Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Miscellany

We have pretty much completed our investigation of the crime scene and surrounding area, our evaluation of the victim's wounds, and our consideration of witness testimony. It is nearly time to examine Preston's apartment and the evidence secured therefrom. We will do that soon in a sub-series of posts. Now is a good time to catch up on some miscellaneous issues, none of which is probably worthy of its own posts.

Barbara Szekely reported that the shadowy figure that watched / stalked / pursued her had an "afro type haircut". One reader asked if Preston wore his hair in an afro. According to Preston's mother, Preston did not. Also according to Preston's mother, Douglas Swanson did not, at that time, wear his hair in an afro.

Time of Death
In Prelude to Murder, Act III, I approximated the time Drew Hartley heard a woman scream to be 9:42 PM. I suggested also that he may have then witnessed a woman being dragged into the field by two black males, and that the woman may have been Shandra Charles. At least one reader argued Shandra Charles could not have been dragged into the field at 9:42 because Shandra Charles died closer to 11:30 PM.

That argument requires a reasonable, logical leap that I declined to make. The argument assumes that Shandra was killed soon after she was abducted around 9:42, or that Hartley saw a different woman abducted, or that Hartley saw no one abducted.

In any case, I did not claim or assume Shandra was killed immediately after she was abducted. It is time, however, for for me to make a shocking admission.

I know Shandra's time-of-death within a minute or two.

I know her time-of-death much more accurately than I know when Drew Hartley heard a woman scream. I know her time-of-death much more accurately than I know when Drew Hartley saw a woman (whom he believed to be his wife) being dragged in to the field by two black males.

I know, with high confidence, that Shandra Charles died 90 seconds after her carotid artery was severed.

What I don't know with any great accuracy is when Shandra Charles was stabbed in the neck. While it is not unreasonable to suspect that she may have been stabbed immediately after being abducted, I am not yet ready to make that assumption.

Preston's Walk Home
Also in response to Prelude to Murder, Act III, one reader suggested I had gone a long way to proving Preston's guilt. That reader felt that 9:42 PM was suspiciously close the time Preston Hughes usually walked from the bus stop to his apartment via Shandra's trail. (Note the multiple questionable assumptions, which I'll let pass.) Given that Hughes claimed to have missed the bus on the very same day that two young people were killed at the very same time and place Hughes would normally be walking, the reader felt it was all too coincidental.

There are numerous problems with this hypothesized coincidence, but I will mention just one. After sleeping through his bus stop the first time, Preston called a cab. The cab dropped him off at his apartment complex. The details of a cab ride could have been (and certainly should have been) checked by the police.

Guest Blogger Al mentioned the cab ride in the very first post in this series, in Part I of his two-part summary. From that guest post:
Hughes has no alibi. He had been drinking that night with his friends after work from 6:30 to 8pm. He then caught a bus and a cab to get home, and though there is no documentation in the police report, it's likely he arrive at his apartment near 10.30pm that night.
The cab ride was also mentioned in the HPD Police Reports, to which I have linked many times. The police accepted Preston's cab ride as true. From Sgt. Gafford's report.
Hughes rode fell [sic] alseep [sic] on the bus and ended up at end [sic] of the route at Hwy 6 and Westheimer. Hughes called a cab and was taken home to the Lakehurst Apts. He stated that he went into the apt and checked the football game score and after that he went to bed.
Hughes provided the most detailed telling of that incident in his first confession. I have not yet included his entire confession in any post, so I'll include the relevant portion here. From his first confession:
I was feeling good and fell asleep on the bus and then didn't wake up until the end of the route at Westheimer and Hwy 6. I walked a couple of blocks to a circle K at 14244 Westheimer and called for a cab. A yellow cab took me to my apartment complex, right in the parking lot behind my apartment. I got home about 10:30 or so, and went to my apartment and turned the T.V. on to check the game.
Holy alibi, Batman.

Preston Hughes might indeed have an alibi. If Hartley did hear Shandra scream and/or if he did see Shandra abducted, and if my time estimate is correct or approximately so, then Hughes was on a bus, or walking to call a cab after missing his bus stop, or in a cab when Shandra screamed as she was being dragged into the field.

Maybe that's why the police were so quick to dismiss Hartley's eyewitness / earwitness account, and why they seemingly failed to check the cab company records.

Hartley's Trail
My post Prelude to Murder, Act III also generated comments renewing speculation that Shandra was walking to Fuddrucker's when she was attacked. The reader seemed to realize that Shandra had no loose change in her pocket and therefore was not returning from Fuddrucker's. The reader also seemed to recognize that Fuddrucker's probably closed at 10 and Shandra would not have had much time to order and eat before closing. The reader therefore suggested that Shandra had called in an order and was merely walking along the dark, lightly-traveled pathway to pick up the order before closing. 

I'll try once again to dispel the thought that Shandra was in that field for anything as innocent as purchasing a hamburger walking from (or to) a family oriented hamburger joint. Shandra Charles and Evelyn Brown had been visiting "friends" in the Lakewood Village Apartments. That's the Lakewood Village Apartments, the more southern complex. That is not the Lakehurst Apartments, the more northern complex, where Hughes lived.

Evelyn Brown left Shandra at their friends' apartment around 9:30 PM. Based on Drew's story and my time estimate, Drew heard a woman scream at 9:42 PM, just as he was taking the shortcut through the field from the southern complex to the northern complex.

Earlier, when Drew and Barbara began their walk to the Stop N Go (or wherever they really intended to go), they too left from a friend's apartment in the Lakewood Village complex. According to their reports, they took the southern route, which I will now refer to as Hartley's trail.

If you were to (back then) enter the field from the Lakewood Village complex, and you were heading to Fuddrucker's or the Stop N Go, the natural route was the southern trail, Hartley's Trail. It was more heavily traveled, it was wider, it was less covered, it would have be better lit by whatever moonlight there was, AND ... it would have been shorter. Consider two Frankenmap shots from Prelude to Murder, Act I.
Shandra's Trail (north) and Hartley's Trail (south)
Drew's Trail Highlighted
Given that Shandra left from the Lakewood Village Apartments, why would she eschew the southern trail?

So I ask once again, what as Shandra doing in the field that night?

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