Burden of proof

Serial killer Faryion Wardrip would have gotten away with murder if bricklayer-turned-investigator John Little hadn't stolen his coffee cup

Police Chief Curtis Harrelson, then briefing the media on the investigation, said there did not appear to be any connection between Kimbrew's death and those of the other Wichita Falls women.

But, three days after that briefing, a sergeant in the Galveston Police Department received an almost incoherent call from a guest in a shore-side motel who said that he wanted to confess to a homicide he'd committed in Wichita Falls. "I just wanted to come here and see the ocean before I killed myself," the sobbing caller said. He had walked the beach for two days before stopping into a Wal-Mart to purchase a knife, he said. But, he'd been unable to go through with his planned suicide and wanted to turn himself in.

The caller's name was Faryion Edward Wardrip.

Investigator John Little was the first person to link one man to the three unsolved Wichita Falls murders.
Investigator John Little was the first person to link one man to the three unsolved Wichita Falls murders.
Faryion Wardrip had lived or worked near each of the victims in the unsolved cases. He briefly lived in the same apartment building, above, as Ellen Blau.
Faryion Wardrip had lived or worked near each of the victims in the unsolved cases. He briefly lived in the same apartment building, above, as Ellen Blau.

Returned to Wichita Falls, he pleaded guilty to the murder of Tina Kimbrew in exchange for a 35-year prison sentence.

It was 11 years later, when it became clear that Wardrip was going to be paroled, that Kimbrew's parents finally gave up their ongoing campaign to keep him behind bars and, instead, agreed to participate in a new and unique Victim Offender Mediation/Dialogue program being run by the Victim Services division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Designed to benefit those troubled by past crimes, the revolutionary program afforded family members an opportunity to question an inmate about anything from details of the crime to motive to plans for his future. The only criterion was that both the perpetrator and the victim's family members had to agree to participate. Wardrip, a trouble-free prisoner and self-avowed born-again Christian, said he was willing.

So impressed was Tina's father, Robert Kimbrew, that at the end of the emotional five-hour session he extended his hand to the apparently shaken Wardrip and said, "If, when you get out of here and find yourself headed for trouble again and have run out of other people to turn to for help, you call me."

A portrait of contrition, the prisoner repeatedly insisted to his visitor that he'd never committed a violent act before and that it had only been his addiction to drugs that triggered the tragic death of Tina. Later, he would say, "I wanted to meet Mr. Kimbrew so I could tell him how sorry I was--that I live every day in memory of Tina. She was my friend."

He had even asked the father if he would mind his visiting Tina's grave when he was released from prison.

When he later met with Tina's mother, Wardrip had tearfully promised to continue with his Bible studies.

Finally paroled in December of 1997, Wardrip moved to Olney, a short drive south of Wichita Falls, where, with the help of his father, he managed to find employment at Olney Door & Screen. Soon he was an active participant in the Hamilton Street Church of Christ, singing in the choir and teaching a Sunday-school class. Divorced from his first wife since 1986, he soon married a woman he'd met at church.

Required to wear an electronic ankle monitor and allowed away from home only to work and attend church, Wardrip made no complaints about the conditions of his freedom, nor did he try to keep secret the fact that he'd been in prison. The reasons he gave for his incarceration, however, were patently false. To some, he told a story of being charged with vehicular homicide in the aftermath of an unavoidable accident. For others he fabricated a story of a drunken barroom brawl during which a man he was arguing with fell, hit his head, and died.

All that, the scripture-quoting Wardrip insisted, was in another life. That was the old Faryion Wardrip. Soon, he told fellow workers, he would begin studying for the ministry.

Though in truth a high-school dropout as a teenager in his hometown of Marion, Indiana, he constantly bragged of stellar academic achievements. He wove elaborate tales from his days in the military, failing to mention that he had been discharged dishonorably when caught smoking marijuana.

As a family member would later say: "Faryion is one of those people who would climb a tree to tell a lie when it was just as easy to stand on the ground and tell the truth."

Soon those outside Olney, Texas, would learn of his lying and manipulations.

John Little entered his boss' office, making little effort to mask his excitement, and slid onto the couch that was the only uncluttered spot in the district attorney's workplace. "What would you say," he asked Macha, "if I told you that I think I've got the guy we're looking for, that I can put him in the middle of everything that happened--and that he's already been to prison for one murder?"

Macha silently studied the investigator's face as he outlined Wardrip's proximity to each of the murdered women. Little had tracked his checkered employment record, learning that he had quit his job at Wichita General just four days after Gibbs' disappearance, and had contacted utility companies to verify his residences at the time the crimes were committed. He also noted that there had been a telling entry into the report written by the officers who had driven Wardrip from Galveston back to Wichita Falls following his confession to the Kimbrew murder. During idle conversation with the officers, Wardrip had made an offhand remark that "he knew Ellen Blau."

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My name is Jeni Gibbs, niece of Toni Gibbs. My family believes that justice shall be served and that being stated that the death penalty be served.