The Girl on the Torture Board: Rhonda Williams Opens Up About Being Attacked by Dean Corll

Categories: Cover Story


She wakes up to a sharp pain in her side -- someone kicking her, telling her to wake up, bitch.

For a moment, she thinks it's her dad. Then she opens her eyes and sees it's Dean Corll, the electrician who's renting this house in Pasadena. She looks over and sees her friend Wayne Henley handcuffed, his feet bound, his mouth duct-taped. She looks to the other side, and there's the boy Tim she hadn't met until the night before, when she escaped from her father's home in the Heights. He's tied and taped, too.

Dean's still berating her when she looks down at her own body and realizes she's also been tied. Dean never liked her -- never liked any girls -- but this is unexpected. Dean had disappeared before she passed out; retreated to his bedroom, saying something about having to work in the morning. The three plopped down on the living-room carpet and got to feeling good. Wayne and Tim were huffing acrylic paint from a bag; all three shared shots of Wayne's dad's moonshine. She had taken a puff of a joint that one of them passed her way, and then it was lights out.

Dean walks over to Wayne, slips his arms under the teenager's shoulders and carries him to the kitchen. Dean must've taken the tape off Wayne's mouth, because now she hears two voices.


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Medical Marijuana Refugees Are Fleeing Texas to Help Their Loved Ones

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Graphic by Brian Stauffer
Sitting cross-legged on the floor in her apartment outside of Houston, Faith's mother looks over at the toddler repeatedly as she talks. There are no physical indicators that signal the start of a seizure, but Faith's mother can tell one is on its way.

Everything about raising Faith involves watching and waiting, and today is no different.

Suddenly, Faith's mom jumps up, her words stalling mid-sentence, and makes her way to the mat where the chocolate-haired child is lying. She plops down next to her daughter, gives her moon face and chubby-cherub limbs a once-over, and places a hand across her tiny chest, feeling for any sign of what's to come.

It's an unnerving ritual, the watching and waiting, but Faith's mom can feel what is happening in her own bones. She knows that Faith is about to seize.

Slowly, the toddler's eyes begin to flicker. The gut-wrenching convulsions quickly follow, working their way up her tiny body, while the anxiety that has worn premature lines across her mom's forehead works its way into sheer terror.

Fear fills the room, and she yells out to no one in particular.

"It's a seizure," she says. "Faith is having a seizure."

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Bad Blood: Chikungunya Kills and It's Coming to a Mosquito Near You

Categories: Cover Story

It started in mid-April with a fever, as if her body were trying to burn itself up. Then 39-year-old Belkys Jimenez developed a pounding headache and pain in her muscles and joints. Her feet and ankles ballooned, and even taking a step became difficult. Jimenez had dealt with hypertension for years, but this was something new.

Over the next two weeks, her symptoms came and went. Several times, she visited a doctor in her hometown of Bajos de Haina, in the Dominican Republic. He provided acetaminophen for the pain and swelling and promptly dismissed her. The night of April 30, a Wednesday, Jimenez was feeling better. Before going to bed, she told her mother she would wake up early to go to the market.

But the following morning, Jimenez didn't get out of bed. Her worried mother found her daughter cold to the touch, without a pulse. "One day she was fine; the next day she was bad," Jimenez's mother told the Dominican television network Tele Noticias. "She never got better from this."

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When a Lesson Took a Dangerous Turn, a Room Full of Firefighters Couldn't Save Neal Smith

Categories: Cover Story

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Photo by Daniel Kramer
Penny Smith says she didn't know the full story behind her husband's death until the state and federal investigations.
Firefighter Neal Smith was almost out of the second floor of the six-story training tower when he became disoriented and fell to his knees.

Smith had excelled through the first day's exercises, and he was doing fine on day two. He was one of a few to clear a bunker with air left in his tank; others quickly depleted their supply as instructors, perched above the rafters, threw firecrackers and lassoed the trainees' air tanks with bungee cords. And now he was making his way through four floors of the tower until he reached the room where the mission was a right-hand victim search: Trainees had to slide beneath a plywood plank screwed to the entryway 30 inches above the floor and conduct a counter-clockwise sweep of the room while keeping their right hands on a wall. Visibility was impaired by a fog machine and by a web of fire hoses and landscaping timbers hanging above a floor littered with golf balls and marbles.

Weighed down by 75 pounds worth of gear that included an air tank, mask, coat and trousers still saturated with sweat from the previous day's exercises, trainees had to navigate their way through pallets, tires, metal pipes and burned-out box springs to reach a 2-by-10 wooden box with one end propped upon a barrel. The men had to crawl through the box, which spilled out into a floored elevator shaft, and then crawl back through to continue the sweep.

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Trench Life: Chris Myers and Duane Brown Are Crucial to the Texans' Success, on and off the Field

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Photo by Max Burkhalter
Ask any NFL player about training camp, especially players whose teams toil in the sweltering, 9,000,000,000 percent humidity of Houston, and ultimately he will circle around to one word. You can set your watch to it.

Grind. The NFL preseason is a grind.

To be truthful, the preseason is actually more of a sub-grind to the master grind that the players' NFL calendar has become -- off-season workouts in the spring, organized team activities and mandatory mini camps in June, training camp in the summer, and the regular season from September through January. All this physical pounding, somewhat ironically, for the privilege of playing even more football in January and, hopefully, February.

Texans center Chris Myers is on his tenth grind.

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Binti Lee Will Never Speak the Same After a Houston Hospital Misdiagnosed Her Stroke

Categories: Cover Story

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Photos by Max Burkhalter
The words were gone. She had no memory of falling. Binti Lee's boyfriend, Andre Brown, then 30, was in the other room when he heard the thump, a dull, heavy sound -- like a lead weight hitting the floor. Brown walked into the living room and saw Lee, then 34, slumped on her right side, wedged between the couch and the narrow walkway in their small living room.

"Stop being silly and get up," he said, reaching for her, but Lee didn't move.

Her brown eyes were open and he could see the panic on her face, but she couldn't speak and she couldn't lift herself off the floor. Brown bent over and tried to pick her up. At 5'4" and 145 pounds, Lee was small but dense. His muscles strained under all of his tattoos, but he couldn't do more than move her a foot or so.

A slick jolt of adrenaline rushed through Brown's veins and his heart thwacked in his chest as he grabbed his phone and, struggling to keep his voice level, told the emergency dispatcher that his girlfriend had collapsed.

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Bathroom Battles: Scaremongering Abounds About Transgender Public Restroom Usage

Categories: Cover Story

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In March 2013, Alexis Hollada, better known by her stage name, Doomstress Alexis, is on her way back from Austin with her drummer, Raymond Matthews, in tow. The pair have just rocked a gig during SXSW with their doom metal act, Project Armageddon, and now just want to get back to Houston after picking up a bite to eat at a diner on U.S. 290. There isn't much on the bass player and vocalist's mind aside from food and a chance to use the bathroom before the long drive home, and she's still high on the adrenaline from performing.

She and Matthews seat themselves and order coffee, which arrives a minute later while they look at their menus and wait for the server to take their order. And wait. And wait.

Time crawls along in the diner, which doesn't look particularly busy. Repeated attempts by the pair to make eye contact with or flag down a server are ignored. Even polite calls for help and service elicit either a dead stare or no response at all. Hollada finally realizes what's happening.

She is silently being told that as a transgender woman, she isn't welcome in the restaurant.

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Good Investments: Teaching Texas Inmates About Business Can Turn Criminals Into CEOs

Categories: Cover Story, Crime

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Photos by Troy Fields
"This is not about charity.
This is about opportunity."

-- Jeremy Gregg, chief development officer, 
Prison Entrepreneurship Program

A short while into a 30-month sentence for buying a stolen trailer, James Cornish received a peculiar postcard in his Plainview prison cell.

It was from a group called the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. Even in prison, it seemed, there was no escape from junk mail. Cornish set it aside and didn't think much of it until a guy from that organization named Marcus Hill rolled in with a video and a spiel.

Hill said he had served five and a half years of a 17-year bit for possession of seven pounds of weed. He got that postcard, too. It changed his life. Now he was a recruiter. He went from prison to prison and preached the gospel of business education.

There was no shortage of rehabilitative or educational programs in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Many of them promised to hook you up with Jesus. But PEP was the only one that promised to hook you up with CEOs.

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The Dark Side of the Boom: Oil Is Doing Great Things for Some in Texas, but Not for Everyone

Categories: Cover Story

It was like landing on the moon. The thought ricocheted through Joleena Malugani's mind as she took in the vast, dusty expanse of the corner of West Texas claimed by Midland and Odessa. Malugani was fresh out of college when she came across an Ector County Independent School District booth at a job fair in Oregon. The recruiter mentioned there was an oil boom going on in the area and the district needed teachers. Malugani was in a state with one of the worst unemployment rates in the country, her student loans would soon be due and she needed a job.

Raised on the West Coast, she'd never been to Texas. It would be an adventure, she thought. In August 2012 she lined up an apartment, packed what she could fit in her car and drove more than 1,600 miles for a teaching job in the middle of West Texas. The blazing lights of oil rigs and the guttering flames of natural-gas flares blotted out the stars long before she pulled into town.

Odessa, Texas, sits on top of the Permian Basin, an oil-rich region 250 miles wide and 300 miles long that stretches across West Texas and up into New Mexico. Odessa and its sister city, Midland, went from being wide spots in the road to actual towns when oil was discovered almost a century ago. The wells came in big, and Permian production was the highest in the country for decades.

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Married, Sort Of: The Legal Limbo of Being Gay and Married in Texas

Categories: Cover Story

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Photos by Max Burkhalter
Jenn and Lizzie Wigle are wandering the halls of a bridal expo, searching more for ideas than products or services. Eventually they visit three of the events, looking at dresses, invitations, cake decorators and all the other trappings of the $40-billion-a-year American wedding industry.

Most of the vendors whom Jennifer and Elizabeth visit seem easygoing and accepting, but there is one scene that plays out over and over again with only minor variations among a significant minority of them.

"When are your dates?" a vendor asks, and Jenn and Lizzie both reply that it's going to be July 7, 2012. The event will be at a Crown Plaza hotel in Houston, which narrowly beat out Omni as a venue choice.

"Oh," the vendor says. "You'll be fighting each other for guests, ha-ha."

"No, we won't," Jenn replies. "It'll be all the same people because it's the same wedding. We're getting married."

"You're sisters having a double wedding?" the vendor asks. "That's so awesome."

"No," Jenn corrects for the dozenth time. "We're getting married. To each other."

"Oh," the vendor says, settling into an awkward silence. There's no open rudeness, just a deeply uncomfortable moment.

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