Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carroll Edward Cole

Body Count

Cole's litany of death consumed the afternoon and evening of December 1, 1980. Det. Robinson took notes as the prisoner admitted strangling Dorothy King, Wanda Roberts and Sally Thompson. In each case the scenario was nearly identical: a barroom meeting, promises of sex, and Cole's hands clamped around a dying woman's neck.

Nor were the Dallas murders isolated incidents. In fact, there had been six before them in the past nine years. All drunken sluts, by Cole's account. All strangled. Some of them molested after death.

In San Diego he remembered three victims. The first was Essie Buck, a tavern owner strangled, stripped and dumped outside the city limits in May 1971. The second was Bonnie Sue O'Neil, a prostitute Cole strangled and discarded in the alley behind an appliance shop where he worked in August 1979. A month later Cole's alcoholic wife Diana fell prey to his murderous rage, her body wrapped in blankets and hidden in a closet of their home while Eddie hit the road.

Las Vegas was another city where Cole had spent considerable time, and he had claimed two victims there. Part-time prostitute Kathlyn Blum was strangled and dumped in a residential neighborhood during May 1977. More than two years later, in November 1979, victim Marie Cushman had been left in the bed she shared briefly with Cole at the Casbah Hotel. The final victim on Cole's list was Myrlene Hamer, nicknamed "Teepee" for her Native American roots. Strangled and dumped in a field outside Casper, Wyoming, her body was recovered by authorities in August 1975.

When he ran out of names, Cole was booked into Dallas City Jail on three counts of first-degree murder. Despite his confessions, however, Cole still presented a problem for prosecutors. Local medical examiners had missed the cause of death on two of his three victims, and San Diego authorities told the press Cole had killed no one at all in their city. Deputy Coroner Jay Johnson told reporters, "I don't believe there's anything to it," while Lt. John Gregory, chief of San Diego's homicide squad, held a similar view. "The coroner conducted thorough autopsies," Gregory declared, "and the man would have to have been some sort of expert to have strangled these women without leaving any bruise marks."

Judge John Mead (Dallas Bar Association)
Judge John Mead
(Dallas Bar Association)

Meanwhile, Dallas psychiatrists examined Cole to learn if he was fit for trial. Cole's blasé descriptions of murder and necrophilia unnerved them, but the doctors agreed that he was legally sane. Cole's trial began on April 6, 1981 before Judge John Mead, with Cole himself appearing as the sole defense witness. Under oath, he told a story of childhood abuse inflicted by his sadistic, adulterous mother, giving rise to a morbid obsession with women who betrayed their husbands or lovers. "I think," he told the jury, "I've been killing her through them." Details of the Dallas slayings were "pretty fuzzy," Cole said, but he surprised the court by adding three more victims to his formal tally. The "new" crimes included two more women killed in San Diego and a victim slain in Oklahoma City on Thanksgiving 1977.

"This one is almost a complete blank," Cole said of the Oklahoma victim. He didn't know the woman's name, but Cole remembered finding pieces of her body scattered from the bathroom to the kitchen of his small apartment. "Evidently I had done some cooking the night before," he testified. "There was some meat on the stove in a frying pan and part that I hadn't eaten on a plate, on the table."

Judge Mead holds a side-bar with attorneys while Cole tries to collect himself on the stand (Dallas Morning News)
Judge Mead holds a side-bar with
attorneys while Cole tries to collect
himself on the stand
(Dallas Morning News)

Jurors had heard enough. Prosecutor Mary Ludwick blamed the cannibalism confession on Cole's "tendency to grossly exaggerate" and a wild bid for an insanity plea. The panel deliberated barely 25 minutes before convicting Cole on three counts of murder. Judge Mead spared his life with a sentence of life imprisonment on April 9, 1981.

 

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