On Wednesday, William Lewis Reece pleaded guilty to the murders of 12-year-old Laura Smither, 17-year-old Jessica Cain, and 20-year-old Kelli Cox. Before his confessions, he had been on the radar of law enforcement, even though the murders had remained cold cases for decades.
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Who Is William Lewis Reece?
On July 1, 1959, Reece was born in Oklahoma. He lived on a farm alongside his 12 brothers and sisters during his early years. However, there were also times that he weaved in and out of foster care. Despite the upheaval, those who knew him stated that he remained close with his mother.
After dropping out of school in ninth grade, he went on to shoe horses. Then, at 19, he married a woman named Judy Fleming in 1979. Eventually, they had two children, a boy and a girl, before divorcing in 1982. According to Fleming, Reece became abusive towards her once she filed and had held a shotgun to her head at one time. This, of course, would signal Reece's violent nature and tendencies that would become a pattern throughout his life.
First Known Crimes
In 1986, four years after his divorce, he encountered a 19-year-old college student with car trouble on the interstate. At the time, Reece was driving a semi-truck and offered his assistance. After she agreed and got into his truck, he duct-taped her arms behind her back and sexually assaulted her. Ultimately, she was able to escape by convincing him to let her use the restroom and subsequently asking to call her family while witnesses were present.
Within a month, while awaiting trial for the first attack, he sexually assaulted another woman he had followed home from a bar. After being convicted in both cases, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison, but he only served 10 due to improper comments that a prosecutor had made. He was released in Oct. 1996.
Shortly after his release, women in the surrounding areas began disappearing, including Laura Smither, Kelli Cox, Tiffany Johnston, and Jessica Cain. Another woman, Sandra Sapaugh, had also been kidnapped at knifepoint in 1997.
At that time, police had not officially linked the crimes to Reece, even though he had been named a prime suspect in the case of Smither. When questioned, he stated that he was looking forward to being exonerated and was not the type of person to kill anyone.
As a result of the disappearances, many locals soon began referring to an area off I-45 in Houston as the "Texas Killing Fields," as it had become "known for dead bodies."
After escaping from Reece's vehicle, Sapaugh was able to provide a firsthand account of her experience. This led to Reece receiving a 60-year prison sentence in 1998 sentence for aggravated kidnapping. Following his conviction, he was initially eligible for parole starting on October 16, 2027.
DNA Provides Answers
While serving his lengthy sentence behind bars, a DNA sample processed in 2015 tied Reece to Johnston's rape and murder. While it was not a direct match, investigators testified that Reece could not be excluded as a possible suspect.
He later confessed to a series of murders hoping to avoid the death penalty. Then, in 2016, he opted to lead law enforcement officials to Cox and Cain's remains.