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Doctored Justice
About the Author: Earl Staggs is a three-time winner of the Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year. He earned all Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIED ACTION. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars. He invites any comments via email at He also invites you to visit his blog site at

Samuel Tredwell still insisted he didn’t kill Sally Hudson. Evidence presented at his trial convinced a jury of his guilt, however, and he would be executed in three weeks. That didn’t concern me at the time. He was not my reason for being in Lawson, Texas.

It was the day after my twenty-ninth birthday and the morning of my third day in Lawson. I’d planned to check out of my hotel and drive thirty miles to Millville to interview Marylou Grimes. Then I’d drive home to Fort Worth and write my article.

After looking around to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, I closed my suitcase and was ready to leave when my phone rang. I knew who it was. I answered with, “Hello, Marcie. How are things in the Big Apple this beautiful morning?”

“Edward,” she said, “are you finished?” Marcie was my agent and not one for small talk.

“I’m finished here. Now I’m on my way to Millville to talk to Marylou Grimes.”

“How’d it go in Lawson?”

“Fine. I talked with a number of people who knew Sally Hudson. Her parents are dead, but her friends and classmates said she was bright, beautiful, and talented. Her church choir director said she had the voice of an angel.”

“Is that all you got?”

Typical Marcie. Never satisfied, always wanting more.

“No, that’s not all. She was an A student, class president, and after graduation, she was going to marry her high school sweetheart.”

Marcie was silent for a moment. Then, “Don’t forget what I told you. The magazine doesn’t want just facts. They want feelings and emotions. They want tears.”

“No problem,” I said. “Several people I interviewed cried when they talked about Sally.”

“Good. Remember, this article will be an impressive credit on your resume and will make it easier for me to sell your next book. How’s that coming along, by the way?”

“Swimmingly,” I said with a grin, knowing how she detested adverbs. It wasn’t. My latest book was treading water between chapters seven and eight.

“If you say so,” she said. “And now you’re off to Millford?”


“Whatever. How do you know the other girl still lives there?”

“Doesn’t matter. If she’s not there, I’ll talk to people who knew her, same as I did here.”

“Call me when you get home.”

She hung up. With Marcie, there were no wasted words, not even goodbye.

Marcie was a topnotch literary agent, but she hadn’t been able to sell my first two books. My characters were cardboard, she said. Lacking emotion and passion, she said. I was good with facts and I was good with plot, but that wasn’t enough. She wanted the characters to cry and bleed and all over the page. She said my latest effort, however, showed promise. Maybe that’s why she used her influence to get this assignment for me. Or maybe she felt sorry for me because I was broke and needed the money.

My assignment was to write an article for True Crime Digest. They didn’t want another article about Tredwell himself. The newspapers and other magazines were flooded with those. They wanted me to write about the victims of the man labeled “The Red River Ripper.” According to trial transcripts, he left his signature on his victims. He carved an “S” across their abdomens. My article would hit newsstands four days before his death sentence was carried out. In the frenzy that always surrounds an execution, the publisher expected to sell a lot of magazines.

Before he crossed the border into Texas, Tredwell lived in Oklahoma. Five teenage girls were missing there under circumstances similar to his two victims in Texas, but since their bodies were never found and they had no solid evidence, he was not charged with their deaths.

For the rape and torture of Marylou Grimes, his first known victim in Texas, Tredwell received a twenty-year sentence. She was found an hour after he dumped her in a wooded area and received medical attention in time to save her life. That sentence didn’t matter since on top of it, he received the death penalty for the murder of Sally Hudson. Marylou’s description of him led to his capture, but not until a week after Sally’s death.

As I grabbed my suitcase and headed for the door, I spotted a white envelope someone had apparently slid under the door. Inside the envelope, I found a copy of a Medical Examiner’s Report on the remains of Sally Hudson. The report was dated the day her body was found.

This story appears in our SEP2018 Issue
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