Program to feature Baytown murder

by admin on July 15, 2017

On Halloween 1985, a madman walked the streets of Baytown.

Mary Stiles, an 11-year-old Horace Mann Junior School student, had gone out trick-or-treating dressed in Care Bear pajamas with her hair in pigtails. She was later found dead, her body hidden under some leaves and tree limbs behind an apartment complex on Northwood Drive.

Tonight, the tale of her shocking murder is being featured on “On the Case with Paula Zahn” at 9 p.m. on the Investigation Discovery Network.

Although it happened almost 32 years ago, the case still haunts those who remember it. Baytown Assistant Police Chief Roger Clifford was a patrol officer then.

“I came in on Halloween night that night,” Clifford said. “I was working the graveyard shift, and we were informed that a girl was missing who was 11 years old. Myself and several other patrol officers were assigned to go out, search, ask questions and do what we could to find out what happened to Mary.”

They searched the area but could not find the missing girl. Then, nine days after her disappearance, a mysterious letter with no return address showed up at the police station.

“It included a map that was crudely drawn that showed the backside of the (Northwood) apartments and the back parking lot,” Clifford said. “It also showed a trail that went into the woods with little notations such as ‘this is where I stabbed her the first time” and ‘this is where she dropped a nickel’ and ‘this is where I put her in the roots of the trees.’”

The letter was signed, “The Madman who wishes he never was.”

Police followed the map’s directions and soon discovered Mary Stiles’ body, still clad in the Care Bear pajamas she wore that Halloween night. Her body had been placed in a hollowed out place where some trees had been rooted up from Hurricane Alicia two years before. She also had been stabbed, strangled and the killer had stuffed one of her socks down her throat. According to Clifford, the medical examiner had said she could have died from any of these three methods of murder.

“Getting the letters was unusual for us,” Clifford said. “Not only that, he said find her and give her a decent burial.”

At first, police thought the killer was an adult child predator. However, the killer turned out to be a disturbed 16-year-old Ross S. Sterling High School kid named Joseph Lee Fordham who had an obsession with Greek and Egyptian mythology.

Fordham’s letters were sent to then-Police Chief Wayne Henscey.

“He was the chief, and they were communicating, answering the questions,” Clifford said. “He asked questions about the mythology roots. We did the research on our end. The FBI, and the Harris County District Attorney’s office helped with their experts in mythology. They helped to derive the answers to these questions. They had to put this in the Baytown Sun in a way so no one would know what was going on.”

A flurry of letters started coming in around Christmas 1985, with some threatening that there would be more victims. Fordham, under the name Madman, wrote riddles said the answers were to be printed in the Baytown Sun. The answers were supposed to reveal his real name.

“The first answer he was looking for, he got the wrong answer,” Clifford said. “He sent another letter saying it was the wrong answer and if it wasn’t right, he would strike again.”

Clifford said the dialogue went on.

“We examined every letter using fingerprint analysis,” he said. “At the same time, detectives were doing research on students from RSS living in the complex.”

Clifford said thanks to the FBI and their 1980’s version of what later became their Behavioral Analysis Unit, they were able to get a profile of the killer.

“They were instrumental in this,” Clifford said. “After they received some evidence, the map and finger print analysis, they said what you are dealing with here is a juvenile. We had been focusing on adults. They told us he would feel remorse and was feeling so much guilt, that he was having trouble coping with it. Also, that his grades were probably going down, and he was withdrawing from his family.”

Clifford said the work of the Baytown detectives was key in catching Fordham. He mentioned Detective Harry Gore, who died in December, as being the one who narrowed down the suspects to males from RSS who fit the FBI’s profile. They set up surveillance, watching suspects as they got off the bus from RSS. They also watched a mailbox on Northwood Drive and eventually saw Fordham ride up to it on his bicycle and drop off a letter. Once they got the postal inspector to open up the mailbox, they found the letter had the same letterhead and envelope the killer had been sending them.

“(Fordham’s) name fit the riddles,” Clifford said. “He was a student, 16 years old, and it turned out his younger sister was Mary Stiles’ best friend. Not only was she her best friends, but often times, Mary would play at Joseph’s house with the little sister. And (Fordham) developed a relationship with her because he sometimes walked her home after dark. He also lived in the same apartment complex.”

Clifford said Fordham had developed some type of infatuation with Mary Stiles.

“We don’t know what his intentions were, although he did confess to killing her,” Clifford said. “He never gave us a motive for it. That night, he asked if she would go and walk with him and she did because she knew him. He walked her out to the woods, and she began to resist.”

Fordham was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison for Mary Stiles’ death. However, due to prison overcrowding, he was released just eight years later. He kept under the radar until 2014, when just weeks before his parole was to end, the now-45-year-old Fordham disappeared. U.S. Marshals found him in a hotel room in the middle of a suicide attempt. He was subsequently sent back to prison. Although some reports say Fordham is back on the streets, his current whereabouts are unknown.

Larry Israel, executive producer for “On the Case with Paula Zahn,” said the show, titled “Deadly Riddle,” will tell of the Mary Stiles case from beginning to end.

“Even though it is all concluded we go through it from the standpoint of how it unfolded,” Israel said. “We do focus on the wrong turns. We also focus on the family’s standpoint of the outrageous conclusion to it. We don’t take a position on it, but we allow the family to express their dismay how things worked out and how they ultimately came to find peace with it.”

Israel said the brilliance of the police work is highlighted in the show.

“I think that in this day and age when the commitment to law enforcement is questioned, this case reinforces the positive elements of law enforcement and how hard people work to try and find justice for victims,” Israel said. “That is something our show tries to focus on, not on the negative end.”

Clifford was also quick to point out that the case was solved thanks to the hard work of the detectives such as Gore, Ron Moser, P.J. Kuehn and Paul Schaffer.

“The job our detectives, the police department and other agencies did to be able to bring this case to closure was the result of good old fashioned police work,” Clifford said. “They did great work with the tools that they had at the time.”

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