Man indicted on charges of murdering sex workers in Texas and California dating back 30 years

Douglas Thomas, 67, was jailed this week under $2 million bond on a murder warrant from Titus...
Douglas Thomas, 67, was jailed this week under $2 million bond on a murder warrant from Titus County that charges him in the April 1992 death of Shenda Denise Hayes.(KWTX)
Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 6:30 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A Waco man jailed in May after Texas Rangers linked him through a DNA database to the 30-year-old murders of prostitutes in East Texas and California was charged in a sealed indictment this week in McLennan County.

A McLennan County grand jury indicted Douglas Thomas, 68, on a capital murder charge in the April 1992 death of Shenda Hayes and the March 1993 death of Sherri Herrera.

The indictment was issued under seal Thursday because Thomas was not charged previously with capital murder in the two deaths. The indictment was unsealed Friday.

Thomas remains in the McLennan County Jail under $2 million bond. He was arrested in May on a murder warrant from Titus County that charged him in the strangulation death of Hayes, who authorities believe was killed in McLennan County. Her body was found near a rest area along Interstate 30 near Mount Pleasant in Titus County, according to records filed in the case.

Texas Ranger Danny Briley wrote in a search warrant affidavit to obtain DNA samples from Thomas at the McLennan County Jail that he investigates serial murders as part of the Texas Ranger cold case unit. He alleged In the affidavit that Thomas also was linked by DNA to Herrera’s murder in Riverside County, California.

Both women were described in the affidavit as “known prostitutes.”

Briley, the lead investigator in the 2013 shooting death of “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle, wrote that Thomas was linked to the two murders by DNA found at the crime scenes that had been uploaded years ago into the Combined DNA Index System, a national DNA database maintained by the FBI known as CODIS.

A defendant can be charged with capital murder if he kills more than one person. However, normally it is alleged that the deaths were caused during the same criminal transaction. The indictment against Thomas alleges “both murders were committed pursuant to the same scheme or course of conduct, but during different criminal transactions.”

Mike Thompson, an investigator in the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office and a former member of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department cold case unit, and Briley worked together on the case.

The 30-year-old Herrera’s body was found in March 1993 in a remote desert area along Interstate 10 in California. The affidavit says she was sexually assaulted and strangled with a belt. Court records identify her as a “known prostitute and drug abuser who worked the highway rest area” in Tulare County, Calif.

She was last seen being dropped off at a rest area between Tulare and Pixley, Calif., and had arranged to be picked up in 10 minutes, according to the affidavit. She was not seen again, the affidavit says.

Thompson reported that he uploaded a DNA profile from the murder scene in CODIS in 2002. Five years later, a “CODIS case-to-case hit,” or match, was made connecting the two murders.

“In other words, DNA from a single person was located at both crime scenes,” the affidavit states.

Thompson contacted Briley in Aprill to tell him that based on the “family tree” he built, there were six descendants who all live in or around Waco that were in the right genetic range for comparison. Briley, at Thompson’s request, took a DNA sample from Thomas on April 26, the results of which Briley said matches that of the “suspect profile.”

“Based on my training and experience and conversations with other professionals, including but not limited to Investigator Mike Thompson, the DNA match can only belong to Suspected Party,” Briley wrote in the court document.

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