HOUSTON — The death of Alfred Wright is slowly gaining widespread attention with increased scrutiny focused on the sheriff of a small Texas town with a history of racial violence as well as other authorities involved in the investigation.
Wright went missing after his truck broke down on Nov. 7. The police search for Wright lasted for just three short days before the search was called off. Sheriff Tom Maddox and his team have said that Wright likely disappeared of his own accord due to pending legal charges. According to family members, Maddox also said that he was likely a drug user.
Wright’s family was dissatisfied with police efforts to locate Wright. They organized their own search and found Wright’s body on Nov. 25, located just within 75 feet from where he was last seen.
Based upon the circumstances under which he disappeared and the condition of his body when it was found, his family believes that Alfred Wright was murdered.
There are also whisperings that Alfred Wright’s death was racially motivated.
Alfred Wright, 28, an African American man was married to Lauren Wright, a Caucasian woman. They had two children, and Wright fathered another child from a previous relationship. He came from a family that included five siblings. His younger brother was American Idol contestant Savion Wright.
Wright attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor on a football scholarship. He transferred to the University of Tennessee and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in physical therapy.
He was employed as a physical therapist at the Rayburn Clinic. Shortly before his death he went out on his own as an independent physical therapist with East Texas Healthcare.
He’s been described as a man who exuded charisma.
But it’s not all rosy.
His wife noticed that he seemed to be acting a bit strangely the day before his death. She even described his behavior as “paranoid” and said that he could not seem to settle down.
Family members and friends have spoken out to say that Wright, to their best of their knowledge, did not use drugs. His wife was honest when authorities asked if he could have been on drugs when she said she didn’t think so, but that she didn’t know with absolute certainty.
After his death his wife discovered the Wright had stayed at a local motel at least three times. The motel, a Holiday Inn Express, was located near the Rayburn clinic. On each occasion that he stayed at the motel his wife and children were out of town.
There are rumors that he engaged in extramarital affairs with Cindy Maddox the sheriff’s daughter and another woman, both who are white.
Alfred Wright also had a criminal past. He was accused of defrauding his former employer, a Tennessee bank, out of more than $1,000 in January, 2011, and was scheduled to appear for trial Dec. 9, 2011, in a federal courtroom in Memphis.
Another persistent rumor is that Alfred Wright had begun to wear body armor under his scrubs. Generally speaking people wear body armor to protect themselves. His sister, Kassilia Wright, said that he wore body armor because he covered up his tattoos. She said his motivation was to present a professional demeanor to his patients.
Based upon the Census statistics for 2012 Jasper, Texas had a population of 7,590 with 45.76% of the population listed as Caucasian and 44.43% as African American. With the overall amount of white and black residents in Jasper almost equal, the figures could be viewed as a indication that the city of Jasper is a fairly progressive and integrated place.
But that depends on who you ask and what area of town a person travels to. The racial makeup of Hemphill, Texas, for example, is predominately white.
Loyal Garner Jr., a black man, was beaten to death in a small county jail in Hemphill in 1987 by three white police officers who were later convicted for their role in Garner’s death.
In 1988, James Byrd, Jr., a black man, was brutally beaten and tortured in Jasper, Texas by three white men with white supremacist ties.
There are many opinions about Jasper, Texas.
Jasper Mayor Mike Lout, who is white, told the Observer, that he used to be reporter and that one of the reasons he ran for Mayor was because he saw the reluctance to assist minorities that lived in the poor neighborhoods.
On the surface, that seems like a good reason to want to hold a public office and effect change. He lost a good amount of credibility, though, when he discussed the death of Alfred Wright death, particularly the search efforts, when he said,
The woods were full of white folks. I never saw any black folks searching. I just saw them standing around the cars. So how do you make that a racial issue?
Ray Lewis, a Pastor at Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, is African-American. At one time, he championed an unsuccessful effort to recall Mayor Lout. During the process the Church was vandalized which some believe was meant to serve as a warning. Pastor Lewis believes that certain parts of Jasper are not safe for African-Americans and also said that the search for Alfred Wright was not well-organized and called off too soon.
In responding to inquiries about the Alfred Wright death investigation and subsequent search efforts, Sabine County Sheriff Tom Maddox said,
There are some people that were really wanting to make this a black and white issue, and it’s not. It has nothing to do with black and white, not at all.
The racial divide between black and white was evident at a Peace Rally held for Alfred Wright in February at the Church where Pastor Lewis serves.
Members of the New Black Panther’s Party were highly visible and holding guns.
On Nov. 7, 2013, Alfred Wright called his wife and asked her to come and pick him up because his truck had broken down at The C & L Grocery Package Store in Hemphill, about an hours drive away from their residence. His wife, who was home with their two children, called his parents and asked if they could pick him up, and they said they would.
When Lauren Wright called her husband back to let him know that his parents Douglas and Rosalind Wright, were going to pick him up, she said she heard gurgling sounds on the phone and became concerned.
His parents arrived at the store, approximately an hour later, and located their son’s truck. There was no trace of Wright.
The store that Wright was last seen at is owned by one of the sheriff’s dispatchers, whose son is a deputy.
The clerk at the store told the family that she saw Wright talking on the phone and then all of a sudden, about 20 minutes before his parents arrived, he put his cell phone in his sock and took off running.
A customer was inside the store and purchased a six-pack of beer at approximately the same time that Wright made the call to his wife at 6:05 p.m. The customer, according to the family was Sheriff’s Deputy David West who allegedly said that he saw Wright outside of the store using his cell phone between 6:05 p.m. and 6:08 p.m.
Surveillance video from the package store has not been made available to the family because it allegedly does not exist. According to CNN, authorities have provided different explanations to the family about the footage. They have been told that the system recorded live feed only or was broken or did not have a tape inside the VHS.
Alfred Wright’s watch and identification were found the next day at a nearby ranch and his scrubs and a sock were later found near that same area. Sheriff Maddox called in deputies and volunteer firefighters to assist in the search.
After three days the Sheriff told the family that there was no funding available to continue the search and no evidence of foul play, therefore the search was over. Some believe that the Sheriff found out about Wright’s upcoming trial and that prompted him to call off the search because he thought Wright was in hiding.
Others think the sheriff may know more about what happened to Wright than he has revealed and believe that he knew and disapproved of the relationship between his daughter and Wright.
Maddox allegedly told the family that Wright’s disappearance was likely drug-related and said that if a person is high on methamphetamine they get hot and take off their clothes. He dismissed the disappearance as voluntary and drug-related.
Wright’s wife was very upset that the search was called off and vented on her Facebook account. To illustrate just how small the town is, a sheriff’s deputy responded to that post with what many consider a biased message that Wright was probably holed up somewhere drinking.
The family mounted their own search efforts and located Wrights body on Nov. 25.
His body was found within 75 feet from where he disappeared in an area where police said they had already searched.
A dime was lying on the ground near Wright’s body.
Pastor Lewis noticed the dime and said it really stood out.
To some the dime found is believed to carry a message. Leaving a dime near someone’s body is thought, in some circles, to symbolize that the person is someone that can’t be trusted and is often used as a slang in the drug subculture when someone “narcs” or “rats’ someone out.
The initial autopsy report noted that Wrights’s body had shallow puncture wounds and that there was no evidence of severe trauma or foul play. He was reportedly wearing only his underwear, a shoe and a sock that held his cellphone. Toxicology tests showed cocaine and crystal meth in his system and his death was ruled as an accidental drug overdose.
An independent second autopsy, performed by Houston forensic pathologist Dr. Lee Ann Grossberg, found that Wright had his eyes gouged out, tongue cut out, throat slashed, several teeth knocked out, a fingernail missing and an ear was cut off. Dr. Grossberg determined that there was a “high likelihood of homicidal violence,” based on her examination.
Strangely, although the body bore marks indicating that Wright met a violent end, the rest of his body was in good condition for a body that was allegedly out in the elements for nearly three weeks.
Since the area where Wright’s body was found was previously checked there is speculation that Wright’s body may have been placed at the location shortly before it was discovered.
His family believes that his body was pumped full of drugs after he disappeared from the store.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder to request that the Department of Justice investigate Alfred Wright’s death. In her letter she noted the condition in which his body was found was “inconsistent” with the official autopsy report that ruled his death was from an accidental overdose.
Read letter from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee
As an independent physical therapist, Wright made house calls to patients that were located mainly in the Hemphill area.
Cindy Maddox, the sheriff’s daughter, works at a clinic and schedules physical therapists. Many believe that Maddox and Wright knew each other since they both worked in the same industry in a small town that services the same client base.
Numerous people have allegedly told CNN that Alfred Wright and Cindy Maddox definitely knew each other. Some contend the two were involved in a personal relationship. A private investigator hired by the family, Chuck Foreman, said that sources have told him that the Sheriff knew about his daughter’s relationship with Wright.
Cindy Maddox denies even knowing Wright.
A former girlfriend of Sheriff Maddox spoke to CNN about her relationship with him. Brenda Chastain was involved with Maddox for almost three years. She said that she ended their relationship after strange things started to happen to her.
She said that dimes would mysteriously appear in strange places. She found one in her bed and another positioned in a such a way that when she opened the door to her car, the dime fell on the drivers seat.
When she read about the dime that was found near Wright’s body she said that it really spooked her.
At one time Chastain had complained to Maddox and law enforcement about a drug operation located near her ranch. Even though arrests had been made and the home was boarded up there is speculation that the dimes may have been strategically placed as a warning.
It’s a common belief that in small towns everyone seems to know each other. That bit of folklore appears to be quite relevant among officials involved in the investigation into the circumstance surrounding the death of Alfred Wright.
District Attorney J. Kevin Dutton, a friend of Maddox, removed himself from the case and turned over the Wright case to the Texas AG’s office.
The Texas AG’s office declined to take on the case because they determined that the involvement of the AG’s office was not appropriate.
Currently the Texas Rangers are overseeing the investigation and have called Wright’s death “questionable”.
The U.S. Justice Department, spurred by the efforts of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee , is keeping a watchful eye on the investigation.
The FBI said that they remain available to assist the Texas Rangers should they need help.