Episode 3: Serial Killer or Unjustly Accused?

Episode 3: Serial Killer or Unjustly Accused?

Listen Here: The trial of Charles Albright is underway. Is the hair and fiber evidence enough to seal the deal, or is the prosecution’s case hanging by a thread? Hear how prosecutors dealt with Albright’s alibi, the murder that had to be thrown out, and the defense witness that provided some of the strongest evidence pointing toward a conviction. Finally, the murderous design of Charles Albright will be revealed. The Script for Episode 3 follows.

Hence, it is always a conclusive answer to a criminal charge, no matter how strongly it may be supported by other evidence, that the accused had, in fact, no opportunity to commit it: and in this consists the force of alibi evidence. Where, on the other hand, it is shown, in addition to other circumstances, that the accused had an opportunity to do the act, it becomes a positively criminative circumstance against him, of greater power in proportion to the completeness or frequence of the opportunity proved.1Burrill, Alexander M. A Treatise on the Nature, Principles, and Rules of Circumstantial Evidence (1868). P. 354.

Trial on the Merits

The State was represented by Lead Prosecutor Toby Shook. Mr. Shook was assisted by Prosecutors Dan Hagood and John Grau. Mr. Albright was represented by Brad Lollar as the lead defense attorney, who was assisted by Matt Fry. In Texas, the law requires that the prosecutor read the indictment – the instrument charging the defendant with the crime – to the jurors before opening statements. On Tuesday morning December 3, 1991 prosecutor Toby Shook read the indictment to the Jury: That the Defendant, Charles Albright, intentionally or knowingly caused the death of Shirley Williams, an individual, by shooting her with a firearm, a deadly weapon. Judge Mark Tolle asked Mr. Lollar and Mr. Albright to stand, and asked, “to the indictment, Mr. Lollar, how does your client plead?” To which Mr. Lollar replied, “Not Guilty, your honor.” And with that the trial was officially underway.

Both sides have an opportunity to make an opening statement. This is their first opportunity to tell jurors about their case. Jurors would be in for a few big surprises. First, except in rare circumstances, the law only allows a person to be tried for one crime at a time. One exception to this rule is if other crimes besides the one charged are so similar in the mode of operation or show the same motive or plan, the State can tell jurors about not only the crime for which a defendant is charged, but also the other crimes. The law calls these extraneous offenses. Judge Tolle ruled that the State could show the jurors all 3 murders, not just the one against Shirley Williams. The opening statement would be the first time that the jurors would be told that they would be considering the evidence in more than just one killing, the first time they found out that Charles Albright was accused of killing more than one person. 

But that wasn’t the only surprise for the jurors. The State believed that Albright was guilty of the 3 murders we have already discussed in great detail – the one against Shirley Williams, Susan Peterson and Mary Pratt. They also at one point in time believed that Albright was guilty of a fourth killing, and even indicted him for it. It turns out that the indictment was premature and ill-advised. Upon further investigation, Charles Albright could not have committed the 4th killing because he was in New Mexico playing softball. He even had pictures and an entire team of witnesses to prove up that alibi. Judge Tolle ruled that since the state was going to be able to get into all 3 murders, then the defense could get into the fact that the State had wrongly accused him of that 4th killing. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. 

The defense could now powerfully tell jurors that the State’s mistake in that 4th case was a symptom of a larger disease – that the whole investigation against Albright, all 4 cases – were unworthy of belief, and riddled with reasonable doubt. This was a part of their defense. The other part of their defense was Alibi. The crimes themselves were unwitnessed, and there was no real way to pinpoint an exact time of their commission. We know that the murders were committed somewhere else, and that the bodies were dumped where they were discovered. Given their appearance and condition when discovered, the forensic pathologists could only give an estimate of a window of time that the murders could have occurred. This would prove to be the battleground for the Defense’s Alibi. They sought to prove that during the windows of time that the crimes were being committed, Charles Albright was either 1.) somewhere else or 2.) did not have the means to commit the crime, specifically that he didn’t have an operational car at the time of the killings. And they told jurors they would be able to conclusively prove both of those points. Finally, the defense promised that the hairs and fibers did not match, and that they were going to call a preeminent expert to prove that.

Prosecutor Toby Shook stood first to address the jurors: Here is a slightly modified excerpt of his opening statement, delivered December 3, 1991: 

Members of the Jury, I am going to give you a brief blueprint of what we anticipate the evidence will show. This is a circumstantial evidence case, not one piece of evidence standing by itself is going to convict Charles Albright for the murder of Shirley Williams. Rather, it will be a series of different pieces of evidence, when connected together, when seen together, their cumulative effect will convict Charles Albright for the murder of Shirley Elizabeth Williams. Keep your mind open, since you are hearing a circumstantial evidence case, you will have to play detective because there won’t be just one witness explaining everything to you as you do when you have an eyewitness to an offense, you will have to piece it together in your mind. I anticipate the evidence is going to show that in the early morning hours March 19th 1991, Shirley Elizabeth Williams was a living breathing human being. She was a prostitute on the street, on Fort Worth Avenue, just a mile or two from the courthouse, addicted to drugs. You may disapprove of that lifestyle, but I think we can all agree that she did not deserve to be killed in the manner that she was. And there is no way that I could prepare you for the evidence you will hear in the manner of her death, and the gruesome details. In addition to that, you will hear other circumstantial evidence of the murder of two other prostitutes – Mary Pratt and Susan Peterson. So you will hear evidence of not just one case, but 3, and all of that evidence, the communal effect that proves the guilt of Charles Albright. A circumstantial evidence case is like a jigsaw puzzle. One piece alone from a puzzle doesn’t mean anything, but when they are all placed together, and connected together, we have a complete picture. We believe that once all the evidence is in, when all the pieces of that jigsaw puzzle are placed together, and connected, you have the complete picture in this case. That picture will be the murderer of Shirley Williams was Charles Albright.

The Court called Brad Lollar for the Defense. He would outline the two theories mentioned above – a rush to judgement, and a set of alibis. He had one more surprise for the jurors: an alternate suspected killer named Axton Schindler, the man that Albright leased his house to that was found with the prostitute named Tina. Here is a modified version of Mr. Lollar’s opening statement: 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I guess that is trial surprise number 1 – we are not trying one murder case, we are trying 3. And in effect, we are not trying 3, we are trying 4. Because I am going to bring in another case that the State has accused Charles Albright of, and then dismissed when they found out about our alibi. Now their evidence in that fourth case is the same type of evidence which they are going to try to use in the three cases. It will show the flimsiness of the State’s case. The State’s case is built on sand, and when that sand will shift, as it surely will, their house will collapse. The state is going to present for you the testimony of prostitutes, the kind that live from one injection to the next, and they are not credible. The State will present scientific evidence which they say links Charles Albright to the commission of these offenses. We will show you from our expert through the best lab in the world that the evidence does not show Albright’s guilt. The State says they have a circumstantial evidence case against Charles Albright. I beg you to pay attention to the circumstances. I will suggest to you that every piece of evidence that they present to show that he is guilty can easily be construed as something that shows he is not guilty. I cannot imagine a more violent death. You are not going to see pictures of one dead prostitute, but 4, three of which have their eyes cut out. I am going to ask that you get beyond these pictures, and get to the real issue: whether or not Charles Albright is a serial killer of prostitutes or whether he is a man unjustly and unfairly accused. I generally trust police officers, but we will show you that the police officers involved in this case were under extreme public pressure to find a suspect. Homicide detectives exaggerated evidence in order to get search and arrest warrants. There will not be one witness that places these women together with Charles Albright at the time of their deaths. Not one witness. There is no murder weapon. They have never found the murder sites. They don’t know where the murders took place. We are prepared to show you exactly where Charles Albright was at the time these women were killed. We will present his 4 alibis for your consideration, and our evidence will convince you he is not guilty. Now, one further thing, we are going to show you that there is another suspect out there by the name of Axton Schindler, and there is evidence which links him to some of the murders. The reason that we do that is because I am going to show you that the evidence which they say tends to indicate Charles Albright’s guilt, we can turn right around and say where it points to another person just as much. We hope to present Axton Schindler as a witness to you. Both sides are looking for him now. 

Mr. Lollar concluded by asking jurors to find Charles Albright not guilty.

Prosecutor Toby Shook began his case against Albright with the Shirley Williams murder in March. He next presented the killing of Mary Pratt, ending with the killing of Susan Peterson. The order of presentation of all three was essentially the same: the discovery and identity of the bodies, the cause of death and findings at autopsy, including the collection of hairs and fibers. He next outlined how Albright became a suspect, linking together what we’ve referred to as the “homicide  chain,” calling the women that you have heard about already: Cathey, Mary, Edna, Tina, Brenda and Veronica. The women shared their experiences with Albright, including where they met him, how they met him, what he made them do, and how he treated them. Their testimony tied him not only to the 3 victims in the case around the times of the offenses, but also the locations where the killings were most likely carried out. They also proved that he not only knew about the dumpsite locations, but had frequented them, added to the fact that he owned property immediately adjacent to the field identified by Tina that contained Shirley William’s raincoat and the blue blanket.

Shook called Gary O’Pry, the crime scene investigator who collected the evidence that contained the hairs and fibers that were analyzed in the case: the raincoat, the blue blanket in the field, the utility brush, and the 2 blankets from Albrights’ truck. O’Pry and FBI Agent Shannon also recovered the unique aluminum jacketed bullets from Albright’s properties on Cotton Valley and El Dorado, the same type of ammunition with similar characteristics recovered during autopsy.

Now that jurors knew the locations of the various pieces of evidence, it was time for the forensic scientists to give jurors their findings. Charles Linch and Chester Blythe shared their findings with the jurors – those findings I have already shared with you – the findings that connected Albright to the victims, the victims to Albright’s property, and some of Albright’s property to the victims.  Shook finished with what he described to me as his most interesting and fascinating witness: Jud Ray, the Supervisor for the National Center for the analysis of Violent Crime.

We heard what Jud Ray had to say in the first episode of this case.  He analyzed for the jurors the value of the victimology, the environment of the Crime, the meaning of “comfort zone.” He also talked about the separate and distinct principles of motive versus a mode of operation. In this case, the unique idiosyncratic motive was undoubtedly the postmortem mutilation and preoccupation with the victims’ eyes. He ultimately gave the jurors 2 conclusions to wrap up the State’s case.

The first is Mr. Ray’s opinion that although there are a number of cases involving mutilation after death, there are none with the precision type of cutting of the eyes like in this one. “It is therefore the work of one man, a lone individual, preoccupied with this kind of depravity. The eyes were taken for a particular reason: to relive and fantasize the kill.” Second, Mr. Ray talked about the VICAP Database. VICAP stands for the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program. The database was a national database of murders maintained by the FBI, and had been around for some years. Killings that are sufficiently unique are flagged and logged into the database by their location and type. Unique killings like Mary Pratt’s, Shirley Williams, and Susan Peterson’s would have certainly qualified. Mr. Ray told jurors that he continuously checked the database, including on the morning of his testimony. The jurors were told that Albright was arrested in March of 1991, and had been continuously in custody ever since. No killings involving the removal of the eyes – Enucleation – had been reported to VICAP in the entire country ever since Albright was in custody. Jurors therefore could choose to believe that these unique murders stopped because the real killer stopped killing – even though they had occurred 3 months in a row and had been done more efficiently each time – or because they had the right man in jail – Charles Albright.

Want of Opportunity is Want of Power.2Burrill, Alexander M. A Treatise on the Nature, Principles and Rules of Circumstantial Evidence (1868). P. 379.

The State rested after having called 32 witnesses, their case culminating with Jud Ray from the FBI. In our first case study – Tex and Charlie – we discussed that there were only 5 ways to defend a murder case: 1 – an Alibi defense; 2 – I’ll call it the shoddy proof defense, meaning that prosecutions’ proof is simply not convincing enough, the evidence is too weak, or that there are innocent alternative explanations for the evidence therefore creating reasonable doubt; 3 – that the defendant lacked intent or premeditation – an accidental or reckless killing for example; The 4th is self defense – or defense of a third person, or defense of a person’s house; finally, number 5 is that the defendant did commit murder, but is insane. Tex unsuccessfully chose numbers 3 and 5.3The full discussion of Tex’s Defenses is available here. Brad Lollar’s defense centered around number 1 and 2 – alibi and that the proof was wholly insufficient of a conviction. He set about to prove that Albright did not have the means or the opportunity to commit the murders. He also set about to prove that the investigation that led to Albright, the one that relied on documented lying, drug-addicted prostitutes was not to be believed, and that the hair and fiber evidence was weak, and not nearly as discriminatory as the state’s witnesses believed it to be. He set about to prove those his alibi and shoddy proof defense through 20 witnesses. First up, the alibi defense of Charlie Albright.

The first part of his alibi defense centered around his work schedule (Opportunity); the second around the broken down cars that didn’t work (Means). First, as we have mentioned before, Charles Albright worked for the Dallas Times Herald delivering newspapers door to door. Through his bosses, and work records, the defense proved the usual timeline of Albrights’ work schedule. On the days he delivered the papers, his boss would call his house to make sure he was awake at 2:30 A.M. Sometimes they talked, sometimes they didn’t. Dixie added that she was a light sleeper and would wake up each time he left. From his house on El Dorado, he would drive to the Jefferson Davis Shopping center and pick up the papers, then go to the area of Dallas in which he was responsible for delivering the papers. The rules were that he had to have the papers delivered by 6 AM during the week and 7 during the weekends. He never missed a time, according to those work records, and there were no complaints from any of the customers on his route that their papers – the ones that Albright delivered – were late. On December 13th, 1990 Mary Pratt’s body was discovered, the Medical Examiner estimated that the time of her death was approximately 3 to 4 AM. The records indicated that Albright received a call from his boss at 2:41 and arrived at the Shopping center 30 minutes later. The Defense therefore stated that Albright couldn’t have abducted Mrs. Pratt, killed her, enucleated her, dumped her body of Beckley View, gotten the newspapers from the shopping center, and delivered them without drawing a complaint.  

 Next, the defense took on the killing of Susan Peterson on February 10th, 1991. The medical examiner put her estimated time of death at between 1:45 and 3:45. Phone records proved that Albrights’ Dallas Times Herald boss called him at 3:27 A.M., and the defense contended that he answered the call, and left to meet her. Also around that time frame, Albright had informed his bosses that he did not want to work for them anymore and was training his replacement, a woman named Glenda. According to Glenda, during her training period, which lasted the month of February, she was with Albright. Records showed that she worked that night, February 10th, from the time that they arrived to pick up the papers sometime after 3:27 AM when the call was made until the papers were delivered around 7, and she recalls that they even  had breakfast thereafter. Obviously, she testified, Albright didn’t kill and enucleate any prostitutes in her presence, and could not have done so while they were delivering papers. Further, witnesses testified that Albright and Dixie attended church the morning after breakfast with Glenda, and that he was driving a friends Gray nova, and was acting completely normal unlike someone who had committed murder hours earlier.

 Finally, the defense turned their case to proving a different type of alibi for the killing of Shirley Williams on March 19th, 1991, at around 5 AM. This type of alibi is not necessarily proof that the defendant was in another place at the time, but that the defendant did not possess the ability to get there. For Albright’s witnesses, Albright did not have a working car at all. His pick-up truck had broken down long ago, sometime around the middle of December, and the other cars he had – those old beat up ones in the driveway – hadn’t worked in months or even years before that, all except for one: A station wagon. And the defense had proof that the Station Wagon was in the shop, having just broken down on March 18th at La Calle Doce, a famous Mexican restaurant in Oak Cliff. The defense produced tow truck records proving that it was towed, and in the shop. They also called a neighbor who testified that he took Dixie to work because they didn’t have a car that worked. Since the commission of this crime required a car or truck, and since Albright didn’t have one, Albright must be not guilty of this killing.

 A few years ago, I stumbled across a treatise written in 1868 by Alexander Burrill called, “A Treatise on the Nature, Principles and Rules of Circumstantial Evidence.” It’s free, the copyright having expired long ago. Burrill studied hundreds of cases, mostly homicides, extrapolating inculpatory and exculpatory principles, organizing them by subject. If you were to read Texas criminal cases for about the first 100 years or so of our jurisprudence, you’d see it referenced often. It’s easy to read and brilliant in it’s simplicity.4Click to read more about Burrill’s Treatise and another “Nifty Tool for the Criminal Practitioner.” In section 30, he discusses the relative strengths and weaknesses of the defense of alibi. Here is a slightly modified excerpt that frames the alibi battleground in the Albright case far better than I ever could: 

If the time and place has been fixed to a particular hour and minute, and if the accused can show that at that same particular time he was elsewhere, the conclusion is unavoidable and necessary that he could not possibly have committed the crime. But the proof of the time of a murder is rarely made with that degree of exactness. A space emerging between two consecutive times is most often the case. As such, if an interval of time is unaccounted for, and it is found that the criminal might have committed his crime during that time, the alibi defense is deprived of his strength. Therefore, the defense of alibi necessarily consists of, and must withstand scrutiny of, it’s two major components: number 1: the distance between the two places and number 2: the rapidity with which the party could have moved from one to the other. The relationship between these two components is key.5Burrill, Alexander M. A Treatise on the Nature, Principles, and Rules of Circumstantial Evidence (1868). P. 514. 

So, from Burrill, we know that the greater the distance the more time needed to travel, and vice versa. Inherent, too, in the concept of rapidity are the means available to the defendant. 5 miles is pretty far and takes quite a bit of time to walk, but not that far to drive if you have access to a car. Finally, the defense of alibi is never to be considered in a vacuum. It is constantly measured by jurors against the other evidence they have already heard.

One good thing Albright had for his alibi defense was the fact that it worked before. What was also very helpful was the fact that the Defense – not the State – proved that alibi. The State missed it, giving the defense the argument that if they missed it once, they could’ve missed it again. We are talking about the 4th murder, the one that was dismissed, the one where the alibi of Albright playing softball in New Mexico was rock solid. The distance was too great and Albright had no way to travel rapidly enough for him to play softball in New Mexico and kill in Dallas. On the other hand, though, the fact that the State dismissed the one but did not dismiss the other 3 showed that they were willing to admit their error when they believed they made one. And since they didn’t, perhaps the alibis for these three killings was not to be believed.

The prosecution set out to defeat Albright’s alibi, poking as many holes as they could. First, you will recall that the Medical Examiners cannot give an exact time of death – it is impossible. They can give an estimate of the times of death, but that estimation is only as accurate within an hour – and even then, the medical examiner will admit that those 60 minutes cannot be specifically relied on. This gave the prosecution some wiggle room. To establish the distance, prosecutors used a map, proving how close in distance the dumping grounds, the paper route, and the defendant’s properties were. As for the distance relevant to the Shirley Williams murder, the defendant’s house off El Dorado, the paper routes, and the Star and Avalon Motels were all within a mile or two of each other. Most importantly, also within that area is the field in which investigators found The raincoat and blue blanket, the same field Albright frequented with a number of the prostitutes we’ve heard from. As for the murders of Mary Pratt and Susan Peterson, the prosecution proved that the locations where those bodies were recovered were within a half a mile of the Cotton Valley address, the house that Albright leased to Axton Schindler – the one that he was known to visit, and the house adjacent to the field where Albright allegedly attacked Tina. And Schindler had been eliminated as a suspect because, although investigators went all over Ft. Worth avenue showing pictures of Albright and Schindler, no one picked out Schindler. 

FBI Agent Shannon drove to and timed the duration of the travels between these locations, establishing that Albright had plenty of time to travel between these short distances by car during the unaccounted for times. They called Ellen Hick, the director of transplant services from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. She estimated first that the process of enucleation would take about 15 minutes at the most for someone who knew what they were doing – and in her opinion, the killer was getting better, cleaner, more precise, less messy with each victim. 

As for the access to the means of transportation, access to the cars, they proved that Albright was driving a gray Renault in March and that he bought gas – a lot of gas – on Dixie’s credit card. Why did he need all that gas?  Dixie had no explanation for why he had to buy that much gas given what she knew about his daily habits and life. Turns out that Albright was driving around a lot more than Dixie knew about. 

What about the phone calls from Albright’s Dallas Times Herald boss named Sonija Easley – supposedly reminding him that to be at work at around 3 A.M.? Those calls were no more than a minute, making it entirely possible that the phone rang and rang to no answer, or it rang to an answering machine, or that Albright’s boss did have a short conversation with Albright. The problem is she didn’t remember talking to him in December or February, and he didn’t work there in March. As for the December call, it was only 23 seconds, and the February call was only 53 seconds, neither of which affirmatively proves a conversation actually took place. The prosecutors also pointed out that it took only 1.5 hours for Albright to have made all of the deliveries on his route, but there was no way to tell when those deliveries were made, or even that they were made without a break in between, or in what order.  

And what about Glenda, the replacement Albright was training? She said she worked with him on every Sunday in February, and that it usually lasted from 3:00 to 6:00 A.M. She also said that Albright was late for work one of those Sundays, but she couldn’t remember which one. She didn’t work with him in December or March, so she couldn’t offer anything in the way of alibi there. For the alibi in February killing, Dixie said that he didn’t have a car that worked – but prosecutors had a statement from a friend of Albrights named Willie Upshaw, indicating that he did in fact have a car, that it was working during the times of the murder.

The distance was close enough and Albright had the means: cars that worked. Considering the two components of the defense of alibi – distance and rapidity –  the jurors had plenty of evidence to conclude that Albright had enough time to commit the murders and to deliver the papers. 

But the value of Willie Upshaw’s testimony was yet to come, and it did much more than weaken the alibi defense.

Dixie said she always woke up when he left. Willie Upshaw testified however, that sometime around Christmas of 1990 – he remembers Christmas because Albright’s Christmas tree was up – he went to deliver papers with him. He got to Albright’s at around 2:30 or 3, and Albright made him some coffee. Albright wanted to show him a new toy he had. It is undisputed that Albright had a silver .44 Magnum with a long barrel. It is also undisputed that the long barreled .44 recovered by the police was not the murder weapon, per forensic analysis. Upshaw said, however, that on this night, Albright showed him a second gun: “This one had a baby” he told Upshaw. It looked exactly the same, but had a shorter barrel. Forensic experts testified that based on the description Upshaw gave and the fact that it was a shorter barrel but looked exactly like the other gun, and given the type of ammunition used in the murder, it was possible – not absolute, but possible – that Albright possessed a weapon that could have been the murder weapon. That gun – the shorter one described by Upshaw – was never recovered in any of the properties that Albright owned or used, and investigators looked exhaustively. Upshaw’s testimony was powerful for a couple of reasons: 1. Dixie didn’t always wake up when Albright left for work; 2. Albright possessed a gun that could possibly have been the murder weapon; 3. that possible murder weapon was now missing – either Albright never had it in the first place, the police didn’t find it after an exhaustive search, or he was motivated to get rid of it.

The second part of the defense’s case focused on rebutting the State’s hair and fiber evidence by calling a leading expert in the field. There are a few effective ways to cross examine an expert witness: 1. to directly challenge the merits of their opinion itself, as if the cross examiner is also an expert; 2. challenge the experts experience and credentials; 3. challenge the process of preparation in this case (did they review all of the evidence they could have reviewed, or only a few things); 4. adopt the expert as your own by highlighting the opinions that help your own case. 

The first is usually ill-advised for two reasons. First, the expert is not going to change his mind. Second, the scientist knows the materials far better than the lawyer. In this case, the State wisely stayed away from directly challenging the defense’s opinions. As for the credentials in this case, the defense’s expert was imminently qualified, so they stayed away from that, too. The cross examination by prosecutor Dan Hagood instead focused on the process of preparation and adopting the expert as his own. And as happens sometimes in a trial to the well-prepared cross examiner, Hagood heard the defense witness make a monumentally fatal mistake that completely undermined his credibility: the expert misread his own notes. 

On direct examination, the expert said that there were not 4 head hairs on the raincoat at all; that the State’s expert was completely wrong because there were not 4 head hairs. There was only one, and that this major discrepancy helped exonerate Albright. Hagood asked him where he got those numbers. The expert replied, from the State’s report. Hagood pressed him: Where in the State’s report did it say that? The expert looked and looked again-and did not find it. In a very dramatic moment, the expert said this: “that is a major error and I’m sorry for that on my part.” After all of that, Hagood set about adopting the expert as his own, by highlighting certain other findings that did, in fact, still tie Albright to the victims or crime scene: the defense’s own expert said that the pubic hair from Shirley Williams’ hand and from the back of her neck was similar to Albright’s, that 3 of the hairs on the blanket were similar to the Albright’s, and that although not all 5 hairs on the blue blanket were similar to Shirley Williams, 2 of the 5 were. For good measure, the State called a rebuttal expert from the FBI, fortifying the hair and fiber evidence in their favor. All told, even if jurors believed in some of the contradictions, there was still an overwhelming amount of evidence tying Albright to these crimes and crime scenes.

Although jurors were never lawfully asked whether they thought Albright had a murderous character, jurors always intuitively if not subconsciously wrestle with these questions as they listen to the evidence: is the person on trial capable of doing this crime? Does he or she have the mind and character for killing? Is he or she the type of person that could do this? The State had a 50 something year-old-man who spoke different languages, sang at weddings, played softball and was beloved by his friends. Hardly the obvious profile of a serial killer. The defense contended over and over throughout the trial that the prostitutes were all liars and completely unworthy of belief. So throughout the trial, the State artfully and subtly sketched for the jurors Albrights deceitful and fraudulent character.

We’ll start with Dixie, Albright’s wife. She was under the impression that Albright was loyal and faithful. However, during the search of their house, investigators found condoms in various places, and she said they didn’t use them. The implication is that Albright needed them, and the State’s position is that he needed them for his trips to Fort Worth Avenue. But what proof was there that any of the prostitutes ever had any contact with Albright in the first place? First, many different ones picked him out of lineups. Second, they were able to accurately describe his red and white truck, his station wagon, and some of the contents in those vehicles: blankets, tools and boxes. Third, they accurately said he told them that he traveled back and forth to Arkansas.  Finally, they said he told them he did carpentry work – all true, and the only way they could have known those things was if he told them.

Remember Glenda, Albright’s replacement on the paper route? She admitted that Albright told her on numerous occasions that although he was in a relationship, he was trying to get out of it. He gave Glenda gifts nearly everyday, leading her to believe that he was going to start a relationship with her. He even kept going on paper routes with her even after he was getting paid to do so. Albright told her that his girlfriend lived on Lake Cliff; he didn’t say that they lived together. This would prove to create an awkward situation. Glenda made an unannounced visit to Albright’s one day, “he seemed surprised to see me,” she said. “acting as if he didn’t recognize me. Dixie was there. It was awkward.”

Recall that the Defense called the owner of an Exxon service station to talk about the repair receipts in their quest to prove that Albright didn’t have access to a car. On cross, the State pointed out that not only did Albright always use Dixies’ credit card, Albright led the owner to believe that his name was Dixie. That’s how the owner knew him, as Dixie. Albright never corrected him.

Finally, there was a woman named Martha who worked at a sporting goods shop in the same mall where Dixie worked. The State used her testimony to prove that Albright did have a car on the days surrounding the murder. They also used her testimony to shed some more light on Albright’s character. One day in 1990, Albright came in and started up a conversation with her. He had a charming disarming manner about him, introducing himself with a business card as a solar powered home builder, and builder of geodesic homes. The card had as the business address 1035 El Dorado – the house in which he lived with Dixie. He eventually started coming there regularly, bringing her little gifts, cards and flowers. Sometimes he would wear a suit. She explained to him that she was having trouble with her ex-husband. He told her that his relationship was not working out, and he was going to end it soon. They were going to move to Duncanville together so her daughter could go to a good school. Albright also gave her a valentines day card in 1991 – just days prior to Susan Peterson’s killing. Of Course, Dixie had no idea any of this was happening with Martha or Glenda. 

The belief Dixie had in Albright’s good and loyal character was because he led her to believe it – continually deceiving her into thinking their relationship together was something that it was very obviously not. Ultimately, the jury was shown that Albright was not who he appeared to be to those closest to him.

 After 53 witnesses for the State and 29 for the defense, the lawyers argued their sides, and the jury had the case. At 11:30 A.M. on December 17th, 1991, almost exactly 1 year after the first killing, the Jury found Charles Albright guilty of Murder. That same day, they sentenced him to the maximum allowed by law – Life in prison and a 10,000$ fine.

In the midst of the dangerous and sordid environment of drugs and prostitution on Fort Worth Avenue emerged a serial killer with a fascination for human eyes. From a field in Southern Dallas County, to a house off El Dorado, near the Star and Avalon Motels, and from the microscopes of the crime lab at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences, we have this, the murderous design of Charles Albright.

The Murderous Design of Charles Albright

First, by identifying, and studying the similarities from the Subjects of the offense – the victims, the 3 prostitutes, or Victimology as Jud Ray referred to them – we can determine that the killer must have: 1. known or been associated with all 3 women, and therefore must have known some of the same people they did; 2. known or frequented the area where the women worked, in this case Fort Worth Avenue; 3. had some animus towards either the women in particular or their status as prostitutes. Albright told Brenda that he “hated all the whores” and that he was going to “kill all of them”; he also warned Mary, “don’t ever fuck me over, you’ll be sorry.”

Second, Albright had familiarity and access to the locations of the crime scenes; they were all within his “Comfort Zones.” First, the abduction and dump sites: he was identified by numerous witnesses as frequenting Ft. Worth Avenue, including having access in that area to the victims on the nights or in very close temporal proximity to the killings. The dump sites – those places where the bodies were dumped – were close in proximity to the house where he lived, or the house that he owned and leased to Axton Schindler. He was also identified as being violent in a field with one of the prostitutes, the field with the blue blanket and the yellow raincoat, both of which had hair and fiber evidence against Albright.

The method of killing in conjunction with possession of peculiar instrumentalities of the crime point circumstantially to Albright as well. The aluminum bullets were unique, and Albright was proved to either have possession of those types of bullets, or possession of the type of gun that could shoot those types of bullets. While there is undeniable proof that Albright once had that type of gun, there is also proof that he no longer had it, leading one to believe that he had a good reason to get rid of it: he didn’t want to be caught possessing a murder weapon.

 Fourth, and most powerfully, we have connections between the defendant and peculiar objects associated with these crimes. This is the forensic evidence in the form of hairs and fibers, tied him to the dump sites, the killing field, his truck, his house, and to the bodies of the victims themselves. While no single hair or fiber conclusively proves that Albright deposited them while in the course of killing or dumping the bodies, the power of frequency and reciprocity compel that conclusion when considered collectively. In addition to the existence of those hairs, the location in which some were found – those in the vacuum and in the utility brush – indicate that Albright knew that his killing site might be discovered, and that he knew if investigators properly analyzed it, they would find evidence against him. He simply fell into the trap that some criminals fall into: he bet that he had hidden the items better than he did. He bet that the investigators wouldn’t look in the vacuum bag or utility brush. 

Finally, we have a peculiar inculpatory statement made by a defendant. We know from his own mouth that once arrested, he knew he “really fucked up this time.” It is not enough, standing alone, to conclusively prove that he was guilty. But a statement like that is one not normally made by an innocent person.

 The combination of this physical evidence was strong enough to overcome Albright’s Alibi defense. Given the location of the offenses, the location of the dump sites, the estimated times of the offenses, and the probable time the commission of these crimes took, Albright had plenty of time to commit all 3 killings. Defeating the alibi defense also served to reveal Albright as a devious and untrustworthy person, one who led a double life: the nice, humble softball player on the one hand, the violent frequenter of prostitutes on the other.

 All of this evidence was sufficient in the eyes of the jurors to conclude that Albright killed and mutilated these 3 women. That conviction stood the test of appeals, and Albright remained in prison until his death on August 22, 2020.

But what about the fascination with the eyes? This is, after all, the motive for the killings, called ritualistic behavior by Jud Ray. The behavior indicates that the lone man who committed these crimes was preoccupied with this kind of depravity; that he wanted to relive and fantasize the kill. Did Albright have the knowledge and skill to enucleate these women? Admittedly, the case the jurors had did not specifically reveal many connective ties between Albright and this bizarre motive. But, as we’ll see, from a very young age, Albright learned taxidermy, and throughout his life, showed a strong fondness and affinity for eyes.

In the next episode, we’ll sit down and interview Skip Hollandsworth. He’s an Executive Editor with Texas Monthly, who interviewed Charles Albright extensively soon after the trial. He learned more about Albright’s background, upbringing and makeup than anyone else, and he’ll tell us all about it.

-End of Episode 3-