New evidence surfaces in decades old Central Texas murder case

A forensic reconstruction of the victim's face. (Law enforcement image)
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GEORGETOWN, Texas (KWTX) New evidence has surfaced in the 39-year-old murder of a woman whose body was found in a culvert along Interstate 35 in Williamson County, nude except for a pair of orange socks.

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody posted a message on Sept. 28 on the department's Facebook page that said: "UPDATE ON COLD CASE/ORANGE SOCK: Preliminary forensic evidence testing shows Orange Socks DNA as well as possibly another DNA contributor. Unknown how much or if the other contributors quantity is sufficient for further testing. Still in preliminary testing stages."

Patricia Gutierrez, media spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, said Thursday cold case detectives would not reveal the source of the DNA, but the victim was unclothed except for her socks, so there's nowhere else the sample could have come from because her body is buried.

Gutierrez said it would take 60 to 90 days for the pending test to be finalized, depending on how backed up the testing laboratory is, but if there is testable DNA found, the result eventually could lead to the real killer's identity after the sample is submitted top national DNA banks through which a match could be found.

The Orange Socks case has haunted Williamson County investigators since the young woman's nude body was found in a roadside culvert on Oct. 31, 1979 alongside Interstate 35.

She was dumped there naked, except for a pair of orange socks, from which she derived the only name by which she's been known since she died.

A medical examiner who autopsied the remains estimated that she was between 15 and 30 years old, between 5-feet, 8-inches and 5-feet tall, 10-inches tall and weighed between 140- and 160-pounds.

The cause of death was strangulation and she died "just hours before the body was found,” the medical examiner determined.

Investigators determined that her body had been dragged from a vehicle, thrown over a guardrail and into the culvert below.

There were several bruises on her body, on her neck from the strangulation and on her torso from being thrown over the guardrail, the autopsy showed.

The woman's legs were unshaven, she had very long toenails, her fingernails were painted and a hairline scar was observed beneath the chin; her body showed an extremely excessive number of insect bites.

Post-mortem X-rays showed, in spite of her significant injuries, she had never suffered a broken a bone, and it showed she suffered from salpingitis, a side effect of previously contracting gonorrhea, the examiner's report showed.

The victim had 10-inch-long brown hair with a reddish tint and hazel eyes.

She was missing two teeth, but in spite of showing no signs of dental care, her teeth were well-maintained, and she wore a silver ring with an abalone or mother-of-pearl setting.

Police recovered two matchbooks at the scene, one of which came from a hotel from Henrietta, Okla., which supported investigators' theory she was a hitchhiker or drifter.

Also from the scene police recovered a blood-stained towel which they theorized had been used as a sanitary napkin, perhaps because the victim was attempting to control her menstruation without having to buy tampons.

Suspect confessed, but later recanted

In spite of not having her identity, authorities charged and eventually convicted Henry Lee Lucas, a nationally famous serial killer who confessed to her murder in 1984.

But Lucas later recanted his confession after then McLennan County District Attorney Vic Feazell discredited a list of dozens of confessions Lucas had given as having been prompted by investigators with the Texas Rangers.

"He recanted on almost all his confessions after the trial," recalled retired Williamson County District Attorney Ed Walsh, who tried Lucas and won a guilty verdict in 1984.

"Nobody knows how many people he killed," Walsh said in a May 2018 report aired on Fox7 in Austin.

"He certainly didn't kill everybody he claimed to have killed."

Although Lucas confessed to her murder, police had no physical evidence that he'd actually been involved in the killing, the sexual assault or disposition of the body.

In an interview with Texas Rangers at the time, Lucas said he picked the victim up in Oklahoma, had sex with her, and when he asked for sex again, she refused and tried to get out of the car.

In anger, police said, he killed her, raped her corpse, put her in the car trunk and drove to Georgetown, where he disposed of her body.

Lucas, after trial presided over by now U.S. Congressman John Carter, then the 26th District Court judge in Williamson County, was sentenced to death and sent off to Huntsville.

Then Governor George W. Bush later commuted the death sentence in the Orange Socks case after he determined there wasn't ample enough evidence to execute Lucas.

DA questioned the confessions

In all, various law enforcement agencies both in Texas and around the country cleared more than 600 murders using Lucas confessions, all of which he eventually recanted.

One agency made a case that as many as 3,000 murders had been committed by Lucas and his henchman associate Otis Toole, and Lucas, in television and newspaper interviews, seemed to enjoy the limelight.

He was ultimately was convicted of nine murders he'd admitted to, but only Orange Socks was a death penalty case.

In the end he likely actually committed only two, and the only one actually proved was the murder of his mother, Viola.

Many of the 600 cases never were re-opened, but Orange Socks is an exception.

Just two years before he died on March 13, 2001, he said during an interview with ABC News, "I made the police look stupid. I was out to wreck Texas law enforcement."

Then McLennan County DA Vic Feazell was an early skeptic.

He took issue with Lucas's confessions because the one-eyed drifter had taken credit for a McLennan County murder that Feazell knew he didn't commit, because Feazell was about to try the man who did.

Feazell and his prosecutors convicted Joe Leaming, 42, of the murder of Joshlyn Annette Calvin, 28, a prostitute already well known to police, and when investigators raised the issue, Feazell proved Lucas couldn't have done the murder because he'd been working in Florida at the time Calvin was killed.

Calvin's body was found at about 7:15 p.m. on Aug, 4, 1984, floating in a pond at a gravel pit just south of Loop 340 and University Parks, near Downsville.

The state proved Leaming and Calvin had been seen together the night of the slaying and the five-woman, seven-man panel returned the 99-year verdict in the Leaming case in just 15 minutes.

Eventually Feazell would prove that Texas Rangers had shown Lucas pictures of crime scenes and he'd been given details of the crimes he took credit for before the interviews took place.

Feazell's slap in the face got state and federal law enforcement riled up and over the coming months the government put together a federal racketeering charge against the DA, alleging, uncannily, that he'd accepted "under-the-table" cash payments to drop criminal cases for his friends.

But after trial in federal court in Austin, Feazell was acquitted and then he successfully sued the parent company of Dallas TV station WFAA and won a $58-million settlement.