HOUSTON -- Who killed Cheryl Henry and Andy Atkinson? It’s a question that’s haunted their families for over two decades.
Cheryl Henry was a blond bombshell; a fun loving college student with a contagious laugh.
Andy Atkinson was the one for her; an aspiring model with piercing green eyes and a smile his Mom once said you couldn’t forget.
But their romance didn’t get a happily-ever-after.
Who killed Cheryl and Andy?
It’s a crime that’s been dubbed the Lover’s Lane murders and is one of Houston’s most notorious unsolved homicides.
“Her eyes lit up,” recalled Cheryl Henry’s sister, Merideth Colvert about her sister’s reaction to first-meeting Andy.
“She thought he was amazing, inside and out and that he had a great smile, but his mind was wonderful, too.”
Soon, the couple became inseparable.
“They were 21 and 22,” said Colvert. “I could close my eyes and go back to it just like yesterday.
A yesterday that includes the night of August 22, 1990 and a trip the couple took to an area known as Lover’s Lane in west Houston.
It’s a place where instead of love, the couple met a terrible fate.
“I have gotten sick to my stomach thinking of what they endured,” said Colvert.
They were found the next evening, not in their car, but in the woods. She had been raped and then killed. Her throat was slashed. Afterward the killer covered her naked body up with boards.
Andy was found tied to a tree, his throat also slashed.
“Andy, oh my goodness, he was almost decapitated… it’s just horrific,” said Colvert.
“That was my son tied to that tree,” said Andy’s father Garland Atkinson. “What was he saying? Was he calling me? Was he calling his mother?”
Atkinson also recalls what police investigators told him: “They surmised that Andy let them tie him to a tree and that they know that the girl was killed first which means he was tied to a tree and listened to her scream, listened to her being murdered knowing that they were going to do the same thing to him and he couldn’t do anything about it. That’s hard to accept.”
It hasn’t been easy for someone else either: Retired police detective Billy Belk spent about 20 years working the crime.
“This case stayed with me because it’s one of the few cases that I never cleared. It’s like I left unfinished business when I retired,” said Belk.
That unfinished work may refer to some of the new details that KHOU 11 News I-Team has learned about the crime scene.
Like that police found a golf club in a field and three golf balls, one lined up after the other, pointing the way to Cheryl’s body. Were they left by the unknown suspect and if so, why?
Or how about the four partially-deflated balloons they found tied to the tree above Cheryl’s body? There was also a crisp $20 bill next to her. Did the killer leave these, too?
In the meantime, Belk muses.
“Sometimes I think they were targeted” he says. “Cheryl was tied up more than Andy was even though he was tied to a tree. She put up a fight.”
“ Sometimes I wonder if there are two or three suspects,” Belk said.
The KHOU 11 News I-Team dug up a suspect profile that the FBI put together several years ago. It reveals that profilers believed the suspect may have known Cheryl or Andy or both.
It also states that the covering of Cheryl’s body speaks of a prior personal relationship and that the suspect may not have intentionally meant to kill Andy.
Other suggestions from the report include:
*The unknown suspect was about the age of the victims
* He has an above average intelligence level, but is a low achiever.
*The suspect may have been interviewed by police at one time.
As for Belk, he traveled the country trying to track find the suspect, comparing DNA samples found at the crime scene with that of known criminals.
“I would say at least 25 potential suspect’s DNA has been compared and they have been cleared because it wasn’t the DNA profile,” said the retired detective.
But then police got a break.
Law enforcement has a national DNA profile database known as CODIS. It contains profiles that have been identified with particular NAMED individuals. But police also enter into CODIS unidentified DNA profiles that have been found at particular crime scenes.
The unidentified DNA profile from Cheryl’s rape and murder had been entered into CODIS long ago.
But about five years ago, the Harris County Sheriff’s Department entered a DNA profile found at an unsolved burglary/rape that had actually been committed months BEFORE the killings of Cheryl and Andy.
The result: The DNA evidence from the two different crimes
seemed to be from the same person.
Even better? The previous rape victim saw her attacker and survived.
In her first-ever interview, this rape victim revealed the details of her attack to the KHOU 11 News I-Team.
“It was probably 2:30am and I walked upstairs and this guy was up in my bedroom,” said the victim. “He was wearing a blue uniform of some type.”
The woman, who had just returned home from her job at Gigi’s nightclub, said her attacker was asking for her boyfriend and said he owed him money.
Meanwhile, her rapist put her hands behind her back and wrapped them with duct tape. He placed a bag over her head and put a gun to her throat.
“He kept pulling the trigger. He cocked it. He’d uncock it and then cock it,” she said. “He had a black fishnet thing over his head. He was probably six foot two, 200 pounds, olive complexion and black hair.”
Eventually, the woman’s attacker took $250 from her home and left.
The victim said she’s always thought it could be connected to her moving company. She said one of her movers had recently threatened her life.
“I think it had to do with this moving company I had an altercation with,” she said.
That theory has never been proven by police.
However, there is one interesting fact that may just be an amazing coincidence: The rape victim says that she once worked for one of the murder victim’s fathers, the dad of Andy Atkinson.
In the meantime, Houston crime victim advocate Andrew Kahan has hope that one day there will be an arrest in the case.
“I’ve seen cases where 30 years have gone by and finally a suspect is arrested and taken into custody,” said Kahan.
Kahan said Cheryl and Andy’s families were also given a life sentence the day the young couple died.
“Hopefully, one day in their lifetimes, someone will be held accountable for the deaths of Cheryl and Andy,” he said.
The Houston Police Department’s cold case squad now has the case.
Cheryl’s family tells the I-Team that crime investigators could soon do what’s called familial DNA testing on the sample taken from her body. That means if one of the suspect’s family members is in the national DNA database system, they could get a match.
“I think there are people out there that know more about this case than has ever been made public,” said Garland Atkinson. “Someone will pay one day.