Friday Night Lights: A Cheerleader Whodunit

In the small town of River Oaks, Texas, residents lived in fear after multiple cheerleaders were attacked. People were afraid to sleep at night, knowing they might be the next victim. However, in January 1982, things completely changed when Retha Stratton was found dead. The former cheerleader’s murder shook the town.

Retha Stratton / Wesley Wayne Miller / Wesley Wayne Miller / Cheerleaders.
Source: Creative Commons

The only thing more shocking than her death was the fact that Wesley Wayne Miller did it. Miller was highly regarded in the community as the captain of the Castleberry High School football team. He was beloved by his classmates. His high standing in the town allowed him to escape justice for so long.

Not the “Murdering” Type

Wesley Wayne Miller was like any other teen who grew up in River Oaks, Texas. He was charismatic, well-liked by his peers, and voted best all-around during his senior year. As captain of the Castleberry High School football team, Miller seemed like a gentleman who would never hurt a woman.

A portrait of Wesley Wayne Miller.
Wesley Wayne Miller. Source: Pinterest

People said he wasn’t the kind of person who inspired fear. People weren’t afraid to approach him because he looked like an all-American boy. Miller was all over the school yearbook, and he had many friends. However, he was hiding a dark side behind his small-town boy facade.

The First Attack

In the River Oaks area, people trusted their neighbors and felt safe leaving their doors unlocked. However, that changed on January 23, 1981, when Susan Davis was attacked in her home. The 16-year-old cheerleader was home alone when she received a suspicious call asking if Ed, her father, was home.

A portrait of Susan.
Susan Davis. Source: YouTube

She dismissed the call, but later that evening, when she was on the phone with her sister, Davis heard the front door open. A man with no shirt, no shoes, ripped jeans, and a nylon stocking covering his face was standing in her home. Davis screamed and tried to run.

He Caught Her

Davis’ instincts took over, but the man caught her and said, “Don’t scream, or I’m going to hit you.” He started hitting her face and ripping off her clothes, and Davis was terrified for her life. She said she prayed for someone to watch over her, and then the attacker got up and walked away.

An image of a phone on the floor.
Photo by Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

The attacker fled before it went too far, but Davis had no idea who the man was. When she reported it to the police, they said it was probably someone she knew. Unfortunately, there was no physical evidence or suspects, so she had to go on with her life.

Life Went On

People in the town continued as if the attack had never happened. Davis went back to cheerleading, but she was always looking over her shoulder, thinking, “Is this person in the stands watching me?” The school year ended, the senior class graduated, and life seemed to return to normal.

Susan Davis speaks during an interview.
Susan Davis. Source: YouTube

While the community started to forget about what happened to Davis, another woman was attacked in November 1981. Like Davis, Lynn Vosberg was home alone in the nearby town of Saginaw when she woke up to find a man kneeling on her bed. Both attacks had the same elements.

Scared for Her Life

Vosberg was at her home when she received two phone calls on her private phone line. The man on the phone asked if some random name lived at that address, and both times she said no. Vosberg then went to sleep only to be woken up by a man on her bed.

An image of a landline phone in the dark.
Photo by Sean E. McNamara

He was wearing a nylon stocking on his head and told Vosberg that he would hurt her if she yelled. He ripped off her clothes and proceeded to sexually assault her. When he was done, he told her not to tell anyone.

It Didn’t Get Much Attention

After the assault, Vosberg reported it to the police. A fingerprint was recovered, but they couldn’t find a match. The case didn’t gain much attention in River Oaks, and most teenagers thought, “If it doesn’t affect my world, it can’t happen to me.”

Susan Davis and Retha Stratton pose next to other cheerleaders.
Source: Pinterest

Unfortunately, Lisa Gabbert soon discovered that attacks can happen to anyone, including her. Today, when she visits the vacant house where the assault took place, Gabbert vividly remembers that December 1981 day like yesterday. She was just 18 when a man opened her bedroom door.

The Attacker Knew Her

Gabbert lived with her ailing mom, whose degenerative disease rendered her immobile. The attacker walked right past Gabbert’s mom to get to her room. She saw a man with a mask standing in her doorway who lunged at her and started choking her.

A homicide detective speaks during an interview.
Homicide Detective. Source: YouTube

She and the man struggled before he sexually assaulted her. After the attack, Gabbert was sure the intruder knew her because he didn’t think twice about walking past her mom. Unfortunately, she didn’t have an idea who the intruder was.

A Small Clue

When Robert Lynn Hicks, then a rookie patrolman, interviewed Gabbert about the attack, she said something interesting. Gabbert stated, “If you’ll find someone that looks similar to Wesley Miller, it would be a good place to start for as far as looking for a suspect.”

An image of red flashing lights on an emergency vehicle.
Photo by Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

Gabbert thought of her friend Wesley Miller because the attacker was built like a football player with similar arms. She never imagined that her high school pal would be capable of hurting her in such a cruel way because they were such good friends.

The Attacker Strikes Again

The day after Gabbert was assaulted, another attack occurred right across the street with similar circumstances. The victim was Selina McDonnell, the sister of another cheerleader, Roxy McDonnell, who happened to be dating Wesley Miller. He jumped out of her closet and assaulted her.

A picture of a cheerleader’s pompons on a soccer field.
Source: Pixabay

Miller visited his girlfriend Roxy after the attack. Gabbert was also there hanging out, and they were talking about the attacker. Gabbert mentioned that the man had “arms just like Wesley,” and he got upset. He stormed off after the comment, but no one thought it was him.

“If We Ignore It, It Will Go Away”

Officer Hicks reported Gabbert’s comments about her attacker, but no one connected the dots. He thought that if they ignored it, the problem would go away. However, there was another attack a month later at a local laundromat. Still, no suspects were found.

A photo of Wesley Miller on handcuffs and a detective.
Wesley Miller. Source: Creative Commons

The police had a sketch of a man seen fleeing the neighborhood after attacking Gabbert, but they never showed the composite to the victims. Hicks even made a note at the bottom of the picture stating, “Believed to be Wesley Miller.” Again, no one questioned Miller.

Ready to Take On the World

Amy Moody and Retha Stratton graduated from Castleberry High in 1981 with Miller. After graduation, the longtime friends were excited to take on the world together. They moved into a small house together, unaware of the attacks in the neighborhood.

A portrait of Retha Stratton.
Retha Stratton. Source: Pinterest

They heard rumors about the assaults on one-time cheerleaders but pushed it out of their minds. To be safe, Moody and Stratton changed the locks in their new place. It had been six weeks since the last attack, so their fears faded. Everything got quiet again.

Letting Their Guard Down Too Soon

People slowly started to feel calm again, and Stratton started coming home alone. She had been cautious by walking home with a friend for a while. Unfortunately, she let her guard down too soon. On January 21, 1982, Moody came home to a horrifying scene.

A picture of Retha with her fellow cheerleaders.
Source: Pinterest

Moody found Stratton dead with a knife still in her body. She immediately called the police, and Fort Worth PD detective Dennis Timmons was first on the scene. He said he followed the blood trail from the living room into Stratton’s bedroom, where she was stuffed in the closet.

Can’t Hide Anymore

It took detectives only five hours to home in on a single suspect: Wesley Miller. One of Stratton’s neighbors told the police that she had seen Miller’s pick-up truck nearby at the time of the murder. Stratton had been stabbed 38 times around five in the evening.

A portrait of Retha Stratton at home.
Retha Stratton. Source: Pinterest

After Miller murdered Stratton, he went to his girlfriend Roxy’s house. When she let him in, Miller went straight to the bathroom and locked the door. He asked her to wash his pants, which were covered in blood. He told Roxy he had played football, and someone got a nosebleed.

Handing Over the Evidence

After hearing about Stratton’s murder, Roxy’s parents turned the jeans over to the police. Between the bloody pants and Gabbert’s comments that her attacker looked like Miller, Roxy and her family started to believe that Miller was responsible for everything.

A photo of family members of Retha Stratton at her funeral.
Retha Stratton Family. Source: Creative Commons

When the police charged Miller with Stratton’s murder 48 hours later, he denied everything. But when he was confronted with the evidence, Miller couldn’t keep the secrets inside anymore. He abruptly confessed to killing Stratton, but not to the attacks against the other women.

He Didn’t Remember

Before he confessed to the crime, Miller claimed that he had met Stratton that night to have sex with her, but something led to an argument. He said she attacked him with a knife, but he didn’t remember stabbing her. The police had many questions.

An image of Wesley Miller in court.
Wesley Miller. Source: Creative Commons

Investigators asked Miller why he cut Stratton’s wrists so deeply, and he said he wanted to make sure she was dead. Investigators believed they got into an altercation because he couldn’t perform sexually, so the stab wounds symbolized penetration. The killing was sadistic.

Connecting the Dots

Within days of his arrest, the police matched Miller’s fingerprints to the unresolved assault on Lynn Vosberg. Horrified, Gabbert and the other victims soon realized that Miller was their attacker. Gabbert couldn’t believe that someone she considered a friend would hurt her.

An image of Wesley Miller entering the courtroom.
Wesley Miller. Source: Creative Commons

Miller was suspected of committing four rapes and one attempted assault, but the prosecutors only charged him with two of the attacks. While the victims wanted justice, the investigators’ immediate concern was Stratton’s murder. Miller’s trial began in October 1982 when he was just 19.

A Short Trial

According to Miller’s attorney, Jack Strickland, he “looked more like a scared 15-year-old kid than a savage murderer.” He was looking at the possibility of life in prison, which scared him, but most people thought it was a necessary punishment.

A video still from the courtroom.
Source: YouTube

The trial only lasted two weeks, and Assistant District Attorney Pam Lakatos wasn’t worried about getting a conviction. Miller had confessed, and the evidence was stacked against him. It took the jury less than an hour to find him guilty. It took much longer to sentence him.

A Shocking Sentence

Although it was easy to find him guilty, the jury took much longer to deliberate his sentence. Since he was only on trial for the murder, the jury wasn’t allowed to hear about the rape charges. When the deliberations were finished, Miller’s sentence shocked Stratton’s family.

An image of Wesley Miller in court.
Source: Creative Commons

Miller received 25 years in prison, which Stratton’s sister Rona said wasn’t even a “year for every time he stabbed her.” Unfortunately, the rape cases weren’t air-tight, so he was never prosecuted for those additional charges. It devastated the other victims.

Fighting His Parole

Stratton’s grieving family and his assault victims were shocked to find out that Miller was eligible for parole just two years into his sentence. Before they even found out, his request was denied. At the time, Gabbert and Rona were only in their 20’s and didn’t realize this would be a life-long battle.

A picture of Retha Stratton at the campus.
Retha Stratton. Source: Pinterest

Each year, the two girls have bombarded the parole board with petitions against Miller’s parole. They got about 5,000 signatures and included details of Miller’s crime with photos. This strategy worked for a while, but Rona and Gabbert soon encountered a new problem.

The Law Is Against Them

While they delayed Miller’s parole for a few years, Rona and Gabbert found out that Texas has a mandatory release law to ease prison overcrowding. With enough credit for good behavior, inmates could be released earlier than their sentence. By 1991, Miller qualified for early release.

A photo of Lisa Gabbert and Rona Stratton outside court.
Lisa Gabbert, Rona Stratton. Source: YouTube

It didn’t matter if he wasn’t a good candidate to be released on parole or not; Miller was getting out regardless because of this law. While this disappointed and scared his victims and the community, Rona and Gabbert ensured he was banned from River Oaks and 13 other counties.

Walking Free

Although he couldn’t return to his hometown, Miller was sent to a halfway house in Houston, 260 miles away. However, it wasn’t far enough for his victims and Stratton’s family. The women protested and forced the parole board to move him three times.

A photo of Miller entering the courtroom.
Wesley Miller. Photo by Gary Fountain

After being moved around, Miller ended up in Wichita Falls. Before he arrived, Miller’s adversaries warned the community about his past and what kind of individual would be moving into their area. The district attorney, Barry Macha, didn’t think anything would happen again.

He Hadn’t Changed

About a year after his release, Laura Barnard was frightened by a stranger running towards her while she unloaded groceries. Luckily, her husband Charlie was close by and raced out to confront the man. The couple chased him down the block and caught his license plate number.

A video still of Wesley Miller in court.
Wesley Miller. Source: CBS News

Barnard and her husband called Macha the next day to give him the license plate number. The truck was registered to Morris Miller, Wesley’s father. Charlie went to a photo-line up and picked Miller out in seconds. He said, “I’ll never forget his eyes. He had piercing, evil eyes.”

Back to Jail and Rereleased

The district attorney charged Miller with attempted assault and prosecuted the case himself. A guilty verdict sent Miller back to prison for five years. Unfortunately, his story repeated itself in 1998 when he was rereleased because of the Texas law.

A mugshot of Wesley Miller.
Source: Pinterest

While he thought he would be free to do whatever he wanted after his five-year sentence, Miller was not getting off that easily. This time, Rona and Gabbert got officials to force him to wear a GPS monitor 24 hours a day even though Miller only went from state prison to county jail.

Playing a Victim

Miller spent 23 hours in his cell at the county jail with one hour for exercise. Sheriff Dee Anderson said it was “grim by design and necessity.” Although everyone agreed he deserved to be behind bars because he was a danger to society, Miller felt like the victim.

A picture of Wesley Miller.
Source: YouTube

He held a press conference claiming he was being treated unfairly. The parole board disagreed and ordered him to take sex offender counseling. Miller thought this was the most unfair requirement of all because he “was never convicted of a sex crime.”

Refusing to Acknowledge His Wrongdoings

By stating that he was never convicted of a sex crime, Miller refused to acknowledge the attacks that he was never persecuted for. However, Miller must have forgotten that he pled guilty to one rape where police found his fingerprints.

A portrait of Retha Stratton.
Retha Stratton. Source: Pinterest

Rona believes he didn’t want to take sex offender counseling because that would be an admission that he committed the crimes against Gabbert and the other women. Unfortunately, his refusal to enter counseling cost him dearly throughout the years because he went back to jail repeatedly.

Insisting He Doesn’t Belong

Miller insists that he doesn’t belong in prison anymore. He said he has done what he was required to do by law, so there is no reason for people to be afraid of him. Miller claimed he wanted to get out and live a normal life, but his actions tell a different story.

An image of a prison cell.
Photo by Ichigo121212/Pixabay

He wanted to spend time with his family, but he took that privilege away from the woman he murdered. Rona and Gabbert got some satisfaction knowing they stopped him from getting out of jail more than once, even though it didn’t always help.

One Last Attempt to Stop Him

The clock was ticking because the state would soon have to set Miller free, no strings attached, as his 25-year sentence was about to end. Rona and Gabbert decided they would make one more attempt to stop him from getting out of jail, and they had support.

A photo of Wesley Miller prison cell.
Source: Creative Commons

Chief Prosecutor Joey Robertson was also determined to make sure that Miller wouldn’t simply walk out of prison. He said, “My job is to prove that Wesley Miller is a sexually violent predator.” If they proved that he met that legal definition, Miller would be subject to intense monitoring.

A New Law

Rona was instrumental in passing a new law that would require two convictions of sex crimes before someone is put under a civil commitment. Because Miller had already pled guilty to one count of rape, the prosecutors needed to convince a jury that Stratton’s murder was a sex crime too.

An image of Dr. Randall Price testifying in court.
Source: ABC News

They knew that if they failed, Miller would walk out of prison as a free man. Dr. Randall Price, a forensic psychologist, believes that Miller went to Stratton’s home to assault her like the other women, but the situation got out of control.

Is He a Psychopath?

According to Dr. Price’s opinion, Miller is a sexual psychopath. How does a popular football player turn into a psychopath? According to his father, Miller was a good kid. However, when he was a junior in high school, his father was in a train accident.

A dated portrait of Wesley Miller.
Wesley Miller. Source: Pinterest

Miller’s father had to amputate his leg and had extensive brain damage. His father said the accident affected Miller mentally. But he doesn’t know how the family chaos led to his son murdering and assaulting women.

A Small Victory

During his hearing, Miller admitted that his 25-year sentence was too lenient because he was guilty. He apologized for what he did and asked for forgiveness. The jury that once sympathized with Miller now saw who he really was, and they weren’t lenient this time.

A dated portrait of Retha Stratton.
Retha Stratton. Source: Pinterest

The ruling stated that Miller was a sexual predator and would be subjected to strict supervision when he left prison. Rona and Gabbert felt validated after 25 long years. The ruling meant he would have to wear a GPS monitor and attend counseling sessions.

Released Again

On March 9, 2007, Miller was released from the state prison and moved to another jail within 25 miles of Rona and Gabbert. He was not allowed to drink, drive a car, and had to do random drug tests and polygraph exams. Miller was also under strict supervision this time.

Susan Davis speaks during an interview.
Source: CBS News

Although he didn’t get a harsher prison sentence, the women felt like they got the justice they deserved. He couldn’t go about his life freely, which is precisely what they had been fighting for. It seemed like the 25-year battle was finally over.

He Can’t Stay Out of Prison

Just two years after he was released from prison, Miller violated the terms of his civil commitment three times. He started a relationship with a 21-year-old jailer at the Cold Springs Jail. He was then transferred to another jail, but he got into trouble again.

An image of a barbed wire.
Photo by Erika Wittlieb/Pixabay

Miller received two more violations for visiting with his father and brother, who had been removed from the visitor list. His lawyer argued that the rules of the civil commitment do not apply because Miller was living in jail, but the judge denied the claims.

Ten More Years

As a result of violating his civil commitment, Miller earned an additional ten years in prison. He was sent to a secure treatment facility for violent sexual offenders. Between 1992 and 2018, Miller was released from jail several times but consistently violated the terms of his parole.

A picture of Retha Stratton.
Source: Pinterest

Although he kept going back to jail, Miller never seemed to change. He showed remorse once, but it didn’t matter because he returned to his old ways. If he genuinely believed he had served his time and deserved to be a free man, he wouldn’t hurt more people.

Protecting Others

After successfully getting a law passed to revamp the violent sexual offender program, Rona Stratton founded the organization, Victims of Violence and Families of Murder Victims. She served as a member of the Board of Pardon and Paroles Victim Advisory Board as well.

A dated image of Wesley Williams in court.
Source: Creative Commons

She was motivated by the Miller case because he killed her sister, so she never wanted anyone to experience the same court battles she had been through. She speaks to victim services groups and panels regarding victim awareness. This wasn’t available to those affected by Miller, but it should have been.