It was a murder that instilled trembling from Bastrop to Monroe, and an investigation full of holes, twists and surprises.
But in the end, an infamous abduction and murder of a college student from Bastrop resulted in an unexpected conviction – and spiritual journey for the victim's family.
Debbie Whorton Wilson was a senior at Bastrop High in 1981 when her older sister by two years, Kathy, was abducted, raped, shot and left dead in a pecan grove one late night in Monroe near ULM.
Debbie had previously given her testimony about the tragedy, but was inspired to write down how the loss of a sibling shaped the lives of a family afterwards.
Her just released book is called Sweet Scent of Justice.
“It enabled me to strengthen my faith, and my faith since comes out of me in everything I do,” Debbie, who works as a new teacher coordinator for Morehouse Parish Schools, explained.
While she said the overall point of the book is about “forgiveness,” the word “scent” in the title refers to the most trivial of offenses her sister's killer made – stealing a bottle of cologne – that ultimately locked him away for life.
Morehouse Parish District Attorney Jerry Jones can't forget the case, one originally closed shortly after the murder when two notorious serial killers, Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, confessed to the murder of Wilson and others across several states.
Jones said there was immediate suspicion that authorities in Monroe had closed the case too quickly, done partly because of immense public pressure to solve the Whorton case and two other female victims in Ouachita that were murdered in identical method.
“Lucas confessed to every murder in America,” Jones said cynically.
After the case was officially solved, a growing intuition over two decades' time to look harder at the her sister's murder prompted Debbie to talk to two investigators in the case, Todd Cummings and Royce Toney.
Not only did she learn that both men had quietly reopened the case on their own time jointly, Debbie also learned later that her brother, Steve, had approached them about the same interest at nearly the same time.
Learning that was emotional, Debbie explained in her book's prologue.
Page 2 of 3 - “Twenty-two years of silent holidays and hidden family portraits kept the painful past under control,” she wrote.
Debbie worked closely with the two officers, offering them her sister's diary Debbie uncovered out of the attic.
Ultimately, it was a miracle of good fortune for the Whorton family, and the most incredible, justifiable misfortunate for Anthony Wilson.
Jones explained that while all the evidence in the Whorton murder was mysteriously lost – in addition to a recorded autopsy – one shred of evidence from the victim's undergarments was in storage.
And the DNA from it matched the hair from Wilson when he was arrested for a petty crime and his DNA was put into the CODIS system.
When the connection was made, Wilson had six months left on a burglary sentencing. Prosecutors held a media conference, then came to Jones with papers for him to sign signaling a murder trial.
But Jones resisted.
“I would not sign it because then you would have exactly 60 days to build and present your case. DNA is not enough,” he said.
That's when the unexpected, or hand of God, Kathy says, happened.
The district attorney's office discovered that out of the multiple petty charges against the suspect, there was one outstanding charge against Wilson for breaking into a car, stealing a bottle of cologne and some change.
He had the bottle when he was arrested, but the charges were never followed up on.
Because of prior convictions, Jones sagely instructed his assistant, Stan Sylvester, to charge Wilson on the crime and as a habitual offender, with a life sentencing and no parole.
He was convicted in October 2009 after appeals to the Supreme Court failed.
“It was a miracle,” Jones remembered. “Thanks to a bottle of cologne a serial killer is not running the streets.
“It was pure luck that that case had been declined. It was a miracle that it was still in the files, and it was a miracle that we found it.”
Debbie said she and her family, including her mother Betty, brother, Steve and sister, Amy Nason, all live within a couple of miles of each other, and are as close as a family could possibly be.
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The book relays how facing her sister's killer, albeit briefly, quashed fears she had in her dreams for years about the murderer; then mercifully being spared the hardship of a court trial.
From then it was about the pursuit of forgiveness.
“Tragedy will take you away from God, or closer to Him,” she said.
Years later, Debbie said people who knew her sister – the same spirited girl who was outgoing, enjoyed dancing and hated to inconvenience anyone – inquire about that case.
Jones said it's understandable.
“The city was up in arms. She was a fine young girl from a fine family. There was so much community support because many people were touched by her,” Jones said.
Sweet Scent of Justice can be ordered online at debbiewilson.org or at amazon.com