A Bad Place to Die

Saturday, July 24 of last year was typically hot and humid. It was around noon -- not quite the warmest part of the day -- when three teenage boys walked single-file into a wooded area near Bear Creek Park, ostensibly to fetch a box of marijuana. Allegedly, once they were out of the view of the residents of a nearby subdivision, the third boy in the procession pulled out a small hatchet and struck the boy in front of him in the back of the head. As the wounded youth dropped to his knees the attacker struck him in the head again, then used the ax to slash his victim several times in the neck.

As 18-year-old Robbie Bayley thrashed about in the underbrush, he begged the two boys he had trusted as friends not to kill him, not to let him die. Unfazed, the pair turned their backs on Bayley and walked away.

Then things got sick.
During the next three weeks more than 30 teenagers made a trek into the Bear Creek woods to view the body of Robbie Bayley as it decomposed in the hellish heat and humidity of a Houston summer.

Some made repeat visits. Some brought along dates. Some reportedly took body parts as souvenirs.

But none of them -- not even those who knew Robbie Bayley -- felt enough remorse or revulsion to report what they had seen to the authorities.

When asked why they went, they numbly reply that it was just "something to do." When asked why they didn't bother to tell anyone, they say they didn't want to get involved.

The sideshow didn't end until Robbie Bayley's remains were discovered by two eight-year-old boys as they rode their bicycles along a well-worn path through the property. The wooded area runs alongside a creek that cuts through one of the northwest Harris County subdivisions that make up the area loosely known as Bear Creek.

Strip malls line both sides of Highway 6, which cuts through Bear Creek north of Interstate 10. Hidden behind the WhataBurgers, Luby's, Supercuts, Minit-Lubes, K-Marts and Kathy's Kiddie Korner are the homes of middle- to upper-middle-class, mostly white families. There are rows of cul-de-sacs with look-alike three-bedroom brick structures that house mall-dwellers and the children of MTV. Rent-a-cops patrol and protect these American Dream neighborhoods that sprung up in the late 1970s and early 1980s during the oil boom.

It was in this environment that Robbie Allen Bayley spent his final days, drifting from the home of one new friend to the next. Conflict with his father and stepmothers had made it impossible for Robbie to live with them; immaturity had made it impossible for him to live on his own. The fact that such a superficially placid area as Bear Creak could be home

to violence is, sadly, no longer surprising. And that an 18-year-old boy would be killed by other youths over drugs is, also sadly, hardly news. But the morbid acts that followed Robbie Bayley's murder, and the veil of silence that was drawn over his body, raise questions not only about how he died, but about how he lived. They are questions about the route that leads from being a child with promise to just another victim in a body bag.

Robbie was a smile, a charmer, a free spirit," remembers his father, Calvin Bayley, himself smiling at the thought of his son.

"Robbie was stubborn," interjects Wanda Bayley, Calvin's third wife and Robbie's second stepmother. "Very stubborn."

"Out of all the kids, Robbie was the one you never had to remind to say 'yes, ma'am' and 'no, ma'am,' " adds Wanda, who then laughs, "but he got into everything. He got into more than most boys."

So much so that he finally got into a situation where his charm and dark good looks couldn't save him.

As the Bayleys offer up their raw emotions and their memories of Robbie, Calvin sits on a sofa in the front room of their family home in Paris, Texas. Wanda sits on the floor near her husband. After several years in Houston the Bayleys recently moved back to Paris. To earn a living, Calvin works as an electrician in Dallas during the week, then makes the two-hour drive back to Paris each weekend. It's a hard way to go, but in Calvin's mind he had no choice.

"I guess you could say I was run out of town," Calvin says. "If I stayed, all it would take is for me to run into those kids [involved in Robbie's death] one time at the supermarket, and I can't say what I'd do. The way I look at it, they cheated me out of my son."

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Steve McVicker