profiting from the crimes.
The problem is this: There's no shortage of women who describe Hedrick as an absolute monster. But when it comes to the killing fields, is he the right monster?
Clyde Hedrick was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in March 2014.
Courtesy of Galveston County Sheriff's Office
Clyde Hedrick may be one of the unluckiest criminals in recent Texas history. Somehow, he managed to receive two convictions -- for a single death -- 28 years apart.
The deceased was 30-year-old Ellen Rae Beason, who was last seen alive in July 1984, drinking with Hedrick at a League City nightclub.
Beason's friend Nicole (not her real name) worried when Ellen disappeared. Nicole and her husband had been drinking with Hedrick and Beason at the club earlier that night. Nicole wasn't close friends with Hedrick, but they were part of the same little group that hung out at the club. Since Beason and Hedrick were still drinking when Nicole and her husband left, she nagged Hedrick, pressing him to tell her if he knew anything. Nicole says Hedrick denied any knowledge, but she wasn't convinced. She figured that if she got him drunk, he'd talk. It worked. On a drizzly November night, four months after Beason vanished, Hedrick told Nicole he could take her to where she was.
"Dumbass me, I got in the car with him, and we took off," Nicole says today. Hedrick took her down Old Galveston Highway and pulled over into a stretch of woods not far from some railroad tracks. He grabbed a flashlight, and Nicole followed him down to a ravine that served as a graveyard for discarded furniture, appliances, tires and other junk. He led Nicole to what news reports have consistently called a couch but that Nicole swears was really a bench-style car seat. He aimed the light toward a nearly fleshless corpse. At first Nicole couldn't tell -- was it really her friend? Hedrick gave the body a little kick, and it shifted enough to reveal, slung around the neck, the necklace Nicole had given Beason.
Hedrick told her a story that he later told police: He and Beason left the Texas Moon club that night in July 1984 and headed to an abandoned sand pit in Dickinson that served as a popular swimming hole. Beason slipped out of her clothes and into the water while Hedrick smoked a joint in his truck. After a while he saw that Beason was floating, and pulled her from the water. He administered CPR, but she was unresponsive. So, Hedrick said, he carried her to his truck and headed toward the hospital. But then he panicked and feared that he'd be accused of killing her.
Hedrick made one thing clear to Nicole: He hadn't killed Beason, but he wouldn't think twice about killing Nicole if she told anyone. Thus began eight months of hell. Nicole says Hedrick stalked her. He'd turn up at the same stores, when it was clear he wasn't there to shop. She would come home and find a piece of paper stuck in the screen door with a "C" on it -- Clyde Hedrick's calling card. Or even worse, she'd come home to her two little boys, and they'd tell her that the man had come by again. Nicole relented. Whatever Hedrick wanted, she'd give, fearing for her kids' lives.
Finally, on a night when her boys were visiting family out of town, she decided to tell Hedrick she was done.
"If you want to kill me, kill me, because I'm through," she told him. The next day, she led police to Beason's body.
Attorney Sharon Meier, then one of the Galveston County assistant district attorneys who prosecuted the case, recalls how Nicole was so scared to testify and paranoid that Hedrick would see her cooperating with the DA's office, that she felt comfortable giving her statements only while Meier drove them around for hours in her two-seat Corvette. Meier's fellow prosecutor Vicki O'Kelley lay on her stomach in the boot, taking notes.
Strangely, police and prosecutors had trouble buying Hedrick's story about Beason's skinny-dip-related death, but Galveston County Medical Examiner William Korn-dorffer found no evidence of foul play. So Hedrick was charged with, and convicted of, the misdemeanor of abusing a corpse. He was sentenced to a year behind bars. But while Hedrick was incarcerated, investigators with the Galveston County Sheriff's Office, the League City Police Department and the FBI continued to probe the circumstances of her death.
About two years after Hedrick's trial, Nicole says, police tried to jog her memory. They felt that she must know more. She says they told her, "Why don't you go out to the cemetery and talk to Ellen?"
In 1993, Beason's remains were exhumed and sent for re-examination to a forensic anthropologist at the University of North Texas, who found clear evidence of blunt-force trauma. She was reinterred four years later. But that rest was only temporary.
After Laura was found, Tim Miller says, he unloaded his anger on then-lead investigator Rex Fancher, telling him that if police scoured the field where Heide Fye was found, as Miller had suggested, they might have found Laura's body right away. The corpse might have still yielded clues, such as cause and possible date of death. (Fye's parents are dead; her sister declined to comment for this story.)
Based on the medical examiner's estimation that Jane Doe couldn't have been dead for more than six months, Miller thought that Laura was killed first. To Miller, that had serious implications.
"I'm holding you responsible for Jane Doe," Miller told Fancher.
Miller then unloaded his anger on himself. His marriage to Laura's mother, which began to buckle after Laura vanished, finally fell apart. They separated, and Miller disappeared into drugs and alcohol.
In a sense, Laura's life was cut short years before she disappeared. When she came down with a terrible fever at six months, Laura's parents rushed her to the hospital. Three days later, she broke out in measles. Then, after two years of relative quiet, she started seizing. She lived with the seizures for five years, and then, inexplicably, they disappeared.
Tim Miller believes Clyde Hedrick killed his daughter.
Miller says Laura was a good student in elementary school, bringing home A's and B's, and showed a profound interest in music. She loved to sing -- she joined the school choir -- and would spend hours spinning her Fleetwood Mac and Linda Ronstadt records. Then, when she was about 11 or 12, the seizures returned. One hit while she sang a solo for her choir's Christmas concert. She was mortified. Apparently the music director was, too. He told Laura's parents that it would be best if she were no longer in the choir.
"Her whole fuckin' life was kind of stripped away," Miller says.
More than once, Laura tried to kill herself by overdosing on her seizure medication. She sought acceptance, and found it in what Miller calls the "drug crowd."
The same month that Laura's body was found, Hed-rick went on trial for hiding Beason's corpse, and his face was splashed across the Galveston County Daily News. Miller figured he'd found his daughter's killer.
Gridiron Glory: The Best of Pro Football HOF -- 10AM-3PM
TicketsThu., Mar. 30, 10:00am
Gridiron Glory: The Best of Pro Football HOF -- 3PM-8PM
TicketsThu., Mar. 30, 3:00pm
Gridiron Glory: The Best of Pro Football HOF -- 10AM-6PM
TicketsSun., Apr. 2, 10:00am
Rice Owls Men's Baseball vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Men's Baseball
TicketsFri., Apr. 7, 6:30pm
Hedrick, it turned out, was a former neighbor of Miller's. They lived on the same block in Dickinson, before the Millers moved to League City in 1984. That got Miller to thinking. Hedrick could have seen Laura every day. Given the kind of crowd that Laura had been running with, she could have known him.
Miller didn't realize at the time that, even before their neighborhood proximity, he and Hedrick shared similar paths. Both men were born in Ohio -- Miller in Cleveland and Hedrick in rural Ashtabula County. In the 1970s, both men moved to Volusia County, Florida. Hedrick and his then-wife moved there to be closer to her parents. Miller moved there for a job and moved again for work in Galveston County. Hedrick followed several years later, although it's unclear why.
League City Police Sgt. Marty Grant, the department's lead investigator, did not want to discuss Miller or Hedrick. He doesn't want to discuss an open investigation, even if it's an open case that has gone nowhere in 30 years.
The department's assistant chief, Gary Ratliff, was slightly more talkative. But even though he told the Houston Chronicle in 2014 that Hedrick was a suspect in the killing fields, Ratliff would not confirm that for this story. However, Ratliff is aware of Miller's assertions and of his lawsuit, and he's not a big fan of either.
"I explained to him that he is not helping our criminal case at all," Ratliff says. He adds, "I can tell you that Tim Miller wasn't there the day that these bodies were discovered, was not present at the time when evidence was collected...So it's hard to take anything that he says with relevance when I know that he is a grieving father that is still grasping to make amends to get this cleared up -- as we are."
Miller kept tabs on Hedrick for years. He believed that Hedrick would somehow slip up, and the League City police, despite how Miller felt about their competence, would have to nab him.
But when Janet Doe was found in 1991, League City investigators got a funny feeling about a retired NASA engineer who owned acreage adjacent to the killing fields. Robert Abel ran a popular horseback riding range called Stardust Trailrides, and he seemed almost too eager to cooperate when detectives started asking him about bodies that kept turning up near land he owned.
As detailed in a later Texas Monthly story, League City's lead investigator, Pat Bittner, sought guidance from an FBI agent "who specializes in serial sexual homicides."
The agent told Bittner "that the murderer probably lived close to the comfort zone and could very well have insinuated himself into the investigation." Also, the agent said, "the murderer was in all likelihood preoccupied with the media accounts the crimes and perhaps had kept newspaper articles about them."
Based on that profile, Bittner was able in 1993 to secure a search warrant, and turned Abel's home upside down. Investigators found nothing linking Abel to the murders.
After nearly 30 years, the last known killing fields victim remains unidentified.
"I knew it was Clyde from the beginning, and then they did the search warrant on Robert Abel's house and stuff," Miller says today, "and I said, 'Oh my God, did I ever screw up.'" Bittner's focus on Abel fed Miller's certainty, a toxic fuel for a man already in a downward spiral. Miller dreamed of killing Abel, and he even told Texas Monthly that he went to Abel's home in 1994 and held a gun to the man's head.
Abel told the magazine it never happened. Either way, Miller hit rock bottom that year. He checked himself into a psych ward for ten days. Nothing would diminish his need to solve his daughter's murder, but some time after he got out of the hospital, he learned to channel it into something more productive: Texas EquuSearch. Since its founding in 2000, the organization has assisted in investigations in 38 states and eight countries. Equu-Search's highest-profile cases include the 2005 disappearance of 18-year-old Natalee Holloway from Aruba and the 2008 disappearance of toddler Caylee Anthony in Florida.
Ratliff pointed out to the Press that Miller was stuck on Abel the same way he's stuck on Hedrick.
Miller admits his role in that witch hunt, saying with obvious regret, "I helped ruin Robert Abel's life there for a couple years."
After the Robert Abel debacle, Miller retrained his sights on Hedrick. He hounded the League City Police Department as usual, but by that point, Miller's presence was probably just white noise.
Then, in 2005, two things happened that seemed to reignite interest in the killing fields and, by extension, the death of Ellen Beason. In July, Abel, while at his ranch in Bellville, was struck and killed by a train as he drove his golf cart across the tracks.
Five months later, Miller received a letter straight out of a thriller. A very cheesy thriller. Written spooky-style, with words cut out of magazines, it purported to be from the man who killed Laura and the other victims of the killing fields.
"Tim Miller boo its me you're looking for," it began. And while the author/word-gluer claimed to be too smart ever to be caught, he also criticized the FBI's "cereal" killer profile.
Miller was fairly certain the letter was a hoax, but it could still be useful. He suggested to Galveston County Sheriff's detectives that they question Hedrick about the letter. Get him to talk about the killing fields, and about Beason. He figured they ought to tell Hedrick, "We don't think you're smart enough to write this letter. So the only way we're going to move forward and eliminate you is if you'll take a polygraph. Well, the stupid fuck agreed to do it. Blew ink all over the wall."
There is no public record of this polygraph, and authorities would not comment, but whatever happened, investigators did not lose interest in Hedrick and continued to question people from his past.
Based on a subsequent court filing, it's clear that some of the interviews involved not just Beason but the killing fields. Prosecutor Kevin Petroff filed a motion as part of discovery notifying Hedrick's court-appointed attorney that if Hedrick were found guilty, Petroff planned to introduce prior bad acts during the trial's sentencing phase.
The allegations in the five-page motion are shocking and got a fair amount of media attention when filed in October 2013, which irks Petroff to this day. He says he never introduced those allegations at trial, largely because there's no evidence to support them. Filing the motion was simply a basic statutory requirement. But it was one hell of a requirement: For the first time in 30 years, a criminal court filing accused a named individual -- without a shred of evidence -- of killing Laura Miller and Heide Fye.
But to be clear, Petroff reasserts that "I think it would be a huge misstatement to say that I am confident that Clyde Hedrick is involved in those murders. I do not have that evidence, because certainly if I did, we would have presented that in the sentencing phase."
According to that motion, Hedrick had a history of violence. The motion accuses Hedrick of stating, "he has murdered four to five women during the course of his life."
The motion also reveals that Hedrick's ex-wife Deborah Darling told investigators that "between the years 1991 and 1993, [Hedrick] would come back home with a different shirt and would be saying repeatedly that he had 'done it again.'"
Darling also alleged that, in 1996, Hedrick "came home with a bloody knife, asking [her] to get rid of it. [Hedrick] then dyed his hair and shaved his beard." (Darling declined to comment for this story.)
Allegations from others are less descriptive, and in some cases do not even identify the accuser. They paint Hedrick as a necrophiliac and a child-molesting car thief with a penchant for substance abuse and battery.
These and other interviews led to the 2012 re-re-exhumation of Beason's remains. Experts re-examined the skull and compared it to reports from 1985 and from her second exhumation. Pathologists said they found fractures in Beason's skull that Korndorffer, the original medical examiner, had missed -- evidence of blunt-force trauma. So in late 2013, Hedrick was arrested and charged with killing Beason. He pleaded not guilty.
Hedrick had precious few people testifying on his behalf. The strongest testimony in Hedrick's favor was from Korn-dorffer, long retired at 84 and a reluctant witness. Korn-dorffer's attorney literally tried to get him out of testifying with a doctor's note. Korn-dorffer's doctor cited his patient's "cognitive difficulty and medical condition." It didn't work, and Korn-dorffer took the stand. He stuck by his finding that Ellen's skull showed no evidence of foul play and testified that the reason fractures were visible now was that corrupt FBI agents and police officers must have swapped Ellen's pristine skull for a fractured one. A "throw-down" skull, he called it.
The first known killing fields victim, Heide Fye, left behind a six-year-old daughter and common-law husband.
Courtesy of Josie Poarch
If the testimony of a jailhouse snitch is to be believed, the fracture was caused not by a massive law-enforcement conspiracy but by a table leg. Max Stephenson, in jail on drug charges, testified that Hedrick told him that he thought Beason had drowned and he presumed she was dead as he shoved her body under the couch. But, according to Stephenson, Hedrick said she stirred, and he got startled. Stephenson said Hedrick spotted a table leg near the couch and struck Beason once on the back of the head. (No table leg was discovered at the scene or in Hedrick's possession.)
Ultimately, the jury decided on the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. In the trial's sentencing phase, the judge heard testimony from a female relative who said Hedrick had sexually abused her for years when she was a child. The woman's story, combined with Hedrick's previous conviction for attempted second degree arson -- a nearly 40-year-old crime for which he served two years -- was enough for the judge to issue a 20-year sentence. (Hedrick's appellate attorney did not reply to multiple requests for comment.)
Even though none of the killing fields allegations were introduced in court, Hedrick's longtime girlfriend told the Press that Miller was in the courtroom and in front of cameras during the trial, and that the jury probably was influenced.
"He didn't go to jail for killing Ellen Beason," says Gladys McKnight, who describes herself as Hedrick's wife, although the two are not married. "He went to jail for the Miller stuff and for molesting [his relative]."
McKnight says she accompanied Hedrick to the FBI's office when agents questioned him before his arrest in April 2013. She says she sat outside the interrogation room. "We could hear the man pounding and asking Clyde questions over and over and over, the same questions," she says. Finally, a fuming Hedrick stormed out of the room. McKnight said Hedrick told her the agent kept slamming photographs of the killing fields victims down on the table, and Hedrick kept denying he knew them.
Not long after that, McKnight says, FBI agents knocked on the door one night while she and Hedrick were asleep. She says they had a warrant and "wanted to search for bodies." After tearing through the house, they asked Hedrick to come back with them for more questioning. Those questions turned into an arrest.
McKnight, who believes wholeheartedly in Hedrick's innocence, is nearly reduced to tears when discussing Miller's accusations. But she says she has no animosity toward Miller. The two share a special, agonizing bond -- the death of a child. McKnight lost an 18-year-old son in a shooting.
"He has my deepest, most profound sympathy," McKnight says of Miller. "And I understand how he feels, and I pray for him...I hope that he finds peace and solace, but he's going about it the wrong way."
Miller is eager to get Hedrick into deposition. He wants Hedrick to open his mouth, because every time he does, Miller says, something stupid comes out.
There is, for example, the slight variation of the Ellen Beason story that Hedrick told KPRC while awaiting trial in January 2014: He was going to find help for Beason, but he suddenly had to pee, so he pulled over, saw the couch and placed her there with the intention of returning with assistance.
These days, it's difficult for Hedrick to open his mouth, literally. Half of the jutting, sharp jaw he had at the time of his 1986 trial is long gone, a casualty of cancer. Gone with it are all of his lower teeth. According to medical records, Hedrick claims he can swallow food only after it's been soaked in special "health" shakes.
Hedrick hasn't filed a formal response to Miller's petition, but he did send a letter to Miller's attorney denying responsibility for the killing fields deaths. He wrote that Miller's employees "say and believe that he killed [Laura] himself. Having sex with her 13-14-15-16 old [sic]."
As for Beason, Hedrick wrote that she was "a drug addict and overdose" and "I didn't cause her died!!"
And despite the fact that Hedrick once lived on the same block as Miller, he claimed that he'd never seen Laura.
Hedrick's biological father, Clyde Tanner, went to prison for felonious assault in 1961. His mother, Geraldine Fugitt, then married Darle Hedrick, who allegedly proceeded to terrorize Hedrick and his three sisters. A fourth sister, Donna, a quadriplegic with severe brain damage, lived most of her 13 years in a former mental institution called Apple Creek. Based on what Hedrick's sisters told the Press, Donna may have had the best childhood of them all.
Tim Miller founded Texas EquuSearch 14 years after his daughter's body was found in the killing fields.
Courtesy of Texas EquuSearch
Hedrick is close with only one sister, Frances, who lives in Texas. Another sister, Charlotte, who lives out of state, said she hadn't seen her brother in years and was unaware that he was in prison.
"Darle was not a pleasant person," Charlotte told the Press in a letter. "Even though he adopted us, none of us called him dad. I know he molested me from as early as I can remember things. What he did to Clyde or anyone else, I can't honestly say. None of us ever talked about it growing up. I know he was the root of many my problems when I grew up...After many years, my nightmares finally ended. I don't know if anyone else received any help, ever had nightmares or if their nightmares continued. Mine are sure back now."
She added, "I can remember Clyde saying he couldn't wait to turn 18 so he could change his last name. Not sure why he never did. Money would be my guess."
If Hedrick avoids deposition, or just doesn't respond to the lawsuit, Miller says it's likely he'd win by default. There would be no closure for the families of Heide Fye and Jane Doe, but at least Hedrick wouldn't profit from any future book or movie deals.
Clearly, in order for any such deals to happen, police and prosecutors would have to prove a case against Hedrick for the killing fields. But after 30 years, there wasn't even enough evidence for such accusations to be raised in the Beason trial.
Miller could have the right man, or, after so much time, the real killer may be long dead. Miller might have spent the past three decades chasing a ghost.
But what if law enforcement eventually closes in on another suspect -- one who hasn't yet been the target of Miller's need to solve his daughter's murder?
"I guess that would probably open a door if they ever got a conviction on somebody else for him to go ahead and file a lawsuit against me," Miller says, adding that if he's proven wrong, "I would certainly send a huge letter of apology to Clyde."
But for now, Miller is fixed on Hedrick. And he's disturbed by the thought that Hedrick's body count may extend beyond Beason and the killing fields.
Although Hedrick was living with McKnight at the time of his 2013 arrest, he kept a separate trailer in Bacliff. Miller has kept his eye on that trailer, and says that Hedrick had been remodeling it for a few years before his arrest. He finds that peculiar.
"There's not one window in it, which is like, 'What the fuck is up with that?'" Miller says.
On a recent drive past the trailer, which sits tucked further back than the other houses and trailers lining 13th Street, Miller points out the undeveloped expanse behind the homes. An impenetrable thicket perfect for hiding bodies. He wonders what other possible reason Hedrick could have for keeping a trailer there. He says he's seen a lot of refuse back there -- junked refrigerators; small, rusted-out boats. He's even seen an old couch. If he could, he'd search that field. He'd push through the shrubs and the weeds until he could actually see the ground. He'd turn over that couch. He'd turn over everything, to see what's underneath.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.