the orchard apartment slayings

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The Orchard Apartment Slayings

In 1979, a particularly savage wave of crimes hit Houston, Texas. It’s uncertain to this day if they have any real connection, because they’ve never been solved.

It started with Alys Rankin (33), who lived at the Orchard Apartments in Glenmont. On July 27, 1979, her car was having repairs so she had asked a co-worker, Bob Smith, to pick her up to go to work. When Bob arrived at the apartment, he found Alys’ door ajar and went inside to check. Alys was lying naked on her bed with her feet bound. Police would later determine she had been sexually assaulted. Her head had been cut off, something Bob only realized when he removed the pillow covering that empty space. A trail of blood went all the way from her bed to the parking lot: the killer had taken Alys’ head with him and it was never found.

The crime obviously shook the neighbors of the Orchard Apartments, among them Mary Calcutta (27, second picture), who lived two floors above Alys. She was so afraid, she told a friend she placed a shelf against the front door at night so no one could get in. On August 10, 1979, a male friend who went to visit her in the afternoon found Mary dead in her bathroom floor. She had been stabbed repeatedly, with great force, and with a knife taken from her kitchen. Her throat had been cut deeply and like Alys, she had also been sexually assaulted, although when found she was fully clothed.

While at the time police investigated a possible link between the two murders, there was never conclusive evidence that the killer was the same person. Despite the similar location, the use of a knife and the fact they were sexually assaulted, Mary’s family has always believed that the culprit was someone she knew well.

The same day Mary Calcutta’s body was found, in another area of Houston an exterminator found the body of Doris Threadgill (27, third picture) inside her townhouse. Like Mary, she had also been stabbed and nearly decapitated.

Then, in October 3, 1979, residents who lived about five blocks from Doris’ place reported hearing screams and gunshots. One witness said he’d seen a man dragging a young woman by her hair. The next morning, police found the body of Joann Huffman (16) in a park. She had been shot in the mouth. That same day, police also found Robert Spangenberger (18) dead inside the trunk of a car. Robert was dating Joann and his head was also missing.