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‘Kiss and Kill’ killer dead at 75 - Odessa American: Local News

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‘Kiss and Kill’ killer dead at 75

1960s case fascinated the country

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  • Odessa Case Made National Headlines

    The March 23, 1961, Odessa American front page featured a lead story of Mack Herring being accused in the murder of Betty Williams. 

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Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2019 4:58 pm

An Odessan who was the gunman in the infamous “Kiss and Kill” case that titillated Odessans during the early 1960s has died at age 75.

The “Kiss and Kill” murder trial was made for headlines. It featured two Odessa High School students — one as the killer and the other the victim. The then OHS football player John Mack Herring confessed to killing ex-girlfriend Betty Williams but said she asked him to kill her. The trial fascinated not just Odessans but also made news across the country.

Herring died Saturday. He was famously found not guilty in the killing of his ex-girlfriend by reason of insanity. Herring killed Williams on March 20, 1961, and rumors of Williams haunting the Odessa High School auditorium have perpetuated among students for decades since.

Herring didn’t leave Odessa following the trial that dominated the front page at the time. A report from Texas Monthly states Herring came back to Odessa after attending Texas Tech University, married and divorced twice, and worked as a dock foreman, a carpenter, a welder, and spent 25 years as an electrician.

Martha Shafer, Herring’s older cousin, was unaware Herring had died before being told of his death and, now, living in Fort Worth, said she hadn’t seen her cousin in about 10 years.

“I remember we used to play together when we were younger, but I don’t remember too much of his adult life,” Shafer said. “I think he had a few issues, but he went back to being fairly normal.”

Shafer remembered that at the time of the trial, her family was all supportive of Herring, but said it was a very hard time for them.

The cousin of Williams, Shelton Williams, published a book in 2004 called “Washed in the Blood” about the killing. Shelton Williams had known Mack Herring, due to playing football against each other when Williams went to Permian High School at the same time as Herring. Shelton Williams said he had seen Herring four times following his cousin’s death, once was at a Fourth of July party at a mutual friend’s house just months after the killing.

“About an hour into the party, he started throwing firecrackers at girls and everybody was laughing, and I told my girlfriend at the time that I wasn’t gonna fight or anything, but I was getting out of there,” Williams said.

Williams saw Herring later at Tommy’s Drive-In, on Andrews Highway where Endless Horizons is now located. Herring was with one of his friends who pretended to shoot Herring, who then pantomimed dying. Williams later saw him again at a drive-in when Herring had asked him how it was going, and Williams had just had a tray of food delivered to his car.

“I pushed the tray off the side of the car and let everything fall,” Williams said.

The last time Williams saw Herring was much later in the mid-80s, while he was researching his book on the killing. He had stopped his car at an intersection when he saw the car to his right had “Herring Electronics” written on it, and Herring was in the driver’s seat, but they didn’t speak.

The_Odessa_American_Thu__Mar_23__1961_ (1).jpg
A portion of the March 23, 1961, Home Edition of the Odessa American features an article quoting Mack Herring as saying, "There is no motive; she wanted me to kill her." Read the original articles online at Newspapers.com. Odessa American File Image

“In a very real way, I think he was maybe a justifiable victim of it, but he was a victim,” Williams said. “It was a thing that probably really affected his life the most, I can’t say that for sure.”

Williams was never given the opportunity to interview Herring himself. He said an Odessa College professor had told him some students had gone to talk to Herring several years ago, feigning interest in buying a boat he was selling, and one of the students asked him if he was the man who killed Betty Williams.

“And he responded guilty as charged,” Shelton Williams said. “And then the boy said ‘why’d you do it?’ and Mack said I think you kids need to move on.”

One of the things Williams found while researching the book was that there was no counseling available before or after the incident for the students at OHS. No one intervened with Betty, despite several other teenagers testifying she had asked them to kill her as well before she asked Herring, Odessa American articles at the time reported. Williams said Herring also could have used years of counseling, but didn’t know if he ever got any help.

“I can’t tell you whether he was really disoriented and didn’t know right from wrong,” Williams said. “But his response and behavior would suggest that he didn’t really understand something, whether it was the value of life or the nature of living, I don’t know what it was.

“There was something wrong with him, and that suggests to me, at the very least, he should have gotten intensive therapy.”

Odessa attorney Michael McLeaish attended Odessa High School with Herring. Despite being a year behind him, McLeaish said they played basketball together, even after the killing. He remembered a lot of commotion at school after the killing, kids talking to each other like a beehive about it.

“I think everybody tried to treat him normally, as if it had never happened,” McLeaish said. “At least I did, as if it had never happened. What else are you gonna do? He was not ostracized.”

Shelton Williams recalled his cousin one time telling him she had attempted suicide by taking four aspirin. He told her that would cure a big headache, but wouldn’t kill her.

“So everybody that she told that she was gonna kill herself, or told she was contemplating suicide, laughed at her. Except me,” Williams said. “We were kids, we didn’t feel like we could tell our parents anything serious and we didn’t have any adults who could talk to us.”

The last time Williams was at OHS, he said a student had gone up to him and told him they were contemplating suicide, and he helped get a counselor to talk to her. Despite the impressions of the early ’60s on TV shows like “Happy Days,” Williams said there were still young people suffering, and Herring was one of them.

“I think he must have had some various serious demons,” Williams said. “Why does someone say yes to playing God?”

Williams said he still doesn’t have closure for his cousin’s death. He said he felt that a movie about the case would bring him closure, since his cousin wanted to be a movie star, and added that there actually would be a movie filmed in Odessa about the killing within the next six months.

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