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.

Two months later, after following a paper trail and phone records they hoped were getting them close to the elusive Urick, word came unexpectedly that he had been apprehended by U.S. Marshals near Las Vegas. "They knew for three days prior to the arrest where he was," January remembers, "and never bothered to give us a call."

When word of the arrest reached Waco, Cawthon was called to a neighborhood Sunday school party attended by Bill Johnston. Excusing themselves to talk in the den, Johnston told the Ranger, "You've got to go to Honduras. We need Ted."

CAPTURE

Solving the mystery of Gary Patterson's disappearance required the cooperation of multiple law enforcement agencies. Clockwise, from upper left: Texas Ranger Matt Cawthon and Waco detectives Kristina Woodruff and Steve January each played key roles in the investigation.
Michael Hogue
Solving the mystery of Gary Patterson's disappearance required the cooperation of multiple law enforcement agencies. Clockwise, from upper left: Texas Ranger Matt Cawthon and Waco detectives Kristina Woodruff and Steve January each played key roles in the investigation.
Solving the mystery of Gary Patterson's disappearance required the cooperation of multiple law enforcement agencies. From top: Texas Ranger Matt Cawthon and Waco detectives Kristina Woodruff and Steve January each played key roles in the investigation.
Peter Calvin
Solving the mystery of Gary Patterson's disappearance required the cooperation of multiple law enforcement agencies. From top: Texas Ranger Matt Cawthon and Waco detectives Kristina Woodruff and Steve January each played key roles in the investigation.

Aboard the commercial flight from Miami in early August 1998 were Cawthon, fellow Ranger Clete Buckaloo, and agents of the Secret Service who had agreed to run interference with the Honduran government and local police officials if necessary. In the capitol city of Tegucigalpa, representatives from the U.S. Embassy waited to help. For the Rangers, it was a venture into uncharted territory. Never before had the Texas law enforcement agency gone so far afield in an attempt to make an arrest. "We had hoped to take Ted into custody first," Cawthon says, "believing he would help us to make a stronger case against Sam. But when that idea fell apart, we felt we had to move quickly to 'plan B.'"

Thus, while Cawthon was en route to Honduras, Waco detective January was making yet another trip to El Paso, this time to arrest Clark Paulson, who'd lent Urick his pickup, for his role in the Patterson disappearance.

Cawthon and Buckaloo had barely settled into their hotel room to prepare for a briefing meeting with local state department officials when one of the Secret Service agents knocked at their door. "You guys know a U.S. Marshal named Cassie Roundtree?" he asked. "She's apparently really blown a cork. She's calling Washington, going ballistic over the fact you guys are here. Just wanted you to know that if we suddenly get pulled off this thing and told to go home, it isn't our decision."

Cawthon immediately placed calls to Johnston and his superiors at the Rangers headquarters. "Buy us some time," he pled.

For several days, while a battle was waged from Waco to Washington over their right to be there, the Rangers began tracking Ted Young. Among the first things they learned was that there were computer records indicating the comings and goings of those entering or leaving Honduras. Ted Young, they found, had been traveling on a passport issued to his twin brother, Fred, who had helped him escape the country following his South Carolina conviction. Among the travel dates were those matching the times Young had appeared in Waco, then El Paso.

Making a five-hour cross-country van ride to the seaside village of San Pedro Sula, they arrived at a ramshackle junkyard that locals had said was run by "the gringo" in the photograph they had been shown. "We sat up nearby and finally saw this gray-haired man emerge from the gate," Cawthon says. "I can't describe how I felt at the moment when I finally saw the man we'd been chasing after for 15 months. I wanted to run across the road and hug him." Arguing the importance of being certain, Interpol agents who had accompanied the Rangers suggested the van be driven away so they could set up surveillance. Early the following morning, Young was placed under arrest and taken to the local police station.

Sitting in the solitary interview room of the crumbling San Pedro Sula jail, Young was certain he'd been arrested for his flight from the South Carolina fraud conviction. "I'm gonna tell you right now," he said, "the U.S. government has done nothing but fuck me over all my life. I didn't do a damn thing wrong and still they wanted to throw me in prison. It wasn't right."

Cawthon quickly interrupted the harangue. "Ted," he said, "we're Texas Rangers. We're not here to talk to you about South Carolina or the U.S. government. That's all past business. We're here to talk to you about Gary Patterson."

Young's face paled and went blank. "I don't know anything about that." His voice had fallen to a whisper.

For the next half-hour the Ranger methodically detailed the evidence he and the Waco police had gathered. "We know about you posing as Ned Wright," he said, ticking off details. "We know about the Fairfield Inn in Waco and the Red Roof Inn in El Paso. We know you were there with Clark Paulson and Sam Urick. We know, Ted. What you've got to decide is whether you want to cooperate with us or spend the rest of your life in the pen, protecting Sam."

Young silently stared at Cawthon for some time, then released a deep sigh. "OK," he said, "I'll give you what you want."

Finally, as the scared and defeated fugitive dictated his confession, Patterson's fate became known:

Sam Urick had phoned Ted Young, asking him to come back to the U.S. and help with a problem he was having with his son-in-law. Urick, he said, had been shipping him old trucks to sell since he'd been hiding in Honduras. That was how he'd been earning his living. "I owed him some favors," Young said, "so I agreed."

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4 comments
CEP
CEP

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

JEM
JEM

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.

DJM
DJM

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.

dv
dv

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!

 
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