Longform

Burden of proof

Page 4 of 8

Though in truth a high-school dropout as a teenager in his hometown of Marion, Indiana, he constantly bragged of stellar academic achievements. He wove elaborate tales from his days in the military, failing to mention that he had been discharged dishonorably when caught smoking marijuana.

As a family member would later say: "Faryion is one of those people who would climb a tree to tell a lie when it was just as easy to stand on the ground and tell the truth."

Soon those outside Olney, Texas, would learn of his lying and manipulations.

John Little entered his boss' office, making little effort to mask his excitement, and slid onto the couch that was the only uncluttered spot in the district attorney's workplace. "What would you say," he asked Macha, "if I told you that I think I've got the guy we're looking for, that I can put him in the middle of everything that happened--and that he's already been to prison for one murder?"

Macha silently studied the investigator's face as he outlined Wardrip's proximity to each of the murdered women. Little had tracked his checkered employment record, learning that he had quit his job at Wichita General just four days after Gibbs' disappearance, and had contacted utility companies to verify his residences at the time the crimes were committed. He also noted that there had been a telling entry into the report written by the officers who had driven Wardrip from Galveston back to Wichita Falls following his confession to the Kimbrew murder. During idle conversation with the officers, Wardrip had made an offhand remark that "he knew Ellen Blau."

There was, however, bad news: Blood samples taken from Wardrip after his 1986 arrest had been destroyed following his sentencing. His DNA profile was included in no law enforcement data bank.

"Find him," Macha said. "Watch him for a few days, and see what he's doing." Then he added, "And let's figure a way to get a sample of his DNA."

They agreed that the best method of securing the needed specimen without alerting Wardrip to what they were doing would be through use of the "abandoned interest" law; rather than seek a subpoena that would force him to provide a blood sample, Little would begin following him, hoping that he would toss away a cigarette butt, a soft drink bottle, or a cup that would yield enough of his saliva to be tested.

Casually dressed and driving a borrowed car, Little immediately began a routine of leaving home before dawn so he could arrive in Olney early enough to track Wardrip's routine. Daily, Little would watch as he left home, being driven to work by his wife each morning shortly before 7. The investigator was there, ready to follow them back home, when he got off work at 3:30 in the afternoon. He followed the couple to church services on Wednesday evening and watched from a safe distance as they sat in their front yard, talking with neighbors. And after five days the investigator was feeling the heavy weight of frustration. No opportunity to achieve his goal had presented itself.

On the sixth day of his surveillance, his efforts paid off. The outpost he'd chosen from which to monitor Wardrip's workday was a cinder-block washateria just across the highway from Olney Screen & Door. In an effort to blend with the in-and-out crowd arriving to wash and dry clothing, Little had even borrowed a basket of clothes his wife had left in the laundry room. By mid-morning he had washed and dried the same load several times.

Shortly before 10 a.m., he saw Wardrip's wife arrive in her green Honda and watched as Wardrip came into the parking lot to spend his morning break with her. Clinched in his teeth was a package of cheese crackers; in his hand was a pasteboard cup of coffee.

Quickly piling his laundry into a basket, Little walked outside as the Wardrips sat in the car, talking. "At one point," Little would later recall, "I thought about just walking over, reaching into the passenger window, grabbing the cup out of his hand, and running with it." Patience, however, won out.

He watched as Wardrip finally got out of the car, walked back into the shipping yard, and tossed the cup into a nearby trash barrel.

Stuffing a dip of snuff into his mouth as he ran across the highway, Little approached Wardrip. "Hey, buddy," he said, "you got a cup I can borrow?"

"A cup?" Wardrip replied.

"Yeah, a spit cup."

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers