Editor’s note: This article includes details of a violent crime and is not intended for young or sensitive readers.
Murder victim found floating in lake, wrapped in duct tape
By Valerie Reddell
When officials found a body floating in a boat stall at Summerlin’s Marina on Kickapoo Creek on June 3, 1977, Polk County Sheriff Joe Nettles told former Enterprise reporter Paul Louis that he believed it was a professional hit at the time of the discovery.
The victim was found floating in a fetal position wrapped in duct tape, except for a small finger and a barely visible area near the tailbone where the tape had separated.
The knees were pulled tightly under the chin with one arm bound to the side and the other wrapped tightly behind the back.
Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace G. H. Galloway ordered the body to be moved to Pace Funeral Home, and it was taken there by Cochran’s Ambulance.
Nettles and Chief Deputy A. J. Schamerhorn considered removing the tape — at least partially — to identify the victim, or at least determine its gender.
After a lengthy discussion, officials decided to move it to the Harris County Medical Examiner’s office at Ben Taub Hospital.
That night, staff at the ME’s office reported that the victim was female, 113 pounds and was 27.5 inches long in its curled position.
They could not make any determination about how long the body had been in the water.
Investigators reported that the body could have been dumped anywhere in the lake and drifted into the boat staff — especially given the wind strength the area had experienced just days before the discovery.
Schamerhorn said PCSO had not received any reports missing person reports in the lake area.
His hunch that the unidentified person was the victim of a professional killing because he had seen the thick, waterproof adhesive used in “gangland murders.” It was a favored method for binding the hands and feet of victims.
Medical examiners were able to identify the victim as Phillis Carol Holley Boyd, 25, of Idabel, Oklahoma, by using dental records, according to a follow-up story in the June 12, 1977 edition of this paper.
Idabel is just across the Red River from Clarksville, Texas.
Texas Ranger Ralph Wadsworth recalled launching the missing persons investigation in an oral history interview he gave Jan. 7, 2006 for the Texas Ranger Museum.
Wadsworth said the investigation showed that Monroe Boyd had called the newspaper office in Idabel where Phillis worked and told coworkers that she had gone to Dallas to look for another job, but no one at her office had seen or heard from her.
Phillis called her mother every day without fail, but when a week went by without a call, the family reported her missing. No one had seen Phillis since May 25.
They did see her husband, Monroe Buchanan Boyd Jr., and neighbors noticed him loading up furniture from the couple’s home.
Ranger Max Womack sent Wadsworth to visit with Sheriff Averit Vaughan about the case. Womack and Vaughan were once partners in the highway patrol. Vaughan had been to the couple’s home and found it was “neat as a pin,” but the sheriff still believed something was wrong, Wadsworth told interviewers.
Investigators did get hold of a piece of paper that showed Mr. Boyd had been in Houston and ordered a riding lawnmower from Sears.
Wadsworth interviewed Boyd’s aged grandmother, who was a native Texan but had never met a Ranger in person.
Then the Ranger called a loss prevention officer for Sears. He agreed to notify the Ranger when Boyd came to pick up the mower.
During a chance encounter with a detective for Bellaire Police Department, Wadsworth learned of the body recovered from the lake.
He spoke with famed investigator Cecil Wingo and arranged for Phillis’s dental records to be sent to Wingo.
A day or two later, Sears called and told Wadsworth that Boyd was in town but wouldn’t say where he was. He did leave a phone number, which Rangers quickly traced to an apartment off the North Freeway.
Then Wingo called to tell Wadsworth the dental records matched, the Ranger told him the husband was in town. Wingo suggested bringing him to the morgue.
Wadsworth and DPS Investigator Charlie Cook went to the apartment where they found Boyd’s car, but no one was in the apartment.
The apartment manager offered to open the apartment for the investigators and told them the resident worked across the street at the flea market where he worked.
The tenant explained that he let Boyd stay with him because he was down on his luck and was selling some of his furniture at the flea market.
Wadsworth said they easily identified Boyd at the flea market, but he gave them a fake name.
He told Boyd to get in the car. “There’s someone I want you to see,” Wadsworth said.
When they arrived, Wingo took them down to the refrigeration unit.
Boyd identified Phillis as soon as her body was uncovered.
He immediately wanted to leave, but Wadsworth suggested they stay there and talk awhile.
“Pretty quick he began to cry,” and admitted he killed her.
During subsequent interviews with Rangers learned about Boyd’s background. He grew up in Austin, where his father have been the electrician for the state capitol. He became an Eagle Scout and earned a music degree from the University of Texas.
Boyd taught in public school for a year or two, but “because he had no forcefulness about him in commanding people, he lost his job,” Wadsworth said.
He found another job in Clarksville where he taught for two years and married Phillis Holley.
Phillis was one of his students during his first year there. In his second year at Clarksville, Boyd’s contract was not renewed. He found another job 30 miles away in Idabel.
The pattern repeated in Idabel, where administrators declined to renew his contract in the second year.
Boyd wanted to move to Houston and start a new career in landscaping. Phillis refused to move that far away from her family.
The autopsy determined that Phillis Boyd died from a skull fracture cause by four blows to the head with a blunt object.
Marina owner George Summerlin said a Pasadena couple first spotted the woman’s body. Elton and Sue Wotek had a weekend place near Onalaska and had just tied up their boat and were walking along the ramp. They didn’t initially recognize the floating object was a body, but they reported it to marina employee David Snelling.
When the trio then spotted a finger through a gap in the tape and they called the sheriff’s office.
The husband returned to Idabel by way of Houston and began moving all their belongings out of the house. He told inquiring friends that he was taking everything to a Dallas apartment where his wife was waiting.
Sheriff Nettles said that when Boyd was at the Harris County morgue he wrote and signed a confession, admitting to killing his wife.
Boyd was arrested and held at the Harris County Jail pending extradition to Oklahoma.
Nettles, along with Texas Rangers and agents with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, drove Boyd to the lake on Saturday, passing the area where Phillis Boyd’s body was found.
“I wanted to drive past there and see what he would do,” Nettles said. “When he saw where we were, he shouted for us to stop. He said this was where he put his wife in the water.”
Then Boyd told the officers about Phillis Boyd’s death and his attempts to dispose of her body.
Nettles said that conversation closely matched the written confession.
The sheriff retold Boyd’s account to Louis.
Boyd and his wife began quarreling during dinner at their home in Idabel on Wednesday, June 1, 1977.
She reportedly told Boyd that she should never married a man who couldn’t hold a job.
When Boyd was let go from his job at the Idabel High School, it was the third position he had lost since they married.
Boyd told investigators that she had him she would never move far from Clarksville, Texas, where her parents lived.
The argument escalated until the couple was throwing things at each other, according to Boyd. He claimed she hit him with a rolling pin and he picked up the first thing he could and hit her back.
That “first thing” was an iron skillet.
Mrs. Boyd was knocked to the floor. Her husband claimed she moaned and gave out a deep breath.
“He told us he fell down beside her and started crying because he loved her so much and didn’t mean to kill her,” Nettles said.
He then said he wrapped her bleeding head in a towel and tried to summon help, but the line was busy. He hung up and never made a second attempt.
As the realization of what he had done set in, Boyd decided to return to Lake Livingston and dump his wife’s body here. “He wanted her to be found quickly and be in a nice area,” Nettles explained.
Boyd took the silver tape from his garage and wrapped Phillis’s body inside their home.
He explained that he chose the tape to “keep animals from getting at the body and the shiny surface would attract attention to the floating body.”
Then he placed her body in their car and loaded a trailer with household furnishings.
He drove to the lake on June 2.
About sunset he stopped at Big John’s Marina, off U.S. Highway 190 on Kickapoo Creek and rented a boat, according to Nettles.
“He had backed the car up near the lake so when he got the boat, he moved the body from the car to the boat,” Nettles said.
About 40 feet from shore, Boyd told them he dropped her body in the water to see if it would float.
He pulled the body back into the boat, he continued out another quarter-mile to a snag where he set the body adrift.
What Boyd didn’t realize is that the body followed the boat’s wake and floated right back to the very marina where he rented the boat.
After leaving the lake, Boyd drove to Foreman, Ark., where he was stopped by a police officer after some boxes blew off his trailer.
Boyd told the officer he had financial arrangements to make in Houston and Boyd was allowed to spend the night in the office of the Foreman Police Department.
On Saturday, June 4, 1977, Boyd drove to Houston and rented a flea market booth to sell the items he had packed in the car and trailer. He even sold the murder weapon, Nettles told the Enterprise.
A unique trait noted in her dental records facilitated efforts to identify the victim.
Texas Rangers found the suspect and told Boyd they needed him to identify someone. They did not tell him he was going to see his wife’s body, but Boyd later told officers that he knew he was caught as soon as Rangers arrived.
After spending Saturday night at the Polk County Jail, he was turned over to OSBI agents Fanning Young and Glen Dale on Sunday. By Monday he had been booked into the McCurtain County Jail in Idabel.
Boyd began serving a life sentence in 1977 after pleading guilty to a life sentence. In February 1988 a parole board recommended parole and psychiatric counseling for Boyd, who they described as a “model prisoner.” The board later reversed that recommendation.
In a hearing, the victim’s father, J.B. Holley, the victim’s father, told board members that Boyd has crushed his daughter’s skull as she slept, according to a report published by the Oklahoman on April 23, 1988. Holley urged the board to keep Boyd in custody for the rest of his life.
Officials at the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said Boyd died six months ago.