Over the course of a few decades, a patch of land near Interstate 45 in League City outside of Houston was the site of a series of grisly discoveries.
The bodies of dozens of murdered women and girls were recovered from the area – dubbed “the Texas Killing Fields” – dating back to the early ’70s. And while several suspects have been put forward over the years, many of the murders remain unsolved.
Now, the latest installment of the Netflix docuseries “Crime Scene” turns a spotlight on four of the murder victims, and their families’ pursuit to find justice for them.
Jessica Dimmock, a documentary photojournalist and director of “Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields,” joined the Texas Standard to discuss the series and the gruesome story that it focuses on. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Set the stage for us, if you will. What can you tell us about the main figures here, the four victims that make up the focus and their family members?
Jessica Dimmock: The four victims that are kind of at the heart of the story that we’re telling are all women that go missing in the ’90s. Their abductions and murders go unsolved for many, many years and continues to this day. But really, there’s also like a very important backdrop in which the story takes place in that, you know, in a very similar area going all the way back to the ’70s, there were 13 young women who had all mysteriously vanished from Galveston Island. Eleven out of those 13, I believe, were in one year. And so you’ve got this kind of backdrop where a lot of crimes against women have happened. And also those had remained unsolved, and there was a lot of police inactivity and lack of communication between police departments. So when this happens in the ’80s, there’s this kind of feeling of like, “oh my God, maybe this is starting again. It’s the same person.” Or also, “are we about to see even more?”
And so that’s kind of like what’s at the heart of our series, as there are a lot of twists and turns that are really hard to sum up in like the one-minute version of it. And really what drew me to it was that I was a big fan of Joe Berlinger, who directed the first two seasons of the series “Crime Scene,” and also his past work. I mean, he’s someone that I really kind of credit with getting me into documentary to begin with. And I knew that kind of reputation of Radical and Imagine, and I felt that it was a really well-researched, well-supported kind of venture that we were going on. And so I felt like there was a lot of layers that we could deal with.
As you were covering this story – and I dare say probably a lot of Texans don’t know about this story, so this will be their introduction as well – was there anything that you picked up on from how this case was handled or something common in the families’ experience that you wanted to sort of highlight or draw out?
Yeah. I mean, I think that the thing that is the most common that happens to the 13 in the ’70s – that definitely happens to the four in the ’80s, and then there’s another four in the ’90s that follow a very similar pattern – which is that in all of these cases, the parents or the families or the loved ones know that something is wrong. And they go to the police and say, “my daughter, my wife or my girlfriend hasn’t come home.” And in almost all of the cases, the police say that they’re probably runaways. And I think if I were to kind of drill down on to like, what’s the one thing that kind of kicks everything off into the wrong direction for all of these cases, I think it’s that first contact with police.
Sort of a dismissive attitude.
Yeah. Dismissive sometimes when they’re younger. It’s more of a like, “oh, they’re probably off with friends or maybe they’re just starting to get into the wrong crowds.” But I mean, we’re talking about kids that are really … in the ’70s you had 12-year-olds. And in the case of Laura Smither, she was 12; that happened in the ’90s. That was the one case where you really saw a huge community turnout. But, you know, when they start to be older victims in their late teens and early 20s, then, you know, then there was also a little bit of judgment of like, “oh, you know, she was a cocktail waitress, so it was this kind of lifestyle” or, “oh, she was trying to get away from the burdens of family,” you know, for her daughter. And so, you know, in all of these cases, the family are the ones that are really the experts. I mean, I think it’s really made me think about the role of an expert in these things. Police may follow certain patterns, but when it comes to experts, the families are the experts. They know what the patterns are for their loved one.