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

There was, however, bad news: Blood samples taken from Wardrip after his 1986 arrest had been destroyed following his sentencing. His DNA profile was included in no law enforcement data bank.

"Find him," Macha said. "Watch him for a few days, and see what he's doing." Then he added, "And let's figure a way to get a sample of his DNA."

They agreed that the best method of securing the needed specimen without alerting Wardrip to what they were doing would be through use of the "abandoned interest" law; rather than seek a subpoena that would force him to provide a blood sample, Little would begin following him, hoping that he would toss away a cigarette butt, a soft drink bottle, or a cup that would yield enough of his saliva to be tested.

Faryion Wardrip looked the part of a drifter when he confessed to killing Tina Kimbrew in 1986.
Faryion Wardrip looked the part of a drifter when he confessed to killing Tina Kimbrew in 1986.
Thirteen years after he confessed to killing Kimbrew, he would stand trial for four additional murders.
Pat Stowers
Thirteen years after he confessed to killing Kimbrew, he would stand trial for four additional murders.

Casually dressed and driving a borrowed car, Little immediately began a routine of leaving home before dawn so he could arrive in Olney early enough to track Wardrip's routine. Daily, Little would watch as he left home, being driven to work by his wife each morning shortly before 7. The investigator was there, ready to follow them back home, when he got off work at 3:30 in the afternoon. He followed the couple to church services on Wednesday evening and watched from a safe distance as they sat in their front yard, talking with neighbors. And after five days the investigator was feeling the heavy weight of frustration. No opportunity to achieve his goal had presented itself.

On the sixth day of his surveillance, his efforts paid off. The outpost he'd chosen from which to monitor Wardrip's workday was a cinder-block washateria just across the highway from Olney Screen & Door. In an effort to blend with the in-and-out crowd arriving to wash and dry clothing, Little had even borrowed a basket of clothes his wife had left in the laundry room. By mid-morning he had washed and dried the same load several times.

Shortly before 10 a.m., he saw Wardrip's wife arrive in her green Honda and watched as Wardrip came into the parking lot to spend his morning break with her. Clinched in his teeth was a package of cheese crackers; in his hand was a pasteboard cup of coffee.

Quickly piling his laundry into a basket, Little walked outside as the Wardrips sat in the car, talking. "At one point," Little would later recall, "I thought about just walking over, reaching into the passenger window, grabbing the cup out of his hand, and running with it." Patience, however, won out.

He watched as Wardrip finally got out of the car, walked back into the shipping yard, and tossed the cup into a nearby trash barrel.

Stuffing a dip of snuff into his mouth as he ran across the highway, Little approached Wardrip. "Hey, buddy," he said, "you got a cup I can borrow?"

"A cup?" Wardrip replied.

"Yeah, a spit cup."

Wardrip nodded in the direction of the nearby barrel. "Help yourself," he said.

By late that afternoon, the elated investigator had delivered the cup to GeneScreen, a forensic laboratory in Dallas that specialized in DNA testing.

"The only way there won't be a match," he confidently told lab technician Judy Floyd, "is if I somehow picked up the wrong cup out of that barrel."

The following week he received a call that assured him he'd made no mistake. Floyd said she had performed three tests on the cup and the evidence swabs taken from the bodies of Terry Sims and Toni Gibbs. She could not, she said, exclude Faryion Wardrip as the contributor of the sperm found in the murder victims.

After a decade and a half, the time had finally come to get an arrest warrant for the man Little was convinced was responsible for the deaths of the three young women. Barry Macha, amazed that less than a month had passed since his investigator had begun work on the case, quickly agreed.

On February 13, 1999, a crisp and sunny day before he was scheduled to read Scriptures during Sunday communion services, Faryion Wardrip drove to Wichita Falls at the request of his parole officer. The purpose of the trip, he had been led to believe, was to discuss removal of the ankle monitor that had so restricted his freedom. So confident was Wardrip that he would soon be free to go where he pleased that he'd confided to several co-workers that he planned to leave on a short vacation the following week.

Instead, he was met by John Little and taken to the district attorney's office.

There, Little and Paul Smith, an investigator with the neighboring Archer County distict attorney's office who had worked the Gibbs homicide, launched into a pre-arranged interview. With DNA linking Wardrip to two of the murders, they hoped to lure him into a discussion of Ellen Blau, the case for which they had no forensic evidence.

Wardrip repeatedly insisted he had not known the victim. "Look," he told the investigators, "you know I've been to prison, you know what I did." With that he began describing the remorse he felt over the death of Tina Kimbrew. "It's a tragedy I'll never get over; a terrible accident. I'd never hurt anybody before that, not even my first wife."

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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.