Thursday, July 2, 2009

Big Trouble in Wills Point, Texas

Charlie Wilkinson and Erin Caffey

The Sunday Times June 21, 2009

The Texas (Caffey) Family Massacre

When A teenage girl’s parents banned her from seeing her boyfriend, she asked him to kill her entire family. He complied, with a little help from a friend.

Alex Hannaford

Three hearses stand outside the funeral home by White Rose Cemetery on the outskirts of the historic town of Wills Point, Texas. A low black fence circles the lawns and has little eulogies welded into the metalwork: to Amy Louise Harris, town sweetheart; to all the business and professional women interred here. The headstones in White Rose are not imposing — just small, simple slabs dedicated to mothers, fathers and, sometimes, children.

Terry Caffey drives through in his white Chevy truck. He turns down a path, takes a left and pulls up in the shade of a small tree. Since March last year he has made this journey many times. He gets out and walks up to three inconspicuous stones. One reads: Penny Lynn Caffey, and has an engraving of a keyboard and musical notes. Another reads: “Bubba” Matthew Ryan Caffey, son of Terry and Penny. It has an engraving of a guitar. The last reads: Tyler Paul Caffey, son of Terry and Penny. This one has an engraving of a toy cart. All have the same date of death: March 1, 2008.

That was a Saturday and the sun had not yet come up. Terry and Penny were asleep in their two-storey wooden cabin, nestled in 20 acres of woodland near the small town of Emory. Thirteen-year-old Bubba and 8-year-old Tyler were also asleep, upstairs, as was the Caffeys’ 16-year-old daughter, Erin — or so they thought.

Shortly after 3am, two men armed with guns and a samurai sword let themselves in. By the time the sun rose, Bubba and Tyler were dead, their bodies riddled with bullets, Penny had been decapitated and the house had been burnt to the ground. Terry, bleeding profusely, had managed to escape from the burning cabin and crawled for an hour through the woods to his neighbours’ house. A few days later, while recovering in his hospital bed, he was told the unthinkable — that his daughter had masterminded the entire thing.

Erin had been dating an older boy from school, Charlie Wilkinson, but her parents thought Wilkinson was arrogant and a bit of a thug and told Erin they didn’t want her seeing him.

Around one or two in the morning, Erin called Wilkinson. It was time. A month earlier, she had asked her boyfriend to kill her family. It was the only way, she said, they could ever be together.
Wilkinson pulled up outside the Caffey house in a silver Dodge Neon with his schoolfriend Charles Waid and Waid’s girlfriend, Bobbi Johnson. Erin came out in her pyjamas and got in the car while Wilkinson and Waid entered the house. According to Johnson, Erin was saying she “couldn’t believe it is actually going to happen” and that she was “so excited”. Johnson says she didn’t know what to do. So she did nothing, except drive to a nearby layby and wait.

Erin and Bobbi waited in the car around the corner until they got the phone call from Waid. Johnson says Erin kept asking: “Are they dead, are they dead?” When they reached the car, Johnson saw the sword. “It’s something I will never forget,” she says. “They put it in the trunk. It had blood on it. I was freaking out but Erin was jumping up and down in her seat, excited.”

At first, police told Terry that his 16-year-old daughter had escaped out of a window and was found hiding in the woods. When they felt he was strong enough, just before he left hospital, they told him the truth — that far from being a victim, Erin had been involved from the beginning.

When police found Wilkinson in Waid’s brother’s trailer, the gun was beside him. He said it was meant to be given to someone to clean and hide. Wilkinson says this person knew what was going to happen that night — in fact, he was originally asked to commit the murders but backed out.

From prison, where he is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole, Wilkinson says,“I have nightmares about that night. The night continues to run over and over and over, but little things change… they live and I die. Terry fights me and in the struggle I get shot. If I could go back and change it and give my life up for the three that I took, I would.”

Wilkinson’s father, Bobby, hasn’t spoken to the press before. He still lives in Emory and says, for the most part, people are courteous and don’t blame him for what happened. He writes to his son but hasn’t yet visited him in prison. He says Wilkinson had enlisted in the National Guard and planned to train as a diesel mechanic. “Some are good kids and will do anything you want. Some are total screw-ups. I felt Charlie was somewhere in the middle. We had a few minor problems, but mostly he was a normal teenager.

Except when he wasn't.

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