July 26, 1988 in Childress Texas, the body of seventeen year old Tate Rowland was found. The teen had hung himself from an apple tree along a dirt road, not far from the town of Childress.
The teens friend Chad Johnston, claimed to have witnessed the suicide and ran to Tate’s home to alert his parents.
Tate was a well known teen in the town of Childress. Many would say he had a wild streak and the Sheriffs office
were well acquainted with the teen as he was a bit of a drinker and was known to race around town in his pickup blaring loud music.
Tate’s girlfriend Karen Hackler, was a cute blonde, the daughter of a prominent farmer in the area. Though their relationship was anything but romantic. The two fought constantly and were often seen chasing each other up and down the road in their cars. A lot of jealousy and arguing caused these volatile fights.
Often, Karen would try to break up with Tate, but he would harass her, driving by her home, spinning his tires in the gravel causing it to spray the house. Her family alerted authorities, but nothing was ever done. Karen’s brother Kevin threatened Tate to stop harassing her, but Tate attempted to run Kevin over.
Tate was eventually arrested for assaulting Karen, when he jumped over the counter at the convenience store where she worked nights. During the court hearing, jurors saw the two teens hugging and no further indictment was issued for the teen.
Tate’s father, Jimmie Rowland, grew tired of the constant fighting and complaints from the Hackler family, so he sent Tate to live with a relative in Louisiana. In the spring of 1988, during the time Tate was living with a relative, Karen met another young man in Childress and married him.
This sent Tate into a tailspin, he was shocked, but friends and family said he quickly rebounded and was his normal self. Only while having a few beers would he show some grief over Karen.
When Tate was found hanging from a tree July 26, 1988, it was a complete shock as he had shown no signs of depression or being upset. One hour before his death, witnesses noticed him in a local supermarket parking lot and he had made plans with a few local women to help coach them for their softball league. And told his friend Bobby Reynolds he would split a twelve pack of beer with him later and then drove away from the supermarket with another friend, Chad Johnston.
Chad Johnston is the friend who alerted Tate’s father Jimmie and step mother Brenda. Step mom Brenda, remembered the day that Chad came to their home to tell them, he had no tears, no panic, was very calm as he relayed the information.
Tate’s parents rushed to the tree and found Tate hanging and dead. His father Jimmie cut him down.
Chad who was only 15 years old, was not a popular teen, he was often described as quiet and very new to the town, Childress. He liked hanging with older Tate as it was always lively. Chad told the sheriff that he and Tate drove to the area of trees to listen to music. He claimed that Tate drank a few beers and then threw a rope over the limb of a tree and said he was going to kill himself. Chad claimed that Tate even told him where his funeral should be. When Chad went to throw a beer can into the bushes, he claimed Tate hung himself and died.
Though the sheriff determined that there were two rope burns on Tate’s neck. One above and one below the Adam’s apple. There was believe that Tate may have been strangled to death, then hung to cover up the murder.
Chad was interviewed a second time and changed his story. Now claiming that Tate failed the first time he tried to hang himself and the two went back to Tate’s house five minutes away to get another rope. Chad claimed he didn’t tell the truth because he was afraid of being in trouble for not helping Tate. The sheriff had no other evidence to dispute this as a suicide.
At the funeral, family members noticed a woman dressed in black standing in the back of the room, she spoke to no one and slipped away before anyone could determine who she was.
During the service a young man in the front began saying the word, “suicide” over and over again for no apparent reason.
Days after the funeral the sheriff’s department received a tip from a high school student that about a quarter of a mile from where Tate died, a cow’s skull was lodged into a tree, with logs and rocks surrounding the base of the tree. The Sheriff believed it was some type of altar. In other incidents, an officer saw a figure standing by Tate’s grave as he drove past the cemetery, later finding spit all over the tombstone, a cross was found burning on the grave and a local teacher’s dog had been stolen and appeared to be sacrificed.
Some believed it was just kids playing pranks, though, by the time school started again, the rumors swirling around were that Tate was in a cult and was murdered by cult members. The rumors stated that he was murdered because he would not bring the cult a blonde, blue-eyed child for a sacrifice and the rumor elaborated specifically, the child was to be one of his sister or step sisters.
The rumor soared even higher when reports of cars driving into the grade school parking lot were made and many students claim they were asked to get in the vehicles. No one was arrested or caught in the act of this, but it raised everyone’s concern in the town.
Brenda, his stepmother, received daily phone calls regarding Tate’s involvement in a cult. A local farmer stated he witnessed the two boys arrive at the tree and later leave, but they did return, but still more and more rumors persisted.
A local mother stated that she noticed teens at a park moving gravel around to write 666 and theories even came from other locations, the police department in Lockhart called to say that a young girl had a dream of a boy being hung by a satanic cult and her parents were directly involved in the cult. She stated that the cult met at a vacant home that had a red porch light. The house was said to be located East of Childress in the town of Kirkland. She also claimed these members had run down and killed a young boy with a vehicle years prior.
After some research, the Sheriff did find a home that had a red porch light, but it had burnt to the ground and also found a case of a 15 yr old being hit and killed when walking home from his job as a dishwasher.
Near Halloween in 1988, the starting lineman for the high school football team took several friends to the cemetery as they heard rumors that a cult was going to dig Tate’s body up. They thought it would be “fun”, but when they got there, they heard music playing and a vehicle’s lights turned on following his truck well into town near the courthouse.
Shortly after this Halloween incident, local teen Ray Wilks was arrested. He had stolen a car, was drunk and hit a power pole. During his booking, he told an officer he was part of a satanic cult and was present when Tate was hung. Later he recanted the statement, saying he was so drunk he does not remember making that statement.
Though many locals stated on the back of the Wilks home, the words, “devils den” or “devils bin” were painted. Ray’s father, Frank Wilks stated it originally said, “I love Lettie” painted by Ray to impress a girl, but Frank made him cover it.
It seemed everyone was being accused of being a cult member, including Tates former girlfriend Karen. Many said she had books about witchcraft and she had lured Tate into her cult.
Tates death never fully quieted down when his sister Terrie died. Of all the places to pass, she was found dead in the “devils den” or Frank Wilks house.
Terrie was an adult by this time, had four daughters and was going through a marital separation. She had a new boyfriend, 28 yr old ex-con, Ricky Bradford, a close friend of Frank Wilks 22 yr old son, Darwin. Both men had been convicted of assault at one time or another. Terrie was partying and drinking heavily within this crowd.
On the night of Terrie’s death, she was drinking with Ricky, Darwin and a few others at Wilks home. Frank Wilks was currently incarcerated at this time. After drinking twice the legal limit of alcohol, RIcky and Terrie went to bed in one of the rooms, but Terrie didn’t stay in bed, she got up, attempted to move around but collapsed. She was helped back into bed and by 9:30 am the next morning, Ricky claims she was dead. Autopsy revealed she choked on her vomit in the night.
Of course, many believed that her death was linked to Tates, but there was no evidence to support this. It was not secret, Terrie did not believe Tate took his own life. She believed someone else had a hand in it.
A few weeks later, Darwin Wilks attempted to take his own life by taking pills. He left a note stating, “I know something that the cops don’t know. I know who killed Terrie. I can’t live anymore”. He survived this attempt and when he recovered he told the sheriff he could not recall writing this note.
July 27th, 1991, Tates body was exhumed and an autopsy was conducted. A forensic pathologist from Amarillo, Texas, Dr. Veasey was brought in to investigate Tate’s death. He believed Tate may have been estranged before being hung.
Once the body was exhumed, it was extremely decomposed and Dr. Veasey was not able to make conclusive statements. Though, the autopsy did show the drug Elavil, which was the drug that Darwin used during his suicide attempt.
In October 1991, Terries body was also exhumed and an autopsy showed she passed from asphyxiation. Though, they found multiple contusions on her. Inner thighs, and in her mouth. Indicating blunt trauma from an assault. Elavil was also found in her body. Dr. Veasey expressed concern that someone held Terrie down while someone else smothered her.
The deaths of the brother and sister have never been labelled murder, though the speculation is high. Was there a cult in Childress, Texas? Or was this just Satanic Panic?
To this day, not one resident of this town has ever admitted to belonging to a cult.