DALLAS, TX — The man who would come to be known as Charles Frederick Albright — as well as “The Eyeball Killer,” “The Dallas Ripper,” and “The Dallas Slasher” — was born on August 10, 1933 and put up for adoption shortly thereafter.
Taken in and raised by Dallas couple Delle and Fred Albright, Charles proved early on to be bright and even brilliant. He skipped ahead two grades in school and seemed to be a natural leader among his peers. At home, though, life with mother proved unsettling.
Throughout Charles’s childhood, Delle pushed him to excel in all areas (such as forcing him awake at dawn each day to practice piano) and punished him harshly for odd infractions (things like tying him to his bed for refusing to nap).
Delle also changed Charles’s clothes several times a day for fear he’d get infected by something “unclean.” Occasionally, as well, Delle prettied up her son in girls’ dresses and instructed him to play with dolls.
As a teenager, Charles got a rifle and took to picking off birds and rabbits. Delle enrolled him in a mail-order taxidermy course. Mother and son, then, took to skinning, treating, and stuffing the cadavers together.Almost immediately, Charles became obsessed with removing the creatures’ eyes. He would then visit taxidermy shops and spend hours poring over cases of glass eyeballs, dreaming of the perfect set to use for each display.
Yes, the whole thing with “mommy issues” and taxidermy is uncannily reminiscent of Oedipal slasher Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).
Albright’s undoing has its own weird signature, though. The compulsively frugal Delle refused to pay for artificial eyeballs and insisted instead that Charles just sew the animals’ sockets shut. As a result, all of Charles’s stuffed birds and rabbits looked blind.
Around the same time, Charles Albright’s run-ins with the law began, first with a series of petty thefts, then with an arrest, at age 13, for aggravated assault.
At 15, Albright graduated high school and enrolled in North Texas University’s pre-med studies program. That ended with him getting caught stealing cash and weapons and having to do a year in jail. A second attempt at college crashed with another bust for theft, followed by expulsion.
With that, Albright’s criminal activity escalated, resulting in a two-year prison stretch. Albright’s sexual perversion intensified, as well — and that ultimately resulted in serial murder.
In 1981, Albright, who regularly babysat neighborhood children, sexually abused a friend’s nine-year-old daughter. The parents filed charges, and Albright pleaded guilty, claiming he did so just to avoid “a hassle.” He got probation.
Four years later, Albright moved in with a girlfriend named Dixie and, on the sly, took to patronizing prostitutes in the rough-and-tumble areas around Dallas. The “eyeball murders” commenced in 1990.
Mary Lou Pratt, 33, died first. Pratt had worked for years as a streetwalker in the Oak Cliff neighborhood. She was well-liked by her peers and even by the police officers who had to occasionally slap the cuffs on her.
Passersby noticed Pratt’s body dumped by a South Dallas roadside. She had been beaten and then killed by .44-caliber shot to the back of the head. The coroner performing what she thought would be a routine examination then discovered that Mary Lou Pratt’s eyes had been meticulously removed.
The killer struck again on February 10, 1991. Sex worker Susan Peterson, 27, turned up dead several miles up the same road alongside which Mary Lou Pratt had been found. Peterson took bullets to the head, chest, and abdomen. Once again her eyes were missing — extracted with surgical precision.
Exactly one month later, Shirley Williams fell prey to the “Eyeball Killer.” By day, Williams worked as a housekeeper at the by-the-hour Avalon Motel. At night, she turned tricks and brought her customers back to the same rooms she cleaned.
Albright changed his pattern with the Williams murder. His first two victims were white, and he’d discarded their bodies on an out-of-the-way thoroughfare. Williams was Black, and Albright dumped her naked, eyeless corpse on a residential street. Children walking to school initially spotted her.
Even more jarringly, Albright had bungled the eye removal this time. He got them out, but left the broken blade of an X-Acto knife in Williams’ skin.
The press reported a serial killer of prostitutes at work, sending local sex workers into a reasonable panic. Many of them talked about rough encounters with a muscular white man who had salt-and-pepper hair and drove a dark-colored station wagon. One victim said he raped her. Another said he exploded into a rage about slaughtering all “mother—-ing whores” until she sprayed him with Mace and got away.An anonymous woman telephoned Dallas Deputy Constable Walter Cook. She said she had been a friend of Mary Lou Pratt’s and that, prior to the deaths, she’d gone home a couple of times with a guy who seemed unnaturally fixated on eyes. He also kept a stash of X-Acto knives in his attic. The caller identified the man as Charles Albright.
Cook and another detective took Albright’s photo around to prostitutes working in Oak Cliff. They identified him as a brutal trick and a rapist.
Officers stormed Albright’s home on March 22, 1991. The evidence they gathered proved to be almost entirely circumstantial and even flimsy at that (X-Actos, hidden gun stashes, books about anatomy and true crime). Still, prosecutors had enough to try Albright for the three murders that December.
Ultimately, the strongest exhibit was hair found on Shirley Williams’ body that matched Albright’s. The jury dismissed the other two murder charges for lack of evidence, but ruled Albright guilty of killing Williams. The judge gave him life behind bars.
Now 83, Charles Albright is incarcerated at the Clements Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections in Amarillo. He maintains his innocence and once defiantly told a reporter from Texas Monthly, “Oh, really, I have never touched an eyeball!”
Main photo: Charles Albright mug shot [Dallas County Sheriff’s Office]