Lucky photo leads to elderly housekeeper's murderer in Texas
An elderly housekeeper is brutally murdered in an upscale Texas neighborhood. The trail to uncover her killer unravels a twisted tale of lies and greed.
Cops found a crime scene that produced more questions than answers. Was Anita Fox murdered in a home-invasion robbery? What police discovered was something more sinister: Anita was targeted for death. But why?
The upscale Fort Worth, Texas suburb of Colleyville is the last place you'd expect a murder. It's one of the safest cities in Texas. Doctors, lawyers and professional athletes all call Colleyville home.
"It's a small bedroom community of Dallas-Fort Worth, a very affluent community, very low crime rate," said Colleyville Police Det. Kevin Maddux. "It was actually our first murder in 20 years."
Anita Fox was a 72-year-old housekeeper, a churchgoing woman devoted to her youngest son, Al.
"Mom was energetic, loved life, always had people on her mind, loved her grandchildren," said Al Fox. "She cleaned houses. The last time that I saw mom would have been the night before. She walked through the door and hugged the kids and she set and visited with me. And she kissed all the kids, and then she came back a second time and kissed them all again. And then she walked out and said 'I love you, son.'"
The next morning Anita Fox packed her car with supplies to clean the 3,800-square-foot house in the secluded neighborhood. Detective Maddux says it appears Anita walked right into a trap.
"It was obvious that she had been targeted for some reason," said Maddux. "There did not appear to be a motive for the murder."
The crime scene photos depict a horrific murder. Blood splashed everywhere: In the closet, on the door, in the grout on the tile floor. A blood trail shows the killer even dragged Anita out of the closet into the entrance hall.
"She had multiple stab wounds, 10 to 12 stab wounds in the head, she had one stab wound to the chest and one to the back," said Maddux.
The woman who waters the plants discovers Anita's lifeless body and frantically calls 911.
"I saw a white guy walking from this house," the caller tells the 911 operator. "It was a fat guy."
A fat guy driving a pickup truck with a ladder rack, a huge clue.
"She described him as a heavyset older man, said he had very short gray hair and that he had kind of a mad, or a scowl on his face, and he looked back over his shoulder at one point, looked back in her direction," said Det. Maddux.
That momentary glance was enough for the police sketch artist to come up with this composite drawing. But the cops already had someone else in their sights: Anita's son Al.
Detective Maddux brought him in for questioning, put on latex gloves and took a DNA swab.
In a second interview the detective laid it all on the line: it was very possibly a capital murder.
"[Maddux] said 'We're gonna look at everybody,' and he said 'We're gonna narrow them down,'" said Al Fox.
But the Colleyville Police detectives were actually eliminating suspects so they could focus on finding the man who appeared to be the real killer: the fat man in a champagne-colored truck.
"They asked me 'Is there anybody that would hurt your mother, is there anybody out to get your mother that would hurt her?'" said Al. "I told them there's nobody that would want to hurt her."
And when they showed Al the composite drawing of the man the plant lady says she saw, a light went on in his head.
"Detective Maddux brung a sketch out and showed me and said 'Have you ever seen this guy, does he look familiar?' And I said, 'It looks like the guy at the gas station,'" said Al.
The guy at the gas station -- who was he? Al, an asphalt contractor, says he saw the guy and another man eyeing him a few days before his mother's murder.
"That night on the job site I saw that truck watching me and I thought they were just common thieves," Al tells Crime Watch Daily.
Al was thinking maybe the two men wanted to steal his heavy equipment.
"The whole parking lot was empty except this one vehicle," said Al.
A couple of days later Al Fox says he drove to Big Willy's gas station and saw the same truck parked out front.
"I pulled in and was putting fuel in my truck and something just downloaded in my mind: 'Snap that picture,' and so I knocked on the window and told my wife 'Snapshot that truck,'" said Al.
The photo Al's wife took shows a pickup truck with a ladder rack like the one the plant lady saw.
"And I asked her Would you email me that picture as soon as possible? It showed the back of a vehicle that matched fairly closely the description given by the witness," said Det. Kevin Maddux. "The license plate was not really legible."
So as a police technician worked on enhancing the numbers, detectives visited Anita's pastor and discovered another important clue.
"It seemed very odd that she was specifically targeted for some reason that wasn't random," said Colleyville Police Det. Kevin Maddux.
"The motivation for the murder of Ms. Fox was greed," Colleyville Police Chief Michael Holder said in a news conference.
Colleyville Police investigators followed the crimson trail of blood, and it led them to a key clue. Anita was known as an "English Traveller." A "Traveller" is a term for what some have called a highly secretive community living a nomadic lifestyle, going from town to town doing odd jobs.
"It's an ethnic group sometimes referred to as 'gypsies,'" said Det. Maddux. "They typically travel for work, they'll move up north during the summer months, and then move back south to Texas and the warmer climates during the winter months."
Inside the Traveller community, there's a dark secret about how some make money: They buy life insurance policies on one another. A family member takes out a policy on another family member hoping some day to cash in.
"In the Traveller community, they look at them as investments or a savings account for the family," said Maddux. And Detective Maddux uncovered the mother of all policies on this sweet grandmother. "There was nearly $5 million of life insurance on a cleaning lady that lived in a camper trailer."
Five million dollars: Five million reasons to kill.
"She didn't know that there was 5 million on her life," said Al Fox, Anita's son.
"That began to give us motive for the murder was insurance," said Maddux.
And red flags were soon flying everywhere. When cops interviewed Anita's son-in-law Mark Buckland, the husband of Anita's daughter, he said there were no life insurance policies on Anita. Then suddenly he changed his story.
"After that interview ended we were escorting the family back to their vehicles out in front of the police department, and Mark Buckland pulled Sergeant Pruitt aside and said 'I wasn't totally honest with you, I have a life insurance policy,' and he referred to it as 'a monster,'" said Det. Maddux.
A monster that was about to blow the case wide open, exposing the twisted world of insurance payouts and scams.
"We started working with the Texas Department of Insurance, they were able to pull records and start finding policies and found a policy that had been transferred ownership," said Det. Maddux.
Maddux says Mark Buckland told them he could no longer afford the $2,800 monthly premium on his mother-in-law's policy. Remember, Anita was in her 70s and premiums generally rise as one gets older.
So without Anita's knowledge, Mark Buckland transferred one of the policies to an Irish Traveller, a group where some are known to law enforcement for frauds and scams.
The new owner was Patrick Gorman, a man Anita didn't even know.
Taking a close look Patrick Gorman's brother Gerard, also known as "Fat Joe," Fat Joe is a dead ringer for the suspect drawn by the police sketch artist.
"It was amazing the work that he did and how accurate that sketch was," said Det. Maddux. "It's almost chilling to see Gerard Gorman's driver's license image next to that composite."
Cops then interviewed insurance agent Charles Mercier, who transferred the policy. He says he specializes in selling life insurance to the Traveller community. In an audio interview, he said Fat Joe called him repeatedly looking for Anita Fox.
Detective: "Was there a time when those conversations seemed to get a little more, um, for lack of a better word, intense, inquisitive on his part to you about her?"
Mercier: "Yes. He would call up and he says 'Hey man, where is she living?' I said 'Joe, I got no idea. She lives in Fort Worth and from what I hear I think she's living in Al's trailer park.'"
"He was having trouble maintaining his portion of the policy and kept calling Charles Mercier and asking him 'How long is she going to live? How long is she going to live?'" said Det. Kevin Maddux.
Did Fat Joe grow too anxious for a hefty payout? Detectives certainly had the motive, and they had the suspect. Now they had to find him. They computer-enhanced the image of the license plate on that mysterious truck Al's wife Helen photographed.
"I could make out the last portion of it but I couldn't make out the first characters so I worked with that and never was able to get a good return on it," said Det. Maddux. "Sergeant Pruitt finally was able to enhance the image enough we could read the entire license plate, and it was registered to Joe Gorman."
That's Bernard "Little Joe" Gorman, Fat Joe's son. Cops brought Little Joe in for questioning. Little Joe said he drove his dad to the murder house supposedly to do a paint job and parked outside.
Detective: "We just need to know what you know went on in that house."
Bernard "Little Joe" Gorman: "Like I told you sir, he came in, he was aggravated. He told me to go home, that the lady had [inaudible], he had blood on his arm, and I asked him later on what happened, and he said that he punched a wall or something."
Detective: "We're not going to lie to you. We've got boxes of stuff stacked up at the police department, at the district attorney's office with you and your dad's name on it. We have every reason to believe, or we wouldn't be sitting here talking to you, that your dad committed a very, very serious crime and we have every reason to believe that you were in the truck, I don't believe that you did it, but I believe you were in the truck while it happened, and you know, the truth is you need to be honest with us."
Faced with the facts Little Joe caved, telling them his father stalked Anita Fox.
"He would finally admit to little pieces at a time, little pieces, and he finally tells us that he and his father drove up from Houston, his father followed Anita Fox around for several days in the Cleburne-Joshua area where Helen and Al had seen him in the pickup truck," said Det. Maddux.
Cops tracked down Fat Joe at a budget motel outside Houston. And when they entered his room, they found a shocking sight: Their prime suspect is dead. Fat Joe suffered a massive heart attack. His lifeless body lay on the motel bed.
There was finally justice for the sweet, caring Anita Fox. And it may never have happened without her son spotting that truck.
"I heard men that had been detectives most of their life tell me that they may have got away," said Al Fox.
Little Joe Gorman didn't actually commit the murder, but since he drove the truck, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
In court, Al Fox screamed, "I'm here to welcome you to your hell."
"Him, his dad, their uncles, different people, they're unfit to even hear what kind of person my mother was," Al tells Crime Watch Daily. "I was able to tell Joe Gorman, or 'Little Joe,' that I forgave him, but it wasn't for him, it was for me, it was to cut that chain of hate, because I didn't want to drag him around the rest of my life and let it eat me up."
And while the criminal case is closed, the battle over Anita Fox's money is far from over. Al and other family members are in the middle of a civil lawsuit to determine who if anyone should collect any amount of that life insurance money.