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Kathy Blair, a beloved choir instructor in Austin, Texas believed, one of her students said, “in the power of bringing beauty into the world.”
Tragically, the 53-year-old teacher and single mom’s life ended in an ugly act of violence.
As she slept, Blair was stabbed several times in her chest and neck. She was found by her son on December 6, 2014 in a pool of blood that had soaked her bed and pillows.
Although a jewelry box had been ransacked, there was no further indications of a burglary gone wrong, investigators told “One Deadly Mistake,” airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen. A laptop, TVs, and other valuables weren’t taken.
“Right from the get-go, there was a lot of suspicion about how this occurred,” Derek Israel, a detective with the Austin Police Department, told producers.
He and fellow Austin PD detective Kerry Scanlon felt like the murder scene had been staged to look like a robbery, and thought Blair had specifically been targeted.
By whom? And why? A lack of DNA evidence and useful fingerprints made coming up with answers difficult. There was one clue: a bloody shoe impression. It appeared that whoever killed Blair stepped in her blood after repeatedly stabbing her.
Detectives braced for a challenging case. They began with Blair’s intimates, including her son, Joseph Hargis, 27, who discovered his mother’s bloody body on December 6.
In a conversation with a 911 dispatcher, Hargis said, “I think my mom is dead. There’s a lot of blood. I think someone broke in.”
Detectives were able to quickly cross the grieving son off the list of suspects. They focused next on Blair’s ex-husband, who was also cleared.
Investigators dug into the details of the murder. Most burglaries happen during the day, when people are away from home. Why would a robber pull off a heist crime in the middle of the night?
As they wrestled with that puzzle, detectives carefully considered the shoe print. From it officials could tell the brand and size. It also showed that the owner had a distinctive gait.
A few days after the murder, detectives got a call from one of Blair’s neighbors, Rob Leef. Early in the morning on the day Blair’s body was found, he had been outside with his video camera testing a thermal scope, which detects radiation but doesn't need light to produce an image.
Leef captured a man leaving a car and walking toward Blair’s house. The video revealed the silhouette of a figure with broad shoulders and a wobbly walk, as well as the person’s car. The time stamp read 1:16 AM. A picture, albeit a rather blurry one, was coming together for investigators.
A significant lead came just over a week after Blair’s murder and just five miles away. Sidney Shelton, 85, and his wife, Billie Shelton, 83, were found murdered in their home.
The couple had been beaten in the head and strangled, investigators told “One Deadly Mistake.” Billie had been stabbed several times in the face, including in an eye. A jewelry box had been rifled through. Detectives at the Shelton crime scene also working on the Blair case had a chilling sense of deja vu.
“This was a murder made to look like a burglary,” said Israel. “That was the exact same thing I’d seen at Kathy Blair’s house.”
What was the motive? What was the connection between the homicides? Was a serial killer on the loose in Austin?
During the course of the investigation, one of Blair’s friends mentioned that Blair told her about a “creepy” handyman who’d worked at her home in the spring. Blair’s landlord told investigators that the worker’s name was Tim Parlin, and that he was on parole. He had served time behind bars for jewel heists.
When authorities learned that Parlin’s brother was a deacon at Shelton's church they found a tie to all three victims.
After interviewing Parlin and asking about Blair, detectives couldn’t dismiss him as a suspect. However, they observed that his short, stocky body type didn’t match the thermal image in the videotape.
However, when Parlin’s alibi turned out to be a lie, detectives hustled back to the short-stay hotel where Parlin was living. He wasn’t there, but his wife was. Officials searched the room and found a pawn shop receipt for a pendant that had been pawned the same day Blair’s body was found.
Surveillance video at the pawn shop showed Parlin and his car. The vehicle matched the one in the thermal image.
Detectives got a warrant to impound Parlin’s vehicle. “Immediately we found blood on the passenger seat of the car,” Israel told “One Deadly Mistake.” The blood was Blair’s.
During a heated interrogation, Parlin told detectives to speak to Shawn Gant-Benalcazar. Investigators were skeptical. Gant-Benalcazar had no record, was well-educated, and lived three hours away in Galveston.
Still, investigators met with Gant-Benalcazar in Galveston. Although he claimed to have no knowledge of the murders, he admitted he had been in Austin and stayed with Parlin at the time of both homicides. Red flags rose up.
Over the course of a lengthy interview, Gant-Benalcazar kept changing his story. He mentioned that Parlin and he had stopped “in a neighborhood” for some unspecified reason.
During a break, detectives observed that Gant-Benalcazar’s physique and walk matched the figure in the infrared video. Moreover, shoes he was wearing matched the ones that left an impression at the Blair crime scene.
Eventually, Gant-Benalcazar admitted to going into the house and killing Blair. In a taped interview he said: “She woke up, she lunged at me. It was a struggle and I stabbed her in the neck.” He said nothing about the Sheltons.
Investigators arrested Gant-Benalcazar for the murder of Kathy Blair. However, officials lacked physical evidence and a confession to charge Gant-Benalcazar in the Shelton murders.
In Texas, if you’re complicit in a crime you can be held equally responsible. Prosecutors also charged Parlin with capital murder, which carries an automatic life sentence, in all three homicides. He was convicted in May 2018.
In November 2018, Gant-Benalcazar, 34, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole.
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