Humble Texas, approximate population of 15,616 citizens, represents a smaller country style town located outside the Metropolitan city of Houston, known nationally as H-Town, where over three million people reside. Both cities are in Harris County jurisdiction. North of Houston off I-59 Eastex Freeway, Humble got its southern name from a Louisiana Wildcatter, historically known as Pleasant Smith Humble. Founded in the early 1900s, this small Texas town also bears the name of Humble Oil, a historic petroleum refinery that later became World renowned Exxon Mobile in 1973.
On a dark, cold morning of January 27th 1991, when humankind lurk behind the shadows of darkness to carry out evil, Harris County Sheriff Department Homicide Detective Curtis Lee Brown was home asleep, when suddenly, a telephone rang loudly, jarring him awake. Brown instinctively knew early morning phone calls in his line of work spelled trouble.
A Sheriff Department dispatch operator informed Brown that a female had been found dead outside a residential driveway at 18806 Pine Trace Court in Atascocita South Subdivision in Humble.
“Witnesses who found the body are on the scene,” the cordial dispatcher told Brown. “Okay I’m on my way,” Brown replied.
Brown, a 6″5, 250 pound lawman, flipped on a bedside lamp, grabbed a notepad, and wrote down the information. Rising up from bed, Brown stretched, and quietly exhaled an early morning yawn, while proceeding to dress for the occasion that lay ahead.
Police work operates around the clock and no matter how severe or pleasant the weather, there were no barriers for a lawman to hunt down murderers. For Detective Curtis Brown, no matter how brutal or sad a situation, when a person’s life is taken, it was just another simple day in the life of a homicide investigator.
Arriving at the scene around 5:00 am, Brown observed the obvious: police cruisers, fellow officers, grieving relatives, an ambulance, yellow-crime scene tape that limited access near the body, and a white-colored Harris County Medical Examiner’s van.
The deceased victim was identified as 42-year-old Ida Mae Lane. Relatives told Brown that Ida Lane recently separated from her husband and that she had been living at the address with her sister where she was found dead. Detective Brown conferred with Harris County Constable Precinct#4 Deputy W.A. Guy.
“The complainant was found in the driveway by two young men as they drove by the residence,” Deputy Guy informed the detective.
Approaching the driveway, Brown observed the victim lying face-up in a north-to-south position, with her feet pointed to the north.
The head of the victim was positioned to the south, with her right-arm raised toward her head.
Mrs. Lane’s right-hand clutched a key ring. It appeared she’d been shot in the head.
Crime Scene Investigation
Sheriff Department CSI investigator Glen Talmadge immediately began conducting a thorough crime scene investigation. First, this CSI technician roped off the scene with yellow crime scene tape and started taking 35mm photographs of the driveway where the victim was found, the sidewalk leading into the driveway where he retrieved blood drops.
Standing in the driveway CSI Talmadge took photos of the body. Thereafter the CSI tech recovered the following evidence for later testing at crime lab.
(1) blood near the intersection of the driveway including blood found on the sidewalk leading into the driveway.
(2) blood drops were also found on the sidewalk between 18806 (body found here) and 18810 Pine Trace Court.
(3) Assorted items from the victim’s purse such as a cigarette pack, lighter, lipstick and makeup pencil.
A physical check of the body showed the woman sustained a long “brush burn” on her left knee which suggested she injured her knee possibly on the driveway or sidewalk while struggling with the killer.
Personal contents in the victim’s purse were scattered on the driveway and her torn black pantyhose was accounted for by the injury on her knee.
As a white-colored Medical Examiner van transported the body to the morgue for an autopsy, the victim’s relatives wailed in grief as the van disappeared from view. Meanwhile CSI Talmadge completed his crime scene duties and left the scene.
Detective Brown had another idea. He continued to search the scene for evidence. Armed with a heavy duty flashlight he walked slowly along the street to see if he could detect more blood, then finally, he stumbled upon a small red substance approximately the size of a nickel.
A hunch told the veteran detective the small red drop was blood. But there was a problem. He had no tools to retrieve a small drop of possible blood. So he decided to fetch a “cotton q-tip” from a neighbor. Returning to the spot, Brown used the q-tip to swab the blood drop.
Subsequently the blood sample was sent to the M.E. office for testing. But a toxicologist expert would later explain the blood drop was too small to identify exact blood type. Unbeknownst to Brown, if future DNA science proved worthy, this same blood drop might produce the linchpin to solve the case.
Neighbors and Witnesses Interviewed
Pamela Lynn Wickes lived at 18802 Pine Trace located near where the victim was murdered. She told Brown: “Around 3:00 am, I was awakened by sounds of firecracker pops. I could hear voices but could not understand what they were saying.”
Brown asked the woman, “Were the voices male or female?”
“It sounded like a man and a woman arguing,” the witness answered.
“By the time,” Mrs. Wicke added, “that I looked out my upstairs bedroom window I could only see the taillights of an older model, dark colored car.”
Leonatta Fontenot who lived on the same street at 18819 Pine Trace told Brown she was also “awakened by a woman screaming followed by ‘two pops’ that sounded like firecrackers.”
Once Fontenot peeped out from her upstairs window she recalled seeing a “dark colored, large-size, old model vehicle leaving at a high rate of speed.”
Another witness, Christine Willis, said a loud scream of a woman’s voice awakened her at 3:00 am. After the scream stopped, Willis said she heard ‘two pops,’ and then, she heard dogs barking.
“Did you see a car?” Brown asked politely. “No, I did not see a car,” the woman stated.
A man employed as a district manager in charge of delivering newspaper bundles to his carriers gave the following statement.
“While making a delivery in the Atascocita subdivision I noticed a vehicle had followed me into the division from interstate# 59 and FM 1960.” Anticipating a possible robbery the newspaper distributor stopped his vehicle to back it up into a driveway.
“At this time I noticed an older-model, green colored vehicle cruising very slow past the driveway where I was sitting; the person drove on down into the subdivision.”
“Could you see who was driving the vehicle?” Brown queried. “I saw a light-skinned, either White or Hispanic person, behind the wheel.”
Dominque Brown (no kin to Detective Brown) said he was with a friend named Josh – while driving his parents’ vehicle past the house when he spotted a woman lying in the driveway.
“Once we saw the woman, I stopped the car, then we got out, walked over to where the woman was lying, and at first, we thought she was drunk.”
Dominque said a girl named Shelly lived at the house with her mother Annie Bullard. Bullard was the sister of the deceased Ida Lane. Ida had been living there after breaking up with her husband. After Dominque pressed the doorbell several times, Shelly finally answered.
“Shelly,” the young man said, “there’s a woman in your driveway.”
Approaching the lifeless woman, Shelly screamed, “mama, its aunt Ida out here. She’s been shot!”
One relative checked for pulse and found none. As the relative examined the victim’s body they noticed blood leaking from her head.
“Oh God, she’s been shot!” Ida’s sister, Annie cried out. A 911 call contacted paramedics. Upon arrival they worked on the wounded woman, yet to no avail. Ida Mae Lane was officially pronounced DOA (Dead On Arrival).
Relative Annie Bullard told Detective Brown that Ida had been having problems with her estranged husband named James Lane. The victim had moved in with her before the New Year.
“Ida was afraid of James and he’d threatened to kill her with a gun not too long ago. He was possessive, manipulative and just crazy,” Bullard explained to Brown.
Interviewing relatives, Brown soon established the victim had earlier gone to a club in Southeast Houston with a friend named Mary, and apparently returned to her sister’s home sometime after 2:00 am.
Annie Bullard revealed more questionable issues about the behavior of Ida’s estranged husband.
“Last night James called Ida several times, begging her to come back home, and she hung up on him each time.”
“He called again around 8:00 pm, asking to speak to Ida but I told him she was gone out with a female friend,” Bullard further said.
Enraged, James Lane cursed Annie, telling her she was lying and that Ida was with another man instead.
“James, please listen, Ida is with her girlfriend Mary.” Annie said in a soothing tone hoping to convince her sister’s jealous husband that she was truthful.
“She’s with a man,” James shouted into the phone; before slamming the receiver down in Annie’s face.
“Where does James Lane live?” Brown asked the sister. “He lives on Stonehedge and we just got a call from his sister Linda. She said James was on his way over here.”
Leaving the scene, Detective Brown traveled to 7023 Ten Curves Road in Spring Texas to talk with James Lane at his sister’s home located a few miles away from the murder scene. Relatives of Ida Mae Lane were critical of her estranged husband James Lane for not being at the scene to at least show concern about what happened to his murdered wife.
Once Brown entered the residence he politely introduced himself to Lane and the house owner, Linda Wood. Lane greeted Brown and the detective spoke of Lane’s wife found dead hours earlier in her sister’s driveway.
What alarmed Brown was Lane’s unusual demeanor.
“James Lane was so nervous he started ‘shaking’ … his speech heavily slurred.”
When Brown explained to Lane how important he needed to get his statement Lane agreed to ride with Brown to Harris County Homicide Division located near downtown on Lockwood.
Brown told crime reporter Clarence Walker that when Lane got into his vehicle that he noticed Lane sweating heavily,and becoming increasingly more nervous, while watching Brown’s holstered .45 caliber automatic.
“This is when I decided to pull over and call a patrol car to transport him to homicide division.” Inside the office Brown asked Lane if he needed something to drink. Lane declined.
As Lane sat in Brown’s cubicle, the detective photographed a peculiar wound on Lane’s left hand. “How your hand got cut?” Brown asked point blank. “I was exercising on a bike in my home and I fell off and hurt my hand.”
Brown went straight to the point. “We have a problem here, your wife been killed, you are nervous, the wound on your hand is fresh and I want to know what happened.”
“Are you willing to give a statement so we can clear things up because everyone pointing the finger at you.” Brown told the suspect. Still nervous, Lane looked at Brown, and deadpanned, “I don’t want to make a statement.”
Although disappointed, Brown followed legal procedures by terminating the interview and made arrangements for a patrol car to transport Lane back home. A little peeved, Brown warned the suspect, “You’re still a prime suspect. Don’t forget that.”
Later on, when Brown returned to work, he brainstorm the case with fellow officers. What deepened the mystery surrounding the death of Ida Lane was the fact that suspect James Lane made physical contact with the victim shortly before she was murdered. Investigators theorized: had Lane grabbed his wife – after she got out of her friend’s car and either walked towards the front door or garage door which led into her sister’s home. Also Det. Brown questioned how and when the suspect sustained the noticeable wound on the inside of his hand – right below the thumb.
“He must’ve been waiting somewhere on the street where she lived with her sister because the newspaper guy saw a light-skinned man (White or Hispanic) … sitting inside an older model, green-colored Plymouth type car … parked backward in a driveway.” Evidence later proved suspect Lane owned a Plymouth vehicle that matched the description given by the witness. Brown further surmised that when Lane confronted his unsuspecting wife that he most likely grabbed her from behind, and dragged her down the the sidewalk. Brown’s theory corroborated the evidence because blood drops were found on the sidewalk that extend across the driveway where a witness discovered her body.
“As Lane was pulling the victim down the sidewalk, with his arm around her neck, trying to get her into his car, so they could talk, the woman probably took a sharp object out of her purse and stabbed Lane in his hand,” Brown explained to Sgt Bruce Williams and Det Norman Welsh. Brown had already photographed the fresh wound on Lane’s hand. Brown suggested, “Or when Lane had her in the car; he probably held her head to control her, and she stabbed his ass to make him let go of her, and he shot her in the head, right behind the ear.” Autopsy subsequently proved the gunshot wound to Ida Lane’s head was a very close contact wound.
Investigators agreed suspect James Lane risked being spotted when he put his wife’s lifeless body down in the driveway.
“Her shoes were still on and she had keys in her hand,” Brown pointed out, to illustrate Lane’s careful handling of the body.
Prime Suspect James Lane Comes Forward
Two weeks passed since Ida Mae Lane had been found shot dead in her sister’s driveway. In between time while working other investigations, Brown continued to probe behind the scenes to track down clues to nail Ida’s husband, James Edward Lane.
One night, Brown sneaked over to Lane’s residence and stole Lane’s trash off the road to search for evidence related to a .32 caliber pistol or possibly find sufficient amount of blood on a towel or rag.
“I know he did it but I didn’t quite have enough to charge him,” Brown told this journalist during the ongoing murder investigation. Despite poking through Lane’s trash, the detective drew a blank: nothing of value found in the suspect’s trash can.
Valentine’s day of February 1991 was soon approaching, and special moments of intimacy peaked for couples anticipating to spend quality time with companions. Detective Brown was one intimate fellow. He envisioned spending a nice romantic evening with his lovely financee, a woman he vowed to marry.
Still Ida Lane’s death tugged at Brown’s heart. Romance aside, Brown’s bull-dog determination forced him to work harder to bring closure for the woman’s only son, her siblings, and those who loved her most.
When Brown received word that Lane agreed to come in and give a statement, the lawman was ecstatic. Brown was hoping that during questioning the suspect would trip up so badly that he would trap himself in a web of lies and contradictions, and finally break down and confess.
Brown’s vision never played out because the savvy, deceptive James Lane showed up at the homicide office with a lawyer. Disappointed again, Brown cursed under his breath.
In hindsight, Brown says, “Lane would’ve been foolish to admit guilt with a lawyer there to prevent him from saying anything incriminating.”
Detective Norman P. Welsh assisted Brown by taking a statement from the suspect. Seated inside a cubicle clogged up with case files containing murder investigations, multiple-phone lines, a well-worn looking desk, with a computer on top; Welsh read Lane his Miranda warning, while Lane’s attorney Harry J. Fleming and Detective Brown watched.
Lane told detectives the following story: “On January 27th 1991 – I arrived around 8:00 pm at my sister’s house, Linda Wood, who lived at 7023 Ten Curves. “We ate dinner, had a couple of drinks, and then we watched wrestling on TV.”
Lane said he left his sister’s house around 11:30 p.m. , and made it home on Stonehedge Drive, about ten minutes later.
After sipping two more beers, Lane claimed he lay down across his bed when his phone rang approximately 4:00 am. On the line was Lane’s sister-in-law Mattie Lagrone. Lagrone spoke frantically, “James, you must get over here. Ida been found dead in Annie’s driveway.”
Claiming the news shocked him, suspect Lane said he quickly contacted his sister Linda Woods, who volunteered to pick him up from home, and drive him over to the crime scene.
After a brief debate over the phone with his sister over whether to visit the scene, Lane instead decided to drive himself over to his sister’s house where he sipped coffee. Lane further recalled how Detective Brown called him at his sister’s home, and that Brown asked Lane to meet him at the scene.
“He refused to come,” Brown later said in a media interview with this reporter. Lane eventually persuaded his sister to drive over to the scene to check things out without him.
Brown commented later to other detectives, “It looks suspicious when a husband’s wife is murdered and the husband won’t come to the scene to see what happened.” Lane admitted owning a 1975, green Plymouth vehicle.
Yet when asked by the investigator to provide the license plate number, Lane replied, “I don’t know.”
Referring to his deceased wife, Lane said they’d been separated about five weeks. “And the last time we had disagreement was on Christmas day(1990)” … “when she came to our home on Stonehedge to pick up her belongings.”
Recalling how a series of events threatened to end his marriage to the deceased victim, Lane recalled the particular argument when Ida Lane called the police to help her retrieve her clothes and other personal effects from the home she shared with her husband.
Once the officer explained to Mr Lane that Ida’s clothes were her own community property, Lane finally cooled off, allowing Ida to retrieve her belongings from the house.
During Lane’s interview he denied murdering his wife and further denied knowing who may have wanted her dead.
Finally completing his statement, Lane politely thanked the detectives for wasting their time and left the homicide office without looking back, with his lawyer trailing behind him.
In a conference with Sergeant Bruce Williams and Det. Welsh, Detective Brown, referring to circumstantial evidence against the suspected killer, Brown said, “He’s a low-down, lying, piece of shit!”
According to Brown, Lane had the motive due to his extreme jealousy towards his wife, and previously threatening to kill her with a gun. Brown also pointed out how the victim told relatives that her husband pulled a gun on her on New Year’s Eve.
“And on the morning Lane’s wife was murdered – Lane had no credible explanation about the fresh puncture wound on his hand,” Brown articulated to his colleagues in a matter-of-fact tone.
Another critical point: Lane drove an old-model, green colored car that matched the description of the vehicle seen on the street where the victim was killed.
Brown further uncovered the fact that Ida mentioned to relatives that Lane apparently kept possession of a .32 caliber weapon she purchased a few years earlier because the weapon was not among her belongings. Ida also told her relatives that her husband had pulled the gun on her earlier that New Year’s eve day, when she attempted to pick up her clothes before the police came, and that Lane threatened to shoot her with it.
An autopsy of Ida Lane’s body subsequently proved she was shot to death with a .32 caliber bullet.
Despite insurmountable odds, Brown pressed forward. Like a skilled chess master, Brown made a quick move to execute a search warrant to have blood, hair and saliva samples taken from Lane. A second search warrant prepared by Brown allowed him to have CSI investigators process Lane’s car for possible clues.
Harris County Assistant DA Dan Rizzo drafted Brown’s warrant affidavit and Judge Ted Poe signed off on the documents. When Lane showed up later at the medical division to have his blood taken, he played a clever trick on Brown.
Once the nurse drew Lane’s blood he looked skeptically at Brown and said, “Do you have my car?”
Stunned, Brown shot back, “No, I don’t have your car.”
“Why?” Brown asked Lane in a stern voice. Lane shot back, “Because it was stolen from my garage!”
Anger consumed Brown. Not only was Brown unable to arrest this guilty guy, the expletive S.O.B. accused him of stealing his old-school, jalopy Plymouth. Common sense told Brown the suspect probably reported the car stolen to prevent police from searching it because the car possibly contained incriminating evidence.
A quick search showed Lane had in fact reported his car stolen.
When Brown notified Harris County Precinct#4 Sergeant Blair of the situation involving the ongoing murder investigation, Brown stressed the importance of finding Lane’s car. The Constable officers scoured the area where Lane lived and struck pay dirt. The green colored Plymouth Fury, license# 274-ZQR, was found parked undisturbed at an apartment complex located at 13000 Bammel Road in North Houston.
A wrecker truck driver towed the vehicle to Harris County Sheriff Department where CSI Glen Talmadge immediately observed blood in the car. Talmadge notified Brown.
“What you got?” Brown asked the CSI deputy.
“Found blood on the head-rest attached to the passenger seat; blood from window frame on the passenger side including blood on the seat belt,” Talmadge reported to Brown.
CSI Talmadge further told Brown there was no signs of forced entry into the vehicle nor damage to the ignition to suggest a thief actually stole the car.
Will Blood Tell?
Blood evidence is the most common and most important evidence capable of helping law enforcement solve crimes. Besides fingerprints there’s not many other forms of trace evidence to substitute for blood analysis.
By using blood samples, scientists around the world revolutionized DNA forensic testing, a powerful tool capable of freeing accused criminals or helping police to capture criminals.
Type A and O are the most common blood type in the human population – with ‘AB’ type as the most rare. In 1985 British Professor Alec Jeffreys of the University of Leicester in England first discovered that each person had a genetic fingerprint in ‘his or her’ DNA profile.
In 1987 a Florida rapist became the first person in the United States convicted on DNA evidence.
Only limited DNA testing existed in 1991 when Ida Mae Lane was murdered in Texas. Unfortunately, the HCSO (Harris County Sheriff Office) was not using DNA science in criminal investigations. Instead the department relied on simple blood typing by Harris County Medical Examiner Office, a historical facility located on OST Boulevard in Southeast Houston.
Comparison of the suspect’s blood with the victim’s blood recovered at the crime scene produced inconclusive results. A Toxicologist report further showed Ida Lane’s blood type was AB – and James Lane’s blood type was B-positive. Ida’s AB blood was found in Lane’s car. In hindsight, this particular incriminating evidence should’ve been sufficient enough, combined with the suspicious cut on the hand of James Lane, the prime suspect, to bring charges against him.
Detective Brown’s adrenaline level pumped harder than a Texas oil drill upon hearing the victim’s blood was found in the suspect’s car.
“Ida’s blood in her husband’s car suggest he shot her in the car,” Brown speculated to fellow officers. Brown was ready and gung-ho to get a murder warrant.
But Harris County Toxicologist expert Pam Mcginnis shattered Brown’s hope to make a case. She ticked off a checklist of questionable evidence:
“Blood found on the victim’s body was her own AB blood,” Mcginnis told Brown. “And all the blood of Mrs. Lane found either in the car or anywhere on the scene,” the expert explained, “all his blood, when tested, it showed type-O blood mixed in with the AB blood,” Mcginnis said.
What did this really mean? Brown desperately wanted to know. Mcginnis’ interpretation of the blood confused him. He needed clarity immediately.
“My suspect’s blood is B-positive; not type-O.” Brown said. Mcginnis alleviated Brown’s confusion when she added, “Once the suspect’s B-positive blood is typed for comparison with the victim’s AB blood type to see if his blood is mixed with hers – the results gives a different reading of type-O.”
Mcginnis gave her final analysis. “Of all the blood collected from the scene with the exception of a tiny blood sample found in the car that belonged to the suspect, the majority of identified blood belonged to Mrs. Lane.”
“What about the blood sample that I found in the road?” Brown asked the toxicologist. “It was such a small drop I could not get a reading on it.”
“There’s not enough of Lane’s B-positive blood at the scene, so it cannot be proven he was there,” Mcginnis concluded.
Shocking news over lack of blood to put Lane on the scene struck Brown hard. Deep in his heart he knew James Lane was a murderer but he didn’t quite have all the evidence to prove it.
Feeling he’d let the victim’s relatives down, Brown mustered enough courage to inform the grieving relatives that he had nothing solid to nail Lane for Ida’s murder. Once Brown explained the situation the relatives grew despondent. One individual vowed to seek revenge against Lane.
Life Goes On in Bayou City of Houston
Meanwhile other murders occurred in Houston. Ida Lane’s murder was just one of many cases Brown had worked after transferring to homicide division in 1990. Brown was part of a seven-man team in the murder squad and he was the seventh man working many cases alone, unless he requested assistance. Of all the mayhem throughout Houston – Harris County, Brown gained valuable experience working many murder investigations which gave Brown an impressive clearance rate.
Often Brown thought of James Lane roaming around the fringes of society as a free man, perhaps thinking the law wasn’t smart enough to catch him – while the body of Ida Mae Lane, unable to seek justice, deteriorated into dust.
Perhaps time was the best cure. Yet Brown sometimes wondered if he overlooked something. He had given the case the best of his ability to make a case against the killer. There was no solid eyewitness, no smoking gun, no confession, and even the blood could not tell the absolute truth.
Determined to pursue justice to its final conclusion, Brown was not a quitter, not even twelve years later in 2003, when internal politics within the department’s command staff worked against him by transferring the veteran detective from homicide to warrant division, then later, Brown briefly transferred to burglary and theft, and finally he landed a permanent spot in the robbery squad.
Periodically, Brown checked on Lane’s status and eventually he discovered Lane had remarried and was employed at the city’s public transportation company that paid a hefty salary. Life was grand for Mr. Lane and while he walked free in society, justice for Ida Mae Lane echoed from the cold grave.
But it wasn’t over yet because there’s power in the blood.
Next Series (Part-2): Did a Killer Commit the Perfect Murder?
Any Comments or Questions? Contact Crime Author Clarence Walker