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Edna officer's quick response led to arrest of rape suspect

By Sonny Long
Jan. 10, 2011 at 6:05 p.m.
Updated Jan. 9, 2011 at 7:10 p.m.


HARRIS'S JOB HISTORYBilly Joe Harris is a food service manager at the Terrell Unit state prison in Rosharon.

His most recent TDCJ employment began on Sept. 10, 2009, as a correctional officer at the Crain Unit in Gatesville.

He was promoted to food service manager at the Terrell Unit on May 15.

He worked as a food service manager at the Connally Unit in Kenedy from July 5, 1999 until Sept. 21, 1999.

He returned to employment on Jan. 24, 2000 and worked as a food service manager until Sept. 30, 2008 at the Travis County State Jail and Havins Unit.

His role with a Houston home health agency is unknown at this time.

EDNA - Patrol officer Mike Yaws didn't feel well Friday afternoon.

Despite battling flu-like symptoms, Yaws stayed on duty, joined later by reserve officer Robert Chastain, who worked later than usual because his fellow officer was ill.

In the early morning hours Saturday, a routine patrol would turn into the biggest arrest of their careers.

The officers responded to a medical alert alarm at Miracle Manor Apartments about 4 a.m. An elderly woman had activated the alarm from her apartment. When officers arrived, they discovered a window screen had been removed and heard the woman calling for help from inside.

As they attempted to enter the apartment, a man fled. They captured him in a field behind the assisted living complex.

Edna Police Chief Clinton Wooldridge said later Saturday morning the Texas Rangers in Victoria were contacted "after we realized the man we had in custody might be the so-called 'Twilight Rapist.'"

DNA evidence would link the man, Billy Joe Harris, 53, of Missouri City, to five other assaults in Yoakum and Bell, Falls and Leon counties.

"I am very proud of both of them for what they did ... and the way they handled themselves," said Wooldridge.

Yaws has been with the Edna Police Department since May 2008, and Chastain has been a reserve officer since the summer.

"Officer Yaws does very good work," the police chief said. "He is very conscientious and thinks of others. He got into law enforcement for those right reasons.

"Officer Chastain, as a reserve officer, doesn't get paid for the hours he spends working with the department. His goal is to become a full-time peace officer."

Harris remains in Jackson County Jail charged with burglary with intent to commit a felony. Bail was set at $500,000.

"More charges are expected from the incident in Edna and in other jurisdictions," said Tom Vinger, Department of Public Safety spokesman.

COMMUNITY REACTION

Velma Smith, at a table at H&H Cafe in Yoakum Monday morning, clapped her hands when told about the arrest of the suspected Twilight Rapist. Three of the assaults occurred in Yoakum in 2009.

Smith, 80, said she became "extra cautious" when the attacks happened two years ago.

"That makes me feel real good. A little bit safer now," Smith said about the arrest.

In Edna, where the latest assault occurred and the arrest was made Saturday morning, convenience store manager Brenda Pierson said it was scary that Harris was arrested in Edna.

"I'm glad he's caught and hope he spends a long time behind bars," said the 63-year-old.

Mindy Schmitt was equally happy to hear of the arrest.

"That's kind of close to home," said the 38-year-old, who lives in Ganado and works in Edna.

"That's an elderly woman. Why would you want to do that to an elderly woman? That's sick."

Schmitt was especially taken aback that Harris may have also worked in home health care.

"You put your trust in that individual that's helping take care of you. And he is taking that from them. That's so wrong," she said.

ACTIVE INVESTIGATION

Harris, a food service manager at the Terrell Unit state prison in Rosharon, has no prior criminal history, according to Jason Clark, public information officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

"TDCJ officials are working with the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Office of Inspector General and local law enforcement officials to assist in this active investigation," said Clark.

Employment records also indicate he was employed by a home health care agency in Houston.

"We're investigating his exact role with the home health agency and if it's related to the crimes. We're not sure yet if he was moving around related to that job," Vinger said. "It's clearly significant."

Harris' Missouri City home was searched Saturday and additional evidence recovered, but Vinger declined comment on exactly what was found.

The first known attack was in Yoakum in January 2009. As many as 12 rapes, attempted rapes or burglaries in Yoakum and Luling and in rural Leon, Bell, McLennan and Falls counties through November 2009 led to the formation of an informal task force. The victims generally lived alone and ranged in age from 65 to 91.

At Gov. Rick Perry's request, DPS formalized the Task Force in January 2010.

The ongoing investigation involves the combined efforts of the DPS; police departments in Yoakum, Luling, Moody and Edna; the sheriff's offices in Leon, Falls, McLennan, Jackson and Bell counties; the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI, according to a DPS news release.

"In a way, this investigation is just beginning," Vinger said. "We are positive we have a DNA link, and he's a suspect."

"We are in the process of getting additional evidence to link these and other crimes he might have committed."

Related: Time line of events

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