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Detectives hope 'Killing Fields' film help solve 60 murders

CINDY HORSWEL, HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Updated 12:10 am, Friday, October 21, 2011

 

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Two days ago, Texas City Police Capt. Brian Goetschius persuaded former detective Mike Land to meet him at a nearby Catholic church to pray.

Land, a hard-nosed investigator who recently retired after three decades on the Texas City force, was more accustomed to being summoned to gory crime scenes. But he agreed with Goetschius on the urgency to pray that "something good" come from the movie released on Friday, Texas Killing Fields.

It portrays both men as leading an investigation into some 60 unsolved murders from the 1970s to the 1990s of young women whose bodies were dumped in a swampy field on the outskirts of Texas City.

Both Land and Goetschius hope the thriller triggers someone to come forward with clues to a string of real unsolved Houston-area abductions and murders during that era. Authorities believed at least three serial killers were responsible for 30 deaths. Most of the victims' families still wait for justice.

The detectives acknowledge the film does not detail any of the individual cases, but rather is a fictionalized amalgamation of them. And they emphasize that they were merely working along side hundreds of state, city and federal authorities on these cases.

"The movie just wants to bring attention to the phenomenon that was happening at that time," said Goetschius.

Director Ami Mann said she felt compelled to tell story behind these murders after seeing a 1997 Houston Chronicle article that included photos of victims and a map marking each spot where a body was found.

"There was something about that tapestry of faces that was really striking," she said. "and the ubiquity of the crimes that people thought they could commit ... and then throw the bodies away." The article told about an anonymous phone call to a TV tip line that reported a "serial killer was on the loose." The caller then gave directions to the body of a strangled 16-year-old girl, who'd been dumped in a field off Interstate 45 near Richey in Harris County.

Four bodies found

The article also talked about four nude bodies discovered in a scrubby pasture in League city between 1984 and 1991 that had been turned into someone's personal graveyard. Authorities called it the "killing fields."

The decomposed body of Laura Miller was found in that field in 1986. The 16-year-old disappeared from a League City convenience store two years earlier. Her father would later establish EqquSearch, which conducts searches around the world for the missing.

"I was disappointed that the movie-makers never sat down and talked to any of the victims' families. Didn't get the real story from us," said Tim Miller.

While skeptical of the movie, he hopes it encourages media outlets to take a fresh look at the cold cases.

He said he was interviewed about his daughter for the CBS show 48 Hours Mystery. The program on the topic: "Can a Hollywood movie solve Texas' most notorious killing spree," is scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Saturday.

Land and Goetschius actually never investigated any of the "killing field" cases.

They did assist in many other cases, including the murders of Maria Johnson and Debbie Ackerman. The two 15-year-old Galveston girls disappeared from a shopping mall in 1971. Their bodies were found floating two days later in a Texas City bayou, and the cases remain unsolved.

Local man wrote script

Land, now serving as Texas City's mayor pro-tem, first met the movie's screenwriter, Don Ferrarone, in the late 1990s. Ferrarone was working with the Houston office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

When Ferrarone retired in 1997, he became intrigued with the furor over all the unsolved murders. He decided to turn it into a movie.

For next decade, he tinkered on the script at his Lake Conroe-area home.

Goetchius introduced the writer to former La Marque Detective Pam Mitchell, who became the model for his female investigator. Mitchell retired three years ago and now lives in Georgia.

Land and Goetschius were paid consultants for the movie's set in New Orleans.

For a review of the film Texas Killing Fields, see the Star section on the iPad.

cindy.horswell@chron.com