Death in the Desert

Gary Patterson flew to El Paso for a job interview--and never returned. It took nearly two years for the Texas Rangers and Waco police to unravel the bizarre web of lies and treachery that led to his disappearance.

Excited by the seductive new opportunity but not wishing to jeopardize his job with Brazos Environmental, Patterson told only his girlfriend, his parents, and a few trusted friends at the office of his trip. On the morning of his scheduled departure--Saturday, May 3, 1997--he left his young daughter, Crystal, with his parents and took a 7:30 a.m. American Eagle flight out of Waco.

After reaching El Paso, he placed a brief call from the airport to his parents' home a few minutes before noon, Waco time, to let them know he had arrived.

Then Gary Patterson, lured into a world of bitter family hatred, international wrongdoing, and false identities, vanished.

Gary Patterson thought his flight to El Paso marked the beginning of the new life. Instead, it was the beginning of the end.
Gary Patterson thought his flight to El Paso marked the beginning of the new life. Instead, it was the beginning of the end.
From top, Sammy Urick, Theodore "Ted" Young, and Lisa Urick conspired to trick Patterson into leaving the safety of Waco so he could be murdered.
From top, Sammy Urick, Theodore "Ted" Young, and Lisa Urick conspired to trick Patterson into leaving the safety of Waco so he could be murdered.

During the next 15 months, a bizarre and Byzantine investigation--involving the Waco police, the Texas Rangers, the FBI, a California private investigator, the U.S. Marshals office, the Secret Service, the State Department, Border Patrol, the government of Honduras, and even Interpol--sought to piece together a motive for the disappearance and determine what had happened to Patterson.

Yet it began as a routine missing person's case, filed the Monday morning after the young man's departure. A grim-faced D.C. Patterson appeared at the Waco Police Department and immediately made it clear that he was convinced his son had been the victim of foul play. Also, he strongly suspected that a mean-spirited man named Sam Urick, Gary's former father-in-law, was somehow involved.


The harmony of the marriage of Gary Patterson and Lisa Urick had been short-lived, destined to dissolve into divorce and a bitter custody battle. Helping fuel the discontent was Lisa's father, a domineering, shadowy figure who liked to brag of his days as a CIA hit man, money-laundering escapades, and his association with a variety of well-known underworld figures. Whether such stories were true or not Patterson had no way of knowing. But he was convinced that his father-in-law was, at best, a shady character. He knew, for instance, of one occasion when Sam had appeared at a Waco bank with a suitcase bearing $100,000 in cash. When bank officials demanded some kind of disclosure before allowing him to open an account, he had angrily stormed out rather than say where the money had come from.

There was, however, a great deal about his father-in-law that Patterson did not know.

Though they lacked enough evidence for an arrest, the FBI had long suspected Urick's involvement in the 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub in which American military personnel were killed. According to a highly classified Bureau investigation called "Operation Circus," he was a known associate of two rogue CIA agents who were accused of selling stolen arms to terrorist countries. Urick not only was believed to have helped hide them out while they were federal fugitives but was thought to be involved in the purchase and delivery of 40,000 pounds of plastic explosives to the Libyan terrorists who ultimately claimed credit for the German deaths.

All Patterson knew for certain about his wife's father was that he was a secretive wheeler-dealer who was routinely in and out of get-rich-quick ventures yet publicly claimed to earn his living from a small trucking company called Southern Sales he owned and operated in Conroe, Texas.

Urick had, in recent years, strong-armed his son-in-law into a variety of short-lived businesses in Waco--working at a storefront insurance agency and operating a marina among them--only to suddenly appear, raid the profits without explanation, and disappear for weeks, sometimes months, leaving Patterson to deal with irate customers and a parade of bill collectors.

On one occasion, two armed men had arrived at the insurance office and demanded to know where they could find Sam Urick. Lisa, working as the company receptionist, had been there with her infant daughter when the men arrived. Shortly after the unsettling encounter, Urick abruptly informed his son-in-law that he was closing the business.

Gary Patterson had finally had enough and told his wife that he would no longer enter into any kind of business arrangement with her father. It was time, he said, that they make the break from her family. Distancing himself from Sam Urick, Patterson took the job with Brazos Environmental and Engineering as a draftsman.

The idea did not sit well with Urick, who immediately began insisting to his daughter that she file for divorce. If she didn't, he threatened, he would take his granddaughter from her and see to it that she never saw the child again.

Thus, in October 1992, the couple's eight-year marriage ended, and Lisa Urick Patterson was awarded custody of the couple's 2-year-old daughter. Father Gary, however, was granted liberal visitation. That part of the court's decision did not please the elder Urick.

By fall 1994, Lisa was on the run in an effort to prevent Patterson from seeing his child. Financed by her father, she and her daughter spent the next two years in hiding, moving to Nevada, California, and even Alaska for a time, while Patterson and his family attempted to locate her. To some she explained that her husband was dead. To others she confided she was protecting her daughter from a father who had molested her. By the time a California-based private investigator found her living in Pilot Point, Oregon, Gary's father, D.C. Patterson, had paid him $14,000 for his efforts. Gary, meanwhile, had returned to court where he was awarded custody of his daughter.

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My dad was an amazing man, every day that I wake up I'm thankful to have known him for the little time that i did, and for those people who were supportive and helped out in any way. Nobody truly knows how much it means to have the entire community and then some to come together for one family and help out.Also for books like this that help get my story out. Thank yall


I knew Gary, a good guy and hard worker. He used to work the night shift in the convenience store during the week and still get up and go to school.


I know a number of people involved in this case and went to school with both Detective Woodruff and Gary. They are/were incredible people of integrity.

I am thankful his story can be told and that Kristina was one of those who brought his murderers to justice.My heart goes out to his parents and especially to his daughter. Gary was well-liked by those who knew him. He lives on in his precious daughter. I pray she knows how much he loved her.


I was the child's teacher during all of this. I experienced the situation first hand. It was devestating to the child and family of Gary. Such a sad story!