Friend raises money to buy tombstone for Goliad woman killed in fire

Dec. 14, 2011 at 6:14 a.m.

Sharon Burdette read the news that the investigation of her sister's death might be concluded, information she had to tell her good friend - and puppy groomer - Cristal Parkinson.

Parkinson and Burdette met almost two years ago when Burdette brought her puppy in to be groomed.

"It started out as a business relationship," Parkinson said. "She brought her dog in, and I groomed it. Then she sells wick-less candles, and I have them in my shop. She was one of my clients, and now I am one of hers."

A friendship blossomed over those two years, Parkinson said.

So when Burdette shared the news of an arrest in connection with her sister Patricia Leigh Mills' death, Parkinson suggested she laminate the article and put it on the sister's headstone.

"That's when I found out, she didn't have a headstone," Parkinson said. "They just couldn't afford it."

Patricia Leigh Mills died in her home at 127 S. San Patricio St. in Goliad after it caught fire on June 25, 2003.

Mills' 6-year-old son escaped, and Burdette has cared for him ever since.

The cold case was reopened in 2010 by Goliad Sheriff Kirby Brumby after he was approached by Sharon Burdette.

"Almost as soon as I was elected, the sister almost immediately came up and talked to me about how she thought her brother-in-law set the fire," Brumby said. "She came back two or three times. She was very persistent."

Burdette brought several witnesses who were able to corroborate her story, Brumby said, which led to an investigation that took about a year.

"There were interview tapes and statements that had not been previously followed up on," Brumby said. "The constable, Mike Thompson, looked into them further."

Statements accused Delbert Andrew Mills, 44, of Victoria, of making claims that "he knew how to burn down a house without getting caught," among other innuendos. The collection of evidence brought before the district attorney was enough for a warrant.

More than eight years after Mills died in the house fire, her husband of about eight years was arrested and charged with capital murder in connection with her death.

Brumby called the case a tragedy and hoped the arrest would bring closure to the family.

While some of the money from Mills' life insurance went to cover some of her funeral costs, Burdette said Delbert Mills spent most of the money - not a penny went toward the care of his son who he gave up the day she died.

Sharon Burdette has cared for her nephew who is now 15 years old.

Parkinson would like to see her friend's sister properly memorialized and is collecting donations toward a headstone for Patricia Leigh Mills. Parkinson has opened a bank account for her.

"I'm eternally grateful for Cristal raising this money," Sharon Burdette said. "We simply couldn't afford it. I appreciate it, I really do."



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