Doubt in the Darlie Routier case: Strange occurrences

Darlie, Darin, Devon, and Damon Routier

Darlie, Darin, Devon, and Damon Routier

It has been said that the prosecution’s case against Texas mother of three, Darlie Lynn Routier, was circumstantial. Darlie is now on death row as a result of her 1997 conviction in connection with the death of her youngest son, Damon. I previously wrote about the fingerprint evidence in Darlie’s case, but I wanted to switch gears a little and discuss some of the strange occurrences surrounding the murders of the Routier children.

Uncovering the truth about what happened during the early morning hours of June 6, 1996 requires one to look at reported occurrences and sightings before, during, and after the crimes took place. Examination of this type of case must extend outside of the family home and reflect an overall picture of the neighborhood as well. Below is a synopsis of some of the events and sightings that reportedly took place.

The Attempted Break In

On June 11 of 1996, Mary Angelia Rickels, known as Angel, contacted the Rowlett Police Department to inform them that during the early morning hours of June 6 an unidentified man attempted to enter her home. The defense called Rickels to testify at Darlie’s trial. She explained that she had been home with her fifteen year old daughter when the incident happened. She was married and also had two other children who were staying with their grandmother at the time. Her husband worked the night shift, leaving the house at 9:30 p.m. and returning the following morning at 9:30 or 10 a.m.

Rickels testified that she was watching television at 1:30 a.m. when a series of strange occurrences took place. At first she heard sounds as though someone were trying to get into the house through a door. Initially, she believed it was her husband who would come home from work periodically to check on her. She had suffered a stroke, a number of heart attacks, and had also recently lost her brother. However, she became suspicious when she heard the sound of wood splitting and a loud cracking noise. This prompted her to turn on the porch light to see what was happening.

In her testimony, she described seeing two men standing outside through a peephole in the door. One was stockier than the other, wearing a knit cap. He had blonde hair sticking out from under the cap. She said he was wearing a dark jogging suit. The other individual was tall and thin. The men ran from the house and headed in the direction of Willowbrook Drive. Willowbrook eventually leads to Eagle Drive where the Routiers lived.

Once the men left, Rickels described feeling as though the incident had passed, but she was still frightened. Rickels explained during testimony that she proceeded to calm her fifteen year old daughter who had also witnessed the events and was scared. They resumed watching television and a short time later heard what sounded like tapping coming from the bedroom window located near the front of the house.

Rickels peered through the blinds and saw that the two men had returned. This time she saw they had a metal object that looked like either a screwdriver or a knife. She turned off the bedroom light and the men left. They did not return again that evening.

Though shaken by the incident, Rickels testified that she did not call police that night to report the incident. She stayed awake the rest of the night. Later on that morning she told her husband. She would go on to relay the story to other family members.

Rickels did not call the police until the 11th. She explained that once the incident took place she did not see a point in calling them. She said the following during trial, “Well, at that time, I was thinking it was — it’s all over, what can the police — what can they do now, you know?”

She also reported seeing a dark vehicle parked outside. She did not recognize the vehicle, but it appeared to remain in the same spot throughout the night. She did not describe seeing anyone getting into or out of the vehicle that night – just that the car was present during the same time frame. A telephone memorandum taken by the Rowlett police stated the vehicle in question belonged to someone living on 8826 Miami Drive.

The bizarre incidents did not stop with the attempted break in, however. In August, Rickels saw what appeared to be the same vehicle as the one she saw the morning of June 6. She stated, “Well, again in August, I saw that car pull out there and, what triggered my memory was that the person that got out of the car was the same build as the stocky guy that I had seen before, and so I ran in and called the police.” The police came to the home and Rickels described them going to the home she pointed out to them and bringing out a “small skinny person” in handcuffs. She said the person they removed from the home was shorter than the one she saw on June 6.

In November, Rickels stated that she had gone out into her garage to smoke a cigarette at about 2:30 to 3 a.m. The garage door was open about a foot. She heard what sounded like shuffling footsteps in the driveway. She then testified to the following: “I was just scared and so I just pulled the door down and stuck a stick in the door so they couldn’t lift it.” She called the police again later on that morning.

No further information was given during testimony about the attempted break-in, the car sighting, or even the police removing an individual in handcuffs from a nearby home.

The report of the break in coincides with the time frame in which Darlie Routier claimed an unknown person entered her home. Rickels described the first incident occurring at about 1:30 a.m. The men left the area and returned at approximately 2 a.m. It was after 2 a.m. that Rickels described seeing the vehicle. These times are estimates, but they occurred before Darlie made a 911 call reporting the stabbing of her two children and the attack on herself. That call took place at 2:30 a.m.

Map showing route from Routier home to Rickels' home.

Map showing route from Routier home to Rickels’ home.

It is important to point out that the Rickels family home was about half a mile from the Routier home. It would take approximately 9 minutes to walk from the home on Miami Drive to where the Routier family lived at 5801 Eagle Drive in Rowlett, Texas. It would take far less time to drive there.

The police noted on the telephone memorandum that the vehicle was a “1989 Ford 2dr.” The make of the car was not given, even though the police provided other details such as a license plate number.

Reported Vehicle and People Sightings

In the time leading up to the crimes, a number of unusual sightings were reported.

On June 6, Sally Bingham reported to police that she was a neighbor of the Routier family. She described being awake at 1 to 1:30 a.m. the morning the murders took place. Bingham stated she “kept seeing car lights driving through the neighborhood”. Her bedroom had a bay window. The vehicle made several trips down the street before Bingham finally got up and looked outside to see a white vehicle. The only other description of the vehicle was “celebrity-type.”

On June 7, Betty Jung reported that her son saw a suspicious looking man in the morning wearing blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and a black cap. He was also carrying a knapsack. A note on the memo states, “probably same person Officer Caillet questioned on 66 at Barretts”. The sighting took place at the Rowlett Vet Clinic, located about 3 miles west of the Routier home.

An additional lead sheet described a man fitting the same description, carrying a backpack, near I-30 and Dalrock. The tip was dated June 6, 1996, 4 p.m. It described the sighting as taking place at 5 a.m. I-30 was located south of the Routier home about 2 and a half miles away.

Was the person observed in these two separate sightings the same individual? Who did Caillet question?

Also on June 7, Jonathan Hartley called police to report that the Dallas Morning News mail carrier had threatened him. He stated the man’s name was Ray Clemons and suggested that police look into him. Hartley lived on 8301 Eagle Drive, approximately 285 feet from the Routier home.

Kory Keith lived in the neighborhood and contacted police on June 7 to report an incident that occurred during the week before the murders. He described returning home at 2:30 to 3 a.m. and seeing an older style mini van driving slowly down Eagle Drive. He described the occupants of the van as “shining lights on houses”. The van left the area as Keith approached. He tried to turn around to get a better look at the van, but was unable to locate it once he did. The only other description of the van was that it was possible light tan in color. The driver appeared to be a white male in his 20s. No description was given for the passenger.

Julie Clark was another person who contacted the police the day after the murders. She described herself as a close friend of the Routiers when she testified at Darlie’s trial. She indicated that on the day of the murders, a woman who cleaned Darlie’s house saw a black vehicle.

The sighting of the black car was reported by the woman’s daughter, Barbara Jovell, as well. Jovell’s mother reportedly saw a black 2-door sports car driving slowly down the alley located behind the Routier home. The vehicle stopped in the alley and was described as having a dark complexion. When Jovell’s mom went into the garage the vehicle was driven away.

Barbara also reported seeing a vehicle matching the same description. On June 5, Barbara had gone to pick her mother up from Darlie’s home. As the two were leaving they saw a black sports car pass them. Barbara’s mom said it was the same vehicle she saw the day before. Barbara added to the description by stating the car had “bad paint” and a “short trunk area”.

The route from the Routier home to the Reed home.

The route from the Routier home to the Reed home.

On June 8, John Reed contacted police to report that the day of the murders he was in the front yard, cleaning up. His two grandchildren were with him and they saw a white male sitting in a “faded blue older model 4 door car.” He described the man as “suspicious”. The distance from the address indicated on the telephone memo and the Routier home is 0.4 miles.

No further information is provided on the telephone lead sheet. However, the words “Duplication of 1 Keith had” is written across the bottom. At the top of the page it says “same” and then shows the number 0021 over the number 0007.

A separate lead sheet with the same date gave a little more information. The tip describes the man seeing a car parked down the street. The driver appeared to be watching the man’s grandchildren. The lead sheet says that when the man who reported this got into his vehicle to drive down to the suspicious looking car, the man pulled away and left.

The address matched the one above, but the last name was recorded as something other than Reed. Additionally, under the street address of 6312 Highgate Lane the officer wrote “Dallas, Texas”. The street address exists in both Dallas and Rowlett. If the police obtained confirmation of the correct city, it is not indicated. The address in Dallas is almost 20 miles from the Routier home.

On June 9, Bill Knuth contacted police and gave information about seeing a vehicle “cruising his neighborhood the evening of the murders”. Knuth said the driver was a young white male who was acting suspiciously. The car apparently stopped near the Routier’s corner house around 7 to 8 p.m. He was unable to get a license plate number, saying only that the vehicle he observed was either a Geo Storm or a Dodge Neon. The vehicle had 2 doors, a hatchback, and was either blue or purple.

On June 17th, Officer Needham described a report police received of a black Nissan with an identified Texas license plate was observed in the area of the Routier home. Officer Needham and Detective Latham also saw this vehicle. The lead sheet states, “Owner had been in the area after the murders – sight seeing.” No further information was given about the owner of the car or whether police established the individual had an alibi the night of the murders.

Perhaps one of the stranger vehicle sightings was reported by Bob Salsey. He first called into the police department on June 8. He was a delivery person for the Daily Business News and delivered the paper across the street from the Routier home at 12:30 a.m. the night of the murders. In the first description it says, “did not see anything suspicious”. The following day, Detective Needham spoke to Salsey. He reiterated that he was in the area the evening of the murders at about 12 to 12:30 a.m. However, this time he said he saw a white car in the driveway of the Routier home. It was described as a suburban type.

The Routiers had two vehicles in June of 1996. The first was a dark green Nissan Pathfinder. The second was an older Jaguar. The Jaguar was in the shop at the time.

It appears the police may have dismissed the sighting because the note says that Salsey was colorblind. The problem is that a person who is colorblind is unlikely to mistake a dark green vehicle for a white one. There are different forms of colorblindness. A person who has it may have difficulty identifying red, green, or both. However, people who are colorblind can see different shades in that their inability to distinguish a color does not mean it would appear blank or white.

Another problem with dismissing the sighting of a vehicle in the driveway that night is that the Pathfinder was not parked in the driveway of the Routier home. Various testimony throughout Darlie’s trial revealed the Pathfinder was routinely parked out in front of the house, instead of in the driveway. A neighbor named William Gorsuch testified that he saw the vehicle parked in front of the home the morning of the murders. Darin also testified he parked the Pathfinder in front of the home.

Whose car was parked in the driveway that evening if it was not the Routier’s?

Darlene Potter sighting on June 6 at about 2 a.m.

Darlene Potter sighting on June 6 at about 2 a.m.

In 2002, Darlene Potter gave an affidavit describing an unusual sighting during the early morning hours of June 6. Potter was returning to her residence after visiting her daughter in Cleburne, Texas. Sometime after 2 a.m. she reported that she had reached Dalrock Road, north of Highway 66 “approaching the ‘S’ curve.” As she approached the curve she slowed considerably because she was pulling a trailer behind her van. She stated the following: “I suddenly saw a man walking on the edge of the left side of the roadway headed in the same direction I was going. He was about six feet tall, medium build, had shoulder length brownish hair which was messed up, wearing a black t-shirt. He was barefooted.”

Potter then observed a second man walking on the left edge of the road as well. She described the second man as wearing a light colored baseball cap, a white shirt, and blue jeans. She said he was tall and stocky, standing at about 5’8″.

In reference to the second man, Potter added, “As I approached this man, he stepped from the side of the road as if he were walking toward my vehicle. I was just starting to accelerate slowly from out of the curve at this time and when I saw the man stepping towards my car, he looked in the direction of the first man. I then looked in my mirror again and saw the first man shaking his head as if to say ‘no’ to the second man”.

The sighting stood out in her mind because one of the men was barefooted and also because it occurred so early in the morning. It made her uneasy because she lived in the area. She returned home and tried to sleep. About 45 minutes later she said she observed a small dark-colored car driving through the field next door to her home. She said it appeared as if it were riding its brakes. No address is given for Potter so it is difficult to determine which field she was referring to or how far she lived from the Routier home.

The sighting of the two men on foot happened approximately 0.6 of a mile from the Routier’s residence.

Concluding Remarks

The above descriptions pose more questions than they answer. These strange occurrences suggest there was more going on in the neighborhood at the time of the murders than the police and prosecutors were willing to acknowledge. Some of this information was presented in court and some was not. For example, there is discussion in the trial transcripts of the police receiving information that a dark colored vehicle was observed in the area.

As previously discussed, the defense also called Rickels to the stand to reiterate what she told the police and others about an attempted break in during the early morning of June 6. However, it is difficult to find all of the information pertaining to the people and events observed in the time frame surrounding the murders. For instance, police confirmed that canvassing was done in the neighborhood. This is where officers go door-to-door to ask if anyone heard, saw, or experienced anything unusual before, during, or after the murders that might be connected. I have been unable to locate these notes, but if they exist they are likely stored with the other police files relating to this case.

There is much more to cover that creates doubt about the prosecution’s case against Darlie Routier. The more information revealed, the more apparent it becomes that an overzealous prosecution of a young mother may have resulted in a wrongful conviction.

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