Episode 31 – The Lufkin Angel of Death

“And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand.”

– 2 Samuel 24:16

The Angel of Death is a figure of lore and legend, of myth and story, found in legends the world over. But there is another meaning for this term.

Some criminologists and crime writers have described “angels of death” as serial killers who work in a caretaking position, such as a doctor, nurse or healthcare worker, who prey on their patients. Their victims are particularly vulnerable because of their health conditions and these killers have an unusual amount of access to their victims, who depend on them for treatment and care. This may be the rarest type of serial killer and their very existence seems to stand out against our assumptions about typical serial killers.

First of all, many angels of death are female, unlike the vast majority of serial killers. Additionally, they often use hard-to-detect means to carry out their heinous acts, such as administering lethal overdoses of medications or withholding life-saving treatments. They may intentionally make their patients sick and then “save” them to appear heroic or they may disguise their murderous actions as the natural outcome of a patient’s health conditions.

One such killer came to the town of Lufkin, Texas, in 2008, and the town has never been the same.

Kimberly Saenz’s Angelina County Mugshot photo, courtesy of Angelina County Sheriff’s Office.

In 2008, Kimberly Saenz murdered as many as 5 patients by injecting them with bleach in the IV lines of their dialysis machines at the DaVita Lufkin Dialysis Center. Though she was eventually convicted of multiple counts of aggravated assault and one count of capital murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment, she may have killed many more patients. It is certainly likely that she injured many more patients than those for which she was charged and convicted.

Reportedly, Kimberly Saenz seemed to enjoy the attention she received during the four years between her arrest and her conviction following her trial. This detail and many more are found in the primary source I used to research this episode: the excellent book “Killer Nurse” by the talented writer John Foxjohn. I highly recommend this book if you want to learn even more details about this case, as I could only cover so much and you can find a copy of this great book here:

One of the most puzzling aspects of this case is Kimberly Saenz’s motive for committing multiple murders. She certainly had a troubled life and was reportedly addicted to narcotics and was arrested for committing domestic violence against her husband. However, it is not entirely clear why she progressed from being simply troubled to being a serial murderer of helpless dialysis patients.

District Attorney Clyde Herrington, who helped to prosecute Saenz, speculated that Saenz was a troubled woman who may simply have taken out her frustrations from her disrupted life onto her patients. Saenz did not offer a clear explanation for her actions and, until she does, we may never know why she did what she did. I didn’t address the topic of her motive in the podcast because I couldn’t find definitive answers on this topic. However, you can read some of DA Herrington’s comments and more about Saenz here on Murderpedia:

http://murderpedia.org/female.S/s/saenz-kimberly.htm

To learn more about the case of the Angel of Death of Lufkin, killer nurse Kimberly Saenz, listen to my episode for more details and information.

Episode 30 – East Texas Cannibals

Cannibalism is one of mankind’s oldest taboos. For a variety of reasons, the mere thought of consuming human flesh fills most of us with revulsion and dread. Even if we found ourselves in a life-and-death situation, faced with death by starvation, I imagine that many of us would not be able to bring ourselves to eat our fellow companions. In the infamous incident involving the Donner Party, some of the ill-fated group were forced to consume the flesh of their fallen travelers in order to fend off starvation. This story has become part of the popular lexicon, perhaps because we find the thought of such a situation utterly horrifying.

But cannibalism isn’t just something that happens far away and long ago. It has happened right here, in East Texas, in the middle of nowhere. And it has happened not so long ago, at all.

It has happened here for many reasons and for many, many years.

Stories about cannibalism in East Texas were recorded in the early 18th century, when a French explorer named Jean Baptiste Le Moyne sent three of his companions to explore the Gulf Coast near Galveston Bay. Allegedly, a tribe of native inhabitants captured the three men and ate one of them.

An illustration of an Atakapa native.

Members of the Atakapa and Akokisa nations of East Texas were rumored to consume human flesh. However, it is most likely that these reports were exaggerated and this cannibalism only occurred rarely, for ritualistic purposes.

However, others in East Texas attempted cannibalism for darker purposes.

Spree stabber Dylan Quick committed a violent knife rampage, reportedly seeking to eat his victims.

In 2013, 28-year-old Dylan Quick stormed onto his college campus and launched a knife attack, wounding many students. After the attack, Quick stated that he had fantasies of consuming human flesh.

But where this lone attacker failed in his plot to commit cannibalism, another East Texan succeeded.

Christopher Lee McCuin was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and was arrested in the process of cooking her flesh.

In 2008, 25-year-old Christopher Lee McCuin of Tyler, Texas called 911. He told the dispatcher that he had killed his girlfriend and was in the process of cooking and eating her. The police arrived to find his girlfriend’s ear boiling on the stove and a hunk of her flesh on a plate, a fork sticking out of it.

After his arrest, McCuin stated that God had told him to do it.

What could drive someone to consume human flesh? Perhaps that is why we find this taboo so terrifying, that we can’t imagine engaging in it but there are some out there, wandering through nowhere, who feel compelled to feast on their fellow man.

Tune into this episode for more information about East Texas cannibals.

Episode 28 – Shadows in Athens

Some towns aren’t quite like the others. Some towns have secrets.

One of those is close to me, right here in the middle of nowhere.

Medford Fuller’s grave, surrounded by virgin stone and iron chains.

There is a town called Athens. For many years, locals and those abroad have been talking about this town. Some claim that there are tunnels beneath the streets or devil worshippers in the forest.

The virgin stone pillar, drenched in a liquid red substance.

Others claim that the town was built by dark magicians, intent on any means to secure their prosperity.

Some say the tunnels beneath the city exist to this day.

The gazebos in the woods at Fuller Park, possibly the site of the monkey cages.

Still others say that the secrets are no secrets at all and that the strange happenings in town are no mystery. What is the truth? Listen in as I explain the shadows in Athens and make up your own mind about what is happening out here among the pines.

Episode 27 – Ken’s Apparitions

There is something to be said for the power of personal experience. Of course, memory is not always a faithful narrator and our own beliefs may color the memories that we make. Yet, in the face of our own doubt, we simply cannot slip free of the power of a mesmerizing event.

Paranormal encounters are routinely dismissed as nonsense, made-up events that are the result of fear, anxiety or simply wishful thinking. But just try telling that to someone who was encountered the paranormal firsthand. It’s not so easy to discount these stories when the person telling them recalls them with clarity and conviction.

In this episode, I sat down with my friend Ken to listen to him relate some paranormal encounters in his past. I could see in his face, and you can likely hear in his voice, that his stories were not some attempt to scare or startle anyone. They were a faithful retelling of events as he remembered them, and there were no attempts on his part at embellishment or exaggeration.

His stories are as fascinating as they are chilling. They left an impression on me and I imagine that they will do the same to you, dear listener. Whether you are a believer or if you hold on to doubt, there is no denying the power and impact of a ghostly tale. Listen in and decide for yourself the truth of paranormal events out here in the Piney Woods.

Episode 23 – The Backwoods Illuminati

Strange clouds in the sky.

Shadowy organizations infiltrating the government.

Worldwide conspiracies hatching sinister plots.

Do you believe in conspiracy theories? I may not be a believer, personally, but I’m certainly fascinated. I’ve always been interested in plumbing the depths of conspiracy theories watching conspiracy documentaries on YouTube and discussing these bizarre theories with my friends.

I was surprised to learn that East Texas has played a role in several major conspiracy theories in recent years.

In fact, the Masonic Order, long believed to be a front for the Illuminati, a secretive group that aims to control the world, played a hand in the founding of Texas. One of the first Western explorers of Texas was a Mason and a large portion of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence were Masonic members. Are they simply a club for prominent, wealthy men or is there something else at work?

Holland Lodge, the oldest Masonic Lodge in Texas, located in Houston.

 

In 2015, the United States government launched a military training exercise in the Southern and Southwestern United states. Ostensibly, this operation was intended to allow US military units to gain realistic training experience in terrain similar to combat areas in the Middle East. However, conspiracy theorists argue that this is actually a front for the military to prepare to launch martial law on unsuspecting citizens. I myself saw trucks and trains full of military equipment moving around at this time. A training exercise or preparation for a nationwide takeover?

 

 

Justice Antonin Scalia’s death was regarded as a natural event by most, he was advanced in age and had health problems, after all. But some conspiracy theorists argued that he had been murdered by government agents in order to change the balance of power on the Supreme Court. They point to the fact that strange, seemingly occult items were found in the building where he died and the building also contained texts on global domination and power. It’s alleged that this is a precursor to an overthrow of our democratic way of life. Here’s a link to an InfoWars (yeah, I know, not super reliable but they’re the conspiracy clearing  house) article about this strange incident:

Scalia’s Death Linked to Bohemian Grove, Illuminati

What do you think, Nowhere wanderer? Are conspiracy theorists simply finding patterns where there are none or are they piercing the veil of secrecy that surrounds our society? You make the call after you listen in.

 

 

Episode 22 – The Michael Ray Phillips Cold Case

In January of 1989, a police officer in Lufkin, TX stumbled across the dead body of a young man lying face down in a creek. The man’s name is Michael Ray Phillips and he had been murdered in cold blood. He had been slain with three gunshots to the head and there was evidence that he had been tortured and mutilated in a particularly gruesome fashion. The investigation quickly began but the trail soon ran cold.

 

Michael Ray Phillips.

 

Investigators followed up every lead that they could find but they were unable to locate a crime scene, a murder weapon or a definite suspect. They tracked down a man named Tommy Davis and one detective swore that this man was the real killer. However, there was not enough concrete evidence to secure a conviction and he was never brought to trial for Michael Phillips’ murder.

 

The site in the Kit Mconnico Park creek where Michael Phillips’ body was recovered.

 

Eventually, the primary suspect was locked up on unrelated charges and the Michael Phillips’ case went cold. Now, 28 years later, the case is still unsolved. There isn’t much evidence to go on but there’s still a chance that the real killer is at large.

 

Mugshot of Gerald Joe Hendricks upon his arrest in 2011.

 

The Lufkin police officer who initially discovered the body of Michael Ray Phillips was eventually arrested and charged with sex crimes after a decades-long career in law enforcement. Though his charges were unrelated to the murder case, it adds another layer of creepiness to the entire ordeal.

 

Few things are as haunting as an unsolved murder. Tune in to learn about the story of Michael Phillips’ murder and the search for justice out here in the middle of nowhere.

 

Episode 21 – East Texas Cryptids

Cryptids are one of the most interesting and popular aspects of creepy, weird folklore. Here in East Texas, the endless pine forests are reportedly the home of all types of bizarre, mystical creatures.

I’ve always been interested in creatures like the Sasquatch and El Chupacabra and I’m very excited to finally make a podcast episode about some of the strange beasts in my corner of the world.

(Note: the images in this post do not belong to me, I’ll post the owner info in the metadata where possible.)

The Wampus Cat

Cherokee woman wearing a wampus mask to defeat the Ew’ah spirit.

 

The Wampus Cat is a creature that possibly has its roots in Cherokee mythology. As the story goes, a Cherokee woman was cursed by a village medicine man and she took on the form of a half-woman, half-cougar beast. In another version, a woman put on a wampus mask to defeat the evil Ew’ah spirit and then continued to walk the woods as a half-cat creature to defend people from other evil spirits. When the Cherokee were forced to move to East Texas by settlers, they may have brought the legend of the Wampus Cat along with them.

In East Texas, the Wampus Cat legend may have morphed into the local legend of the East Texas Black Panthers. Though some mountain lions are found in this area, there are no such things as black panthers in this region. However, some wildcats with a rare genetic disorder may be responsible for sightings of mysterious, dark-colored big cats with an eerie, humanlike cry.

 

The jaguarundi, a possible explanation for East Texas Wampus Cat/Black Panther sightings.

 

El Chupacabra

 

A creature found in Rockdale, TX, reported to be a chupacabra.

 

The chupacabra, or “goat sucker” was first sighted in Puerto Rico in 1995 after many farm animals were found drained of their blood with strange puncture wounds on their chests. Over time, the legend of the chupacabra spread to North America. While in Puerto Rico the bloodsucking creatures were described as reptile-like, two-legged creatures, in the US, they are usually described as dog-like, four-legged animals.

Are chupacabras simply dogs with a skin condition or are they really mutated beasts intent on sucking blood from animals and humans?

A creature found right here in Longview, TX, in 2010, reported to be a chupacabra.

The Jackalope

 

A jackalope mounted on a wall.

Okay, I know you’ve heard of this one. The jackalope is cute, furry little cryptid with an interesting backstory. This creature was created by a pair of brothers in Douglas, Wyoming in 1932. The legend of the jackalope began to spread across the country and even the world.

Jackalopes are admittedly fictional but legends of horned hares and rabbits can be found in countries around the globe dating back hundreds of years. These creatures are a great example of the power of folklore and the persistence of modern legends. It’s amazing how a simple story created by two brothers has achieved such cultural significance, and even a bit of pop culture appeal.

The wolpertinger, a creature from Bavarian folklore and a possible distant cousin of the jackalope.

 

East Texas is undoubtedly home to some fascinating and elusive wildlife. Perhaps there are a few more creatures lurking in the woods, hidden away from the observations of modern science and common knowledge. Listen in and learn more about these mystical animals on the latest episode of the Nowhere Dispatch:

 

Episode 20 – Who Killed Karen Silkwood?

In 1946, a woman named Karen Silkwood was born here in Longview. I’d heard about her story here and there over the years but I didn’t know the full details. I certainly didn’t know that she was born in my hometown and later died near the place where my family lived in Oklahoma.

Karen was bright and excelled at science. She got a scholarship to college but eventually left to elope with her boyfriend. When that relationship didn’t work out, she took on a job at the Kerr-McGee nuclear plant near Crescent, Oklahoma.

Though she enjoyed her job at first, she soon became disturbed by safety problems at the plant. She quickly got caught up in a storm of conflicting events: the safety of herself and her coworkers, the insistence of plant management that everything was fine and a worker’s union that was fighting for better treatment.

Though she was just a young woman, Karen showed bravery, tenacity and ingenuity as she began secretly collecting evidence of the plant’s problems for weeks on end. Finally, she had enough to take Kerr-McGee to court. However, she would never get the chance.

 

Karen Silkwood’s grave in Danville Cemetery in Kilgore, TX.

 

She died in a car wreck on the way to meet with a newspaper reporter to tell her story. The investigation determined it was an accident but found signs that may have indicated foul play. Was she killed and, if so, who killed her?

Karen Silkwood’s story is fascinating and frightening. She was one of the first whistleblowers and stood up to a billion-dollar corporation and she may have paid for it with her life. Tune in, listeners, and find out about her story.

 

Episode 19 – The New London School Explosion

East Texas hasn’t always been the rustic backwater that some folks imagine. At the turn of the 20th century, a recent oil boom had set local communities on the path to modernity. However, this desire was tempered with a resolve for expansion and progress. The result was unimaginable tragedy.

 

 

The New London School Memorial, on Main Street, across from the site of the new school building.
New London School Memorial.

One the morning of March 18, 1937 a faulty gas line causing a natural gas leak caused a massive explosion underneath the New London school building. Of the 600 people inside the building at the time of the blast, over 319 were killed. At the time, it was the greatest tragedy involving school children of the modern era.

 

The grave of a victim of New London.

 

What can we learn from this horrible tragedy? It has shaped the communities where I live, and indeed the entire world, for decades to come.

 

The graves of two sibling victims of New London, buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery.

 

Perhaps the greatest lesson that we can take from this catastrophe is that the human spirit can always recover, always rebuild into a brighter future, shaped and more ready from the misfortunes of the past.

 

Listen to the episode here:

 

 

 

Episode 18 – The Murder of Diamond Bessie

The shady pine trees and red dirt roads of East Texas hide many secrets and many old stories. Though many have lived out quiet, unassuming lives among the pines, others have met a crueler fate. Of all these stories, it is the ones marked down in blood and sorrow that continue to catch our attention so many years later.

In the 1800s, East Texas was a much different place, though some things have never changed. In those days, just after the end of the Civil War, many places in the South became boomtowns, growing rich on the bounty of the land and the appetites of the newly rich. Jefferson was one such place. Ideally situated on the banks of the Red River, this town drew in many people from across the young nation, ready to spend money on drink and companionship.

The grave of Diamond Bessie, adorned with fresh flowers and coins.

These days, Jefferson is known as one of the most haunted cities in Texas, and sometimes one of the most haunted cities in the U.S. How did it garner such a reputation? The history of Jefferson is a history of blood, of treachery and of heartache.

Thus goes the tale of Diamond Bessie Moore. Almost 150 years ago, this beautiful young woman arrived by train in the city of Jefferson, never to leave again. She met her fate across a bridge in the heart of the bayou, slain by a single bullet to the head. Though many suspected her ne’er-do-well lover, the case remains unsolved to this day.

The Brooks House hotel, where Diamond Bessie stayed just before her murder.

What happened that day in 1877, in the shade of the pine trees in the bayou, as the air hung thick over Jefferson? It may never be known but that is no reason to lose interest. Tune in, dear listeners, and I’ll tell you all about the mystery of Diamond Bessie and the place she still holds in the hearts of the people of East Texas.