By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"Had he not had that hair in his hand, I don't think we would have ever got there," Standefer says.
In the last decade, Walnut Estates had become the place to live in Mansfield. Now the streets that border the Walnut Creek Country Club are lined with two-story brick and stone houses encircled by manicured yards. It's common to see residents tooling around in golf carts.
The city has struggled to keep up with its growth. The Mansfield school district is building schools as fast as it can, and at times, there's a collision between the children of the newly arrived, upwardly mobile parents and working-class families with deep roots in southern Tarrant County.
If Andrew Wamsley came from one world, then his girlfriend, Chelsea Richardson, decidedly came from the other.
When the teenagers and their friends showed up at the IHOP behind the Parks at Arlington Mall, the waitresses could count on three things: They'd take up a big booth for hours, and they'd battle with Yu-Gi-Oh cards, the Japanese trading cards collected by kids. And they'd complain. Night manager Hilario Cardenas began stopping by during his shift to make sure the food was satisfactory.
Bubbly, blond and a bit overweight, Chelsea was attending Joe C. Bean High School in blue-collar Everman. In late 2002, the middle of her senior year, Chelsea had started going to the IHOP with her older brother, a Yu-Gi-Oh aficionado who worked as a security guard. They lived in a small, run-down tract home. The Richardsons' father, an ironworker and former Marine named Thaddeus "Tank" Richardson, had died in 1999 in his 40s. Their mother, Celia, worked several jobs to make ends meet.
For the young Richardsons and their friends, the IHOP was a home away from home. That's where Chelsea met Andrew, who had graduated in May 2002 from Mansfield High School.
Like Chelsea's brother, Andrew loved Yu-Gi-Oh, which attracts some of the same teens and young adults who love Dungeons & Dragons and computer gaming. "We'd sit there eight hours straight and play," says one of Andrew's friends. "It's a lot safer than drugs but just as expensive. We'd stay there until 6 in the morning."
Chelsea didn't care for Yu-Gi-Oh, in which players use a deck of 40 cards to duel, pitting various "monsters" against each other by way of traps and spells. Skilled players wait for the right time to play certain cards, like "Pot of Greed," which allows them to outdraw their opponents. At the store where Andrew often bought Yu-Gi-Oh cards to strengthen his collection, Chelsea would find someone to talk to. Chelsea loved to talk.
"She could make friends with the devil himself," says Ruth Brustrom, a family friend who'd known Chelsea since she was 9. Her husband, Ray, had taken over the role of father to the Richardson siblings after their dad died. Then Ray, who worked construction and raised fighting roosters, passed away in August 2002. If Chelsea's life seemed aimless, losing two father figures hadn't helped.
Andrew and Chelsea began coming to Brustrom's five-acre spread just outside Burleson in the spring of 2003 to hang out, enjoying the laid-back atmosphere. Brustrom's house started as a mobile home; several additions later, it still has plywood walls and floors in some rooms and no air conditioning. The Confederate flag flaps from several barn-red outbuildings. At the back of the property sit a couple of junked cars and a shallow pond.
Andrew would sit and talk for hours to the easygoing Brustrom. Except for the large tattoo of a rose, surrounded by the words "In Loving Memory of Ray," on her right arm, Brustrom, 37, looked remarkably like Andrew's mother: same smile, same freckles and the same curly red hair. "Andrew seemed like a real sweet kid," Brustrom says, "the best guy she'd brought out here. He seemed real honest."
Andrew had been working at Putt-Putt Golf in Arlington; Chelsea was looking for a job. She talked about becoming a lawyer or maybe a nurse but was making no strides in that direction. Rick and Suzy had planned for Andrew to attend college, wanting him to become a CPA. But Andrew was more interested in cars. Though he was enrolled at Tarrant County College, he often skipped class.
He told Brustrom that he hated his sister Sarah. "He said Sarah had once slammed his head into a water heater," Brustrom says. "They didn't get along."
Andrew seemed to like his mom and dad OK, but he didn't tell Brustrom about his sister's stormy adolescence or his own severe conflicts with his parents. The parents' polished exterior, in fact, hid troubled relationships with their children that went well beyond the usual teenage tensions.