1982 Lake Waco Murders


Not a Sheeple!
This case is technically "solved"; however, many questions remain (not the least of which is: was an innocent men executed?). I was living in Waco for several years; left a couple of months before this happened. I knew Vic Feazell casually- he was having trysts w/ my room mate. My impression of him was/is *smarmy*- not just because he was married & screwing around, but because he literally came across that way- just exuded ego, anything for attention, nasty personality in general. Also, the media makes this case sound like an aberration in Waco, and, honestly, it wasn't. I sobered up in 1980; in early 1981 an acquaintance from the program & her boyfriend went to Koehne Park to try to score some weed; the boyfriend was shot and killed. It wasn't at all unusual for people to be shot, stabbed, etc. in Waco- I worked in medicine, and not a weekend went by without shootings & stabbings coming into the E.R. Anyway, will comment more later; hope to hear others' opinions!
The 1982 Lake Waco Murders refers to the deaths of three teenagers (two females, one male) near Lake Waco in Waco, Texas, in July 1982. The police investigation and criminal trials that followed the murders lasted for more than a decade and resulted in the execution of one man, David Wayne Spence, as well as life prison sentences for two other men allegedly involved in the crime, Anthony and Gilbert Melendez. A fourth suspect, Muneer Mohammad Deeb, was eventually let out after spending several years in prison.
On July 13, 1982, two fishermen discovered the bodies of Jill Montgomery, 17, Raylene Rice, 17, and Kenneth Franks, 18, in Speegleville Park, near Lake Waco. Franks' body was found propped against a tree, with sunglasses over his eyes. All three victims had been repeatedly stabbed, and both of the women's throats had been slashed. There was also evidence that the women had been sexually assaulted.[1] <snip>
The investigation was initially headed by Lieutenant Marvin Horton of the Waco police department, with assistance from Detective Ramon Salinas and Patrolman Mike Nicoletti. Truman Simons, who was with the Waco police department at the time and had been one of the first respondents on the scene of the crime, also assisted the investigation in an informal capacity.

Initially, the investigation revealed a number of different possible suspects, including James Russell Bishop [2] and Terry Harper, local residents who had been tied to the area at the time of the crime. However, both men were found to have credible alibis (Harper's was later proven false when Spence's attorneys investigated it), and in September of that year, the investigation began to stall and was marked as "suspended." Simons, who had taken a significant personal interest in the case, requested that he be given permission to continue investigating the case, which he was subsequently granted.

<snip>The case languished for nearly a year, until the work of Simons and others had produced enough evidence to again arrest Deeb and three alleged accomplices in the plot.[4] Deeb had had a life insurance policy for one employee at his convenience store who bore a striking resemblance to Jill Montgomery. Simons hypothesized that Deeb had hired David Wayne Spence to murder her, and that Spence and two friends, Anthony and Gilbert Melendez, had seen the victims and mistaken Montgomery for the target. They speculated that the other two victims had been murdered because they were witnesses.[5]
Deeb, Spence, and the Melendez brothers were all indicted late in 1983. District Attorney Vic Feazell, whose office had been instrumental in continuing to pursue new evidence in the case, would manage the prosecution against the accused.[6] Spence and both Melendez brothers were, at the time, already serving prison sentences for various crimes.[7]

The evidence against the men largely consisted of testimony provided by other inmates, who claimed that the defendants had admitted to their involvement in the killings in private discussions, as well as confessions made by Anthony and Gilbert Melendez. Also considered was the confession Deeb had made to the two young women about his involvement in the killings, as well as the life insurance policy he had taken out for his employee. Bite marks on the victims were also presented as evidence of Spence’s involvement.

The trials began in May, with testimony from dental specialists supplementing the evidence that had been provided by the prison witnesses. In June, Anthony Melendez pleaded guilty to the crimes and was sentenced to life imprisonment.[8] Spence’s case was badly damaged by Melendez’ confession, which played a key role in his eventual conviction in July 1984. Unlike Melendez, Spence was sentenced to death for his involvement in the killings.[8]

In 1986, true-crime writer Carlton Stowers published his account of the murders and police investigation surrounding the Lake Waco murders, Careless Whispers. The book focused heavily on Truman Simons’ involvement in producing the evidence which led to the convictions.
Following the convictions of Spence and Deeb, some began to question the substance of the evidence on which the convictions had been based and the methods through which it had been obtained. Forensic odontologist Homer Campbell was proven to have made false assessments at around the same time, and when a blind panel examined the alleged bite marks and a mold of Spence's teeth, three said that the marks were not even bite marks, and the other two matched them to a Kansas housewife.[citation needed] Three of the seven people who said Spence confessed later stated that Simons had offered them privileges in order to secure their testimony and had fed them info on what to say.[citation needed] Spence's lawyers also discovered an alternate suspect in Terry Harper, a local thug with a history of knife-related offenses. Six witnesses testified to seeing Harper and his friends in the park on the night of the murder, and others claimed that he had boasted of committing the murders (some even said that he did this even before the crime was made public).[citation needed] Also, one of the victims, Kenneth Franks, was later found to have been an associate of Harper's in the drug trade.[citation needed] When Harper was interviewed by Spence's lawyers, he claimed that he was at home watching Dynasty; records showed that Dynasty did not air that night.[citation needed] Brian Pardo, a wealthy Texas businessman, met Spence a few months prior to his execution and, on becoming convinced of his innocence, launched a campaign to delay his death sentence so that a new trial could be commenced. His efforts were unsuccessful, but they brought attention to the case following Spence’s execution.

Bob Herbert wrote a series of articles for The New York Times in 1997, with headlines such as “The Wrong Man” and “The Impossible Crime,” in which he claimed that the case had been “cobbled […] together from the fabricated and often preposterous testimony of inmates who were granted all manner of favors in return.” [12]


Not a Sheeple!
Every murder involves a vast web of people, from the witnesses and the detectives who first come to the scene, to the lawyers and the juries who examine the facts, to the families of the victims, who must make sense of the aftermath. The more traumatic the killing, the more intricate the web. In the summer of 1982 the city of Waco was confronted with the most vicious crime it had ever seen: three teenagers were savagely stabbed to death, for no apparent reason, at a park by a lake on the edge of town. Justice was eventually served when four men were found guilty of the crime, and two were sent to death row. In 1991, though, when one of the convicts got a new trial and was then found not guilty, some people wondered, Were these four actually the killers? Several years after that, one of the men was put to death, and the stakes were raised: Had Texas executed an innocent man?

This story examines the case through the viewpoint of five people: a patrol sergeant who investigated the crime; a police detective who became skeptical of the investigation; an appellate lawyer who tried to stop the execution; a journalist whose reporting has raised new doubts about the case; and a convict who pleaded guilty but now vehemently proclaims his innocence.

A word about the reporting. This article is the result of a full year of research—dozens of interviews were conducted with the principal and minor players, and thousands of pages of transcripts, depositions, and affidavits, from the case’s six capital murder trials and one aggravated sexual abuse trial, were carefully reviewed. Still, what follows is not a legal document; some of the people involved in the case are dead, others don’t remember much, and even others—including the patrol sergeant who investigated the case and the DA who prosecuted it—refused to be interviewed. What follows is a story, built around the question that has haunted so many people for so many years: What really happened at the lake that night?

I'm not going to try to pick out pieces of this article to copy and paste; it is a must read, though!


Not a Sheeple!
When the bodies of three teenagers were found on the shores of Lake Waco, Texas in July, 1982, even seasoned lawmen were taken aback by the savage mutilation and degradation they had been subjected to. Yet only 52 days after the gruesome triple-murder was discovered, frustrated authorities suspended the case indefinitely.

Patrol Sergeant Truman Simons, who had been called to the scene that night, saw the carnage first-hand -- and vowed to find the ferocious killer or killers. He soon became a man with a mission, risking his career and his family's safety in search of evidence. Plunging himself into a netherworld of violence and evil, Simons finally got close enough to a murderous ringleader to hear his careless whispers--and ultimately, put him and his three accomplices behind bars for the brutal slayings.

Now, in his Edgar Award-winning account of the Lake Waco killings, acclaimed true crime writer Carlton Stowers lays bare the facts behind the tragic crimes, the twisted predators, and the heroic man who broke the investigation--with important updated information based on new developments in the case. <snip>


Not a Sheeple!

The Case of the Lonely Loser

A Strange Story of a Strange and Lonely Loser
In 1982, David Spence was accused of the rape and murder of two 17-year-old girls and one 18-year-old boy in Waco, Texas. Spence was a loner, and a loser, even by the standards of loners and losers in Waco, Texas. That is saying something. If it was alright to kill innocent losers and loners, however, then Spence would be a story that had no importance, no significance.
But as we know, the death penalty is reserved for heinous crimes that need a certain strain of retribution for justice to be achieved. Because it is a high crime deserving a severe penalty, the murder of innocents is often reserved for the death penalty. Because of the exclusive nature of the death penalty, the conviction needs to be certain, beyond any doubt, now or ever; a penalty that can never be undone needs to never be doubted even for a moment.
Unfortunately, this story of a lonely loser does not meet that special standard, and it is entirely possible that this lonely loser was nothing more, yet executed anyway.<snip>


Not a Sheeple!
Nearly 20 years after Spence was executed, Campbell’s credibility took yet another hit — this time due to a truly bizarre series of events. About a year after the Lake Waco murders, Spence’s mother was raped and murdered in her home. Hours after the crime, someone then broke into the home again and rifled through some boxes and papers in Spence’s old room. Spence’s mother had recently begun her own investigation into her son’s conviction. Some, including a local police officer named Jan Price, believed the crimes may have been connected. But Simons and the local DA quickly took over the case. And again they brought in Homer Campbell. He claimed to have found bite marks on Spence’s mother that were “consistent with” a man named Joe Sydney Williams. In 1987, thanks to Campbell’s testimony, Williams and his friend Calvin Washington were convicted of raping and murdering Spence’s mother. Neither had a direct connection to the Lake Waco murders.
There was no real DNA testing back in 1987. And the semen samples in the rape kit taken of Spence’s mother mysteriously disappeared. But a journalist later discovered that vaginal and anal swabs had been taken and preserved in a crime lab. In 2000, DNA tests on those swabs excluded both Williams and Washington as her rapist. Both men were released from prison. <snip>


Not a Sheeple!
The Impossible Crime
By Bob Herbert
  • July 28, 1997
    • Any intelligent person who takes a close and honest look at the David Wayne Spence case will see that it was a travesty.

      Discussing the case last week, Felipe Reyna, a respected Texas lawman, noted: ''It's real easy to get an inmate, somebody who's already in jail for committing a felony, to do just about anything you want him to do. They all sing like birds just to get some points, so to speak. To get some time off.

      ''I was never in favor of that. If I didn't have independent testimony, good solid evidence, I wouldn't go to the grand jury.''

    • During his tenure as District Attorney Mr. Reyna had his differences with the narcotics cop, Truman Simons, who initiated the effort to pin the crime on Mr. Spence.

      ''Simons would do whatever it took to get a conviction,'' Mr. Reyna said.

      By all accounts, Mr. Simons relied heavily on jailhouse stool pigeons to make his cases. If Mr. Reyna had remained as District Attorney, it is not likely that David Spence would ever have been prosecuted. But Mr. Reyna was defeated in an election and succeeded by a man named Vic Feazell. Mr. Feazell and Mr. Simons got along famously.

    • Raoul Schonemann, a lawyer who tried valiantly to help Mr. Spence on appeal, said: ''Underhanded deals with inmate witnesses and almost patently incredible inmate testimony provided the very foundation of this case.''

      What was most astonishing was that Mr. Simons and Mr. Feazell managed to parlay that shaky foundation into a combination of jury verdicts and guilty pleas that landed Muneer Deeb (who was re-arrested) and David Spence on death row and put two brothers, Tony and Gilbert Melendez, in prison for life.


Not a Sheeple!
A Closer Look at Five Cases That Resulted in Executions of Texas Inmates
David Spence

Executed 4/3/97

David Spence was executed in connection with the rape and torture murders of two 17-year-old girls and the murder of an 18-year-old boy in Waco. He received death sentences in two trials for the murders.

Mr. Spence, a roofer with a history of substance abuse, was accused of a murder-for-hire killing that went awry, in which the three victims died. Muneer Deeb, a convenience store owner, was also charged and sentenced to death in the case. But he received a new trial and was acquitted in 1993. Mr. Deeb died last November of liver cancer. He had steadfastly maintained that neither he nor Mr. Spence had anything to do with the killings.

The original police homicide investigator, Ramon Salinas, acknowledged in the appeals process that he had serious doubts about Mr. Spence's guilt. In a sworn deposition given to Mr. Spence's lawyers in 1993, Marvin Horton, a former Waco police lieutenant who was involved in the case, said, "I do not think David Spence committed this offense."

The prosecution built its case against Mr. Spence around bite marks -- a state expert said that bite marks on the body of one of the girls matched Mr. Spence's teeth -- and jailhouse snitches, both of which can be highly unreliable forms of evidence. Mr. Spence was already in prison, serving a 90-year sentence for aggravated sexual abuse of an 18-year-old man, when he was indicted for the Waco killings.

Two of the six jailhouse witnesses who testified at trial subsequently recanted, saying they had been given cigarettes, television privileges and alcohol, and one of them had been allowed conjugal visits with a girlfriend, in exchange for their accusations against Mr. Spence.

Mr. Spence's post-conviction lawyers from the now-closed Texas Resource Center organized a blind panel study in which five experts -- odontologists -- said the bite marks could not be matched to Mr. Spence's teeth.

Mr. Sutton, the governor's criminal justice adviser, said the verdict was fair and the death penalty was justified.

With Governor Bush running for president, and the Texas death penalty system under heavier scrutiny, one of Mr. Spence's post-conviction lawyers, Raoul Schonemann, says ruefully that Mr. Spence is receiving more attention now than he did when his lawyers were fighting to save his life.

"David certainly wanted us to persist in trying to bring out the truth," Mr. Schonemann said. "I've always been willing to answer questions. But I feel very conflicted. It's competing with my time for our people who are living."


Forum statistics

Latest member
Miss True Crime