Cold Case File: The 20-year-old murder of a Lufkin man

By Christel Phillips - bio | email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - His name is Michael Phillips. Twenty years ago, he was brutally murdered. Police have theories about his killer, but to this day, there's not enough evidence to close the case.

Phillips was 24 years old, living in Lufkin, when he met his gruesome death.

Joe Hendricks was a Lufkin Police officer and security guard for Kit McConnico Park. Hendricks lived at the entrance to the park, and he took us back to where he discovered Michael Phillips' body.

Hendricks remember it all so well, just like it happened yesterday. It was the Sunday morning of Jan. 15, 1989. He and his wife had gone for a morning walk.

"One of our dogs was out running ahead of us, and he came up here to the end of the culvert and was barking at something. I called him away and I walked over here to see what he was looking at and I walked over to the edge of the culvert and looked down and there laid the victim face down in the creek," Hendricks said.

Michael Phillips had been tortured, not a drop of blood left in his lifeless body. He was also shot. One time in the knee and three times in the head.

"On that Saturday, they had a tournament," Hendricks said. "When I got off duty at 10 p.m., I came down here where they were still playing games, so they weren't going to be out 'til fairly late. I went home and went to bed and I didn't close the gate that night."

This gave Phillips' killer a place to dump his victim.

"They murdered this young man and then they were driving around looking for somewhere to place the body and they drove right by my house, down here into this park to do it. It's a very sobering thought," Hendricks said.

The unusual part of this case wouldn't be unveiled until police took the victims'  fully clothed body to the the coroner's office for an autopsy and discovered his private parts were severed.

"Later that night PD received a call that the part of his body that had been cut off was found in the urinal at what was at the time the Twins Cinema, on the South Loop," Rick Harrison, the lead detective, said.

Rick Harrison, now an Angelina County commissioner, said weeks later,  he found clues from another homicide that gave him a person of interest: Tommy J. Davis, Jr.

"There were several things that linked Tommy to the murder of Michael Phillips," Harrison said.

Police suspect that Phillips and Davis had an intimate relationship, but Phillips also had a girlfriend, all reasons why police believes this was a crime of rage and passion.

"The relationship between him and Michael as far as our investigation found Michael and his girlfriend was caught by Tommy Davis having relations with Michael's girlfriend," Harrison said. "It all pointed to a jealous rage kind of thing."

Davis confessed that during a drug induced state he killed his father, brother and sister. It was that murder investigation that led officers to evidence that linked davis back to Phillips.

Police suspect a freezer in Davis' bedroom once contained the frozen body part found in the theater urinal. They believe that it was no coindence that Phillips' girlfriend worked at the theater. They also found traces of human blood in Davis' car. However, police say the car had been wiped clean of any useful evidence for d-n-a testing.

Without concrete evidence Davis could not be prosecuted for Phillips' murder.

"We could not find the crime scene, had no blood evidence, had no weapon, so the case was closed after Tommy pleaded guilty to three life sentences for killing his family," Harrison said.

Police questioned Davis about Phillips' murder but he refused to talk about it.

"When the pointed questions came you can see the rage," Harrison said. "He was so mad he would have loved to been able to do something about it."

"I'll go to my grave knowing Tommy J. Davis killed Michael Phillips," Harrison said.

But knowing is not enough. He hopes someone will come forward with  key evidence that will help close this case.

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