Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Karla Faye Tucker: Texas' Controversial Murderess

Pick Axe

Petite, curly-haired, 23-year-old Karla Faye Tucker, when not glassy-eyed under the effects of the multitude of drugs she tended to swallow at one sitting, may have looked like some proud mother's honor student. The fresh-faced Texan, however, by the time June 13, 1983, rolled around, had lived a life hard enough to have erased any schoolgirl whispiness from the core of her eyes. Innocence hadn't slowly evaporated in Karla Faye's case; it had been devoured painfully, masticated by a world that chewed her up halfway before she learned to bite back.

She would later describe herself during that time in her life as being a mixed-up, peer-pressured, radical whose life had been a succession of last-minute decisions, all without fear of consequence, all bad, all rotten. If one were to watch her face as the sun went down that June, 1983, they would have seen the expression of someone who was, as she were to tell TV interviewer Larry King years later, "crazy, violent."

A party had been in force for three days in the small brick house in Houston, Texas; there Karla Faye lived with 37-year-old Daniel Garrett, described in his world as a "pill doctor," a provider of pills. Inspiration for the weekend bash was the birthday of Kari Ann, Karla's older sister, and as it steamed on it had developed into something more than the "high" everyone hoped. Inhibitions disappeared as well as clothing. Kari had wanted a sex orgy and her celebrants were eager to give her one. Garrett and the partiers en masse were like Karla Faye, whose existence had culminated in a no-life of drugs and booze. Both factors were predominant at the bash. Beer, whisky and tequila provided the means to wash down the "dessert tray" of placydills, dilaudids, valium, mandrex and more.

"On top of all this I had been doing a considerable amount of coke and bathtub speed," Karla Faye attested in a 1990 interview with LifeWay Church magazine, recalling the night of her crime. "I didn't usually do speed much; heroin and downers was my preference because I am a very hyper person and doing speed always 'skitzed' me out made me go crazy...(That night) we were cooking speed, and we started shooting it because it was there, and I loved the needle in my arm what one would call a needle freak."

Much of the talk at the party centered around the recent marital break-up of mutual friends Shawn and Jerry Lynn Dean. Dismal, Shawn attended the party, beaten with a busted nose and lip; she had left her biker husband a week earlier after he had physically abused her for what would turn out to be the last time. Because Shawn was Karla Faye's best friend, the latter stewed throughout the evening, threatening to drive to Jerry's apartment to beat him up.

"I saw what he had done to (Shawn), and I was really mad (because) I was really protective of her," Karla Faye told LifeWay. "I thought, 'Yeah, I'll get even with him!' My idea of getting even with him meant confronting him, standing toe to toe, fist to fist."

As the party progressed, the bitter feelings raged; the pills added to the animosity and the excitement of the very night itself seemed to heat up Karla Faye's anger. While most of the people at the party were enjoying the haze of their own smoky brain and the absolute nakedness of whomever happened to be beside them on the floor, Karla Faye, Danny, Shawn and another friend Jimmy Leibrant retreated to a corner in the kitchenette to slur their vehemence over wife-beater Dean. Their intention was revenge, but at that point the kitchen table dialogue just spoke in generalities in terms of kicking ass and doing something to the bastard that he'd never forget. Eventually sister Kari and her friend Ronnie joined the conversation and the threats melted into sardonic laughter, eventually fading into idle, tough talk that dissipated as the last of the capsules were downed and the final inhalations of the final joints were savored.

Danny had to leave the party mid-evening, Sunday, June 13, to go to work. He was a bartender at a local gin mill and had spent the last couple of hours sobering enough to perform his job half-heartedly, half-consciously. Karla Faye drove him the few blocks, promising to pick him up at 2 a.m. when the tavern closed. When the couple left the house, they bid goodbye to the few who sauntered out with them for home, giggling at the lost weekend, and stepped over the remaining half-nude bodies passed out on the floor. There was no need to awaken them.

After dropping off Danny, Karla Faye returned to find Shawn more down than before. She had sunk into a reverie of love-and-hate for her husband. A bottle of tequila askew on her lap, she whimpered to Ronnie and anyone else caring to listen how she wanted him taken care of and that she still adored him. At last, she slumbered, a half scorn and half smile taunting her lips. Ronnie fell asleep beside her.

Kari soon announced that she needed to go out and make some money she was a prostitute and knew the corner in that part of town where pickups were a cinch and teetered outside in that direction. Waiting for Danny to finish work, Karla Faye and Leibrant resumed their loathing of Jerry Lynn Dean.

Karla Faye's dislike for the 27-year-old Dean stretched back several months when she first moved here to the Quay Point district in Houston. She knew that Shawn had married the man on a fling and the first time she brought him over turned out to be the first time Karla Faye hated him. Arriving home after being gone all day, she found that Dean had had the nerve to roll his Harley Davidson inside her home for safety's sake. Never a candidate for Good Housekeeping's woman of the year, Karla Faye nevertheless angered to see the motorcycle with its dripping oil pan leaning against her television set and emanating stale fumes. Despite Shawn being her friend, she asked the couple to leave. Words passed between the biker and Karla Faye, then simmered for the presence of Shawn.

Since that time, the few instances Karla Faye and Dean met by chance brought locked horns. It was a personality clash; the girl simply disliked him, he disliked the girl. As Karla Faye admitted to LifeWay, they fought to fight. "One time he was sitting in his car outside and I punched him in the eye for just being there."

The relationship grew irreparable. Shawn continuing to see her girlfriend against her husband's wishes added to the feud, and Dean used every chance he could to deride Karla Faye to his wife. Shawn, never one to keep secrets, even confessed to the other that hubby had come across a picture she owned of Karla Faye and her mother that he seemed to take great pleasure in stabbing through with a butcher knife.


Just before 2 a.m., Jimmy Leibrant joined Karla Faye to fetch live-in Danny at work. Outside, the weather cooked, still crisp from a humid day. Maybe some of the effects of that weekend's binge were beginning to wane, but both were beginning to notice little things like the hot night wind that blew across their noses or the supreme quietude of Quay Point tonight. By moonlight, Quay Point looked more dingy than ever, and they laughed at that fact, resolute to their positions in life.

But, neither was in a jocular mood. Both were wired. Getting into her bomb of a car, Karla Faye expressed her desire to strip and dive into the water-filled quarry across the street to flail, to kick, to bust out, to move! Jimmy, too, said he wanted to leap from his skin. Jimmy's bones remained in his hide and Karla Faye remained in her jeans. Instead, she drummed the motor and pointed its trembling hood ornament in the direction of the bar where they knew Danny was just locking up.

"I have an idea!" Danny chuckled as he slid into the passenger seat beside his woman. "Been giving the situation some thought, and I say we go, tonight, now, to steal the sunuvabitch's Jerry Dean's bike!" The other two awed at the idea; they knew that there was no greater insult to a biker than to mess with his machine. On the way home, they discussed their plan.

They would go tonight, while the idea was fresh and, let's face it, while they were still pent-up with vengeance. Karla Faye knew Dean's apartment well on the ground floor of one of those cheap dumps down the road that looked more like a transient hotel than an apartment building. The kind of neighborhood, like Quay Point, where cops preferred not to cruise unless they really had to. The joint would be easy to break into; and Dean would probably be fast asleep by now. He was known to smoke a couple of joints before hitting the hay, to relax. More than likely, he would be fast asleep.

Back at their place, they found Shawn awake again, though drowsy. She concurred that her husband would be counting Zs and, when hearing the details of their raid, wished the would-be robbers good luck. It would teach the bastard a lesson, she said. Danny, Jimmy and Karla changed clothes, dressing entirely in black. On their way out the door, Danny directed Jimmy to grab a shotgun he kept hidden under the sofa; once in the car, Danny took a .38 from the glove compartment and dropped into one of his boots. The weapons, Karla Faye later explained, were meant for protection in the area they were headed, not to use against anyone.

At that time, she continued, they had yet no intention to kill Jerry Lynn Dean.

Drawing their auto aside, lights off, into the lot adjacent to Dean's front door, the trio emerged. Karla Faye noted that the street out front the place was dimly lit. "We might not even take the damn thing tonight if there are any people roaming around inside the halls or something," Danny told them. "But, we have to case the joint first. At least we'll get a fairly good look to see how easy the bike'll be to steal."

Danny ordered Jimmy to remain outside to keep an eye out for cops while he and Karla Faye would attempt to snap the front door lock. Keeping with the shadows, they approached the front door the light overhead the awning was out that was good! and Danny wiggled the doorknob in his hand. Pushing it inward with a grunt, something clicked and the door swung inward.

The couple edged in, nudging the door closed behind them. It wedged against the jamb, having tilted under Danny's stress. In the dark, they knew they had hit gold, for they could detect the rancid odor of gasoline, mixed with the stale leather and cold metal. The smell meant motorcycle. Yet, they waited before proceeding further into the room; from the hint of a foyer, they held their breath to listen. No sound. No sound. Peering into the darkness; the shadows petrified. No movement. No movement.

Danny's fingers grappled his jacket lining for the flashlight somewhere in an inner pocket, then pointed its beam straight ahead. Silver handlebars of a motorcycle glistened; even in the tangerine light one could see they were highly polished. Moving down, the ray caught the signature in chrome, decorating the gas tank: Harley Davidson.

The rod was partially disassembled. One wheel and other parts lie strewn on a dirty tarpaulin stretched across the floor. Karla Faye, her eyes following the meager beam of light as Danny ran it past various angles of the room, scorned at the filthiness of the apartment. Dean's living room not only smelled like a garage, it looked like one. An open tool box lay beside the bike, a potpourri of greasy tools left out of place, scattered everywhere, even on some of the furniture. She couldn't figure out why he would need a shovel and a pickaxe, but those two instruments leaned against the farthest wall.

At first she was disappointed to find the bike in pieces, but then quickly reasoned that since it was impossible to steal the bike in whole, she could just as easily cripple the renovation job Dean obviously took great pride in by snatching some of the main components.

Her thoughts barely manifested when a square of light pierced the blackness from a doorway beside them. Karla Faye gasped. It was Dean's bedroom, and he had flicked on the light! Staring, waiting for his hulk to fill the doorway, the intruders saw the foot-end of a bed protruding into view and could hear the squeak of its mattress.

"Who the hell is out there?" Dean's all-too-familiar growl.

Karla Faye felt herself waver; one foot aimed for the front door, the other toes dug in defiantly for a fight. Her hands clenched into fists. While she froze in this confusion, Danny had already reacted. He had grabbed a hammer from beside the toolbox and was now racing, hammer out front, for the bedroom. Karla Faye followed instinctively. From the doorway of the room, she watched Danny's weapon strike the figure of Dean who had half-risen from the covers. The blow, which had struck his head, jolted him backwards. Blood crept from each nostril, then from the corners of his mouth. Not hesitating, Danny dealt a series of more whacks to the head that sent a thudding, almost dull, echo throughout the room. Karla Faye found the violence thrilling. Her thighs tingled.

The sight she saw was evil, it was wicked and totally sinfully, brutally magnetic. She wanted to partake of the sacrifice and roll in the wantonness, to rip free her emotions that screamed to be unchained. Danny's bludgeons continued, for he seemed to be releasing his own frustrations. There was no role for her in this ritual until she saw the girl almost buried under the covers beside the other side of the bed where she had slipped and was now attempting to hide herself.

Shawn's whelps still black and blue and already he's got a tramp in bed! Damn bitch, I'll kill her!

Reaching back into the living room, Karla Faye grabbed the first murderous thing she saw, that pick-axe, three feet long and easy to the grip. Effortlessly, she lifted it, and returned to the chamber already smelling of blood. Danny, his senses satiated for the moment, paused to watch what his girl was doing, followed her curious movements as she circled the bed and raised the axe overhead. Now, for the first time; it was his turn to watch her as she swooped the pick in an arc, tearing the blade through the torso of the cowering female. "Let her have it!" he cheered. Seeing that Dean's skull was thoroughly flattened, Danny stood as spectator to Karla Faye's grand performance.

The girl, whom would later be identified as Deborah Thornton, had screamed only once and began to gurgle. The gurgling annoyed Karla Faye, so she gave it to her again and again in the chest, legs, stomach and shoulders. The more the body seemed to quiver, the more Karla Faye struck to stop its trembling. As the carcass turned to mush, blood splattered upward and across the room, onto the murderess.

"Yuck!" she mimicked, but delighted in the sensation. Danny threw a blanket over her head, daring her to hit the target blindfolded. "Like a pinata!" he rooted. And the killing became a game. Under the darkness of the cover, Karla Faye's senses became more acute; she could hear the whoosh of the axe as it fell, could hear the squish-squish of the blade penetrating soft, wet flesh. Ecstasy! Although she denied it later, she would tell friends that the excitement generated a triple orgasm, the likes of which she had never before experienced.

Karla Faye Tucker had busted loose.

When she had finished with Thornton, empowered by the deviancy, she finished off Dean with another twenty blows.

Before they left the scene of the crime, Danny left the pickaxe impaled in Deborah Thornton's heart.


The next day was like any other for the murderers. They remembered very little and, well, what happened had been a small affair. A bastard and a bitch gone to hell. Their dispatchers didnt run, and sawno need to hide. It was a small affair.

In a taped interview with Larry King, Karla Faye, shunning the details of the murder, nevertheless recalled that, "I not only didn't walk around with any guilt, I was proud of thinking I had finally measured up to the big boys." Apart from that initial pride, the only deep sense she may have experienced after the murder was lethargy. "I didnt care about anybody...I didn't place any value on myself or anybody else."

The landlord discovered the murder victims; police were called in; an investigation began. It didnt take law officers long to connect the bodies to the killers. Cops learned with whom they associated and started asking questions. Everyone at the party had learned about what Karla Faye and Danny had done hell they had bragged about their deed! When the police started getting rough, everyone who knew anything talked. Danny's brother talked. Kari Tucker talked. Shawn talked. Even Jimmy Leibrant, when he was nabbed, talked. He hadn't been involved, said he, but waited outside for what was supposed to be a burglary.

Throughout the days of the trial to come, Leibrant turned state's evidence to walk away free.

Booked (Houston, TX Police Dept.)
(Houston, TX Police

Karla Faye Tucker would be sentenced to death. So would Danny Garrett.

Garrett died in prison a few years later.

Karla Faye would live long enough to repent and become Texas' most controversial figure ever on any state's death row.



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