Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hiding in Plain Sight

by John Foxjohn
Author of Killer Nurse

I got involved in the Kimberly Clark Saenz (pronounced Signs) case in early 2008 when the Angelina County, Texas, district attorney charged her with capital murder and sought the death penalty. As a former homicide detective, I recognized the magnitude and scope of what would take place. Never in our history had anyone been accused, charged, and convicted of murder with bleach as the weapon.

But that wasn’t the only huge circumstance involved with Saenz. If convicted, she would be a serial killer. This is a rare distinction for a woman, but serial killers don’t happen in East Texas—male or female.

It would take three years for the case to come to trial, and in many ways, my hands were tied beforehand. I was able to talk to a lot of fringe people who knew Saenz. I even interviewed the judge who would oversee the case, but the interview consisted of background information on him—nothing to do with the case. I even interviewed one of the assistant DA’s, but he wasn’t involved in the case. He gave me some really good information on the death penalty and all aspects of it. These were issues that I would need to know for the book but weren’t part of the case.

However, I wasn’t able to speak to anyone directly involved. First, the judge imposed a gag order until the trial was over, and of course the defense attorney was advising everyone not to talk.

During the three weeks of voir dire (jury selection) and the four weeks of trial I spoke to Kimberly Clark Saenz and her family several times—not about the case, just regular talk. The only thing I did was mention that I would like to interview them when the trial was over—either way.

They asked me what I was going to write and I told them I didn’t know—which was the truth—I couldn’t know without a trial and a verdict. I was actually one of the few unbiased people that watched the trial.

Things really heated up after the trial and her conviction. I had a contract with Berkley/Penguin—now Penguin/Random House, and I had to have the completed manuscript in on August 1, 2012. Along with that, I had to send in between 12-20 pictures and all the permission forms to go with them.

The trial ended in May, and of course I had not interviewed a single person who was vital to the case.

Although I had never written a true crime, as a homicide detective I had interviewed thousands of people. Veteran cops learn early on that timing and setup of an interview is important. I began working on this in voir dire. First I knew that they couldn’t talk to me, so when I first met them, I said, “I know you can’t talk to me now and I won’t even try, but I would love to interview you when it is over.”

They respected this—especially as the process continued, and I lived up to my word. They also saw that I went the extra mile to find out the truth—something a lot of the journalists that covered the trial didn’t do.

In the end, I had incredible cooperation from a majority of the people involved. The prosecution was made up of two other attorneys besides the DA. I interviewed the DA four times as well as the others. Everyone in the police department cooperated and one of the defense attorneys sat down and talked to me for hours with the recorder rolling.

Everyone cooperated except the Saenz family. They refused to talk to me because they decided that I would not write the truth—that being that she was innocent and the court and jury had got it wrong. They never asked—just assumed that I wouldn’t do this—but I have to say that this was a correct assumption.

In many ways I respected their decision and even expected it. Their wife, daughter, mother, niece, or cousin was just convicted of five murders and three attempts. What I didn’t expect was them, especially the husband, using Facebook and other venues to discourage people from talking to me.

Obviously, this got the hackles rising on the back of my neck. It was almost as if they were afraid I would find out something. 

One of the most important facts I eventually found out was the husband was an ex-con. He’d been arrested in Houston for two different felonies: one for theft greater than $750.00 but less than $20,000, and the other for felony possession of five pounds of marijuana. If you don’t know how much that is, it is enough to fill a metal office waste can to overflowing.

Now why would they not want this information to get out? Maybe it had to do with the fact that the husband worked for the Angelina County appraisal district as an appraiser.

This is the type of information that is only found if someone is motivated to look. He went from not being a real part of the book to his mug shot being featured in the photo section in the book.

If they’d have just left it alone I would never have delved as deep as I did. Now the entire world knows that Angelina County has an ex-con evaluating their property.


Best-selling author John Foxjohn epitomizes the phrase "been there—done that." Born and raised in the rural East Texas town of Nacogdoches, he quit high school and joined the Army at seventeen. Viet Nam veteran, Army Airborne Ranger, policeman and homicide detective, retired teacher and coach, now he is a multi-published author.
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Sandra Parshall said...

Thanks for being with us today, John. True crime writing obviously requires a special set of skills -- the stubbornness and inventiveness of a reporter combined with the creativity to produce a compelling drama that doesn't read like a list of dry facts.

Good luck with the book!

John Foxjohn said...

Thanks Sandra, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. It is so different from writing fiction.

John Foxjohn said...

Thanks Sandra, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. It is so different from writing fiction.