Angels of Death: A True Story of Murder and Innocence Lost

Angels of Death: A True Story of Murder and Innocence Lost

by Gary C. King

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The Accused: 13-year-old Derek King and his 12-year-old brother, Alex, Sunday school students with choirboy looks.

After midnight on November 26, 2001, someone bludgeoned Terry King to death while he slept, and set his Florida home afire. By the time the firefighters extinguished the blaze, King's sons, Alex, 12, and Derek, 13, were at the home of their forty-year-old friend, Ricky Chavis, a convicted child-molester. By the next afternoon, following confessions, both boys were charged as adults in their father's slaying. Chavis was tried separately for the same crime-incredibly by the same attorney who would prosecute Alex and Derek, and argue two contradictory theories.

The Victim: Their own father.

When Alex divulged his sexual relationship with Chavis, the trial took a sensational turn. So did Alex and Derek, who recanted their confession and blamed Chavis to no avail. A jury convicted the boys of second-degree murder, but the judge threw the verdict out. Chavis was acquitted. But the case wasn't over. As more disturbing revelations came to light, as criminal motives became more complex, and as the line between guilt and innocence was crossed, a stunned nation watched in disbelief to learn the ultimate fate of the...Angels of Death.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429996853
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/15/2003
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 720,703
File size: 208 KB

About the Author

For the last twenty years, Gary C. King has been one of America's foremost crime writers. Over 400 of his stories have appeared in crime magazines across the United States, Canada, and England, including True Detective, Official Detective, Inside Detective, Front Page Detective, and Master Detective. His books Web of Deceit, Driven to Kill (which was nominated for an Anthony Award in the Best True Crime Book category at Bouchercon 25) and Blood Lust: Portrait of a Serial Sex Killer were chosen as a featured selection of the True Crime Book Club. He is also the author of Blind Rage, Savage Vengeance, co-written with Don Lasseter, An Early Grave, The Texas 7, and Murder in Hollywood. A full-time writer, Mr. King is an active member of The Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with his wife and two daughters.

Read an Excerpt

Angels of Death

By Gary C. King

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2003 Gary C. King Enterprises, Inc
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9685-3


Shortly before 1:30 A.M. on Monday, November 26, 2001, Cantonment, Florida, resident Ed Harris awoke from a sound sleep to a "popping" noise that was coming from a nearby house. After rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Harris looked out his window and saw his neighbor's house on fire. He immediately called the fire department and reported what he was seeing, and informed the dispatcher that he believed that the occupant of the house, Terry Lee King, was at home. He knew, he said, because he could see King's car, a blue 1999 Dodge Shadow, parked in the driveway.

It was a typically sticky night at 66 degrees and nearly triple digit humidity in this small panhandle community, 18 miles northwest of Pensacola, as the Escambia County firefighters arrived at the King residence, located at 1104 Muscogee Road. They discovered that the home was secured, with the doors locked from the inside. Wasting no time, fireman Marcus Williamson entered the house after kicking in the front door, while another door on the east side of the house was kicked in by fireman David Jordan. Several other firefighters followed Williamson and Jordan, trampling everything underfoot as they dragged their water hoses and equipment along with them.

While the fire was being extinguished, other firefighters went room-to-room searching for the house's inhabitants. Although it was only a few days after Thanksgiving, the fire investigators found a box of Christmas decorations as they entered another room that had been painted green. With Christmas less than a month away, it was obvious that the occupants were getting ready to decorate their home.

It wasn't until they closely examined the room, however, located at the east end of the house, that they found anyone. There was a man sitting in a chair with his legs propped up on a sofa. The man was wearing shoes, pants and a camouflage jacket, and he had a coffee cup sitting beside his right leg between his leg and the chair. There was a Lion King pillow on the couch next to the man, indicating that a child or children might reside in the home with him, and there was a blanket on the couch as well. There was a plate of food on the other side of the room, placed next to a chair. Many at the scene wondered why it had not been eaten.

When they first saw the man, firefighters thought that he had been overcome by smoke and flames. However, upon closer examination the firefighters observed that he had obvious injuries to his head, and they saw that there was considerable blood spatter on the walls around him.

After an examination at the scene that included a check for vital signs, the man tentatively identified as Terry King was pronounced dead at 2:02 A.M. by Susie Whitfield of the Escambia County Emergency Medical Services, a group of specially trained medical professionals who respond to high-risk incidents such as the one being investigated. ECEMS provides tactical medical support to the sheriff's office and other agencies. Sadly, in this case all they could do was to establish that the victim was indeed dead and that no life-saving efforts were needed. It was a near certainty that he had not died as a result of the fire. It had suddenly become obvious that a homicide had been committed there, and that a fire likely had been started to conceal the crime. The firefighters cleared the house and notified the Escambia County Sheriff's Office and the Florida State Fire Marshal's Office.

After making a cursory examination of the home's interior, the firemen could see that the blaze had begun towards the rear of the house, on the dwelling's west side, inside what appeared to be the master bedroom. Williamson and Jordan, accompanied by other fire department investigators and sheriff's deputies, noted that a can of accelerant of an unknown type was in the doorway of the master bedroom. The can had been crushed, apparently by the rush of firefighters as they attempted to extinguish the flames.

Jim Sanders, battalion chief for the Escambia County Fire Rescue, told a group of reporters that had shown up outside the home that it had taken firefighters about thirty minutes to get the blaze under control. Much of the house, however, had been gutted by the fire, with estimated damage at approximately $40,000. It was a total loss, according to Sanders. He told the news media that it had not taken long for the firefighters to realize that the dead man, identified as Terry Lee King, 40, had not succumbed to death because of the fire.

"The way he was found and the condition he was in led us to believe that there was some extenuating circumstances," Sanders said. "He was clear on the other side of the house [from where the blaze had started]."

Among the Escambia County investigations and crime- scene personnel to arrive were investigators Carol Turner and Glenn Gowitzke, who took control of the scene. Identification officers Ricky Barefield and Jan Johnson were also present. While Turner, Gowitzke, Barefield and Johnson busied themselves with the preliminary details, Detective John Sanderson was called at home shortly after 3 A.M. and informed that a probable homicide had been committed in his jurisdiction and that he had caught the assignment. In the meantime, Gowitzke, along with Kevin Fiedor of the State Fire Marshal's Office, determined that they were dealing with a case of homicide and arson.

It was foggy when Sanderson arrived at the Muscogee Road residence at 5:20 A.M., an hour before sunrise. Sanderson, a lanky middle-aged man of 46 with reddish-gray hair, was a seasoned professional. He began taking notes, both written and mental, immediately upon his arrival. He saw the blue Dodge Shadow, Florida license plate identification DP2-RF, in the driveway, and confirmed that it was registered to Terry King.

The fire investigators explained to Sanderson how they had initially thought that King had been overcome by smoke and flames, but that upon closer examination they had found the head wounds and the blood spatter on the walls. When Sanderson looked closely at the scene himself he thought that he detected traces of brain tissue mixed in with the blood spatter. One look at King's obviously battered skull served to back up the detective's opinion about brain matter, but the official determination would be made after the scene had been gone over by evidence technicians and analyzed at the crime lab. All that Sanderson knew at this point was that someone had certainly worked this poor bastard over in a most violent manner. Based on the obvious lack of a struggle, King likely never even saw the attack coming. Even the coffee cup was still sitting by his leg, where he might have placed it himself.

While Sanderson and the fire investigators remained inside the house, investigator Carol Turner began canvassing the neighborhood asking questions of various neighbors in the hope that someone might be able to shed some light on why anyone would want to murder Terry King.

"He stayed pretty much to himself," said neighbor Gladys Adams. "I would see him working out in the yard."

Adams told Turner that King had moved into the neighborhood a few months earlier, during the summer of 2001, and during those first few months she only saw one other person who appeared to live there, a young boy who looked like he might be barely a teenager.

"[That was] up until about two or three weeks ago," she said, "then we noticed another child over there. There were two boys getting off the bus with our granddaughter."

Other neighbors confirmed that King had moved into the house on Muscogee Road during the summer, but no one knew them and no one had bothered to try to get acquainted with the family. Turner told Sanderson what little she had learned and wrote up an official report of her interviews with the neighbors.

So where were the boys? Sanderson wondered. Had they been kidnapped by the intruder who had killed their father? Or were they staying with friends or relatives?

Further investigation soon revealed that the two boys, Alex King, 12, and Derek King, 13, had been reported missing by their father a few days earlier. However, as the day wore on, Sanderson learned that the boys had been seen with their father only hours earlier, Sunday afternoon, November 25, outside in the yard. According to what Sanderson learned, Terry King had called the Pensacola News Journal on Thanksgiving Day and had complained that his sons had been missing from their home since November 16, the Friday before Thanksgiving, and that he was not satisfied that the local law enforcement agencies, particularly the Escambia County Sheriff's Department, were doing enough to find them. He told a reporter that the last time he had seen Alex and Derek was when he dropped them off at Ransom Middle School that morning. He stated that he did not think that they had run away from home because they had not taken anything with them. Instead, he said that he believed someone had kidnapped them. Although King had sounded upset when he spoke with the reporter, he could not name anyone he believed might have taken the boys. He did state that he did not have legal custody of Alex and Derek because he and the boys' mother had never been married to each other, and she now resided in Kentucky.


At approximately 6:50 A.M., Detective John Sanderson met with James Walker, Sr., step-grandfather to Alex and Derek, who had shown up at the scene after being informed of the tragedy. Walker told Sanderson that he had received a telephone call the previous evening at 9 P.M., nearly five hours prior to the report of the fire. The call, he said, had been from Ricky Chavis, 40, a family friend, who informed him that Alex and Derek were at home with their father after having been missing for nearly a week. Walker explained to Sanderson that Chavis had told him about a green room that Terry King had used for "counseling" the boys, where he would just stare at them for hours. The room, Walker said, had been referred to by Chavis as the "therapy room." Chavis told Walker that King had said he was going to have a long "therapy" session with the boys that evening. Walker told Sanderson that it had been Chavis who had informed him, after the fire, that Terry King was dead.

Later, during the early morning hours of November 26, after the fire had been extinguished, Chavis had also informed Walker about the house fire as well as the fact that Alex and Derek were missing again. Chavis apparently told Walker that he had heard the fire call go out at the residence and that he had shown up there. It appeared that Chavis was privy to the information about the house fire as well as King's death at about the same time, or perhaps even just prior to it that the cops became privy to the information. Walker said that Chavis told him that Terry King was the only person at home at the time the fire was extinguished. Apparently Chavis told Walker that firemen working at the scene whom he knew had allowed him inside the house, and that King was too badly burned to identify. Chavis said, however, that he recognized King by the pants he was wearing, which were the same pair Chavis had seen him in a day earlier.

As Sanderson continued his interview, Walker told him that Chavis had speculated that King's death might turn out to be a criminal case. If it did, Chavis allegedly said he would go to court and testify that Alex and Derek had suffered some kind of abuse. Chavis also claimed that the two boys had taken all of the knives inside the house with them the last time they'd run away from home. Although Walker stated that he and his wife had not spent much time with Alex and Derek, they understood that things had not always been good for the boys. Walker said that to his knowledge, Terry King did not have alcohol or drug problems.

Later that morning Sanderson contacted Terry King's mother, Joyce Tracy, at her apartment in nearby Pensacola. As gently as he could, he delivered the bad news: Her son had been found dead at his home and no one seemed to know what had become of Alex and Derek. Tearfully, she told the detective that her son did not have many guests, and that his closest friend was Rick Chavis. As they talked, Ms. Tracy explained that she and her family, including Terry, had spent a great deal of time searching for the two boys after they ran away from home on the 16th. She told Sanderson that Alex had called Rick Chavis on the previous day to ask him for a ride. She said that Chavis apparently found Alex hiding behind the Tom Thumb store located at Spencer Field Road and Highway 90 in nearby Milton, Florida. Alex was then reunited with his father and Derek.

According to Tracy's statement, she had been planning to speak to her son that very morning about going with him to Ransom Middle School so that he could introduce her to school officials and teachers and inform them that she would be picking up Alex and Derek from school on a regular basis. She also explained that the boys had been in foster care for several years and that they had resided at a place for foster children called Heritage House until it closed down. After Heritage House closed, Alex lived with his father, but Derek had remained with a foster family for seven years and only recently reunited with his father and brother. Derek, she said, had been staying with Frank Lay, a school principal, and his wife, Nancy, in Pace. However, the Lays eventually returned Derek to his father because they began having difficulty with him.

Ms. Tracy explained that Alex and Derek had run away because they said that they did not have enough freedom at home. They began hanging out with friends in the vicinity of the Brentwood subdivision near East Spencer Field Road, camping outdoors near a pond. She, too, said that she had been aware that the boys had taken a lot of knives with them when they had initially run away from home.

"Do you recall what the boys were wearing the last time you saw them?" Sanderson asked.

Ms. Tracy explained that when she last saw the boys, Derek was wearing black denim pants, a dark shirt and white tennis shoes. Alex was wearing faded denim pants, and tennis shoes without socks. She thought that Alex was wearing a dark jacket with a hood. He liked to wear jackets, she said. Derek, according to Ms. Tracy's statement, had told his father that he was using drugs, drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco.

Sanderson could only wonder where Alex and Derek were now, and what they were doing. Finding them as quickly as possible was a priority, but he didn't have a lot to go on yet.

Tracy explained that she spoke with her son nearly every day, and that his untimely death had been a total shock to the family and everyone who knew him.

"He was a very giving person," Tracy said. "He'd give you the shirt off his back without expecting anything in return." She had lived with her son and Alex for about a year, she added, during the time that Derek was still living in the foster home.

As the investigators worked throughout the day and into the evening hours trying to piece together what had actually occurred at the King residence early that morning, they simultaneously tried to locate the boys. Except for a neighbor who had seen them outside in the yard with their father on the afternoon of November 25, the detectives had been unable so far to find anyone else who had seen them with Terry after they had been reunited with him after having run away from home the week before. That leg of the investigation seemed to stop there.

"We're trying to do both things at once," Detective Sanderson said to reporters in response to questions about their handling of the death investigation and the search for the two children. "These are twelveand thirteen-year-old kids, and we're very concerned about their safety right now."

After speaking with an official with the Escambia County School District, Sanderson learned that King had taken his sons out of Ransom Middle School on Monday, November 12. It was at that time that the boys apparently informed their teachers that they were moving to Kentucky. Then, a little more than a week later, on Wednesday, November 21, King reenrolled Alex and Derek at Ransom Middle School, apparently without explanation. According to what a school district official told Sanderson, the two boys were not with their father when he came into the school to re-enroll them. Apparently no one at the school had seen them since they were taken out of school on November 12.

So where could they be? Sanderson wondered.

While Sanderson remained busy conducting interviews throughout the afternoon and into the evening hours, Detective Carol Turner drove to Rick Chavis's residence, a trailer home on Palm Court that Chavis had shared with his brother, Mike, for several years. After speaking briefly about the events of the past day, Chavis agreed to accompany Turner to the sheriff's office for an interview with her and other detectives. The interview was already under way by the time Sanderson arrived at 10:45 P.M.


Excerpted from Angels of Death by Gary C. King. Copyright © 2003 Gary C. King Enterprises, Inc. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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