The inspirational true crime story describing in dramatic detail the efforts of tenacious Texas lawmen to solve the cold case murders of three little girls and hold their killer accountable for his horrific crimes. An incredible police procedural from award-winning journalist and author Steve Jackson that begins in January 1985 and in a very real sense continues to this day as police detectives push to bring other cases against serial child killer David Elliott Penton. An inspirational story of good versus evil as it also examines the physical, emotional and psychological toll the pursuit of a monster had on the detectives, their families and their communities.
One thing about the men who hunt killers is the continued effect the experience has on their lives. I thought including a story where the crime was the worst imaginable – the murder of children – and the conclusion was good men on a lifelong quest to put men like that behind bars, was an important inclusion in this bundle. – David Niall Wilson
"Jackson gives a master class on true crime reporting in BOGEYMAN. He writes with both muscle and heart as he chronicles every parent's worst nightmare. Taut and smart, his prose defies any reader to set it aside."– Gregg Olsen, New York Times bestselling author of IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU
"Absorbing and haunting! BOGEYMAN spills creepily across the page with Steve Jackson's hellatious verve and insight, reminding us there are few better explorers of the American berserk."– Ron Franscell, bestselling author of THE DARKEST NIGHT
"Jackson writes deeply… It's all in BOGEYMAN, a fascinating, well-paced read about the lows and highs of cold case investigations."– Bestselling author and professor of forensic psychology Katherine Ramsland in Psychology Today.
He stands on the edge of a foul dark pond as the cold winds of hell howl around him. In his cruel hands, he holds a collection of shiny pebbles that represent every child he took, subjected to unspeakable horrors and pain, and then remorselessly killed in the most terrifying manner imaginable. With each murder, the monster, this bogeyman, this nightmare, tosses a pebble into the bottomless waters causing ripples of misery and devastation to spread outward, engulfing his victims, their families, friends, police officers, communities, and even, as these sorts of beyond- the-pale atrocities becomes public knowledge, the national consciousness. They erode how secure we feel in our homes, how safe our children are playing in the yard, whether evil is winning the battle...
Every Parent's Nightmare
January 19, 1985
After several days of cold, the weather on that Saturday in Mesquite, Texas, had turned downright balmy, with bluebird skies and temperatures climbing into the mid-seventies. Many of the town's citizens were out enjoying the sunshine in the parks, playing softball, and watching their kids laughing and chasing each other on the playgrounds. Others used the opportunity to go for a drive in the countryside around Mesquite, a satellite city fifteen miles due east of Dallas.
Detectives Bob Holleman and Bruce Bradshaw were home with their families enjoying a quiet Saturday afternoon when they got the call about 3 p.m. It was a moment that would forever alter the partners' lives, though in drastically different ways.
Holleman was watching television with his wife, Molly, and their seven-month-old daughter, Emily, when the phone rang and he picked up. He listened with a frown, then Molly heard him say, "Well keep me updated," before he set the receiver down. Thirty minutes later, the phone rang again. This time he asked her to hang it up after he walked back to his home office. When he returned, he was dressed for work. "Looks like we've got a child abduction; they think it's the real thing. … I don't know when I'll be home."
Molly understood. A seven-year veteran with the Mesquite Police Department, her husband worked with Bradshaw in the Crimes Against Juveniles unit. Most of these calls about missing children turned out to be false alarms; the child would be found at the neighbor's or playing in a field and handled quickly. Occasionally, a parent locked in a custody battle took, or didn't return, a child, but those cases were usually resolved within a few hours.
After five years of marriage to a cop, especially a dedicated officer like her husband, Molly was used to the long hours and sudden calls to work when other families would be enjoying their weekends and holidays off. So she had no way of knowing that in a very real sense, their lives had been changed forever by a stranger.
Bruce Bradshaw was also enjoying an afternoon off with his wife, Gail, and their two daughters, Jodi and Laci, ages three and one, when Holleman called him. A little girl was missing from an apartment complex over near Highway 80, a main thoroughfare that runs east to west through Mesquite. He didn't give a lot of other details, but Bradshaw could tell from his partner's voice that he was stressed. "I need your help," Holleman said.
Bradshaw sighed and went to change his clothes. Their lieutenant, Larry Sprague, insisted that they dress professionally in a suit and tie whenever they were called out. Properly attired, he kissed his wife and headed for the door.
Gail watched him go and expected that he'd be home in time for dinner. Sometimes people asked her if it was hard saying goodbye to Bruce when he'd leave for work because of the dangers inherent with the job. She'd answer that it was really no different than when their spouses went to work, except that her husband was fully aware of the evil he might face and carried a gun for protection. No, she'd say, the hard part wasn't watching him go; it was learning to live with the darkness he sometimes brought back home with him.
Bradshaw had been born and raised in Comanche, a small farming and ranching community in central Texas. His core values and strong Christian faith were instilled in Comanche. He'd grown up inspired by John Wayne westerns, the Lone Ranger, and other tales from the Old West in which justice prevailed and the bad guys paid for their crimes. An uncle who'd been a deputy sheriff, William McCay, influenced his career choice. McCay was what you'd picture an old-time Texas lawman to look like: tall in the saddle—a former ranch hand, he was good with a horse—and always dressed in a cowboy hat and boots. Such was his influence that Bradshaw, his brother, and three cousins all ended up in law enforcement, a job that Bradshaw saw as an ongoing battle between good and evil.
Bruce met Gail, a Dallas native, when they were both attending Tarleton State University in Stephenville. Tarleton was a small "cowboy" college with a good science program. Perfect for a small town boy who'd never been on an escalator until Gail took him to a mall after he got the job with the Mesquite Police Department.
As he drove to meet up with his partner, Bradshaw, a medium-built man with intense hazel eyes behind thick-rimmed glasses and a bushy reddish moustache, also thought he'd be back in a couple of hours. However, this bright and shiny day was about to turn dark.
Arriving at the Charter Oaks apartment complex in a lower-middle-class, residential neighborhood, Bradshaw met up with Holleman, who briefed him on what was going on and what he'd learned from the witnesses so far. The call for help had come from Linda Meeks, the distraught mother of five-year-old Christi Meeks. She'd tearfully explained that she was divorced and that her daughter and son, Michael, age seven, were visiting for the weekend. She'd been inside the apartment getting supper ready when Michael and a nine-year-old neighbor girl named Tiffany Easter ran in to tell her that Christi had gone off with a stranger.
As they were talking, Lt. Sprague and their sergeant, Maggie Carathers, arrived and were also briefed. They called in more detectives and began assigning them to start canvassing the neighborhood. Meanwhile, Bradshaw was tasked with talking to Michael Meeks and Tiffany Easter.
Traumatized, Michael wouldn't say much. However, Tiffany was more forthcoming. She said the three of them were roller-skating on the sidewalk when a young white man approached. She described him as about the same height as Bradshaw, around five-foot-ten, a hundred sixty pounds, with medium-length brown hair and bangs, unshaven, possibly with a moustache. He was wearing a pullover shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes.
Tiffany said he asked if they'd like some cookies. Older and more wary, she tried to get her two younger friends away from the man by inviting them to her house; she said she had cookies, too. Michael followed her, but Christi stayed behind.
Meanwhile, Holleman located two young Hispanic boys in the building south of where Christi was last seen. They claimed that they saw Christi get into a car with a man. The car was small, they said, but couldn't agree on whether it was yellow or gray.
The detectives knew that Christi was in danger. But these were the days before cell phones, Amber Alerts, and the internet, so all they could do to get the word out to other law enforcement agencies was send a statewide teletype. They were also starting to worry about a change in the weather. A 'blue norther,' a swift-moving cold front named for its gunmetal-blue sky and cold winds, was racing in from the north. Within minutes, the temperature dropped thirty degrees, and the searchers worried that the stranger might let the little girl go somewhere in a rural part of the county where she'd be exposed to the elements wearing only a "Color Me The Rainbow" T-shirt, blue jeans, and Cabbage Patch Doll shoes.
More officers were called in to help search nearby parks, fields, and drainage ditches. But as night fell and temperatures plunged, there was no sign of Christi or the man who'd taken her. Bradshaw and Holleman drove home to dress in warmer clothes, but other than a quick word with their families, they were soon back out knocking on doors. Yet, despite the number of people who'd been outside the day before, they couldn't find anyone else who'd seen anything suspicious. They also drove past all of the motels and hotels in the area looking for a car that matched the description of the suspect's vehicle.
Members of the community volunteered to help, and the search widened, including by aircraft. Photographs of the little girl with brown eyes and sandy-blonde hair—possibly wearing a gold necklace with a red stone in the middle of a heart—were distributed. But she'd simply vanished.
The process of elimination began with the detectives asking the immediate family to take lie detector tests to remove them from suspicion; both parents passed. Christi's father, Mike Meeks Sr., was tough to deal with; he angrily blamed his ex-wife for letting Christi out of her sight and as the days passed, constantly called the detectives demanding updates, though there was little they could say.
A reward generated telephone calls and leads to follow. Psychics contacted the police to offer their help or claiming to have some other-worldly information. The days turned into weeks, and then two months passed with nothing concrete to go on.
In March, a young man named Bruce Greene, a graduate of the Art Department at the University of Texas, called the Mesquite Police Department and said that perhaps he could sit down with Michael Meeks and Tiffany Easter and create a composite drawing of the suspect. The two children were brought to his art studio, where they described the young white male with longish dark hair, parted in the middle, and pale blue eyes set below a wide forehead.
Posters were made of the composite and distributed around town, as well as given to the news media. The drawing caused a new flurry of "tips," which the detectives had to record and then track down.
In 1985 there was no such thing as a sex offender registry, so Holleman and Bradshaw developed a priority system for leads. If a person called in and had pertinent information or knew of someone who looked like the composite and also had a history of committing sex crimes, they gave the lead a Priority One status. If the information was less pertinent to the investigation, they assigned it as a Priority Two. If the caller simply thought they knew someone who looked like the composite but had no other information, it was Priority Three. There were no computers for filing their information, so they kept a card file to cross-reference the leads by hand. But none of the tips led to Christi or her abductor.
Then on April 3, two fishermen spotted what they at first thought was a large dead bird floating in a cove of Lake Texoma, a sizeable body of water seventy-five miles north of Mesquite on the border of Texas and Oklahoma. However, on closer inspection the fisherman realized, to their horror, that the "bird" was a dead child.
Found below a cliff in a remote, heavily wooded area of the lake, the body had been in the water for a long time and was badly decomposed. In fact, the justice of the peace initially called in to identify the remains, believed them to be that of a boy. A few days later, the body was delivered to a medical examiner's office; the ME then called the Mesquite Police Department with a different story. He said the body belonged to a little girl, and she might be their missing child. She was wearing a Cabbage Patch Doll shoe, blue jeans, and a "Color Me The Rainbow" T-shirt.
These were the days before DNA testing, so Bradshaw called Christi's father, Mike, and told him that the body of a young female had been found in Lake Texoma and she might be his daughter. He said they needed to locate dental records for Christi, if they were available, to make a positive identification. Christi's father told him how to find her dentist, who reported to the medical examiner's office and confirmed everyone's worst fear: The dead child was Christi Meeks.
At the same time, Christi's family also reported to the medical examiner's office to identify her clothing. Holleman went with them.
In one way, finding Christi's remains was a relief. At least her parents didn't have to wonder if she was still out there somewhere, terrified and alone with the mysterious bogeyman who'd taken her. She could be given a proper burial. Still, there was no closure; not for her family or the lawmen assigned to find her killer.
Bradshaw and Holleman, along with several other officers from the Mesquite Police Department, attended the funeral, writing down license plates and photographing the crowd at the funeral on the possibility that the suspect might be there. They then watched the gravesite for several days afterwards, stopping people who visited the grave and asking for their identification. Many citizens dropped by to leave items such as flowers, stuffed animals, cards, letters, and even the lyrics to the John Denver song, "Rhyme and Reasons."
"So you speak to me of sadness And the coming of the winter Fear that is within you now It seems to never end."
The detectives collected many of the items brought by mourners and tried to lift fingerprints so they could identify the visitors. But if the suspect attended the funeral or left behind some token of his presence, they couldn't find proof of it, and the questions remained. What sort of monster could have done such a thing to an innocent little girl? Was he a member of the community? Or was he a stranger, just passing through as he carried out his depredations?
The questions became an obsession for Holleman and Bradshaw. But of the two, Bob took it to another level and paid a price for it. The husband Molly Holleman watched walk out of the door following what she came to think of as "The Call" never came home again—at least not as a whole man.
The first night, he'd returned home just long enough to put on warmer clothes, but over the next few days Molly hardly saw him at all. She was working, and he was coming back to the house only long enough to grab a few minutes on the couch, shower, and put on clean clothes before he was gone again. But his clothing wasn't all that changed; his personality did, as well.
When they met and married in 1980, Bob was funny, witty, a real gentleman, and the smartest man she would ever know, constantly hungry for knowledge. Born and raised in Dallas, he'd always wanted to be a physician and even after becoming a police officer continued to take classes towards eventual entrance to med school through the University of Texas. College textbooks were his choice when reading for pleasure.
He also loved being a cop and never missed a day or shirked an off-duty call. He cared about people and was well-regarded by his peers and supervisors as a detective and the department's hostage negotiator. When he went to work, he always smiled and told Molly, "Time for me to go crush some crime."
Away from the job, he was a loyal friend, a loving husband, and, after Emily was born in May 1984, a dedicated father, who insisted on taking the 4 a.m. feedings and made sure he read to her at bedtime every night he was home. He couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, but he would rock his daughter to sleep singing "The Battle of New Orleans" as a lullaby.
"In 1814 we took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip. We took a little bacon and we took a little beans, and we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans."
The Call changed all of that. From that moment forward, he was totally consumed by what happened to Christi Meeks. Every waking moment he was thinking about the case, going over and over the facts, searching for something they'd missed. If a lead came up, he'd run it to the ground until he'd exhausted all possibilities. He spent a lot of time with Christi's parents, especially Mike Meeks. Molly always thought it was because as a father, he identified with the other man's suffering. As such, he witnessed the horror the other family was going through and felt guilty because he was helpless to do anything about it. The formerly life-loving detective slowly began to withdraw and grew morose and gloomy.
The psychological impact on Bob Holleman worsened after Christi's body was found. He went to the medical examiner's office to see the body and later told Molly that at first he, too, thought the remains were those of a little boy. Except for one thing: the single Cabbage Patch Shoe the dead child was wearing. He came home and broke down when he saw his wife. "They couldn't even tell what she was," he sobbed.
Yet, instead of taking some solace in the fact that at least the question of what happened to Christi was answered and her remains returned to her family, Holleman's depression deepened. Molly worried. She never once asked him to stop or give it up—she was proud of the sort of detective he was—but she knew it wasn't healthy; not for him, nor their family.
She was slammed by that fact one day when she came home from work. She saw his car in the driveway and knew he was home, but she couldn't find him, and he wouldn't answer her calls. The last place she looked was the closet in their bedroom, and there was her strong, smart, funny police officer husband curled up on the floor, crying in the dark with a gun in his hand.