The police obtained a warrant for Albright’s arrest and had his house at Oak Cliff in El Dorado raided after midnight on March 22, 1991 by the elite tactical squad. They placed a call on the house to ensure that Albright was at home when they raided. When a male responded to the call, they moved in by smashing a window and hurling stun grenades into the house, after which the other members broke through the door to roust the couple from bed. Later, Albright would object to the needlessly dramatic entry suggesting that the raiders could have simply knocked. Albright’s wife, Dixie, was naturally terrified.
When Albright was inquired about SpeeDee, he looked confused and perplexed. The investigators realized that they were in a situation where SpeeDee could have simply used Albright’s address on his driver’s license. However, the couple were taken to the police station for interrogation while the investigators busied themselves investigating other properties registered under the name of Albright’s father for further clues.
When the investigators started looking into Albright’s background, they grew progressively less sure if they had laid their hands on the right man. His wife said that he had slept with her every night, and he did not comes across as a serial killer at all, being the cultivated man with tastes that he was. Albright was an educated man with a master’s degree, knew many language, had been a science teacher and a football coach, played piano and appeared to be in a satisfying relationship. Serial killers are generally loners, have problems sustaining a long-term relationship, are substance abusers and undereducated, are generally in their 20s and 30s, and have a dissatisfactory and unsuccessful life behind them. Albright, at 57 and being well settled, successful and kind, just did not fit into the profile of a killer. Despite Albright’s not fitting into their idea of a killer, the investigators persisted with their probe, and found that there was a lot more to the man than what they knew of him.
During the inquiry somebody mentioned Albright’s bad temper, then somebody talked of his self-confessed hatred for the prostitutes and his desire to kill them, if he could. They also got to know that Dixie paid the bills and though Albright had inherited a good deal of money, he had been careless with it and had nothing left of it. Further probe revealed his secretive visits to the prostitutes and was a womanizer with a record of shoplifting. But even then he was a long way from being the serial killer they were looking for. The investigators were very careful because they just could not afford to arrest and charge the wrong man in case that had already attracted so much of media attention. Albright’s rich and accomplished background did not really preclude the possibility of his being the killer, but there was nothing concrete to connect him to the murders either.
Albright’s childhood was also investigated, which revealed that his mother doted on him and sometimes even dressed him as a girl and gave him a doll to play with, but when a gun was given to him to play with, he killed small animals. In this line of investigation something strange came up. Charles shared his ambition of being a taxidermist when he grew up. So, his mother helped him learn how to skin and stuff the dead birds, but he was not allowed to finish them with the glass eyes sold at the taxidermy shops, for they were quite expensive. He had to do with buttons. So, it is possible that the denial of ‘eyes’ by his mother led to his obsession with the eyes. At school, he was good student but indulged in petty thefts and was also arrested for aggravated assault at the age of 13. He also visited prostitutes in his adolescence. However, he still managed to obtain grades to graduate from high school and also got into North Texas State University by forging transcripts, but that was the end of it.
He was caught stealing at the age of 16 and got a year in prison, but when he was released he was apparently reformed and went straight to Arkansas State Teacher’s College to major in pre-med studies and also learned several languages. He scored well in the subjects he liked and was quite popular among his friends and people he socialized with, but he was also known to brag and exaggerate a lot.
The incident that stands out from this part of his life with respect to the murder he was suspected of, is when Albright cut out the almond-shaped eyes from the picture of a former girlfriend of one of his friends and pasted them over the eyes of the friend’s then girlfriend in her pictures. Apparently, he found the eyes of the new girlfriend of his friend deficient compared to the eyes of his former girlfriend, and he perfected the girl by an eye transplant in the picture. He was also given to pasting the pictures of eyes at odd places, like the ceiling, the bathroom and so on. Albright’s fixation with eyes made him suspect number one. But the investigator also knew that there were still some problems to be sorted out before it could be said with certainty that Albright was the killer they were looking for.
The degrees he held had another story. He had been expelled from college before he could graduate because he was caught with stolen items though the charges were not pressed against him. He forged documents and signatures to create bachelor’s and master’s degrees for himself. So, those degrees were basically home-cooked. Albright might not have succeeded academically, but whatever he set his heart out to do he did well; be it bullfighting, hair-styling, carpentry, designing or something else. He married his college girlfriend and settled down. But the marriage did not work and the couple parted ways in 1974 (or 1975). Divorce did not do anything to his criminal inclinations and he continued to steal and forge like before.
In 1981, at the age of 48, Albright was charged with molesting a nine-year-old girl, the daughter of the friends he happened to be visiting then. They pressed charges, but Albright pleaded guilty and got away with probation only. Therefore, he was sexual predator on the record.
Around this time Albright visited prostitutes quite frequently and splurged on them out of the money that he had inherited from his father. And then Dixie walked into his life in 1985, and she moved in with him. Not only that. He also made her pay the bills with her earnings while all he did was make convincing excuses for not working. His marriage to Dixie did not prevent his secret life from getting darker while she had no idea about it. However, all this information was not sufficient to tie Albright to the murders he was under suspicion for. The evidence against him was not enough to build a case that could stand the scrutiny of a criminal trial.
There was nothing to prove that the murders took place at Albright’s house. There was no blood and no bloody clothes recovered from his house, and his .44 Magnum was not the gun that killed Mary Pratt and Shirley Williams, as per the ballistic report. Dixie placed before the investigators the garage receipts showing that their cars were with the mechanic and were unusable at the time the murders were committed. SpeeDee was Albright’s tenant, and he stated that Albright was not the man he had rescued Veronica from, and it was a Hispanic man he did not know.
A collection of red condoms were found at Albright’s place and condoms of the same colour has also been found near the body of Shirley Williams also, and it did not make sense for Albright to have those condoms at home when Dixie, his wife, was past menopause. But condoms alone were insufficient to associate Albright with the murders.
The blankets confiscated from Albright’s trucks were sent for forensic examination. Albright let the police have his blood and hair sample for the test, and it was found that his hair were consisted with the hair picked from the dead body of one of the victims. The hair found on the blankets taken from Albright’s trucks also had hair that matched the hair of the prostitutes, but this was also not enough because hair were considered class evidence and could not indicate that the hair originated from a particular person. In other words, the hair evidence alone could not associate Albright to the murders as closely as to secure a conviction. Despite the difficulties, the District Attorney filed charges against Albright on March 26, 1991. He stood charged with the murders of Mary Pratt, Shirley Williams and Susan Peterson.
Mary Beth, who was in prison when she disclosed to the police that the night Mary Lou Pratt was killed, Mary had been forcibly taken from in front of a motel at knifepoint to a field, where the man spread the blanket on the ground, threw her on it and went hitting and punching her, after which he opened a case with several cylinders and metal blades. He pulled out one of the blades and used it to slash open her blouse. Mary passed out from fear and shock, and when she regained consciousness, the man was gone.
The investigators checked with other prostitutes of the locality if any of them had any relevant story to tell, and finally got to Tina, who told that she had dated Albright, and he had been nice to her for the most part. And Tina did have pretty eyes. She also led the investigators to the field where Albright often took her. The search of the field turned up some condoms, a blue blanket and a bloodied yellow raincoat very much similar to the one that Shirley was wearing the night she disappeared to never return. All of that was still circumstantial evidence, but they had a lot better set of it than they had before.
One Willie Upshaw, who knew Albright well, told the investigators about another .44-caliber gun that Albright owned, which the investigators had not found. He had purchased the weapon in his father’s name.
Albright was to be charged with three murders, to begin with. An unsolved murder of an Oak Cliff-area prostitute in 1988 was also added to the list based on the strands of hair found on her though her eyes had not been removed. When Albright could show that he was out town and could not killed her, the murder was taken off the list. The paucity of evidence made the grand jury push the charges down to murder from capital murder. So, no death for Albright. District Attorney’s office chose to prosecute Albright only for the murder of Shirley Williams perhaps because their case against Albright in case of Williams was the strongest. The trial commenced in December 1991. And a lot did not go the prosecution way.
Yellow coat was lost during the trial though the jury got to see it, Upshaw did not stick to his story, Albright’s neighbour testified that he did not have a car when the murder took place, and Veronica testified for the defense, and said that Albright never attacked her. The forensic evidence centered around hair did not look very strong.
However, on December 18, Charles Albright was found guilty, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Originally written for and published in LAWYERS UPDATE as the final part of a two-part CRIME FILE in June 2015.
15 May 2016