By the time police arrived, it was too late. Inside the smoldering ruins, they found the bodies of Penny, 37, a substitute driver for a local charity, and her sons. They assumed at first that the Caffeys' daughter Erin, a petite 16-year-old who had never been in trouble and often sang solos in church, had also fallen victim. But just hours later, to the horror of everyone who knew the family, she was in custody: a prime suspect in the massacre of her own family. According to authorities she was upset that her parents had forced her to break up with her boyfriend, Charlie Wilkinson, 19, who was also arrested and charged in the murders along with two other local youths, Charles Waid, 20, and his girlfriend, Bobbi Johnson, 18. In a statement to police, Wilkinson said that after the murder, he and Caffey had had sex and then gone to sleep. Police later found her in the fetal position under a pile of clothes in his house. "God help her," says Holly Grant, a friend of Penny's who also knew Erin well. "I don't know what she was thinking."
By all accounts Erin, whose family was deeply religious, appeared to have an excellent relationship with her parents and siblings. "She and her mom were never apart," says Kayla Vierling, 18, a classmate. "She was always real happy." Adds Grant: "Erin loved her brothers. She was very sweet to them." Erin, who is described as somewhat shy and naive, had been homeschooled and had only recently started attending the public high school. She started going out with Wilkinson, a senior, sometime last fall and quickly fell under his spell, much to her parents' displeasure. "It was more about the age difference than anything else," says Grant.
Classmates say that Wilkinson was a complicated figure, easy to anger, argumentative but also a smooth operator. "Charlie is manipulative," says Vierling. "He would convince teachers not to write him up [for infractions]. If he needed money or a ride, he would get it. He had that talent." Meanwhile, neither Johnson nor Waid had ever struck classmates as capable of such a crime. Says one young man outside the Dollar General Store in Emory: "I don't know anybody who didn't get along with Bobbi."
According to a police affidavit, however, the four had been planning the crime for roughly a month. On the night of the murders, according to Wilkinson's statement, Erin, who had already packed her clothes for a getaway, helped quiet one of the family dogs so that Wilkinson and Waid could enter. She and Johnson allegedly waited in the car while her family was killed. In her statement Johnson admitted she knew what was about to happen, while Waid claimed he had been promised $2,000 for helping. Around town, says Grant, she has heard residents wondering how Terry Caffey, who delivers medical equipment, will be able to embrace his daughter again. But she has no doubt that—eventually—he will. "In my heart of hearts, I believe he will love her again," says Grant. "They're that good a people."
- Darla Atlas/Emory,
- Steve Barnes/Emory.
The two killers fell upon the Caffey family in the middle of the night. According to police the intruders first shot the parents, Terry and Penny Caffey, as they slept in their isolated house near Emory, Texas, 70 miles east of Dallas. The couple's two young sons Matthew ("Bubba"), 13, and Tyler, 8, were roused from their upstairs loft by the gunfire, but the killers told the boys to go back to bed—then followed them, shooting one and stabbing both with a sword. Using pocket lighters the men set bedspreads and furniture alight, then fled, certain that their work was done. Amazingly, Terry, 41, shot five times, including in the head, staggered out of the house and crawled 300 yards through the scrub to a neighbor's to summon help.