Questions About TWU Murder Suspect's Sanity Remain Unanswered

What might have driven 30-year-old murder suspect Charles Bryant to kill 24-year-old Texas Woman’s University student Jacqueline Vandagriff, then partially dismember her body and set it aflame near the shores of Grapevine Lake in early morning hours of Sept. 14?

It’s a question The Dallas Morning News reported a Tarrant County judge was seeking answered when he ordered Mental Health Mental Retardation of Tarrant County to evaluate Bryant’s mental health within 30 days.

“Rainey Webb, the judge who ordered the evaluation, says there is reasonable cause to believe Bryant is suffering from mental illness and may be unfit to stand trial,” according to the Sept. 28 Morning News report.

The Tarrant County District Clerk’s Office, however, has no records of Webb ordering the evaluation and claims it may have been simply the standard evaluation inmates receive when they enter county jail and indicate they’ve dealt with mental illness in the past.

“Just because one was ordered doesn’t mean [Bryant] will receive the evaluation,” the Tarrant County District Court coordinator told the Observer.

The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office refused to answer questions related to Bryant’s case since it's waiting for the grand jury to indict Bryant on capital murder charges. Bryant’s defense attorney could not be reached for comment.

But Bryant’s actions weren’t something a mentally well person would do, argues Dr. Robert Gordon, a clinical and forensic psychologist and former president of the Texas Psychological Association.

“If you look at people like Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer, you can come to the conclusion that they are insane, which is a legal term for their mental health,” Gordon says. “But it creates conflict with prosecution because we all want someone who does this deed to face punishment for his horrendous crime.”

If Bryant did commit the crime, it's possible he was born with an abnormality in the genes or chromosomes, or it was the result of drug abuse.

“The really challenging part is a person who commits a heinous act such as this is excellent at camouflage,” he says. “They camouflage their personality, their appearance, their identity on social media. They can present themselves in a very credible way as a normal engaging, pleasant person” kind of like a chameleon because they’re able to camouflage their true personality.

Gordon argues it is highly unlikely that no one knew the killer may have been exhibiting sadistic behavior over his 30 years of life. He claims those who were close to him probably knew that he was “peculiar, bizarre, sick or psychopathic.”

Family and friends probably witnessed him inflicting cruelty on dogs or cats or attempting self-mutilation, but they were possibly afraid to bring it to the attention of someone who could help him or living in denial that he was sadistic, that “deep down he’s really a good boy.”

“It is the crisis of conscience that most of us face when we know someone in our family or our close circle of friends is disturbed,” he says.

“But I am quite certain that there was evidence of sadism and violent thoughts and acts that he shared with other people as he was growing up,” Gordon says. “It seems impossible to me to believe that this is an isolated act that he committed at the age of 30 and that there were no signs.”
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.

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