In June of this year, Joe Bankson and Gena Charlton sued a number of people who dropped by their rural farmhouse in Liberty County last year, people who mistakenly believed the couple had a mass grave containing dozens of dismembered bodies on the property. Those people included the Liberty County Sheriff's Office and a half-dozen media outlets, all drawn there by a tip from a self-proclaimed psychic grandmother calling herself "Angel."
The mass grave wasn't real, and Angel, who'd called in the tip by phone, vanished into the ether, leaving the couple to sue the media outlets for defamation and the sheriff's office for unreasonable search and seizure. Now they've located their Angel.
The case has wound on in Dallas County district court for some time, with the cops and the media outlets (Belo, Reuters, and The New York Times among them) trading increasingly complicated responses and motions with the plaintiffs. But one person remained frustratingly elusive: Angel herself.
Now, court records show that the plaintiffs seem to have located and sued the woman they think is an Angel in disguise. Her name is Presley Gridley, she goes by "Rhonda," and she lives in Stanton, Texas, about 800 miles away from their farmhouse.
Some time ago, a Liberty County blogger uncovered a call Gridley made to the Hays County Sheriff's Department, which is 200 miles away from Liberty County. In it, she tells a dispatcher she's a "reverend and a psychic." Moreover, she says, if officers visit a certain rural farmhouse, they'll find the bones of dozens of missing children in the walls and "stuff written all over the walls in blood."
Gridley's name first turned up in an amended complaint filed by Charlton and Bankson in late November. We phoned their attorney's office, a Dallas lawyer named Andrew Sommerman, to ask just how they found her. A paralegal couldn't give us much information, other than to say several people at the firm had been working on the case, including a number of associates and private investigators.
"Why?" she added. "Do you know something about her?"
Well, no. But a Liberty County blogger named Allen Youngblood, writing for a site called i-dineout, discovered a call that Gridley made to the Hays County Sheriffs Office, tipping them off to the non-existent bodies several hundred miles away.
"I need to talk to someone about the kids that y'all have an Amber Alert on," she tells a call-taker. Youngblood says she's referring to a 2-year-old and a 16-month-old from the town of Kyle, named Jasmine and Mariana Pinales. An Amber Alert was issued for the little girls after they went missing last May; they were later found near a highway in northeast Austin, "dirty but in good health." Their older sister, a 14-year-old named Kendra Lee, was detained and charged with two counts of kidnapping.
But Gridley told the call-taker that the children were actually "in bad shape" in a farmhouse in Hull, Texas, a small town near Hardin, being hidden in a cellar or a container of some kind, along with another little boy. But first, she explains her credentials.
"You'll think I'm crazy, but have you ever heard of Sylvia Browne?" she says. "She's actually a psychic. And I'm a reverend and a psychic. [Inaudible] Their spirits talk to me. There were 32 of them that told me they were kids and they're actually there, and they think these kids are there."
Gridley gives the exact address of the farmhouse, adding, "I've never been there. I don't know nothing about none of that." But what she does know, she says, is that the man of the house is a "carny," as in he works for a carnival, and the lady is a truck driver (Gena Bankson was indeed a truck driver, until, as she stated in an affidavit, false reports of a mass grave at her house caused her to lose her job.)
Gridley adds, correctly, that Bankson's daughter and her boyfriend also live at the house. Then, she says, "These 32 souls are kids, and they said that's where they were actually killed. They were sacrificed there. ... They said y'all would also find their bones there. They said their bones are like in the walls. Also if you'll look with some kind of light or whatever, there's stuff written all over the walls in blood."
The call-taker, who seems totally unfazed by the turn that the conversation has taken, asks for Gridley's name. She provides it, then adds that she'd like to remain anonymous, explaining, "I work with a lot of law enforcement. I like being kept anonymous, because I get bombarded with all kinds of people."
When I called the phone number Gridley provided to law enforcement, someone answered the phone and then hung up abruptly. I called back and left a message; I'll update in the extremely unlikely event that Gridley decides to call back. I also have a call in to Allen Youngblood, the intrepid Liberty County reporter who brought us this very important update in the Case of the Highly Ineffective Psychic.
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