A few questions that popped into my head about the Whatley case

The presumed abductions of Faye and John Whatley in 1976 is pretty bizarre and I thought I’d blog about it cause I’ve never had a case before where the only thing that seemed to be missing from the house besides the people was a part of the house itself. The cops seem to have given up on solving the case, which is going on 45 years old.

Some questions that occurred to me as I was researching the case, and for which I found no answers in the news articles at the time.

  1. Did the Whatleys lock their doors? They seem to have lived out in the country, so perhaps they didn’t bother.
  2. Did the couple own any guns, or know how to use them? If so, was one of those guns a .22?
  3. Where was the barn in which the door was located? If it had been searched multiple times before, it was probably pretty close to their home. Was it on the Whatleys’ property? Is it possible the door could have been missed in previous searches?
  4. When the door was found, was there any blood or fingerprints or other physical evidence on it? Had it been wiped off? While 1976 forensics were quite primitive compared to today, they should have been able to detect blood and type it.
  5. Are they 100% sure it was the Whatleys’ door that turned up in that barn? I don’t know much about doors but they all pretty much look alike, and unless it was a custom-made one or something, wouldn’t it be hard to tell the Whatley’s door from a similar-looking mahogany door?
  6. This was a second marriage for John and I think for Faye also. Were there any issues within the two sides of the family? Any personal grudges, any ne’er-do-well children or grandchildren or in-laws or anything like that?
  7. Who was expected to inherit the couple’s estate once they passed? Did they have life insurance? Have they ever been declared dead, and if so, when?
  8. Henry Lee Lucas confessed to killing them, but Lucas seems to have confessed to virtually every crime that was put in front him and most of his confessions turned out to be false. Is there any actual evidence to back up his statement? Is he still considered a possible suspect?

The whole thing makes no sense. How does it happen that people (and there had to be more than one person involved in this) somehow get into the house without leaving signs of a break-in, subdue or kill the Whatleys without leaving any evidence of a struggle (save the single gunshot fired from inside the house; what happened there?), remove a door from its hinges and take that too, take the Whatleys and the door away without bothering to steal anything else, and then go and put the door up in a barn loft and do god-knows-what with the Whatleys, then never make a ransom demand or anything, and keep their mouths shut about it during the ensuing years? What does anyone gain by that?

I’m not discounting Lucas entirely. He was a legit serial killer and seemed to like going around the country with his buddy Ottis Toole murdering people for no reason whatsoever. But as I said, he confessed to a lot of things he didn’t do, and this operation seems to be a bit too organized for him.

24 thoughts on “A few questions that popped into my head about the Whatley case

  1. Lee November 16, 2020 / 7:33 am

    Great topic points;)

    A single shot could prove a gun was loaded.

    The door makes no sense; unless it was dismantled in some way to release something hidden there…

    Knew nothing if this case and my curiosity is peaked!!!

    Adding to my Face Base, comparison spreadsheet.

    Unfortunately, my laptop died so, puts my hobby on hold. Aaarrrggghhhh!

    • Christie M Groves November 16, 2020 / 10:24 pm

      Agh right, maybe the door locked from the inside of the bedroom and they had to take it off the hinges, maybe the husband was shot, the wife ran and hid or visa/versa and locked it, I remember our old knobs had tiny buttons you would push in and pull out to unlock. Good point or where I took your point. So did they check the door knob or where did the knob go? And what side were the hinges on?

      • Meaghan November 16, 2020 / 10:38 pm

        I do not know the answers to those questions, but it seems it would be faster just to ram the door down with some heavy object than take it off its hinges.

        And there’s still the question of why did they take the door with them?

      • Christie M Groves November 17, 2020 / 12:20 am

        Even crazier sounds like it would make a good sled not that this has anything to do with the murders but clearly hollow it would be easier to drag on the ground, which makes me thinks the body’s must be near by or it was used as a stretcher, but why would you take the bodies away from a crime scene unless they were going to ask a ransom or take them to get money. Maybe the door just had nothing to do with the exact situation and was just having a problem and broke/was removed prior. Weird case.

      • Meaghan November 17, 2020 / 12:22 am

        But why would the Whatleys go and put the door in a barn loft instead of, you know, throwing it out, or arranging to have it repaired?

  2. Christie M Groves November 16, 2020 / 10:18 am

    I was thinking some of the same things. Did they check the door for the matching splinter? And it’s really unlikely Lucas would go back to a barn and later dispose of the door since he said, he dumped them in Nevada and why have so much vested in returning a bedroom door. If it was family they could have later returned the door to the barn. I thought perhaps do to their age one of them took the others life and then committed suicide. But where would they do that and to take the body with you would be difficult if one or both were in poor or frail health. They were pretty old for back then, not now but back in the 70’s. I wish we had more data. And since they were going to a family wedding, were they going on their own? Were they suppose to go with family, like the son who reported them missing and could he have killed them and taken their human remains somewhere never to be found? If it is true and the door found was their bedroom door, then it’s more than likely the remains are somewhere on the property of the barn that we don’t know where this barn is. If only Barns and Doors could talk.

    • Meaghan November 16, 2020 / 10:39 am

      I highly doubt suicide was a factor here. They seem to have been pretty happy with their lives. John was still very active for his age (especially back then) and was out and about the last day he was seen, and Faye was involved with her church and was super excited about the wedding. They were having some roofing work done on their house as well. All signs of they were planning on sticking around.

  3. Patrick Kerrigan November 16, 2020 / 2:21 pm

    I wonder about the search of the barn. How good was it. Since, the bullet hole was in the house. Also, there was no sign of a struggle in the house. Their property was intact.

    Also, again there is no mention of any forensic evidence being found on the door. The mention of the van is interesting.

    It makes me wonder if they were targeted by someone over a business deal, or something related.

    I would like to see them do a search with cadaver dogs of the barn, if it even still exists today.

    I spent plenty of time at the VA, working on reports of lost or possibly stolen government property. Each department was required to inventory their property according to a new list of their property.

    We would get reports from Property Management, when some items could not be found. This ranged from typewriters to expensive medical research equipment.

    I decided to learn the property system used in the VA. It led me to find a few errors in the system. I also developed a protocol of steps to investigate equipment.

    Making sure, I had all the identifying information on an item, such what it was, manufacturer, make, model number, serial number, and PM number that property management placed on it.

    While a patrolman I made a list of all the typewriters in the hospital, including all the above information listed above, and location. These were printed on a VA data sheet.

    Quite often we would get a report saying a service was missing a IBM typewriter with a PM number. So, it was important to me to figure out which of several different models,of IBM typewriter I was looking for. Also, where the serial number.

    The hardest ones came from Medical Research, where you were searching for some gizmo, you never heard of. But, they kept good records, so I started reading through the annual inventory files.

    One item was always in a certain lab, yet the admin person could not find it. So, I scoured all the counter tops. Then shifted to the storage cabinets that were large enough for the device.

    I found it in a storage cabinet. I assumed the original researcher who used it, no longer needed it and it was placed in a storage cabinet.

    Another piece of equipment another officer had, was a missing road grade, that cost $400.00. What a bargain, but it was missing from Medical Research.

    Well, our hospital was in Chicago, and we did not have our own roads. So no need for a road grade, which we needed one should have belonged to Engineering.

    Well, the officer found the item, which turned out to be a temperature grade. It appears when we got the item, property management classified it as a road grade, since could not figure out what category it should have come under.

    The real clue, was the $400.00. I think road grades go for a lot more then that.

    I had a love/hate relationship doing this investigations. I hated that certain services could not keep up with their property. But, then it was a challenge, to establish the protocol and find or account for the item.

    I used to dig through the records in the property management office. The management of the Supply Service, never had a problem with me digging through the records.

    So, would the searchers think to check the left area of the barn.

    I think of the disappearance of Theresa Fusco, in Long Island, New York. On the night she disappeared a John French reported his Olsmobile car stolen. The hours was between 9:30 pm, and 11:05 pm. He finds a week later, with windshield smashed, and the license plates changed. He also found a pair of women’s striped Jean’s in the car.

    When they found Thersa Fusco dead, he connects his car to her disappearance. Not the police. Theresa was strangled to death, possibly with a rope. He had some rope on the back seat of the car.

    However, I have some concerns about the car and Mr. French and her disappearance.

    Also, it appears the local police somehow lost the stuff he found in the car. But, one agency took Theresa missing Persons report and another one did the homicide. The property found in the car should have been released to the one doing the homicide.

  4. Jack November 16, 2020 / 6:54 pm

    What a weird case! I really do also wonder how they’re sure the door they found is that specific door, and if it could still have some sort of physical evidence that could be used now to provide some answers. Whenever I hear Lucas/Toole are suspects in a case, I’m really skeptical for the same reasons you are.

    Unrelated, but I just saw this and wanted to pass it on to you just in case it’s not already on your radar: https://www.colorlines.com/articles/blackfeet-community-college-launches-reporting-portal-missing-indigenous-people-montana

    This is an article about a new website, MMIP Montana, for reporting missing indigenous persons in Montana. I don’t think they have a portal for browsing missing persons reports they get, but they plan to make “PR for website, shares for social media, etc. to get the information out to the community to assist law enforcement and family.” Maybe they’d be interested in sharing information with you for your profiles?

  5. . November 16, 2020 / 10:12 pm

    I’m sure some of you, certainly Meaghan, have already seen this, but it’s a good look back in time for anyone interested. https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth391001/m1/4/

    Back then, it’s much more likely that a door might be distinguishable than one found these days. That’s especially true for a door from a wealthy person’s house, where a clear and distinctly recognizable level of craftmanship is often found. (Although the certainty about the door also lends weight to the idea that the barn is/was on or near the property. That’s a good catch, Meaghan.)

    • Christie M Groves November 16, 2020 / 10:21 pm

      I agree we had Mahogany doors in the huge 3 floor Spanish house I grew up in, and the doors were super heavy with inlaid design going down top to bottom, and pewter knobs, I actually inherited the old kitchen cabinets and builtins and they reside in my one car garage now as garage cabinets with those same pewter matching pulls and knobs LOL. The other doors going to outside were inlaid with glass and wrought iron and like 12 feet by 10 so very ornate heavy and grand, think Ozzy Osbournes house in Seattle, WA built in 1906- it was a master piece, minus the stream that ran through the basement. My point being, that kind of wood work was incredible back then and is rare now-a-days unless you can afford it, so this very well could be one hell of a door compared to the hollow you can hear everything type in my little house I have today.

      • Meaghan November 16, 2020 / 10:36 pm

        It was mentioned in one of the articles that the door in question was one of the hollow kinds.

      • . November 17, 2020 / 11:18 pm

        I must’ve missed that it was hollow. It seems a little odd for the time period, but maybe that’s what was so convincing about it being the right door.

        Meaghan, do you remember if there was a particular reason the article mentioned that, about the door being hollow?

  6. Amanda November 18, 2020 / 6:05 am

    http://charleyproject.org/case/karma-jo-bohlen

    Karma Bohlen’s date of disappearance is given as July 21, 2006, yet in the case file the date January 21, 2006 is mentioned. Which date is the one she disappeared on? Perhaps police had contact with her on January 21 and then she disappeared July 21?

    This site is amazing, by the way. Such an invaluable resource. ❤

    • Amanda November 18, 2020 / 6:09 am

      Also, Karma seems to have been 38 when she went missing, not 48 as stated in the case file. Just noticed that now.

      • Meaghan November 18, 2020 / 6:10 am

        I’ll fix it. I think my brain was a bit scrambled when I wrote it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  7. missingmysteries November 18, 2020 / 12:29 pm

    You raise very good points here, Meaghan, as do the rest of the commenters.

    My only insight into the missing door is that it could have very well had the hinges set on the outside rather than in.

    In college, I lived in an apartment that was the attic of a large house. I used a shared (between the first and second floor residents) stairwell to get to my apartment door…we all entered via the “main” door, which was the only door visible to outsiders, then once inside we accessed our individual apartment doors.

    I was, after months of living there, was shocked to discover that my attic apartment door (maybe because it was originally “inside” the single family home when the home was built) had the hinges on the OUTSIDE of the door…

    …I only learned this when my friend (who lived in the first floor apartment of the same home) wanted to borrow one of my CDs when I was at class, so to access it, he “simply” took my attic apartment door off the hinges and gingerly placed it aside, then helped himself to the CD.

    I discovered this when I got home and found my door completely off the hinges. Upon replacing my door on its hinges, I realized that the hinges were “outside” and thus could be removed by anyone, at anytime, with little to no “door removal” skills or strength required.

    He did this a few times during that year, and fortunately:

    1) he was a friend so I wasn’t overly pissed off except for the last time he did it (a day before some sketchy dudes followed me home at night and I wanted nothing more than to be safely locked in my apartment) when he had gone out of town for the weekend without replacing the door on its hinges before he left; and

    2) because my door was only accessible from inside the main house, its placement off the hinges wasn’t visible to passers by. I can’t speak for the door/house of this odd Charley case in question, but I can offer up the idea that, as an “indoor” door, it may well have had the hinges on the outside, aka accessible to anyone who was already inside the house and standing outside of this actual door.

    And if so, and the attacker was familiar with door hinges, he could have chosen to pop the door off the hinges rather than try to kick or ram it down.

    But the supposition of him supposedly choosing to use said door as a tool to remove the victims from the home is a leap I personally won’t take without some more evidence (though it’s entirely possible).

    That’s the tiny bit of insight I can share. It’s a weird case, one of the weirdest featured on Charley, and that door seems to be important.

    • missingmysteries November 18, 2020 / 12:38 pm

      If it’s okay, I’m going to reread the Charley entries for these two and comment on parts as I go (rather than try to jam my thoughts into one post).

      So first thought is, what the hell do we make of this: “it (the supposed gun) had been fired from inside the house, not outside, at waist-level height”…why was a shot fired from inside the home this way? Is it possible that this was an “old” shot fired, meaning not relevant to the case at hand? In considering the lack of evidence at the scene of any firing of a gun, I’d be inclined to think that it is indeed a relic with no connection t9 the case at hand.

      • missingmysteries November 18, 2020 / 12:42 pm

        And this: “Both the couple’s vehicles were parked in the garage.”
        …not to state the obvious (but I guess I am), the killer(s) must have come in their own vehicle, and/or the vehicles of the dead couple were not needed by the killer(s). So, whoever killed them didn’t do it to take a vehicle. Maybe obvious, but worth stating.

      • missingmysteries November 18, 2020 / 12:53 pm

        “A latch John had installed to keep the door from slamming when the windows were open”…

        How do the investigators know this? Even if they did observe a latch (or evidence of a latch), how did the investigators KNOW of the supposed reason WHY the latch was installed?

        Apparently, he installed the latch to “keep the door from slamming when the windows were open”…but WHO told them that? Not John, and not his wife. So how do the investigators KNOW that a latch was installed, but better yet, WHY the latch was installed? The only person(s) who could state that the latch was installed “TO KEEP THE DOOR FROM SLAMMING WHEN THE WINDOWS WERE OPEN” would be someone who knew this family and this home intimately.

        So, with the husband and wife dead, who’s left? Who else could know this? Now, it’s possible that the investigator who wrote this particular report was acquainted with, and personally knew, the couple and had been to their home, thus knowing why they installed this. But if not, then we need to ask, and LOUDLY, WHO was the source of this info?

      • Meaghan November 18, 2020 / 1:55 pm

        I would assume someone in the family told them. The source of the info wasn’t mentioned in the news report I read where I got the info on the latch.

      • Meaghan November 18, 2020 / 2:05 pm

        I would add also that the cops had no idea the door was even missing till one of the Whatley children told them. The cops walked the person through the house to ask if the person saw anything missing or out of place and then “Hey, there’s supposed to be a door here and there isn’t one.”

      • Meaghan November 18, 2020 / 2:03 pm

        But do you really think a wealthy couple like the Whatleys is going to just not bother to repair a front windowpane that was broken or, at least, had a hole in it?

        Plus the shade also had the matching bullethole. And the shade was drawn down still.

  8. . November 18, 2020 / 11:47 pm

    The idea that one or more investigators might’ve been friendly, or at least familiar, with one or both of the Whatleys is an interesting thought that wouldn’t necessarily occur to a big city person.

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