Candace and Kevin Cox have had more than 30 years to reconcile that Candace’s older brother, Milton Hatchell, is gone, his life snuffed out on Dec. 28, 1984, in a savage attack on a neighbor’s front lawn.
But what they refuse to accept is that — despite long-held suspicions by police — no one has ever been held accountable for the murder of the 31-year-old father.
Milton’s killer, or killers, still walk free.
So they frequently check in with Fort Worth police cold case detectives. They make pleas with the media for stories about the case. Kevin writes Letters To The Editor on significant anniversaries of Milton’s death.
Candace says once they’re gone, she fears there will be no one else left to fight for justice for Milton.
“So this is the last chance and I just can’t let that go,” Candace said. “I’m not trying to torture myself. ... I’m not trying to be a martyr. I just want the truth.”
Milton’s case is the latest focus of the Star-Telegram’s true crime podcast series, Out of the Cold.
‘Face was virtually unrecognizable’
About 5:30 a.m. on Dec. 28, 1984, newspaper deliverers discovered Milton’s body facedown on a sidewalk across from his home in the then-new Summerfield addition of north Fort Worth.
He’d been shot in the chest and his face beaten beyond recognition with what investigators surmised was a tire iron or hammer. An autopsy would note 62 blunt injuries, primarily on Milton’s face, head, neck, back and upper extremities.
His car, a Volkswagen Rabbit, was found parked down the street, a dent from an apparent bullet visible on the rear driver’s side panel.
“Overkill” is how the original detective would describe it to the Star-Telegram.
Cold case Detective L. Wagner said murders motivated by robbery or other mundane reasons rarely involve such brutal rage evident in Milton’s attack.
“That tells me somebody was emotionally invested, for whatever reason, with Milton. Whether it’s hate, jealously, love — whatever the reason — somebody was emotionally involved in attacking him and that’s why they continued to attack him until his face was virtually unrecognizable,” Wagner said.
‘I remember waiting at the window’
Milton’s death left behind a 5-year-old son, Joshua.
Despite his young age, Joshua still carries with him vivid memories of his father. How they’d play Wiffle ball in the backyard. The time that his father unintentionally scared him while pretending to turn into the Incredible Hulk.
“I remember waiting at the window for him everyday that he would come home from work,” Joshua Hatchell said. “I was really excited to see him and he was excited to see me.”
But that summer, Joshua’s mom filed for divorce and the mother and son moved to Houston to be closer to his mother’s sister. Joshua said he later learned his father’s infidelity had been the cause of their break-up.
Candace said her brother had been depressed around the time of his death, due in part to his failed marriage.
Milton despised being by himself, Candace said, and seemed to be trying to throw himself into new relationships.
One of the women, Milton had confided in her, had just fled an abusive marriage. He acknowledged to Candace that if the ex knew about him, “he would kill me.”
Candace expressed concerns for her brother’s safety. She cautioned him not to be in such a hurry to get involved with somebody, especially at the tail-end of his own divorce. He told her not to worry; he could take care of himself.
“He was just so lonely and he missed Josh and he just couldn’t bear that,” Candace said. “He just couldn’t bear being alone.”
Two suspects emerge
Investigators checked into the allegedly abusive ex of the woman Milton had previously mentioned to Candace, but seemed most interested in the ex-boyfriend of a colleague that Milton had just started seeing.
Wagner said the ex-boyfriend had been violent with the woman, even threatening her with a gun. He had abducted her a few days before Milton’s death, but she managed to escape at a gas station and called Milton to pick her up.
Milton had told a friend that the ex-boyfriend, reportedly a bookie, had threatened him and been giving him a hard time for seeing the woman.
On the night before Milton’s body was found, the ex-boyfriend even came by Page Drug Store in Dallas that Milton managed, engaging in heated conversations with his ex and Milton that other employees witnessed.
Milton had followed the woman to her Garland home to make sure she was safe. They hung out a while before he began the trek back to his Fort Worth home, making it only as far as the block before he was attacked.
It would take investigators almost a month to track the man down. Milton’s family said they were told by previous investigators that the man had taken a trip out of state shortly after Milton’s murder.
Initially, Wagner said, the man was cooperative and talked to investigators. He denied involvement in Milton’s death and agreed to take a polygraph, but then never showed for the test.
“Ever since then, it’s been nothing but refusals whenever law enforcement has tried to re-contact him,” Wagner said.
To this day, neither that man, nor the ex of the other woman that Milton had previously been involved with, have been excluded as possible suspects, Wagner says.
Joshua said he’s accepted that an arrest may never come in his father’s case.
He’s resolved that the ex-boyfriend of Milton’s colleague most likely killed his father but that there just isn’t enough evidence to pin it on him.
But he said he’s forgiven that man — a difficult task he took on upon converting to Catholicism.
“I was asked to forgive my enemies. That’s a tough thing. When you start thinking about your worst enemies, the man we believe did it always came up in my head,” Joshua said. “I had to forgive him for it and I did forgive.”
In fact, he prays for that man and his possible accomplices at mass every Sunday.
‘He changed my life’
Candace and Kevin Cox said they never would have even met if it wasn’t for Milton.
After all, it was Milton who kept pestering Kevin when they were roommates in college, to come home with him to Dallas and go out with his younger sister, Candace.
It was a request that Cox had been graciously blowing off until one Sunday evening after winter break, when Milton simply wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“As usual, he comes bursting through the door and he just, like, immediately says, ‘OK, I had to leave my car in Dallas to get worked on. I caught a ride to campus. You’re going to have to drive me back this weekend. You can go out with my sister when you do. And here’s her picture,’ ” Cox recalls.
In the picture, Candace Hatchell, with her long flowing hair and a Mona Lisa smile, stares into the camera on her 17th birthday, a pink cake and gifts on the table before her.
“So I looked at the photo and I said, ‘Oh, she’s pretty.’ I said, ‘OK, Milton, I’ll take you home and I’ll go out with your sister.’ ”
Kevin and Candace hit it off. They’ve been married 42 years and have two children, both now older than Milton was when he died.
“My whole life, my entire life from that point, has been connected to him,” Kevin Cox said.
So they’ll keep pushing for justice.
Kevin said he doesn’t believe society can permit someone to commit a crime so heinous, then be able to get away with it scot-free.
But beyond that, he and Candace feel they owe it to Milton.
“Mostly it’s just a commitment,” Kevin said. “I love Milton. He was my friend. He changed my life.”
The Star-Telegram is hosting a monthly podcast on unsolved cold cases in Tarrant County and North Texas. To listen to the podcast about Milton Hatchell’s murder and others, visit star-telegram.com/outofthecold.