The Murder of Vicki Ann Garner

Vicki Ann Garner

On September 24, 1996, Vicki Ann Garner was raped, beaten, and strangled in her Tyler, Texas home by Robert Charles Ladd. When he committed the murder, Ladd had been out on parole for a previous murder conviction of a mother and her two children.

Vicki Ann Garner

Vicki Ann Garner was 38 years old at the time of her death. She lived in an apartment complex on South Fannin Avenue in Tyler, Texas, that caters to people with various mental disabilities. Vicki was a patient at Andrews Center Behavioral Healthcare Systems. She also worked there in the copy/mail room. Police later discovered that Robert Ladd also worked at Andrews Center.

Series of Events

On September 24, 1996, Vicki Garner had a friend over that evening. At approximately 8:15, the friend left Vicki’s residence. Once Vicki was alone, an intruder broke into her home.

At approximately 6:45 a.m. the next morning, the Tyler Fire Department responded to a possible fire at Vicki’s residence. Upon entering the bedroom, emergency personnel discovered Vicki lying face down on her bedroom floor. She was naked from the waist down, with her hands bound behind her back. She had a belt tightened around her neck and ligature marks around her ankles. A wad of bedding had been placed between her legs. Parts of her body and the bedding were partially burned from an unsuccessful fire attempt.

As investigators made their way through the home, the signs of a robbery were obvious. They discovered several small appliances were missing. An instruction manual for a VCR was, but police did not find a VCR. Investigators did note that a serial number had been written on the cover of the VCR manual. Crime scene technicians processed the scene and discovered a full palm print on one of the kitchen cabinet doors.

Vicki Ann Garner

The medical examiner’s official report stated that Vicki had been beaten in the head and body with a hammer. Her wrists and ankles had been bound with an electrical cord as ligature marks were present. She had burns on her head and torso consistent with a fire that had smoldered. There was an internal presence of semen, indicating that she had been raped. The cause of death was determined to be manual strangulation from the belt that was around her neck. They approximate her time of death at around 8:45 p.m. the previous night.

Investigators had thought that the bedding between her legs had been odd, but once the medical examiner had detected semen, they had surmised that the fire was intended to destroy any potential evidence of a crime.

Initially, it was difficult to learn any detailed information from Vicki’s neighbors, but they discovered that a man had visited several times through the night. Fire investigators determined that the fire had smoldered for approximately 4 hours before neighbors made the initial 911 call. This timeline told authorities that the attempted fire was set the last time that the man had visited Vicki’s apartment, which made it at approximately 2:45 a.m.

Robert Charles Ladd

On the evening of September 24, 1996, between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., Robert Ladd was at the home of John T. Robinson. Ladd gave Robinson a few small appliances in exchange for Crack Cocaine. Ladd made several visits to Robinson’s home that night, each time bringing more things to trade for Crack Cocaine. In total, the amount of exchange for the deal was roughly $100.

Robert Charles Ladd

Investigators would later learn that Robinson’s home was approximately one mile from the Vicki’s apartment. They also learned that Ladd had only been released from prison six years prior to Vicki’s murder. His previous prison sentence was for a triple murder of a young family in Dallas, Texas in 1978.

Vivian Geanett Thompson

Vivian Geanett Thompson and her children, Maurice, 3, and Latoya, 18 months, died at the hands of Robert Ladd. He broke into their apartment in Dallas, TX in October 1978. Ladd stabbed Thompson ten times in her chest, stomach, neck, and back. He put her in her bedroom closet and set the closet clothes and her on fire. Ladd fled the apartment as the fire rapidly grew. Original reports state that the son had been found in the closet with his mother, their bodies having been fused together due to the heat of the fire. The daughter was located elsewhere in the apartment. The medical examiner determined both children died of smoke inhalation. Investigators surmised the fire was set to destroy evidence of a sexual assault.

Within a few weeks, investigators arrested Robert Ladd for the murders of the Thompson family. Ladd pled guilty and was given a 40-year sentence for the murders and a 20-year sentence for the arson. At the time, Texas state law stated that he would be eligible for parole, so after 12 years of his sentence, he was released. Six years later, he was found guilty of the murder Vicki.

The Arrest and Trial

The day after Vicki’s murder, investigators recovered items belonging to Vicki from a couple of local pawnshops. Pawnshop employees directed investigators to John T. Richardson, who directed them to Robert Ladd. In addition, there was enough physical and DNA evidence in Vicki’s apartment to arrest Robert Ladd later that same day.

On August 23, 1997, the trial concluded. The jury took only 18 minutes to deliberate and sentence Robert Ladd to death for the charges of one count each; capital murder in the commission of a robbery, capital murder in the commission of a burglary, capital murder in the commission of a sexual assault, and capital murder in the commission of an arson.

On October 6, 1999, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas denied the appeal that Ladd’s legal team filed. The appeal courts denied another appeal for the Fifth Circuit on October 24, 2002. Both appeals centered on Ladd having a low IQ. The court disagreed and stated that they believe he knew exactly what he was doing, based on the level of planning and the attempted arson to cover up his crimes. Those facts, coupled with several remorse letters that he wrote to the family, were the court’s justification.

Ladd was given a temporary stay of execution on April 23, 2003, so the courts could assess his mental condition. He was found to be competent and within scope. A judge set the execution date after psychologists completed the evaluation.

On January 29, 2015, Robert Charles Ladd was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas.

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