365 Days of Texas True Crime: Mrs. Barrett
Tawny the Rock Chick here, your resident true crime aficionado. As interesting as I find true crime from all over to be, it’s the local stuff that I can really dig into. You could say I’m a bit obsessed with researching stories of murder and missing persons from this area. I’ve spent countless hours reading old newspapers articles, requesting files on cases and sifting through data cases online regarding homicide cases that you probably didn’t even know existed. This area holds more sordid secrets than you may know and I’m going to tell you about all of them, one day at a time. It’s 365 Days of Texas True Crime and todays story goes like this…..
During the month of May in the year 2000, Texas carried out 7 executions. One of those executions was of a man named James Edward Clayton. Clayton was a temperamental man with illusions of being a trained killer. Those who had interactions with him described him as being “full of hate”, particularly when he spoke about his girlfriend. Apparently he was often angry at his girlfriend for one thing or another. He was known to brag about how good of a burglar he was and spoke often of his urges to kill someone.
On September 18th, 1987 the Hawley, Texas elementary school is missing one of their teachers. It’s well past the time that Lori Barrett is normally in her classroom when a friend from her part-time job calls to find out if she had called in sick that day. Pamela Cummings, a friend of Lori’s who works with her at Dillard’s, says that after they got off work at Dillard’s in Abilene she called her friend to make sure she had gotten home safe. It was around 9:30 p.m. that Pamela started calling, and continued to try and get into contact with her friend from 9:30 p.m. to around 12:30 a.m. She tries to get ahold of her again in the morning and when her calls go unanswered she begins to worry and contacts the Principal at the school in Hawley, Texas (a small town just outside of Abilene) to see if maybe Lori had called in sick. She finds out from the school administration that Lori hasn’t been heard from yet. That’s when Pamela decides to contact the Hawley School District’s superintendent to let him know that she and Lori worked together at Dillard’s’ there in Abilene and that when she tried to call her after her shift, she didn’t answer. Lori should’ve made it home between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. the night before but she hasn’t answered calls made to her home last night or this morning and now she’s missing from her full time job at the elementary school.
Lori is a fifth grade teacher there at Hawley elementary school. The superintendent, Cecil Davis, knows that Lori is a good teacher and she just wouldn’t be late like this without calling and letting someone know. Considering her normally consistent habits of being on time for work and the knowledge that a friend hasn’t been able to get ahold of her since the night before, he decides to head over to Lori’s place to make sure she’s ok. He knocks on the door but no answer. He asks the neighbors if they had seen Lori, they hadn’t. That was enough to send the superintendent straight to the Abilene Police Department, it was time to raise the alarm. Having already received calls from Lori’s sister when Davis shows up at the station, the Abilene Police Department decides to begin a missing person investigation.
Later in the day Lori’s brother-in-law, along with the Abilene Police Department, enter Lori’s house. They find that things look somewhat normal inside, a security chain is latched on the front door. As they’re going through the house looking for clues as to Lori’s disappearance they find evidence that she had indeed made it home that night, as was her habit well known by her friends and family, Lori would kick her shoe’s off as soon as she got it, and there they were on the floor. They find a curling iron with the cord cut off, a bag of opened chips on the bed and one of her brand new earrings under the bed, apparently stepped on. The bathroom window is cracked open a little. There’s some grass in the sink and a tile that’s been dislodged. Lori’s brother-in-law tells the officers that Lori couldn’t open the bathroom window without his help. When they go outside and around to the bathroom window it’s obvious that some kind of tool has been used to open the window from the outside, there are scrape marks like the ones a flathead screwdriver would make and wouldn’t ya know it, on brick ledge outside the house they find a flathead screwdriver. Her car is missing as well.
Meanwhile a call is made regarding an abandoned, wrecked vehicle at the Abilene Christian University campus. Even though the license plate is missing they are still able to determine that it’s Lori’s. They also find out that the earring that was found at Lori’s house was one of the earrings she was wearing the night she went missing. If it wasn’t apparent before, it’s clear now that Lori is in trouble. Lori’s family hires a private investigator. They know something isn’t right. This isn’t like their girl, she’s an active church member, loves her job, doesn’t go to bars, keeps in regular contact with her friends, she doesn’t wreck her car, abandon it and then disappear for no reason. William Hurley, families private investigator starts with the car. He eventually finds someone who says they saw their friend with the car around 11 p.m. on the night of September 17th and also the next morning, around the time of the wreck. Their friend, James Edward Clayton, tells them he borrowed the car from someone named Lori.
On September 23rd, officers head to Clayton’s residence to ask him about the situation with the car. Clayton lives in a garage apartment just a half of a block away from Lori’s house. When he finally admits to driving the car without her permission and after declining to go with the officers to the police station voluntarily, he’s arrested. Lori’s family isn’t messing around. This is their girl and they’re doing whatever it takes to find out what happened to her. While the officers are questioning Clayton, Lori’s sister is sifting through his dumpster outside. She finds the missing license plate from Lori’s car, mail with Lori’s name on it, and bag containing a belt that Lori wore the night she went missing and a partially eaten hamburger.
A search warrant is obtained and inside Claytons apartment police discover an insurance card with the name Lori Barrett on it.
Lori’s family and her church launch a huge search, they start in the Abilene area and on September 29th, twelve days after she’s last seen alive, a body is found in Jones county. The body is wrapped in a blanket, tied with a black electrical wire and in a very advanced state of decomposition, it’s hot in west Texas in September….very hot. Identification will have to be made by way of dental records.
Lori’s father, Hank Barrett, is sitting with a reporter at Papa Bear’s restaurant in Abilene, he’s wearing a button with his daughters face on it. He’s recounting the details of his daughters disappearance and the families extensive search efforts. He tells of how it was actually he and Lori’s brother who found Lori’s car in the parking lot of a dorm at Abilene Christian University.
He’s the father of a 27 year old, loving fifth grade teacher, a woman who was known for being funny and always smiling. She went to church regularly, she spent her weekends playing games at friends houses while other girls her age were drinking at bars and making poor decisions. (not all but some, come on, we were all 27 at one time, you member) She was self-conscious about still being single and she sometimes struggled with money but she was doing it, she was making it on her own. She worked part-time for extra money at Dillard’s there in Abilene but September 18th was suppose to be her last day, the day after she went missing. When she started at Hawley Elementary she is just a substitute teacher but by the fall of the same year she had already been hired as a full time teacher. Her students adored her and so did everyone else who knew her.
I read a newspaper article while I was looking for information on this case that really stopped me in my tracks. It was such good writing, the kind you just don’t see any more in newspapers…or anywhere else really. It was an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram by a woman named Kathy Sanders. Most of it covers information about the case, at the time the article was published it had been two weeks since Lori had disappeared and a man named James Edward Clayton had been arrested. It told of the evidence that was found so far and detailed what kind of person the missing woman was. It was a good size article but what really caught me was a few short sentences at the beginning. As Lori’s dad is sitting in a restaurant chatting with a reporter a moment is witnessed that had to have stayed with anyone who saw it. He’s mid-sentence when he pauses at the sight of an Abilene police officer walking through the door of the restaurant. Lori’s dad knows a body was found the day before in Jones county that was in too bad shape to make an identification without dental records. He had to have known the second he saw that uniform what was about to happen and with two words his darkest fears were confirmed….”It’s her…”
Lori had been shot, she had multiple gunshot wounds to her head and torso, her hands were bound and there was a rag stuffed down her throat. She was wrapped tightly in a blanket with electrical cord wound around her feet and neck and then tossed in roadside ditch.
Lori’s dad found out that his daughter was gone while he was sitting with a reporter in an effort to continue getting the word out about the search for her.
Her students loved their teacher, Mrs. Barrett, and she loved them. They were particularly attached to Lori because she gave every single one of them a hug before they left at the end of the day. Every day they spent all day with Lori, learning and playing and at the end of the day she hugged them goodbye. When the kids found out they would never again get a hug goodbye from Mrs. Barrett, professional grief counselors had to be brought in for the kids.
Clayton never admits guilt but the evidence is overwhelming. He’s eventually convicted and sentenced to death and that sentence is carried out on May 25th, 2000, thirteen years after Lori kicked off her shoes for the last time.