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40 Greatest Stories

A Case of Rape

In State of Texas vs. Willard Bishop Jackson, justice was served up. But was it served?
By Jim Atkinson |
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It was patrolman Phillip Hughes who heard the urgent signal 19 that autumn night. The evening spent patrolling the Cedar Springs region of Oak Lawn had been uneventful, even peaceful for the three-year veteran cop, until 11:30, when his two-way radio crackled its message: a rape-robbery-shooting at the Americana Apartments at Cedar Springs and Hudnall. Two young girls seriously wounded. Assailant at large.


Barely three blocks from the scene, Hughes squealed to the stylish apartment complex in a matter of minutes; after locating 210A, the young officer took the concrete stairs in twos to reach the second-story apartment. He banged on the door repeatedly before a weak, muffled voice said from within, “Go around to the back. I want to see you first.”

[inline_image id=”6″ align=”r” crop=””]Hughes sprinted to the rear of the apartment, to a sliding glass patio door. The curtains were drawn. He called to the victim again: the curtains swept back, revealing a ghostly visage: There, in the pale light of the living room, was a young blonde woman, completely nude, her face a grotesque mask of blood. “We have been shot,” she said, almost calmly.

“Who is we?”

“Me and my roommate.”

Hughes hurried to the rear bedroom of the apartment. Blood literally oozed down the left side of the double bed, where a second female, a pretty brunette, lay motionless, a sheet partially covering her savaged neck. A bowel movement, undoubtedly passed in a spasm of terror, lay between her legs. The room stank of excrement and fear.

The young officer inspected the semicomatose victim gingerly, while trying to soothe her near-hysterical roommate. The brunette’s face was china-white with shock. But she was breathing, faintly and fitfully. A bullet, apparently shot at close range, had ripped through her neck; beneath the layer of blood covering the wounded area, Hughes could see several small stab wounds.

He took a pulse, determining there was enough life left in the girl to get her to Parkland. As ambulance and back-up police converged on the scene of the bloodbath, Hughes turned back to the blonde for a description of the assailant. Despite her frenzied state — not to mention the gaping bullet wound on the right side of her nose — she was remarkably precise in her recall. “He was a black male, he had a short … it really wasn’t an Afro, it was a well-rounded hairstyle,” she said, fighting blood back in her throat. “He had on a sport jacket that was dark green with a dark, I believe it was a black shirt and dark pants and he had a black patent leather belt, and he had black shoes, black shoes that had silver buckles…” The intruder had entered the apartment after asking to borrow her phone, she continued, rifled through both girls’ purses, raped her at gunpoint, and then shot them as they lay helpless on the bed.

Hughes passed his notes on to arriving detectives R.C. Johnson, R.M. Wagoner and A.M. Eberhardt, as the victims were whisked to Parkland emergency. The three veteran investigators, who shared nearly half a century of police experience among them, pondered the crime. Certainly the bloodlust of the assailant seemed more insatiable than in most cases: but the basics of the crime were, regrettably, just like the thousands of other spasms of violence that filled police blotters each year in the city. Typically, the intruder had left few, if any, clues at the scene. Despite the TV shows, the seasoned cops knew all too well that this was the rule of thumb in crimes of violence. No spent bullet hulls were in evidence; no personal effects had been dropped by the marauder. Indeed, for all the savagery of the crime, the scene was remarkably unscathed. Except for the blood-soaked sheets, the only sign of disruption in the apartment was two phone wires that had been ripped from the wall. A brutal crime: a neat, methodical brutalizer. Just another ordinary, ugly case of rape.

The detectives did not know — could not have known — that night, as they went about the routine business of dusting for prints and combing nearby streets for suspects, that this case would turn out to be anything but ordinary.


• • •


Beverly Michaels and Margaret Moore* were two very lucky girls. Though both 26-year-olds had been shot at point-blank range with a medium-powered pistol, neither had sustained a mortal injury. Beverly’s injury, in fact, turned out to be little more than a serious flesh wound: The missile had miraculously passed through the right side of her nose, the hard and soft palates and lodged at the base of her skull, without damaging any nerves or brain matter. After extensive X-rays, doctors decided to leave the bullet in her — an operation to remove the slug could only cause more harm than good.

Margaret did not get off quite so easily. The assailant’s second projectile had torn through her esophagus at the mid-line of the neck and lodged in her upper back. Additionally, she had four stab wounds at the anterior of her neck. The bullet had caused severe hemorrhaging and shock, not to mention a potentially fatal failure of the esophagus. But Parkland emergency personnel, working at furious speed, pumped three whole units of blood into the woman and whisked her through life-saving surgery. She would eventually require two weeks of IV feeding and a total of three weeks of recuperation, but, all things considered, she was extremely fortunate.

The Dallas Police Department’s division of crimes against persons wasted no time entering the case. With physical evidence slim to nonexistent, the recollections of the two victims were of vital importance. Either the girls could provide a detailed enough description of the rapist and his modus operandi to lead police to some kind of trail, or another brutal sex crime would be quietly filed under “not cleared.” Detectives Wagoner and Johnson visited Parkland the next morning. Though her roommate was still heavily sedated, Beverly was up and around. She gave the officers their first real break in the case: Not only was Beverly emotionally sturdy after the nightmare, but as an experienced legal secretary, she had an uncanny eye for detail. Both officers felt encouraged about the case for the first time, as they listened to the young girl unravel a concise description of the assailant and the crime.

She first reiterated her portrait of the rapist, adding even more salient detail: He was an especially handsome, well-coiffed black. He was clean-shaven. His manner and speech were equally impressive: He was shy and polite as he approached her on the breezeway of her apartment that night; his voice had no trace of ghetto drawl. He spoke perfect English. This is what led her to trust him, she said.

The intruder had approached her as she returned home from a date, the victim continued. He’d asked a couple of questions about the location of another apartment, and then asked to use her phone. Beverly had said she would place the call for him, had taken the number and returned to the apartment without locking the door. She recalled the number as 745-8213 or 8231. While dialing, she’d heard the assailant enter the apartment. He accosted her in the hallway, now wearing black leather gloves and wielding a small pistol. After rousing Margaret from her bedroom, the intruder had sacked both girls’ purses, taking a total of $50 or $60. Then he’d herded them back into the bedroom, raped and sodomized Beverly and taken her expensive gold watch. In the next instant, without warning or provocation, he’d shot both of them and disapppeared. When Margaret had reached for the phone to call for help, he returned and stabbed her several times.

The detectives produced several mugs of black criminals for the girl to look at. She shook her head firmly at each of them. They decided a composite would have to be drawn. Meanwhile, other police officers scoured the scene of the crime, hoping to find some shred of physical evidence. Three latent fingerprints were lifted; the two damaged telephone wires were inspected. Based on the X-rays of the victims and Beverly’s precise description, the weapon was made: a .22 caliber revolver, probably Italian-made — a cheap and common handgun. On a long shot, police tried two other avenues: Officers lifted pubic hairs from the bed, in hopes of making a match — if and when a suspect was apprehended. Finally, a search of police pawn shop files was ordered to see if Beverly’s gold watch had been hocked.

By Friday, December 3, the day Beverly Michaels left the hospital, police had little except theories — and not many of them. Beverly had been shown dozens of mugs and had not batted an eye at any of them. In ensuing weeks, Margaret, now snapping back from her surgery, viewed the same photos with the same result. Even the composite was going slowly: The girls’ recollections were so precise that police artists could not satisfactorily replicate their description. Finally, Margaret, an art student in college, went to work on the composite. Her rendition of the man was more satisfactory to the girls than anything police artists had come up with. But Margaret admitted, as she lay recuperating from the gruesome tragedy, that something was missing from the drawing. Something in the eyes, she said.

By late December, as Margaret left the hospital to join her parents at their home in central Texas, and Beverly returned to her work, the investigation, for all intents and purposes, had ground to a halt. Investigators had shown the girls a total of 50 mugs, asked more questions, passed the composite on the street. Nothing had turned up. The case was continuing to look like just another brutal crime for the unsolved shelf. Like the vast majority of rape cases, its eventual solution seemed to rest on an unexpected stroke of luck.


• • •