The Girl Who Played Dead

The untold story of the 1990 bathtub shooting

That was one thing lodged solidly in her brain, the fact that she'd lost her kids, two boys, to the state.

"Why did they take your kids away?" I asked.

"For some reason...they just took my kids away," she said.

LaTonya Williams testified that she was shot 11 times--just about everywhere but her head and heart. Now 29 and in prison for felony cocaine possession, Williams pointed out some of her many scars from bullet wounds.
Mark Graham
LaTonya Williams testified that she was shot 11 times--just about everywhere but her head and heart. Now 29 and in prison for felony cocaine possession, Williams pointed out some of her many scars from bullet wounds.
Lizzie Williams after a 1996 shoplifting arrest
Lizzie Williams after a 1996 shoplifting arrest

"That must have hurt you."

For the first time, Lizzie looked me straight in the eye. "It really did," she said, then faded into mumbles.

I made one last attempt to pry open her memory.

"What have you done since the shooting on Cleveland Street?"

Lizzie paused for a moment. "Nothing."

We walked up the stairs into the apartment where she lives, joined by her boyfriend, who smelled of liquor and suffers from a developmental disability. He remembers more of Lizzie's past than she does. Elvin Armstrong attended to his "girl" with tender concern, trying to prod her memory at times and pick up the conversation when she'd go ambling down mental rabbit trails.

He pointed to a photo on an end table taken at a family reunion last year, the only picture he has of her. Lizzie is wearing a dress and is leaning against her man. Her hair is done nicely, with a little bob, and she is smiling. Someone has pasted a cartoon bubble next to Armstrong that reads, "I'm ready for happy hour."

Ever since she was a little girl, he explained, she's had epileptic seizures. She just had one the other day, flopping out of bed and hitting the floor, he said, and each time it erases her memory and sends her back to start. Still, I didn't understand why her recollection was so poor: I have transcripts of her 1991 testimony in court, and there's no question that she was a normal, intelligent young woman back then.

Lizzie retrieved her medicine from the bathroom and handed it to me: phenytoin, prescribed at Parkland for her seizures. She pointed to a red sticker on the plastic bottle.

I read it to her. It said something like, "DO NOT TAKE ALCOHOL WHILE USING THIS MEDICATION."

Lizzie and Armstrong both gave me a puzzled look. At the bottom of the steps, outside the apartment, Lizzie had set down her half-full 40-ounce of Colt 45.

A few days later, I spoke to Armstrong's sister by phone. She filled in some of the gaps. They found Lizzie, she said, in 1993 or 1994, when she'd run away from a relative's house and was living under the stairs at a South Dallas apartment complex. Elvin knew her from childhood, and he felt compassion for her and invited her into their home. Soon afterward, the girl who'd shunned him as a child became his steady girlfriend.

Lizzie told Elvin the story of the shooting soon after they met, but since then, the sister said, her condition has worsened. She used to be able to play cards; now she can't. Folks gave up on having a normal conversation with her. One day, though, the sister was gathered with Lizzie and some friends when Lizzie suddenly began to tell about a horrifying incident, bit by stuttering bit, that took place some time after the shooting. The friends just listened, stunned.

She talked about a man--a close relative--ordering her to lie down on the bed, kissing her, asking her repeatedly, angrily, "Why are you so still? Why aren't you moving?"

Then, Lizzie said, he struck her in the face.

Lizzie never mentioned it again.

The last time I saw her, she was standing alone in the apartment courtyard, looking anxious and dazed. Elvin was gone, she said, and she had no key to the apartment. The noonday sun was pulling high. She was left to wander outside on the dirty, scorched concrete, lonely and shut out.


The apartment complex at 2727 Cleveland St. still exists; the area is now nicknamed "Jurassic Park" for its vacant lots and scary look--"like a jungle," as one former crack user explained to me. The apartments are still extremely run-down, and there are obvious signs of drug dealing and prostitution in the vicinity.

When I last visited LaTonya Williams, she was making plans to move to another state and start a new life when she got out of prison.

Lizzie Williams was planning to move when we spoke in April, and I lost contact with her.

When I checked up on Daryl Oudems last week, he was on his way to San Antonio in an 18-wheeler. His father says he's been working steadily as a long-haul trucker for the last six months and has driven all over the country.

Dallas Observer Editorial Assistant Michelle Martinez contributed to this report.

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 OMG I remember this happening! I was 15 at the time and I actually  knew Money Mike and Ken  (RIP Kennth  ) Now Trouble I mostly heard  about and seen one time from a distance. It was so fuck up back then every time I turned around someone I knew was getting killed. I even had a gun pull on me by one of those Jamaicans.   (In Da Trap!)  I had to use the restroom when Bazar came in behind me and pull out his gun and ask did I have any  diseases I said no and he told me to take off my pants or he was going to shoot me. God was definitely looking out for me because my friend  burst through door at that very moment since he was her boyfriend. I ran my ass out of there and never went back.