WEIMAR, Texas – The railroad tracks that gave birth to this small South Texas town over a century ago more recently brought terror and horror.
The gruesome slayings of a prominent minister and his wife at their home, and an equally violent murder of an elderly woman in her rural home a few miles away, are among at least 15 killings by the man known as the "Railroad Killer."
Angel Maturino Resendiz, who hopped on freight trains and committed random acts of carnage across the country that earned him a spot on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, is set to die by injection Tuesday.
"I don't believe in death," Resendiz, 46, told The Associated Press in 2000, shortly after arriving on death row. "I know the body is going to go to waste. But me, as a person, I'm eternal. I'm going to be alive forever."
A Houston judge last week rejected Resendiz's lawyers claims that mental delusions make him ineligible for execution. He's set to be the 13th inmate executed this year in Texas.
Resendiz was convicted of the rape-slaying of Claudia Benton, a Houston-area physician killed in her home a week before Christmas 1998. Resendiz has been linked to eight slayings in Texas, two each in Illinois and Florida, and one each in Kentucky, California and Georgia.
"I don't think everybody is looking forward to it, but he took three good people out of this town," says Cecil Ellison, 74, who for 49 years has run a Texaco service station across from the Weimar United Church of Christ.
Church members arrived for the regular Sunday service on May 2, 1999, but there was no sign of their pastor, Norman "Skip" Sirnic, 46, or his wife, Karen, 47, the church secretary. The couple lived in a house at the back of the church property, adjacent to the railroad track that bisects Weimar, about midway between Houston and San Antonio.
Investigators later determined Resendiz raped Karen Sirnic after obliterating her face with a sledgehammer. He then stole the couple's pickup truck. Some of their jewelry later would be found at Resendiz's home in Rodeo, Mexico.
The town of fewer than 2,000 residents was stunned again when just weeks later, four miles west of town, police found Josephine Konvicka, 73, in her blood-soaked bed with a garden tool resembling a pickax buried in her forehead.
In a town where a homicide hadn't occurred for generations, where the message on the silver water tower a block from the church proclaims "Weimar Welcomes You," people were terrified.
"I had little ladies come into the office bringing me rusted guns and asking me: `Chief, show me how to use this thing,"' Weimar Police Chief Bill Livingston said. "Gun sales went up dramatically."
Authorities began making connections.
Mark Moorhead, a Texas Department of Public Safety intelligence officer, had been looking at the Sirnic case and was talking with Drew Carter, a Texas Ranger who was working the Benton case.
"I was struck by two things and neither had to do with railroad tracks," Moorhead said. "Whoever was coming into these residences brought nothing with them. They were using what was available."
The killer, who he believed was a transient, also covered his victims. Moorhead found the two elements "way too bizarre and too unique to be overlooked."
Moorhead suggested Carter run DNA tests comparing the killings.
A week later, the Texas Ranger called him back.
Resendiz was their man: They were looking for a serial killer.
The investigation gathered steam as other states began trying to connect unsolved murders to Resendiz. A Kentucky slaying from 1997 was added to the toll. The FBI put Resendiz on its Ten Most Wanted list.
On June 2, 1999, the U.S. Border Patrol picked up Resendiz for illegal entry at Sunland Park, N.M., near El Paso. Unaware the man, who used numerous aliases, was on the FBI list as Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, they returned him to Mexico. But he quickly recrossed the border and again used freight trains to move around.
"It doesn't cost money and once you know the routes, they're faster than Greyhound," Resendiz told the AP in 2000.
Three days after immigration authorities let him go, the beaten body of 26-year-old Houston schoolteacher Noemi Dominguez was found at her home, covered by a quilt made by her mother. Within hours, almost 100 miles away, Konvicka's body was discovered. Dominguez's blood was on the tool used to kill Konvicka.
Then, less than two weeks later, at their Gorham, Ill., home about 100 yards from a railroad track, George Morber, 80, was shot in the head with a shotgun. His daughter, 51-year-old Carolyn Frederick, was fatally clubbed.
Carter, meanwhile, persuaded Resendiz's sister in New Mexico to get her brother to turn himself in. On July 13, Resendiz surrendered to Carter on the international bridge in El Paso.
Resendiz was taken to Houston for trial for beating Benton with a statue, stabbing her 19 times and raping her. Lawyers argued he was insane. A jury found him guilty.
The trains — as many as 40 a day — still rumble through town. But other things are different.
"Alarm systems — we never had alarm systems," said Livingston, the police chief. "Now they're all over town. Night lights. Security lights. There are people who lock their houses now that never did before. It did change. It changed all sorts of things."