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/ Archives / 09-17-2009 / Mary Stiles, 11; murdered by Joseph Lee Fordham, 17

Topie: Mary Stiles, 11; murdered by Joseph Lee Fordham, 17
September 17th, 2007 04:37 PM
Verelen A Baytown Halloween horror story

By Whit Snyder
The Baytown Sun

October 27, 2002

Baytown TX

Gary Stiles was worried. It was Halloween 1985 and he had been waiting for his daughter, Mary, to come home so they could join the crowds of other children out trick-or-treating. Neither Mary’s brother nor sister had seen the sixth-grader since about 5 p.m. Nor had any of the neighbors in the Woodhollow Apartments where the Stiles lived seen the blonde, blue-eyed 11-year-old.

The Stiles family knew something was wrong. Mary was a cautious girl, not the kind who wandered away from home without leaving a note or telling someone where she was going. Besides, it was growing late and Mary feared the dark.

After receiving word the young girl was missing, Baytown police searched the Woodhollow Apartments as well as the adjacent sprawl of apartment houses to no avail.

By 11 p.m. police sealed off the single street providing access to the apartments and began searching every car attempting to leave the area until 4 a.m. By sunrise Nov. 1, they were combing the vast and tangled wooded area behind the complex on foot and on off-road vehicles. A helicopter borrowed from the Houston Police Department scanned the locale from the sky. Not a trace of Mary was found.

By noon of Nov. 1, the search was called off and police began seeking out residents who may have seen Mary sometime after 5 p.m. The lack of anything to go on had authorities frustrated and baffled. Mary Stiles, it seemed, had vanished without a trace.

Police began to fear Stiles’ disappearance might be linked to the savage Sept. 10 stabbing murder of an 11-year-old Mont Belvieu girl named Carolyn Hahn. Hahn’s killing and Stiles’ disappearance had distinct similarities: both victims were girls and in the sixth grade. Both were shy and good students. Their fathers both worked as air-conditioner repairmen at the same Baytown plumbing company.

Having enlisted the help of Houston-area television and radio stations, reports of people who claimed to have seen Mary far from the confines of Baytown began to roll in. Local police, Texas Rangers and FBI agents checked out hundreds of leads, all of which quickly tapered down to nothing.

To make matters worse, rumors began bubbling up and drifting through the city, rumors that Mary had been seen in a car with a man, that she was the victim of a Satanic cult and that she had been snatched while walking down the street.

Just when it seemed they had exhausted all the possibilities, Baytown police received an envelope marked “Urgent — Mary Stiles” on Nov. 9, 1985.

Inside was an article on Stiles’ disappearance clipped from The Baytown Sun and a crude, hand-drawn map detailing an area in the marshy woods behind the Stiles’ apartment complex. Adding a bizarre play-by-play of the events of that Halloween night, the artist drew a thin line representing a trail through the woods. Along the line he marked locations where he said he stabbed and strangled the girl. The line ended under the depiction of a large tree where it was written, “Find her and give her a decent burial.”

Following the map, police discovered the body of Mary Stiles 150 yards behind the apartment complex. Still clad in her Halloween costume, she was covered with leaves and debris in the dense undergrowth police had searched nine days before. Her body was so badly decomposed, her identity had to be confirmed from fingerprints on her school papers.

Baytown police Detective Ron Moser, who coordinated the department’s search for Mary told reporters the sight of the young girl’s corpse haunted him in nightmares for a long time after her discovery.

“It’s not something that’s easily forgotten,” he said.

An autopsy revealed Mary had been stabbed four times in the neck, and the killer had stuffed one of Mary’s socks down her throat. According to the medical examiner, her death could have taken hours or minutes.

“We have gathered a large amount of evidence,” Baytown Police Chief Wayne Henscey told reporters, “some of which is unique to this type of crime. We believe it will certainly lead to an arrest in the near future.”

But it did not.

“It was one of the hardest times I had as a police chief or as a police officer,” Henscey, now retired, recalled.

By early December, police were still grasping at straws. They still believed in a connection between Stiles and the Hahn killing.

It was a strong theory since the slayings had occurred only weeks apart and just 10 miles from each other. The fact that both girls died from strangulation with four stab wounds to the throat also fed police suspicions in both Baytown and Mont Belvieu.

But on Dec. 3, police received a second letter.

“The time is soon coming,” the dispatch read, “that the madman will surrender his tool of death — the pain — is more than I can stand. In time the truth will be opened for all to hear.”

One day later a third letter threatening more deaths arrived. On Dec. 5, authorities took delivery of a fourth, taunting communication.

“The game begins now,” the letter read. “If correct answers are given — the name — will appear, that if incorrect answers are given the price will be a life.”

The author, going by the sobriquet “Madman,” informed police that clues to a riddle would be sent to them daily. The answers, the author insisted, must be published on the front page of The Baytown Sun.

“This time has past from long ago, but a name remains,” the first question read. “The name of the weigher (sic) of the heart against the truth of the feather — The Genesis in this name hold the letter that belongs to mine. Twice do I wright (sic) this, when my signature is written, once in the first and once in the last.”

The riddle perplexed police causing them to turn to the Harris County District Attorney’s office for help. Ray Speece, a 39-year-old general counsel for the office who read Plato and was fascinated with the Bible and mythology, quickly recognized the clues as being connected to an Egyptian myth involving the gods Osiris and Anubis. The pair weighed a person’s heart against a feather after death. If the heart was full of lies, it was lighter than the feather and the person was devoured by a monster.

The answer — Anubis — appeared in the paper’s front page “Around Town” column on Dec. 6, 1985. Editors published all the answers without telling readers it was a communication between police and a killer.

However, authorities soon learned the answer was wrong. Another letter arrived demanding the puzzle be redone, adding “and don’t forget to put it in the paper.”

The name Osiris was published the same day.

A letter dated Dec. 9 reached police and included an additional clue.

“In the beginning, there was no land but only a place ruled by his hand,” the clue read. “The Romans worshiped him every day even more so when they had to travel far away — His name serves your purpose for the letter at the end comes in fourth in the first of mine.”

Speece reckoned that was a reference to Poseidon, and that name was published in the Dec. 10 issue, but police later learned that, too, was the wrong answer.

“Don’t make me angery (sic) again!!!!!!!” the Dec. 10 letter read angrily. “Chrismas (sic) will soon be here, it be (sic) a shame to have to ruin that holiday cheer. Madman.”

While playing the cryptic game of Q and A, cops were also keeping a number of Baytown mailboxes under 24-hour surveillance.

On Dec. 11, Baytown Police Detective Harry Gore was staking out the mailbox across the street from the Woodhollow Apartments. Also a resident of the complex, Gore was the father of a girl only slightly younger than Mary Stiles.

“Harry spent the majority of his time — on and off duty — working on the case,” Henscey said. “It was his idea to put the mailbox under surveillance.”

At 4 p.m. Gore observed a young man on a bicycle. As the boy rode up to the mailbox, he stopped and looked in various directions as if he was trying to see if anyone was watching him. He dropped a letter into the slot and peddled away.

The boy’s actions were also captured on a police video camera located in a vacant apartment nearby.

Gore summoned a postal inspector to open the box. Inside was a letter addressed to Baytown police similar to the other letters they had received.

“It is Wensday (sic) and there is no answer in the paper!!” the note stated. “I promised and I shall, you will pay with another life just like Mary Stiles. By Christmas night at 12:00 there will have been done!!!!!!! There is but one way to change it and that is to put in the paper by Friday the reason for not having the answers their (sic) and give the answers then do not forget — or my word is to say the same another will die!!”

At last, authorities had a suspect, even if it was just a face.
September 17th, 2007 04:37 PM
Verelen The next day, Gore watched the suspect get off a Sterling High School bus. Police quickly obtained a student directory from the school and compiled a list of 26 Sterling students who lived in the apartments.

Police officer Joyce Diaz then went to Sterling High School and showed a copy of the video surveillance tape to Assistant Principal Charles Ray Polk. Polk positively identified the young man in the tape to be a 16-year-old sophomore named Joseph Lee Fordham.

After watching Fordham repeat his mailing routine, police scoped their investigation down around him.

The effort quickly paid off after they observed the teenager leave his apartment and toss a plastic trash bag into a dumpster. After retrieving the bag, police found in it a number of items which tied the sophomore to the brain teasing correspondence they had received.

The trash bag contained a letter written with a black marker that had been addressed to Baytown police; a letter containing the same puzzle and clue received by them on Dec. 9, and a letter containing a puzzle and clue never sent to police.

After obtaining a search warrant, officers explored Fordham’s apartment and his locker at school, confiscating felt tip markers and pens, postage stamps, maps and practice letters. Authorities carried away newspaper clippings about the Stiles’ killing; books on mythology, folklore, symbols and legends.

But also obtained in the searches were bloodstained clothing and shoes and a pocketknife they later identified as the weapon that killed Mary Stiles.

Police arrested Fordham later in the afternoon as he stepped off the school bus. A neighbor of the Stiles’, Fordham was the stepbrother of one of Mary’s playmates and knew the girl.

Further strengthening the case against the high school sophomore were 55 fingerprints taken from the letters they had received which were later identified as belonging to Fordham.

“It was just a very dedicated effort by a very hardworking department that got the job done,” Henscey said.

Described as a polite, passive, cooperative boy, Fordham’s mother and stepfather, Carol and Larry Akins, expressed shock at the murder charge leveled against their boy.

However, it was soon discovered Fordham had once been diagnosed as suicidal and homicidal and had been hospitalized in Houston International Hospital in 1984 for his problems. Nevertheless, the couple removed him from the infirmary against the advice of doctors.

Dr. Ninfa Cavazos, a child psychiatrist, described Fordham as, “a manic depressive — he has more repressed emotional conflict or turmoil than a normal 16-year-old.”

Fordham’s difficulties undoubtedly stemmed from a pitiable childhood which few knew the clean-cut but pale and slightly built young man had endured.

Young Fordham never had a relationship with his father. His mother was three times divorced. As she moved in and out of her marriages, she frequently shuttled Joseph back and forth between her residences and her parents’ home in Georgia.

In 1982, Fordham, only 10 at the time, witnessed the murder of his grandfather and uncle who were shot to death on his grandparents’ front lawn by an in-law. The killing cost Fordham the only real male role model he had ever had.

In the hospital, Fordham was prescribed anti-psychotic medications which improved his state. But he was never told to continue taking the drugs after his release. The boy’s relatives never really believed anything was wrong with him in the first place.

As a result of this history, Fordham’s attorneys, Roger Bridgewater and Jim Leitner, prepared an insanity defense for their client who had been certified to stand trial as an adult.

When Fordham’s trial finally did get under way in the spring of 1987 in state District Judge Joseph Guarino’s court, jurors were warned the evidence against Fordham would be so bizarre they may feel they are listening to a movie script.

The accused killer did not take the stand, but his version of Mary Stiles’ killing was read to the jury from a report by psychologist Jerome Nathaniel Sherman.

The report stated Fordham saw Mary Stiles on the afternoon of Oct. 31, 1985 and asked her about some candles she had tried to sell him earlier in the week as part of a Horace Mann fund-raising project. According to Fordham, he and Mary then began walking away from the apartments toward the woods when he began to have “weird feelings.”

As the two talked about going into the woods, Fordham claimed he suddenly stabbed Mary with his pocketknife.

“She started crying,” Sherman recounted from Fordham’s statement, “and he started feeling agitated and his mind started racing; he wanted her to be quiet. He told her, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t want to kill you.’”

At that point, Fordham claimed to hear voices again. Losing control, he stabbed Mary again and again before they both tumbled down a slope.

“He told her he was going to take her to the hospital and then the voices and feelings started up again,” Sherman said. “He felt anger and feelings of explosion starting. She started biting him, and he said stop and she did. He states that he felt out of control and went ahead and killed her, not knowing what was going on.”

After washing the blood from his hands in a nearby stream, Fordham, claimed he hid Mary’s body then emerged from the woods and wandered around the apartment development.

“I wanted to turn myself in,” Fordham told Sherman, “so I took a walk toward the police station, but I did not go in.”

Sherman described Fordham as a schizophrenic with a slightly below normal IQ of 96. A loner, she claimed, he was suspicious and distrusting, worrisome and apprehensive. Fordham, she alleged, was given to hopes that “magical solutions” will solve his afflictions. He was insecure, alienated from his family and extremely depressive.

Prosecutors Ted Wilson and Speece countered with the testimony of Houston psychiatrist Jerome Brown, who noted many of the things Fordham did in the aftermath of the murder are indicative of a sane person.

The fact Fordham washed blood from his hands and then tried to hide the girl’s body are a sign he knew he had done wrong and wanted to hide it, Brown told jurors.

Telling Stiles he would take her to a hospital, Brown also testified, is a sign Fordham realized the extent of harm he had already caused her. Since nothing ritualistic occurred during the actual killing also indicates Fordham was not psychotic, Brown argued.

And, the psychiatrist said, playing the postal riddle game with police shows Fordham was “psychologically together.”

“He is not psychotic in my opinion,” Brown testified. “I don’t think people are insane in fractions of a second. Insanity is a constant. It does not go in and out.”

After 10 hours of deliberation the jury returned a guilty verdict against Fordham and then sentenced the 17-year-old to 25 years in prison.

Even though jurors convicted the youth of the murder, meaning they did not buy the insanity defense, some nevertheless must have believed the killer had some degree of insanity.

Having numbly sat beside his lawyers throughout the two-week trial, observers noted Fordham — sedated on medication throughout — showed his first signs of enthusiasm when he heard the sentence.

“Everyone should be disappointed,” Gary Stiles shouted out in agony. “The 25-year sentence is crazy.”

About a year after the trial, Fordham turned 18 in the Tennessee Colony prison unit. At the time, he had an opportunity to file an appeal of his sentence but dropped the effort so he could stay in prison and complete his college education.

“I am at the present time pursuing my associate degree,” the convicted killer told reporters through his attorney. “I would like to have a chance to complete my bachelor’s degree before I am released.”

Fordham earned his high school diploma in prison through a GED program and was enrolled in business-oriented courses.

“He got a free college education when he was in there while I worked 60 hours a week to get mine. My sister will never get hers,” said Carrie Stiles, Mary’s sister who told reporters she continues to have nightmares about the murder.

In 1994, prison overcrowding won Fordham a mandatory supervision release. But in July 1998, the parole was revoked after he moved to Indiana without permission and failed to report to his parole officer for three months. As a result, the then 29-year-old landed back in prison in the Ramsey II Unit in Rosharon.

At this time, Fordham remains behind bars at the Vance Unit in Richmond.


:update:

After 10 years, Joseph Lee Fordham was released.
February 26th, 2008 06:38 PM
CarolynsFriend Hello
I am one of Carolyn Hahn's Classmates. We were in 5th grade together In Laporte Elementary, I still have our class photo. I remember her death so clearly and I have been wondering about her case all these years does any one know if it was ever solved?
here is her memorial site I built for her on Find a Grave
Carolyn Hahn
Carolyns Friend ..
Danielle
(Edited by CarolynsFriend)
February 26th, 2008 08:26 PM
brokendawn CarolynsFriend, thank you for showing us that website with the pictures.

I took this one to post here.

February 26th, 2008 09:02 PM
CarolynsFriend Thank you so much I couldn't figure out how to do it.
:angel4:
February 27th, 2008 11:18 AM
CarolynsFriend I found this article this morning when looking for more information about my friend's murder.
Paper: HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Date: TUE 04/19/1988
Section: 1
Page: 16
Edition: 2 STAR

Man removed as suspect now held in girl's death

Staff

MONT BELVIEU - A Livingston man initially eliminated as a suspect in the knifing death of 11-year-old Carolyn Hahn is being held in lieu of $500,000 bond after he was arrested by officers acting on newly discovered evidence.

Chambers County Sheriff C.E. Morris Monday said Duane Edward Hiser, 26, charged with murder, has provided officers with detailed information concerning the Sept. 10, 1985, killing.

"He has given us a detailed account of how he did it, telling us things that only the killer could know," Morris said of the scruffy, bearded father of two.

Carolyn's body was found in the blood-smeared Mont Belvieu home of her parents. A bloodstained steak knife was found at the scene.

Authorities said Hiser's half-sister was the dead child's best friend. Earlier on Sept. 10, authorities said, Hiser had gone swimming with the victim.

Mont Belvieu Police Chief Fred Dodd said Hiser was given a polygraph test shortly after the killing but that the results were inconclusive.

Police developed other theories in the case.

Morris said Hiser again was viewed as a suspect after the sheriff's department received unspecified information about three weeks ago.

"At that point," the sheriff said, "Hiser had been cleared and eliminated as a suspect by the Mont Belvieu Police Department."

Police Chief Dodd responded: "I'm happy that an arrest was made. I don't feel like the case is finished until it's been tried in court. I don't know what evidence they have."


Another article
Man held in '85 slaying

A suspect has been arrested and charged with the 1985 murder of an 11-year-old Mont Belvieu girl, Chambers County Sheriff Chuck Morris said Saturday.

Duane Edward Hiser, 26, who has been under investigation for several weeks, surrendered Friday, Morris said. Bond has been set at $500,000, Morris said.

Hiser was living at the Mont Belvieu Apartments when Carolyn Hahn was killed there Sept. 10, 1985, Morris said. Hahn was the daughter of Fred and Linda Hahn, who have since moved out of the Chambers County area.

The girl's parents found her battered, strangled and stabbed body in their apartment late in the evening as they returned from an archery outing. About $60 in unspecified items was missing from the apartment.

Archery had become a favorite hobby for the Hahns, and Carolyn had been given a new bow a month before her death. But on the day she was killed, Carolyn opted to stay home alone to swim in the apartment pool.

When Carolyn's body was discovered in the apartment hallway, the blood stain on an nearby wall looked as if she'd been slung against it, her mother said at the time.

Investigators believe the murder weapon was a serrated-blade knife, which the killer apparently wiped off before returning to a kitchen drawer. Microscopic blood stains were found on it.