UTPB criminal justice students pen ‘Murder and Mayhem’

Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Criminal Justice Administration (CJAD) Program at University of Texas Permian Basin talks about the book he and 13 of his students penned called Murder and Mayhem in West Texas. A book signing was held Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Heimmermann Center in the Mesa Building. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Criminal justice students in John Fischer’s research class dug deep into Odessa murders to pen “Murder and Mayhem in West Texas.”

The book was organized and edited by John Fisher, assistant professor and Coordinator of the Criminal Justice Administration (CJAD) Program at University of Texas Permian Basin. A book signing was held in the Heimmermann Center in the Mesa Building on campus Friday.

“In spring of 2023 … 13 students and myself decided to do research on public information about significant crimes that happened in West Texas,” Fisher said.

“They chose crimes that interested them. There are seven unsolved crimes. There’s three serial murderers that have operated in this town. We spent six months researching and finding all of the public information that’s available. They got permission to interview the police department and look at old police records on these investigations. We compiled this book,” Fisher added.

He presented it to Linus Learning, a publishing company, and had it published. The project took about nine months to complete.

“I’m so very proud of the work that my students have done,” Fisher said.

The book includes the unsolved murder of Eula Miller, a go-go dancer from the 1970s, Monica Carrasco, who has been missing for more than 20 years, the kiss and kill victim Betty Williams and serial killer Samuel Little among others.

“The students have been given the byline for each of their articles. I worked with them. I edited each of the articles. I compiled it and put it into the different sections … so that the students will get credit for all of their work. When I was coming through high school, undergraduate, graduate, PhD school, I didn’t have a mentor to show me the publishing (world), or how to go about getting published. I wanted to make sure that the students leaving UTPB have had this experience. As you can hear, they’re extremely proud of the work that they’ve done as well. This should help them with their further education and trying to get into graduate school,” Fisher said.

Every year, his research class decides on an article or other material to publish.

“In 2020, we wrote an article and we did quantitative research on law enforcement’s use of force. Two years ago, and I’m still working on this article, we did research on the boom and bust cycle of Odessa and crime and how the crime levels change,” Fisher said.

Their research has shown that during boom times, there are a lot more murders, robberies, rapes and sexual assaults.

During busts, Odessa sees a lot more property crime, and increases in substance abuse and domestic violence.

“Granted substance abuse is always a problem and always an issue. But we find that it is even more so during the bust cycle,” Fisher said.

Through their research, students see how the criminal justice system works, how it may have changed over the years, how investigations have changed, and how the perception of policing has changed since the 1960s.

“I think the oldest case that we have here is in the 1960s. Granted, oil first came to Odessa in 1929 on a ranch 16 miles south of town,” Fisher said.

John Fisher, assistant professor and Coordinator of the Criminal Justice Administration (CJAD) Program at University of Texas Permian Basin, holds up the book “Murder and Mayhem in West Texas” during a book signing Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in the Heimmermann Center in the Mesa Building. Thirteen of his students wrote chapters in the book. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

“But the first murder and mayhem in Odessa actually happened in 1887 when Odessa was a cattle town (with) a population of 597 people, but this is where the railroad stopped. … We couldn’t take our cattle to Kansas anymore because of (a cattle disease). All the cowboys from El Paso and down in the Big Bend and in South Texas would bring their cattle here to Odessa,” he added.

“So this first crime, it was a sheriff’s deputy, Brown. There were three cowboys from El Paso that had showed up and they started shooting their guns off at a bar down on (what today is Grant Avenue) and Second Street. Our courthouse is there now and so is the police station,” Fisher said.

The cowboys were causing a big ruckus, so the deputy sheriff came down and there was a huge gunfight.

“By the time the gunfight was over, the sheriff’s deputy was standing there unscathed. Reports were that there were 25, 30 rounds that were fired. The sheriff’s deputy was standing unscathed and the cowboys were all dead. Is that West Texas myth? Is that the truth…,” he added.

Stephanie Reyes is one of the book’s authors. She penned the story on Lynn Floyd Moore, which to her, was about how older people are portrayed in society and the disadvantage they have in the criminal justice system.

Reyes said the experience was really fun and kind of like an FBI moment for her.

She said it took a while for the finished product to emerge and for them to correct errors and mistakes.

“I think it turned out really well for this book,” Reyes said.

Sabdiel Jimenez wrote about the murder of Eula Miller.

He said the cold case investigator at the Odessa Police Department gave Fisher some cases and Fisher distributed them among his students.

“This is the one that I ended up getting. It was pretty cool going down there and looking at the actual report from 1970 and having to read the whole thing and transcribe it,” Jimenez said.

He added that he got a sense of what Odessa was like back then. Jimenez said he also found a podcast about a series of murders in Odessa. Everyone thought it was a serial killer as most of the victims were small, petite white women.

Miller was a go-go dancer who worked at multiple clubs. Her body was found in her apartment.

“I kind of enjoyed researching it. As a criminology student, I enjoy watching things like true crime or documentaries on Netflix. Right now for (Fisher’s) profiling class, I’m researching John Wayne Gacy,” Jimenez said.

For Murder and Mayhem, Jimenez said, “I really enjoyed it. It was really fun getting to work on that and going around asking questions, interviewing (and) researching.”

Ulysses Alvarez wrote about Denise Brothers who was murdered by Samuel Little. Alvarez said he lives about a half mile away from where Brothers’ body was found.

Alvarez said he would like to start off in crime scene and work his way up to larger federal agencies like the DEA or Secret Service.