Death in a Texas Desert

Over 20 years ago a Waco man was lured to El Paso where he was tortured and buried alive

by Carlton Stowers

When the man calling himself Ned Wright first appeared in the offices of Waco’s Brazos Environmental and Engineering Services in mid-April 1997, talking of a hush-hush development his Florida-based Fortune 500 company had in mind, some of the employees thought it strange. Tanned, gray-haired, and in his late 40s, Wright offered few details of his company’s plan, saying only that it involved construction of a large modular home community and a great deal of money. He and his partner, he said, had heard good things about Brazos Environmental and were considering hiring members of the Texas firm to do some of the groundwork on the project.

Although he would not divulge the name of his company or even provide a business card, Wright asked to review résumés of all Brazos Environmental employees. Sensing the possibility of a high-dollar contract, the firm’s executives quickly extended their best Central Texas hospitality to the mysterious visitor. When he later suggested that he would like to personally meet everyone in the office–“I like to shake a man’s hand and look him in the eye before I hire him,” he explained–his hosts readily obliged.

Among those he met on his handshake tour of the offices was Gary Patterson, a 33-year-old draftsman too far down the company pecking order to have a résumé on file. For reasons neither Patterson nor his fellow employees quite understood, the Florida businessman took an immediate interest in him.

Before leaving Waco, Wright placed several calls to Patterson, explaining how impressed he’d been with him during their brief meeting. Would it be possible for him to get away for a few days to come to Florida for a visit with his partner, the company’s CEO, to discuss the possibility of coming to work for them? Patterson, struggling with a series of personal problems and more than a little weary of Waco at the time, was flattered by the attention and said he’d think it over.

The courtship, which both agreed was best kept secret, went on for three weeks. Ned Wright continued to phone Patterson regularly at his work number, sometimes giving a phony name, sometimes refusing to give a name at all. “Gary,” the receptionist had begun to joke when Wright phoned, “it’s that strange guy from Florida who doesn’t want me to know who he is.”

Finally, much to Wright’s delight, Patterson agreed to fly to Florida for an interview. What the divorced draftsman would like to do, he suggested, was bring his new girlfriend along and tack a short sun-and-sand vacation onto the visit.

Suddenly, Ned Wright’s enthusiasm inexplicably cooled. Bringing a guest along, he advised Patterson, wasn’t a good idea since what his company had in mind was only a quick down-and-back trip. Things had become so busy with the Florida company, in fact, that the time for even a brief visit was no longer right. Let him make new arrangements, Wright said, and get back with him.

Soon he was back in Waco with a new plan: Could Patterson fly to El Paso, where another development was under way, and meet with the company’s CEO, who would be visiting the site there? The meeting would be little more than a formality, Wright assured. They had already discussed matters and were prepared to offer him a job with an increased status, salary, and additional benefits–as well as a signing bonus of a new Chevrolet Suburban. Over lunch, Wright gave Patterson four $100 bills with which to purchase a plane ticket for the quick get-acquainted trip. If he took the job–“Which we’re certainly hoping you will,” Wright told him–he could drive the Suburban back to Waco to give notice and begin putting his affairs in order. If not, they would fly him home in the corporate jet.

Excited by the seductive new opportunity but not wishing to jeopardize his job with Brazos Environmental, Patterson told only his girlfriend, his parents, and a few trusted friends at the office of his trip. On the morning of his scheduled departure–Saturday, May 3, 1997–he left his young daughter, Crystal, with his parents and took a 7:30 a.m. American Eagle flight out of Waco.

After reaching El Paso, he placed a brief call from the airport to his parents’ home a few minutes before noon, Waco time, to let them know he had arrived.

Then Gary Patterson, lured into a world of bitter family hatred, international wrongdoing, and false identities, vanished.

During the next 15 months, a bizarre and Byzantine investigation–involving the Waco police, the Texas Rangers, the FBI, a California private investigator, the U.S. Marshals office, the Secret Service, the State Department, Border Patrol, the government of Honduras, and even Interpol–sought to piece together a motive for the disappearance and determine what had happened to Patterson.

Yet it began as a routine missing person’s case, filed the Monday morning after the young man’s departure. A grim-faced D.C. Patterson appeared at the Waco Police Department and immediately made it clear that he was convinced his son had been the victim of foul play. Also, he strongly suspected that a mean-spirited man named Sam Urick, Gary’s former father-in-law, was somehow involved.


The harmony of the marriage of Gary Patterson and Lisa Urick had been short-lived, destined to dissolve into divorce and a bitter custody battle. Helping fuel the discontent was Lisa’s father, a domineering, shadowy figure who liked to brag of his days as a CIA hit man, money-laundering escapades, and his association with a variety of well-known underworld figures. Whether such stories were true or not Patterson had no way of knowing. But he was convinced that his father-in-law was, at best, a shady character. He knew, for instance, of one occasion when Sam had appeared at a Waco bank with a suitcase bearing $100,000 in cash. When bank officials demanded some kind of disclosure before allowing him to open an account, he had angrily stormed out rather than say where the money had come from.

There was, however, a great deal about his father-in-law that Patterson did not know.

Operation Circus

Though they lacked enough evidence for an arrest, the FBI had long suspected Urick’s involvement in the 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub in which American military personnel were killed. According to a highly classified Bureau investigation called “Operation Circus,” he was a known associate of two rogue CIA agents who were accused of selling stolen arms to terrorist countries. Urick not only was believed to have helped hide them out while they were federal fugitives but was thought to be involved in the purchase and delivery of 40,000 pounds of plastic explosives to the Libyan terrorists who ultimately claimed credit for the German deaths.

All Patterson knew for certain about his wife’s father was that he was a secretive wheeler-dealer who was routinely in and out of get-rich-quick ventures yet publicly claimed to earn his living from a small trucking company called Southern Sales he owned and operated in Conroe, Texas.

Urick had, in recent years, strong-armed his son-in-law into a variety of short-lived businesses in Waco–working at a storefront insurance agency and operating a marina among them–only to suddenly appear, raid the profits without explanation, and disappear for weeks, sometimes months, leaving Patterson to deal with irate customers and a parade of bill collectors.

On one occasion, two armed men had arrived at the insurance office and demanded to know where they could find Sam Urick. Lisa, working as the company receptionist, had been there with her infant daughter when the men arrived. Shortly after the unsettling encounter, Urick abruptly informed his son-in-law that he was closing the business.

Gary Patterson had finally had enough and told his wife that he would no longer enter into any kind of business arrangement with her father. It was time, he said, that they make the break from her family. Distancing himself from Sam Urick, Patterson took the job with Brazos Environmental and Engineering as a draftsman.

The idea did not sit well with Urick, who immediately began insisting to his daughter that she file for divorce. If she didn’t, he threatened, he would take his granddaughter from her and see to it that she never saw the child again.

Thus, in October 1992, the couple’s eight-year marriage ended, and Lisa Urick Patterson was awarded custody of the couple’s 2-year-old daughter. Father Gary, however, was granted liberal visitation. That part of the court’s decision did not please the elder Urick.

By fall 1994, Lisa was on the run in an effort to prevent Patterson from seeing his child. Financed by her father, she and her daughter spent the next two years in hiding, moving to Nevada, California, and even Alaska for a time, while Patterson and his family attempted to locate her. To some she explained that her husband was dead. To others she confided she was protecting her daughter from a father who had molested her. By the time a California-based private investigator found her living in Pilot Point, Oregon, Gary’s father, D.C. Patterson, had paid him $14,000 for his efforts. Gary, meanwhile, had returned to court where he was awarded custody of his daughter.

Lisa was arrested in August 1996 and returned to Waco where she was charged with interference with child custody and granted only limited and supervised visits with her daughter.

Ironically, Lisa’s sentencing hearing (at which she would receive probation) was held the day before the man calling himself Ned Wright showed up at the offices of Brazos Environmental and Engineering. And it would be months later before the Pattersons had cause to reflect on a strange request they had earlier received from their estranged ex-daughter-in-law: Lisa had phoned to ask them for a photograph of Gary. She wanted it, she said, for a locket she’d bought for her daughter.


Tales of a family divided and angry accusations aside, Waco police detectives Steve January and Kristina Woodruff agreed their first order of business was to learn more about the man who had visited Gary Patterson.

Veteran officers, they had investigated countless domestic squabbles and heard a litany of wild and unfounded claims during their service in the Bible Belt city of 100,000. Neither, however, had even the slightest hint they were venturing into a dark maze of criminal activity that would occupy their lives for the next year and a half.

“One of the things we’d been told by people at Brazos Environmental,” says Detective January, “was that he [Wright] had arrived and left by taxi. In Waco, that’s pretty unusual.” It provided a starting place for the investigation.

At the local Yellow Cab company, a driver recalled picking up a fare at the Fairfield Inn and taking him to Brazos Environmental. Later, he remembered, he’d received a call to drive the passenger back to the motel.

Checking telephone records at the Fairfield, they found that several calls had been placed to Brazos Environmental from Room 105. Registration records, however, indicated that the room had been occupied not by Ned Wright but by a man named Theodore Donald Young. In keeping with company policy, the motel had made a Xerox copy of the guest’s driver’s license when he’d checked in.

Returning to Patterson’s workplace with a grainy black and white copy of the license photo, the detectives were assured it was a picture of the Florida businessman who had earlier visited there. Ned Wright, it appeared, was actually Theodore Young, a man January and Woodruff would soon learn had been a federal fugitive since February 1995. Convicted in a $26-million fraud case in South Carolina and sentenced to serve 51 months in prison, Young had failed to surrender himself to prison authorities as ordered and had been at large since.

If the investigators had any doubts about the elder Patterson’s claims that his son’s father-in-law was somehow involved in the growing mystery, they were soon erased by the surreptitious efforts of Scott Settimo, the San Diego private investigator who had been hired to locate Lisa Urick Patterson.

Convinced that Lisa’s father was financing her efforts to remain in hiding, Settimo had focused his efforts on tracking Urick, convinced he would eventually lead him to his daughter. “He’d done a very thorough investigation,” January says, “and was convinced Sam was a pretty shady character, involved in various kinds of business scams, frauds, and money laundering activities.”

During a telephone conversation with the Waco detective, Settimo described trailing Urick during one of his frequent visits to the West Coast. At one point, he said, he’d approached Urick’s parked Lincoln and seen what looked like a leather-bound day planner in the front seat. What it was, actually, was a book in which its owner kept addresses and phone numbers of friends and associates.

“Want me to send you a copy of it?” the private investigator asked.

Opting not to press Settimo for details of how the phone book had made its way into his hands, January recited a Federal Express number and requested that he overnight it. What the detective would find among the numbers, foreign and domestic, that Urick had recorded were several with El Paso prefixes. One was listed aside the name Ted Young.

It was time, the detectives agreed, to follow the same course Settimo had and focus their investigation on Sam Urick.

“I placed a call to him at his trucking company in Conroe in hopes of setting up an interview,” January recalls. “I tried to persuade him to come to Waco to talk to us but he insisted I come there. He made it clear he wanted me on his turf. And then, toward the end of the conversation, he began to say some really strange things. He started talking about my boys; even knew their names. ‘I’ve had you checked out,’ he said, ‘and I know how much you love your kids.’ And then he hung up.”

Unnerved by the tone of Urick’s voice, the detective quickly pushed the rewind button on the tape recorder attached to his phone, only to find that it had failed to record what he had perceived as a threat. Frustrated, Steve January kicked a trashcan across the room.

The frustration would quickly be compounded. By the time January could schedule a visit to Conroe, Sam Urick had shut down the business and fled. The “trucking company” he’d left behind showed little evidence of being a legitimate business. In the yard was a single dilapidated truck. A computer check would reveal that Southern Sales previously had operated under a half dozen names and company presidents. The only real evidence that any kind of business had been transacted out of the small office were long-distance phone bills that often ran as high as $2,000 per month. Records showed a number of calls to various numbers in El Paso, some to places as far away as Honduras.

The “missing person” case, then, was quickly growing in scope and complications. “There were obviously a lot of things going on with the case,” Kristina Woodruff recalls, “that were well beyond our jurisdiction. Steve and I were convinced that something bad had happened to Gary Patterson. But to find out what, we were going to need help.”

It would come from two nearby sources–but not before unexpected obstacles were thrown into their path.


Texas Ranger Matt Cawthon knew nothing of the case until a fellow law enforcement officer mentioned that Patterson was missing. Later, he would visit the McLennan County Sheriff’s office where an officer, also aware of the basic facts of the investigation, suggested it “just might turn into one of the biggest cases we’ve had around here in some time.”

Curious, Cawthon decided to visit the Waco police department and introduce himself.

Detectives January and Woodruff eagerly welcomed his interest and spent most of an afternoon outlining what they had learned during the two weeks they had been working the case. Their chief concern, they explained, was the jurisdictional problems they faced. “What we had to determine,” January says, “was how we were going to work a case where whatever might have happened took place hundreds of miles away. Basically, we were still working a missing person’s case in Waco, and the guy we were looking for had disappeared in El Paso.”

Cawthon suggested that a meeting of local, state, and federal agencies might help map out some kind of strategy. It was decided to invite the McLennan County district attorney, assistant U.S. attorney for the western district of Texas, and local representatives from the FBI and U.S. Marshals office.

“What we did at the meeting,” Cawthon says, “was go over everything Steve and Kristina had on the case. They detailed the Pattersons’ divorce and custody battle, Urick’s background, and the link they had made between him and Ted Young. They explained that they strongly felt that Young, the federal fugitive, was the key to determining what had happened to Gary Patterson.”

It was when Young’s background was being discussed that Cassie Roundtree, a deputy in the local U.S. Marshals office, excused herself from the table and went to a nearby phone. She returned only minutes later, smiling. “We’ve got him,” she announced. “We know all about him and where he is.” Adding an impressive litany of details about the search and surveillance her office had been doing on Young, Roundtree said she’d just been given information that “Ted Young just crossed the border into Juarez, pulling a trailer.”

Though she said nothing, Detective Woodruff found Roundtree’s explanation troubling. Why, she wondered, if they knew where Young was, knew that he was a federal fugitive, had they not taken him into custody, rather than allow him to cross into Mexico? “It just didn’t make sense to me,” the detective says.

For weeks, while being regularly assured by Roundtree that the search for Young was progressing and should be regarded as the sole jurisdiction of the U.S. Marshals, the Rangers and police detectives waited. As patience grew thin, they began to wonder.

Finally, with the anniversary of Patterson’s disappearance nearing the three-month mark, they chose to move ahead with their own investigation. A welcomed addition to their efforts was Waco-based assistant U.S. attorney Bill Johnston. Although at the time Johnston was heavily involved in the prosecution of members of the Branch Davidians in the aftermath of their infamous shoot-out with members of the ATF raid team at nearby Mount Carmel, he had made it clear that he was eager to support the Rangers and the police in any way possible.

“The first thing he did,” Cawthon recalls, “was to help us solve the jurisdictional problem.” The 41-year-old Johnston, a student of the law since his childhood days when his father had served as an assistant district attorney in Dallas, explained that the only way Patterson’s disappearance could be viewed as a federal crime was if transportation across state lines was involved. “Finally, after doing some research, he came up with a statute referring to interstate flight that worked to our advantage. The commercial flight that Patterson had taken to El Paso had been scheduled to travel on to San Francisco that same day.”

With that legal interpretation, the disappearance of Gary Patterson became a federal case, complete with the power to subpoena witnesses and seek cooperation of authorities in El Paso. In El Paso, the FBI soon joined into the effort, agreeing to open a missing person’s case.


For the next several months, Cawthon, January, and Woodruff blazed a trail from Waco to El Paso. Although there was no Ted Young to be found, Urick’s phone list provided them a roadmap into a netherworld of scam artists and con men, all somehow associated with and obligated to the man who had recorded their numbers.

There was Clark Paulson, who gave his occupation as “house sitter” for Realtors who preferred the high-dollar homes they were attempting to sell to be occupied. Yes, he said, he knew both Urick and Young. Eventually he would admit that Urick had contacted him several months earlier to say that he would need to use his pickup. He’d delivered it to Young at the Red Roof Inn in El Paso and picked it up in the motel parking lot the following day.

Another longtime Urick associate, owner of 600 isolated desert acres east of El Paso, admitted that Urick had been a regular visitor in his home, sometimes staying for weeks.

Then, there was an old buddy of Sam’s who had left town before they had a chance to talk with him. He’d recently been indicted for defrauding the Royal Bank of Canada of almost $200 million.

And, on a hardscrabble road leading past a maze of plywood shacks and cardboard lean-tos, the home of a man named Ollie Martinez. Yes, he said, he knew Ted Young. In fact, Sam Urick had come to his house looking for him on several occasions.

“We explained how important it was that we locate Ted,” Cawthon says, “and he immediately volunteered to take us to where he was living.”

“He’s in Honduras,” Martinez told them.

Yet when the Waco investigators passed the information to U.S. Marshals in El Paso, they were quickly warned that Martinez was also a known hustler most likely just looking for a free ride back home to Central America. Another lead cut off.

Despite some progress during the next few months, the detectives knew that if real progress was to be made, a dramatic breakthrough was needed. That event would be set in motion in Waco in June 1998 when Lisa Urick Patterson, having failed to pay ordered court costs and fees in the aftermath of receiving her probated sentence, was arrested and placed in the McLennan County jail.

Before returning to try to talk with her, however, Cawthon wanted to play a hunch. For weeks he’d been reading accounts in the local papers of dozens of discarded bodies of young female factory workers found in the deserts outside nearby Juarez. What, he wondered, were the odds that Patterson had met the same fate? It was time, he decided, to get a look at the ranch east of town.

“When we arrived out there,” he remembers, “this old Dodge Charger comes racing down a hill, spewing dust 20 feet into the air. The driver was head of security for the property, ex-military, and, it turns out, a real police buff. When we gave him a general idea of what we were up to, he said he was glad someone was looking at the place because he was pretty sure whatever was going on there wasn’t legal. To my surprise, he agreed to meet with us when he got off work.”

That evening, Cawthon would subtly try to turn the conversation to the landscape of the ranch.

“I’ve walked every inch of that 600 acres,” the guard assured him.

“Ever find any bones out there?”

The guard nodded. “I’ve got some at home on the work bench in my garage,” he said.

In short order they were at his house, collecting two bleached pieces of bone, explaining they would like to have a Baylor University anthropologist examine them. The guard shrugged. “Be my guest,” he said.

Back in Waco, Dr. Susan Mackey-Wallace needed only a quick look at the first piece of bone Cawthon pulled from his briefcase to identify it as part of a human arm.

The time now seemed right to visit the county jail and talk with Lisa.



Lisa Urick Patterson made no secret of her instant dislike of Detective Woodruff. Rolling her eyes at the officer’s shoulder-length blond hair, she immediately dubbed her “Barbie doll” and refused to speak to her.

“At first,” January says, “she wouldn’t say anything. I explained to her that the window of opportunity was closing pretty fast and had, in the past day or so, gotten even tighter. I said, ‘You’re never going to believe what we found in the desert out in El Paso.’ That seemed to get her finally attention.”

A human bone, he told her. “She just leaned forward, the veins on her temples popping out. She was shaking, holding her stomach like she was cramping.” Twenty-four hours later, she talked.

Yes, she finally admitted, she had known that her father was planning to lure Gary to El Paso. “But only to beat him up,” she insisted. “He knew Gary would come as soon as they offered the new Suburban. Gary loved new cars and toys like that.” And, yes, it had been her father’s idea that she lie to the Pattersons about the need for a photograph of her ex-husband. “The man who was going to approach Gary needed to know what he looked like,” she said.

Slow moving and cautious to that point, U.S. attorney Johnston listened as the investigators outlined the new evidence to him. Almost exactly a year had passed since Gary Patterson had disappeared. It was time, he said, to get arrest warrants for Sam Urick and Ted Young and a search warrant for the ranch where the bones were found.

“But, for every step forward,” Cawthon says, “it seemed we took two back. We go out to the ranch, waving our warrant and looking like the Sugarland Express come to town, and start searching all over the desert for a body. … And, sure enough, we find one. But it isn’t the one we were looking for.” It was, it would turn out, another murder victim from an El Paso homicide case.

Two months later, after following a paper trail and phone records they hoped were getting them close to the elusive Urick, word came unexpectedly that he had been apprehended by U.S. Marshals near Las Vegas. “They knew for three days prior to the arrest where he was,” January remembers, “and never bothered to give us a call.”

When word of the arrest reached Waco, Cawthon was called to a neighborhood Sunday school party attended by Bill Johnston. Excusing themselves to talk in the den, Johnston told the Ranger, “You’ve got to go to Honduras. We need Ted.”


Aboard the commercial flight from Miami in early August 1998 were Cawthon, fellow Ranger Clete Buckaloo, and agents of the Secret Service who had agreed to run interference with the Honduran government and local police officials if necessary. In the capitol city of Tegucigalpa, representatives from the U.S. Embassy waited to help. For the Rangers, it was a venture into uncharted territory. Never before had the Texas law enforcement agency gone so far afield in an attempt to make an arrest. “We had hoped to take Ted into custody first,” Cawthon says, “believing he would help us to make a stronger case against Sam. But when that idea fell apart, we felt we had to move quickly to ‘plan B.'”

Thus, while Cawthon was en route to Honduras, Waco detective January was making yet another trip to El Paso, this time to arrest Clark Paulson, who’d lent Urick his pickup, for his role in the Patterson disappearance.

Cawthon and Buckaloo had barely settled into their hotel room to prepare for a briefing meeting with local state department officials when one of the Secret Service agents knocked at their door. “You guys know a U.S. Marshal named Cassie Roundtree?” he asked. “She’s apparently really blown a cork. She’s calling Washington, going ballistic over the fact you guys are here. Just wanted you to know that if we suddenly get pulled off this thing and told to go home, it isn’t our decision.”

Cawthon immediately placed calls to Johnston and his superiors at the Rangers headquarters. “Buy us some time,” he pled.

For several days, while a battle was waged from Waco to Washington over their right to be there, the Rangers began tracking Ted Young. Among the first things they learned was that there were computer records indicating the comings and goings of those entering or leaving Honduras. Ted Young, they found, had been traveling on a passport issued to his twin brother, Fred, who had helped him escape the country following his South Carolina conviction. Among the travel dates were those matching the times Young had appeared in Waco, then El Paso.

Making a five-hour cross-country van ride to the seaside village of San Pedro Sula, they arrived at a ramshackle junkyard that locals had said was run by “the gringo” in the photograph they had been shown. “We sat up nearby and finally saw this gray-haired man emerge from the gate,” Cawthon says. “I can’t describe how I felt at the moment when I finally saw the man we’d been chasing after for 15 months. I wanted to run across the road and hug him.” Arguing the importance of being certain, Interpol agents who had accompanied the Rangers suggested the van be driven away so they could set up surveillance. Early the following morning, Young was placed under arrest and taken to the local police station.

Sitting in the solitary interview room of the crumbling San Pedro Sula jail, Young was certain he’d been arrested for his flight from the South Carolina fraud conviction. “I’m gonna tell you right now,” he said, “the U.S. government has done nothing but fuck me over all my life. I didn’t do a damn thing wrong and still they wanted to throw me in prison. It wasn’t right.”

Cawthon quickly interrupted the harangue. “Ted,” he said, “we’re Texas Rangers. We’re not here to talk to you about South Carolina or the U.S. government. That’s all past business. We’re here to talk to you about Gary Patterson.”

Young’s face paled and went blank. “I don’t know anything about that.” His voice had fallen to a whisper.

For the next half-hour the Ranger methodically detailed the evidence he and the Waco police had gathered. “We know about you posing as Ned Wright,” he said, ticking off details. “We know about the Fairfield Inn in Waco and the Red Roof Inn in El Paso. We know you were there with Clark Paulson and Sam Urick. We know, Ted. What you’ve got to decide is whether you want to cooperate with us or spend the rest of your life in the pen, protecting Sam.”

Young silently stared at Cawthon for some time, then released a deep sigh. “OK,” he said, “I’ll give you what you want.”

Finally, as the scared and defeated fugitive dictated his confession, Patterson’s fate became known:

Sam Urick had phoned Ted Young, asking him to come back to the U.S. and help with a problem he was having with his son-in-law. Urick, he said, had been shipping him old trucks to sell since he’d been hiding in Honduras. That was how he’d been earning his living. “I owed him some favors,” Young said, “so I agreed.”

It had been harder than either had expected. First, the Florida plan fell through when Patterson insisted on bringing his girlfriend. On another occasion, Young, posing as Ned Wright, had called Gary Patterson and asked that he meet him at the Waco airport one morning. He was to then drive Patterson to an area near China Springs where Urick was waiting to kill him and stuff his body into a waiting oil drum. “Something happened and Patterson didn’t show up at the airport when I arrived,” Young recalled.

Then they had come up with the El Paso plan.

For much of that May day, Young said, he had been forced to keep Patterson occupied, delaying the “meeting” until dark. They had lunch and visited several bars. By the time he finally announced it was time to go meet the CEO, Patterson was tipsy. “I told him that on the way I had to drive out to this development site and pick up a soil sample,” Young said. “As I drove Paulson’s pickup out into the desert, Gary kept dozing off.”

When they arrived at the pre-arranged location, Young had pulled a .22 pistol from beneath the driver’s seat and pointed it at a now wide-awake Patterson. Sam Urick pulled open the passenger door, smiled, and said, “I’ve got you now, motherfucker.” He began wrapping duct tape around Patterson’s arms and legs, then yanked him from the truck.

“Sam told me to go on back into town,” Young said. “He said, ‘Get out of here and don’t come back until tomorrow. This is going to take all night.'” Young said he immediately returned to the Red Roof Inn and placed a call to a local escort service. “When I saw Sam the next morning, I asked where Gary was. He said, ‘He’s in the desert.'”

Cawthon pushed a notepad across the table. “Show me where.”

“The original plan,” Young said, “was to do it on that old ranch east of town. But they had these security people wandering around. So, we decided on a spot adjacent to it.”

Later that evening, Steve January, who’d earlier arrested Clark Paulson, was packing to leave his El Paso hotel room when Cawthon reached him with the news of Young’s arrest. “Get a search party together,” the Ranger said. “I’m faxing you a map to where Gary Patterson’s body is buried.”

Coordinating activities from Bill Johnston’s office, Kristina Woodruff reacted to the news with her own expression of satisfaction: an ear-splitting scream.


On August 3, 1998, digging at a spot located by a search dog, authorities discovered a body buried in a shallow grave. January halted the digging and ordered that the area be roped off. A helicopter was summoned to take aerial photographs, and a video cameraman was lifted onto a hydraulic “mule” to document the excavation. Dirt sifters and metal detectors were ordered to search for bullets or shell casings in the event the victim had been shot. The medical examiner was summoned.

A lieutenant with the El Paso County sheriff’s department, alerted to the plans for the search, had angrily insisted January was out of his jurisdiction and demanded that the case be turned over to local authorities. “I tried to explain to him that this was a federal investigation,” the detective says, “but his response was that he didn’t give a shit and was going to take over.”

Alerted to the problem, the U.S. Attorney in El Paso offered a simple solution: Place an officer at the road leading into the area, she said. If the lieutenant shows up, arrest him.

“I knew the body was Gary Patterson,” January says, “and all I wanted was to be absolutely certain we did everything as perfectly as possible. We’d come too far to take any chance of messing something up.” The body that was finally unearthed and taken away to the medical examiner’s office was still dressed in the white shirt, black jeans, and boots that investigators had been told Patterson wore on the morning of his trip to El Paso.

Although it would not be until the following day that the coroner would rule the body was, in fact, that of Gary Patterson, January had known. He was certain from the moment the grave was discovered that the lengthy search had finally ended. After 15 months, everything had come together in 10 days.

Calling the weary and sun-drained search crew together, he thanked them–for the Patterson family, for the Waco police department, and the Texas Rangers. There was more he thought of saying, but his voice had begun to break. With a silent nod he excused himself to the privacy of one of the SUV parked nearby.

There, for the first time in his career as a law enforcement officer, he cried.


In a Waco courtroom late in September 1999, Sam Urick and Ted Young pled guilty to the murder of Gary Patterson. Urick, 59, received a life sentence, thereby heading off Bill Johnston’s plan to seek the death penalty if the case went to trial. In the days following his arrest, he told of beating Patterson repeatedly with a pipe before burying him that night in the desert. He would not admit, however, knowledge that he had likely buried his victim while still alive despite the coroner’s findings that sand had been inhaled into the thorax.

As he was led from the courtroom after sentencing, Urick turned briefly to glare in the direction of Gary’s father, who was sitting among the crowd.

Young, 49, pled to being an accessory to murder-for-hire and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence and received a 20-year-sentence that would be added to the 51 months he still owed South Carolina authorities. Before entering into a plea, he told of Urick driving him from El Paso to Corpus Christi, then taking $180 in cash that had been removed from Patterson’s body. Young, still using his twin’s passport, then crossed the border into Mexico and traveled back to Honduras.

Federal Judge Walter Smith, after sentencing Urick and Young, noted from the bench that he was “troubled” by the lack of federal participation in the investigation. He made no specific mention of the U.S. Marshals office, but it was, to those on hand who knew the tangled history of the case, a clear rebuke.

Lisa Urick Patterson, having earlier pled guilty to a charge of misprision of felony (knowing of plans to murder her ex-husband and not alerting authorities), received a three-year prison sentence that would be added to the two she was already serving for violation of terms of her parole. She has relinquished parental rights to her daughter, now 9, to her ex-husband’s parents.

In El Paso, facing the same charges filed against Lisa, Craig Paulson, insisting he had no idea what the pickup he loaned Urick and Young would be used for, was acquitted.

Lisa Patterson passed away in 2005 and is buried under her maiden name. A loving mother inscribed upon her burial marker is all there is to remind the world of her connection to Gary Patterson.

Garlyn Urick divorced her husband Sam after he had been incarcerated for many years and now runs a Greenhouse Nursery.

Bill Johnston resigned his position as assistant U.S. attorney after becoming the target of national controversy. Upon learning that Justice Department officials had not divulged critical evidence that the FBI had, indeed, fired pyrotechnic tear gas grenades into the Davidian compound during the ’93 standoff, he had written a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno alerting her to the matter. Soon thereafter, Johnston found himself persona non grata within his own Western District, stripped of responsibilities and no longer even invited to staff meetings. Today he is a lawyer in private practice in Waco.

Though other cases now occupy the time of detectives Woodruff and January, both stay in touch with Gary Patterson’s family.

The .22 pistol that Ted Young had pointed at Gary Patterson that long ago night in the desert was finally surrendered to the authorities by Sam Urick’s wife. It had, she said, been a family heirloom. Today it sits on a shelf in the Texas Rangers headquarters office of Matt Cawthon.

No keepsake collector, he refers to it simply as “a reminder.”

Former Texas Ranger Matt Cawthon was targeted in a negative political campaign tactic and defrauded by Waco Businessman a few years ago. More on that later.

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