Houston – n the season 2 finale of the KPRC 2 Investigates original docuseries, ‘The Evidence Room’ - we explore the confessions of a serial killer who preyed on women from Texas to Oklahoma in the 1990s.
William Reece was convicted of murdering four women and kidnapping another woman who managed to escape, and who many credit with stopping the killing spree.
Hear the original 9-1-1 dispatch calls from the night Sandra Sapaugh jumped from Reece’s truck on a busy Houston highway to get free.
“She asked him to help her change a front flat tire. He then persuaded her with a knife to get inside his truck, and they proceeded northbound 45 and she jumped out one mile north of El Dorado, out of the moving truck,” an officer is heard telling a dispatcher.
A year of terror, lifetimes of pain
The murders happened in 1997, but it would take a quarter century before William Lewis Reece would be held accountable for all his crimes. Reece had been released from an Oklahoma prison after serving a nearly 10-year sentence for raping two women. He then moved to Texas and found work at an area ranch, as well as construction jobs.
In April 1997, Reece left a job site early because of rain. During his drive, he encountered 12-year-old Laura Smither who had gone for a jog a quarter mile from her home.
Police said Reece kidnapped and murdered Smither before dumping her body in a retention pond near Pasadena. Reece was developed as a suspect within days of Smither’s disappearance, but he denied any involvement. While police found evidence linking Reece to Smither’s murder, none was conclusive enough to bring charges at that time.
A month after Smither’s murder, Reece kidnapped Sandra Sapaugh from the parking lot of a convenience store in Webster. Police said Reece punctured one of Sapaugh’s tires and then pretended to be a Good Samaritan willing to help change her flat.
Reece forced Sapaugh into his truck at knifepoint, but she escaped by jumping from the truck as it barreled northbound on I-45.
In July of 1997, Reece kidnapped and murdered Kelli Ann Cox from the parking lot of a gas station in Denton, Tx. Cox, a young mother at the time, was not found for more than a decade. Eleven days after killing Cox, Reece attacked, sexually assaulted and murdered newlywed Tiffany Johnston at a car wash in Bethany, Oklahoma.
A month later, Reece kidnapped and murdered Jessica Cain near her Tiki Island home in Galveston County. Cain’s body was also not recovered for several years.
After Reece was arrested for Sapaugh’s kidnapping in October 1997, the murders stopped. He was convicted in 1998 and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
However, the work to tie Reece to the other murders continued.
Justice delayed, not denied
In 2015, police in Oklahoma were able to get a DNA match to Reece from evidence found on Tiffany Johnston’s body. After being charged with first-degree murder, Reece started to talk. In exchange for taking the death penalty off the table, Reece confessed to the murders of Smither, Cox and Cain. In 2016, Reece also led investigators to where he buried Cain in a Brazoria County field and Cox in a field in southeast Houston.
However, Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady said Reece’s confessions were “carefully crafted.”
“He would only tell us enough to confess to the murder, but he wouldn’t admit to everything he did,” said Roady.
Recordings of Reece’s confessions were obtained by KPRC 2 Investigates through a Texas Public Information Act request. Reece claimed he accidentally hit Smither with his truck and, at first, said he found her dead in a ditch. Reece said since he had just gotten out of prison, he “panicked” and disposed of Smither’s body in a retention pond.
Reece later said he found Smither alive but accidentally broke her neck trying to calm her down. Reece then said he hit Cox during a verbal confrontation and when she fell, she hit her head and died. Reece again said he panicked, so he claimed he drove Cox’s body from Denton to a field in Brazoria County where she was buried.
Reece also said a verbal altercation in a restaurant parking lot with Cain led to a physical confrontation. Reece said he hit Cox and later choked her.
Roady said a lack of definitive physical evidence made Reece’s confessions crucial to securing indictments in these three murders. Still, Roady said he believes Reece never fully confessed to all his actions in these murders.
“Did you try to have sex with any of the victims?” a detective asked Reece during one of his interviews in 2016.
“I don’t think so,” Reece said.
“‘I don’t think so’ kind of opens up,” the detective responded.
“Well, I mean as far as I know, no,” Reece interjected. “It was, I was aggravated.”
After being indicted in Galveston County for Smither and Cain’s murders, and Brazoria County for Cox’s murder, Reece was taken back to Oklahoma to stand trial for Johnston’s murder. In 2021, Reece was found guilty and sentenced to death for Johnston’s murder.
“Laura, Jessica and Kelli all deserved their day in court,” said Laura’s mother, Gay Smither, during a 2022 interview with KPRC 2.
Those 10 words helped ensure Reece was brought back to Texas after he was convicted in Oklahoma. Even though Reece was given the death penalty in 2021, by January of 2022 - Gay Smither said she noticed he still had not been moved to death row from the county jail.
“2022 rolled around and he was still there, deep concerns set in,” said Smither.
Friendswood police chief Robert Wieners also started pushing for answers.
“This has always been about the families and the families’ need for a resolution to these cases,” said Wieners during a 2022 interview.
Wieners discovered the stumbling block was an agreement between Texas and Oklahoma signed in 2016. Wieners provided KPRC 2 a copy of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers involving Reece’s return to Texas after being charged with Johnston’s murder. A portion of the agreement reads Reece signed a waiver of extradition back to Oklahoma to “serve any sentence there imposed upon me, after completion of my term of imprisonment in this state.”
Court records show in 2016, Reece still had 41 years left on his 60-year kidnapping sentence.
“The language was very specific about him having to return,” said Wieners.
Wieners said a Friendswood law firm also reviewed the detainer agreement and found a 1993 court case between the state of New York and Oklahoma, where a judge ruled one state’s death penalty does not automatically trump an interstate agreement calling for the return of a defendant.
“There was a frank discussion about the language of the detainer and the fact that he needed to come back,” said Wieners.
Reece was sent back to Texas in March of 2022 and in June of last year, Reece pleaded guilty to Smither, Cain and Cox’s murders.
“Twenty-five years is an awfully long time to be waiting for justice and there were a number of years in there were we truly didn’t think we’d ever see this day,” said Gay Smither, Laura’s mother in 2022.
Reece was given life sentences in all three of these cases.
“Now I am just relieved the official records will show he was found guilty and convicted of taking my daughter away from us,” said Jan Bynum, Kelli’s mother.
Cain’s parents declined to comment. Reece, now 62, is in a Texas prison and it is unclear whether he’ll be extradited to Oklahoma to face a death sentence or serve his sentences here.
Missed an episode? Get caught up on Season 2 of ‘The Evidence Room’ here.
Four ways to watch the KPRC 2+ livestream anytime
- Search for the KPRC 2+ app on your smart TV or streaming device - including Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Google TV.
- Get the new KPRC 2+ mobile app - which is free to download in the App Store or on Google Play.
- Watch at Click2Houston.com/watchlive.
- Look for the KPRC 2+ livestream in the “Watch Live” section of the Click2Houston news app.