The Eyeball Killer

So I may not have mentioned it on this blog, but I am a Murderino. I have long held a fascination with murders, ever since I was a kid. I tend not to share this often, because let’s face it – people look at you like you’re a total freak if you say “Hey so I’m super into murder” at the dinner table. My dad actually always encouraged my interest – he knew I wasn’t going to turn into a serial killer, because we would discuss the books I was reading and I think he found that I was more interested in the psychology and why people kill.

The tag title “Murderino” comes from the My Favorite Murder podcast, hosted by the hilarious and brilliant Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. Each week they discuss exactly what the title sounds like – their favorite murders. I’ve learned a lot (although admittedly, being a murder buff in her 30s, I know a lot of them), and they deliver in a super entertaining and interesting way. Also, I feel way less alone now! I can discuss murder with more than just one friend (you know who you are, all I gotta say is Gilles de Rais)!

Given that I now have no shame in my fascination with all things murder, I thought I’d start a tag and occasionally post my own favorite murders. For the first one, I figured I’d talk about the first murder I can really remember that triggered my fascination. I actually had four to choose from – JonBenet Ramsey, Amber Hagerman, the Luby’s Massacre, and this one. I also debated the Waco thing with David Koresh, but ultimately decided on the story of Charles Albright.

I was really young when this happened, but I do remember seeing it on the news. Hard to miss a news story titled “The Eyeball Killer”. In late 1990 and early 1991, three prostitutes were discovered dead in Dallas, all with their eyeballs meticulously cut out. It was so meticulous, in fact, that it wasn’t until the autopsy was about to be done that it was even noticed. Homicide detectives John Westphalen and Stan McNear went to the medical examiner’s office to observe the autopsy – standard procedure. When Dr. Elizabeth Peacock began the autopsy by opening the eyelids of first victim Mary Pratt, she exclaimed that there were no eyeballs and no tissue – a procedure that is not taught in medical school. There’s a lot holding your eyeballs in their sockets – six major muscles and the optic nerve. To remove the eye without damaging the eyelid or surrounding skin takes a lot of skill and practice, so needless to say, they were confused.

The same thing happened in February 1991, when Susan Peterson’s body was discovered on the same road as Pratt’s. It was a little further down, though, so it was in the Dallas County Sheriff Department’s hands. Larry Oliver, a detective who had not heard about Pratt’s death and missing eyeballs, went to the autopsy room where the exact same scene unfolded. The pathologist mentioned to Oliver that the DPD had a similar case, and Oliver went to work. The Sheriff’s Department and the DPD worked together, sharing information and letting all officers know that there was a serial killer on the loose – although the avoided that particular phrase, favoring “repeater”.

Two officers assigned to the Jefferson Boulevard beat, John Matthews and Regina Smith, kept a close eye on the “whore motels” around the area. Smith in particular was good at connecting with the women working the street. She kept a book of their mug shots to remind herself that she was there to protect these women. One prostitute, Veronica Rodriguez, told them a story about how a man had tried to kill her. She had been rescued by Axton Schindler, a truck driver. She was known for telling tall tales, though, and Matthews and Smith kept it in their minds but assumed it was another fib. The thing was, though, that while her other stories often changed, this one never did. She stuck with this story, and Matthews caught on. They told the homicide division about this story, and figured their job as beat cops was done.

On March 19, 1991, a third body was discovered – Shirley Williams, who worked as a maid at the Avalon Motel during the day, and worked the streets at night. It wasn’t in the same area near the Star Motel that the other two bodies had been discovered – the publicity about the case had scared the murderer off. Instead, this body had been dumped on a residential street near an elementary school in Oak Cliff.

After this discovery, the women willingly spoke to Matthews and Smith. One young girl, 17-year-old Brenda White, told them about a man who she had gotten in the car with. She never let a trick take her to a new location, insisting on one of the hotels frequented by other prostitutes. She said that he suddenly became angry, yelling about how he hated whores, and was going to kill them all. She Maced him and got away. The similarity between White’s and Rodriguez’s stories wasn’t lost on the officers. They ran a check on Axton Schindler, the man who had rescued Rodriguez, and found an address – 1035 Eldorado. The property was registered to Fred Albright.

It was Deputy Constable Walter Cook who made the connection. Just after Mary Pratt had been killed, he had received an anonymous call from a friend of Mary’s, who had dated a man named Charles Albright. She said he was nice, but had a strange love of eyes, and kept X-Acto blades in his attic. Smith and Matthews went to detective John Westphalen, and he decided to question both Brenda White and Veronica Rodriguez. They both identified Charles Albright as the man who had attacked them.

So what made Albright kill these three women? History time, y’all!

Charles Frederick Albright was adopted by Delle and Fred Albright when he was three weeks old in 1933. Delle told Charles that his birth mother had been a brilliant law student who had been forced to give him up for adoption. She then proceeded to pamper him endlessly. She even kept a goat so that he could drink goat’s milk. She was also harsh, though, tying him to his bed when he wouldn’t lie down for a nap, and locking him in a dark room once as punishment. She was overprotective, chauffeuring him on dates as a teenager and forcing him to go to bed at 8pm.

She also taught him taxidermy (not at all creepy when you combine it with the overprotectiveness, right?). When Charles got his first gun, he would kill small animals with it, and his mother, who had enrolled him in a distance taxidermy course, would help him take apart the animals, stuff them, and put them back together. However, despite being well-off financially, Delle insisted that the glass eyes at the taxidermy shop were too expensive, and used buttons for eyes instead.

By all accounts, Charles was very bright. He skipped two grades, and went to college at fifteen. He expressed interest in becoming a medical doctor, a surgeon, but failed to complete his pre-med training. He was also somewhat of a troublemaker in his youth, not getting arrested, but sort of like a super class clown. He was mischievous – he would get in trouble at school for shooting rubber bands, and once “accidentally” set fire to his chemistry teacher’s dress. He did end up going to prison when he was seventeen, after being caught stealing merchandise with a little burglary ring of fellow students at North Texas State College.

He ended up being more promising, when he met Bettye Hester. He planned to marry her, and started focusing a bit more on school, still with a medical focus. He did end up marrying her and going to Arkansas State Teacher’s College. They had a child, and moved to Crandall, where he began teaching. However, the degrees that he had claimed to have were falsified. He got a year’s probation for it – the school didn’t want the public to know that they had been swindled. Albright and his wife moved back to his old neighborhood in Dallas, where she worked as a teacher and he took on odd jobs – carpentry, woodworker, even bullfighting. He once painted a portrait of a friend’s wife – with the eyes in painstaking detail, of course.

He and Bettye divorced in 1975, and ten years later he was accused of molesting a young girl. Wanting to keep the story quiet, he admitted to the crime and was sentenced to ten years of probation (turns out the disgusting practice of not sentencing molesters and rapists to enough time has been around for awhile).Later in 1985, he moved in with Dixie Austin, who he had met while in Arkansas. While she was at work, he would go to the red-light districts.

Most of the women he saw said he was nice – he would give them extra money if they needed it, and paid more than the usual rate. One woman called off their taboo relationship after a couple of years, saying that he was getting more aggressive. He wanted her to spank him like he was a child, and another woman said that he had handcuffed her and a fellow prostitute to a bed and hit them with a belt, screaming about how he knew they liked it.

He kept books on serial killers, Nazi literature, and all those X-Acto blades. He rarely rose to anger, but once yelled about how he’s kill all the prostitutes he could after a softball teammate joked about seeing one. This dude was batshit crazy – he claimed his mother was a prostitute, but there’s no way to confirm that. They say his birth mother was a nurse in Wichita Falls, and he actually visited her often and introduced her to his own daughter.

To this day, he claims his innocence. He’s held at a psychiatric unit in Lubbock, and will turn 84 years old this year. He was convicted to a life sentence for the murder of Shirley Williams, the only one they could directly tie him to, although he was charged with all three murders.

Sources: Wikipedia – Charles AlbrightTexas Monthly – See No EvilFangoria: The Texas Eyeball Collector

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