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  • September 23, 1983. It's the end of the evening  shift for the staff at the Kentucky Fried Chicken  

  • outlet in Kilgore, Texas. As the last customers  leave, there's a lot of laughing and joking.  

  • It's Friday night. Time to have some fun. The main door then swings open. A warm  

  • breeze hits the startled staff. “We're  closed,” says the assistant manager

  • None of them return home that nightThe next time anyone sees them,  

  • they are lying dead on the ground, executed. Let's now try our best to understand what  

  • happened that night. First, the victims.

  • They were Opie Hughes (39), Mary Tyler (37), David  Maxwell (20), Joey Johnson (20), and Monty Landers  

  • (19). Tyler was the assistant manager. Hughes was  one of the staff, as were Johnson and Maxwell.  

  • Landers shouldn't even have been there that dayHe'd just popped in to see the two young men

  • We know that the staff had already pretty much  finished for the night. They'd almost finished  

  • cleaning up the place. The money had been counted  and the franchise headquarters had been called  

  • and been told about the takings. During that  call, though, some voices could be heard in the  

  • background, possibly the voices of the killers. That phone call was the last time anyone heard the  

  • staff speak, besides the killers of, of courseAround 11 pm, Mary Tyler's daughter, Kim, walked  

  • into the restaurant expecting to see her mom. What  she found instead was an eerie silence. Perplexed,  

  • shouting her mom's name, she looked down at the  floor. She panicked when she saw fresh blood

  • The cops were soon on the scene, but none  of the staff could be found. At first,  

  • police assumed that some hijinks had taken  place and the staff had maybe had a fight,  

  • or someone had had an accident, and possibly  they were all nearby. No one thoughtmassacre.” 

  • But that's what it was. The next day, about 15 miles from the restaurant  

  • at a remote field close to an oil well, all  five victims were found. The first police on the  

  • scene couldn't believe what they saw. It looked  like an execution from a war crime photograph

  • All the victims were lying face down in the grass  and dirt, their arms tucked under their bodies,  

  • their heads all pointing northwards. Four of them  were close together, while the other body of Opie  

  • Hughes lay not so far away. They'd all been  shot in the back of the head, with at least one  

  • of them also taking a bullet to the back. Danny Pirtle, who would lead the investigation,  

  • later said in court that it was plainly  obvious how they had died without having to  

  • wait for the autopsy. What he didn't know is that  the carnage he was looking at would become one of  

  • the worst unsolved crimes in modern US history. Well, it remained unsolved for over two decades,  

  • and to some extent, still is partly  unsolved, but we'll get around to that

  • As some of you sleuths out of there already  know, a lot of murders are committed by people  

  • very close to the victim. You rarely have  to look further than a spurned ex-lover,  

  • a jilted friend, or an angry business  associate, to find the person responsible

  • But in this case, things  just didn't look that way

  • The murderers got away with around $2,000 that  night, but even so, killing five people over  

  • such a small sum didn't make sense. What's  more, it wasn't as if the staff were all  

  • connected other than the fact they worked  together. Sure, the young guys were friends,  

  • but police knew fairly certain that they weren't  involved in gangs or high-level drug activity,  

  • and they weren't prone to hanging out  with women in their late thirties

  • The crime looked like the work of a maniac, but  then the most messed up killers out there don't  

  • tend to take the money, too. They kill for funfor sport, to attend to some crazed sexual fetish,  

  • but they don't usually run off with the loot. At first, the investigators wondered if the  

  • murders had anything to do with a methamphetamine  ring that had filled the streets of Kilgore with  

  • that pernicious drug. They knew that the ring  was looking for a “new recipefor cooking meth.  

  • Aside from that, after prolonged bignes  meth-heads do tend to lose the plot sometimes

  • But when they spoke to the manager of the branchthat manager said no way. Those folks were not  

  • part of any ruthless criminal gang. They weren't  meth sellers, and she believed they weren't even  

  • meth consumers. Speaking later of the two  20-year old men, she said, “They were good,  

  • they were exceptional. They were good kids.” The police started looking at Kim,  

  • Mary's 17-year old stepdaughter. She'd recently  started working at that KFC and she had a somewhat  

  • checkered past for a young person. So much so, she  spent some time at the Louisiana home for girls  

  • after exhibiting behavioral problems. But why would she have had her mother  

  • killed? Why would this young woman have a beef  with a bunch of guys just a little older than  

  • her? That line of inquiry led to nothing because  Kim had absolutely no reason to have anyone shot

  • It seemed to police that a robbery had  taken place, but perhaps one or more of  

  • the staff had refused to hand over the cashSome kind of fight ensued, in which one of  

  • the staff was injured. Not wanting to leave any  witnesses, the gunmen then abducted the staff  

  • and took them to that oil field to kill them. Still, the autopsy didn't state that anyone had  

  • died before anyone else. It revealed that  all of them were lined up at the oil field  

  • and they were shot one by one. Only Hugheswho was dragged away, was shot separately

  • There were few clues to work with. Cops foundfingernail in the clothing of one of the bodies.  

  • They found traces of another human on Hughes's  body. But the best clue was a bit of blood on the  

  • ground and a blood-stained napkin lying nearby. As we said, there was also some blood in the  

  • restaurant. It didn't look as though it had  come from any of the victims. Perhaps, the  

  • police thought, one of the staff really had put up  a good fight and injured one of the perpetrators

  • People came forward and said they saw  a van at the restaurant that night,  

  • which could have taken the victims away. But  there was no CCTV back then in the area and  

  • those witness statements were vague at best. Police also looked at two men named Romeo  

  • Pinkerton and Darnell Hartsfield. They were  cousins and they both had a checkered past,  

  • while another man linked to those two was also on  the police radar. But then jail records seemed to  

  • point to the fact that Hartsfield was in jail at  the time of the murders, so that trail went dry

  • Such a slaying, something of the utmost  brutality, put a lot of pressure on the  

  • cops. That's not always a good thing. It can make  police join too many dots and as we all now know,  

  • many an innocent man has gone to jail when  the police can't quite look past the picture  

  • they've already formed in their mind. It's called  having a “cognitive biasand quite a few people  

  • have spent time on death row because of it. The police were too quick to join the dots  

  • when they arrested a man named James Earl  Mankins Jr. He had a pretty colorful rap  

  • sheet, but mostly for drug convictions. NotablyMankins' father was a State Representative.

  • Police discovered that the fingernail  they found looked as though it came  

  • from him. He was also missing a bit of his. A man named James Rowe said he approached the  

  • police by himself a few months after the crimeThat night he said he saw men driving a van  

  • and he noticed that in the back of the van were  people wearing uniforms. What's scary is that he  

  • said he heard them yelling and screaming. He also said the driver of the van was a  

  • white guy with long hair and a beardThat fit the description of Mankins,  

  • although Rowe was never asked to testifyWhy police never approached him again we  

  • don't know. It wasn't until 20 years later that  he did testify, and he said he went to school  

  • with Mankins and the man in that van wasn't him. Later in 1995, DNA evidence pointed to Mankins'  

  • innocence and the case against him  was dropped. Some years later it  

  • would be discovered that this fingernail the  police had been so dead set on investigating  

  • actually came from one of the victims. Mankins later told the press, “The worst  

  • part was the six months in jail over there  thinking about being put to death for something  

  • I didn't do. And more than likely if it wasn't  for that DNA, I would have been on death row.” 

  • The case went cold again, and it looked  as though they'd never find the killers

  • A detective later admitted that the police had  spent way too much time focusing on Mankins.  

  • Tunnel vision is an investigator's  worst enemy, so sometime later,  

  • the Rusk County Sheriff's Office calledformer FBI agent named George Kinney and asked  

  • him to look at the case from different angles. It seemed to Kinney, that given the severity of  

  • the crimes, whoever had done it had very likely  committed more crimes in the years that had  

  • passed. It would be fair to assume, he thoughtthat the murderers were in prison for other crimes  

  • as he began his investigation in the early 2000s. In 2001, a forensic scientist named Lorna Beasley  

  • retested the DNA evidence the police had  and ran it through something called the  

  • Combined DNA Data Indexing System.” That way  she could ascertain if the DNA from the blood  

  • found at the crime scene matched any DNA  of violent offenders currently behind bars

  • Two names popped up. They were Romeo  Pinkerton and Darnell Hartsfield.

  • Hmm, she thought, those guys were suspects at  the start but were rubbed from the list when  

  • it was discovered one of them was in jail when  the murders happened. That wasn't true. The cops  

  • had messed up in this regard. On the night of  the slayings, he'd been out of prison two days

  • But the evidence still wasn't enough  to charge the men for the crime

  • It took two more years for Texas Attorney  General prosecutor Lisa Tanner to get on  

  • the case. She had doubts about finding the  culprits so many years after the crime.  

  • Witnesses were getting old, and she said there  were quite a few holes in the entire story.  

  • She also realized that DNA evidence pointed  to three men committing the crime, not two

  • What she needed was DNA from one of the two  suspects for who she did have names. One  

  • of them was Hartsfield and investigators  got a break in 2003 when he was arrested.  

  • Now investigators just needed a DNA sample from  him, but he wasn't exactly forthcoming about that

  • So investigators embarked on a plan that had  fooled many criminals in the past- offering  

  • drinks or chewing gum and then testing the  remains. With Hartsfield, they got an added bonus

  • He flat-out refused to give investigators a DNA  sample, and that was his legal right. He even  

  • stated that in a letter. Oops

  • Tanner later told the press this: “He told us he wasn't going to give  

  • us his blanket blank DNA. And then he was so  adamant about it, he wrote us a letter saying,  

  • 'I'm not giving you my DNA, and you can't make  me give you my DNA,' and then, of course, he  

  • licked the envelope and sent it to us.” In 2007, facing the death penalty  

  • due to the new DNA evidence, he admitted  to murdering those five people. Still,  

  • he said he only did so because five life sentences  was better than a shot of lethal drugs into the  

  • arm. Pinkerton also received five life sentences. Hartsfield has since spoken from his cell, and he  

  • hasn't changed his story of being innocent. He  once said, “I might've had crimes that I did do.  

  • You know what I'm saying? But no one ever  got hurt. I would never kill those people,  

  • and from day one, I have stated my innocenceand I'm still stating my innocence.” 

  • The investigators say they've now joined  the dots and the picture they have come up  

  • with they are sure is real. They say the guyspossibly three guys, heard someone talking about  

  • the takings that evening. But, they mistakenly  heard $15,000, not $1,500. Some reports we found  

  • said $2,000 was taken and some said $3,000,  so we can't be sure just how much was stolen

  • Investigators think the robbery just went  wrong, and for some reason, they abducted  

  • the five people. Why they murdered them all, they  just don't know. They admit that the crime cannot  

  • be said to be solved until that third person  is arrested. The DNA evidence found on Hughe's  

  • body does not match Hartsfield, Pinkerton, or  Mankins, or anyone else in the DNA database

  • The guy we mentioned at the start, former  detective Pirtle, said, “I think about it  

  • every day, and I lie awake some nights with it  on my mind. It has been a big part of my life,  

  • and though I am retired now, I  still want the third person.” 

  • Hartsfield fought his conviction and in 2010 a  court upheld it, saying the evidence against him  

  • was solid. He still claims his innocence todaysaying thereal killeris still out there

  • Now you need to watch something spookily  similarBrutal True Story of What They  

  • Didn't Tell You About the Burger Chef  Massacre.” Or, have a look at this maniac  

  • The Werewolf - World's Worst Serial Killer.”  Kentucky Fried Murders - America's Worst Killers

September 23, 1983. It's the end of the evening  shift for the staff at the Kentucky Fried Chicken  

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KFC Murder Massacre Kidnapping That Shocked FBI

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    Summer posted on 2021/10/16
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