This article contains graphic descriptions of violence.
FORT WORTH — Meth sent Bryan Childers to prison.
Attaching himself to a gang, he thought, would help him survive.
But his decision to join the Aryan Circle, an often-violent bunch of white supremacists, was one he would come to regret.
After getting out of prison in 2004, a fight with a rival Aryan Brotherhood member left Childers certain of one thing — he was going to be killed.
“I was trying to get him out and get him into a different life,” said Carrie Childers, Bryan’s sister. “He kept saying there was no way he could get out. They were going to kill him. He kept saying this over and over and over. Terrified. I’ve never seen my brother scared, ever, in my life.”
On April 17, 2014, inside the garage of a home in the Summerfields, a middle-class neighborhood in north Fort Worth, Childers’ premonition would come true.
In a vicious and deadly attack by four Aryan Brotherhood members, Childers was beaten, strangled and bound with an extension cord, and stabbed. Days later, his body was dismembered with a reciprocating saw inside a Hurst dog-grooming business; his body parts were tucked inside cement-filled buckets and tossed into the Trinity River.
His remains have never been recovered, but seven Aryan Brotherhood members and associates were charged in connection with the case on charges ranging from murder to tampering with evidence, providing a glimpse into the dark and dangerous world of white supremacist gangs and the rules by which they live — and die.
“My son did not deserve to die like that,” said June Smallwood, Childers’ mother. “He was not a great person but the man had a heart.”
The cases were prosecuted earlier this year: Five members received prison sentences ranging from 10 to 50 years, three in plea deals reached with prosecutors. One had his case dismissed after cooperating with investigators. The only female defendant received two years’ deferred adjudication probation.
“I felt like they did the best they could,” Carrie Childers said. “I wasn’t satisfied with a lot of the sentencing but it’s something I’ll have to live with and I’ll always have to worry about because they’re always going to be out there.”
‘All based on protection’
A teen when she had Childers, Smallwood said she sent her son to live with his father, Riley Odom, in Keller when he was 2 as she recovered from a wreck. But the temporary plan eventually became permanent.
“I was young and dumb,” Smallwood said. “I got into the partying scene and became a weekend mom.”
Living in the rural area of Keller, Childers liked to ride horses and was often left to fend for himself while his father and stepmother worked. A student at Keller High School, he began getting in trouble — partying, smoking pot and eventually quitting school, his father said.
His father, Riley Odom, bought his son a class ring before he quit school, which he discovered was later hocked by Childers for cash.
“I found a ticket on it and went and got it out of the pawnshop,” Odom said. “I’ve still got it in my desk drawer today. I’m thinking about giving it to his daughter. That class ring might as well belong to that girl.”
By 1997, Childers had served small stints in jail for evading arrest and assault with bodily injury.
But a relationship with methamphetamine would lead to his downfall.
In 2001, he received probation for possessing more than 4 ounces of methamphetamine. That probation was revoked a year later after Childers picked up a new charge of unlawful possession of a firearm.
A few months after his girlfriend gave birth to their daughter, Childers was sentenced to two years in prison.
From his prison cell at the Stevenson Unit in Cuero, Childers wrote letters to his mom and sister but never mentioned he was joining the Aryan Circle, though with hindsight the signs were there.
There were the drawings of lightning bolts — symbols embraced by white supremacist groups. And the time he wrote about being placed in solitary confinement for fighting — a fight his mother now believes stemmed from his initiation into Aryan Circle.
“I read these letters all the time. They’re my lifeline to him,” Smallwood said. “It’s as plain as day. The way he talks about things, and getting in trouble. I just didn’t see it then because I didn’t know anything about gangs.”
An offshoot of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, the Aryan Circle was formed in the mid-1980s. The gang has grown to more than 1,400 members, mostly in Texas, and is the second-largest gang in the Texas prison system, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
“A lot of them were former ABT members that just didn’t like the direction of how the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas was operating so they decided to form their own prison gang,” said Steve Lair, a task force officer with Homeland Security Investigation’s National Gang Unit.
Both gangs have constitutions — or rules of conduct — in place and operate under a paramilitary structure.
Lair said that like other race-based prison gangs, “it’s all based on protection in the beginning.
“Later it expands inside the state and federal prisons to the outside and it becomes for-profit, a criminal organization,” he said. “What skill sets do you have that can benefit, as they call it, the family?”
And while groups like the Ku Klux Klan and skinheads are focused on hate crimes, Lair said often it’s money that drives the Aryan Brotherhood and the Aryan Circle, both of which have a strong presence in Dallas-Fort Worth.
“They use that fear factor that’s associated with Nazi-era symbology. They sell that because they know that scares people and that’s a good recruiting tool for disenfranchised white kids,” Lair said. “But while they’ll use it to their benefit, a lot of times their main motivation is criminal profit.”
Oftentimes, they make and deal meth.
‘They’re going to kill me’
Childers was a full-fledged member of the Aryan Circle when he got out of prison in July 2004 and told his mother and sister about his involvement.
Both disapproved, they said. Carrie Childers told her brother it was a “stupid” move and refused to talk about it.
“We all blew it off,” Carrie Childers said.
Nine years later, a battered Bryan Childers would share more information about the gang, telling his mother and sister that he’d been jumped by seven Aryan Brotherhood members.
“He said, ‘Mama, I whipped four of them but I was too tired. I couldn’t whip the other three,’ ” Smallwood said.
Fort Worth police said the encounter left bad blood between Childers and one of the Brotherhood members, Nicholas Acree.
At a game room, the two men would cross paths again. This time, Childers wrapped the chain from his wallet around Acree’s neck. By most accounts, Childers won that fight.
But he soon realized he would likely pay for that victory with his life.
“I was like, what are we going to do about this? Let me give them some money. Whatever we need to do. Let me call a friend that can go down to prison and talk to one of the members and have this called off. I know I can help,” Carrie Childers recalled telling her brother.
“He was like, ‘Sis, there’s nothing you can do.... They’re going to kill me.”
About a year later, he was dead.
Carrie Childers said she last talked to her brother in April 2014, and in May, when rumors reached her that her brother had been killed, she was determined to find out what happened.
Gun in hand, she and her husband visited the house in the 7400 block of Crosswicks Circle — just a few blocks from Fossil Hill Middle School — where Childers had been staying in exchange for helping out the bedridden, paraplegic owner.
Two Aryan Brotherhood members emerged from the house — Charles “C.J.” Garrett and Justin Hunsaker.
“We asked where Bryan was. They said they didn’t know who he was at first,” Carrie Childers recalled. “I was like, ‘No. Where’s Bryan?’ Then they said, ‘Well, he was here but he left.’ ”
Hunsaker asked if Carrie Childers wanted to come inside to talk to the owner.
“My husband forbade me to go in there because of the rumors we’d already heard and we knew this was a pretty serious gang,” Childers said.
The next day, on May 29, 2014, Carrie Childers reported her brother missing, telling Fort Worth police that she suspected foul play.
Smallwood, however, clung to the belief that her son was still alive.
“I was holding out hope that Bryan had finally decided to go underground and get away so he would live,” said Smallwood, her face showing her pain. “I thought he had decided to go get a new life somewhere and knew if he did that he wouldn’t be able to contact us or it could get him killed.”
‘About to go down AB style’
Two months after the missing person report was filed, a tip from a jail informant propelled the case into the hands of homicide Detective W.D. Paine.
Police would have their work cut out for them, and their investigation would span nearly two years, with almost every detective in the homicide unit playing a part.
Witnesses were oftentimes reluctant to talk. But with each interview, detectives were able to piece together the puzzle of what happened to Childers.
“In the end, we looked back at the case and could only describe it as a storyline for Sons of Anarchy,” said Paine, referencing the popular TV series about a violent motorcycle gang in California.
Detectives determined that some of the Ayran Brotherhood members had been celebrating a birthday, smoking meth and hanging out at the house on Crosswicks in the early morning hours of April 17, 2014.
They were in the bedroom of Robin Hughes, a meth dealer who was also staying at the home.
At some point, Acree found himself face to face with Childers in a hallway.
Acree stormed back to Hughes’ room and slammed his phone into his hand so hard that he cracked the screen.
“I’m going to kill that mother f-----,” Acree reportedly shouted.
Garrett, who was serving as a de facto major for the Brotherhood after the incarceration of two higher-ups, took control of the situation.
He ordered everyone to put their wallets and cellphones in a hat — collateral to make sure nobody took off and that there would be no photos that could be used as evidence.
One of the women present, Candace Whitten, was then ordered to put the filled hat in a parked car outside.
“S--- about to go down AB style,” Garrett announced to the room.
‘Tries to break and run’
Childers had retreated to the garage and was sitting on a bucket, lunch pail by his side, waiting for a ride to work.
Whitten told detectives that she saw Garrett, Acree, Hunsaker and Nelson Borders enter the garage.
“... Childers tries to break and run. They grab him by his hoodie and drag him back into the garage and shut the garage door,” Paine said. “She hears arguing, things getting knocked over and slammed around and screaming. Then nothing.”
Borders, Acree and Hunsaker would confess that they were present when Childers was attacked. Garrett declined to talk with investigators.
Borders admitted he threw Acree an extension cord, which was used to strangle and bound Childers.
Acree confessed he pointed at and struck Childers with a gun and stabbed him in the back as he lay facedown on the garage floor.
Garrett immediately set about covering up Childers’ death.
Worried that Hughes would crack under the pressure and snitch, he tossed around the idea of killing Hughes and the homeowner.
He theorized that could make the three deaths look like a home invasion, but Whitten convinced him that wasn’t necessary, according to witness interviews.
In the end, Garrett instructed everyone to say Childers had simply left the house with a woman and that no one had seen him since.
He ordered Whitten to find some other Brotherhood members. Get some latex gloves, too, Garrett said.
When she returned, Whitten, a former nurse, saw Childers’ body in a pool of blood, an extension cord still wrapped around his neck and wrists.
Garrett and Terry Corbin, another Brotherhood member brought to the scene after the slaying, set about removing Childers’ body, wrapping it in blankets and loading it into the back of Whitten’s Dodge Durango.
Whitten was ordered to clean up the crime scene. As she was cleaning up the blood with bleach and a scrub brush, Corbin — his hands spotted with Childers’ blood — opened up the lunch pail and helped himself to half of the pork chop he found inside.
‘Just like dressing a deer’
Whitten told police she was directed to drive Garrett’s car to the Haltom City home where she had been living while Garrett and Corbin followed her in her Durango.
She retrieved her belongings from the Durango and the two men drove off, Childers’ body inside.
Corbin was pulled over the following day in the Durango and the SUV was impounded after Corbin was found not to have a driver’s license or insurance.
The body was gone.
Whitten told police she’d heard that Childers’ body was taken to a dog-grooming business, where it was dismembered by three people, including a woman named “Flee,” placed in a barrel with concrete and tossed into a lake or pond.
Police would identify Flee as Felicia Brown, an Oklahoma woman who had a child with Hunsaker, one of the Brotherhood members present when Childers was killed.
Brown and Hunsaker had been living together at Hunsaker’s mother’s business, Susie’s Grooming, at 441 W. Pipeline Road in Hurst.
Brown told detectives that she had called Garrett after spotting a large barrel behind the business on April 20, 2014, that was emitting a foul odor.
She said Garrett instructed her to “clean the mess,” which she understood to mean disposing of the body inside the barrel.
Brown told police that she dismembered the body by herself, vividly describing how she used a reciprocating saw to first cut off the body’s legs, then the arms and head, and then cut up the torso.
“She told me it was just like dressing a deer,” said Allenna Bangs, one of three prosecutors involved in the prosecution of the cases.
Brown told detectives that the job took her from six to seven hours to complete.
“To me, I’m a strange person so I made myself cool with the situation,” she explained to investigators.
Brown placed the body parts into buckets and poured concrete into each. She placed the buckets outside the business and cleaned the shop, she told police.
She would later find that the buckets had been removed.
Despite her claims, police suspected Brown didn’t act alone, which later came out in testimony from Brown.
Hunsaker and Robert Bruce Cypert, a prospective Brotherhood member, were among those rumored to have helped dismember Childers’ body.
When detectives interviewed Hunsaker, by then in state jail on an auto theft conviction, he acknowledged that he had been present when Childers was killed but abruptly ended the interview when talk turned to Childers’ dismemberment.
Cypert denied taking part in the dismemberment but did admit to being at the dog grooming shop when the five buckets of concrete were loaded into the back of Hunsaker’s pickup. Cypert told detectives he followed Hunsaker to Randol Mill Road and Loop 820, and then watched as Hunsaker pulled down a dirt path that ran under a bridge to the Trinity River.
He told police that Hunsaker later called him and indicated everything was done.
Nine searches, which included dive teams from the Fort Worth Fire Department, were conducted in Fort Worth, Wise County and Parker County for Childers’ remains, based on Cypert’s claim and other tips.
Both Paine and prosecutors believe the buckets were tossed in the Trinity River, but say it is likely the concrete had not yet set.
“That was the year of huge flooding, where like the river was all the way up almost to the highway,” Bangs said. “I believe that it probably broke apart pretty quickly and those buckets are gone. I don’t think there’s ever going to be any trace.”
‘Two years for cutting up a body?’
Prosecuting a murder case without a body had only been done once before in Tarrant County.
In 2008, a jury convicted Rodney Owens of murder and sentenced him to life in prison for the death of Glenda Gail Furch, a 51-year-old Fort Worth woman last seen leaving work at the General Motors plant in Arlington and whose body has never been found.
Without a body in the Childers case, prosecutors could not definitively say the cause of his death or even that he was dead.
“We had one blood swab and the fact that no one had seen him,” Bangs said. “There’s always a chance that a juror could think he’s going to pop up later.”
The only two witnesses willing to testify to having seen Childers dead — Whitten and Brown — would do so wearing jail jumpsuits, which is always a potential credibility issue among jurors.
But in the end, only two of the defendants — Garrett and Hunsaker — would even go to trial.
Acree, the man whose beef with Childers started it all, pleaded guilty in January to engaging in organized crime/murder and was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
Borders, who threw Acree the extension cord used to strangle and bind Childers, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in exchange for 10 years in prison.
Corbin, who helped with moving Childers’ body, pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and also received 10 years in prison.
Cypert’s case was dismissed in April in exchange for his cooperation in the case.
Brown, the only woman charged in the case, entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors that garnered the lightest sentence in the case — two years’ deferred adjudication probation.
Smallwood was not pleased.
“Two years for cutting up a body? How can you give someone two years’ probation for doing something so gruesome?” Smallwood remarks incredulously. “That girl has got to be messed up in the head. She’s got to be. All of them are messed up.”
Under the plea deal, Brown agreed to testify in Garrett’s trial but would not have to testify against Hunsaker, the father of her child. Both Brown and Hunsaker agreed to give up their parental rights to their child.
Bangs said Brown’s testimony was vital in Garrett’s case because it proved he ordered the dismemberment.
“We needed her,” Bangs said.
But by the time Garrett went to trial, Brown’s story had changed some.
She now said it was Hunsaker to whom Garrett gave the order to dismember Childers’ body. She also no longer claimed that she did the dismemberment on her own, testifying she had lied on behalf of Hunsaker. She testified she helped Hunsaker pull the barrel containing Childers’ body inside the grooming business, then served as a lookout.
“She heard the saw. She smelt the dead body. She was part of mixing up the Quikrete and laying out the trash bags and stuff,” Bangs said. “When she went back in there, there were chunks of what looked like red clay all over and in the sink. She knew that was what happened but she didn’t really do the chopping up.”
A jury found Garrett guilty of murder and engaging in criminal activity/murder. He was sentenced by state district Judge Scott Wisch to 50 years in prison.
“I think C.J. [Garrett] is truly a psychopath,” Bangs said. “...Most of these people are in this lifestyle because they have drug addictions, they went to the pen, they have no option, because they don’t have a job, they have no family support. He is in it, in my opinion, because he likes it.
“He liked the power. He liked the violence. He liked the rank.”
Hunsaker would be the last to go to trial.
Without Brown’s testimony, prosecutors had only Cypert's testimony to tie Hunsaker to disposing of Childers’ remains.
It apparently wasn’t enough to convince jurors, who found Hunsaker not guilty of tampering with evidence and murder, but still guilty of engaging in organized criminal activity/murder.
The jury sentenced him to 37 years in prison.
Brown’s behavior did not set well with Tarrant County prosecutors.
While testifying against Garrett, she blew him a kiss from the witness stand. Within days of being released from jail, she was back on Facebook, posting photos of herself flashing Aryan Brotherhood signs.
Now, prosecutors say they will seek to revoke Brown’s probation after she was recently charged in Oklahoma with unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and trafficking in illegal drugs.
If probation is revoked, she faces up to 20 years in prison.
‘Signed your death sentence’
Beyond the prison sentences, Childers’ death sent ripples through both gangs.
Gang rules dictate that a rival gang member should not be killed without first receiving permission from both gangs’ chains of command.
No such permission was sought in Childers’ slaying, and repercussions were quickly evident.
In the Parker County Jail, jailers had to separately house the two factions after fights broke out, according to Sgt. R. Montgomery with the Parker County Sheriff’s Office.
But the biggest battlefield between the two rival groups has been at the federal prison level, said Lair, with Homeland Security.
While state prisons separate confirmed gang members — placing them in isolation for 23 hours a day — there is no such segregation in federal prisons, Lair said.
“You’re in a confined area and you’re not segged out. So now everybody is having to walk the yard,” Lair said.
The feuding that followed Childers’ slaying prompted a high-ranking board member of the Aryan Circle to try to squash the war by posting in the group’s Facebook newsletter.
Norman “Pyscho” Smith wrote that he had been studying the issue with the Aryan Circle’s “cousins” and concluded that Childers “was not our friend when the incident happened.”
Smith claimed that Childers had flaked on another Aryan Circle member who had given him a job and that “the things he was doing would have resulted in the same outcome with the legitimate structure.”
“This whole sorry issue leaves a bad taste in our mouth, but what are we to do? Go hard over a fraud that had no love or loyalty? I think not and the majority of the UB agrees with me so this issues with this Other group IS OVER AND DONE WITH.”
But internal communication among the group is not a strength, Lair said.
He said intelligence gathered by law enforcement shows the war —whether started over Childers’ death or not — continues on.
Carrie Childers said she hopes others will learn from her brother’s story.
“I hope that the younger generation realizes how horrible this is. Even if you get sent to prison for a year or two like my brother, you don’t join a gang. If you do, you disassociate with it completely.
“If not, you may have just signed your death sentence.”