On January 22, 2015, my town of Longview changed forever. At the time, there was an ongoing national debate about police-involved shootings and, in one brief event, we became a part of that dialogue in a very immediate way.
On that day in January, 17-year-old Kristiana Coignard entered the lobby of the Longview Police Department building on Cotton Street near downtown Longview. Less than 20 minutes later, she was dead.
What happened that night has been the subject of in-depth investigation and serious debate. It has been established that Kristiana had been dealing with mental health issues for years but exactly what role those issues played in her death is not certain.
The police claimed that Kristiana wrote “I have a gun” on her palm, which she displayed to a police officer who responded to her request for help. The police also claimed that she struggled with officers and, at one point, displayed a butcher knife in a threatening manner. She was also found to be in possession of a suicide note on the night of her death and scars were found on her wrists, as well as elsewhere on her body. It appeared, to some, that Kristiana had been in a state of suicidal ideation and was attempting to end her life when she entered the police station that night.
These allegations were questioned after a surveillance video from the lobby that night was released to the public on YouTube. That video is still available though I caution you that, if you decide to watch it in its entirety, it is very graphic and disturbing.
In this episode, I provide a breakdown of this video for those who don’t wish to watch and, for those of you who do watch, you may compare your own opinions with my descriptions of the images contained in the video.
I am not, at all, trying to insert my own opinions about this case into this episode. However, it appears to me, as it has to many others, that the conclusions portrayed by police reports of the incident are, at least, somewhat in conflict with the images that can be seen in the video. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.
Despite what we may think about this case, the public’s reaction was undeniable. Public protests occurred in Longview and the hacktivist group Anonymous attacked the infrastructure of the city of Longview’s website.
The only sure conclusion that can be reached about this case, in my estimation, is that Kristiana was in definite need of mental healthcare and, for many reasons, she did not receive that care. This is an issue about which I care deeply and one that I think we should all take very seriously.
Tune into this episode to learn more about one of the most shocking and heartbreaking events to occur here in the middle of Nowhere in many years.
I am including a link to a YouTube video which contains footage of the protests in Longview after Kristiana’s death. CAUTION: This video contains footage from surveillance cameras inside the Longview PD building on the night of Kristiana’s death, including the moment when she was shot by officers. It is graphic and disturbing. Please watch with consideration and discretion:
For over 40 years, young girls have been disappearing and then occasionally being found murdered at the far edge of East Texas. This area, the Calder Oil Field, earned the name of the Texas Killing Fields as the years passed and more slain girls were found. Many of these girls were found close to each other and many were abducted, raped, tortured and murdered in a similar fashion. Due to a lack of police and media communication and coordination, many of these cases were not linked even though it was very likely that that at least some of them may have been perpetrated by the same person. As years turned into decades, some people finally began to put the pieces together.
Krystal Jean Baker
Disappeared from League City, Texas on March 5, 1996. Her body was recovered later that day in a neighboring county. Her murder was eventually solved.
Some of these cases would eventually be resolved while the vast majority of them remain cold to this day.
Disappeared from Alvin, TX in June 1971. Her body was discovered near the Addicks Reservoir in November 1971. Her murder remains unsolved though a confession was made.
Sharon Shaw and Rhonda Johnson
Sharon Shaw and Rhonda Johnson disappeared while visiting Galveston beach together in August 1971. Their remains were discovered starting in January 1972 when two boys fishing in a bayou near Webster, TX found a human skull in the water. Over the next several weeks, a intensive search found the rest of their remains. A person was arrested for their murders was convicted but later determined to likely be innocent of these crimes. Another person has been pinpointed as a person of interest in their murders.
All told, over 30 young girls and women have gone missing or whose bodies have been recovered in and around the Calder Oil Field since 1971. Most of these crimes have never been resolved but evidence recovered as recently as a few years ago has tied several suspects to some of these crimes, suggesting that there may have been multiple serial killers operating in this area at the same time.
Part 2 – Perpetrators and Suspects
At least a few of the twisted individuals responsible for the rapes and murders in the Texas Killing Fields have been apprehended and brought to justice. Hopefully, tips and clues will continue to be recovered as investigative techniques improve and more confessions occur. Many of these suspects were apprehended as a result of improved evidence analysis techniques and confessions given years after the crimes were committed.
Michael Lloyd Self
Convicted of the murders of Sharon Shaw and Rhonda Johnson in 1971, Michael Lloyd Self was sent to prison in 1974. However, the investigation into Michael Lloyd Self was riddled with errors and forced confessions. Despite this, Self’s appeals were denied and he died in prison in 2000, though he was almost certainly innocent. Several other men came forward in later years to confess to these murders and at least one of them may have actually been guilty.
Edward Howard Bell
Edward Howard Bell murdered a man in 1978 who tried to stop him from sexually harassing a group of young girls. Bell then went on the run for years before finally being recaptured. While in prison for yet another murder, this lifelong criminal, rapist and murderer confessed to murdering “the 11 who went to heaven”, 11 girls who were found dead in the Texas Killing Fields. He specifically confessed to the murders of Colette Wilson, Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw. However, he has not been convicted of any of these crimes due to a lack of evidence. Due to the passage of time, such evidence may never be recovered. Also, due to his advanced age, Bell will possibly die before these cases are resolved.
Kevin Edison Smith
In 2010, Kevin Edison Smith was arrested for a drug charge in Louisiana. Around this time, a detective back in Texas was re-examining Krystal Jean Baker’s case and decided to re-submit the dress she was wearing when she was recovered from the Trinity River. A semen stain was found on the dress and DNA was analyzed. When Kevin Smith’s DNA was taken for his drug arrest in Louisiana, it was possible to show that he was a partial match to the DNA found on Krystal’s dress. After further analysis and a trial, Kevin Edison Smith was found guilty of Krystal’s murder and he was sentenced to prison in 2012. This is perhaps the most hopeful of the resolved Killing Fields cases, as new technology was able to bring about a definitive conclusion.
Tune in to Part 2 of the Texas Killing Fields to find out more details about these chilling cases and their resolutions.