Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields is the third installment in executive producer Joe Berlinger’s Crime Scene series; this 3-three part installment is directed by Jessica Dimmock and concentrates on a relatively desolate field that’s on Calder Road, not far off the stretch of I-45 between Houston and Galveston. In the mid-1980s, the bodies of three women were found in the Calder Road field; all three of them were in various states of advanced decomposition, and all relatively close to each other. In 1991, another body was found in the same field. By the time that body was found, though, the area had already gotten a reputation as “The Texas Killing Fields.”
CRIME SCENE: THE TEXAS KILLING FIELDS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: A darkened shot of a field. Tim Miller says, “I became obsessed with this place.”
The Gist: Jim Miller is the father of Laura Miller, one of the women whose remains were found in the field. To this day, he’s determined to help people find missing women, whose cases aren’t being helped by the police. One of the hallmarks of the cases if Laura and Heidie Fye, whose bodies were both found in the field (a third remained a Jane Doe) was that the police told their loved ones that both women were runaways, which delayed the discovery of their bodies by months or even years. Miller thinks that the inaction on the part of law enforcement allowed critical evidence to be taken away by the elements.
The episode then goes into the case of Ellen Beason, who went missing in 1984. A man named Clyde Hedrick was arrested after her body was found; he claimed she drowned and he dumped the body in a field not far from Calder Road. But with the level of decomposition, there wasn’t much physical evidence to tie him to the remains, so he was convicted of the charge of abusing a corpse, which only carried a one year prison sentence. Could the Beason case be related to the Calder Road cases?
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? The Texas Killing Fields definitely keeps the tone and pacing of the other two Crime Scene series, The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel and The Time Square Killer.
Our Take: One of the fascinating aspects to Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields is that it’s in no hurry to explain the resolution to the mystery of why these bodies showed up in the Calder Road field, with three of them being found within months of each other. In fact, two of them — the Jane Doe and Laura Miller — were found the same day. Given the rural area, the idea that all these bodies would be dumped here in such short order created national attention. But the concentration of the docuseries, at least the first episode, are the conditions that make the field a place where these bodies could be dumped.
An isolated field in a rural area. Weather conditions, like storms, humidity and heat, that accelerate decomposition and destroy physical evidence. They’re all factors in why killers utilize fields like that one and the area where a group of women’s bodies were found in the 1970s. Dimmock isn’t saying that they’re all tied to the same killer by the end of the first episode, but she’s also not saying that they’re not.
It’s a somewhat novel approach, even as the rest of the episode plays out like a pretty standard Netflix true crime series. It’s refreshingly devoid of reenactments, though, relying more on scenes of people like Ted Miller looking at the markings they left where they’re loved ones were found, and archival news footage. It’s always welcome when there are little to no reenactments on a show like this.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: When the reports of the fourth body, found in 1991 at the Calder Road field, are played, the lead investigator says, “Here we go again.”
Sleeper Star: Tapes of Heidie Fye’s late father, Joe Villareal, where he talks about the progress he made while investigating her disappearance and murder, are definitely chilling. They’re detailed and show that he had to do the work the police refused to do.
Most Pilot-y Line: Tim Miller recalls a police officer telling him that Laura, who suffered from seizures and needed to take medication every twelve hours, that “she’s streetwise and can get her medication anywhere.” Wow. That might be one of the dumbest police statements we’ve ever heard. No wonder why Tim is so angry.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields tries to take its subject mystery at a bit of a different angle, and becomes more compelling because of it.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.