Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Missing and the Unknown

What happened to the girls in the Killing Fields?
Guest post by Deborah Halber

Ella Rae Beason was last seen alive leaving a League City, Texas nightclub on July 29, 1984.  A year would go by before her body was found hidden under a trashed couch in a field just north of Galveston Causeway.

Not far away, earlier that year, the body of 25-year-old Heidi Fye had been discovered in a League City vacant lot that became known as “the Killing Fields.”  That same year, 16-year-old Laura Miller was abducted and murdered, and her body found there in 1986.  Fye and Miller are among 19 unsolved cases of missing and murdered girls and women in North Galveston County since 1971.  Two victims are unidentified.  In posters, the Jane Does are depicted as young women with long, straight hair, one with a gap between her front teeth.

Jane and John Does such as these nameless victims consumed me in the years I spent researching and writing THE SKELETON CREW: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America’s Coldest Cases.  In my book, to be released next month by Simon and Schuster, I describe how ordinary citizens are using Internet resources to identify nameless victims, including some of those tied to the Killing Fields.
Author Deborah Halber
 After Laura Miller was found, the murders continued.  Her father, Tim Miller, would go to the spots where the girls and young women had been found to see if there were any similarities to his daughter’s case.  Then he started meeting with the families.  The search for answers was “pretty painful,” he recalled, but in 2000, Miller pulled himself back from the depths of alcoholism and depression to create Texas Equusearch, through which horse owners and experienced riders volunteer to seek out the lost and missing.

(For the full story behind Miller’s work, see author Katherine Ramsland’s comprehensive profile in Crime Library.)

In March, 2014, Clyde Edwin Hedrick, 60, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Beason’s death.  The San Leon man had been questioned and released after Beason’s body was found where he admitted dumping it in 1985, but recent forensic techniques showed that Beason’s skull had been bashed in, and she had not accidentally drowned, as Hedrick claimed.

Since 2000, Texas Equusearch has been involved in more than 1,300 searches in 42 states, as well as Aruba, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua.  The organization has returned more than 300 missing people to their families and recovered the remains of 140 missing loved ones, bringing closure to many families.

Miller himself still lacks closure in his daughter’s murder, but he said Hedrick’s conviction is a step in the right direction.  Investigators hinted at ties to the deaths of Fye and Laura Miller.  No connections were elucidated during the trial, but Miller told reporters that he had long suspected that Hedrick killed his daughter.  “I'm optimistic,” Miller told a reporter in March.  “This is far from over.  This is just the beginning.”

NOTE: Deborah Halber has worked as a daily newspaper reporter, as a writer and editor for Tufts, and as a science writer for MIT.  A freelance journalist since 2004, her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, MIT Technology Review, the graphic news magazine Symbolia, and many university publications. Her narrative nonfiction book, The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases, will be published next month by Simon & Schuster.  She lives near Boston.

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