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The two deaths of Mary Morris ^ | May 26, 2002, 12:51AM | ROMA KHANNA

Posted on 05/26/2002 8:12:55 AM PDT by rw4site

The two deaths of Mary Morris

Days apart, killings linked by names leave families pondering connection

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

Over the course of five days in October 2000, two women, both mothers, both named Mary Morris, were reported missing and later found slain.

State lines
One was burned so severely that tooth fragments were the only remains that confirmed her identity. The other was beaten and shot once in the head. Both women were left dead in their cars and found by strangers. More than a year and a half later, both killings remain unsolved.

Authorities are skeptical of any link, but as the women's families grapple with their deaths, they say a connection may be the only explanation.

"It is just so astounding that two people by the same name, who to me look very similar, were murdered so close together," said Marilyn Blalock, daughter of Mary Henderson Morris. "They were both brutally murdered, and no one has been charged in either case. It's hard to say it was just coincidence."

The families' rationale hinges on the possibility that Mary Henderson Morris, 48, who was found dead in her charred car three miles from her Baytown home, was mistakenly killed by whoever wanted 39-year-old Mary McGinnis Morris dead.

"The (first) Mary Morris appears to have been killed by a total stranger, with a complete absence of physical evidence," said Kim Ogg of Crime Stoppers, who has aided both families' search for answers. "The (second) has multiple suspects and could have been a hit."

The families draw on this contrast to explain a potential link. Henderson Morris' case has had few leads and no suspects; McGinnis Morris was known to have had an unraveling marriage and problems with a co-worker.

"If you look at the whole picture, there were certainly people who could be perceived as having a reason to kill her," said Harris County sheriff's Detective Wayne Kuhlman, who is investigating the latter case.

On Oct. 12, 2000, Henderson Morris left the Baytown ranch she had built with her husband of five years, Jay Morris. He walked her to the car before 6 a.m. and watched as she turned from their Burnett Bay home in the direction of her regular gas station.

Jay Morris presumed she would stop and proceed to her job of 15 years at the Chase Bank at the Katy Freeway and Campbell in Spring Valley. That day he made several calls to his wife, with whom he spoke several times a day, but each time he got her voice mail.

Henderson Morris' supervisor called the house after 2 p.m. asking for her. The supervisor did not identify herself, so Jay Morris simply said his wife was at work.

"When Mary had not called me back, I did not think it made any sense," he said. He eventually called Chase and was told his wife had never shown up. Worried, he called police and Blalock, his stepdaughter.

The two began to retrace Henderson Morris' steps. They realized she had forgotten her cell phone that morning and began to speculate that she had gotten into an accident or had car trouble.

As Jay Morris made a missing-person report with the Sheriff's Department around 5 p.m., deputies received a call about an abandoned, burned-out car discovered by someone off-roading in a remote area.

Authorities identified the car as Henderson Morris' Chevrolet Lumina that evening, but they would need three days to confirm the remains inside were hers. Just three miles from her home, in the opposite direction of the bank, in an isolated drainage area, Henderson Morris' scorched body and car were nearly unidentifiable.

After the Oct. 16 funeral, Blalock called the Medical Examiner's Office to retrieve her mother's jewelry. A supervisor said it would be ready at the same time as the body.

"I said, `That is impossible; we just had the funeral,' " Blalock said. "And they told me they still had Mary Morris' body.

"I was freaking out. I was thinking we just had the funeral. I saw the remains, and I was looking at something that wasn't even my mother."

But the body in the morgue was nurse practitioner McGinnis Morris, who had been found slain that day.

McGinnis Morris planned to spend Oct. 15 the way she would most Sundays, running errands. She gave a flu shot to Laurie Gemmell, a friend and co-worker, and went to the post office, grocery store and drugstore.

As she shopped at the Eckerd store at U.S. 290 and West Little York, McGinnis Morris saw someone who made her uneasy. She called Gemmell.

"She said, `There is someone here who is giving me the creeps,' " Gemmell said. "She said it matter-of-factly. She did not sound scared. She was aware that she was uncomfortable and was going to head home."

Less than 15 minutes later, McGinnis Morris dialed 911. Investigators have not released the details of the call.

When McGinnis Morris did not come home that evening, her husband of 17 years, Mike Morris, reported her missing to police, friends and family. The next morning, a wrecker driver found her body, with a single gunshot wound to the head, in her company car, a 2000 Dodge Intrepid, on West Little York near the Eckerd, in the opposite direction of her workplace.

"It had the appearance of a suicide," said Kuhlman, of the Sheriff's Department. "But there was physical evidence that suggested it couldn't be."

McGinnis Morris was killed with a gun, registered to Mike Morris, that she had been carrying. Its placement could indicate it was a suicide, but there was clear evidence of a struggle, Kuhlman said. She was severely beaten and may have been gagged. Detectives found blood on the passenger door, which was left open, and the keys were outside the car.

The day McGinnis Morris' body was found, Stephanie Loar, her sister in West Virginia, called the Sheriff's Department and the medical examiner, which is how she found out about the other Mary Morris.

"They mentioned something about the Mary Morris that had been burned," said Loar. "Sometime right after that point, I began to think how strange and coincidental it all was.

"Both of these women, viciously murdered and left. There have been points when I begin to think they were not connected. But I always come back to it. It cannot just be coincidence."

Detectives investigating Henderson Morris' death quickly determined she had been a happy woman with a stable life. She met Jay Morris through a personals ad and had been content in their five-year marriage, the second for each of them.

Her first husband, Jim Henderson, remained a part of her life through their daughter, Blalock. He helped search for his ex-wife that October afternoon.

"She has no apparent enemies," said sheriff's Detective Robert Tonry. "No drugs. No affairs. It has been hard to track down suspects, just short of some mysterious person that abducted her."

Henderson Morris' body was found in an area secluded by a gate and thick trees that must be accessed by way of a busy Baytown thoroughfare. No one knew that the smoke reported to the Fire Department about 10:20 a.m. Oct. 12 -- which was dismissed as burning leaves -- was from the fire that gutted Henderson Morris' car.

Robbery seemed an unlikely motive, Tonry said.

The fire was set using massive amounts of accelerant, which singed nearby trees and melted everything from the car wheels to Henderson Morris' jewelry, all of which, except for her wedding ring, was left behind. Though her purse was missing, no charges were made on her credit cards, and her phone card was not used until five months later.

"The majority of the time, somebody committing a robbery wants to get the most money with the least amount of trouble," Tonry said. "If you would take a purse, wouldn't you take jewelry? Why be discriminating?

"Whoever did this took a great deal of time to seclude her in that area. If you get someone (out for drug money), he may kill her and try to wipe off the prints. But someone went to the trouble to make sure there was absolutely no evidence left."

With few clues, detectives cannot account for the time between her departure before 6 a.m. and the reports of fire at 10:20 a.m.

A cashier at a gas station at Interstate 10 and Thompson recalled someone matching Henderson Morris' description, but the store's surveillance video from that morning was destroyed before police could view it. And Henderson Morris, known to carry little cash, did not make any credit card charges.

Then in April, six months after the killing, Jay Morris received $2,000 in bills for his wife's phone card, which detectives traced to a 16-year-old Galveston girl.

She told detectives she found a purse with the card and other belongings in March sitting in the parking lot of a Galveston convenience store. The girl, who detectives determined was not connected to the slaying, said a neighbor kept the purse. Tonry found the purse, but Henderson Morris' family said it could not have been hers. The neighbor had thrown away the other contents.

About the same time, Jay Morris began receiving phone calls to his unlisted line from people asking for Mary. Caught off-guard, Morris initially said she was not home. By the third call, he followed detectives' advice and gave the caller Tonry's number as a place to reach her. The caller replied, "Oh, yeah, right," Morris said. That was the last call Morris received.

Detectives traced the phone calls to a Baytown apartment on Northwood but have no further leads.

"At this point, no one has been ruled out," Tonry said. "We are looking at everything."

Though doubtful, Tonry said he is willing to consider a link to the other Mary Morris' slaying.

"We have found no evidence of a connection," Tonry said. "But you can't rule it out."

McGinnis Morris left her home and family in West Virginia in 1998 to become medical director for Union Carbide in Houston, where she oversaw several of the company's clinics.

"She missed (her family) greatly," said Gemmell, who also worked at Union Carbide. "Them and the hills of West Virginia."

As McGinnis Morris settled into her life in Houston, she grew to love her job and made fast friends with Gemmell. But her life was not without problems.

Her marriage was troubled. Problems escalated when the couple moved to Houston, where Mike Morris was out of work. They argued often and, at one time, he believed she was having an affair.

"I confronted her and the person," Mike Morris said. "They looked me in the eye and denied it. I chose to believe them. We had problems in the last few years, but we were well on our way to solving them. We were back at the point of being best friends when she died."

Friends and family, however, suggest the marriage had not mended. They said Mike Morris was distrustful and often followed his wife.

"Mary put it to me that she had fallen in love with someone else," said Loar, her sister. "But she was not going to leave Mike. She was trying to make her marriage work. But after they had gone through three or four marriage counselors, it had gotten to the point where she would have asked him for a divorce."

There also was tension at work. Early in 2000, a temporary employee joined McGinnis Morris' staff and complained to her superiors, questioned her authority and often seemed agitated, Gemmell said.

"The problems with him started immediately," she said. "But in the last few weeks of her life, things had become very stressful for her. She was really afraid."

The co-worker, Duane Young of Kemah, denied any involvement in McGinnis Morris' death but declined to elaborate in an interview. He said he is prohibited by a court order sought by Union Carbide from speaking about the case.

McGinnis Morris began to carry a gun about two weeks before she was killed. Then, the Thursday before she was killed, McGinnis Morris found a disturbing note written on a desktop calendar at her Clear Lake clinic. It said, "Death to her."

She told her superiors, who advised her to stay home that Friday. Later that day, Young returned to the office to make sure his timecard had been signed. He made a scene and was asked not to return, Gemmell said.

"He was banging on the windows and asking for Mary," she said. "He had to be escorted out."

McGinnis Morris was killed three days later.

The investigation into McGinnis Morris' killing has been difficult.

"She had a co-worker doing everything in his power to wreck her career and a husband with whom she had a bad relationship," Kuhlman said. "She had a $500,000 life insurance policy.

"We have not been able to eliminate these people as suspects. The problem with this one is a lack of cooperation by the people closest to her. We didn't have access to her daughter for two months, and her husband has not helped out."

Friends and family acknowledge McGinnis Morris began to carry a gun because of problems at work, but some offered conflicting reports about whether she had stopped.

"Mike told us she was carrying the gun up until her death, but a friend and co-worker said she was going to quit carrying it," Kuhlman said. "How would someone know she had a gun in her car? If she had been killed by just anyone with a gun, that would be one thing, but she was killed with the family gun."

McGinnis Morris' car had doors that locked when the car was put into gear, suggesting the person who attacked her had access to the car, Kuhlman said.

"She did not let anybody in," Kuhlman said. "It appeared it was somebody who would have been able to get into the locked car."

McGinnis Morris was not robbed; the only item Mike Morris reported missing was a ring she was known to wear. But months after the killing, a friend of the family who was having dinner with Mike Morris noticed that his 16-year-old daughter, Katy, was wearing the ring. The Morrises told the friend they had found it, and the friend later told Kuhlman.

Mike Morris, who moved back to West Virginia with Katy, said he has done everything asked of him.

"The police labeled me uncooperative as soon as I hired an attorney, which is my right," he said. "I gave them access to my apartment, fingerprints, blood samples -- everything, with the exception of a polygraph."

In her call to Gemmell, McGinnis Morris she said she may have recognized the person who made her nervous.

"She said she thought she had met this person through the person at work she was having problems with," Gemmell said.

Though the employee gave McGinnis Morris trouble, he had been to her home for a party, Kuhlman said. She and Mike Morris also attended a party that the employee had thrown.

"He was not excluded from company events," Kuhlman said. "They all know each other. They had been out together."

About two hours after McGinnis Morris called 911, she received a call on her cell phone. Mike Morris, who was at the movies with Katy, told detectives he never reached his wife. He said the phone rang unanswered. But phone records indicate the call lasted four minutes. That was the final incoming call completed to McGinnis Morris' phone.

Kuhlman maintains that the slayings, which happened on opposite ends of the county, are not connected.

"As far as the dates go, they are so close they could be linked," he said. "But when someone is hired to kill someone, they are going to have their information and know their habits. Hit men don't just go out with nothing."

Regardless of whether the deaths were connected, their families are united in their grief.

"There was no reason for my Mary to be killed," Jay Morris said. "She would want the person who did this to both of them caught, but in trying to find the killer, she can't even die in peace."

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Extended News; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: hitman
This sounds like a plot for a mystery novel.
1 posted on 05/26/2002 8:12:55 AM PDT by rw4site
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To: rw4site
Dial Northside 777 ?
2 posted on 05/26/2002 8:17:52 AM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: Eric in the Ozarks
and... who would I ask for?
3 posted on 05/26/2002 8:25:45 AM PDT by rw4site
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To: rw4site
Wanda Skutnick.
Jimmy Stewart was looking for Wanda after Richard Conte's mother placed an ad in Jimmy's newspaper. Conte was doing life in Sing Sing for murder. Ralph Bellamy played the roll of the newspaper's editor.
Rent the movie if its not on your movie channel this weekend.
4 posted on 05/26/2002 8:29:11 AM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: rw4site
How's this for a plot :

Guy is a probation officer. Has two friends on his case load. They don't want him to go to work one particular day , for fear that if he does, he'll start a chain of events rolling that'll see one or both back in prison. (Drug testing? Can't remember the exact motive.) So they go to his home address meaning to scare him, late one night. His fear is supposed to make him call in and not go to work the next day, the day they don't want him at the P& P office. He answers the door, one brandishes a pistol, and fires, missing the man. They run away.

Only, it wasn't the probation officer-he'd moved from the apartment about a month earlier! The new tenant is a manager of the meats section of a Price Chopper, and the spit of the PO : White, heavyset, short, dark hair and beard. And the two parolees didn't hit him-but the bullet richochets off a lamp in the apartment foyer or entryway, enters his skull , and kills him, giving him just enough time to stagger back to his kitchen, shout,"What the f--- was that!!???!!" and die in his roommate's arms.

Stupid plot, no? Full of idiotic coincidences...But it happened. My husband's best friend was friends with the murdered man, and called pretty much hysterical, asking my husband to meet her because she was all torn up over this death. She was a cop, and she went to that Price Chopper on her rounds and met the murdered man there, becoming friends with him. No one who saw a photo of the intended victim could believe how much he looked like the murdered man "like brothers" was a common remark. The two friends (who may have been related , too...Cousins?) were picked up and tried, and their plea that they never meant to shoot, much less kill anyone, was accepted , but they both wound up in prison anyway.

This was in KC/Raytown, 1989-1992.

5 posted on 05/26/2002 8:41:46 AM PDT by kaylar
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To: kaylar
My DH just got up. He said that it was February 1989, and the poor man was at the Raytown Hy-Vee, not Price Chopper. The two friends did this because one of them knew his would face arrest and then a revocation hearing , next time he came in for his appointment with his PO. Both friends got life sentences (they pled guilty to this and some unrelated crimes) and are in the death house in MO, though neither is facing a death sentence.
6 posted on 05/26/2002 8:53:54 AM PDT by kaylar
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To: kaylar
I've got a better scenario........

A naked cyborg appears under a bridge then kill some people in a pawn/gun shop.... then goes down a list trying to kill every woman with a similar last name in order to prevent her son from leading humans to defeat the cyborg army.... finally a hero arrives to save the future and has sex with mother????

sound like a movie.... well it really happened in Terminator hahahahahaa

7 posted on 05/26/2002 8:55:45 AM PDT by Dick Vomer
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To: kaylar
I've seen the movie. I'm just not geared for remembering the details. I can watch a movie tonight and in six months I will have forgotten the story and enjoy it again, although I will remember seeing it at least once before.

Movies are an entertainment diversion for me, not something to add to my trivia knowledge base.

8 posted on 05/26/2002 9:03:26 AM PDT by rw4site
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To: Dick Vomer
This murder happened in Raytown, MO in February of 1989. The friends of the murdered man were devastated, and it may have led directly to changes in P & P bylaws, to allow P & P officers officers to carry firearms. The two killers are in Potosi, and no doubt they have families who suffered, too, though not like the friends and family of a man who died for such a stupid, senseless reason.

I will give you the benefit of the doubt , and assume you merely scanned my post and thought I was making up an outrageous plot. If you DID read my post, and still found it necesary to post an inane comment like "hahaha" in reply to a post about a very real murder (albeit an unintentional, freak accident murder) then you are about as low as the two KC thugs doiing time in the level 5.

9 posted on 05/26/2002 9:12:34 AM PDT by kaylar
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To: rw4site
Huh???? It was Eric in the Ozarks who posted about a movie. My account was of a similiar "freak accident" murder, whereby another innocent human being lost his life to a pair of stupid lowlifes, just as your first Maryn Morris was murdered because her killer(s) apparently got her mixed up with a different woman with a very similiar age.
10 posted on 05/26/2002 9:15:49 AM PDT by kaylar
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I meant to type "similiar name ". Hate it when I do that.
11 posted on 05/26/2002 9:17:37 AM PDT by kaylar
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To: kaylar; Eric in the Ozarks
I get confused.;-) See what I mean about remembering movies.

Eric in the Ozarks,
My above post to kaylar was meant for you.

12 posted on 05/26/2002 9:25:44 AM PDT by rw4site
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To: rw4site
It's sad that people can be killed for such stupid, senseless reasons. At least the murdered man in my account has been avenged, as those two thugs are back in prison (and why were people capable of thinking up a d*mb*ss idea as that released on parole anyway?). I hope the two murdered women have their killer(s) caught.
13 posted on 05/26/2002 9:28:49 AM PDT by kaylar
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To: Dick Vomer
Since rw4site had me mixed up with Eric in the Ozarks (he's the one who posted about a film plot similiar to this true case), maybe you did too. Maybe you meant your reply for him . If so, I apologize for flaming you. I thought you were treating my true case as a joke by comparing it to a movie , and I took offense, but if it was for Eric, then your remarks would make sense as he brought up a film murder. I did not know the murdered man, but he was friends with one of my husband's friends, and we saw how his stupid murder affected her. After all these years, when I asked my husband to clarify certain details about the case, he still remembered it all like yesterday. And he told me some things I did NOT know,like exactly how much misery was inflicted on the survivors by the stupid, senseless actions of two career criminals. Basically, this murder may have led directly to another death . So if I misunderstood your reply to me and flamed you unjustly, I'm sorry.
14 posted on 05/26/2002 9:53:44 AM PDT by kaylar
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To: rw4site
Sounds a bit like the original "Terminator" movie.
As in killing any "Sarah Jane Connor" listed in the phone book, in hoping to
get the one the Terminator was after.

Sure it's from a sci-fi movie....but maybe some nutburger was trying the same game.
15 posted on 05/26/2002 4:05:14 PM PDT by VOA
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To: rw4site
It sure sounds like someone put out a contract on Mary Morris. Neither the husband nor the office mate would have mistaken one for the other, but a contract killer might have.

That bit about the ring is a puzzle. I can only account for it--assuming the story is correct--with the theory that the contract killer shot the wrong woman, and then the husband took matters into his own hands and fixed the mistake. But a newspaper article isn't enough to go on, because they are usually riddled with errors.

16 posted on 05/26/2002 4:32:10 PM PDT by Cicero
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To: rw4site
Sounds like the first Terminator movie when Ah-nuld hunted down all the Sarah Connors...
17 posted on 05/26/2002 6:02:08 PM PDT by PJeffQ
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To: rw4site
Authorities are skeptical of any link, but as the women's families grapple with their deaths, they say a connection may be the only explanation.

Pass the donuts, please.

18 posted on 05/26/2002 11:14:28 PM PDT by john in missouri
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