There have been few crimes more haunting in Texas than the killings of several young women who lived in towns located along the fifty-mile coastal stretch between Houston and Galveston. According to law enforcement officials, the killings began in the early seventies and lasted through the late nineties. 

Over the years, various suspects have come and gone. And none of them have been more interesting than a former NASA engineer, Robert Abel, who owned a small horseback-riding business outside the town of League City. His property was next to an abandoned oil field, known as the “killing fields,” where the remains of four young women had been found between 1984 and 1991. The League City police were so convinced he murdered those women and buried them, creating his own private graveyard, that they filed a court affidavit calling him a “serial sexual offender” who displayed the kind of rage and violent behavior often seen in serial killers.

Skip Hollandsworth in Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields.
Skip Hollandsworth in Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields. Netflix © 2022

When I was working on a story about the murders, I too focused on Abel (“Is Robert Abel Getting Away With Murder?,” October 1999). When I went to visit him at his horse stables, he was certainly odd, but what became clear to me was that there was no evidence he had committed murder. 

There was no evidence, in fact, that he had committed any crime. Abel told me his life had been ruined—that he couldn’t even go to the grocery store without someone treating him like he was a serial killer. He said he was afraid for his life—one father of a murdered girl even left aggressive messages on his answering machine, at least one of which threatened to kill him.

After my story was published, Abel moved to some family property in another part of the state, trying to get a new start. But he could never shake loose of the past. In 2005, he stopped his golf cart on the railroad tracks and waited for a train to slam into him. Everyone who knew him was certain he had taken his own life.

Netflix is now streaming a three-part docuseries on the murders, titled Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields. The show interviews a number of people (including me) about Abel. Another person who is interviewed is Tim Miller, whose daughter’s remains were found in the killing fields. Miller was the man who had left the threatening messages on Abel’s answering machine. But before Abel died, Miller went to see him to ask for his forgiveness.

It’s an unforgettable episode in a story that still remains a perplexing and tragic mystery.