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Episode 50 - "The Caffey Family Massacre"

Death Dames Podcast

Release Date: 01/22/2020

Episode 50 – The Caffey Family Massacre

  • We are sitting pretty at 50 episodes today, which I can’t even think about because it honestly feels like we started this show like, two months ago, but here we are! Now, we have something special planned for our one year episode in two weeks, but for today’s episode, I wanted to cover a pretty heavy true crime case that I learned about from my local library, where I sometimes troll for True Crime books or cases to cover. This case is depressing, brutal, and has violence against children, so I want to make those listening aware, if you are uncomfortable with those topics. Today, we will be covering the murder of most of the Caffey family, a religious, middle class family from Texas who were abruptly murdered one night in a horrible twist that shocked everyone in their small town. Now, before we get started on the story, I want to acknowledge my main source for this episode, which was the book Terror by Night written by Terry Caffey, the patriarch of the family, and the only survivor of the night of violence which took his wife and three children from him. The book details what events lead up to the crime, his experiences on that night, and how he learned to forgive those who killed his family. It’s a powerful piece, and, although it is very religious, if that bothers you, I do still recommend checking out the book because it is such a fascinating case. So without further ado, we begin on the night of March 1st, 2008, when the Caffey family would change forever.

    [Pictured: The Caffey Family. Photo Credit: murderpedia.org]

  • In a small home in Alba, Texas, surrounded by 20 acres of remote, pine filled forests, slept the members of the Caffey family. There was Terry, the father, and his wife Penny, the mother. Sleeping in their rooms were their two sons, Matthew, 13, and Tyler, 8. Finally, there was their daughter, 16 year old Erin. At around 3 am, there was a slam in Terry and Penny’s bedroom, which woke the couple up. It was the sound of a door knob slamming into the dryer in their laundry room, which was connected to the master bedroom in which they slept. Almost a second later, two gunmen entered the room and began firing on the couple. Terry was shot around eleven times, taking several bullets in the arm and shoulder. A bullet entered in his right cheek which blew out his left ear. The gunmen then turned to his wife, Penny, and shot her several times. At this point, Terry had fallen out of bed and was lying on the floor of his bedroom when they returned, to shoot him three more times in the back, and once in the back of his leg. After that, the two men pulled out a samurai sword and used it to nearly decapitate Penny, killing her instantly. She was 37 years old. Terry appeared dead to the killers, so they left the room, heading to Tyler and Matthew. Around this time, Terry regained consciousness, as he heard his son Matthew pleading with the killer, saying, quote, “No, Charlie, no!” before Terry heard another smattering of gunfire, ending Matthew’s sentence. Terry lost consciousness once more, and would not awaken until a few moments later, when the smell of smoke reached his nose. The killers had set his house on fire. Even though he was riddled with bullets, Terry knew he had to get out, and try to save his family. He crawled over to Penny, but knew almost immediately that there was no point in trying to save her. Her blood was everywhere. He began to try to stand up to go to find his sons and daughter, who were still in the house, but the fire had been set in those areas, so Terry had to turn back to his bedroom. He dragged himself to the master bathroom, and crawled out the window, landing on the soft earth beneath. He made his way to the front door of the house, but by the time he did, he saw the full extent of the fire, and he knew it was too late. There was no way his family was still alive. Terry, seriously injured, began to crawl. And crawl. It took him almost two hours after the first round of gunfire to make it 400 yards to his neighbor’s house to ask for help. At one point, exhausted, he stopped to die, but then thought to himself that if died, no one would know what had happened to his family, so he pushed himself forward. When he got to his neighbors home, owned by a man named Tommy Gaston, they found Terry and were stunned by his appearance. He was so covered in soot, blood, and dirt that they couldn’t tell where his wounds even were. They carried him inside and called 911. During the 911 call, the operator asked where Terry was bleeding from. Gaston replied, quote, “Where isn’t he bleeding from?”

  • Charles Dickerson was the officer who took the call about the crime that had been committed at the Caffey house. He immediately drove towards the modest two story cabin, in the woods, which lay at the end of a one-lane gravel road. The Caffey house was definitely remote, but Dickerson could still see the hazy glow of something in the distance. When his car drove by the Caffey home, he could clearly see that it was on fire, and burning steadily. It was completely engulfed with flames, and the roof had begun collapsing in. There was little chance of saving it, but Dickerson made the call to the fire department as he headed in the direction of the Gastons' home, where Terry lay dying. When Dickerson pulled in, he was immediately met by Gaston, and he took the officer inside to see Terry, who was lying on their living room floor. Dickerson leaned over the injured man, who managed to speak, though his words were weak with strain. "They're all gone," Caffey said to Officer Dickerson. Then he said, quote, "Charlie Wilkinson shot my family." The ambulance arrived and loaded Terry onto the gurney. He was in terrible shape. Overall, he was covered in injuries. He had been shot twice in the back, and had a bullet lodged in his shoulder. Another was located in his rotator cuff. One of the shots had damaged a nerve in his arm, which had left it completely numb and limp. The most serious appeared to be the bullet which had entered his face, but miraculously, it had travelled through his sinus cavity, broke both cheekbones, but had exited out his left ear canal, leaving his hearing completely undamaged. But he had still lost a considerable amount of blood, so the EMT's on the scene carefully placed him in the ambulance to rush him to the hospital. As he was loaded into the ambulance, he panicked, and began to say he didn’t think that he would make it. He tried to make sure everyone around him heard who had committed these crimes. His daughter's 19 year old boyfriend, Charlie.

    [Pictured: Charlie Wilkinson. Photo Credit: murderpedia.org]

  • Caffey was rushed to the local hospital and was in critical condition. Almost immediately, however, police rushed into action. There had not been a murder in the small town for over 18 years, so there was a concern that the police were not equipped to deal with the case, but to their credit, they went to work immediately. While the police sped to find Charlie Wilkinson, the fire department attempted to save what was left of the Caffey home, but it was no use. Later in the day, firefighters sifted through the remains. All that was left was a pile of ash, metal, and debris. But they did find the charred remains of three people, Penny, Matthew, and Tyler. All had been shot, stabbed, and finally, burned. There would end up being no way to determine if the gunshots, or the fire, had killed them. But there was hope. There were only three bodies. Erin Caffey had survived. But now, police had another concern... where was 16 year old Erin?

    [Pictured: Erin Caffey. Photo Credit: murderpedia.org]

  • When Terry regained consciousness later that day, he was greeted by the face of his sister, Mary. She was happy to see him awake, and she told him good news, that his daughter Erin, had escaped the blaze unharmed. Police had found her later in the day, and told Mary that Erin had escaped by jumping out her second story bedroom window to the ground below. But, as Terry lay there thinking, his joy began to sour. There was only one window in Erin's bedroom, and there was an air conditioning unit in it. The unit was screwed in. How did she climb out the window? However, he brushed off the concern, and asked where she was. Mary told him that Erin was safe, with her grandparents. She would come visit him in a day's time. However, the next day, Erin never showed. Confused and frustrated, Terry asked where his daughter was, and why she had not come to visit him in the hospital. Mary looked away from him, avoiding the question, until finally, she broke down and told him. Erin, you see, had been arrested. Police believed she was an accomplice in the murder of her family.

  • The Caffey family were known around their town as being the perfect family. Penny and Terry had met when they were both very young, and met at church. Penny, a beautiful young blonde of 17, had met Terry and thought he was handsome, so a family friend sneakily acted on their behalf and set them up. They were married just 8 months after their first date. At the time of her death, Penny and Terry had been married 19 years. Penny was a loving mother, who played piano at the local church, and spent her days volunteering to Meals on Wheels. While Penny played piano, Matthew and Tyler played guitar and harmonica, all while Erin sang. Erin was a pretty, shy blonde, like her mother had been, and had a singing voice that could fill the church pews. In fact, their pastor once joked that, quote, "if I had five more of her, I could fill church on Sundays." Erin, as she grew older, began to bring in a different sort of attention, however, most notably, that of the gaze of young men. Terry and Penny were somewhat protective parents, and definitely bordered on the side of overprotective. Erin was taken out of public school when she had been caught kissing a girl at the age of thirteen, and from then on, was to be home schooled by Penny to ensure that she would be taught their religious values. I mean, I'm not a parent, so I can't say anything about this, but Erin had been taken from public school at a very formative time in her young life, a period when teenagers, especially girls, really benefit from learning social experiences they can only have with their peers. However, Erin, now home-schooled, did not have those experiences. And that might have helped to lead her into the arms of her first boyfriend, a young man named Charlie. When Erin turned 16, she got her license and was given an old Chevy pickup, with the understanding from her parents that she was to get a job, which she quickly did. This was a whole new world for her, considering she had lived an extremely sheltered life for the past 13 years. Like many young people who are suddenly released from the control of their parents, Erin began rebelling almost immediately. While at a church meeting for the youth group, one of the adults in charge found Erin making out with Charlie while he felt her up under her shirt. Her parents were called over, and were the ones to separate them. Infuriated, Terry told Erin that she was not to see Charlie again. But of course, that's not what you say to your teenage daughter. Charlie himself was not exactly a catch. Unemployed and lazy, Charlie dressed and acted like a stereotypical hillbilly (even calling himself that on his Facebook page.) He drove a beat up truck, and always wore Wrangler brand jeans, work cowboy boots, and a big black Western hat. He did, however, claim to truly love Erin, and was attracted to her immediately when they first met.

    [Pictured: Caffey with Wilkenson. Photo Credit: murderpedia.org]

  • When Charlie and Erin began dating, Charlie had just returned from boot camp with the Texas National Guard, where he had been sent in an attempt to straighten out his behavior. He was going into his senior year when he went to the Sonic in which Erin worked. She brought him his food order, and the pair immediately clicked. Charlie spent much of his free time hunting, which lead him to develop a great deal of skill with guns. He didn’t have a history of crime, but he was known to get into fights at school, as he was apparently very easy to piss off. But when he met Erin, he considered her his soulmate. Eventually, the two began spending significant time together, and Terry and Penny relented to their wishes, allowing them to date seriously. Charlie was frequently invited over for dinner, and, although Terry and Penny did not approve of him dating their daughter, they knew that it was likely that Erin would continue to date him with or without their permission. Charlie had begun to attend their church with them on Sundays to spend more time with Erin, but soon his admiration and love for her bordered on reverence. It was around this time that the Caffeys, after months of harassment from Erin, agreed to let her return to public school so she could spend even more time with Charlie. From here, the relationship escalated.

  • Around Christmas time, 2007, the couple had sex for the first time. Then, a few nights later, Charlie dropped to one knee and presented Erin with a promise ring. At this point, once Penny noticed the ring on her daughter’s finger, they decided to intervene. The two teenagers had only been together for a few months, but they were already agreeing to one day marry. Penny told Erin to give the ring back to Charlie, and Terry pulled Charlie aside one day at church to tell him that Charlie had to wait to promise himself to Erin, as she was only 16 years old. Terry also made the choice to pump the brakes on the relationship, and Erin and Charlie’s time together was limited to once a week under parental supervision. Erin was furious, and began talking about running away. By early February, 2008, less than a month before the murders, Erin was caught talking on her phone to Charlie after curfew. She was grounded, her car was taken away, and Charlie’s weekly visits to the house were stopped. And by Feb 27th, the Caffey’s would confront Erin over her Myspace profile. Apparently, Erin and Charlie had been communicating on Myspace (this was before everyone and their mother had a Facebook account, so you could actually do stuff on social media profiles without your parents finding out) and were openly commenting on each other’s profiles about sex, alcohol, and drugs. This was three days before the murder. By the time Erin came home from school, both Terry and Penny were waiting for her. Terry told Erin that her relationship with Charlie was over, as of that day. Surprising both her parents, however, Erin broke into tears and told them that she had wanted to end things with Charlie for a while now, but didn’t know how. She promised that she would end things with Charlie. The family then went to Bible study, and it seemed that everything was looking up. The day of the murder, the whole family gathered together for a spaghetti dinner. At one point while cooking, Terry dropped some sauce on the floor and proceeded to slip on it, tumbling to his rear in front of his three children. They all began to laugh, Terry, Erin, Matthew, and Tyler, and then broke into a pillow fight. All three of the children played together, laughing and screaming as siblings do. Hours later, Matthew and Tyler would be dead.

    [Pictured: The remains of the Caffey Home. Photo Credit: murderpedia.org]

  • On the night of the murder, after Terry had been taken to the hospital, police looked into his claim that Charlie had killed Penny, Matthew, and Tyler. The chief deputy Kurt Fischer was shocked, and didn’t think it was possible that Charlie, who was friends with his sons, could have done something as brutal as the murder. Luckily, however, Fischer had seen Charlies truck parked in front of his friend’s trailer on the way to the scene of the crime, so he knew exactly where Charlie was. Fischer drove to Matthew Waid’s trailer, where a young man answered the door. He let Fischer inside, where Waid and his girlfriend were found sleeping. Fischer woke Waid up and asked where Charlie was. The found Charlie lying on a mattress on the floor, sleeping. Fischer told him to move slowly and show his hands, as lying next to Charlie on the mattress, was a gun. Charlie went willingly though, and they went outside to the porch, where Charlie was placed in handcuffs. He was told that the Caffey family had been killed, and at that moment, Charlie hung his head in silence. When police got Charlie’s clothing from inside, they found that his shirt and cowboy boots were covered in blood. Charlie was taken in to the police station for questioning. Fischer then returned to Waid’s trailer to collect evidence. He found a box of ammunition on the floor next to the mattress, and beneath a shirt, he found a used condom. However, it wasn’t until he lifted up a blanket which had been in a pile on the floor that he found, what he thought originally, was a life sized doll. But once it’s eyes opened, he realized it was the sleeping form of Erin Caffey. Fischer pulled out his gun and commanded her to show her hands, but she looked at him, dumbfounded. When asked what she was doing here, she looked around confused and said, “Where am I?” Fischer wondered if she had been drugged due to her state. Fischer asked her what happened, and she whispered, “Fire.” Fischer called for an ambulance and Erin was taken in, to see if she had been drugged, and to treat her for what they assumed to be shock. At this point, police believed that she had been kidnapped. Once she was lying in her hospital bed, police gently asked her to tell her story. She spoke in a small, meek voice, and told them that she was fourteen years old, that she had woken up to the smell of smoke, and that two men with swords had ordered her to get down on the floor. She said she tried calling her friend Charlie, but that he didn’t answer. She showed little emotion, but she did seem afraid. However, Erin didn’t smell like smoke. And while she lay in the hospital, then at her grandparents’ house once she was discharged, the pieces started to fall into place.

  • Charlie was being interrogated by a Detective when he mumbled to himself, saying, quote, “I’m in a lot of trouble.” Charlie talked quickly and openly, however, and told detectives that he had done the murder, with the help of Waid and Waid’s girlfriend Bobbi Johnson. The two were taken into custody hours after Charlie was, and eventually, all three of them confessed. According to Charlie, himself, Waid, and Johnson parked their car in front of the Caffey home at midnight, where they were met by Erin, clad in her pajamas. She sat in the car with Bobbi Johnson while Charlie and Waid entered the house. Charlie had gotten Waid involved when he offered to give him $2,000 to help kill the Caffeys. Waid agreed, as he wanted to use the money from the hit to gain custody of his kids back… Let that sink in. Once inside, Charlie crept inside the parent’s bedroom, where he fired his .22 caliber pistol until it jammed. Once they believed both parents to be dead, Waid said to Charlie that they had to, quote, “go get the kids because little ones talk.” Charlie didn’t think he could kill the two children, but Waid took care of it, shooting Matthew in the face before Charlie could stop him. Apparently, over his apprehension, Charlie and Waid then took turns stabbing Tyler, who had been hiding in a closet when they found him. Once complete, they grabbed a suitcase that Erin had packed of belongings she wanted to save from the fire, then took money from the family’s safe, which Erin knew the combination to, and took money from Penny’s purse and Terry wallet. They then began setting things in the house on fire. One thing that all their stories had in common was who had planned the murder. Erin Caffey was the mastermind of the murder of her entire family. As they drove away from the burning house, Erin, giddy with excitement, shouted, “Holy shit, that was awesome!’ When they returned to Waid’s trailer, Erin and Charlie could hardly wait to have sex, just hours after her entire family had been murdered.

    [Pictured: Matthew Waid. Photo Credit: murderpedia.org]

  • By the next day, police had decided that Erin would be arrested for the murder of her family. Once the results from the toxicology test came back, they learned that Erin had nothing in her system to create memory loss, and she had no symptoms of smoke inhalation. Also, all three of the teens in custody confirmed that Erin had been planning the murder of her parents for months before, with Charlie actually arguing against it. He had tried to convince her to just get pregnant, or to run away, so they could be together forever, but Erin was against those ideas, as she didn’t want to leave town, nor did she want a baby at 16. She insisted that the only option was for Charlie to murder her family. And after months, he agreed. He had said that he would do anything for her, and she knew it. The day they arrested Erin, she was in the car with her grandparents, on the way to the hospital to visit Terry. Two police pulled over the car, and approached the car. Penny’s mother, Virginia, grabbed Erin’s face roughly and began weeping. She asked Erin if she had anything to do with the murder, and Erin denied it, shouting, “No, grandma!” But police took Erin in to the sheriff’s office for questioning. She refused to testify, but wrote her statement, still claiming that she simply couldn’t remember what happened that night. She was then taken to the juvenile detention center, where she was held for capital murder.

    [Pictured: Erin Caffey's Booking Photo. Photo Credit: murderpedia.org]

  • Terry was released from the hospital several days after the night of the murder, and tried to make his life work, but when he saw what remained of his home, he collapsed and fell into a deep depression. His family was dead, and his daughter was responsible. Terry began to abuse the narcotics he was given from the hospital, and it all came to a head the day of his family’s funeral. Standing before three caskets, Terry made the decision to complete suicide. He returned to the ashes on which his house had once stood with a gun. He wanted to die where all the rest of his family had died. But while there, he found a scrap of paper from a book that he and Penny had loved to read. It reminded him that there had been enough bloodshed on this land. That he had more to live for. So, instead of taking his own life, he began to clean up the rubble of his home. It would take weeks, but he got to work on the land, searching through and throwing away the rubble. He purchased a used RV and placed it right on the spot where his house had once been. He slept with a gun by his side. And he began a long road to forgiveness. Despite everything she had done, Terry visited Erin once a week. They couldn’t talk about the murder, so instead, they would chat about the weather, family memories, etc. Terry had to sit across from his daughter, the murderer, and make small talk. Terry said she would often look at him with dead eyes, devoid of emotion.

    [Pictured: The graves of Penny, Matthew, and Tyler. Photo Credit: texasmonthly.com]
  • The trials were pretty cut and dry, as the four teenagers weren’t exactly master criminals. As for Erin, there were phone logs and text messages sent to Charlie urging him to kill, and the paper trail was obvious, showing her connection to the crimes. Several of Erin’s classmates at school confirmed that she had been talking about killing her parents for months. Despite all the evidence, however, Terry stood by his daughter. Once shown all the proof against them, including Erin, Terry did finally accept that Erin had been a part of this, though he would not admit how important her role had been. He fought for all four of them to escape the death penalty, stating, quote, “Killing them will not bring my family back.” Eventually, the prosecution honored his wish and offered a plea deal to Waid and Wilkinson. They both took the deal, and plead guilty to three counts of capital murder, but their lives were spared. They were given life in prison without parole. Three months after they pleaded guilty, Bobbi Johnson and Erin Caffey both pleaded guilty as well. Johnson was sentenced to two 40-year sentences, and will be eligible for parole after serving 20 years of her sentence. Erin was given two consecutive life sentences. She will not be eligible for parole until she serves 40 years of her sentence, and she will be almost 60 years old. Terry believes Erin's story, that she had tried to escape Charlie's clutches before the murder, and that he was actually the one behind everything. Erin still claimed that she had had nothing to do with the plot to murder them, and that it was all Charlie's idea. However, Erin's psychologist had a different thought. He went on to say that Erin was the best liar he had ever seen. Erin Caffey was a monster wrapped up in a sugary sweet candy coating of innocence. As for Terry, he met a woman in June of the same year as the murders, and married her in October, 8 months after the death of his wife and two sons. When asked how he could have moved on so quickly, Terry stated that he didn’t want to be alone for the holidays. His new wife, Sonja, had two sons from a previous relationship, so not long after he lost a wife and two sons, Terry had gained back a new family. Personally, I don’t love this, but it’s his life. Terry now uses his life story to inspire young adults to avoid running with the wrong crowd, and he often uses his tragedy to help those who are going through similar grief. He plans to become a full time minister, so he can help those in need. When asked about that night, Terry says, quote, “There’s no doubt in my mind that there was a demonic evil presence in my home that night.”

    [Pictured: A Recent Photo of Terry and Erin. Photo Credit: murderpedia.org]

Sources for the Story Portion: 


Research Topic - Hypovolemic Shock (a.k.a the Stages of Blood Loss)

Source: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/312348.php#stages-and-symptoms

1. Stage One (you have lost up to 15%)

  • Blood pressure and breathing are normal
  • Skin is pale and the person may experience sudden anxiety
  • Hard to diagnose because of the normal breathing and blood pressure

2. Stage Two (you have lost 15-30%)

  • Increased heart rate and breathing rates
  • Blood pressure may still be normal but the bottom number might be high
  • The person may be sweating and feeling more anxious and restless 

3. Stage Three (you have lost 30-40%)

  • For your blood pressure, the top number will be 100 or lower.
  • Your heart rate will be over 120 bpm
  • Rapid breathing rate over 30 breaths per minute
  • Mental distress including anxiety and agitation
  • The skin will be pale and cold, the person will start sweating

4. Stage Four (you have lost more than 40%)

  • Weak pulse but extremely rapid heart rate
  • Breathing becomes fast and difficult
  • Drifting in and out of consciousness
  • Sweating heavily
  • Feeling cool to the touch
  • Looking extremely pale
  • You're in critical condition at this point. 

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