By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Simons met with Kelley and told her Deeb was a suspect in the murders. Later that night, Kelley called Simons at home to say Deeb had admitted being responsible for the murders. Known for making outrageous comments for shock value, Deeb also told Kelley he was kidding.
Simons arrested Deeb and charged him with the triple homicide. After Deeb passed a three-hour polygraph examination, Chief Scott ordered Simons to release him. Taunted by his fellow officers, Simons resigned from the police department and joined the McLennan County Sheriff's Department as a night jailer, where he continued to pursue the investigation. This was a step down for the 17-year police-department veteran, but there was an upside. The job put Simons in direct, unsupervised contact with inmates. Before long, he was capitalizing on these inmates' eagerness to share information on the murders--truthful or not--in exchange for special treatment.
Simons was sure Deeb masterminded the murders and worked out an elaborate theory that Deeb had hired someone to kill Kelley, but that the killer mistook Jill Montgomery for Kelley.
Simons came to this conclusion after he learned that the convenience-store operator had taken out a $20,000 accidental injury policy on Kelley, who named him as the beneficiary. Simons' murder-for-hire theory had several flaws, however. Deeb paid for similar policies on another employee, plus one for himself and his partner. These policies were cheaper than workman's compensation, Muneer recently explained to the Dallas Observer. And the insurance policy did not pay in the case of murder or suicide, according to Deeb's insurance agent. Besides, Deeb did not need the money--his father was a well-compensated executive with IBM in Saudi Arabia.
Simons held firm to his theory. Now all he had to do was prove it and find the people who actually carried out the murders.
Shortly after he went to work at the jail, Simons thought he had found his culprits. In September 1982, David Wayne Spence and Gilbert Melendez were arrested and jailed for assaulting a young kid with a knife.
Simons thought Spence and Melendez fit the profile of the lake murderers, though neither their names nor descriptions of them and their vehicles ever came up during the previous investigation.
Carlton Stowers, who researched his book for two years, says, "David Spence was pure evil." Pardo insists Spence was not the monster he was portrayed to be. "He was a thug and certainly not the kind of guy you would want to be dating your daughter," Pardo says. "But he was not a killer." He was no angel either. He abused alcohol and had a previous conviction for holding up a Fort Worth convenience store with a hatchet.
Still, there was precious little physical evidence linking Spence and Gilbert Melendez, and Melendez's brother, Tony, whom Simons also suspected, to the Lake Waco murders. Strands of hair, including pubic hair that likely came from the killers, were found on the victims. But an FBI analysis determined that none of the hairs came from Spence or the Melendez brothers.
And there was another problem: In order for Simon's murder-for-hire/mistaken-identity theory to fit Spence, he would have had to mistake Jill Montgomery for Gail Kelley. Although the two women resembled one another, Spence was familiar with what Kelley looked like. He and Kelley had spent time together at Deeb's store, because Spence's girlfriend worked there too.
Truman Simons spent his evenings at the jail talking with inmates in his office, where he allowed them to use the telephone and gave them cigarettes. He let it be known to the inmates that Spence and Gilbert Melendez were suspects in the Lake Waco murders. He eventually helped lay the foundation for the state's case against Spence by extracting statements from these inmates--and eventually from prison inmates as well--saying that they either overheard Spence talking about having killed and tortured the teenagers or that he had confessed his guilt to them outright.
At the same time, Simon told Gilbert Melendez that Spence and Deeb had confessed and implicated him in the murders. This was a lie.
"Simons played a lot of mind games," says Schonemann. "He made it clear that there was a deal to be had. If you didn't get there first, you were going to death row."
In the spring of 1983, Gilbert Melendez finally gave Simons the confession he was seeking. Melendez would later tell lawyer Schonemann that he was afraid if he didn't falsely confess, the state would make a case against him anyway and give him the death penalty. Before he gave the confession, Melendez said, Simons and Vic Feazell, the newly elected McLennan County district attorney, offered him the possibility of immunity from prosecution. (They later confirmed this in depositions.)
Melendez's confession was riddled with errors. He originally wrote that the trio had raped the girls and murdered all three teens in Koehne Park, then took them to Speegleville Park in the back of Spence's white station wagon. When Simons discovered that Spence didn't own that station wagon until weeks after the murders, Melendez wrote another draft--the second of five he would eventually compose during the next two years--saying the bodies had been loaded into Spence's gold Malibu. The FBI dismantled and thoroughly analyzed the car and found no trace of the victims.