It was almost midnight when the banged-up Dodge Neon began weaving from one lane to another along North Central Expressway, traveling so slowly that it was impeding the normal flow of traffic. As the car approached the Lovers Lane exit, it barely escaped a collision with a fast-moving 18-wheeler, then another passenger car. Finally it had come to a stop in a middle lane of the freeway.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police Patrol Officer Joe Alejandro, nearing the end of his shift and assuming he'd happened on yet another Sunday drunken driver, quickly got on his public address microphone and ordered the driver off the freeway and onto an access road.
All of which made that July night last year pretty routine for the 30-year-old DART cop whose duties generally ranged no wider than patrolling the routes of buses and trains, checking the transit system's parking lots for lurking burglars, making certain things were safe and orderly at bus stations and responding to occasional calls that a rider was creating some manner of disturbance. While transit police have no criminal investigation department, and thus are subordinated to local police in the event any possible felony is detected, Officer Alejandro, concerned for travelers' safety, chose to make the traffic stop.
Initially, the bearded driver, stocky and wearing glasses, identified himself as Lonnie Joe Lee, yet the photograph on the drivers license that he produced was obviously of someone 20 years younger. As the suspicious officer questioned the man about his identity, he became aware of a cloying, deathlike odor coming from inside the car and could see that all the floorboard carpeting had been removed. When he noticed a knife on the passenger seat, Alejandro sent out a backup call to oft-times partner Billy Rawlinson.
Alejandro had just ordered the driver, whom he would later describe as "creepy calm," from his car and was handcuffing him as Rawlinson arrived. Both officers' suspicions grew following a routine pat-down during which they found eight different drivers licenses, wrapped by a rubber band, in the front pocket of the baggy jeans the 58-year-old man was wearing.
The driver soon admitted he'd lied about his name and said he was, in fact, Jerry Thomas Goad, then gave the officers permission to search his car. Leaning into the foul-smelling backseat, they found a Remington 30-06 rifle loosely wrapped in newspapers and a Colt .22 revolver inside a small canvas bag. There appeared to be specks of dried blood on the stock of the rifle, which had one spent round in its chamber. Rawlinson then discovered that the license plates on the front and back of the car did not match.
A computer check soon revealed Goad had not only been convicted of no less than eight felonies over a 20-year period, but that he was wanted by authorities in Smith County in East Texas for questioning in an investigation into the recent disappearance of a 26-year-old Tyler woman named Stacey Jones. The DART officers gave Goad his Miranda warning then placed him under arrest for unlawful possession of the firearms. Alejandro got on his phone, contacting his supervisors, the Smith County sheriff's office and the Dallas police.
The quiet Sunday night was quickly evolving into a bizarre and ghoulish tale better suited for a Stephen King novel; one that would, for the next 14 months, involve the officers, causing one of them unexpected grief and, ultimately, justice for which neither would receive much credit.
As he had sat watching over Goad in his patrol car, awaiting the arrival of Dallas police officers, Rawlinson felt a growing uneasiness as his prisoner talked nonstop in a ramble of soft-spoken unfinished sentences. He had, he explained, been attempting to involve himself in an automobile accident that would end his life. It was a suicide plan he'd arrived at while recently staying at a Carrollton motel. When it had been interrupted by Alejandro's order to pull over and stop, he had briefly considered retrieving the rifle from the backseat and pointing it at the officer as he approached, hoping to force him to use deadly force.
He bragged of being a boyhood friend of Charles Harrelson, the man convicted of the murder of U.S. Judge John Wood in San Antonio, of his connections with the Las Vegas Binion family and his past role as an informant for the FBI. The odor in his car, he explained, was the result of having carried a dead dog he'd run over in his trunk for several days before disposing of it.
And Goad repeatedly spoke of someone named Stacey, whom he referred to as his "girlfriend." "We went as far as we could," he told the officer, "and it had to be done...She woke me up and told me, 'You've got to do it.' I loved her, and I respected her...See, I was supposed to kill myself, but it didn't work out that way..."
Rawlinson knew he was hearing the early stages of a confession and mentioned that an investigator from Smith County would soon be arriving. Goad had looked puzzled at the suggestion. "What does Smith County have to do with it?" he asked. "Nothing happened to her in Smith County."
Then he requested that Henderson County Sheriff Ronny Brownlow be contacted. "He's a friend of mine," Goad told the officer, "and I've got to tell him about something that happened over there."
Yet for all the telltale signs that something ugly and violent had occurred, it appeared no one wanted to take charge of the case. The Dallas police who arrived at the scene did take photographs and agree to arrange for Goad's car to be towed to the impound lot in the event it became necessary to search it for evidence. But they informed the transit officers that the case was theirs to deal with, suggesting they simply take Goad to the Dallas County jail and await the arrival of Smith County officials. When Rawlinson mentioned the comments he'd heard about "Stacey" and the location of the motel where Goad said he was staying, suggesting the missing woman might be found there, he got only disinterested shrugs.
Then, the following morning, Alejandro says, he and Rawlinson were told by superiors to drop the weapons charge--filed to detain the suspect. DART Police Chief Juan Rodriguez says he has no recollection of anyone suggesting the charges be dropped. But, according to Alejandro, it was only when calls came to the transit police headquarters from both Smith and Henderson counties as well as Athens-based Texas Ranger Steve Foster, urging that Goad be kept in jail until their arrival, that the idea was dismissed.
Alejandro, a former member of the SMU Police Department and in his fourth year with DART, began to sense that he had unwittingly waded into hot water.
It wasn't until midday Monday that a Smith County investigator finally arrived at the Dallas County jail and attempted to interview Goad. "I got nothing to say to you," the prisoner said. "Where's Ronny Brownlow [the Henderson County sheriff]?"
A call to Brownlow was quickly arranged, and Goad told him that he "wanted to come clean." Brownlow informed him that Ranger Foster was on his way.
Alejandro and Rawlinson, out of the investigative loop, had returned to their regular duties by the time Foster was hearing details of one of the strangest crimes he'd encountered in his 24-year career:
As a tape recorder spun, Goad told of how he and Stacey Jones had lived together in Tyler for eight months but had recently separated after Jones had become increasingly despondent over financial problems and heavy use of methamphetamine.
On the night the mother of a 5-year-old son disappeared, Goad said he had visited her home and while there fell asleep, only to be wakened by Jones at around 4 a.m. "She just told me she was tired of living," he recalled, "and said, 'Come on, let's take that trip we've been talking about.'" He and Jones, he explained, had been discussing a suicide pact--"going out in a blaze of glory"--that would put her growing depression to an end. Goad was to kill her, then himself.
They had driven for several hours, he told the ranger, before reaching a country road near the community of Brownsboro in Henderson County.
"She said, 'You gonna do it?' I said, 'Yeah,'" Goad related. "She grabbed the steering wheel and braced herself and turned to me and kind of smiled and then looked out the window. She said, 'Make sure, you know, you do it. I'm suffering.'"
Goad said he had then shot her six times with the .22. Only when he realized that she was still alive and pleading for him to "do something" had he fired a shot from the 30-06 rifle into her body.
For the next several days, he had driven aimlessly with his victim hidden in the trunk. When the stench began to filter into the car, he had stopped at a convenience store and purchased 20 sacks of ice to pack around the body. Finally, he had dumped Jones' corpse near an abandoned farmhouse outside Ennis in rural Ellis County and driven to Dallas.
Goad agreed to take the Ranger to the body. Thus a horrific mystery that had stretched across four counties was solved.
Last September, in Ellis County District Court in Waxahachie, Jerry Thomas Goad was sentenced to life in prison. Among those testifying for the prosecution were DART officers Alejandro and Rawlinson.
"It was a great feeling to be a part of it," Alejandro says. "Helping to see that justice was served in a case like that, to see the family of the victim get what it deserved, is something anyone in law enforcement hopes for." Despite the fact he believes it ultimately led to him losing his job.
"From that night I stopped Goad," he says, "things changed." In November of last year, following another traffic stop during which 8 pounds of marijuana were found in a vehicle driven by a man originally pulled over for not wearing his seat belt, Alejandro was criticized for making the stop. Then, a month later, a handcuffed prisoner he was transporting to jail became violent, kicking out the back window of his patrol car. "I had warned him several times to calm down," the officer says, "and, finally, when he kicked out the window, I gave him a one-second shot of pepper spray."
Though no medical attention was required, nor did the man he subdued file a complaint, Alejandro was ultimately placed on administrative leave and investigated for use of excessive force. Soon thereafter, the once-praised patrolman and training officer was dismissed.
DART Police Chief Rodriguez will not discuss the reasons for Alejandro's dismissal but does say that "it had nothing to do with the murder case." "That night [when Goad was arrested]," the chief says, "we had officers in the right place at the right time. It was a good traffic stop that led to the making of a good case."
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Today, Alejandro is a patrolman with the Wilmer Police Department. "I don't feel bitter about anything that happened," he insists. "Hurt, maybe, but not bitter. All I did was what any police officer is supposed to do. The law says you're required to act once you determine the possibility that a felony has been committed. That's what I did." The pepper spray incident, he insists, violated no written rule of the DART police department of which he was aware. "In fact," he says, "I know of instances before and since where officers have used pepper spray and weren't reprimanded."
Rawlinson, still a patrol officer with DART, declined to be interviewed, pointing to departmental policy that requires permission from his superiors to speak with the media.
Surprised to learn that Alejandro had been dismissed, Texas Ranger Foster says, "If he hadn't made that traffic stop and his partner hadn't paid attention to what Goad was saying, we might never have found this guy. He could have easily gotten rid of the car and just disappeared. And it isn't likely we'd have located the body for quite some time.
"Those guys deserve a great deal of credit for helping solve this case."