By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The last time Patty Clarke talked to Suzanna Wamsley, the Christmas season was just beginning. Her neighbor was on her way to purchase some pretty towels for an elderly lady moving into an assisted living facility. Typical Suzanna. If a neighbor had a death in the family, sweet, upbeat Suzanna was there with a pie.
"Suzy got along with everybody, and everybody liked her," Clarke says.
Her husband, Rick, was the same way. When the Clarkes had needed a ride home after a car accident sent them to the emergency room, Rick came to the rescue, even though it was almost midnight. Family and friends came first with the Wamsleys.
And Rick and Suzy seemed like the perfect neighborhood couple. An accountant, Rick was tall and handsome, a high school athlete when he met Suzy. He attended Oklahoma State University; she studied art at Oklahoma Christian College.
The couple married in 1978, two years after her high school graduation. Their first child, Sarah, was born seven months later, on Valentine's Day. Suzy gave birth to Andrew in 1984. But if motherhood and time had broadened her waistline, it hadn't diminished her good looks. Tall, with a shoulder-length coif of vibrant red curls, Suzy still turned heads in her 40s.
"People would stop her and say, 'What color do you use on your hair?'" Clarke says. "She loved it. She didn't use anything."
Rick had worked for oil companies in Houston, Salt Lake City and then Dallas. Wherever they lived, their activities revolved around their children and their home. Even more than most of their friends, the Wamsleys' house on Turnberry Drive in Mansfield was a reflection of their personalities. Rick, a CPA, practiced from a home office and liked to work in the yard. He built a flagstone patio and tiered fountain in the back yard with his own hands.
Suzy had once leased a booth at a local antiques mall to sell her finds. Clarke says she gave it up to spend more time at home. When Sarah was a cheerleader at Mansfield High School, Suzy went to pep rallies, taking photos of her dark-haired daughter in her uniform. She and Andrew often went fishing.
An excellent cook, Suzy would make separate meals if one family member didn't like what was offered that night. "Suzy was the perfect homemaker," Clarke says. She made sure Andrew's favorite brownies were always on hand and ordered pizza for his friends when they came over to play video games.
The Wamsleys had become such close friends with the Clarkes and neighbor Mickey Legg and her husband that they often celebrated holidays together. When it was the Wamsleys' turn to host, Clarke and Legg knew that Suzy's home would be beautifully decorated for the occasion.
Legg went to the Wamsleys' house on December 9, 2003, to see Suzy's meticulously trimmed Christmas tree. Rick was putting the finishing touches on the outside lights lining the eaves. "They were in great spirits that night," Legg says. The women talked about when the three couples would get together for their traditional holiday party to exchange gifts.
On December 11, when Patty Clarke arrived home at about 9 p.m., she was surprised to see that the Christmas lights at the Wamsleys' were not blazing as usual. She assumed Rick and Suzy had gone out for the evening.
Clarke was still up in the early morning hours of December 12 when one of her son's friends arrived and asked, "What's going on next door?" Squad cars were parked in front of the Wamsley house, cherry tops spinning. Clarke learned from police officers that the Wamsleys had been found dead. Barely able to process the terrifying news, Clarke tried to help when officers came by later to see if she knew how to contact the Wamsleys' children. But she had no idea.
Someone had made a 911 call from the Wamsley home at 11:40 p.m. but had either said nothing or put down the phone. When Mansfield police arrived at 11:44, they knocked on the front door but got no response. Officers found the garage door open; the door leading from the garage into the house was open, too.
Suzy was lying on the living-room couch. The attackers had shot her in the left ear with a large-caliber weapon, according to an autopsy report, and then stabbed her at least 18 times in the chest and neck.
Rick--6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, wearing only boxer shorts--had been shot in the face and back and stabbed numerous times. Police found two sets of bloody shoeprints throughout the living room, dining room and entryway. There was no sign of forced entry, and nothing appeared to be missing.
The news of the Wamsley murders hit Walnut Estates like a storm slamming into an opulent cruise ship. Had they surprised a burglar looking for Christmas loot? Was a maniac on the loose in their little enclave? Where would he strike next? Free-floating paranoia reigned throughout the holiday season.
The Mansfield police said the killings were isolated crimes, but offered so little information that a rumor began circulating in the tension-filled neighborhood that the Wamsleys were in the federal witness protection program and the murders were professional "hits." To Clarke, that seemed far-fetched. But so did every other explanation of the gruesome crime.