True Grue: The Texas Eyeball CollectorColumns,Fearful Features,News Ken W. Hanley
Welcome to “True Grue,” a weekly article that dives into real life, harrowing horrors. For the interest of good taste, this graphic feature aims not to be exploitative, but rather informative, and rest assured, there are many different territories that will be strictly off-limits. But for those with a hungry mind and a strong stomach, read on at your own discretion…
It’s not uncommon to see cases of serial killers with morbid obsessions. From domestic cannibals to secret creepy shrines, there often seems to be an odd fascination deep within the psyches of psychopaths. Few obsessions however, rival the gruesome and outright terrifying nature of Charles Albright, also known as “The Texas Eyeball Collector.”
In what is now likely considered unsurprising by forensic analysts, Albright’s horrific obsession with eyes started in childhood in Amarillo, Texas. Adopted from an orphan’s home at an early age, Albright was known as an especially smart child thanks to his overprotective schoolteacher mother, Delle. When Albright bought his first gun as a teenager, he began killing small animals in the name of a burgeoning obsession with taxidermy. However, being unable to afford the true glass eyes needed for the practice, Albright replaced the eyes of his kills with buttons instead.
Albright’s teenage years were increasingly wayward and destructive, including bouts with thievery, forgery and fraud. Despite spending a year in jail for armed robbery at the age of 16, Albright was handed probationary sentences for most of his crimes. Even with falsified and stolen college degrees, Albright had problems holding a job, causing him to forge checks frequently. His repeated run-ins with the law later cost Albright his marriage, and after being caught in a massive robbery of a hardware store, his freedom. After only serving six months of a two-year sentence, Albright was released back on the streets.
In 1981, Albright found himself in even more trouble, having been accused of child molestation while visiting the friends of his recently deceased mother. Albright pled guilty in exchange for a probationary sentence, but maintained his innocence after the fact. Several years later, Albright found himself married again to an Arkansas woman named Dixie, who moved to Dallas to help support Albright. Albright soon became mixed up with prostitutes in the area however, unwittingly setting the stage for his shocking, disgusting crime spree.
In December of 1990, a known prostitute named Mary Lou Pratt was found, nearly nude and executed, by neighborhood kids from Oak Cliff in the early morning. Originally chalking up the murder to a byproduct of the crime-ridden area and Pratt’s line of business, the case took an unsettling turn when the medical examiner discovered both of Pratt’s eyes had been removed with surgical precision. The detectives on the case contacted the FBI, who surmised the killer had collected the eyes to relive the erotic sensations of his violence and requested the details of the mutilation be withheld from the press.
Even with information from the FBI, the detectives could not find a lead on the killer, as an anonymous tip towards two Hispanic brothers in the area proved to lack substance. The only real detail the detectives could draw up was Pratt being close to a fellow prostitute, Susan Peterson, with whom she would rob the homes and businesses of some of their less frequent customers. Peterson refused to admit this to police out of fear of prosecution, and the case went cold.
Days later, a man under the name “SpeeDee” was stopped in the Oak Cliffs area by police officers, having been caught driving with a known prostitute named Veronica. When questioned by police, Veronica came to his defense, stating “SpeeDee” had not picked her up for sex but rather came to her rescue during an attempted rape. The officers let “SpeeDee” go, under the condition that they escort Veronica home and that he return home to his wife. “SpeeDee” obliged, but with the timing and area being suspect, the officers subsequently passed on the information to the Homicide department, not knowing that the suspect was driving around with the forged documentation of his landlord, Charles Albright.
Less than two months later, another body in the style of Mary Lou Pratt was found, this time having been shot three times and left just outside the city limits of Dallas. The victim was none other than Peterson, who coincidentally called Dallas Police only two days prior claiming to know the identification of Pratt’s killer. And just like Pratt, Peterson’s eyes were surgically removed and taken, confirming that Dallas in fact had a ritualistic serial killer on their hands.
Dubbed by the media as “The Dallas Ripper” as well as “The Collectionist,” Albright had still gone undetected by the police after the second murder. Detectives in the case returned to Veronica, who claimed she had seen Pratt murdered, but her penchant as a liar and drug addict nearly discredited all of the details she offered the investigators.
Albright struck again one month later, essentially subverting all suspected patterns based on the race, location and times of his previous kills. The last victim was Shirley Williams, a part-time prostitute who was found more severely assaulted than the previous victims, although she was still shot and had her eyes removed as such. This time, the FBI found a piece of evidence that suggested the killer had been rushed: the tip of a X-acto knife was found broken near Williams’ head.
At this point, the FBI became more involved with the case, finding clues via post-mortem victim analysis on all three women. Among the clues discovered were a Caucasian pubic hair on Williams and matching ballistics on Pratt and Williams. Perhaps most damning was the case file from Albright’s stop in Oak Cliffs. Having learned Albright was living on the forged documents of his deceased father, the FBI began investigating all calls involving Albright and learned of an anonymous tip made days before Williams’ murder.
A woman who had previously been romantically involved with Albright called Dallas Police fearing for her life; having been conned and psychologically abused by Albright, she got away from him and moved on with her life. She was still afraid however, especially considering how obsessed he became with knives and eyeballs. Most importantly, the woman offered insight to Albright’s private life, saying he frequently consorted with prostitutes, including none other than Mary Lou Pratt.
Suddenly, Albright became the top suspect of these grisly murders, yet Dallas Police knew they would need more evidence to secure a conviction. The FBI revisited Veronica, who identified Albright as her attacker, as well as another prostitute named Brenda who escaped an attacker’s grasp not long before Williams was murdered. Within four days of the last murder, Dallas Police arrested Albright at his home for homicide and attempted assault.
In their search of his house and various properties, the FBI found even more damning yet circumstantial evidence to the crime. The most accusatory was a specific kind of colored condom, one of which was found unwrapped by Williams’ body at the last crime scene. Other pieces of tangible evidence included books about serial killers, Nazi literature and an obsession with dolls. The creepiest initial find were eyeless masks of his own design, which tied into the killer’s obsession.
Later, the police would find Albright’s guns, including the gun known to have killed Pratt and Williams, as well as a collection of X-acto knives. The police then tracked down “SpeeDee,” from who they suspected might have been an accomplice, but was later discredited due to the lack of education needed to help commit such ritualistic murders. However, “SpeeDee” also discounted Albright as Veronica’s attacker, giving his landlord an alibi for the night in question.
Albright didn’t fit the match for the killer; the 57-year-old charming Texan didn’t once object to having his home search or his weapons tested. This gave investigators pause, as Albright’s innocence may cause the actual killer to escape and would further incite the media circus surrounding the case. There was also pressure from higher-ups in the FBI to locate the missing eyeballs, which would be enough to tie Albright to all three murders. However, upon discovering Albright’s upbringing, his lifelong obsession with eyes and his frequenting of prostitutes with familial inheritance, police soldiered on with the prosecution, confident they’d be proven right.
The case proved bumpy for the police after Albright’s guns tested negative for being the murder weapon and both of his cars had been in repair shops at the time of the first two killings. The authorities finally received the evidence they needed when Albright’s hair matched the pubic hair found on Williams, and hair recovered from Albright’s car matched that of the victims. Furthermore, interrogations of more local prostitutes corroborated much of the evidence presented, with police finding Williams’ raincoat, a blue blanket mentioned by several prostitutes and more of Albright’s colored condoms.
With mostly circumstantial evidence and several marks against them, including Veronica’s reversal of her testimony against Albright, the prosecution chose to only pursue Albright for the murder of Shirley Williams. Vying for a life sentence, the prosecution’s case was strong enough to convince the jury of Albright’s guilt. Albright was given a life sentence for the crime, which to this day he has still not admitted to committing. Further studies on Albright show that his obsession with eyes is still intact, and with no murders of the kind occurring since Albright’s arrest, Dallas is confident that the Texas Eyeball Collector has been brought to justice.