Executing more inmates than any other state, Texas has perfected the art of ultimate punishment. Under the watch of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the executioner has employed a number of tactics to punish the innocent and the guilty from a noose around their neck until 1924 to a ride with “Old Sparky” until 1964. Today, the state uses lethal injection and prides itself on its humane way of sending death row inmates — more than 500 and counting — to their final judgement.
Texas is known for its tough stance on crime. But one thing it would rather not be known for is the number of unsolved crimes filling cold case files across the state from chainsaw attacks to strangulations. Many criminals make a run for the Texas’ southern border where every day is Christmas for serial killers who find employment with the cartels.
In light of the discovery of missing University of North Texas college student Kelly Cox, whose bones were found buried in South Texas, the Dallas Observer delved into missing person files to showcase 10 cases awaiting the executioner’s justice.
1. Too Many Victims Names to List
1970s to present
Dubbed the “Killing Fields,” the stretch of Interstate 45 between Galveston and Houston has become the preferred dumping grounds for serial killers. Since the 1970s, more than 30 young women and girls’ bodies have been found along that desolate 50-mile stretch of highway. Some of the murders have been solved by convicted murderer Edward Howard Bell, who claimed 11 bodies in a letter written to police in 1998. One 13-year-old victim was linked to another man arrested in 2009. But the rest of the murders remain unsolved.
2. Carolyn Montgomery
A 28-year-old North Dallas cocktail waitress, Carolyn Montgomery was killed with kitchen knives and found dead on her living room floor with a larger knife still in her throat and a smaller one protruding from her abdomen. She was mutilated while her 6-year-old son slept in his room.
3. Cortney Clayton
Cortney Clayton had begged her father to let her go to the store in Stamford, a small town in West Texas, to buy something to drink. She was only 7 years old, but the store was only about a block away. It was a walk she’d made many times before, and her father watched her as she quickly made her way to the store and walked inside to purchase a soda. Her older brother Ryan showed up several minutes later to walk her home, but she was nowhere to be found. Only the can of soda she’d recently purchased remained sitting on the back of the store manager’s vehicle. Her body was found six months later in a field about 50 miles south of Stamford.
4. Cheryl Henry and Andy Atkinson
In a case known as the “Lover’s Lane Murders,” 22-year-old Cheryl Henry and 21-year-old Andy Atkinson were found murdered in an undeveloped Houston woodland dubbed “Lover’s Lane” not far from their parked car. Atkinson was found tied to a tree with his throat slashed to the point of decapitation, and the killer used golf clubs lined up one after the other to point police toward Henry’s naked body buried underneath a stack of boards. Four partially deflated balloons were tied to a tree next to her body, and a crisp $20 lay next to her; she’d been raped, and her throat had been also slashed.
5. Chandra Payton
Chadra Payton was a typical college student who worked at Body Gear, a clothing boutique in Addison in the early '90s, when she was discovered inside the store stabbed to death in an apparent robbery. “She wasn’t even supposed to be working that day,” her mother later recalled to The Dallas Morning News in 2013. “There’s always that weird thing in your mind that it could have been somebody else, but it would have been somebody else’s daughter.” Payton’s killer still hasn’t been found, although police do have a person interest.
6. Emily Jeanette Garcia
Emily Garcia simply boarded a city bus in San Antonio to go to a health services appointment to find out when her baby was due, but the 15-year-old never made her appointment. Instead she was kidnapped and raped, beaten and strangled over a 12-day period before a road crew found her battered body on old stretch of Texas highway in Canyon Lake.
7. Amber Hagerman
Amber Hagerman’s case is one of the most well known and one of the most frustrating cases for law enforcement officials. Amber, who was 9 years old, rode her bicycle to an abandoned grocery store in Arlington with her 5-year-old brother when a monster driving a pickup snatched her off her bicycle. She screamed, and a neighbor called the police. Four days later, her body was found at the bottom of a creek bed. She’d been sexually assaulted and murdered.
8. Maria Corona
Maria Corona’s decapitated body was found in the street near her home in Lewisville. One of the chainsaws used allegedly by her 49-year-old husband was still running on the tailgate of the white pickup. Both chainsaws had blood and tissue from the 44-year-old mother of six, but her murderer still hasn’t been caught. The Texas Rangers believe he booked it across Texas’ southern border.
9. Misty Lowder
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The disappearance of Misty Lowder still haunts Denton County law enforcement officials who still can’t quite figure out what happened to the 35-year-old missing woman. A drug addict, Lowder went missing in Pilot Point, a small town known for its ties to legendary murderers Bonnie & Clyde. Some claims she was thrown into a wood chipper or fed to a bunch of feral hogs in Wise County, and others says her body was stuffed into a pickup’s toolbox and either buried in the woods or thrown into Ray Roberts Lake. Law enforcement officials are no closer to solving her disappearance. “I’ve interviewed so many people whacked out on drugs,” the lead detective told a local newspaper. “Everybody has a theory but no hard evidence.”
10. Shade Schuler
Schuler, who'd gone by her trans identifier "Ms. Shade, was still wearing her blue-and-white cotton tube top with straps, blue shorts and black Nike flip flops when her decomposed body was found in a vacant field near the 5600 block of Riverside Drive. The 22-year-old transgender woman also wore a black wig, sunglasses and fake fingernails with diamond studs and pink tips. She was the 13th transgender person killed in the U.S. in 2015, according to local news reports at the time. Her cause of death is still uncertain.