On the night of Wednesday, March 16th, 1938, in Center, Texas, 38 year old Lillie Mae Curtis kissed her children goodnight, and then sat in a chair nearby watching them, waiting with a .22 caliber pistol on her lap for them to fall asleep.
|Lillie Mae Curtis|
After she determined they were all sleeping, she went from the oldest to the youngest child, shooting each one in the heart. First was Thomas "T.O", who had turned 13 just 3 days prior, followed by Gloria Gene, 11; Billie Burk, 9; Robert, 8; Margie Dee, 7; and Marcia Jack, 5. The only child in the house that night that she spared was 15 year old Travis James. It was to him that she immediately confessed the crime, and he promptly called police. Her other two children were thankfully not in the house; her oldest child, Opal, 18, was married and living with her husband, and her son Vance, 17, was visiting his grandparents at the time of the crime. Gravesite photos courtesy of http://www.findagrave.com.
|Graves of Thomas "T.O", Gloria|
|Billie Burk, Robert Jr,|
|Margie Ree & Marcie Jack.|
Lillie Mae describes the killings in her own words; "I kissed them all good night and sent them to bed and then got my gun out of my dresser". She continued, "I went back into the kitchen and sat down with the gun across my lap. I waited to be sure that all were asleep. Then I went to the bed of T.O and shot him first. Then I killed the others according to their ages, leaving the baby until the last". She went on to describe that although none of the children woke up before being shot, several of them struggled after they were shot, while the others died immediately without ever realizing what had occurred.
She was found alone in the woods about 400 yards from where the bodies of her children lay, all 6 dead of gunshot wounds, and was arrested. She readily admitted to the murders, "I have no money and they are better off dead", Lillie is quoted as having said to Sheriff Sample. "Last night I decided to kill them because we had no money and I was unable to support them. They were too young to support themselves and were better off dead".
|Another photo of murderer Lillie Mae Curtis.|
Surprisingly, this was not Lillie Mae's first murder. Three years prior, in an eerily similar fashion, she had murdered her husband, 41 year old Robert Curtis, in 1935 by shooting him in the head while he slept. She was tried for the murder, and given a 5 year suspended sentence by a jury. Perhaps the jurors felt that, with 9 children depending on her, she should be given a break. One can't help but realize that if they had given her a stiffer sentence, Lillie Mae Curtis would not have had the opportunity to murder six of her children just three years later. Then again, perhaps if she had not killed her husband to begin with, she might have been able to better cope financially and emotionally with raising her nine children. The entire family can be seen (minus the 2 youngest children, who were not yet born) below on the 1930 United States census, family #8:
|1930 US census record courtesy of The National Archives.|
As for what happened to Lillie Mae Curtis; she was tried for the murder of his six children in April of 1938, and apparently showed no emotion when the verdict was read, and she was found guilty on all counts. Newspaper accounts vary, some saying she received one total sentence of 99 years, some saying she was sentenced to 99 years per murder (for a total of 594 years). Either way, she served only 42 years of her sentence, and was released in October of 1970. She was 70 years old. She was reportedly released early for good behaviour. She moved in with her eldest surviving child, her daughter Opal, living with her in East Texas until her death 10 years later.
|The Grave of Robert R. & Lillie Mae Curtis. Photo courtesy of Findagrave.com.|
Lillie May Curtis died February 3rd, 1980 at the age of 80, and was buried with the husband that she had shot and killed 45 years earlier, in the same Cemetery as the graves of the six children she brutally murdered only three years later while they slept.