The Mary Morris Murders: A True Crime Retrospective

Mary Henderson Morris was, by all accounts, a happy, friendly woman and a devoted wife and mother.  She worked as a loan officer in a Houston, TX, bank, and was happily married. Her family life was in good order, her professional life was in good order, and her friends all seem to agree that no one had any reason to kill her.

But someone did just that.

On the morning of October 12, 2000 (a Thursday), Mary Henderson Morris was killed and incinerated in her car.  She was forty-eight.

She’d left the house at 6:00 AM, as usual, planning to head to a nearby gas station before going into work.  However, it’s unclear if she ever even made it to the gas station. What is known is that her husband is the last person to have seen her, and that her whereabouts are totally unaccounted for from the time she left her house until 10:20 AM, when smoke from what would be discovered to be her car was spotted by a resident in a nearby neighborhood.  Since 10:20 AM is only the time the fire was confirmed, authorities aren’t even able to piece together a reliable timeline of events, nor are they able to accurately place Mary’s time of death.

When Jay Morris, Mary’s husband, didn’t hear from her all day, he grew worried; so did her manager at the bank when she never showed up for work.  In fact, her boss called the Morris home to see if Mary was there and had forgotten to call in sick. However, when she called, she never identified herself to Jay, or explained why she was asking for Mary, so it wasn’t until around 5:00 PM that Jay reported Mary as missing.  Not long after his call, her burned-out car was found.

No motive has ever been uncovered for the murder, although there are theories and speculation.  Robbery is unlikely, as the only jewelry taken was her wedding ring, and the only other thing confirmed missing from the car was her purse.  She was wearing jewelry when her body was found that was considered expensive enough to attract a thief’s attention. There are no suspects, either, not even her husband, Jay Morris.  It’s baffling, and no one has been able to come up with any theories that are more than just speculation and conjecture.

***

The day after Mary Henderson Morris was found dead, someone allegedly called the Houston Chronicle.  The phone call was short (if it happened).  All the caller said was, “They got the wrong Mary Morris.”  Then he hung up.

This phone call has never been confirmed, but the rumor of it persists online, and is surprisingly consistent for something that’s possibly made up.  Since it’s unverifiable, I considered leaving it out, but if the phone call is real, then it lends much credence to one of the theories about these murders.

***

Mary McGinnis Morris was a happy, friendly woman, a wife, and a mother.  She worked as a nurse for Union Carbide, a pharmaceutical company in Houston, TX, that would later become famous when one of it’s overseas plants erupted into flame and caused many deaths and a significant amount of environmental destruction.  This Mary, however, did not have the same peaceful, idyllic life that Mary Henderson Morris lived.

Mary McGinnis Morris was experiencing trouble both at home and in the workplace.  Her husband, Mike Morris, had accused her of having an affair, and since the accusation (which was never proved true) the marriage had been rocky, although Mike claims that they were on much better terms and were working toward fixing the marriage.  At work, she’d drawn the attention of a coworker named Duane Young (normally I wouldn’t release his name, but Mr. Young has persistently and repeatedly identified himself as the person in question, so I see no reason not to use his name). Unfortunately, by most accounts, her encounters with Duane were less than pleasant.  Much has been speculated, but the only substantiated encounters I could find were that Duane made Mary uncomfortable enough that she filed some sort of formal complaint. This led to Duane being dismissed from work (most accounts say fired, although there is some debate if it was a firing, a suspension, or a single day’s dismissal while things were investigated) and asked not to return while Mary McGinnis Morris was in the building.  The other encounter was Mary McGinnis Morris returning to work on her day off and discovering a death threat scrawled on a company desk calendar reading “Death to Her”. It is unclear if this was written on her own calendar or was found in Duane’s office.

Regardless, Mary McGinnis Morris felt the need to protect herself, even going so far as to begin carrying the family’s gun around with her in the car, in case she needed it.

On the day she died, Mary Morris was running errands, including stopping by the Union Carbide office to catch up on some work over the weekend, and a stop at a pharmacy of some sort.  While at the pharmacy, Mary called her friend, Laurie Gemmell, who reported later that Mary told her she was being followed by someone who “gave her the creeps.” However, she did not seem overly alarmed at this, and continued on back to the office, where she intended to shut down her workstation and return home.  She was shot that night, in her car, by the gun she carried for protection. At the time of her murder, she was on the phone with 911, however it seems she was unable to give a location. The recording of the call has never been released. Mary McGinnis Morris was thirty-nine when she died.

There are some reports car was set on fire in an attempt to destroy evidence, however the blaze was nowhere near as devastating as the Mary Henderson Morris fire if this is true.  The car wasn’t found until a few days had passed, and the scene was staged to look like a suicide. However, there were some immediately noticeable defensive wounds on Mary’s body, and police quickly ruled it a homicide.

The murders happened within three days of each other, with Mary Henderson Morris’ death occurring on Thursday, and Mary McGinnis Morris’ death on Sunday, October 15, 2000.

Speculation, it seems, started immediately.

***

It has long been thought by both armchair detectives and the Mary Morrises families that the murders were connected.  This is the prevailing theory online, and I do have to give it some credence. The most popular version of the theory goes that someone who knew Mary McGinnis Morris hired a hitman to kill her.  However, the hitman, by some error on either his part or the person who hired him, ended up killing Mary Henderson Morris. When he realized his mistake, he (or the person who hired him) called the Houston Chronicle with the notorious, unverified phone call.  Then, needing to rectify his mistake, the hitman stalked and killed the “correct” Mary Morris.

This theory is supported by some of the coincidental evidence between the two cases–that the purses and wedding rings of both women were missing, for example.  However, authorities don’t give this theory much credit, and tend to dismiss it as a possibility.

Much less theorized about is the idea that perhaps someone who had a vendetta against Mary McGinnis Morris killed Mary Henderson Morris in a fit of rage.  Since the two women did look fairly similar, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to think someone angry with one of the women would kill the other. Also often overlooked is the idea that Mary Henderson Morris was the original target for unknown reasons, and Mary McGinnis Morris was killed afterward with the killer seeing her and panicking that his victim was still alive.

Personally, I tend to think that if the murders are connected (and that is still unverifiable, since there is so little evidence in the Mary Henderson Morris murder), the mistaken hitman theory makes the most sense.  However, Houston law enforcement have been working the cases as separate cases since the murders originally happened, and because of this, I think that there may be some evidence on the unreleased 911 call that led them to rule out a connection.

***

In the Mary Henderson Morris murder, theories are very few and far between.  There was some hope when Mary’s calling card (for those who don’t know or remember, calling cards were like cell phone in the nineties and aughts, basically allowing you to load money onto the card and use it at payphones or to call long-distance without needing change or getting a hefty bill) was used several times in the Galveston, TX, area.  Police traced the phone calls to a young woman who claimed she’d found the card in a discarded purse. However the purse in question was not Mary Henderson Morris’ purse, and no further leads in Galveston were uncovered.

Jay Morris also received strange phone calls after Mary’s death.  The caller would ask for Mary, even though it was common knowledge she was deceased.  However, the calls stopped when Jay changed the phone number at their house. Police were able to trace the calls to a nearby apartment complex, but no further evidence was found.

***

Mary McGinnis Morris’ murder has abundant theories. Probably the most unlikely is that the man Mary was having her alleged affair with killed her in a jealous fit that she was working things out with her husband.  However, Mike Morris, Mary’s husband, claims that there never was an affair to begin with, and no one has ever uncovered any spurned lovers.

Equally unlikely is that Duane Young was the “lover” in question.  Duane himself denies this claim (although as we’ll see in a moment, Mr. Young is not always the most reliable source).  And again, Mike Morris claims that no affair was taking place, and that Mary proved it to him before her death.

From most people’s point of view, Mike Morris seems the most likely candidate in Mary McGinnis Morris’ death.  He certainly had plenty of motive, and would have known his wife’s intended whereabouts on the day she died. I even found one crazy theory (although since it was a reddit post, let’s take it with a grain of salt) that alleged Mike killed Mary Henderson Morris to avert suspicion from himself.  How exactly that works I’m not sure, but it does give you a sampling of some of the convoluted theories there are in this case. Alternatively, Mike may have copied the earlier Mary Morris murder–although since there is conflicting evidence on if Mary McGinnis Morris’ car was set on fire it’s unclear how exactly he copied it–to make police think it was one killer.

Certain people also find it suspicious that Mike Morris refused to take a polygraph, got himself a good lawyer, and wouldn’t allow police to question his traumatized teenage daughter.  Personally, I don’t find this particularly suspicious, however, seeing as he knew he was a suspect in the murder, and being a decent father, didn’t want his daughter to be further traumatized by the questions the police might have asked.  In my mind, this is perfectly reasonable behavior. Also considered suspicious by some is the fact that a ring that was missing from Mary McGinnis Morris’ body (not her wedding ring) was later discovered to be in her daughter’s possession.  Mike claimed he’d given his daughter the ring and hadn’t realized he needed to report it, or had forgotten to report it. While odd, it’s definitely nowhere near enough to prove his guilt.

The final suspicious thing about Mike Morris is that a four minute phone call was placed from Mike Morris to Mary’s phone not long after she’d died.  Mike claims he wanted to let the phone ring as long as possible, in case she picked up. The phone company, however, claims the phone was picked up.  For me, I can see this going either way.  It makes sense to me that someone who wants to get in touch with his wife desperately lets the phone ring as long as possible to give her the chance to answer.  But, Mike appears to have made this call while at the movie theater with his daughter. It does raise suspicion that, were Mike the one to hire the hitman, he was establishing his alibi and checking to make sure the murder was finished at the same time.  However, because I find the hitman theory and all its twists and turns a lot convoluted and a little unbelievable (the simplest answer is usually the right one, after all), I don’t find this suspicious enough to sway me toward his being responsible. Besides that, when looking at the Mary McGinnis Morris murder on it’s own (without factoring in Mary Henderson Morris’ murder), I think there’s a much better suspect.  But we’ll get to him in a moment.

We have to allow for the possibility that whoever was following Mary the day she died was unrelated to her family and work circumstances.  I find this unlikely, since the killer probably knew where she hid the gun she kept with her (under the front seat of her car). However, it is possible that a completely unrelated party killed Mary McGinnis Morris just a few days after Mary Henderson Morris was also murdered.  As one commentator pointed out, Houston is a big city, and Mary Morris isn’t an uncommon name. Despite all the evidence that someone she knew killed her, it’s quite possible that her death was simply a crime of opportunity.

***

But there’s also Duane Young.  Duane inserts himself into almost every message board about the Mary Morris murders out there.  He makes weird claims. He keeps messaging people even when he’s been warned repeatedly to stop.  And he’s been doing this since the murders happened.

Factually, Duane’s motives are only what I said before.  He was asked to leave the Union Carbide building because of some sort of formal complaint filed by Mary McGinnis Morris, and was possibly fired (he may or may not have made some sort of scene at this point, demanding to speak to Mary before he’d leave, however this is unverifiable).  He came under police suspicion due to the death threat he allegedly made (the “Death to Her” message on the desk calendar). After the initial investigation, he has continued to harass Mary McGinnis Morris’ friends and family, to the point that at least one of them has gotten a restraining order.  For these reasons, I find  Mr. Young most compelling as a suspect.  Of all the people involved in the murder, he seems to be the most likely to commit a violent crime, and his constant need to insert himself into discussions of the case seem similar to killers inserting themselves into searches for missing persons.

However, I think it’s only fair we let Mr. Young speak for himself.  Among the highlights of several comment threads (which I have linked in my sources at the end and encourage you to read for yourself), Duane Young makes these claims:

  • That the police told him he failed multiple polygraphs when he really passed (possible, police do lie about this in hopes of forcing a confession sometimes)
  • That he’s being used as bait for the real killer and it’s ruining his life
  • That Mary McGinnis Morris framed him (I assume he means to get him fired, but it’s unclear, and does appear at first that he means framed him for her death)
  • That Mike Morris knows what happened to his wife and his silence on the matter means he’s guilty or complicit in her death
  • That he has proof of his other claims, but his hard drive “fried” and he lost it all
  • That the death-threat was faked and Mary had no reason to be afraid of him (the first part of this is possible, however she clearly was alarmed enough by his behavior to file a formal complaint, so I doubt the second part)
  • That anyone who says Mary had reason to fear him is lying
  • That he has multiple superiors and supervisors who can back him up and that people who don’t believe him should call them and find out for themselves (he undermines this by never giving accurate or sufficient information to actually find these people)
  • That he doesn’t understand how email works (yet he uses message boards just fine)
  • That Mary faked her death
  • That he’s going to sue America’s Most Wanted for defamation and slander
  • That a profiler should review his posts and that will prove he’s not crazy or a murderer
  • And a particularly odd claim that he was fired when another poster on the message board claims they called the company he claims he worked for and they don’t have him on record as an employee–but he also claims at least once after this that he’s never been fired in his entire life

At various points, friends and relatives of Mary McGinnis Morris jump onto the message board to refute or contest his claims.  He responds to most of them by saying they’re lying or they don’t understand what he meant, or they quoted him wrong. At one point, Stephanie Loar, Mary’s sister, even jumps in, explains in detail why everything he’s said is wrong or based on a false assumption, and asks people not to respond to him anymore, since they really just want to move on as best they can.  Mr. Young continues to attempt to call out Mary’s supporters.

Reading through these message board archives was both morbidly hilarious and saddening.  While Mr. Young’s claims are at times laugh-out-loud ridiculous, you can’t help but remember the whole time that two lives were cut short, and two families were irrevocably, irreparably changed by these murders.  Mr. Young, as can be inferred by his responses and statements found in various places on the internet, has focused so much on how these murders affect him personally (in ways that, in my opinion, he could move past if he’d just let things go) that he no longer seems to understand that he’s harming the families affected, and quite possibly hindering the actual investigations.

***

Did Duane Young do it?  Did Mike Morris? Was there a hitman involved?  Were these two random crimes of opportunity that just happened to have shocking similarities?  We may never know. These cases have been cold for decades now, and unfortunately, there may not be enough evidence to ever make an arrest.

However, there is always hope.  If you know something about either or both of these murders, please get in touch with the Houston Police, either through their website, or via Crime Stoppers.

***

Crime Stoppers 24/7 Tip Line:  (713)-222-TIPS

Houston Police Department (non-emergency):  (713) 884-3131

Houston Police Online (information for various departments and ways to get in-touch):  http://www.houstontx.gov/police/contact/

***

 

Sources:

These are the sources I found most helpful when writing this article.

mammamia.com/au/mary-morris-murders

sitcomsonline.com/boards/archive/index.php/t-136941.html (this is one of the message boards where Duane Young appears)

ididitforjodie.com/2013/08/04/mary-mary-not-so-contrary-the-laws-of-probability-and-the-murders-of-mary-morris/

allcrimenocattle.podbean.com/e/ep-21-the-mary-morris-murders/

www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Killings-of-2-Mary-Morrises-prompt-questions-2064766.php#page-1

www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Two-Mary-Morris-slayings-remain-unsolved-1637059.php

causes.com/marymcginnismorris

unsolved.com/gallery/mary-lou-mary-mcginnis-morris/

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