The Wizard of MO
Welcome to Crime Raven; true crimes, real-life stories from law enforcement, and issues crime fighters face. This blog highlights crimes researched by retired Detective Sergeant Mark Rein using publicly available information, court records, and personal recollections. Content may be graphic, disturbing, or violent. Listener discretion is advised. Suspects are considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
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Wizard drove his van down the neighborhood street. It was mid-afternoon on a typical Midwestern November day breezy, but the winter cold had not yet set in. He found a place to park on the side of the road where the trees might obscure any nosy neighbors. He was a little early, so he settled back into his seat to wait.
For Wizard, this isn't the first day of the expedition. Far from it. He's been a busy guy for the last few days, patiently watching, waiting. He had to be cautious too close, and someone might take notice of him amongst the surge of cars jockeying for position, trying to make their pickup as fast as possible and get the hell out of there.
Between the scrum of private vehicles and buses, Wizard thought he would never pick out the target. Then, success. He saw her. He even got a vehicle number. Wizard's caution paid off. He was pretty sure he had gotten away clean. No one taking notice of the interloper in the crowd.
From there, tracking was easier. The vehicle was distinct, clearly marked, so all he needed to do was monitor the outbound course. By day three, he knew the route and termination point. By day four, he set up down the street and watched.
That's how Wizard came to be sitting in position on that fine November afternoon, his van partially obscured from view by prying eyes by a tree in bushes bordering the sidewalk in the working-class neighborhood, a suburb of West St. Louis.
Wizard congratulated himself on a job well done. Almost done. He checked his watch. Time was short. Wizard reminded himself that this wasn't done. It was just the beginning, and the riskiest part still lay ahead.
Nevertheless, he almost vibrated with excitement as he slowly scanned from side to side and toward the rear with the mirrors. He saw nothing. The mission was a go.
Wizard heard the roaring engine before he saw it. A few seconds later, the big yellow bus emerged from between two houses. As it approached the corner, the familiar ringing of brakes, hydraulic hiss, and the powerful engine slowed to idle.
The door opened, and the girl, his girl, stepped down onto the sidewalk. Wizard held his breath, then exhaled raggedly past the spike of adrenaline. The bus doors, accordion closed, engine powered up, diesel smoke puffing out the rear, and then it was gone. And she was alone on the corner.
Wizard stole a glance. Left, right rear, still no one around. The girl was half a block away, walking towards him, swinging a little bag, not paying attention to anything.
He was caught in her spell as she approached. Time slowed down. He guessed she was eight or nine, maybe four, six. She was thin, with a pale complexion. Her shoulder-length, wavy brown hair blew across her face in the breeze as she carelessly strolled up the block. Wizard stepped out of the van and crept around to the rear. He scanned the neighborhood again, trying to look nonchalant, but his heart was hammering in his chest.
As the girl walked between his car and the bushes, Wizard stepped out, blocking the narrow sidewalk. He said, "oh, hello," as if surprised by her sudden appearance. The girl looked up at him, eyes wide with genuine surprise.
Wizard always imagined this moment romantically. Like some movie, he would sweep her up and off. They would go. Instead, he stammered out a half-baked ruse that neither one of them could believe. " Your parents sent me to pick you up."
The girl started backing away, shaking her head part in fear, part in disbelief, "no"! Wizard lunged forward as she took her second backward step simultaneously, grabbing her by one arm and opening the passenger side door.
The girl cried "no!" more forcefully, trying to pull away. Wizard pushed her in, bending her over, pinning her upper body to the seat. He had once seen a bunny rabbit caught in a snare. Eyes wild, desperate, frantic. This is how the girl looked. She began to whimper, her cries partially muffled in the seat. "No, I need to go home. I need my mommy."
He warned her to be quiet, or he would hurt her. Wizard promised the girl that we would take her home to her mommy if she would just calm down. He said, I'm really a police officer, and I've been sent to take you. As he spoke, he put handcuffs on her wrist, ratcheting them down as tight as they would go. The girls' crying became sobs. She screamed, "ow!"
The unyielding metal restraints binding into the soft skin of her wrists.
Wizard didn't bother with appearances as he rushed around, jumped in the driver's side. The girl was twisting in the seat to herself. Wizard shoved her back down, pinning her with his hand as he drove out of the neighborhood. He began talking to the girl, telling her not to be afraid, that he wasn't going to hurt her.
She was inconsolable. Through her sobs. The girl expressed the fervent wish of that bunny rabbit to be set free.
The drive took less than 15 minutes, which seemed like an eternity. Wizard knew better than to draw attention by driving as fast as his mind was racing. Once he cleared the neighborhood, he maneuvered in traffic. Being careful did not allow anyone a good view of his cargo.
He hit the highway, crossed the river, and into St. Charles County, where the houses were more spread out. Wizard's shitty little trailer wasn't in the wilderness by any means, but it was set off on his own with no close neighbors to nose around.
On that day, as it came into view, it looked as welcoming as a fortress to Wizard. He was safe, and he had his girl. As he pulled up to the shack, she continued to cry. It didn't matter. She was his now. He shifted in the park, turned to her, and disposed of all pretense.
"Stop crying." He snapped. "You will do as you're told. You're mine until I say you're not." He leaned over, almost snarling. "If you do not do what I say, I will hurt you, and then I'll go to your house and I'll hurt your mommy." He stared at the girl, who was trying to control her crying. She said, "I just want to go home."
" I don't give a shit what you want, but when I'm done with you, I'll let you go. If you're a good girl." with that Wizard, pulled her out, up the steps, and up into the trailer from the outside. An optimistic observer might have described Wizard's home as a rustic hovel. It didn't get better on the inside, where Dim Light was a blessing. Sparsely furnished, yet cluttered, unkept, and grimy. The girl barely had time to register her new surroundings as Wizard pulled her down the long narrow hallway, the master bedroom, if you could call it, that was lit by a single naked bulb protruding from the ceiling outlet in the center of the room. Thick wool blankets blocked out any trace of late afternoon. There was a small mattress on an institution-gray metal frame along the opposite wall. A shabby wood dresser that once had been painted white completed the bedroom set.
Wizard closed the door, turned her roughly, and released one handcuff. "Strip." The girl looked up at him, scared, confused. "What?" He slapped her across the face hard enough that she dropped to her knees. "Take. All. Your. Clothes. Off." The girl started sobbing once again, but she slowly complied.
Wizard watched her drinking in every detail. He was most excited by the underwear. The little girl's, white Barbie print panties with pink and yellow trim. Perfection.
When the girl was naked. Wizard caressed her body, pushing her backward down onto the bed. He didn't completely lose control of himself. He remembered to handcuff one hand to the metal bar.
Wizard kept her for eight glorious days doing whatever came to mind, and he had a lot on his mind. Initially, it was pretty tame, but when the girl stopped reacting, got that blank stare like they do, he had to spice it up. Another time when he was out taking a break, she tried to yell for help. Wizard came in and punished her by taping her mouth shut.
That gave him some ideas. He enjoyed punishing her. After a while, she became difficult to rouse, just laying there helpless. So Wizard had to up the ante. At first, showing her the knives flashing in front of her face was enough to get a reaction.
When that threat wore off, he began cutting. Not too much. He didn't wanna lose her. Not yet. The sight of blood brought the girl back to the moment. That was where Wizard wanted her. He didn't spend all that time preparing, risking everything to do a zombie.
Wizard fed on her fear, reveled in the power and control. It recharged him like no drug ever could. He felt like he could go forever with the girl chain to his bed. But after a week, the searchers were still the top story on the evening news. They were looking. Hard. Wizard started feeling the pressure. The longer he kept the girl, the higher the risk. He'd had his fun.
He started to think about what to do with her. He didn't really want to be responsible for her death, so he took her out and tied her to a tree, helpless, her arms pinned behind her with the cuffs cranked down hard.
His rational self didn't want her to be found. In the back of his mind, he knew he should have buried her. But he didn't like the waste. He wanted recognition. Their week together had been a work of art, and he wanted his masterpiece to live on in the minds of even those who found her.
He wanted to drive by there in the future and think of her like that. Chained, hopeless, helpless to a tree. Who knows? They might never find her, and that tree would become a sacred monument just for him. The Wizard.
Earl Webster Cox was born and grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis. He enlisted in the US Air Force in 1975 and trained as a computer systems operator stationed in Germany at Rhine Main Air Force Base. During his off hours, he babysat. In 1979, they arrested him for molesting four of those kids whose ages ranged between seven and 11.
Convicted in a court marshal, Cox was sentenced to eight years at Fort Leavenworth Prison. When interviewed by a psychiatrist about victimizing little girls, Cox blamed his behavior on the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his stepfather.
In 1984, having served only five years. Cox was released from prison and ejected from the military with a dishonorable discharge and the rank of E one.
Cox moved back to the St. Louis area. His parents and sister had never left that area, and he moved into a trailer near Overland, a township in their vicinity.
In 1989, the Overland Police arrested Cox for the sexual abuse of two seven-year-old girls. He'd been watching the children and had molested them at a movie theater and at a park. He was also suspected of fondling another child. Instead of prosecuting Cox for these new crimes, his parole was violated, and he was sent back to Fort Leavenworth Prison.
In 2003, Cox was the subject of a federal enticement investigation using the screen name, young stuff, Cox started messaging a 14-year-old girl named Brenda, ultimately telling her he wanted to have sex with her, including details like his desire to spank her. When Brenda wasn't scared away, Cox sent her a bus ticket to leave her home from the East coast and meet him in Colorado. He told her she was going to be his sex slave and explicitly instructed her what to wear when she got off the bus. A short skirt, a red tube top, no bra and no panties. Brenda stepped off the bus in Colorado right on schedule.
Cox greeted her but said, " you don't look 14." That's because she wasn't. At that point, the arrest team moved in and took Cox into custody. During the follow-up investigation, they raided Cox's home and seized his computer.
The FBI agents working on Cox's case discovered that he was an administrator in an online child pornography ring called the Shadowz Brotherhood. The group ran chat and webpages with servers in numerous countries using computer expertise he'd gained in the Air Force.
They referred to Cox as the Wizard. He oversaw submissions to board groups with names like Panty Raiders and Lolita Lovers. Shadowz Brotherhood ran on a merit system. The more child pornography contributed, the greater access a member would have to the site. Members would submit pictures and videos containing child pornography. Much of it shared from outside internet sources, but the most venerated members were producing new material. All the members were collectors, but there were also many sadistic abusers.
The FBI agents tallied up what they found. Cox's computer contained 45,000 stored child porn photos and videos. Cox was in communication with others in the group who were planning a get-together, what they referred to as a teddy bear picnic at a farm in rural Missouri.
The first round of Shadowz Brotherhood arrests included 100 people jailed in 11 countries. During the investigation, Cox tried to play the situation off as a misunderstanding. He said he knew that Brenda was a federal agent and was using the opportunity to expose the Shadowz Brotherhood to the FBI. Later, when speaking to a psychologist, he claimed he was only involved in the group because it was like group therapy.
For the attempt to entice a minor, Cox was sentenced to 10 years in prison with three years of probation. He was sent to the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina.
As his 2011 release date approached, federal prosecutors had Cox certified as a sexually dangerous person. Evaluations by psychologists determined Cox had a mental defect, and if released, he would be a serious threat to girls. Under the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, the federal government can keep sexually dangerous persons in prison beyond their sentences.
Cox was still sitting in federal prison in 2019 when a new indictment came down, like a present from the ghost of Christmas past. In 1993, Angie Houseman was nine years old, living in St. Anne, Missouri. St. Anne was a working-class suburb just west of St. Louis. Angie lived with her parents in a modest home and attended Buter Elementary School.
November 18th had begun as a normal day for Angie. She rode the bus to school in the morning and, in the afternoon, was dropped at the corner of her block, just a few driveways down from her house. Somewhere on the walk between the bus stop and the safety of home. Angie disappeared without a trace.
Later that afternoon, when her parents noticed she hadn't walked in the door, they called around. None of her friends or neighbors knew where Angie might be. The bus driver confirmed that she was last seen walking up the block alone. Angie's parents checked door to door and up and down the street, but found no signs of the girl. They called 9 1 1.
The police re-canvassed the blocks but also turned up nothing. In the following days, police, friends, family, and a crowd of volunteers would search broad swaths of West St. Louis. But these searches were also fruitless. There was no answer to the mystery of the missing girl for nine days.
Nine days of agony for parents and family. Then a man hunting in the August A. Bush Memorial Conservation Area called the Police. Angie Houseman's body was partially covered in snow, tied to the base of a tree. The medical examiner estimated she'd only been dead a matter of hours before the hunter found her.
Her little body told a tale of sadistic, vicious abuse. Hands cuffed behind her, the little girl's struggles left her wrists raw and deeply lacerated. With her head and face wrapped in duct tape and only her nose left clear, pieces of torn pink Barbie print underwear were stuffed inside her mouth. She hadn't been fed since her abduction, according to the autopsy. She'd been repeatedly raped. And she had many superficial cuts on her body and a particularly deep laceration to one thigh. Ultimately, Angie died from exposure.
At the time, Angie Houseman's murder scene deep in the woods was a discreet tableau with little, immediately linking it to any specific suspect. As detectives looked around, they found no similar crimes, with similar MOs leading the way out of the mystery. As the details of Angie's death leaked out, parents became hyper-vigilant. People looked for signs of the monster living among them. The initial terror turned into a distressful unease as time passed without an arrest. People closest to Angie never gave up hope as the weeks turned into months, years, and decades.
But back in 1993, investigators logged away a tiny drop of suspect DNA N found on a piece of Angie's Barbie print underwear. By 2019, technology and technique had advanced enough to allow a criminalist to isolate and test the DNA. Only one in 58.1 trillion human beings could have the same DNA as that found on the Barbie underwear.
That person was the now 61-year-old Cox. Investigators quickly pieced together that Cox would've been 36 when the murder occurred. At that time, he had lived in the West St. Louis suburbs. His sister lived three blocks from Angie's Elementary School.
Cox agreed to an interview with investigators. He'd recently had a stroke and claimed not to remember everything, but he remembered enough. Cox told interrogators that he was driving through a neighborhood the afternoon that Angie Houseman went missing. His car broke down, and he pulled to the side of the road.
A few minutes later, he saw a school bus stop at the corner, and the girl got out. He watched her walk down the street toward him. Cox said Angie approached him, and they started talking. Angie said she was hungry, so they got into his car and went to Burger King. After the meal, Cox admitted that he took her to his trailer, which was about six miles west in St. Charles County. He admitted to having sex with Angie, keeping her restrained in his room for days. He concluded the confession by saying that he left Angie in the wooded area. He claimed that he didn't want the girl to die, rather he hoped that someone passing by would find her. Prosecutor Tim Lomar didn't believe all of Cox's story.
He didn't think Angie approached him for food, didn't buy that Cox wanted her to be found. He said, "My theory is that he thought by the time anybody would discover her body, they would never be able to identify the remains because it was that remote. I think that ultimately he got himself into a situation that he didn't know how to get out of, and in his mind, the only way that he could protect himself at that point was to try to end her life, so she couldn't tell anyone else what had happened and hopefully not get caught in the process."
On Thursday, August 20th, 2020, 63-year-old Cox pled guilty to the 1993 kidnapping, sexual assault, and first-degree murder of nine-year-old Angie Houseman. In exchange for the plea, the prosecutor agreed not to ask for the death penalty, while Cox loses the ability to appeal the case or the sentence. They sentenced Cox to life in prison without parole for the murder, plus seven years for the sexual assault.
Not everyone was pleased with the sentence. Angie's mother had died of cancer in 2016 without ever knowing the identity of her killer, but Angie had many family members and supporters who wanted to see Cox on death row.
Angie's Aunt Debbie Skaggs believed that Cox should die for the crime, insisting "he doesn't deserve to live. I'm never going to change my mind about that, and he is going to hell." The prosecutor defended the deal by reasoning that Cox was in poor health and probably wouldn't survive long enough to get to the point of execution. To him, it made more sense to limit Cox's ability to challenge the conviction.
In the spring of 2021, prosecutors brought another case against Cox by adding insurance to his already unsurvivable prison sentence. The investigators who did the research for the final push on the Angie Houseman murder developed this case.
They rediscovered and resurrected the neglected Overland PD case where Cox had molested two little girls before they sent him back to Leavenworth. One of those victims by then, an adult, welcomed the prosecution. Prosecutors charged Cox with four counts of sodomy, which in Missouri is the legal term that includes sexual assault of a child under 14.
These specific assaults happened in 1988 and 1989. Cox took an Alfred plea for these additional charges. With this kind of plea, a defendant agrees that there is enough evidence to convict without directly admitting to the crime. During the sentencing hearing, Cox sent silently while the victim addressed him.
She told Cox that she had waited 30 years. For that moment, she cursed him, saying, "You will rot in a lonely jail cell. No family, no friends, and most importantly, no more victims." The judge tacked on another 10 years to Cox's life sentence. After the hearing, St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Wesley Bell said, "We hope this guilty plea helps to honor the memory of Angie Houseman and to honor the still living victims of this predator. We hope this conviction gives some closure and semblance of justice to these courageous victims."
Marcy: beginning the discussion. I am glad that they went through with adding those last charges, even though Cox was already sentenced to life in prison.
Mark: Yeah, I think a cynic might say that it was wasted time, like political grandstanding by a prosecutor. He came from a different county. This happened in a different county. Maybe that prosecutor wanted to say had convicted Cox. But I think it's more than that.
Marcy: Yeah, it gave the, that first victim who had to live with that trauma her entire life, a moment in court to actually confront him.
Mark: Yeah, I think it's great. She's still relatively young. He's old, frail, powerless, loveless, freedom-less forever.
Marcy: Tell me why you used the name Wizard in the narrative.
Mark: Yeah. It was his name in the child porn ring. Cox is the only one of the bad guys in any of our episodes that I allowed to name himself. I actually wanted to call him Sleaze, but the name Wizard worked on me.
Very dark Wizard of Oz aspect with these little girls who are lost literally or figuratively because of what he did to them.
Marcy: You wanna say something about the usual kinds of suspects in these cases?
Mark: Sure. Most suspects in cases like this are known to the children and the families. Actually, this is how most molesters gain access to their victims. They're trusted. You can also see this in cases where the little kids disappear and are later found dead. It's often an inside job.
In fact, in my community, we recently had a case that rocked our community. A mom went to work leaving her boyfriend to babysit her kid. The man raped the child, and pursuant to the assault, the kid died,
That insider betrayal thing was true of his first victims that we know about, the ones in Germany and later in Missouri. My take on Angela's murder was that because she wasn't a direct link to him, he felt freer to go further, to torture her, to kill her. When, if he had done that with the original girls that he was linked to, that would've gotten him immediately locked up.
But then again, with Angela, he did hold to the principal I've talked about several times in the past. He selected a victim from a place he was very familiar with. His parents lived close, his sister lived within a few blocks of her school. So she was obviously selected. I wanted to say this about that about the narrative.
The reason that I set it up as he, he's following her. He's picking her out. He's surveilling her is because he didn't just turn up on that block with the bus stop at up at the corner, a single girl getting out, walking down the block alone. That's a hell of a coincidence. It wasn't a coincidence.
He stalked her and he kidnapped her.
Along these same lines, I picked out a quote from the prosecutor who prosecuted Angie's case, Tim Lomar, "this is the prototypical child kidnapping case that you think about. The one you hear your parents warn you about when you're a kid. Stranger danger, things like that. In the vast majority of our child molestation cases, there is some sort of connection or a relationship between the victim and the perpetrator."
Marcy: in the narrator, you used the common threat that child molesters used to keep their victims quiet.
Mark: Yes. See that over and over again. Cooperate, or I will hurt or kill you.
And if you tell, I'll hurt or kill members of your family. It sets the kid up to make a decision. They aren't mature enough to rationally make.
Marcy: Talk about how the initial investigation failed Angie. You said that you think that the molestation of the two girls a few years prior should have been a key focus from day one.
Mark: Yes, and that's not just my opinion. Some of the senior investigators, when they learned about Cox's identity in 2019 and what his history was, they couldn't believe that they missed him.
In my opinion and theirs, Cox should have been a top suspect because of the proximity of the prior molestation cases. The fact he had multiple victims even going back into, in his Air Force days, they should have kept a record of him. Cox was not prosecuted at the time that they caught him for molesting the two girls in Missouri. The investigators or the prosecutor instead opted to violate him back to Leavenworth.
Marcy: And then it turned out they only kept him for a year.
Mark: Yeah, a year is obscene. Worse than that, he had no local conviction, which undoubtedly sheltered him from a lot of local attention and helped him stay completely under the radar for the people investigating the houseman murder.
In any competent investigation. He should have gotten immediate attention. Think about it, Cox kept her alive for a week, more than a week. There was a chance to intervene here.
When investigators were asked how Cox, how it was that Cox never came up as a suspect in the initial investigation, they all pointed back to the lack of modern systems like the sex offender registry, the DNA database, ViCAP basic searchable police databases on the local level, and also links with social media.
Marcy: Playing sort of devil's advocate, you have mentioned that SAM cases or sexual abuse of a minor case can be really difficult to prosecute, particularly with young victims.
Mark: Yeah, it's true. They can be challenging cases for prosecutors. Young victims may not make the best witnesses. And in our system of justice, they may have to give testimony also what parent wants their child to go through the trauma of a trial to be confronted.
Like that. Another thing is there may be a lack of solid evidence that abuse even happened. A lot of time, physical examinations are inconclusive. But when a child describes certain things happening that they themselves don't understand, they're not making that shit up.
But proving it beyond a reasonable doubt is another issue. But I wanna be clear, difficult is not impossible. Keep in mind they did, in the end, successfully prosecute one of those historic cases. In my opinion, that prosecution should have been attempted back in the day.
But in defense of n of 1993 policing, I think there has been since then a growing realization, say in the past 40 years, that child sexual abuse crimes aren't usually a one and done type of offense. I think it's better understood now that if a case can't be made, you'll see that offender surface again, which means additional victims.
Marcy: Let's talk about the advancements in laws and technology since Angie's murder.
Mark: Yeah. This is a bright spot in this story. Sometimes, we learn and improve. Missouri was one of 26 states at the time that did not keep a database of convicted sex offenders. The national law requiring states to maintain these registries of rapists, child molesters and other convicted sex offenders was passed the year after 1994 and offenders started to register in 1995.
The law made it so that anyone with a sex offense later than 1979 was required to register.
Marcy: It was because of cases like Angie Houseman and the frustration of the investigators that the law came about.
Mark: Yeah, that's exactly right. There were cases similar to hers all over the country, and what had started as a patchwork of state registries we're eventually standardized and linked nationally with the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.
To give some perspective on the importance of the database in terms of this case, Robert McCulloch, who is a St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, said, referring to the houseman murder that a registry "would've cut the investigation that took days down to hours". He's referring there just to the compilation of suspects. Just gathering a list would've taken a long time.
It's worth noting there are other holes in the system. It's not perfect. military convictions notorious, are often missing from the system. In fact, at the time of his arrest for the murder, Cox's name was not in the Missouri, Colorado or even the National Registry.
Marcy: It was also the Adam Walsh Act that was effective in keeping Cox from being released.
Mark: Yeah, I think that label as a habitual sexual offender is great. But it is controversial, the idea of keeping a person in longer than their sentence.
But this case shows exactly how that provision in the law can keep kids safe.
Marcy: While we're talking about it, I think that what Joe Walsh and his wife did with the expanding awareness of this problem in the wake of their boys' murder is really inspiring.
Mark: Yes, it is. The Adam Walsh story is just heartbreaking. But what that family did with their grief and anger is testament to the human capacity for good, for faith, for recovery.
Marcy: Do you think improved technology laws and training would make a difference if Angie's murder happened today?
Mark: Yeah, I do, and I'm not alone. Here's what the lead prosecutor, Tim Lomar, said in 2020 when they were clearing up this case: "St. Louis County and the smaller municipalities had several investigative agencies that were involved in this case. There wasn't a system of information sharing back then. We saw in the banker boxes that were full of interviews over the years. We noticed several instances where multiple departments had interviewed the same suspect and they didn't even know about it. Had this crime happened today with the technology that we have, not just with the DNA testing, but with surveillance, with information sharing between departments, with Ring doorbell cameras. I have no doubt this case would've been solved within a matter of days."
Marcy: Talk about how the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which the Walsh's started, opened your eyes to sexual exploitation and travelers.
Mark: So, I was brought into Vice and the human trafficking problem as a detective in 2005, which in relation to the broader story, here was the time when the feds were starting to strengthen federal laws and penalties.
Targeting what they called travelers and entices. The effort included the Adam Walsh Act in 2006. This effort was based on the whole shit show. Old sex offense crimes, new sex offenses that were taking advantage of emerging technology. People were enticing young girls over the internet, or they were traveling to meet and stock them. That's how Cox was arrested.
It was law enforcement's response to what they were seeing at the local level across the country. It just happened when they turned over that rock. A bunch of child molesters and child pornographers also crawled out.
So, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Trading I went to is basically tailored to give investigators like myself tools to detect child sexual exploitation. Human trafficking and other related problems, just like we see in the case against Cox.
Marcy: Yeah. But how is it that he only got 10 years for enticement out of that whole thing?
Mark: I'm not certain about that. He should have got more with the child pornography thing, but I think what happened is he probably cooperated in the takedown of the porn ring. I don't see how he could have avoided more time if he hadn't done that.
It sounds bad, but with a cooperative like that, a guy inside the organization, you're gonna be more effective in rooting out people in the inside the criminal network.
Marcy: Would that have gotten him completely off for the child porn charges?
Mark: Yeah, sometimes, it's, especially on the, in the federal system. I have more experience with this, with drugs.
Sometimes cooperation can get a person completely off. But if you look at this case when you're talking about grabbing dozens, maybe hundreds of other offenders across several countries, it the deal might be worth it. But they also may have made that deal fully understanding the law, and that they wanted to hammer him at the end of that, cuz he is a dangerous guy, right?
They probably knew that they would hammer him with the Adam Walsh act later, after his cooperation.
Marcy: Why did it take until 2019 to test the material in Angie's case from 1993 in order to get that DNA profile? Why so long?
Mark: So to test each time you take a piece of the, what is limited evidence material, you have to destroy it.
So say your sample is a tiny little drop of semen on a pair of underwear. And current technology requires that whole thing. However big that drop is, you gotta use the whole thing. You have one shot at that.
The decision on when to destroy that sample is a gamble. It's a gamble of whether your technology's good enough in the, like in this instance, whether the test sensitivity was high enough, has progressed far enough to give you a solid result, solid profile from that sample. And in 2019, they finally felt that gamble was worth the risk, and it turned out it was.
Marcy: I had a question about something that you mentioned. You think that there may be photos of Angie before Cox killed her circulating on the internet?
Mark: Yeah, it's horrible. But I think it's likely Cox kept her for a week, living on his fantasies with her and thereafter became the curator of a network of child pornography, producers, collectors, and sharers.
What I learned at NACMEC, which National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, is that these pictures circulate all over the place, all over the world, and they, and the same photos, pop up repeatedly. Some are found in caches uncovered during police invest. But NACMEC keeps a registry of known sets of child pornography so that victims can be identified. And so the possession of these sets can be traced back to the original crime.
Marcy: Wait, wouldn't they have linked Cox to Angie's death if he'd had photos of her on his computer?
Mark: Not necessarily. Keep in mind, he had over 45,000 pictures and videos of kids. Many, maybe most, are not identified.
When investigators go through those photos, they may just be looking at another child. They may not know the significance of her. Maybe the photos didn't show fully, show faces, this kind of thing. A lot of these photos can be difficult to identify or lead back to a specific child, although that's what the NACMEC database is for identifying those specific victims.
And if they're timely, maybe there have been cases where a photo set can be tracked back and a child actually rescued.
I think it's very likely that Cox took pictures of Angie, showed them to his group, and those members probably shared with people outside their little cult.
Marcy: And they say once pictures are online, there's no way of totally getting rid of that image.
Mark: Yeah. One case I'm familiar with, there was a little girl whose photographed being raped.
That victim's guardian asked the investigator if he knew whether those photos had been shared on the internet. The best the detective could say was that he had found no evidence that they were uploaded. Unfortunately, this is no guarantee, and if they were, they're likely to be out there somewhere forever.
It's a very sad thing to contemplate.
Marcy: NACMEC does have a way for victims to register with them to be notified if their photos are ever tagged in a case. You have problems with the confession details that Cox provided? Talk about that.
Mark: These points are insignificant, considering the weight of this case, but I wanted to point out a couple things that I've talked about before on other episodes. Namely, the suspect wants to portray his crimes as out of his control. He said it happened because his car broke down. So it's the fault of fate. That girl just happened to get off the bus right after, and apparently miraculously his car could then run and the girl was hungry, right? Like he was helping out a poor, starving child from this neighborhood and just had to help. So he's justifying what he did there to a certain extent. Like he's a good guy because he took her for a burger before he killed her. I've said it before. Almost every suspect that you catch with enough evidence, so it's ludicrous for them to totally deny it.
They put it in a frame that makes it seem reasonable. Cox is the kind of guy that believes if I do something for her, then she owes me. And he assumes that other people think that too.
Marcy: That's why you didn't put the Burger King trip into the narrative that you wrote.
Mark: I think that's complete bullshit. Okay. Think about this. Do you think considering his record and being caught, he was gonna drive around, hit a burger joint with this new trophy?
Mark: Another thing I'm glad the prosecutor saw through the BS that Cox didn't want Angie Houseman to die, but the prosecutor did say that he bought, that Cox felt like he had painted himself into a corner. That he didn't want to kill her, but that she had to be disposed of in some way that he wouldn't get caught.
I don't agree with that. I think he planned to kidnap and to kill her; he took a girl who would be very difficult to trace back to him. When you consider all of his other victims ultimately told on him, he had to get a victim that had a certain degree of separation. He had fantasies of what he wanted to do, and he did those to Angie because he thought they wouldn't trace back to him and he wouldn't get caught.
I also wanna point out that I don't know how bad Cox's stroke was. But, despite a stroke, he recalled general facts, the soft facts. But like so many other offenders we've talked about in different episodes, he used an excuse so he didn't have to go into detail describing the truth about torture, rape, and killing.
He didn't wanna look like a monster as he told the story.
Marcy: They initially thought that Cox might have had an accomplice. Why was that?
Mark: Some of that came from questions that the investigators had about how long he had held Angie. How did he watch her? How did he move her?
How could he have restrained her for so long? Some theorized that it would've been easier done by more than one person. Cox held to grow in his trailer for a week.
During that time, I guess he was seen in public. So the feeling of some of these investigators was, how could he hide a girl? How could he control her? His trailer was in a place in west of St. Louis that was in a less densely packed suburb. There have been lots of other examples of this kind of thing happening, with even longer imprisonments.
In his confession. Cox never once made any mention of an accomplice and never used one in any of his other molestation offenses. He did have a girlfriend who was staying with him at the time. She was working odd hours. They brought her in and interrogated her. And she described a completely abusive relationship.
Marcy: Seems hard to believe.
Mark: She was scared of him. She denied any knowledge. She was from another country, didn't speak English well. And my guess is if she knew any piece of it, she's probably afraid of going to the authorities.
This whole thing reminds me of a case that happened when I was a new officer and it stuck with me. A young girl, maybe even younger than Angie, was taken while walking to school one morning. The kidnapper drove the girl for what she said was a long time, so maybe even out of town, maybe half an hour out of town, to a house where he raped the little girl.
Later that afternoon, he drove her back into town and dropped her back off on the street. When that girl was interviewed, she said that they went to a house where there was a woman. Based on what she said, probably elderly, and she was there at the time the rape occurred. So it seems likely that someone other than the offender knew that something was up.
That aspect of the case stuck with me because of the implication that someone, particularly a woman, may have just looked the other way. Through my career, I always hoped that was incorrect, but over time I saw other cases. Where that kind of immoral indifference was exhibited by both men and women.
Marcy: You criticized the detective work in 1993. Talk about the detective work in this case that you really respect.
Mark: As I mentioned earlier, I think someone in 1993 made the wrong decision and did the easy thing to ship Cox back to Leavenworth. And obviously, that was ineffective. In 2019, the detectives had a different focus. Instead of just hammering Cox with a Houseman case, which with the DNA hit was kinda low hanging fruit. They worked up the peripheral crimes too, documenting everything, and one of those workups led to a conviction. When you look at Cox's timeline, there are significant gaps.
I think it's more than reasonable to assume that there were a bunch of cases, a bunch of victims out there. Who have just silently lived with their experience, or maybe they didn't live with that experience. That's why I respect investigators that put everything together that they could.
That's the mark of a good detective going through cases, not just focusing on their particular objective but watching for other angles they have to target with doing a comprehensive assessment of criminal exposure. This might have seemed like a waste of time in 1993, and it might seem like a waste of time when you consider Cox is in prison forever.
But it meant something to the victim, and it sends a message to other offenders that we're gonna go to the mat for these horrible crimes. And who knows, Cox may still have some undetected murders out there, maybe in Colorado and you never know, the work of those detectives in St. Louis could help other cold case investigators solve their crime in the future, and I fucking love that angle.
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