For decades, young women have been turning up dead in a rural field off a dirt road in League City, Texas – and one grieving father is determined to seek answers.
Netflix has recently dropped a three-part docuseries titled “Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields,” which explores the unsolved murders of four Texas women that occurred between the ‘80s and ‘90s. Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Joe Berlinger serves as executive producer as Emmy Award-winning director Jessica Dimmock follows the story of Tim Miller, whose daughter Laura Miller’s remains were found in 1986.
“Tim is a person with so much determination,” Dimmock told Online News 72h Digital. “When his daughter went missing in the ‘80s, it put him on a new life path forever. He’s determined to not let his daughter’s case remain cold forever, but he also doesn’t want any other family to be in this pain and in this position… He has become a champion and an ally for other families with missing loved ones… He’s so committed to helping any family member who’s going through this in any way he can. And it turns out he’s quite good at it.”
According to the FBI, Miller’s daughter vanished in 1984 after she left her family’s League City residence to use a pay phone at a local store to call her boyfriend. Her family’s phone was not yet connected. She never returned home, and police assumed she was a runaway. Her body was discovered 17 months later, not far from where the body of another woman was also discovered. Heidi Fye, a local bartender, was last seen in 1983. Her remains were found in 1984.
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A third body was discovered, and it turned out to be Audrey Lee Cook of Memphis, Tennessee, who was last seen in December 1985. Cook, who is believed to be around age 30 at the time of her death, worked as a mechanic and lived in the Houston area. Then, in 1991, a fourth body was found. It was Donna Gonsoulin Prudhomme, who was believed to be around age 34 at the time of her death. It would take more than two decades to identify both Cook and Prudhomme.
The bodies were disposed of by either a serial killer or multiple murderers in the desolate space, which has become known as “The Killing Fields” or “Texas Killing Fields.” The FBI has brought significant resources to the cases and numerous leads have both come and gone. However, the murders remained unsolved. According to the FBI, there are no known witnesses to any of the killings and no common person connects all four.
“There are a few things that contribute to this area being kind of a hotbed for not only murder but also for people being able to get away with murder,” Dimmock explained. “The first is these are old cases, so just in general there’s the lack of technology and DNA testing. Then you’ve also got the landscape and the weather. Galveston County and Southern Texas get a lot of hurricanes. It gets a lot of flooding. Water effects evidence. Not only does it mean that evidence can disappear, but it also means that criminals know that evidence will disappear. Getting rid of bodies in water or places that might flood is a great way to cover your tracks.”
“But there are other factors,” Dimmock continued. “There was an oil boom in Houston that led to a rise of new developments and new residents looking for opportunities. And so, you have this culture of new developments clashing with… [more] rural communities. With that came a lot of new territories. Jurisdictions were separated. Police departments weren’t necessarily communicating with one another… And the final thing these crimes have in common is that there’s a highway that runs from Houston down to Galveston. That provides a way for people to get in and get out quickly and easily. People could come into this territory, dump a body and then get back on the highway, never to be seen again. That became a huge contributing factor.”
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Since the ‘70s, 30 bodies have been found either in or around the land between 1971 and 1999. The majority of the victims are young girls and women aged between 12 and 25 years old.
“The cases [from] the ‘70s really in some ways, struck me the most,” said Dimmock. “They are very important. The reason that we include them in our series is that they provide the first glimpse. They’re like the harbinger of what’s to come… How could a pattern not be seen and detected? A lot of the cops were telling families, ‘Oh, she’s just a runaway,’ or, ‘She’s going to come back.’… These girls were not runways. Their parents were right to be concerned. And those cases went unsolved… I think it’s kind of a dark cloud that hangs over that community that has allowed some of these other crimes to happen in their wake.”
According to the FBI, multiple killers cannot be ruled out. Additionally, they likely have roots in the area. In 2000, Miller founded and became the executive director of Texas EquuSearch, a non-profit that searches for missing people. In the 22 years since its founding, the group has assisted more than 2,000 cases, helping recover 428 missing persons alive and the remains of 326 deceased victims, according to its website.
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Dimmock suspects that the killers are both from the area or have at least heard of “The Killing Fields.”
“… It was easy to get in and out,” she said. “Evidence could be destroyed quickly. There wasn’t a lot of surveillance… I think one of the things that’s unique to this story is that it’s very rare for multiple serial killers to kind of work in the same territory. But I think that’s what’s happening here.”
The FBI is still actively looking for new tips. Its behavioral experts have also created a profile of a possible killer. The area has also developed significantly since the ‘80s and ‘90s. According to the FBI, the area now has a paved road and is across the street from a housing development. A local church also owns the land and has worked with community members to create a memorial.
In July of this year, Miller was granted more than $24 million in a wrongful death lawsuit over the cold case abduction and murder of his daughter.
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Although no suspect has been charged in Laura’s death, Miller sued Clyde Edwin Hedrick, a convicted killer and the man he believes is responsible. The original petition alleged that Hedrick “abducted and killed” the teenager. Hedrick has been convicted of numerous other crimes over the years, including manslaughter in the 1984 death of Ellen Ray Beason, court records showed.
After Hedrick failed to show up for the civil trial, the judge granted a default judgment in Miller’s favor for damages and other costs, according to authorities. Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady, who prosecuted the manslaughter conviction in 2014, said the investigation into Laura’s death remains open and active.
“The FBI task force that was formed has [taken] positive steps in the area to make sure that this type of pattern doesn’t happen again,” said Dimmock. “Does that mean no crime will ever be committed again? Absolutely not. But I think that through the work of Tim Miller and EquuSearch… I think there is a much stronger sense of community of how to get the police to respond quickly.”
Dimmock is hopeful that her docuseries will help ensure that the victims will not be forgotten, and perhaps will encourage those with any leads to come forward.
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“I think one of the things that struck me in so many of these cases, going back to the ‘70s and then up to the ‘90s, is that the families knew something was wrong and were told by the police in a lot of the cases that they were wrong,” she said. “And I think in these past few years… we’ve understood what it means to believe women [and families]… it doesn’t matter what a normal pattern might look like.”
“Of course, that could be informative, but you can’t make a pattern of what normally happens in a crime take over what a family knows to be true,” she shared. “When a family member says, ‘My daughter hasn’t come home, and she wouldn’t do this,’ in all of these cases, that turned out to be true. And these families were told, ‘No, she’s a runaway. She just needed a break.’ I think that allowed critical time to go by.”
Online News 72h Digital’s Michael Ruiz contributed to this report.