In Amarillo, TX on August 10, 1933, a baby boy was born and immediately given up for adoption. Three weeks later, Delle and Fred Albright adopted the child, now the proud parents of Charles Albright. Delle told Charles that his mother was a 16-year-old who was forced by her father to give him up.
Delle had been a schoolteacher but transitioned to stay at home mom to raise Charles. She was invested in Charles’ education and even helped him to skip two grades in elementary school through rigorous study. She doted upon him, but was also strict and protective (sometimes to extremes). For reasons unknown, in his early childhood, she would dress Charles up as though he were a little girl, even giving him a doll to play with.
When he was less than a year old, he was found chewing on her tape measure. Her punishment? She locked him in a dark room alone.
Delle was terrified little Charles would contract Polio, so she made him bathe and change clothes multiple times per day. She even took him to the Polio ward of the local hospital to see the patients locked in iron lungs, telling him “you can spend the rest of your life here.” When he would refuse to take a nap, she would tie him to the bed. He would often escape the backyard, and her solution was to tie him to the front porch.
Additionally, she did not have traditional boundaries with her son. She would tell him about her husband’s aggressive sexual behaviors thinking it would keep Charles from growing up the same. When he was a teen, she would accompanying him on all dates to keep anything inappropriate from happening.
When Charles was 11, his mother introduced him to the world of Taxidermy via a mail-order course called The Northwestern School of Taxidermy taught by Professor J. W. Elwood. Charles studied his courses and excelled, but his frugal mother refused to purchase the beautiful fake eyes that could make the birds and small animals look real. Instead, his mother sewed dark buttons where the eyes would be.
At age 13, Charles was already a petty thief. At this age, he was also arrested for aggravated assault. With his mother’s aid, he was able to graduate high school at age 15 and enrolled in North Texas University.
In his first year of college, Charles was caught by police with $380 stolen from a cash register as well as two handguns and a rifle. He was convicted of theft and receiving stolen property and sentenced to 2 years in jail. After serving 6 months of his sentence, Charles was released early.
Still interested in his education, he enrolled in Arkansas State Teachers College with a major in pre-med studies. But after some break-ins and being caught with stolen items, he was expelled (but not prosecuted).
He married his college girlfriend, Bettye. She was a teacher, but he struggled to hold down a job. He would forge checks and fake credentials to continue this life, and managed to avoid prosecution. Throughout this time he learned to be a bull fighter, became an illustrator and even worked as a designer at an airplane manufacturer. The two had a daughter together. In 1965, he and Bettye separated before officially divorcing in 1974.
Not long after their initial separation, Charles was caught stealing hundreds of dollars of merchandise from a hardware store. He was sentenced to two years in prison, but only served 6 months of that sentence before being released.
But Charles still wanted a degree. In 1968, instead of walking the straight and narrow to earn one on his own, Charles stole the right documents and forged the right signatures to alter his grades to all A’s and B’s and gave himself both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
He continued to commit petty thefts and smaller crimes, getting probation for most of the offenses. Then in 1981, while visiting friends, Charles was accused of sexually assaulting a minor. He pled guilty, however, he said that he was innocent and pled guilty to “avoid a hassle.”
In 1985, Charles met his second wife, Dixie. She paid his bills and supported him. He got an early morning newspaper route that brought in a little money, and also gave him an easy way to slip out of the house and visit prostitutes without Dixie knowing.
On December 13, 1990, the body of 33-year-old sex worker Mary Pratt was discovered in the Oak Cliff neighborhood in southern Dallas, TX. A resident of the neighborhood discovered her in the early morning, and was so horrified at the state of the body that he rushed inside and grabbed a flowered bed sheet to cover her.
Mary’s body was clad only in a bra and t-shirt which were pulled up to her neck to reveal the badly beaten chest and face. After the beating, the killer then shot her in the head with a .44-caliber gun.
The first officer on scene, Officer Arnold, recognized Mary. He had arrested her previously on charges of prostitution at the Star Motel in Oak Cliff. The area had a viciously entwined problem of women getting hooked on drugs and then trafficked as sex workers to help feed their addictions. The hot spot was two motels located close to each other: The Avalon Motel and The Star Motel.
The homicide investigator, John Westphalen, knew the case would be difficult because the body was dumped, adding an extra layer of difficulty to the investigation. They had no witnesses to the killing or body dump, and very little evidence to help figure out where the murder even took place. With no murder weapon, no fingerprints, and no clear motive, the case was going to be a challenge.
Westphalen and his partner, Stan McNear, attending Mary’s autopsy conducted by Dr. Peacock of the Dallas County medical examiner’s office. As part of an autopsy, the medical examiner must examine the victim’s eyes. The eyes can show evidence of intoxication or poison through fluids, or evidence of physical injury like blunt force trauma or strangulation. But when Dr. Peacock lifted Mary’s eyelids, the eyes were missing. She examined closer and noted that they were removed with surgical precision.
I watched a really great webinar with Judge Brandon Birmingham where he walked through a lot of the forensics and procedure of this particular case, and he talked about the difficulty of removing a person’s eyes without damage. The eyelids and soft tissues around the eyes showed no injury. The killer knew how to remove the eyeball, cut the six major muscles holding each eye and then sever the optical nerve which is extremely tough to cut. And they did all this without any external trauma to the face.
Additionally, the gun shot wound was noted to have no stippling or gunshot residue, indicating she was shot from at least three feet away. The bullet was removed and noted to be made of aluminum which is not the standard material for these types of rounds.
In addition to Dr. Peacock’s autopsy, Trace Evidence Analyst Charles Linch collected hairs and synthetic fibers from the body for future comparison if a suspect was found.
Judge Birmingham talked about how important this fact was in helping to eliminate suspects. While the neighborhood she worked and was found in was riddling with crimes linked to drugs and sex work, this was not just a shooting victim. The killer needed medical knowledge, tools, and skills to complete this.
Investigators now knew they were looking for someone familiar with the area who had the medical knowledge to perform this act known as enucleation.
Just two months later, on February 10, 1991, two teenage boys discovered the body of 27-year-old Susan Peterson. Again, the victim was naked except for a t-shirt pulled up to her nexk. One of the boys covered her with a blanket while they waited for police to arrive. There were no signs of struggle, blood, or footprints, and very few tire tracks to indicate the murder took place where the body was dumped. Physical Evidence Section Detective Jim Cron collected hair samples from the scene for possible future comparison.
Susan was also a sex worker in the same area with a history of drug abuse. She frequented the Avalon and Star Motels. Her body was examined by Dallas County’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Bernard. He noted that this victim was shot three times. Two shots were from a distance to her chest and abdomen, but there was evidence that the shot to her head was at very close range. An aluminum bullet fragment was recovered from one of the wounds. More hairs and fibers were collected as well for future comparison.
And the most notable item from the autopsy was that, yet again, her eyes were surgically removed.
Both cases went cold until March 19, 1990 when a third victim was found. In the early hours of the morning, 46-year-old sex worker Shirley Williams was discovered on the side of the road. She was completely naked and dumped partially in the street, partially in the gutter. Near the body was a receipt that was dated January 29, 1991 (two months earlier), but it was in good condition. Had the piece of paper been lying on the street for two months, it would have been stained, wrinkled or possibly destroyed. Once, Dr. Peacock conducted the autopsy. Shirley had suffered two gunshot wounds. The first entered her left cheek and came to rest at the base of her brain. And the bullet, once again, was made of aluminum. The other gunshot wound only grazed the skin. Again, her eyes had been surgically removed.
The Dallas police now knew they were dealing with a serial killer.
With the lack of evidence and no suspect, police started interviewing sex workers at the Avalon and Star Motels. All three victims were tied to this area. Speaking with multiple people, eye witness details from around the last time each woman was scene were collected. Sightings of a man with a red pickup truck with attached camper were made by multiple witnesses. More than one woman also noted that the driver was a frequent customer to the sex workers in the area, and would get violent with them.
One of these woman had told her story while under arrest, so while it was stored in her case file from months before, it wasn’t looked into very much. She told of a man in a red pickup truck camper. He drove her out to a field and started to get violent and scary so she ran. She made it to a house on the property that was being rented to a man named Axton Schindler. Axton Schindler rented this house from a local man named Charles Albright who owned the surrounding property.
Her story went on to say that the man attacking her followed her to the house, and then both men sexually abused her. Fortunately, she was able to escape with her life. But the police now had a possible name: Albright’s.
Police now showed his picture during the canvas and stories started coming through. One sex worker recounted times he said he “hated all the whores” and that he was going to “kill them all.” Both Susan Peterson and Shirley Williams were seen with Albright on the nights they were murdered. One sex worker had seen Shirley wearing a yellow raincoat the night she was killed as well. The sex worker took police to the area she used to frequent with Albright, and they found a yellow raincoat and blanket.
Police were now able to arrest Albright, and in the back of the squad car, the officers documented that he said “Boy, I really fucked up this time…”
Police found evidence in his vehicles and home that linked him to all three murders. The victim’s hairs were inside his red pickup truck as well as within the vacuum at his home. Additionally, the hairs pulled from the victim’s bodies and the crime scenes matched his. His hair was also found on the yellow raincoat and blanket found in Shirley Williams’ investigation.
His home was searched six times, including the use of a high tech piece of equipment from the FBI that could see through walls. The one thing that was never found were the eyes.
Throughout his interrogations with investigators, Albright did not confess. The prosecution decided to focus on the evidence and forensics with 32 witnesses including Jud Ray from the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.
Albright didn’t testify in the trial at all and his alibi fell apart quickly. His trial only lasted one week before he was convicted for the murders of Mary Pratt, Susan Peterson and Shirley Williams on December 13, 1991. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Some doubt his guilt, often pointing fingers at Axton Schindler. But as Jud Ray has mentioned, a close monitoring of ViCAP has shown no murders fitting this distinct pattern and signature have been committed since Albright was arrested. ViCAP is the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program responsible for the documentation and analysis of serial violent and sexual crimes in the United States.
Claiming innocence, Albright was convinced he would have the conviction overturned through an appeal. However, he died in August of 2020 while still incarcerated. There is still speculation that he may have been innocent, but now we may never know.
- http://maamodt.asp.radford.edu/Psyc 405/serial killers/Albright, Charles.htm
- https://www.dps.texas.gov/section/crime-records/vicap-violent-criminal-apprehension-program#:~:text=ViCAP is a unit of,of Violent Crime (NCAVC).