She was an unlikely fit to be working in the Men’s Club, one of Houston’s largest exotic clubs. She was from a religious family. She may not have done any of the dancing– she only waited tables– but she was still an unlikely fit for the job at the club. Things went well. She made good money. Despite not being one of the exotic dancers, she too was a beautiful young woman.
It had been a couple of years since a dancer had been savagely murdered and another raped in the sweltering summer of 1990. The crimes hadn’t been connected back then as having been done by the same perp, but . . . there are always creeps on the prowl around these clubs. The girls are aware of it all the time.
But these are your average losers and not your premeditated and careful stalkers with a scope on just the right victim. There was little reason to suspect during this hot summer night August 3, 1992, that he had scoped another girl and was cruising the clubs to finally make his move.
. . .If that is what happened.
Everything indicates the Houston Stalker, as I call him, was very confident. He was prepared to take on a couple on his first recorded attack on June 20, 1990. He took on a couple in a risky location (lovers’ lane) and made his attack a fairly prolonged one on the night of August 22, 1990 . . .then he seemed to be gone. Or did he just realize he was leaving too many clues?
There was a lot of talk of DNA already back then. He would realize that if he wanted to continue his binge of crime the bodies could not be found.
After the gruesome murders of Andy Atkinson and Cheryl Henry, there were a number of disappearances of young women in and around Houston, Harris County. They followed a similar pattern– they had contact with the clubs. They were either last seen leaving one of them or worked in connection with them. One variant is the gym– one worked at a fitness joint. The connection is the same, to an extent– expected voyeurism of a beautiful, young woman.
Before we probe into these cases, let us look at the disappearance of Tara Breckenridge. It was a slow night at the Men’s Club on August 3. The girls were asked who wanted to leave early. Along with another waitress, she opted to go. She clocked out at 12:29 a.m. August 4 and walked past the doorman without acknowledging his “good night.” A security guard walked her to her car, a little red Pontiac Fiero. According to Houston PD’s website, she had left the club a little before 1 a.m.
When her live-in boyfriend, Wayne Hecker, returned to their apartment around 5 a.m. he was surprised that she was not home. She usually got off work at 2 a.m. when the club closed. He and a friend informed the police and went looking for Tara. On the way back to the apartment, on the highway known as West Loop North (which heads north from the Men’s Club to their apartment) they found her Fiero parked on the shoulder. The blinkers were not on. The car alarm was not engaged. And a can of mace was on the passenger seat. She always carried it with her. When her engine hood was finally opened, police discovered that her alternator belt was missing.
What Hecker and everybody else deduced is easy– the alternator belt got thrown from wear, fell down through the engine and onto the highway, and the car coasted on and she had to pull over. Someone came along. She felt safe with whomever it was– leaving the can of mace was proof of that. She left with him. She didn’t leave her blinkers on, etc.
The location where her car was found on the highway.
Fact: she was never seen again.
Who could she have known? It had to be someone who around 1:15 or 1:30 a.m. was on the road. Who could have come along? It seems ludicrous to think someone she knew personally came along randomly unless she was being stalked from a distance that night.
Two suspects came to the fore quickly– her boyfriend Hecker, and an admirer who left her notes expressing joy that she would “marrie” him. One of those kind.
The location of the Men’s Club compared to where the Fiero was found on the highway.
Hecker’s alibi was that he was at a pool hall until around 5 a.m. However, it is the narrative to regurgitate that Hecker was unaccounted for at the pool hall between 12 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. when he was seen to return. This kinda shot his big alibi for the night. The narrative now says he had an hour and forty-five minutes to commit the evil crime and return to the pool hall. This is not true.
Tara had not clocked out until 12:29 a.m., and Houston PD says it was closer to 1 a.m. when she physically left the club. This reduces the crime window to considerably less than 30 minutes. Hecker would need to take some time to return to his pool hall by 1:45 a.m. It doesn’t seem he had much time to kill her and dispose of the body so carefully it has never been found.
The other suspect was the happy note writer who loved her. Both seem a poor fit, however.
For each to fit, the scenario would be the same: it would require that he followed her, saw her pull over, came up and took her away, telling her not to put on her blinkers or alarm. Or he returned afterward with the car keys and turned off the blinkers . . .which seems a waste of time and effort. Or . . . he brought the car to the location, opened the hood, cut the alternator belt to make it look like the car threw it, took it with him, and arranged the car, with her can of mace inside, to make it look like. . . what? Incriminating for someone who knew her? Why do that if the killer really did know her? Also, the last bit would require an accomplice with a car by which the perp could then leave.
Tara was off early that night– unusual. So whoever followed her had waited in the parking lot or along the street. He seized the opportunity when he saw her car on the side of the highway. She felt safe with him or he truly was in a position to come back and arrange the scene.
It sounds like a cop or a guy playing copper. The rape victim of June 1990 said her attacker had a military bearing about him. We know he was an adept stalker. It wasn’t coincidence that the first rape victim of June 1990 was an exotic dancer at the clubs and the second and first (known) murder victim was also. He popped up at the first victim’s house, ready around 2 a.m. when all the clubs closed. Henry and Atkinson were at a lovers’ lane– so he must have followed them after they had left Bayou Mama’s, another club, that hot August night.
In the next post we will look at all the missing women around Houston during this time period– they were last seen at a club.
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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester or Q Man. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.