This week in History, on the anniversary of the end of the Largest Manhunt in Texas History, The Journal remembers an article from June 2 1993: “7 years later, Guilty verdict upheld Residents Recall Tragedy.”
25 years ago the jury in Bell County upheld the death sentence of Jerry “Animal” McFadden for the strangulation death of Hawkins cheerleader Suzanne Harrison. At this time it had been seven long years since three Hawkins teens disappeared while on an outing to Lake Hawkins. The parents and guardians of the trio—Suzanne Harrison, 18; Gina Turner, 20 and Bryan Boone, 19, who were later found murdered—had all left the area by the time of the Bell County verdict, residents remaining recalled their memories of these young people, the incident and the manhunt that ensued.
Mac Overton, was a Hawkins resident and editor of the Big Sandy & Hawkins Journal at the time of the tragedy. When the verdict was upheld he was editor of the Gilmer Mirror. He remembered, “these were ‘cream of the crop’ kids. Miss Turner as 1985 Hawkins High School valedictorian, Boone was salutatorian that year, and Miss Harrison would have been salutatorian of the class of 1986. So when Suzanne’s aunt had called about some other matter May 5 and mentioned that those three were missing, I knew immediately some tragedy must have occurred. These kids were known for their sense of responsibility—they wouldn’t have just taken off.”
Andy Ashley was Miss Harrison’s neighbor, he recalled Boone stopping by to pick her up that fateful afternoon. Ashley said, “Suzanne really loved children and she and our daughter were close. How do you explain to a three-year-old that Suzanne is not coming home again? I remember our daughter repeating to us and others, ‘A bad man came and did bad things to Suzanne.'”
Seven years was not long enough for the memory to fade for Hawkins resident, Betty Sharp. She recalled, “People have not forgotten this. It’s really still as fresh as it happened yesterday. I’m not sure how the parents kept their sanity over this–they almost went into seclusion.”
When word got out that McFadden had escaped from the Upshur county jail and was known to be in the vicinity of Big Sandy, residents there took shelter behind locked doors.
Big Sandy resident, Agatha McDonald said, “I remember it was the last day of a school summer session for my granddaughter and we called the school to tell them she wasn’t coming because we were afraid. When I called, I was told I was not the only grandparent to have that reaction. And sure enough, they found him in a house right across from the school.”
Big Sandy resident Richard Lingle was police chief of the town at the time. He says, “Not much was going on until we got the call that McFadden’s hostage, Rosalie Williams, had escaped. The Gilmer Police were the first of many law enforcement agencies to arrive, and from then on, until McFadden was captured, things were hopping.”
Much to the relief of all, on July 11, 1986 McFadden was returned to police custody. He was found in a vacant house at the corner of College St. and Wildcat Drive, thus ending the largest manhunt in Texas.