We like to say things are bigger in Texas, but we really have no bragging rights when it comes to our killers. Which itself might actually be something to brag about, given the implications.
We don’t have the most prolific killer in the world, according to official numbers: Colombia has the top three serial killers (child murderers, all of them, with nearly 300 proven victims among them).
We don’t even have the most prolific ones in the United States, by actual court convictions: The Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, holds that title. He was born in Utah and murdered in Washington state, where he was convicted of 49 murders. Texas' deadliest mass killer was George Hennard, who gunned down 23 at a Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen in 1991. Charles Joseph Whitman, the UT tower sniper, killed 18. But neither man comes close to the numbers of dead from 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 in 1995.
But abandon official convictions and go with the murders each killer is suspected of doing (or claims to have done), and suddenly, Texas psychos rank right on up there with the worst of them.
1. Carl “Coral” Eugene Watts
100 victims (12 confirmed victims in Texas)
One could argue the Killeen native beat the system when he died of cancer a week after he was sentenced to his second life term in Michigan, just three years into his first one. Watts told authorities he killed 80 women in Texas and Michigan and possibly upward of 100. Call it dumb luck for the man known as the “Sunday Morning Slasher,” who in actuality used all kinds of methods to kill his victims, females between the ages of 14 and 44. The son of an Army officer and a kindergarten teacher, Watts confessed to murder fantasies when he was an adolescent but operated for eight years as an adult — from 1974 to 1982 — without being tagged, largely because he left no DNA. In 1982, he was busted breaking into a Houston home where two young women lived. He served a couple of decades in the Texas justice system, which gave him 60 years in exchange for his confessing to 12 murders, and then Michigan nailed him with life sentences in 2004 and 2007 for two more killings. But he only had to live in prison until he was 53.
2. Robert Ben Rhoades
50 victims (two confirmed victims were Texans)
The long-haul truck driver known as the Truck Stop Killer kept his home base in Houston but carted his victims all over the U.S., picking them up and then torturing them in his cab for so many highway miles that their hair was noticeably longer when their bodies were dumped. Though suspected of an attempted murder in 1980 in Houston (and as many as three per month in the months or even years before that), his first confirmed kill was in January 1990. He picked up a married couple from Seattle who were hitchhiking in Texas, Candace Walsh and her husband Douglas Zyskowski. The husband was killed and dumped in Texas right away. He kept Walsh in his torture chamber for more than a week, taking pictures of her, raping and beating her, and then killing her and dumping her hundreds of miles away in Utah. Two young runaways from Texas were his next victims a month later. Regina Kay Walters, 14, and her boyfriend Ricky Lee Jones were scooped up and met the same end: The boy killed and dumped immediately, Walters was kept for what investigators believe could have been more than a month, with Rhoades taking photos of her and calling her father intermittently — once from Oklahoma, another time from Ennis. Her body was finally found in a barn in Illinois, and it was her death that landed him in prison for life.
3. Genene Jones
If Coral Watts beat the system, then Jones is about to put handcuffs on it and make it her bitch. In less than two years, the former pediatric nurse walks free after serving one-third of a 99-year sentence for committing what would today land her on death row — the murder of a 15-month-old girl in Kerrville. The details are especially brutal, according to an ABC News interview with the baby’s mother in 2013. Petti McClellan brought her 3-year-old son in to a new clinic to get flu treatment and had her infant daughter Chelsea with her. Jones, a nurse, told McClellan she’d update the girl’s shots. As Chelsea lay in Petti’s arms, the nurse gave her two doses of succinylcholine with a syringe. The girl instantly stopped breathing and was swept into an ambulance to go to a hospital in San Antonio. With Chelsea’s mother driving behind the ambulance, Jones got into the ambulance with Chelsea and gave her the final, lethal dose over the objections of the EMTs in the vehicle with her. Chelsea was dead before they arrived at the hospital, and she was only one of up to 46 babies authorities believe Jones murdered through lethal injection for as-yet unexplained motives (some say she wanted to be a hero and save them, but she denies everything.) She was sentenced to life for Chelsea’s death in 1985. In spite of all of this bad behavior, Jones is a beneficiary of a 1977 Texas law that required inmates' release after they served one-third of their sentences if they behaved themselves behind bars. It was indeed brilliant way to solve the problem of prison overcrowding while also flushing the toilets on the next generation by releasing some of the most violent people in Texas history onto the streets. Lawmakers in 1987 decided to dial that back to nonviolent offenders only, but not before murderous lifers like Jones got a pass after a couple of decades and, as a result, will be a free woman in February 2018. Chelsea’s mother is leading the effort to bring fresh charges against her before that happens.
4. Tommy Lynn Sells
70 victims (at least three in Texas)
The Tennessee native was convicted of two murders, officially suspected of 22, and authorities were ready to believe he had committed at least 70 by the time he was executed in Texas in 2014. The death of 13-year-old Kaylene Jo "Katy" Harris of Del Rio in 1999 sent him to the death chamber, but he was also convicted in the rape and killing of a 9-year-old in San Antonio and linked to dozens more spanning more than a decade. Sells’ childhood was rife with trauma, from the death of his twin sister at a young age to his systematic sexual victimization by his mother’s boyfriend (with her blessing) throughout his formative years — and it was this he blamed for his actions. His first confirmed killing was in 1985, but Sells has said his first was earlier than that — when he was 16, he claims he walked in on a man molesting a young boy and killed the man in a rage. His alleged other victims include the particularly horrifying murder of a family of four — including a newborn girl who was born while Sells beat the birthing 30-year-mother to death with a baseball bat — in Missouri in 1987. That case is in a strange limbo of justice, as surviving members and even authorities find his confession dubious, but not unlikely. The possibility that Sells lied is, authorities say, as believable as the possibility that he committed the murders he says he committed.
5. Dean Corll
Know at the Candy Man, Corll was killed in 1973 by two young men who helped him round up more than two dozen boys, mostly teens, he raped and killed in Houston in the early 1970s. An Army officer and radio repairman at his at Fort Hood, Corll was honorably discharged to help run the family candy business in Houston in 1965. The Corll Candy Co. was across the street from an elementary school, and Corll was known for giving out free candy, especially to teenage boys. His teen accomplices would lure victims to Corll’s home with promises of a party or a ride home, and then Corll would handcuff them to his “torture board” and assault them for days until he killed them, either by strangling or shooting them. The accomplices would get $200 for each victim. During Corll’s last abduction, one of the accomplices told him he’d gone too far, grabbed his gun, and shot him in the head. Police said Corll was officially connected to 28 murders, and possibly 29.
6. Joe Ball
Known as the Butcher of Elmendorf and the Bluebeard of South Texas, Ball called himself the Alligator Man because he reportedly liked to throw live cats and dogs to the gators that lived in the pond he built behind the bar he owned in suburban San Antonio. But that wasn’t the bootlegger-turned-bar owner's most violent hobby. He killed two women who worked as his bar and buried them at the beach, police believe, but shot himself to death when confronted by authorities. The reports of his murders in the double digits are said to be exaggerated and the exploits of the Alligator Man are, somewhat like the chupacabra, more believed in South Texas than outside it. But then again? Some of his employees, ex-girlfriends and wife went missing before he died and never turned up again. The guy who led authorities to the bodies of the two women, saying he had been Ball’s accomplice, swore there were like 20 of them but that the gators had eaten the bodies.
7. Angel Maturino Resendiz
18 victims (nine in Texas)
The train-hopping Maturino Resendiz, aka the Railroad Killer, confessed to 15 murders in Texas, Florida, Illinois, Georgia and Kentucky. He is suspected of another in California. Sometimes he would rape his victims; most of the time he would take their money and jewelry and send it home to his wife in Mexico. Some of the dead were attacked in their homes — Leafie Mason, 87, was beaten to death with her antique iron in her home in Hughes Springs, Texas. On June 4, 1999, Noemi Dominguez, 26, was raped and killed with a pickax in her Houston home. Hours later on that day, the same pickax was used to kill Josephine Konvicka, 73, in Schulenberg, where Resendiz had driven Dominguez’s car. He left the pickax in Konvicka’s head. Most of the murders occurred near the railroad tracks, where he would jump on and off passing trains. Some authorities also believe he’s responsible for at least some of the murders of the young women of Juarez, Mexico, whose bodies turned up by the dozen in the 1990s, several near the tracks. Texas executed him in 2006.
8. Carroll Cole
16 victims (three in Texas)
As a kid, Cole endured taunting by classmates for his “girl’s name” and, as an adult, confessed to killing one of them at age 10 by drowning him — a death that, for decades, was thought to be an accident. In addition to the bullying, his mother cheated on his father, dressed him up as a girl and beat him into keeping his mouth shut about her affairs. All of this, he would later tell authorities, would trigger his killing spree across three states, starting with a woman he picked up at a bar in San Diego. In 1980, his travels across the country took him to Dallas, where he strangled three women that year. The third time, the authorities caught him with the body. If it weren’t for his confession of the murder of some 14 women in Texas and other places, they might have even let him go. He was sentenced to life in prison in Texas in 1981 but Nevada gave him the death penalty in 1984. He was executed there a year later.
9. Kenneth McDuff
After evading three death sentences and walking free 30 years after killing three people, including a 16-year-old girl he raped and choked with a broomstick in suburban Fort Worth, McDuff was allowed to continue murdering a new generation of young women in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Convicted of bribing a member of the parole board, which freed him, McDuff carried the nickname “The Broomstick Killer” with him into Waco and points in North Texas, where he is believed to have killed 10 more people, including several teenage prostitutes, and to have been responsible for at least 14 murders total. In 1992, he was living under an assumed name in Kansas City when a coworker saw him on the TV show America’s Most Wanted.” McDuff was executed in 1998 for the death of a young store clerk in Waco. For his last meal, he asked for steak. He got hamburger meat.
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10. Henry Lee Lucas
Lucas, aka The Confession Killer, should technically be at the top of our list, as he confessed to some 3,000 murders, but he’s not because pretty much everyone knows he’s lying about most of them. Convicted of 11 murders, Lucas is still, however, a special case. His upbringing in Virginia was textbook case of how to create a serial killer upbringing. He was massively rejected as a child at school because his mother forced him to cross dress and because he had to wear a glass eye after his brother poked out his real one with a knife. His mother was a prostitute who forced him to watch her have sex with her clients. His drunken dad, who died when Henry was an adolescent. A few years later, Henry said he killed a girl but took back his confession. In 1960, he killed his mother during an argument, claimed self-defense, and served 10 years in prison before getting an early release. In custody in 1983 in Texas, where he was suspected of two murders, Lucas was again a special case: He was handled with care by authorities, credited with clearing hundreds or even thousands of murders, given special treatment, taken out to eat and generally plied with the perks reserved only for those who say they did it. A Dallas journalist eventually got wind of his agenda and outed him as a liar, casting him once again out of the favored circle. He was eventually convicted of 11 homicides and sentenced to death for the murder of an unidentified woman whose body was found in 1979 and who authorities and the media nicknamed “Orange Socks.” But after new evidence cast his confession into doubt, then-Governor George W. Bush commuted his sentence in 1998. Lucas died of a heart failure in prison in 2001 at age 64.
11. Faryion Wardrip
Wardrip, a North Texas man, was in his 20s when he went on the hunt in the mid-1980s, raping and killing five women his age. He confessed to a single murder, of his the last victim, Tina Kimbrew. The 21-year-old waitress was suffocated with a pillow because she reminded Wardrip of his ex-wife, he told authorities. For his confession, he was given 35 years and paroled after 11. In 1999, a determined Wichita Falls detective picked up the cold cases of four murdered young women from the '80s. Among them was Debra Taylor, 25, of Fort Worth, whom he had met in a bar after her husband had left for the night. He gave her a ride home, and she rejected his advances, so he killed her. Three more stories fell into place, and after DNA gave police the ammunition they needed, Wardrip confessed to all four of the cold cases. That same year, he was sentenced to death and three life sentences. He remains on death row awaiting appeals.