Family Ties

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."

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Kevin Brass