Charles Albright patiently waited behind an unbreakable glass wall, watching as the prison guard escorted me through three sets of steel-barred doors. “I apologize for not being able to shake your hand and say hello,” he said, formally rising as I approached his window in the visiting room. “They do not allow me to have face-to-face visits.”
The steel doors clanged shut. Then the man whom the Dallas police had called the coldest, most depraved killer of women in the city’s history gave me a long gentle stare, his dark deep-set eyes never wavering, an encouraging half-smile on his lips. At 59, he had a finely sculpted face and carefully groomed gray hair. Even in his prison uniform, he looked positively distinguished. “Ask me anything you want,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you anything that’s not true.”
Throughout his life, Albright had been described by many who knew him as the portrait of happiness, untroubled and troubling no one. He was, they said, a kind of Renaissance man – fluent in French and Spanish, a masterful painter, able to woo women by playing Chopin preludes on the piano or reciting poetry by Keats. It was simply impossible to believe that he could have viciously murdered three Dallas prostitutes in late 1990 and early 1991. The person who should have been arrested, Albright’s friends and lawyers insisted, was Axton Schindler, a paranoid, fast-talking truck driver who lived in one of Albright’s rental homes. The evidence pointed to him, they claimed, not to their beloved Charles Albright. Perhaps Albright was a touch eccentric, but he was certainly harmless; he was even squeamish when it came to violence.
“You won’t find any woman who’ll say anything other than that I was always a perfect gentleman in their presence,” he said softly. Behind the glass wall, he wore an almost childlike expression – weak and perplexed and, yes, oddly appealing. “I was always trying to do things for women. I would take their pictures. I would paint their portraits. I would give them little presents. I was always open for a lasting relationship.”
In most cases, serial killers are brutal, woefully uneducated young men, lifelong sadists who kill for their own twisted reasons. How, then, could someone so charming, so exceedingly polite, suddenly decide in the later years of his life to become a blood-thirsty sex monster? “Look, I’ve known Charlie for thirty years,” sighed one Albright friend, a retired Baptist minister. “In all that time I think I would have seen his dark side slip out at least once. Believe me, if he really was a psychotic killer, he couldn’t have kept it a secret all this time – could he?”
December 1944: Life With Mother
He was known as the most good-natured, eager-to-please of children, a precocious boy who could do just about anything: name all the constellations in the sky, catch snakes without getting bitten, even perform a tap dance routine onstage at the famous Texas Theater. “Charlie was like a Pied Piper to the rest of us kids,” a childhood friend recalled. “We always wanted to see what he would