It was Independence Day 2011 when the boy and his father went to the abandoned shell of a house in rural Ellis County. They hoped they might find the treasure that was rumored to be buried there, but came up empty handed.
What they found instead was a refrigerator, which pretty clearly had not been in the house when it was abandoned. It seemed to be in good repair and, stranger still, it had a magnet from an Arlington pizza shop stuck to its on the side. They pulled open the door.
Inside, they found a body, though it was barely recognizable as such. It was so badly decomposed that authorities had to perform a DNA test to reveal that it belonged to a Jerry Vern Roberts, who had gone missing, along with his refrigerator, from his Arlington home two months before. After an autopsy, the medical examiner confirmed what had been clear to the father and son from the first: Roberts had been murdered
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Law enforcement officials in Tarrant County already had a good idea of who had killed Roberts. Days after worried family members reported that Roberts had disappeared, leaving behind a ransacked and flooded home and a blood stain on the seat of his favorite chair, a woman was caught on surveillance camera using Roberts' credit card at a Fort Worth convenience store. A second camera, this one at a pawn shop in Livingston, recorded a man selling Roberts' power drill. The same man was seen driving Roberts' truck through Shreveport, Louisiana.
It took a month for police to identify the suspects as Thomas Dunham, 45, and his 40-year-old girlfriend, Erin Williams, and track them to a homeless shelter in Colorado, where they'd driven in the dead man's truck.
This morning in Tarrant County, the couple pleaded guilty to murder charges. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to a 45-year prison sentence for Dunham and a 30-year sentence for Williams.
According to the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office, the couple had planned Roberts' murder for more than a week. The release doesn't say why, but notes that their text messages "revealed sadomasochistic interests," which seems like something of an understatement.