If you’ve heard of the so-called Texas Killing Fields, there’s a good chance that you happen to be from the Lone Star State. But otherwise, the persistent, decades-long mystery surrounding the fields hasn’t quite gotten the same bold-face attention of other true crime stories. That may be because the nightmare pervading the area remains unsolved, continuing to vex both authorities and self-appointed online crime sleuths, and there’s no one person to easily blame.
But Netflix’s Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields, a new documentary series now streaming, attempts to shine a brighter light on the murder cases tied to the region—and who might be responsible. The three-episode doc is Season 3 of Crime Scene, a series exploring how specific locations “aid and abet criminal activity,” from executive producers Joe Berlinger, Ron Howard, and Brian Grazer. Texas Killing Fields unearths more discoveries in the Killing Fields cases, even if it can’t quite solve everything. Here’s an explainer on the true story that propels Netflix’s latest true crime investigation.
What are the ‘Texas Killing Fields,’ and where are they?
The monkier is chilling enough, but once you delve into the Texas Killing Fields’ murderous history, it’s easy to fall down a true-crime rabbit hole. From 1971 to 2006, over 30 women were found dead along the largely deserted stretch of Interstate 45, running 50 miles between Houston and Galveston. The route has earned the unfortunate nickname “highway to hell.”
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The Texas Killing Fields comprise a particular plain near I-45 off Calder Road in League City. It’s the kind of place where you’d be hard-pressed to find activity beyond oil rigs and the occasional car speeding down a dirt road. There, from 1983 to 1991, four young women were unceremoniously deposited after being brutally murdered. Each woman was posed the same way, left naked against a tree with their arms folded, as outlined in an extensive 1999 Texas Monthly article digging into the mystery.
The circumstances strongly suggest a link among the grisly deaths. According to Texas Monthly, a number of authorities concluded that the location was the “personal graveyard” of a serial killer. But who? Many, including grieving family members, are hell-bent on finding out.
Who was murdered in the Texas Killing Fields?
The four murdered women in the Texas Killing Fields seem to have little in common at first glance, but surprising connections reveal themselves in the doc. The first victim was Heidi Fye, a 23-year-old League City bartender who disappeared in 1983. Fye had last been seen using a public payphone, per Texas Monthly. Then in April 1984, a dog uncovered a human skull, leading to her body’s discovery.
The next victim was 16-year-old Laura Miller, who had asked her mother to drop her off at (yes) a payphone in September 1984. She wasn’t seen again. Cops dismissed her vanishing as a typical runaway case, despite the fact that she had run off without critical seizure medication. Then in 1986, Miller’s corpse appeared in the same field as Fye’s.
While searching for Miller, authorities made another gruesome discovery: a dead woman who could not be identified. She became known as simply Jane Doe. Finally, in 1991, a fourth woman’s body appeared in the field. Also unable to be identified, she became known as Janet Doe, as the FBI outlines in its history.
Eventually, in a 2019 breakthrough thanks to technology advances, both Jane Doe and Janet Doe were identified: Jane Doe was Audrey Lee Cook, a 30-year-old mechanic. And Janet Doe was Donna Gonsoulin Prudhomme, 34, a mother who had reportedly left her abusive husband. The clues kept coming in, yet a smoking gun was elusive.
Are Robert Abel and Clyde Hendrick prime suspects?
Over the years, speculation has abounded in the Texas Killing Fields cases. Some point to transient killers. Others write off the connection among the killings as mere coincidence, the result of opportunity in these remote parts. Yet investigators have held the belief that a single serial killer is behind the heinous acts, and remains at large.
Texas Monthly’s 1999 feature leads with the provocative headline: “Is Robert Abel Getting Away with Murder?” Indeed, Crime Scene circles around Abel, a former NASA scientist who owns the fields, part of which he’d transformed into horse stables. Abel forcefully involved himself in solving the crimes, which only made him more suspicious. But that rush to judgment based on thin circumstantial evidence turned out to be misguided, and a source of shame for victim Laura Miller’s dad Tim Miller.
Suspicious eyes likewise fell on Clyde Hendrick, a construction worker in the Houston area during the 1970s and ‘80s. In Crime Scene, we hear from the daughter of the woman he had apparently wooed, identifying as Marla. Marla alleges all kinds of creepy behavior from Clyde. And he has a criminal history that’s oddly tied to what happened in the fields. But the exact source of all this pain has yet to be pinned down.
You might be fairly wondering what came of the dozens of other women found slain in the larger area along Interstate 45 in Texas. In this “highway to hell,” only one case has been fully solved: In 2012, Kevin Edison Smith was sentenced to life in prison (thanks to DNA evidence only available more recently) for murdering the 13-year-old Krystal Jean Baker in 1996. In another disturbing echo, she was last seen walking to a store so she could call a friend.
How does Crime Scene: Texas Killing Fields cover the story?
Among the seemingly endless true crime offerings on Netflix these days, Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields plays it surprisingly straight. There is little in the way of a strong angle or big, overarching statements. That’s to the filmmakers’ credit. Instead, this season manages to summarize decades of clues without being clunky. And it highlights urgent voices, most of all Laura Miller’s dad Tim Miller, who is devoted to delivering justice. Meanwhile, Crime Scene smartly gestures toward the larger crisis here: the femicide epidemic taking so many young women’s lives, which has been underserved by authorities across the globe.