THE MOST INFAMOUS RESIDENCE IN ALL of Texas suburbia sits in a small development of two-story tract homes just off Texas Highway 66 in the sleepy east Dallas County town of Rowlett. The front yard is small—a strip of grass, really, no more than half the size of a typical suburban yard. The red-brick home that lords over it brings to mind the main office-restaurant of someplace called the Colonial Motor Court on some lonely highway in West Texas. For years the only notable thing about it was the small stone fountain that stands just to the right of the front door, the sort of anomalous—if not vulgar—touch that turns heads in the ’burbs. But on June 6, the house became notorious for what allegedly happened inside.
Sometime after midnight, the Rowlett police assert, 26-year-old Darlie Routier viciously stabbed to death her two eldest sons, 6-year-old Devon and 5-year-old Damon, while they lay asleep in front of the television set, then turned the knife on herself and inflicted several “alibi wounds” to her neck, arms, and hands. Then, according to her arrest warrant, Darlie told both her husband (who’d been asleep upstairs with their third child, eight-month-old Drake) and the police an extravagant lie about awakening on the couch in the family room to find her two sons stabbed to death and an intruder standing over her, bloody knife in hand. She struggled with the intruder, she said, and eventually chased him off through a window in the garage. Then she dialed 911.
When news of the child murders in the suburbs hit the front pages, most people thought of South Carolina housewife Susan Smith and her much publicized 1994 drowning of her two children. But when I saw the first photos of Darlie Routier, my mind turned almost immediately to another Texas housewife, Candy Montgomery, who sixteen years before—almost to the day—had shocked the serene Collin County suburb of Wylie by mutilating her friend Betty Gore with an ax in the utility room of Gore’s home. There was something in Darlie’s and Candy’s eyes that was eerily similar: the vaguely haunted look of women who had always longed to be more beautiful; in fact, had always longed, period.
Perhaps I made the connection so quickly because I had spent two years researching and co-authoring with writer John Bloom a book on the Montgomery case, Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs. But the more I stared at Darlie’s pictures, watched her during her appearances in court, and read of her life, the more the comparison seemed chillingly apt. Darlie Routier remains innocent until proven guilty; indeed, her husband and family have vociferously insisted she didn’t do it. But as the Montgomery case taught me, the heinous crime she is accused of is not nearly as unthinkable as we’d like to believe. And the suburban setting in which the violence erupted is not nearly as serene as it may appear.
The two crimes differ, of course, in that Candy Montgomery’s attack on Betty Gore was prompted by an argument between the two women over an affair Candy had carried on with Betty’s husband, Allan—a far cry from the filicide Darlie Routier stands accused of. But if the Rowlett police are right, the two aberrant acts will share the distinction of having been committed by the most “normal” of women in the unlikeliest of settings.
Neither woman had what is known as a psychiatric past, and so the crimes defy any explanation other than a time-honored cliché: “I guess I just snapped.” Candy admitted as much during her trial by successfully pleading self-defense—she contended that Betty came at her with the ax first—and explaining away the forty-blow overkill as something called a “dissociative reaction,” which is shrinkspeak for “just snapping.” The jury bought it and acquitted her of murder charges.
Moreover, the women seem to have followed similar paths to their unseemly notoriety. Candy was thirty—not much older than Darlie—when she suddenly found herself in the Collin County jail on murder charges and the object of public curiosity and ridicule. Both were from the particular sort of itinerant middle-class background that became common after World War II: Candy was a military brat; Darlie was the daughter of an Altoona, Pennsylvania, railroad worker and the stepdaughter of a truck driver, who moved the family to Lubbock when she was in high school. Both were somewhat plain but worked hard at adding pizzazz to their appearances: Candy with her ever-changing hair, Darlie with her flashy apparel and baubles.
Beyond the superficial, the two women shared a kind of retro version of womanhood that ran counter to their times. Like Candy, Darlie has been described as exceedingly bright, quick-witted, and charming; but also like Candy, she never attended college. Both were courted by ambitious young men pursuing careers in the computer-electronics industry in North Texas. Both married soon after high school and got pregnant almost immediately, leaving time for only the slightest flirtation with a career. They seemed preoccupied with being known as supermoms of the sort adored by all the neighborhood kids. (Indeed, Candy always seemed much more concerned with being a great mother than with being a good wife.) And both were obsessed with perfecting every detail in their first suburban homes. When Candy’s husband, Pat, finally hit it big as a computer engineer with Texas Instruments, she threw herself into designing, building, and decorating a new house in the Collin County community of Fairview. Likewise, when Darlie and her husband, Darin, succeeded at building their computer-services firm in the early nineties, they purchased the red-brick, three-thousand- square-foot colonial for $128,000—a lot of house, as they say, for a couple in their twenties. And both women couldn’t wait to personalize their dream homes: Candy with ultramodern styling inside and out, Darlie with her fountain.
The particular sort of setting Candy and Darlie chose is known to urban topographers as an exurb. Rowlett and Fairview aren’t merely