Texas Authorities Believe Man Who Killed High School Cheerleader Was Planning Serial Murders
Tristan Dilley, 15, helped rescue her suspected killer during Hurricane Harvey after seeing his post for help on Facebook.
A popular junior varsity cheerleader at a small town in Southeast Texas was murdered, and everybody from classmates to football players were initially considered persons of interest. The suspected killer’s connection to the young victim, however, would turn out to be the result of his social media post asking for help during Hurricane Harvey.
On Oct. 1, 2017, police in Silsbee responded to a 911 call about an unresponsive teenager, later identified as cheerleader Tristan Dilley, after she was found in a pool of blood in her bedroom.
That weekend, the teenager had cheered in the homecoming game, attended a dance and then slept overnight at a friend’s home. Bonnie Coon, the girl’s mother, recalls picking up her daughter the following afternoon. “On our way home, we were discussing her fifteenth birthday, which would have been in two days,” Coon says. “We were going to have a mother-daughter date night, and just talk about anything and everything.”
After dropping Tristan off at home, Coon left again to run some errands. While out, Coon says she was texting with her daughter and noticed she seemed off, like she was “kind of scared,” but the worried mother couldn’t quite put her finger on what was wrong.
According to Coon, the last text she received from her daughter was sent at 4:44 p.m. Once back home, Coon went to Tristan’s bedroom to check on her. When she opened the door, the light was off and the room dark, so she assumed Tristan was asleep and went back downstairs.
Later, around dinnertime, Colby Dilley went into his sister’s room and stepped into what he at first thought was water. “I looked down and she’s laying in a puddle of blood in the bed,” he says of finding Tristan.
An autopsy determined the teenager had died from two gunshot wounds to her head. No weapon was found at the scene.
“We didn’t know what we had going on,” says Chief Scott Duncan of the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office. “There’s just hundreds of scenarios that was playing on our mind.”
Duncan explains a homecoming game draws large crowds, from football players and band members to teachers and alumni. “That brings in so many more suspects,” he says. “A predator could have been in the stands watching her, or tracking her in some way.”
Investigators believed the killer was someone Tristan knew and trusted. After ruling out her family members, detectives began looking into who else could have had contact with Tristan between the homecoming dance and the time she died.
According to the friend whose house Tristan slept over at the night before her death, Tristan said there was someone she wished she could have met up with, and she was later on her phone with a guy the friend didn’t know.
When detectives looked closer at Tristan’s cell phone, they discovered a text Tristan sent at 2:52 p.m. — several hours before she was found dead — to a person named Adam that read: “They haven’t left yet.”
She then received a message in response minutes later: “I’m leaving rn and On my way!”
Tristan then alerted the person at the number that “they just left.”
On Oct. 2, 2017, less than 24 hours after Tristan’s killing, investigators were able to use Facebook and the number saved as “Adam” in the teenager’s phone to identify the mystery person as Paul Audrey Adams, a 19-year-old nursing student.
According to Tristan’s mother, her daughter and Adams became friends after Hurricane Harvey struck in August 2017. Tristan, she says, saw a Facebook message from Adams and she was able to send friends with a boat to help to rescue him and his family from their flooded house.
The two teenagers then continued communicating, but friends and family say the pair’s age difference made Tristan hide her connection with the older man.
Acting on the lead, investigators located where Adams lived in his hometown, Vidor. When they went to the residence, Adams was gone but a ranger was able to speak with him on the phone. According to Chief Duncan, Adams was “very emotional” and crying. Adams admitted he and Tristan had a history and he had gone to her house at the time of her murder, but denied he killed her, Chief Duncan says.
Adams claimed he saw a bearded intruder enter the girl’s home and threaten her with a gun. Despite his story, Duncan notes Adams failed to call 911. “That’s one thing he didn’t do that doesn’t put merit to the story,” the chief says.
Paul Audrey Adams was located at a campsite in a secluded area near Vidor. When law enforcement officers arrived, he shot himself to death.
Adams left behind a suicide note in which he insisted he was innocent of Tristan’s murder. In the 8-page message, he wrote that he feared authorities would not believe his claims.
In Adams’ room, investigators located a .22-caliber Magnum casing. Ballistics tests later matched the casing with those discovered at the crime scene. “There is no doubt in my mind that he took the life of Tristan,” Jasper County Sheriff Mitchell Newman says.
In Adams’ vehicle, detectives also found four burlap sacks, a 30- and 40-pound dumbbell, several hand restraints and hatchets, possibly for “dismantling bodies,” Chief Duncan says, noting, “I think Tristan herself was possibly going to be the first of many [victims].”
He adds he believes Adams possibly was on his way to becoming a serial killer before his suicide.
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