Those of you who read “Deliver Us” may be watching the drama unfolding in Texas, where one of the suspected serial killers I interviewed, William Lewis Reece, is now taking authorities to burial sites where they’re digging up the remains of young women. This has been an amazing development, one I honestly didn’t see coming. When I interviewed Reece for “Deliver Us” in 2013, he denied having murdered any of the girls. When I point blank asked if he was a serial killer, he looked at me in kind of a sideways glance, smiled and said in his slow Oklahoma drawl, “I didn’t kill no girls.”
I didn’t believe him. Yet I never thought I’d know for sure, that he would ever admit the killings.
Why now? Authorities aren’t yet saying how this all unfolded, why Reece has suddenly agreed to lead them to these girls’ remains, but from what I’ve been able to uncover, there are two forces at play here. The first is that after my book came out, Reece was charged with a murder in Oklahoma, based on newly discovered DNA. The second: Reece has a heart condition. I’d heard a couple of years ago that he had surgery, and a stent inserted. His attorney, Anthony Osso, recently said that Reece has heart disease, and that he's refusing further surgeries.
All of this happening just a year after “Deliver Us” came out is, of course, interesting. I do truly believe that the book helped put these events into motion. Over the three years I worked on "Deliver Us," I talked to folks in agencies with jurisdictions over the killings and repeatedly asked them to reopen the cases, to look for the evidence and find out if they had anything available to test for DNA. I told many about my impression of Reece, my experiences interacting with him, and my belief that he murdered Laura Smither and Tiffany Johnston, and perhaps Jessica Cain.
However, I can’t take any credit for actually solving these crimes. That goes to the many folks in law enforcement who worked hard on the cases, those who investigated Reece and convinced him to come forward. We also can't forget the wonderful volunteers with Texas Equusearch, who donated their time and hard work to recovering the bodies.
One other set of those involved - folks I can't say enough good things about - are the families of the victims, many of whom have never stopped pushing authorities to investigate the cases and never given up hope of one day knowing who killed their loved one. In the Johnston case, Tiffany's mom, Kathy Dobry, never let her daughter's case drop. In contact with investigators, she continually urged them to look for evidence.
I’d like to think that Reece is telling law enforcement where the girls' remains are buried out of whatever tiny sliver of remorse he has in his heart. But I don’t believe that. The Bill Reece I spent time with was cocky and arrogant. We corresponded, writing back and forth for a year, and even in his letters he was controlling and manipulative. My guess is that what’s really happening here is that Bill Reece has something he wants, and coming forward now is aimed at getting it for him. Will it rid him of the Texas cases, plea bargaining them down to life and erasing the potential death penalties? Will cooperating with Texas authorities delay his trip to Oklahoma where he already faces the death penalty? Or is there something else Reece wants? We won’t know until this drama plays out and authorities reveal what negotiations have gone on behind the scenes.
Understandably, as the only journalist to have interviewed Reece in nearly two decades, my phone has been ringing for weeks as this drama unfolds. The main question I’m being asked: Who is William Lewis Reece? That’s a fair question. Rather than answer it over and over again, I’ve decided to write this blog and tell the world some of what I know about the shadowy figure in this dark drama.
Let’s start where he did, in Oklahoma. Bill Reece, Billy to his friends, grew up in the small town of Anadarko, an hour southwest of Oklahoma City. His parents divorced when he was a year old, and Reece’s mom remarried, and the household was reportedly chaotic. Reece has said that he didn’t get along well with his stepdad, and from adolescence to the age of fifteen, Bill Reece lived in a children’s home, one on acreage that functioned as a working ranch. While there, Reece learned to shoe horses, and from his teenage years on worked partly as a farrier. After he left school, Reece served in the Oklahoma National Guard.
What turned Bill Reece into the monster he is today? Someone who is allegedly connected to the murders of at least four young women? I don’t know about Reece in particular, but doing the research for the book, I learned that most serial killers have early experiences that mix violence and sex. In fact, two of the self-described serial killers in “Deliver Us” told me about just such experiences during interviews, saying they were sexually active as children. One said he was beaten as a consequence, the other that he began acting out violently during sex play as young as seven.
Many of these men, and they are nearly all men, have histories of animal abuse. In Reece's case, there have been allegations over the years that he's abused the horses he's been hired to shoe, and one person who hired him to work with her horses has said that Reece even had a tool he modified to torture the horses.
After his National Guard stint, Reece worked at odd jobs and briefly as a pipefitter, then drove a truck. By his early twenties, women were reporting that Reece was acting out violently toward them, one alleging that he sexually assaulted her. He was also, from a young age, described as a smooth talker, one who used his personality to assuage those who questioned his actions. He married twice, once in the seventies, he divorced in the early eighties, then married again. He has four children.
In 1986, when he was 27-years-old, Reece was convicted on two cases of sexual assault, both described in detail in "Deliver Us." An indication of how compulsive his behavior was, how out of control he was even then, is that Reece assaulted the second woman while under indictment for the first attack, an abduction and sexual assault. He was sentenced to serve 25 years.
As a result, for ten years Reece was confined to an Oklahoma prison. One of the interesting things is that during that time, despite being behind bars, his behavior didn’t change. A source I interviewed who knew him during those years told me that the female guards and the women who worked in the prison were uncomfortable around Reece, that he made untoward comments to them, addressed them in odd ways, stared at them and watched. Some of the women workers even described it as feeling as if Reece stalked them.
In 1996, due to a technicality in the way the charges against him were written, his convictions were upheld but his sentence was overturned. At that juncture, authorities in Oklahoma could have retried the sentencing phase, but instead released Reece for time served.
After getting out, Reece first stayed in Oklahoma, near the prison. Some of the women who’d complained about his conduct behind bars called authorities when he showed up at their homes.
From Oklahoma, in early 1997, Reece relocated to Houston, where his second ex-wife and members of his family lived, and he moved into an apartment near Hobby airport. At that point, Reece traveled back and forth between Texas and Oklahoma, leaving a bloody trail.
While I haven’t yet updated “Deliver Us” to include the most recent events because I am waiting for all of this to shake out, the book includes detailed accounts of many of the cases now making headlines, as well as a chapter on my one-on-one prison interview with Reece. And for those of you who wondered about the early life of the alleged serial killer behind the headlines, I hope this answered some of your questions. I know a bunch more, but I'm saving it for the update. Much of it is truly shocking! Read More