The Murder of The Rios Family

Shannon Thomas
Keith Clay

On Friday, December 24, 1993 (Christmas Eve), Roberto Rios, and his two children, Victor and Maria, were executed in their Baytown, Texas home. Shannon Thomas and his accomplice, Keith Clay, were convicted of the home robbery and murders of the Rios family.

The Rios Family

Roberto Rios, 32, was a single father of his two children, Victor, 11, and Maria, 10. They lived in a two-story rental house on Maryland Street in Baytown, Texas, a suburb neighborhood of Houston. Rios’s ex-wife (the children’s mother) lived in Mexico. The children attended Ashbel Smith Elementary School, where they both had received awards for their studies and attendance. To offset his small government assisted income, Rios was known to be a small-time marijuana dealer.

Christmas Eve 1993

On December 24, 1993, Roberto Rios and his children, Victor and Maria, were discovered by family members who had come to the Rios’ Baytown home to deliver Christmas gifts for the children.

Roberto was found in a downstairs room. He was bound to a chair with duct tape. Roberto was severely beaten. He had also been shot three times and stabbed in the neck with a pair of shears. The family located the children in a bedroom upstairs. Both Victor and Maria lay face down on the floor. They had each been shot one time in the back of the head. The perpetrator had used a pillow as a silencer on each child. Police were immediately contacted.

The Investigation

Earl Guidry, a postal worker, contacted police the day after the murders to explain what he had witnessed in the neighborhood. Guidry explained that while delivering mail to the Rios home, he witnessed two men walk down the driveway and get into a white or beige colored car. He watched them drive away. No other leads were uncovered and soon the case went cold.

One year later, a man named Joseph Jones was arrested on drug charges. During his interview, Jones brought up the Rios case and mentioned that his friends Shannon Thomas, 22, and Keith Clay, 25, may have been involved.

Jones agreed to tape record a conversation with Thomas in the hopes of gaining further information. It was during that recording that Thomas made statements that implicated him in the Rios murders. Police arrested Shannon Thomas. At the time of his arrest, Thomas was on probation for delivery of a controlled substance. His probation was pending revocation. He had also been previously convicted of assault and had served time in the Harris County, TX bootcamp for that charge.

During his interview with investigators, Thomas stated that he knew Rios casually because he had purchased marijuana from him a few times. He first stated that he knew nothing about the murders. He then changed his story by stating that Clay must have killed the Rios family after Thomas had left the scene.

Earl Guidry positively identified Shannon Thomas as one of the two men that had left the home in the white car. Two other friends of Thomas had also stated that Thomas had bragged about killing the Rios family. Interestingly enough, Keith Clay owned a white Cadillac with tinted windows and had reported it stolen a day after the murders.

Melathethil “Tom” Varughese

Following the Rios murders, Thomas and Clay robbed a gas station/convenience store on January 1, 1994, in which the clerk, Melathethil “Tom” Varughese, was shot and killed. Clay submitted a written confession to his involvement in the Rios murders. Both Thomas and Clay were charged in both the Rios murders and the slaying of Varughese. But in a twist, prosecutors tried the cases in a split manner.

Keith Clay was tried for the murder of Varughese. He was convicted by a jury of capital murder and given the death sentence. He was executed by lethal injection on March 20, 2003.

On November 8, 1996, Shannon Thomas was tried and convicted of capital murder in the deaths of the Roberto, Victor and Maria Rios. In the following years, he attempted several appeals which were all denied.

The Aftermath

On March 20, 2003, Keith Clay was executed by lethal injection.

On November 16, 2005, Shannon Thomas was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas. Prosecutors had learned that the death of Roberto Rios resulted from a robbery and murder. The death of Victor and Maria Rios was because Thomas and Clay wanted no witnesses to their crime.

Just prior to Thomas’ execution, Randy Rhodes, a Baytown, TX detective, stated “When you’re at a murder scene looking at dead kids and their Christmas presents around and you look at the TV and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is playing, it took me five years before I could watch that movie again. For the rest of my life, Christmas is going to be associated with those kids. I hope for his own sake and his own soul he’s gotten straight with the Lord, but he’s got a debt to pay and it’s time to pay it. I’m hoping for a lot of us involved in the case, we can put this all back on the bad-memory back burner. It’s been a long time coming.”

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