365 Days of Texas True Crime: Off and On
Ok guys, this one is a doozy.
Husbands and wives have problems, we all know that. Sometimes they give up and sometimes they do what they can to reconciliate.
In May of 1974 a mother of six is found dead in the front seat of a car in the Midland Memorial Hospital emergency parking lot. Shirley Rayco Cato and Billy Don Cato were separated.
These two had a complicated relationship. Marriage records show that they were married on November 7th, 1964, divorced on July 9th, 1970, then married again on January 9th, 1972.
Billy was working on a construction job in Denver, Colorado. Midmorning on May 27th, 1974, around 10 a.m., Billy came home and went on a drive with his wife. A family argument starts that ends with the family vehicle parked in the emergency parking lot of the hospital and Shirley dead in the front seat. Teresa Caldwell, a nurse at Midland Memorial Hospital and Kenneth Truelove, a hospital orderly, are alerted by Billy Cato that he has a situation outside in the parking lot, he tells them “I just killed her and she has needed it for 10 years.” The two hospital workers see Shirley in the front seat of the car and can apparently already tell that she’s deceased. They don’t make any attempt to remove her from the vehicle or bring her inside. Afterwards Billy agrees to take lawmen to the location where he says he stopped to talk with Shirley.
You would think this would be an easy, open and shut kind of case. Of course not, not while people think they can make up a good enough lie to cover up what they’ve done.
So the trial for murder against Billy Don Cato begins in November. Billy Don Cato takes the stand in his own defense. He testifies that he regained consciousness after a karate chop by his wife apparently knocked him out. When he came to he see’s his wife “choking herself”…… mmmmm kaaaaaaaaay.
He tells the jury that although he and his wife were separated he had returned from Denver on May 27th to discuss a reunion between he and her and their six children over a drive. Yes, Brady Bunch style, six children, except these were all their children together, Billy, Elby, Gregory, Lois, Stacey and Shannon. Billy says he stopped his car on a dirt road near the Fair Grounds Road to talk. He tells the jury that he wasn’t “mad at her or afraid of her at the time.” He says “all of a sudden I saw her hand coming at me and felt a hard blow on my shoulder and neck and my whole head exploded.” He goes on to say that “The next thing I remember I saw her sitting next to me with her hand around her throat.” He tells the courtroom that he was “worried” about her and drove her to Midland Memorial Hospital.
Apparently Mrs. Cato was a karate expert, at least according to Billy, and she had “whipped” him a few times even “when she was pregnant”, which had to be pretty often with that many kiddos. Billy tells the jury that all he can recall at the hospital is seeing a white uniform and hearing voices. He says he doesn’t remember telling police officers and the hospital attendants that he killed her and that she had needed it for 10 years. He also says he has no recollection of taking officers to the location on the dirt road where he had parked the car to “talk” to his estranged wife. While he is on the stand testifying he says that when he returned from Denver he first went to his brothers house, Valton Cato, who lives in Odessa. He says that during a talk with his brother “the discussion got around to she needs to be killed”. Billy says that he doesn’t recall if it were he or his brother who made that statement.
Another of Billy’s brothers, Gary Cato of Abilene, testified that the reputation of the dead woman (that’s how is was written in the paper) was “bad”.
A Dr. Alan Fisher took the stand to testify that it would in fact be possible for a blow on the side of the neck to cause amnesia but it would be very unlikely. The defense objected to this testimony and decided to call in their own “expert” in rebuttal of Dr. Alan Fisher’s testimony.
Terry Lambdion of Midland, a karate teacher, was called by the defense to testify on the power behind a karate chop. As it turns out a karate chop to the neck can in fact do some damage. If done with enough force there’s a chance it can cause disorientation, dizziness and even unconsciousness, however, the jury seemed to find it hard to believe that Shirley just strangled herself to death and he was given a life sentence. Billy Don Cato, 33, was found guilty by a 142nd District Court jury for the strangulation of his wife and given an life sentence.
Shirley Ululani Rayco Cato was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on October 23rd, 1946. She had five brothers and eight sisters. Her family flew her body back to be buried where she was born in Mililani Memorial Park in Honolulu. Billy Don Cato was a US Army Vietnam Veteran. He enlisted in the army January 3rd, 1962, was discharged December 23rd, 1964 and then re-enlisted May 1st, 1967 and discharged again May 28th, 1969. Billy and Shirley likely met while he was stationed in Hawaii in 1964. They were married the month before Billy is discharged during his first stint in the army. He brings his new wife with him when he is discharged, moving inland to Texas. When Billy re-enlists May 1st, 1967, the two are still married. He is discharged May 28th, 1969 and then two months later they get divorced. At this time they already have five children. Billy and Shirley get remarried January 9th, 1972 in Odessa and at some point before Billy strangles her to death they have another falling out and are separated. Shirley and her six children were living with a friend at the time.
Billy Don Cato died March 3rd, 1995 at the age of 54. He is buried at Fort Gibson National Cemetery in Fort Gibson, Muskogee County, Oklahoma.