On August 21, 1984 around 415pm, police found Janet Eva Roberson Gregston (Dec 20, 1955 – Aug 21, 1984) murdered about two miles east of US 385 (Andrews Highway) on the North East Loop 338, Ector County, Texas.
She had been stabbed twenty times and her throat was slashed. She was also pregnant.
Her case remains unsolved. This is the Case of the Month for November 2019.
Janet Eva Roberson Gregston was the daughter of Charles “Curtis” Roberson who passed away on January 22, 2016. He was 85 years old. Her mom was Minnie Joyce Roberson who died on Feb. 23, 2002. She was 67 years old.
Janet was married to Daniel Gregston. The couple was expecting. The 7-month-old baby she carried inside of her was already named: Kyle Wayne Gregston. Daniel Gregston has since remarried. Janet is buried with her son Kyle Wayne at Sunset Memorial Gardens in Odessa, Ector, Texas.
Janet graduated from Kermit High School. She moved to Odessa and worked as a bartender at Graham Central Station. That is the same night club where Carmen Melinda Croan was seen last. Carmen was murdered on Aug 23, 1981. Carmen’s case was also brutal, violent, and remains unsolved.
The attack occurred in broad daylight. The Gregstons had placed an ad in the papers. They wished to sell their gold Buick Riviera. Authorities believe that whoever killed Janet was a potential buyer making a test drive with Janet in the car. If so, the steering wheel, gear stick, the back of the rear-view mirror, and door handles must have carried several sets of fingerprints. More on this below.
The car was found some unspecified time later on Englewood Lane which is a few blocks away from the house where the Gregstons lived on 4100 Tanglewood Lane. According to Google maps this is a 3min drive.
Janet had been stabbed twenty times and her throat was slashed. We do not know in which order the attack happened. Was she stabbed in the heart area or throat first and what was the exact cause of death? We do know that this was a highly personal attack on a pregnant mother.
We do not know if the murder weapon was ever found, what type of knife was used, how deep the wounds were, and if it is possible that the weapon came from the Gregston home. It bothers me that we do not know if this potential buyer came to the door, maybe was invited in for a moment, or whether he remained outside on the driveway.
Police believe that someone (this may or may not be the killer) cleaned the car at a car wash with a hand-held sprayer and also cleaned the interior. I can only imagine that they got this information from canvassing, or someone gave them a tip. It would be interesting to go back to those police notes to see at what time this car was seen at which car wash and then to check if there are still financial records to trace. There are a few car washes in that area not far from either Englewood or Tanglewood Lane. More about this below.
According to the Odessa American from Sept 15, 1984 (page 14) police was searching for a man “who might help them solve the crime, Ector County sheriff’s investigator Monnie Weddel said.”
The man that they are looking for is called Doug. Note that Doug is NOT A SUSPECT but he may be able to help in the process of eliminating fingerprints found inside the car.
Of course, the inside of the car carried the Gregstons prints but also the prints of all prospective buyers who made a test drive. So, if police can eliminate those who have nothing to do with the murder, it reduces the number of unknown prints. Hence the search for Doug as he was a prospective buyer.
Doug never came forward back then but of course, there is still hope. Doug is not a suspect in this murder but if all prints are still preserved, he can reduce the suspect pool by eliminating his prints.
Doug is a white man, at the time in his 30s, approx. 5 feet 9-10 inches tall, brown hair and moustache, approx. 160-165 lbs, and he wore a gold chain necklace. This description comes from Daniel Gregston. He told police that Doug came to their home and made a test drive in the car in the afternoon of August 19. He had met Doug in front of their home.
Doug arrived as a passenger in a brown or maroon colored four-door sedan. The driver was a dark-haired man, no age range given, but he was about 210-215 lbs. There was a boy in the car with them. That boy was about 11-12 years old.
Daniel Gregston was given a description of the man seen fighting with Janet and Doug does NOT fit that description. Doug is younger, shorter, and lighter.
According to police, someone driving by “saw a car parked with a man and woman arguing. He stopped to help, but was sent away by the man who threatened to kill him, he drove away. When he came back by, the car was gone. Janet’s body was found a short time later.”
This confuses me because as you will see below, there is James Michael Puga who claimed that he was a witness too. He said that he even chased the attacker but then lost him in traffic.
So, are we talking about the same man, the same witness? If not, I hope that the first witness comes forward to describe the attacker to police. If this is about the same man, James Michael Puga has quite a story to tell.
James Michael Puga
Puga told police that he drove past while Janet was fighting with her attacker about two miles east of US 385 on North East Loop 338. He claims that he tried to chase the man but lost him in traffic. So, the man fled in the Gregston’s car and left Janet alongside the road. Puga decided to give chase and not to check on Janet and possibly call 911. How long was Janet dead before police arrived? Did anyone see that chase?
Puga was hypnotized on Aug 21 to help remember what he had seen and to describe the killer.
On November 27, 1984 Henry Lee Hill was arrested. Puga identified him from photographs, a voice recording, and a lineup. This sounds positive but in a previous lineup Puga picked another man who had an alibi for the time of Janet’s murder. How sure was Puga that he had seen Hill? Did Puga and Hill know each other?
Hill’s defense attorney claimed that Puga tried to take back his identification of Hill on three occasions as he had pointed to the wrong man. Puga fired back with a sworn statement that he had never done that. So let’s look at Hill. What is Hill’s story?
Henry Lee Hill
Hill’s defense attorney, Jim Bobo, said that the videotaped session with Puga, who identified Hill as Janet’s murderer during a hypnotized session, had been destroyed. Hill, 34 at the time, faced capital charges.
Hill’s competency was an issue. He was confined to Rusk State Hospital in 1985 after Ector County jurors ruled that he was mentally incompetent to stand trial. Hill had been diagnosed as psychotic, suffering from delusions and hallucinations. Hospital officials though thought that he was competent to stand trial. He was held in the Ector County Jail on $250,000 bond. Does Hill have a criminal record? How did he come to the attention of the courts?
70th District Judge Gene Ater dismissed the capital charges against Hill in the Gregston murder. Apparently, Puga’s tape was reused and another case was taped over it. How this happened is a mystery. Defense attorney Jim Bobo described that after the tape was mistakenly erased, only two minutes were left out of a 45-minute videotaped statement by Puga.
Texas law states that juries get to view and hear all complete tapes of any hypnosis sessions with witnesses to ensure that no questions were planted by interviewers.
The erasure of the tape made all of Puga’s testimony suspect and inadmissible in court. As apparently there was no other evidence, the state, represented by District Attorney Eric Augesen, didn’t have a case against Hill.
I conclude from all this that there was no blood from Janet on any property from Hill, no prints in the car matched Hill, his house was searched but nothing was found, etc. Judge Gene Ater dismissed all charges and Hill was released. But if I understand the case correctly, we still have Hill’s own words.
Hill became a suspect when he walked into the Sheriff’s Office on October 3, 1984, and told officers the following: he had been near Janet’s house on August 21. He had “visions of harm” and thought that she was in danger. How Hill knew that the visions specifically spoke about Janet, is unclear. I also do not know if Hill knew Janet or Daniel. Hill continued that he saw Janet get in their car with a man and that he had warned her for that man. This implies that Hill had spoken to Janet. On which occasion? Did he give police a description? When? If so, did he repeat that to police? Did anyone see Hill and Janet talking?
The information was enough (probable cause) to arrest Hill. He told police details about the murder that he could not have known unless he had been there. The defense of course struck back claiming that Hill found all the details that he gave in the public domain but deputies doubt that. They held back information.
Former Sheriff’s Department Investigator Monnie Weddel led the initial investigation into Janet’s murder. He is quoted in the papers as saying that Hill took them to the exact location of the crime scene and he did that at night. But there’s more: Weddell thought that Janet’s murder was premeditated (because no murder weapon was found?) and committed by an intelligent person. That person might have worn a disguise and after such a stabbing, must have been covered in blood. I have not read anything about bloody clothes that were found after the murder, anywhere. Does all this match Hill and his capabilities? And why an intelligent killer? It was in broad daylight but maybe the killer knew the area well and knew traffic patterns? Note that Hill was arrested in 2006 for criminal trespassing and released in 2007.
Police provided a composite sketch of the suspect. This man is white, around 33 years old or in his mid-30s, approx. 6 feet, between 170-175 lbs, brown collar-length hair and a full brown moustache. This is a sketch made of that suspect. It is not clear to me if this sketch is based on Puga’s descriptions or not.
What are our options with modern technology?
If preserved, the steering wheel, gear stick, the back of the rear view mirror, and door handles are excellent places to search for touch DNA. I don’t think that we still have these items.
The papers say that the car was found cleaned but not how well it was cleaned. Were there any streaks, lint traces, etc? If the murder was premeditated then washing the car at a car wash leaves you with less options to get rid of blood undetected. Most car washes do not have liquids like ammonia, Clorox, bleach, club soda, hydrogen peroxide, or baking soda out for ready-use by customers. It would have attracted attention if you asked for them. I hope that all the dumpsters from local car washes were checked for possible bloody clothes and/or disguises.
If Janet fought with her attacker, she may have had touch DNA underneath her fingernails. If preserved, they should be tested and the results entered into CODIS.
Texas Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $3,000 to anyone who gives information that leads to the arrest of the person/persons responsible for this crime. To be eligible for the cash rewards, tipsters MUST call the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-252-TIPS (8477). All tips can remain anonymous. Tipsters will be provided a tip number instead of using a name.
Information about this case may also be submitted as follows: submit a tip through the Texas Rangers’ Cold Case website or call 1-800-346-3243. Your information will be forwarded to the Texas Ranger assigned to this case. Janet’s reference number is 248.
In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight old cold cases. These posts are not an in-depth analysis and of course, often more information can be found online and in newspaper archives.
The goal of these posts is to get the cases back in the spotlights, to get people talking again, and if anything to make sure that we do not forget the victims. Just because their cases are unsolved does not mean that we can forget about them.
If you have any thoughts about this case I encourage you to post them on your own social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. Every time that we mention Janet Eva Roberson Gregston’s name online we enhance her digital footprint.
We must make sure that she keeps her web presence if we ever wish to find answers in her case. You can help by linking to or sharing this post.
Thank you for remembering Janet Eva Roberson Gregston and Kyle Wayne Gregston with us.
The Odessa American Newspaper