9 months ago
The intruder approached the surveillance camera down the half-lit hallway. Inside the Creekside Church of Christ in Midlothian, Texas it was probably quiet save the sound of footsteps on tile. There was no hurry, no rush. The intruder moved with a distinctive duck-footed gait at the speed of someone casually walking through the mall. At one point, figure paused and turned, and there was something vaguely feminine in the pose. As the shape approached the surveillance camera, a viewer could see that the man or woman was clad in police riot gear. Or perhaps someone’s costume party version of a SWAT team uniform: A black helmet, balaclava, and black tactical-style clothing and boots. It said “POLICE” on the back of the intruder’s shirt.
The silent footage is unsettling. When you learn it was close to 4:30 on the rainy morning of April 18, 2016, and 45-year-old fitness instructor Terri “Missy” Bevers had entered the church to teach a fitness class, it becomes bone-chilling.
The dry language in a search warrant from Midlothian PD investigator underscores the eerie nature of the surveillance footage: “At approximately 0418 hours, the victim Terri Bevers is observed entering the building through the main door under the awning area. The video shows Terri Bevers walking toward (…) the suspects (sic) location. Neither the suspect nor victim were seen again on video.”
Police arrived at Creekside just after 5 a.m., answering a call about an unresponsive woman. The person who made the call said that Missy Bevers was dead.
The first responders immediately saw that several doors inside and outside the church were wrecked. Broken glass was everywhere. Then they found Missy Bevers. According to the same search warrant, she was dead from “multiple puncture wounds…on her head and chest.”
The wounds, the investigator stated, were “consistent with the tools the suspect was carrying throughout the building.”
Missy Bevers’s killer was seen on camera. It’s possible the killer’s vehicle was captured on footage circling the nearby SWFA Outdoors store, but police aren’t sure.
Police have searched through texts, emails, and through questionable messages sent to Missy on LinkedIn. They have looked at her husband, Brandon Bevers, her father-in-law, and her broad circle of acquaintances. Still, they have no answers.
As if to admit they’re stumped, the Midlothian PD put a new investigator on the case in February 2018.
Discussing his appointment of Det. Andy Vaughan to the case, Assistant Chief of Police Kevin Johnson told NBC Dallas that if he’d been told “two years ago that we would be talking about this case and it’s still unresolved, I would have thought you were crazy.”
“It’s just not something I anticipated,” Johnson said.
Missy Bevers’s husband Brandon couldn’t avoid police questioning—the spouse really is always the first person of interest—but he was in Mississippi on a fishing trip when she was killed. His father was questioned and he was in California at the time. Police have said neither man is a suspect but both fell prey early in the case to a peculiarly 21st-century phenomenon: swarming cybersleuths.
A murder like this is irresistible to the computer-bound amateur detective. It’s easy to see why—it’s as if the answers must surely be there in front of you, and you’ll know what really happened if you put them together in the right order. And it’s true—bits of information are sometimes out there hanging in the digital ether, just waiting for the most sharp-eyed armchair Sherlock to notice.
While there have been impressive instances of crowd-sourced investigation, there have been plenty of failures as well. In the Bevers case, the horde of unpaid investigators were so eager to peel back the layers of mystery they came close to interfering with the investigation. The Dallas Observer reported on the websleuthing element of this case in 2017. They interviewed the same Asst. Chief Johnson, who said the dangerous thing about citizen detectives is essentially out-of-control theorizing.
“Overall,” said Johnson, “has social media hurt or helped this investigation?”
“I don’t know how to answer that. Has the information been a distraction? Yes. Do we want to dig into every piece of information? Yes, and we will continue to.”
After almost two years, the long and short of the Bevers investigation is that it is, for all intents and purposes, a cold case.
It may be the strangest kind of cold case, too. One in which there is a wealth of public information and evidence, yet there seems to be little indication of progress. At this point, even Brandon Bevers has—in a way—given up. In December he wrote the following to Nancy Grace’s Crime Stories podcast:
“Starting 2018, I’m done allowing this uncertainty to control me this way. I will leave the head banging, and brain rot to the investigators. Trust me when I say they are qualified. I have spent most of this time feeling my responsibility to Missy was to find this person- That’s just not realistic. My duty to Missy is to memorialize her life, and that is exactly what I will do for her, and the children’s sake. She deserves this for all that she has contributed in our lives. I’m done talking about this investigation, theories, etc…”
He took a shot at armchair sleuths as well, writing that he wished “all of the whack job social media stuff would go to hell.”
“Why do these people not realize they have left a door open for my children to peer into one day?” Bevers wrote, “How damaging could this be? No factual basis for all of the speculation whatsoever!”
The nature of armchair sleuthing—my writing career began in part because I was a lucky armchair sleuth—is that many will find Bevers’s statement suspicious. It’s also just as likely that it was the expression of a grieving and angry man.
So where does everything stand, really?
In the dark of an early April morning, someone wearing fake police gear drove out to Creekside Church of Christ, a large house of worship that sits alone in a wide, flat field. There’s a small regional airport nearby, a venue for weddings, an outdoors store. These places aren’t close to each other, and Creekside sits well back from the road. It doesn’t seem the most likely target for a lone, random vandal or thief.
The suspect entered the church, apparently not triggering an alarm. He–or she–strolled around, smashing door windows. Not with the manic glee of a young vandal. At least on video, the moves looked intentional, calculated.
The suspect was sure to cover their face. Did they know there was surveillance before they entered the church?
By coincidence or careful deliberation, the killer headed toward the doors Missy Bevers would use to enter the building.
And all that we really know—all that matters—is she was murdered offscreen, in a dead zone between the cameras.