Articles about these murders from the 
Houston Chronicle

SUN 06/17/90

Police seeking missing sisters

Authorities are searching for two sisters, ages 16 and 9, who disappeared four days ago near their southern Montgomery County home. Gracie Purnhagen, 16, and her sister, Tiffany, 9, were last seen at 8:45 p.m. Wednesday outside the Oak Ridge Fair Lanes Bowling Alley in the 27000 block of Interstate 45 North, their mother, Linda Purnhagen, said Saturday. Friends of the missing girls told police the two were seen in the parking lot of the Woodlands-area bowling alley, talking to two men in a white pickup truck with a blue stripe, Mrs. Purnhagen said. Oak Ridge North police are continuing their investigation, but preliminary investigation does not suggest foul play, a spokesman said. "It's a nightmare," Mrs. Purnhagen said of the disappearances. "I can't even describe it. This only happens to other people.' Mrs. Purnhagen said she and her husband, Art, gave their daughters money Wednesday night to have dinner and see a movie near their Oak Ridge North home, while they took their sons, Art, 14, and Teddy, 11, to an auto racetrack. When the couple and their sons returned about 2 a.m. to their home in the 27000 block of Pyeatt, the girls were not there, Mrs. Purnhagen said. "Gracie has an 11 o'clock curfew, and she is normally never late," she said. "She would have been earlier (that night) because she had the baby (Tiffany) with her.' After searching the house for the girls and calling neighbors, the Purnhagens called the police. Police searched, but failed to find the girls, Mrs. Purnhagen said. She said the FBI is also involved in the search. You're left feeling totally helpless," the girls' mother said. "There's nothing you can really do. Everything is hurry-up-and-wait. You can't do anything else, you just gotta wait. It's driving me crazy.' The girls' father owns a racing-car parts business. Mrs. Purnhagen, who manages a health spa, said her daughters have neither disappeared nor run away in the past. "And Tiffany is afraid of the dark. She's a mama's baby," the mother said. "And if, by any chance, Grace was going to run away, she had money in the house ... and it's still here. And she sure wouldn't have taken a 9-year-old with her.' Tiffany just completed the third grade at Oak Ridge Elementary School, and Gracie just finished the ninth grade at Oak Ridge High School. Both schools are in the Conroe Independent School District. Gracie, who was last seen wearing a gray-and-white striped shirt, gray shorts and tennis shoes, is 5-foot-5 and weighs 110 to 115 pounds. She has long, dark-blonde hair, blue eyes, and a scar on the left side of her throat, under her chin. Tiffany, last seen wearing a black shirt, cutoff jeans and black shoes, is 4-foot-8 and weighs approximately 60 pounds. She has dark, shoulder-length brown hair, brown eyes - one of them a lazy eye - an overbite and a scar on her forehead. "I keep thinking they're going to walk in the door any minute, but I know they're not," Mrs. Purnhagen said. Anyone with information about the girls should contact Oak Ridge North Police at 292-4762.

MON 06/18/90

Pair arrested in slaying of two girls/Bodies of sisters discovered

A Montgomery County juvenile and a 20-year-old construction worker were arrested Sunday and charged in the slayings of two young Oak Ridge North sisters missing since Wednesday.  An anonymous caller led sheriff's officials to the decomposed bodies of Gracie Purnhagen, 16, and Tiffany, 9, late Saturday night in a wooded area off Rayford Road in south Montgomery County. Sheriff's officials said the juvenile suspect, a 16-year-old male also from Oak Ridge North, a South Montgomery County suburb, is a former boyfriend of Gracie and reportedly told friends of his involvement in the girls' disappearance. The teen was arrested in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, where he was with his father visiting relatives. A judge issued an order of immediate custody alleging capital murder and aggravated sexual assault. However, a juvenile cannot be charged with capital murder. The other suspect, Richard Scott Schuschu, a New Caney construction worker, was arrested outside the Kingsway Motel in New Caney on Sunday and charged with capital murder and aggravated sexual assault. Sheriff's spokesman Bob Morrison said he did not know if both girls had been sexually assaulted. He said their bodies were too decomposed to tell immediately how and when the girls died, but it is believed they may have been slain the night they disappeared. A rope and cinder blocks were found in the suspects' car, indicating they may have planned to return and dispose of the bodies, he said. Morrison said he understood that the teen "fled and had to be apprehended" when Louisiana authorities went to arrest him. "We don't really have a clear-cut motive as yet (in the killings)," Morrison said. "The 16-year-old was talking to certain friends and individuals and was alluding to his and Mr. Schuschu's part in the murders.' There had not been any apparent problems or disagreements between the teen and Gracie Purnhagen, Morrison said. Family members said the girls' parents, who circulated fliers during the search for their children, were too distraught Sunday to talk. But a cousin said the family's sorrow is tinged with anger. "They do want justice," said Sal Rampelli. "We all want that - to find whoever did this. They feel they should go through the same thing their children went through.' The sisters were last seen by their mother, Linda Purnhagen, about 8:45 p.m. Wednesday at the Oak Ridge Fair Lanes Bowling Alley in the 27000 block of Interstate 45 North. The bowling alley is less than a half mile from the girls' home in the 27200 block of Pyeatt in the comfortable Oak Ridge North community near The Woodlands. Late Sunday afternoon, the girls' older sister stopped by the lanes to remove the fliers. The girls had been given money by their mother and father, Art Purnhagen , to see a movie near their home while they took two sons, Art, 14 and Teddy, 11, to an auto racetrack. Friends saw the girls speaking Wednesday night outside the bowling alley with two men in a white pickup that bore a blue stripe. However, sheriff's investigators have impounded a station wagon. A worker at the bowling alley said Gracie Purnhagen, who just finished ninth-grade at Oak Ridge High School, often spent time there talking with friends or in the game room. Friends and neighbors said the girls were typical youngsters - a teen-age girl who liked to talk about boys, and a happy, soon-to-be fourth-grader at Oak Ridge Elementary who liked to swim and play tag. "Tiffany, she's just a sweetheart, just a loving, giving child," said neighbor Anna Fenton. "They were just normal kids. They had a good relationship. Gracie was the more outgoing. Tiffany was more shy and reserved.' In describing her daughters on the fliers, their mother included a line about her teen that read: "Very trusting.' Family friends said investigators had to rely on dental records and fingerprints to identify the bodies.  "It's hard to believe it happens, but it does happen anywhere and everywhere - no matter what kind of home you live in," Fenton said. "People that deranged really don't care where you come from. It bothers you to see other children missing, but when it's someone you know, it really hits home.'


Message on suspect's car: `Help'

CONROE - The word "Help" was scrawled on a dusty window in a station wagon owned by a suspect in the slayings of two Montgomery County sisters, court documents showed Monday. Authorities have seized the station wagon, owned by Richard Scott "Rich" Schuschu, who is charged in the killings of Gracie Purnhagen, 16, and her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany. Sheriff's detectives said Schuschu is a close friend of Delton Dowthitt, a 16-year-old former boyfriend of Gracie Purnhagen. Dowthitt was being held Monday in the county Juvenile Detention Center after sheriff's detectives brought him back from Metairie, La., for questioning about the girls' deaths. The sisters were reported missing by their parents early Thursday after failing to return to their Oak Ridge North home in south Montgomery County. They were last seen Wednesday night at a nearby shopping center. Their decomposed bodies were found in a wooded area a few miles from the center Saturday night when an informant led investigators to the site off Rayford Road. Schuschu, a 20-year-old construction worker, was arrested at a New Caney motel Sunday and has been charged with capital murder and aggravated sexual assault. He was denied bond on the murder charge. Bond on the sexual assault charge was set at $100,000. Though he denied involvement in the slayings, authorities said Schuschu's station wagon will be searched for evidence at a crime laboratory. Court papers show that the message on the station wagon was written on the inside of the rear window. Investigators did not release Dowthitt's name because he is a juvenile, but sources close to the investigation confirmed he is a suspect in the slayings. Sources also said Dowthitt, who lived in south Montgomery County and Humble, has a history of juvenile offenses, including at least one sexual assault allegation. Acquaintances of Dowthitt described him as "an outlaw" and "a very bad kid.' "I don't even want to discuss him. He's very bad news," said Tim Milstead, 17, who once dated Gracie Purnhagen. Sheriff Joe Corley said Schuschu gave a statement denying involvement in the murders and the apparent rape of Gracie Purnhagen.  "He has indicated some involvement after the fact. That is, he says he was going to help the juvenile dispose of the bodies," Corley said. "They had some cinder blocks and rope and were going to dispose of the bodies in a creek or whatever. But he indicated that the bodies were so deteriorated that they didn't go through with it." Corley said the cause of Gracie's death had not been determined because of the body's condition. However, court records indicate Schuschu told a friend that Gracie's throat was slashed. The sheriff said there was no indication that Tiffany, apparently strangled, was sexually assaulted. Investigators said no clear motive for the slayings has been established. "I assume it was sexual assault, since the 16-year-old girl was assaulted," Corley said. "I don't know if it was premeditated or just what happened. We don't know if the girls went with them willingly or if they were abducted. We don't know at what point or exactly where they were killed." Court documents indicate that Schuschu had led a friend to the wooded site where the bodies were dumped. Schuschu also told two people that he and Dowthitt had picked the girls up at the Fair Lanes Bowling Alley in Oak Ridge North, the documents state. Corley said the juvenile suspect, who had what he described as a "stormy, on-again, off-again relationship" with Gracie, apparently had arranged a meeting with her at the bowling alley. Gracie's friends reportedly saw her talking to two men in a white pickup outside the bowling alley Wednesday night, but Corley said the rope and cinder blocks linking the suspects to the crime were found in Schuschu's station wagon. He said investigators have not confirmed that Gracie was talking to occupants of a truck or that anyone other than Schuschu and Dowthitt were involved in the slayings. Dowthitt was taken into custody by Louisiana authorities in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, where he had traveled with his father to visit relatives. Corley said the youth was arrested after trying to escape the authorities. Montgomery County Attorney Jim Dozier said Dowthitt will be arraigned today. He said he will seek to have the boy certified to stand trial as an adult. The girls' mother, Linda Purnhagen, declined comment on the case. Services for the girls have been set for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Robert Holt Funeral Chapel in Houston.

WED 06/20/90

Teen says he killed two sisters - other suspect will be released

CONROE - A youth's confession to the rape-slaying of his girlfriend - and the killing of her sister - will apparently mean freedom for a man who schemed to dispose of the bodies. Delton Dowthitt, 16, was arraigned on capital murder and aggravated sexual assault charges under the juvenile code Tuesday after confessing to the slayings of Gracie Purnhagen, 16, and her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany. Dowthitt told investigators in a videotaped statement that he "snapped" into a violent rage after Gracie Purnhagen broke off their relationship. Because of the statement, charges will be dropped against Richard Scott Schuschu, 20, - even though he conspired to help hide the bodies and even took friends to see them. "Texas has no accessory-after-the-fact law. To be an accomplice of any kind, he (Schuschu) would have had to be involved (in the slayings)," Montgomery County District Attorney Peter Speers said. "Covering up the crime doesn't make you an accomplice. From what the facts of the case now appear to be, there will be no new charges filed (against Schuschu).' In fact, Speers said he intends today to dismiss the capital murder and aggravated sexual assault charges filed against Schuschu earlier this week. He added, however, that he will recommend Schuschu be placed under a material-witness bond to ensure that he's available as a witness if and when Dowthitt goes to trial. "It's clear he's an important witness to the whole thing. He saw the bodies," Speers said. Dowthitt's statement untangled a web of events that began taking shape one week ago, when the Purnhagen sisters were last seen outside the Fair Lanes Bowling Alley near their Oak Ridge North home. Sheriff Joe Corley said Dowthitt raped and strangled Gracie Purnhagen, then stabbed her several times with a pocketknife, because she told him she was moving with her family to North Carolina and wanted to break off their relationship. Tiffany, who was strangled, was along for a ride with her big sister and was a victim of circumstances, Corley said. "They (Dowthitt and Gracie) had a stormy relationship," Corley said. "It seems he's very possessive of his girlfriends. He became enraged.' Because of his age, authorities have not released Dowthitt's name. Sources close to the investigation have confirmed he is the suspect in the killings, however. Corley said Dowthitt picked up the girls at the bowling alley about 10:30 p.m. and drove to a nearby wooded area behind the Imperial Oaks subdivision. "They got out of the truck to discuss their future and their problems," Corley said. "She told him she was moving to North Carolina. They fought. He stabbed her several times and choked her with his hands. "The 9-year-old got out, and he strangled her with his hands.' Corley said he was uncertain of the exact chain of events, but noted that Gracie was sexually assaulted at some point during the incident. Tiffany was not sexually assaulted, he said. Dowthitt placed the bodies, head to head, in the woods and drove to his Humble apartment, Corley said. He confided in his friend Schuschu, with whom he had worked construction jobs, and Schuschu agreed to help him dispose of the bodies, Corley said. The pair returned to the woods in Schuschu's station wagon in the pre-dawn hours Saturday, planning to dump the bodies in water with wire and cinder blocks, the sheriff said. For unknown reasons, however, they did not dispose of the bodies. While leaving, Schuschu was stopped by a sheriff's deputy a short distance from the site and arrested on outstanding traffic warrants. Dowthitt was remanded to the custody of his mother, Corley said. "After Schuschu got out of jail, they got back together and went back to the scene with shovels," Corley said. Again, possibly because they "lacked the courage" or because the bodies were decomposed, the pair did not move or hide the bodies, Corley said. But the case came together for investigators because Schuschu told friends what Dowthitt had done, and he took two friends to the scene and showed them the bodies, the sheriff said. "Fortunately, some of these people related what all they knew to police," said Speers. Art Purnhagen, the girls' father, said he did not know Dowthitt. "He was in the house here one time months ago," said Purnhagen . "If it was a relationship with Gracie, it was a secret one. I don't know where this big relationship came from, unless it's in his mind.' Purnhagen and his wife, Linda, reported the girls missing when they returned home from a car race about 2 a.m. Thursday. He said Gracie was supposed to be baby-sitting Tiffany on an outing and had been expected to honor an 11 p.m. curfew. "When your daughter goes out, there's no way you can control who they're with," Purnhagen said. "The bad thing is, Gracie was so trusting.'

THU 06/21/90

Second suspect in sisters' slaying will be held longer, officials say

CONROE - Montgomery County authorities said Wednesday that because of new developments in the case of two murdered sisters, they put off plans to drop charges against one suspect. Prosecutors had planned to dismiss charges of capital murder and aggravated sexual assault against Richard Scott Schuschu, 20, in connection with the June 13 slayings of Gracie Purnhagen, 16, and her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany. Schuschu had appeared to be cleared of any criminal wrongdoing after Gracie's 16-year-old boyfriend, Delton Dowthitt, told investigators Tuesday that he acted alone in killing the girls and raping Gracie in a fit of rage after she told him her family planned to move from their home in Oak Ridge North to North Carolina. Montgomery County sheriff's Sgt. Tracy Peterson said the charges against Schuschu of New Caney were not dropped because investigators received new evidence Wednesday. "There are still some things that need to be explained about the extent of his involvement," Peterson said. "He has some explaining to do.' Though Peterson and prosecutors would not disclose details about the new evidence, the evidence collected Wednesday from Schuschu's station wagon is being tested in a crime laboratory. Dowthitt's truck is being processed for evidence at a Department of Public Safety lab in Austin, Peterson said. An affidavit filed with the arrest warrant on Schuschu indicates that detectives observed the words "Help me" imprinted on the dusty rear windshield of his station wagon when it was seized at the time of his arrest. Peterson would not say if the words have any significance in the case. Schuschu, who was arrested in New Caney on Sunday, denied involvement in the slayings while admitting he twice drove Dowthitt to the scene - a wooded area off Rayford Road in south Montgomery County - in his station wagon. He claimed that he and Dowthitt, a high school dropout with whom he had worked construction jobs, backed out of plans to dispose of the bodies in both trips to the site, investigators said. He also took friends to the site to show them the bodies, authorities said. Officials has said Tuesday that Texas has no laws dealing with "accessory-after-the-fact." Dowthitt of Humble remains in juvenile custody on allegations of capital murder and aggravated sexual assault pending a June 27 hearing. Prosecutors said they will seek to have him tried as an adult. Authorities have not made Dowthitt's name public because of his age, but sources have confirmed that he is the juvenile suspect. In a videotaped statement, he said he picked the girls up outside the Fair Lanes Bowling Alley near their home. He said he raped, stabbed and choked Gracie and then strangled Tiffany, according to authorities. Wednesday morning, as the parents of the victims stared at two pink carnation-draped caskets surrounded by stuffed toys, they said they wished Dowthitt was old enough to be executed. "I want their accused killer certified to stand trial as an adult. If he's old enough to commit the crime, he's old enough to do the time," said Linda Purnhagen, 39. "He killed Gracie, my 16-year-old. Then he had time to think about it before he killed my baby," she said, blinking back tears after the service at Walter Holt Funeral Home in north Harris County. Photographs of the two girls adorned their coffins. "What really is bad is what he did to our little baby," said the father, Art Purnhagen, 42. "She was an innocent bystander, not involved. I had kidded her just before they left for the bowling alley that she should watch out for her older sister. Both were so trusting. They had never done anything to anybody.' Purnhagen said he remembers seeing Dowthitt once. "I don't think I'd recognize him if I ever saw him again," he said. "I just want to warn everyone to be careful about who their kids hang out with.' Though the family had planned in three weeks to move to North Carolina, the Purnhagens are determined to stay here for the trial. The family includes three other children - Artie III, 14; Teddy, 11; and Stacy Runion, 18, who is married and has a 3 -year-old son. Both parents said they wish the death penalty were an option for the accused killer. "I wish he could go through the exact same things my daughters did," said the mother. "I don't care if he commits suicide. I'd cheer.' She added, "I want him to get life in prison, and I'll be there every single time he comes up for parole. I will stop it.' The Rev. Charlie Gilmer of Metropolitan Baptist Church told about 100 friends and family at the funeral, "Death of a child or young person seems inappropriate, because it violates our sense of order.' He described the sisters as like the "Morning Glory which is gone before the sun hardly has time to shine on it," and added: "This is one of those things that is not God's will." The sisters were buried side by side beneath a shady oak in a donated plot at Memorial Oaks Cemetery. Gilmer and the funeral home also donated their services, as did All About Flowers. Friends have established a trust fund at Klein Bank at 17046 Stuebner-Airline to assist the family with living expenses during the trial. 


FRI 06/22/90

Boy's dad is held in 2 killings
Unexpected event in sisters' deaths

CONROE - The father of a 16-year-old suspect in the deaths of two sisters was charged Thursday with participating in the slayings with his son. The arrest of Dennis Thurl Dowthitt, 45, of Humble marked another abrupt turnabout in the investigation of the deaths of Gracie Purnhagen, 16, and her 9-year-old sister Tiffany, both of Oak Ridge North. Dowthitt was charged with capital murder in the older girl's death and murder in the 9-year-old's killing. No bond had been set late Thursday. "This case was one of the most difficult investigations we've ever been involved in, due to so many people attempting to help cover it up," said Montgomery County sheriff's Sgt. Tracy Peterson. Investigators said they have concluded the correct suspects are Dowthitt and his son, Delton Dowthitt, who previously had claimed he acted alone in the sexual assault and stabbing of Gracie and the strangulation of her sister. The girls were killed late June 13 in a wooded area off Rayford Road in south Montgomery County. Delton remained in the county Juvenile Detention Center Thursday on charges, under the juvenile code, of capital murder and aggravated sexual assault. Gracie had dated Delton for some time in what was described as a stormy relationship. Authorities said the father, a self-employed used-car salesman, has admitted being present when the girls were killed, but that the son has implicated him in the murder and assault of Gracie. Court records indicate the son strangled Tiffany. Delton Dowthitt had said in his first confession, given to authorities Monday, that he alone had met the girls outside an Oak Ridge North bowling alley and had driven them in a pickup truck to a wooded area. He claimed he "snapped" into a fit of rage when Gracie tried to break off their relationship and that he left the girls' bodies in the woods. His story was supported by a friend, James Richard Schuschu, who said Delton had told him he acted alone in the murders. Schuschu, 20, originally was suspected of participating in the slayings. Investigators said he maintains his only role was in visiting the crime scene twice after the deaths, with plans to help dispose of the bodies. Delton and Schuschu backed out of the plans to hide the bodies both times, detectives said. But authorities said they later learned from Delton's stepmother, Dannah Dowthitt, that Delton and his father were together in the pickup the night of the slayings. That supported statements from witnesses who said they had seen the sisters talking with two men in a pickup outside the bowling alley that night. Peterson said Dennis Dowthitt voluntarily went to the sheriff's office for questioning Tuesday night and was confronted with the evidence that he was with his son the night of the slayings. The elder Dowthitt then admitted in a written statement that he was present at the time the Purnhagen sisters were murdered. Confronted with the information about his father's statement, Delton Dowthitt admitted his father had participated in the slayings, detectives said. "Delton was talking with (Gracie) at the back of the pickup truck when suddenly Tiffany screamed and came running chased by the defendant (Dennis Dowthitt)," a court document alleges. "The defendant told Delton they had to kill the girls. Delton strangled Tiffany (with a rope). "The defendant attempted to rape Gracie, then cut her throat," the affidavit states. "He subsequently took a beer bottle and sexually assaulted Gracie with it.' The document also says Dennis Dowthitt stabbed Gracie in the chest. Linda Purnhagen, the slain sisters' mother, said she believed all along that the juvenile did not act alone. "I didn't ever believe one person did it," she said. "There was no way one of those girls wouldn't have run, no way one person could have handled both girls. "I want that son of a bitch dead," she said of Dennis Dowthitt. "I want them to have the same treatment my daughters had. I want them to know the fear they had. I want them to suffer the pain. And I want to be there to watch it.' Charges of capital murder and aggravated sexual assault against Schuschu were dropped Thursday, prosecutors said. However, District Attorney Peter Speers said Schuschu remained jailed in lieu of a $15,000 material-witness bond to ensure he will be available to testify if and when the Dowthitts are tried. "He has a very unstable background. He lives out of his car.' 


SAT 06/23/90

Son held in killings of sisters feared father, police say

CONROE - Fear of his father's anger may have made a 16-year-old boy try to protect the man by taking sole blame for the slayings of two sisters, a Montgomery County detective said Friday. "I think the juvenile was scared of his father. I believe he's still scared of him," said sheriff's Sgt. Tracy Peterson. "He and his father have never been very close.' Delton Dowthitt originally told investigators he had acted alone in the June 13 slayings of Gracie Purnhagen , 16, and her 9-year-old sister Tiffany. He reportedly had a stormy on-and-off relationship with Gracie. The boy later implicated his father, Dennis T. Dowthitt, 45, only after the Humble used-car salesman admitted to officers that he was present when the girls were killed in a wooded area off Rayford Road in south Montgomery County, authorities said. The girls' 18-year-old sister, Stacy Runion, said Friday that her only encounter with Delton months ago had prompted her to caution Gracie. "I wanted her to be careful," Runion said. "She'll find the good in anybody. She could have known someone had gone to jail and still see the good. She's real naive. "Gracie broke up with him a couple of days after I talked to her," said Runion, who is married and has a 3 -month-old child. "She didn't say why exactly, just something about him being a jerk.' A court affidavit alleges that Delton and Gracie were behind the Dowthitts' pickup when the elder Dowthitt started chasing Tiffany from the cab of the truck. The document states that Dennis Dowthitt told his son they "had to kill the girls," but it does not give a motive. It also states that Dennis Dowthitt then attempted to rape Gracie before sexually assaulting her with a beer bottle. He then cut her throat and stabbed her in the chest, while the son strangled Tiffany with a rope, investigators allege in the document. Peterson said Delton Dowthitt had lived with his mother near Oak Ridge North before moving in with his father and stepmother in Humble about three months ago. "He had never seen the side of his father that he obviously saw that night," Peterson said. "It's my opinion that he (claimed he had acted alone) because Daddy said to do it.' Bond was denied Dennis Dowthitt Friday on a capital murder charge accusing him of the sexual assault and stabbing death of Gracie. Bond of $100,000 was set on a murder charge for his alleged involvement in Tiffany's death. Two counts of capital murder and one count of aggravated sexual assault had been filed against Delton before his father was alleged to have been involved. The charges against the juvenile may have to be reconsidered, authorities said. But County Attorney Jim Dozier said he will seek to have Delton Dowthitt tried as an adult. Recalling her one meeting with Delton, Runion said she warned her sister because the boy "said things that didn't make sense. He seemed drunk - really doped up. "He was skinny with long hair and had a lot of tattoos on his arms, but he was good-looking in a way," she added. "His face was really pretty, like a girl's.' She said that, as far as she knows, Gracie's relationship with Delton lasted two weeks at most. Her parents, Art and Linda Purnhagen , said they doubt Gracie had time to develop much of a relationship with the youth. "I didn't know she was seeing anybody much," said Art Purnhagen, 42, a race car mechanic. "She's only been out about four nights the whole time we've been here.' The couple moved to Oak Ridge North from Spring last summer with their five children, he said. Gracie was allowed to go places with her younger sister or with girlfriends, but Purnhagen said she was not allowed to go on dates in cars until she was 16. Also Friday, James Richard Schuschu, a New Caney construction worker and friend of Delton's, remained in the county jail in lieu of a $15,000 material-witness bond. Charges of capital murder and aggravated sexual assault were dropped against him after investigators became convinced he was not directly involved in the slayings. But detectives said Schuschu twice backed out of plans to help Delton dispose of the bodies, and they say they to want to ensure that he will be available to testify in the cases. "He has a very unstable background. He's lived out of his car, and we sought the material-witness bond because we want to make sure he'll be around," said District Attorney Peter Speers.

SAT 09/08/90

Teen certified as adult in case where he, father are accused of slaying 2 girls

CONROE - A teen-ager accused of joining his father in the slayings of two Oak Ridge North sisters was certified Friday for trial as an adult. After a closed hearing, Montgomery County prosecutors said they will seek a capital murder indictment against Delton Dowthitt, 17, for his alleged role in the June 13 slayings. He is accused, with his father, of killing his ex-girlfriend, Gracie Purnhagen, 16, and her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany. Dowthitt was 16, which made him a juvenile under the law, when the girls were killed in a wooded area a few miles from an Oak Ridge North bowling alley where witnesses had last seen the sisters alive. Prosecutors said Dowthitt and his father, Dennis T. Dowthitt, 45, of Humble, will be tried for the rape and stabbing death of Gracie and the strangulation of Tiffany. Authorities say the younger Dowthitt, who initially claimed he acted alone in a fit of rage, changed his story when confronted with new evidence and said his father killed and raped Gracie. He told investigators he was acting on his father's orders when he killed Tiffany. Dennis Dowthitt, however, has denied that. Investigators say he told them he and his son had been drinking beer when they met the girls at the bowling alley and drove them to the woods, where Delton and Gracie could talk about their relationship. The father contends he walked down a pipeline easement, leaving Delton to talk to both girls, and found them dead when he returned. Dennis Dowthitt is "very hurt that his son tried to bring him into it," defense attorney William Hall said. Delton Dowthitt's attorney, James Jones, declined comment. Dennis Dowthitt, a car salesman, already is under indictment on capital murder charges. 

FRI 11/30/90

Teen pleads guilty

CONROE - A teen-ager accused of joining his father in the slayings of two Oak Ridge North sisters pleaded guilty to one count of murder Thursday, Montgomery County prosecutors said. But Delton Dowthitt, 17, still faces a capital murder charge for his suspected role in the June 13 slaying of 16-year-old Gracie Purnhagen, his ex-girlfriend. District Attorney Peter Speers said Dowthitt pleaded guilty to a charge that he murdered Gracie's 9-year-old sister, Tiffany, in exchange for a 45-year prison sentence. He said Dowthitt will have to serve at least 11 years before being eligible for parole. Dowthitt was 16 at the time of the killings but has been certified for trial as an adult. He contends that his father, 45-year-old Dennis Dowthitt of Humble, ordered him to kill the girls while they and the two girls were in a wooded area near Oak Ridge North.

FRI 11/08/91

Judge removes himself from murder case

CONROE -- A Montgomery County judge has stepped down from a high-profile capital murder case to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. State District Judge Lee Alworth, who was presiding in the case against Dennis Thurl Dowthitt, removed himself as trial judge Wednesday because one of Dowthitt's lawyers, William E. "Bill" Hall of Conroe, is representing Alworth in his divorce case. John C. Martin, the county's administrative judge, said retired state District Judge Erwin Ernst of Huntsville has been assigned to the Dowthitt case. No trial date has been set. Dowthitt, 46, a former Humble car salesman, is accused in the June 13, 1990, slayings of Gracie Purnhagen, 16, and her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany, whose bodies were found in a wooded area in south Montgomery County four days after they disappeared from a bowling alley near their Oak Ridge North home. Dowthitt's 17-year-old son, Delton, pleaded guilty last November to the strangulation murder of Tiffany and received a 45-year prison sentence in a plea bargain. The teen-ager remains charged with capital murder in the stabbing and sexual assault of the elder girl. 

SAT 05/02/92

After three weeks, mistrial declared in slaying of Oak Ridge North girls

CONROE -- After three weeks in which 11 jurors had been chosen, a judge declared a mistrial Friday in the capital murder case of Dennis Thurl Dowthitt. Retired state District Judge Erwin Ernst of Huntsville said he granted a mistrial at the request of defense attorneys because of newly discovered evidence, but he would not elaborate. He said the trial probably will be reset for September. Dowthitt, 47, of Humble, is accused in the rape-slaying of Gracie Purnhagen, 16, and the strangulation of her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany. The girls' bodies were found in a secluded area a few miles from their Oak Ridge North home in south Montgomery County on June 17, 1990, four days after their disappearance from a local bowling alley. Dowthitt's 17-year-old son, Delton, is serving a 45-year prison sentence for his role in the murder of Tiffany Purnhagen. He is expected to be the state's key witness against his father. 

MON 09/28/92

Son pitted against father as trial in deaths begins

CONROE -- A long-awaited capital murder trial beginning in Conroe today will pit the defendant and his teen-age son against one another. Dennis Thurl Dowthitt, 47, a former used-car dealer from Humble, is accused in the slayings of Gracie Purnhagen, 16, and her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany. The girls became the subjects of an intensive search when they disappeared June 13, 1990, from a bowling alley near their home in Oak Ridge North, a bedroom community in south Montgomery County. Three days later, the girls' bodies were found in a secluded, wooded area a few miles from their home. Gracie, who had been sexually assaulted, was stabbed and her throat was cut. Tiffany was strangled. Dowthitt told investigators that his son, 18-year-old Delton Dowthitt, killed the girls. But Montgomery County prosecutors say the teen, who is serving a 45-year prison sentence for Tiffany's murder, will testify that he was acting on his father's orders when he participated in the gruesome slayings. The teen, who remains under indictment on a capital murder charge, agreed to testify against his father in a plea bargain for the murder sentence he is serving. Prosecutors say the capital murder charge will be dropped if he testifies against his father. The father and son have left their credibility open to attack from lawyers in the trial. Delton Dowthitt originally told investigators he had acted alone in the slayings, saying he "snapped" because Gracie, his girlfriend, told him she wanted to end their relationship. He later changed his story and implicated his father, saying he had initially taken the blame to protect him because he feared the older man might hurt him. Dennis Dowthitt said he and his son, who had been drinking beer together, picked up the girls at the bowling alley and drove to the woods in his pickup. He told investigators that he walked down an easement while Delton talked to the girls. He said he later heard "hollering and screaming" and returned to the truck to find his son standing over the girls' bodies. That story might have held together more tightly had the case not taken a new turn on May 1 this year. At that time, Dennis Dowthitt's initial trial was in the third week of jury selection, with 11 jurors chosen, when lawyers huddled with visiting state District Judge Erwin Ernst in his chambers. When the group emerged, Ernst said he was calling a mistrial at the defense team's request because of "newly discovered evidence." The judge also placed everyone associated with the case under a gag order. Sources close to the case say the new evidence involves a fingerprint lifted from a bloody beer bottle. The bottle, recovered in the June 1990 search of Dennis Dowthitt's auto shop in Humble, will link him to the sexual assault of Gracie Purnhagen and damage his defense, sources say. 

TUE 09/29/92

Trial opens for man accused of killing two sisters

CONROE -- Moments before being strangled by Dennis Dowthitt and his son, 9-year-old Tiffany Purnhagen was near tears and scared for her life, a Montgomery County prosecutor told jurors Monday. Barbara Hale said Dowthitt told his son, Delton, that he had "messed up," and they would have to kill Tiffany and her sister, 16-year-old Gracie Purnhagen, at the wooded site where the four had gone for a late-night talk. Dowthitt, whose capital murder trial in the sisters' June 13, 1990, slayings opened Monday, ordered his son to strangle Tiffany and yelled, "Do it! Do it!" to urge him on, Hale said. The son was 16 at the time. "He (Dennis Dowthitt) wants to make sure Tiffany's dead," Hale told the jury of six men and six women. "He ties a rope around Tiffany's neck and makes sure she's dead." Hale said Dowthitt sexually assaulted Gracie, who was Delton's girlfriend, and slashed her throat in the gruesome episode in south Montgomery County, a few miles from the sisters' home in Oak Ridge North. Hale did not elaborate on what Dennis Dowthitt, 47, a former used-car salesman from Humble, meant when he said he had messed up. But prosecutors, now under a gag order, had said earlier that they believe the slayings were sexually motivated. Delton, serving a plea-bargained 45-year sentence for the murder of Tiffany, is expected to testify against his father in exchange for dismissal of a capital-murder charge pending against him for his role in Gracie's slaying. The girls, whose parents were at a Houston raceway the night of the double murder, became the subjects of an intensive three-day search after they were reported missing. Their badly decomposed bodies were found after Rich Schuschu, a friend of Delton's from New Caney, told authorities Delton had confided to him that he alone had killed the girls after picking them up at an Oak Ridge North bowling alley. Schuschu, 20, and Delton twice returned to the murder scene to dispose of the bodies. But Schuschu, who was driving on the first trip, was stopped by a police officer while en route to the site and was arrested on a warrant for outstanding traffic tickets, Hale said. The next day, the pair returned to the scene with shovels to bury the bodies, but Delton Dowthitt was too frightened, Hale told jurors. The bodies were found after Schuschu led his employer, Greg Lyle Hunt of New Caney, to the scene. Hunt called authorities and Delton was arrested in Louisiana, where he and his father were visiting relatives. Though Delton originally stuck to his story that he had acted alone in the slayings, he later confessed that his father was the main perpetrator, Hale said. Dennis Dowthitt has confessed he was at the crime scene during the slayings, but contends that his son killed the girls and raped Gracie. In a pretrial hearing Monday on a motion to suppress his confession, Dennis Dowthitt testified that he was under intense pressure from sheriff's Detective Frank Hidalgo, who questioned him for four hours before he admitted being at the murder scene. In his original statement early in the session with Hidalgo, Dowthitt claimed that he had a friend who could verify he'd been in Humble at the time of the slayings and that his son had taken his pickup truck to Montgomery County. Dowthitt said he had agreed to take a polygraph examination and submit to questioning, hoping to clear himself of suspicion after he had visited Delton at a juvenile detention center earlier in the day on June 20, 1990. "I was upset about what my son had said," Dowthitt told visiting state District Judge Erwin Ernst. "He told me that if I didn't take the rap for him, I was going to go down with him." He said he confessed to Hidalgo only because he was exhausted and under duress. "I realized I wasn't getting anywhere and knew I wasn't going to get anywhere until I told them (detectives) what they wanted to hear," Dowthitt said. During cross-examination, Hale asked, "Isn't it a fact that the only reason they pressured you is because you committed this horrible crime and you were lying about it?" Unruffled, Dowthitt responded, "No, ma'am." Hidalgo testified that Dowthitt was apprised of his rights many times during the session and never asked to have a lawyer present. Dowthitt was arrested after admitting he was at the crime scene, Hidalgo said. Ernst determined that Dowthitt fully understood his rights and ruled that the statement, which was voluntary, will be admissible in the trial. The trial, expected to take three weeks, resumes today. 

WED 09/30/92

Murder trial prosecutors begin to give evidence

CONROE -- Prosecutors in the capital murder trial of Dennis Dowthitt spent Tuesday introducing photographs, blood samples and other evidence to the six men and six women on the Montgomery County jury. Dowthitt, 47, is accused of killing 9-year-old Tiffany Purnhagen and her 16-year-old sister, Gracie Purnhagen, who was sexually assaulted in a June 13, 1990, episode. Prosecutors say Dowthitt and his son, Delton, went on a sexually motivated rampage while talking to the girls at a wooded area a few miles from the sisters' home in Oak Ridge North. Delton, Gracie's boyfriend, was 16 at the time. He is serving a 45-year prison sentence for the strangulation death of Tiffany and is scheduled to testify against his father Thursday. The father and son have accused one another of being the main perpetrator in the double murder. Deputies testified in Tuesday's short court session that they found the bodies of the girls, who had been missing three days, lying head-to-head at the entrance to a gas pipeline in south Montgomery County woods. They had last been seen by witnesses who testified they saw the girls outside an Oak Ridge North bowling alley, with Dennis and Delton Dowthitt, the night the sisters disappeared. Deputies testified that Delton led them to Dennis Dowthitt's knife, which the teen claims was used to slash Gracie Purnhagen's throat, at a site behind the Humble apartment complex where the father and son lived in separate apartments. Deputies also said they recovered a blood-stained beer bottle and remnants of bloody clothing from a pile of burned debris behind a house in Humble. They did not say who the clothes belonged to, but prosecutors noted in opening statements Monday that witnesses will testify they saw blood on Dennis Dowthitt's clothes the day after the murders. Court records indicate that Gracie Purnhagen was sexually assaulted with a beer bottle. The trial resumes today before visiting state District Judge Erwin Ernst.

THU 10/01/92

Daughter says dad asked her pardon after killings

CONROE -- The daughter of Dennis Dowthitt held her head down as she told jurors Wednesday that the day after two of her good friends were murdered her father asked her forgiveness. Darla Dowthitt-Garcia, 18, never made eye contact with her father as she testified in the third day of this capital murder trial. She said her father called her on June 14, 1990, the day after he is accused of murdering Gracie Purnhagen, 16, and her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany. Dowthitt-Garcia, who was distraught and holding on to a bailiff when she entered the courtroom, described the Purnhagen sisters as "good friends of mine." When her father called her the day after the Oak Ridge North sisters were murdered at a wooded, south Montgomery County site, "he asked me if I'd forgive him for what he'd done," Dowthitt-Garcia said. "He just kept asking me if I'd forgive him for what he'd done the day before," she said. Prosecutor Barbara Hale did not ask the tearful witness what it was her father wanted forgiveness for, leaving jurors to draw their own conclusions. Dowthitt-Garcia's testimony followed that of Dr. Aurelio A. Espinola, a Harris County medical examiner who said Gracie Purnhagen died of trauma to the neck, possibly from knife wounds. He said it was difficult to be specific because of the condition of Gracie's body, which lay with her sister's in the woods for three days. Prosecutors say Dennis Dowthitt and his 18-year-old son, Delton Dowthitt -- who was Gracie's boyfriend -- were drinking beer when they and the girls ended up at the wooded site to have a talk that escalated into a violent rampage. Dennis Dowthitt, 47, of Humble is accused of ordering Delton to strangle Tiffany Purnhagen. Prosecutors say it was Dennis himself who slashed the throat of Gracie Purnhagen, once before she was raped and once after. Dennis Dowthitt contends it was his son, who is serving a 45-year sentence for Tiffany's murder, who killed both girls and raped Gracie. Espinola told jurors that Gracie was raped, most likely with a beer bottle recovered by Montgomery County sheriff's detectives. Judging from a microscopic examination of cells, Espinola said he's sure the teen was conscious when she was raped, noting that she would have suffered "very painful trauma" from it. Dowthitt-Garcia of Humble said she's certain the folding knife that's believed to have been the weapon used in Gracie's murder belonged to her father. "It's my father's knife - I used it several times when we went on camping trips," she testified. In an attempt to link Dennis Dowthitt with the use of the beer bottle in the rape, Hale asked Dowthitt-Garcia if her father is impotent. The daughter told the six men and six women of the jury that he is impotent. She did not explain how she knew that. Defense attorneys Bill Hall and Bill Behler did not cross-examine Dowthitt-Garcia. Their client sat still, with his head up, seemingly unmoved by his daughter's testimony as Hale stood between the two of them during questioning. Jurors also heard from two sisters, Kellie and Marcia Holloway, both of Tarkington, who said they had been to Houston with two of Dennis Dowthitt's other sons the night of the slayings. The Holloway sisters said they rode with the brothers later that night to Dennis Dowthitt's automotive shop in Humble and saw both Dennis and Delton Dowthitt there. Kellie Holloway, 18, and Marcia Holloway, 16, testified that they observed small but obvious bloodstains on Dennis Dowthitt's shirt as he stood with his arms crossed. Delton Dowthitt is scheduled to testify against his father when the trial resumes today. The son has also been charged with the capital murders of the girls, but prosecutors have said the charges will be dismissed if he testifies "truthfully" against his father. He would continue to serve his murder term, however. 

FRI 10/02/92

Youth says he apologized to girl, then killed her

CONROE -- As jurors listened Thursday -- some in tears -- Delton Dowthitt described kissing a 9-year-old girl and telling her he was sorry before obeying his father's command to kill her. But Dowthitt, 19, denied slashing and raping the child's 16-year-old sister, his girlfriend, Gracie Purnhagen. He insisted in often chilling testimony that his father, Dennis Thurl Dowthitt, 47, murdered her in their bloody rampage. Testifying in his father's capital-murder trial, Delton said he initially took the blame for the slayings of both Gracie and her younger sister, Tiffany, to protect his father. "He told me I better not ever snitch on him," Delton said. "He said if I didn't rat on him, he wouldn't rat on me." But Dennis Dowthitt's lawyer, Bill Hall, moved the seemingly remorseful son to anger by repeatedly suggesting that he is accusing his father of Gracie's murder because of a deal with Montgomery County prosecutors. Delton is serving a 45-year sentence for Tiffany's murder and will be spared a capital-murder charge for his role in Gracie's slaying in exchange for his testimony against his father. "I ain't doing it for the plea bargain," Delton said, gazing at Hall. "I got my time for the crime, man." The teen-ager was visibly nervous when prosecutor Barbara Hale led him into an account of the events on the night of June 13, 1990, when the Purnhagen sisters, who lived in Oak Ridge North, were killed in a secluded area in south Montgomery County. Noting that his parents had divorced when he was 2, Delton said he moved in with his father, a used car dealer in Humble, shortly before the murders and had been working for him as a mechanic. He and his father headed to Conroe to repossess a car, he said, but ended up meeting Gracie and Tiffany at an Oak Ridge North bowling alley and taking them to the wooded site for a talk. Admitting he had had sex with Gracie before, Delton said the two of them were at the back of his father's pickup truck "making out" while his father and the 9-year-old were at the front. He said Tiffany ran to the rear, frightened, and told him and Gracie that his father was trying to scare her. He turned around, he said, and found his father holding a knife and saying he had messed up. "He said, "Man, we've got to kill them,' " Delton said. He said he and Tiffany stood by as his father pushed Gracie to the ground. He heard "thudding" and pounding on the ground, he said, before his father told him two times to "do it!" -- meaning kill Tiffany. Delton said he strangled the girl with his hands and she fell to the ground before he got a rope from the tool box in the truck and "tied her neck real tight. My dad got my beer and poured it out," Delton said, choking back tears. "My dad was leaned over Gracie. Her throat was cut." He said his father stood up and told him to have sex with the mortally wounded girl, but he refused. "I told him no. I told him, "Let's go.' He leaned over Gracie and cut her throat again," Delton added. "He gave me the knife and told me to go cut Tiffany's throat. I went over to where she was and knelt and went back to Dad." Delton, whose often graphic account of the girls' deaths moved several jurors and courtroom spectators to tears, said he did not cut Tiffany. He said his father threw the beer bottle in the back of the truck and later told him he had used it in raping Gracie. They drove back to his father's shop in Humble, where he used the knife his father had given him to cut himself on his left arm so he could explain to his brothers and two of their friends why he had blood on his pants. In one of many heated exchanges with Hall on cross-examination, Delton denied that he had been cut in killing Gracie. Saying he had lied to his best friend, Rich Schuschu, and to sheriff's detectives in initially claiming he had killed both girls, Delton said was trying to protect his father. He told Hall that he has never bragged to jail inmates that he alone killed both girls and denied that he took the blame for both deaths in his first confession because he was a juvenile and thought he could receive light punishment. Delton, a 16-year-old high school dropout at the time of the murders, was certified for prosecution as an adult. However, he still could not receive the death penalty if convicted of capital murder because he was a juvenile at the time of the slayings. In the first confession, he told detectives he went into a blind rage because Gracie told him she was pregnant by another boy, that her father had been molesting her and that she was leaving town. In Thursday's testimony, he said Gracie never told him she was pregnant but had told him she was moving away. Delton said it was sheriff's Detective Frank Hidalgo who suggested in an interrogation that he'd been angered because Gracie told him her father was molesting her. "I didn't want to implicate my father at that time," he told Hale. "Frank Hidalgo was shooting things at me, and I was shooting things back. He said, "You did it for this reason and that reason,' and I said yes to just about everything he said." Hidalgo is scheduled to testify later in the trial. Asked by Hall why he never tried to stop his father from attacking his girlfriend, Delton gestured toward Dennis Dowthitt and said, "This is my father. I was thinking of him at the time." Early in his testimony, Delton and his father showed no emotion as they stared at one another. In his statements to investigators, Dennis Dowthitt claims he walked away from the truck, leaving his son with the girls, and returned a short time later to find them dead. 

SAT 10/03/92

Father's earlier statements used against him

CONROE -- A week after Gracie and Tiffany Purnhagen were murdered, Dennis Dowthitt voluntarily talked to investigators in hopes of clearing himself of suspicion. But Dowthitt's statements to detectives -- two of which he recanted -- were used against him Friday in his capital murder trial. Montgomery County sheriff's Detective Frank Hidalgo read to jurors the three statements that Dowthitt gave him and signed a week after Gracie, 16, and Tiffany, her 9-year-old sister, were murdered on June 13, 1990, at a wooded site a few miles from the girls' Oak Ridge North home. The statements were given after Dowthitt's then-16-year-old son, Delton, had been arrested and who initially claimed sole responsibility for the murders. Dennis Dowthitt first told Hidalgo that he had been in the shop at his used-car lot in Humble around the time of the slayings and claimed that his best friend, Donald Farris of Houston, could vouch for him. A few hours later, Dowthitt told Hidalgo he wanted to talk more because he believed his ex-wife would try to frame him to get his son out of jail, Hidalgo told jurors. In the second statement, Dowthitt said he had lied about Farris because he didn't have an alibi, but he maintained that he had been at his shop. Later the same day, Dowthitt, under intensive interrogation from Hidalgo, admitted that he had been with Delton and the girls at the murder scene. But the 47-year-old Dowthitt still insisted, as he told Hidalgo, that Delton killed both girls. He said in his final statement that Delton and the sisters were talking outside his pickup truck when he took a walk down a pipeline trail. He said he heard a girl scream and returned to find Delton raping Gracie with a beer bottle. He pulled Delton off of her, he said, and saw that her throat had been cut. "I fell onto Gracie and got some blood on me, and I asked where Tiffany was," Dowthitt said in his statement. "Delton told me she was dead." Delton, who is serving a 45-year plea-bargained sentence for Tiffany's murder, testified Thursday that he strangled Tiffany on his father's command and that it was his father who killed Gracie and raped her with the bottle. Gracie was Delton's girlfriend. The Dowthitts had picked up the sisters at a bowling alley in Oak Ridge North and taken them to the wooded site in southeast Montgomery County, where they were killed. Testimony resumes Monday with visiting state District Judge Erwin Ernst of Huntsville presiding. 

TUE 10/06/92

Aunt testifies that murder suspect almost confessed

CONROE -- Dennis Dowthitt never admitted outright to his aunt that he killed two girls, but the aunt told jurors Monday that he stopped just short of confessing to her. Dixie Dowthitt said she was not aware that Gracie and Tiffany Purnhagen had been murdered when Dennis, his second wife, Dannah Dowthitt, and his three sons -- including Delton Dowthitt -- came from Humble to visit in her Louisiana home on June 17, 1990. The visit came four days after Gracie, 16, and her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany, were slain at a wooded area a few miles from their Oak Ridge North home in south Montgomery County. Dennis Dowthitt, 47, who is on trial for the capital murder of the sisters, contends it was his son Delton who cut Gracie's throat and raped her with a beer bottle. But Delton, 19, a high school dropout who is serving a 45-year sentence for Tiffany's strangulation, has testified that his father raped and killed Gracie after ordering him to kill the younger sister. Dixie Dowthitt, 54, said Dennis had been upset and anxious to talk to her before they had a chance to visit alone outside her home. "He said, "Aunt Dixie, I did it and I made Delton do it,' " the woman told jurors. "I said, "Dennis, what's going on? What's happening? What are you talking about?' "He never did explain what he was talking about," she said. During cross-examination, the defendant's aunt seemed surprised when attorney Bill Hall asked, "Isn't it true that Dennis Dowthitt told you his son had actually killed those girls?" The woman said she was positive about what she had heard, but she conceded that Dennis never said he had killed one of the girls. Prosecutors rested their case against Dennis Dowthitt after testimony about how -- six months ago -- authorities lifted a fingerprint that matched Dennis Dowthitt's left index finger. Deputy Buster W. Emmons said the faintly visible print found on the bloody beer bottle used in the rape was enhanced with a new chemical process that FBI agents in Washington, D.C., told him how to use. DNA experts told jurors that genetic testing on the blood from the bottle left little doubt that it was Gracie's blood. In a statement in which he admitted being at the crime scene with Delton, Dennis Dowthitt claimed his son threw the bottle in the woods after the sexual assault on Gracie. But the bottle, which Delton said his father threw in the back of his pickup truck, was found by deputies in a trash bag at Dennis Dowthitt's used-car shop in Humble a few days after the slayings. Delton Dowthitt has only recently moved in with his father. He had been dating Gracie Purnhagen . Jurors also heard Monday that Dennis Dowthitt told investigators during interrogations that he's had "an impotency problem" for 15 years. Prosecutors have suggested through their questioning that he went on a sexually motivated rampage and used the bottle in the rape because of his impotence. One of his daughters testified last week that she knew he is impotent, but she did not explain how she knew. Defense attorneys told visiting state District Judge Erwin Ernst that they will present their evidence today, but did not indicate if Dowthitt will testify. Attorneys on both sides are under a gag order. 

WED 10/07/92

Inmate spurns his statement, refuses to testify for Dowthitt

CONROE -- Lawyers for Dennis Dowthitt offered scant defense for the capital-murder defendant Tuesday after a Montgomery County Jail prisoner refused to testify for him. Inmate David Tipps had told defense attorneys he would testify that Delton Dowthitt, Dennis Dowthitt's son, bragged to Tipps in jail two years ago that he killed Gracie Purnhagen, 16, and her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany. Dennis Dowthitt, 47, of Humble, is accused of raping and killing Gracie and ordering Delton to murder Tiffany in a June 13, 1990, rampage. Dennis Dowthitt denies killing either girl and claimed in statements to investigators that he was present when the sisters were slain by his son at a wooded site near the girls' Oak Ridge North home. Tipps took the witness stand outside the presence of the jury and was asked by defense lawyer Bill Hall to identify a written statement that Tipps had made about Delton's comments to him. Accompanied in the courtroom by his own attorney, Tipps promptly informed Hall that "I'm going to refuse to answer any and all questions." Hall asked state District Judge Erwin Ernst to instruct Tipps to respond, but Tipps refused the judge's instruction. Hall then asked for a mistrial, alleging that the inmate's reversal on his agreement to testify "was precipitated by a visit from two representatives of the district attorney's office" recently. "Now we're unable to get this man's statement," Hall told the judge, saying his client would be denied a fair trial. Ernst refused a mistrial, and jurors never heard what Tipps had to say. Tipps, a convicted burglar, is under indictment on an aggravated robbery charge. Both the burglary and robbery were unrelated to the Purnhagen case. Jurors did hear from Conroe psychologist Walter Quijano, who said he recommended two years ago that Delton Dowthitt be certified for prosecution as an adult for the girls' murders. Delton, who was 16 at the time of the murders of Tiffany and of Gracie, who was his girlfriend, was certified and pleaded guilty to the strangulation death of Tiffany. But Delton, who is serving a 45-year sentence for Tiffany's murder, contends that he was acting on orders from his father to kill her. Quijano said that after evaluating Delton before his certification, he diagnosed him as having a conduct disorder -- the equivalent in juvenile court terms of one who is a remorseless sociopath, he said. "I came to the conclusion he showed more regret for being incarcerated than for what happened to the girls," Quijano told jurors. "He was worried and preoccupied by having to go to prison." Delton remains under indictment on capital murder charges for his role in both girls' slayings, but prosecutors had agreed to dismiss the charges in exchange for the testimony he gave against his father last week. Hall contends Delton implicated his father in hopes of sparing himself more prison time. 

THU 10/08/92

Dowthitt convicted of murder
Son's testimony key in rape-slaying trial

CONROE -- Dennis Thurl Dowthitt was convicted of capital murder on the testimony of his own son Wednesday in the rape and slashing death of a teen-age girl. Jurors took four hours to find the 47-year-old former used-car dealer from Humble guilty in the slaying of Gracie Purnhagen, 16. Her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany, was strangled by Dowthitt's son in the same episode. Dowthitt -- who claimed his son, Delton, killed both girls -- showed no emotion as the verdict was read. The sisters' mother, Linda Purnhagen, sobbed after hearing the verdict and said she was shedding tears of relief. Jurors will reconvene today to decide Dowthitt's punishment. He can receive a life sentence or death by injection for raping Gracie with a beer bottle and slashing her throat after ordering Delton to kill her younger sister in the gruesome incident on June 13, 1990. Prosecutor Barbara Hale said she had no apologies for the plea-bargained, 45-year sentence that Delton, 16 at the time of the slayings, received for killing Tiffany. "I would make a deal with the devil himself to keep Dennis Dowthitt off the streets," Hale said. Prosecutors had pledged to dismiss a capital-murder charge pending against Delton -- for being a party to Gracie's murder -- in exchange for his testimony against his father. Lawyers for both sides told jurors in closing arguments that they would have to believe Delton's testimony if they were to convict his father. Dennis Dowthitt's attorneys, with little evidence on which to build a defense, hammered at the son's credibility. Delton testified that he initially took the blame for the murders of both Tiffany and Gracie, his girlfriend, to protect his father. But defense lawyer Bill Hall told jurors that Delton had killed both girls and pinned Gracie's murder on his father to avoid more prison time. "We already know what Delton Dowthitt is," Hall said. "He is a conniving schemer. He's a liar. He's a murderer." But Hale said Dennis Dowthitt was the one who had a reason to kill both girls. She told jurors that the father, in his statement to investigators, said Delton tried to have sex with Tiffany as the foursome talked at a wooded site near the girls' Oak Ridge North home. In that same graphic statement, however, Dennis stumbled briefly and indicated that he was the one who actually had tried to have sex with Tiffany, Hale said. "He told us why the girls were killed," Hale said. "He didn't mean to, but he slipped." She theorized that Dowthitt, who by his own admission had been impotent for 15 years, went into a violent rage out of sexual frustration after the 9-year-old girl spurned his advances. "Ladies and gentlemen, Dennis Dowthitt says he wants justice and it's high time he got it," Hale told jurors. Prosecutors set aside a second count of capital murder against the father, for ordering his son to kill Tiffany, before the charge was read to jurors by state District Judge Erwin Ernst.

FRI 10/09/92

Daughter: Dowthitt raped me
She says sexual assault occurred 4 days before murder

CONROE -- Four days before he raped and killed a 16-year-old girl, Dennis Thurl Dowthitt sexually assaulted his own teen-age daughter, the woman testified Thursday. Darla Dowthitt-Garcia, 18, said she told her father, who threatened her with his knife, to "go ahead and kill me" because she'd "had enough" of his sexual abuse over the years. Testifying in the punishment phase of Dowthitt's capital-murder trial, Dowthitt-Garcia of Humble, said her father had been raping her with his hands, bottles and broomsticks since she was 11. Dowthitt, 47, was convicted Wednesday of raping Gracie Purnhagen with a beer bottle and slashing her throat in a sexually motivated rampage. Gracie's 9-year-old sister, Tiffany, was strangled by Dowthitt's son, Delton Dowthitt, in the same June 13, 1990, episode at a wooded site near the sisters' Oak Ridge North home. Delton, 19, who had been dating Gracie, is serving a 45-year, plea-bargained sentence for Tiffany's murder. Dennis Dowthitt's older daughter, Donna Beeson of Humble, told jurors she left home when she was 15 after her father fondled her and asked if she remembered what had happened when she was 5. Beeson said she had little recollection of the childhood incident. Jurors also heard from Conroe psychologist Walter Quijano, who said Dowthitt's behavior is characteristic of an impotent, sadistic rapist who uses objects such as bottles to inflict pain and torture. In determining whether to give Dowthitt the death penalty or life in prison, jurors must decide if he killed Gracie deliberately, if he would be a danger to society in the future and if there is evidence to mitigate his criminal behavior. The punishment hearing resumes today in the trial of the former Humble used-car dealer in the courtroom of visiting state District Judge Erwin Ernst of Huntsville. 

SAT 10/10/92

Dowthitt gets death penalty in killing

CONROE -- Dennis Thurl Dowthitt -- after being compared to a rabid dog who thrives on causing pain -- was sentenced to death Friday for raping and murdering his son's 16-year-old girlfriend. Convicted largely on the basis of his son's testimony, Dowthitt said as he was led from the courtroom that he feels sorry for the teen-ager "because he's got problems." A jury took 3 1/2 hours before agreeing that Dowthitt, 47, should be put to death by injection for the June 1990 rape and slashing of Gracie Purnhagen. The former used-car dealer from Humble had maintained that it was his son, Delton, who had killed the girl and her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany. He showed no emotion when the sentence was announced. As five armed guards led him from the courtroom, however, Dowthitt said jurors made a mistake in convicting him. But the mother of the murdered girls -- who had sat outside the courtroom throughout the two-week trial, glaring at Dowthitt whenever he passed by -- said he got exactly what he deserves. "What he did is pathetic," said Linda Purnhagen . "He acts like he's bothered by what everybody said about him." Purnhagen and her husband, Arthur, moved to North Carolina with their son after the murders, but she returned here for the trial. She had to remain outside the courtroom because she was sworn as a witness. In deciding that Dowthitt should die, the jury found that he acted deliberately, that he would pose a continuing threat to society and that his deprived childhood was not enough to mitigate the severity of the crime. "He has no conscience," prosecutor Barbara Hale said of Dowthitt, who raped Gracie with a beer bottle and twice slashed her throat in a secluded area of Montgomery County. "There is nothing inside of him that makes him see or feel horror. He rapes until his sick desires for inflicting pain are satisfied." Testimony showed that Dowthitt had a history of sexually abusing two teen-age girls, now adults, who also gave damaging testimony against him. The sentencing capped a trial in which Delton, who was 16 at the time of the slayings, testified that he acted on his father's command when he strangled Tiffany. Delton said he kissed the horrified girl on the forehead and told her he was sorry before he choked her and then tied a rope tightly around her neck to ensure that she was dead. He testified against his father in exchange for a plea-bargained, 45-year sentence for Tiffany's murder. Testimony showed that the sisters, who lived in Oak Ridge North, rode with the Dowthitts to the wooded south Montgomery County site where Delton and Gracie had a talk before Dennis led his son on the brutal attacks. A psychologist told jurors that Dennis Dowthitt, though impotent, is a sadistic rapist, who is "very, very dangerous." Defense attorney Bill Hall appealed to jurors to set aside their emotions and give Dowthitt life in the penitentiary, where he said his client could do no more harm to girls. Hall's only witness on Dowthitt's behalf in the punishment hearing was Janet Cox, a 41-year-old Kingwood nurse who said she had known Dowthitt since she was 13. "His mother was a very emotionally disturbed woman," Cox said. "She was an alcoholic. To my knowledge, she was married six or seven times. Dennis never had a father figure to look up to." Cox said Dowthitt was deeply disturbed by his mother's suicide about nine years ago. She said she had known him to be a "kind, compassionate and sensitive friend" and that she never worried about him being around her daughter, who is now 25. But Cox became tearful when Hale showed her photographs of Gracie's ravaged body and said, "You tell me what is mitigating about this. "I think this is the sickest thing I ever saw in my life, and anyone who can do this is very ill," Cox said. "Exactly," said Hale, who compared Dowthitt to a dog with rabies. After hearing the sentence pronounced, Linda Purnhagen said it will not be easy to regroup and go on with life. "We died when the girls died," she said of her family. "We've been so focused on the outcome of today, for two years, that we've just been existing. It's going to be hard to even try to get back to a normal life."

MON 3/5/01

As execution nears, killer pleads for his life

CONROE - After viewing grisly evidence and hearing him compared to a rabid dog who enjoyed causing pain, a Montgomery County jury handed Dennis Thurl Dowthitt the death penalty.
Now, more than eight years later, the execution date is near for the former used-car dealer who sexually assaulted his son's girlfriend with a beer bottle and slit her throat. Dowthitt, 55, of Humble, is scheduled to die by injection after 6 p.m. Wednesday at the state prison in Huntsville for the June 13, 1990, slaying of Gracie Purnhagen of Oak Ridge North. Dowthitt has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case. He alleges that his son, Delton, who was 16 at the time, killed Purnhagen and her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany. Testimony from the son, who is serving a 45-year sentence for strangling Tiffany with his hands and a rope, was instrumental in convicting the father. "This is a case where it is one person's word against another," said defense attorney Helen Beardsley of Austin. Beardsley also said Dennis Dowthitt's attorneys in his 1992 capital murder trial failed to introduce evidence during the penalty phase that he had been abused as a child and suffered from mental illness. Such evidence might have persuaded a jury to sentence him to life in prison, she said. Dowthitt also has filed a clemency petition with the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, arguing that his life should be spared because he has shown no violent behavior in prison, Beardsley said. Gail McConnell, Montgomery County assistant district attorney, said her office is opposing the clemency petition. McConnell said the violence of the crime, Dowthitt's encouragement of his son to participate, and testimony that he earlier had molested two other girls more than offset his conduct in prison. If the execution takes place, Dowthitt will be the fifth person executed in Texas this year and the 244th since December 1982, after reinstatement of the death penalty. Dowthitt initially said he knew nothing about the killings but later admitted to being at the scene of the crime. His fingerprint was found on a beer bottle covered with Gracie Purnhagen's blood.  The younger Dowthitt at first confessed to killing both sisters, allegedly to protect his father, but later said his father had killed Purnhagen, 16, and ordered him to strangle her sister. Dowthitt and his son had met the sisters at an Oak Ridge North bowling alley the night of the killings and driven them in a pickup truck to a wooded area nearby, according to trial testimony. The son testified that he and Purnhagen, whom he had been dating, were "making out" at the rear of the pickup while his father sat in the cab with Tiffany Purnhagen. A terrified Tiffany Purnhagen ran to the rear of the truck and said the elder Dowthitt was trying to frighten her, the son testified. He said he turned around and saw his father holding a knife. Saying he had made a mistake, Dowthitt told his son, "Man, we've got to kill them," the younger Dowthitt testified.  He said his father threw Gracie Purnhagen to the ground, where he sexually assaulted her with a beer bottle, and yelled twice for his son to "do it," meaning to kill Tiffany Purnhagen. The son testified that his father slashed Gracie Purnhagen's throat and ordered him to rape her, but he refused. His father then cut her throat again, he said. Psychologist Walter Quijano of Conroe testified that the elder Dowthitt showed behavior characteristics of an impotent, sadistic rapist who uses objects such as bottles to inflict pain. Beardsley contends that Quijano made the assessment based on a hypothetical question and without a proper examination. Quijano also testified that Dowthitt's son, who was certified for trial as an adult, had a conduct disorder, the equivalent in juvenile-court terms of a remorseless sociopath. One woman testified that Dowthitt had sexually molested her four days before the killings and had abused her sexually with his hands, bottles and broomsticks since she was 11. 

WED 03/07/01

Girls' mom awaits execution to grieve

CONROE - Linda Purnhagen has been waiting 11 years to grieve for her two daughters. Tonight she expects the grieving to begin. Sixteen-year-old Gracie Purnhagen was sexually assaulted with a beer bottle before a knife was plunged through her neck. Nine-year-old Tiffany Purnhagen was nearly decapitated while being strangled with a rope. If the state of Texas executes Dennis Dowthitt, 55, as scheduled this evening, Purnhagen finally will be able to mourn for her girls. "I promised them I wouldn't mourn for the girls until after he was taken care of," she said about her vow to the daughters Dowthitt and his son were convicted of killing June 13, 1990. On Dec. 9, 1992, a jury sentenced Dowthitt to die for the slaying of Gracie, his son's girlfriend. By a 7-2 vote Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to halt the execution. The court decision came a day after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, by an 18-0 vote, rejected a clemency petition. Dowthitt blamed his son, Delton, who was 16 at the time of the attacks, for killing both girls. His son, who is serving a 45-year sentence for strangling Tiffany, testified that Dowthitt abused and stabbed Gracie, then ordered him to kill Tiffany. There was testimony at the trial that Dowthitt had abused a family member four days before the slayings and had molested her for years with his fingers, bottles and other objects. Once Dowthitt is dead, "I guess I'll be able to think about all the good things I did with them instead of all the crap he put them through," said Linda Purnhagen, 49, a homemaker who now lives in Spring. Purnhagen, who nearly lost a third child to a traffic accident in 1999, said she and her husband, Arthur Purnhagen II, a 52-year-old auto-body repairman, would be at the Huntsville state prison to watch Dowthitt die by injection. Also viewing the execution will be other relatives, including their sons, Arthur III, 25, and Ted, 22. The latter lives with his parents and is recovering from severe injuries suffered in an automobile accident and must use a walker. Their 29-year-old daughter, Stacy, doubted that she would view the execution, said Purnhagen.  The mother said she doesn't expect Dowthitt to apologize, and if he does, it won't make any difference. "I would be satisfied, I guess, that he had finally admitted it," Purnhagen said. "It wouldn't help me feel any better. It just galls me that it was done, period, and then that he is so arrogant about it." During the trial, "he turned around in the hallway of the courthouse and looked at me and laughed," she recalled. "When he was arraigned, he turned around and gave my son the finger." Her son, Ted, was about 11 at the time and was sitting quietly in the courtroom, she said.  "It's not going to bring the girls back," Purnhagen said about the execution. "It's just going to make sure he'll never be able to do that again." Dowthitt's death is like the ending of a chapter, she said. "I'll have to move on to the next chapter, which is to keep his son from getting out." In a last-ditch effort to avoid execution, Dowthitt has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case and filed a clemency petition with the state Board of Pardons and Paroles. He blames the killing on his son and argues that he has committed no violent act during his eight years on death row. "If it wasn't such a horrible thing, it would almost be funny," Purnhagen said about Dowthitt's efforts to avoid death by shifting the blame. Purnhagen feels more anger than pain, she said, and wants the world to know that Dowthitt caused a 3-inch-deep wound in Gracie with the beer bottle, then plunged a knife deep into her throat, moving it from side to side, "and ripped her throat out.  Tiffany was strangled so hard with that rope she was basically decapitated," she said. 

THU 03/08/01

Killer admits guilt in death chamber

HUNTSVILLE - Strapped to the executioner's gurney Wednesday night, Dennis Dowthitt sobbed as he apologized to the family of the 16-year-old girl he sexually assaulted and murdered more than a decade ago. "I am so sorry for what y'all had to go through," he said in a halting voice, eyes squinting back tears. "I can't imagine losing two children. If I was y'all, I would have killed me." Separated from Dowthitt by a double pane of Plexiglas, the victim's mother, Linda Purnhagen, stared intently at the 55-year-old as he spoke. She did not avert her eyes until the lethal dose of drugs was delivered and Dowthitt was pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m. On the night of June 13, 1990, Dowthitt, a used-car salesman from Humble, and his son, Delton, had offered to give Delton's girlfriend, Gracie Purnhagen , and her 9-year-old sister, Tiffany, a ride home from a bowling alley. Instead, he drove them to a remote wooded area off Rayford Road in south Montgomery County where he attempted to molest Tiffany while his son and Gracie were in the back of the truck. Delton said Tiffany bolted from the cab followed by Dennis Dowthitt who told his son he had "messed up," adding, "Man, we've got to kill them." Dowthitt ordered his son to strangle the little girl as he slashed Gracie's throat and then used a beer bottle to sexually assault her before stabbing her in the chest. Delton said he kissed the little girl on the forehead and apologized before strangling her. Delton Dowthitt was not eligible for the death penalty because he was 16 years old when he committed the murder. He testified against his father in exchange for a 45-year prison sentence. Until Wednesday night, Dowthitt had insisted that Delton committed both murders by himself. Linda Purnhagen was glad to hear Dowthitt take responsibility for the crime. She wanted to believe his words were sincere, but she had doubts. "As he was going to meet God, he finally admitted what he did," she said. Dowthitt's behavior in the execution chamber surprised the Purnhagens. During his 1992 trial, Dowthitt was arrogant, sometimes even profane, to the family, Purnhagen said. Strapped to the gurney Wednesday night, he appeared to search for the family as they were led into the viewing room. When he saw them, Purnhagen said he indicated his remorse by shaking his head. "He looked really sad, scared," she said. Her husband, Arthur, was surprised by the emotional apology. "I would have bet a million bucks he wouldn't say he's sorry," he said. Dowthitt closed his apology by saying, "Gracie was beautiful, and Tiffany was beautiful. You had some lovely girls, and I am sorry. I don't know what to say." In a room separated from the Purnhagens, Dowthitt's sister witnessed the execution with two friends and a spiritual adviser. Dowthitt turned to her and said, "I got to go, sister. I love you. Y'all take care, and God bless you." He then turned his head toward Huntsville Unit Warden Jim Willett and blurted out, "All right, warden, let's do it." Dowthitt's chest heaved with sobs until the drugs took effect, first putting him to sleep, then collapsing his lungs and stopping his heart. Wednesday was the first time Dowthitt spoke publicly about the crime. He had declined to be interviewed in the week before his execution. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Dowthitt's final appeal about 90 minutes before the execution - about the time he would have been served his final meal. Dowthitt requested a dozen fried eggs, a loaf of bread, salad dressing, french fries and three cartons of milk. A Department of Criminal Justice official said Dowthitt intended to make sandwiches. The Supreme Court also rejected a Dowthitt appeal on Tuesday. And the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected his request for clemency on Monday. Dowthitt was the fifth convicted killer executed this year in Texas, where a record 40 executions were carried out last year. Linda Purnhagen said the family will turn its attention to battling Delton Dowthitt's requests for parole. "This particular chapter has ended," she said. "That chapter is just beginning." 

The painting, Side By Side, is the work of artist Greg Olsen.