The Killing Kind

The Killing Kind

3.3 7
by M. W. Phelps

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She was seventeen years old, a beautiful girl with a Hollywood smile and luminous brown eyes. Sprawled in a culvert just off the gravel road like an abandoned doll, she wore only toe socks, a sweatshirt, and a necklace. She was not the killer's first victim. Nor would she be his last.

The lush, green hills that mark the border of North and South Carolina are home


She was seventeen years old, a beautiful girl with a Hollywood smile and luminous brown eyes. Sprawled in a culvert just off the gravel road like an abandoned doll, she wore only toe socks, a sweatshirt, and a necklace. She was not the killer's first victim. Nor would she be his last.

The lush, green hills that mark the border of North and South Carolina are home to a close-knit community. When the savaged remains of high-spirited Heather Catterton and sweet-natured Randi Saldana were found and a local man was linked to their murders, residents were forced to face an evil in their midst. The killer was one of their own . . .

Danny Hembree was far from being an upright, law-abiding citizen. But he was part of the fabric of the local scene, devoted to his mother and sister. No one saw him as a remorseless killer who preyed on those who trusted him. When questioned by police, Hembree didn't just play cat-and-mouse and then confess. He bragged. Taunted. Laughed about his merciless deeds.

In The Killing Kind acclaimed, award-winning investigative crime journalist M. William Phelps delves into the background of Hembree's victims, bringing readers into their lives in intimate detail. With exclusive information from detectives and prosecutors, Phelps reconstructs the chilling clues that led to Hembree's arrest, and the media sensation surrounding his trial, mistrial, and ultimate conviction.

As the victims' loved ones attempt to heal, Hembree continues to widen the scope of his crimes from behind bars. M. William Phelps draws on interviews and correspondence with the serial killer himself, bringing readers into the mind of a murderer – and into the heart of a real-life story of bloodshed, tears, and the long road to justice.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this workmanlike true crime book, Phelps (I'll Be Watching You) focuses on unrepentant killer Danny Hembree, who taunts the families of his victims from his prison cell. The discovery of 17-year-old Heather Catterton's semi-naked body, discarded by her killer, foreshadows what is to come. In short order, 30-year-old Randi Saldana's half-burned corpse signals to York County (S.C.) Sheriff's Office investigators that they are looking for a serial killer. For all their dissimilarities, the lives of the two victims intersected in a world of drugs and exploitation, a world where Hembree preyed on vulnerable women. The narcissistic killer seizes the chance to take center stage with lurid confessions of a decades-long career of violent robbery, assault, rape, and murder, convinced that cunning and lies will save him from death row in the trial that follows. Fans of the author's Discovery TV series, Dark Minds, will be rewarded. (July)
From the Publisher
"One of America’s finest true-crime writers."
—Vincent Bugliosi

"Phelps is a true-crime veteran."
New York Post

"Fans of the author's Discovery TV series, Dark Minds, will be rewarded."
Publishers Weekly

"Phelps is the Harlan Coben of real-life thrillers."
–Allison Brennan

Library Journal
In this real-life story of Danny Hembree's trial for the murder of two Gastonia, NC, women, true crime writer and star of Investigation Discovery's Dark Minds, Phelps (Perfect Poison) presents in-depth research and interviews that allow for vivid descriptions of characters and events. Unfortunately, the author's obvious, though justified, contempt for Hembree detracts from what one expects to be an impartial narrative. Similarly, Phelps's occasionally overly conversational style is distracting and creates an, at times, amateurish tone more appropriate to Internet comment threads (this is not a criticism of his reproduction of local speech, which he explains in an author's note). He generally succeeds in avoiding the temptation to delve overmuch into the personal and family histories of all the players in this drama and in keeping the story focused on Hembree and the investigation of his crimes. VERDICT Fans of true crime, forensics, and serial killer activities will all find something of interest here. This standard, by-the-numbers courtroom drama will pass the time sufficiently for readers who enjoy such books but will neither impress current readers of the genre, nor convert new readers to it.—Ricardo Laskaris, York Univ. Lib., Toronto

Product Details

Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.10(w) x 5.80(h) x 1.60(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt


By M. William Phelps


Copyright © 2014 M. William Phelps
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61773-446-5


A striped toe sock. Multicolored, like Reading Rainbow. Attached to a foot, a portion of her naked calf sticking up out of the brush on a clear, crisp, chilly day. Her skin was pale, with a reticular, vein-blue tint to it: sheer adolescence juxtaposed against an unthinkable image of horror. A dead teenager's body covered by brush, only her foot visible from the road.

At 1:45 P.M., on the afternoon of October 29, 2009, York County Sheriff's Office (YCSO) detective Alex Wallace, a seasoned, dedicated cop with a dozen years behind the badge, took a call to head out to the 1200 block of Robinson Yelton Road in York County, South Carolina. Wallace referred to this area as "a country ... gravel and dirt road," same as much of the terrain in this northern part of the state. There were five houses on the road where Wallace sped out to, situated in a fairly secluded section of Clover, the town seat.

When he arrived, Wallace saw other investigators from the sheriff's office standing down in an area off the side of the road. They were huddled around the body attached to that leg poking out from the brush. As a member of the YCSO's Violent Crimes Unit, Wallace worked death investigations, sex crimes, armed robberies, aggravated assaults, and missing persons cases. The rough stuff. The type of crimes that hardly ever came with happy endings—those cases that keep good cops, like Wallace, up at night, wondering, shaking their heads in disbelief at the terrible things human beings will do to each other.

After parking and getting out of his vehicle, Wallace walked over to where the officers had gathered. There was a "little drainage area" coming from a nearby creek that ran underneath the road. Three ribbed metal pipes, side by side, with several feet of space between one another, directed the water toward the woods, away from and underneath the road.

Looking closely, Wallace saw the girl's toe sock poking up from the weeds. Her body was situated between two of the pipes. There was a surreal quality to the scene: the tranquility of the forest, insects humming, birds fluttering, a farming tractor coughing far away, and this dead teen "in a culvert, amongst some bushes and trees."

"Someone riding an ATV found her," an officer on scene explained to Wallace.

If you stood where Wallace had on this day, staring down into the drain where the three pipes emptied, the young woman's body would have come into view. Although there was a mailbox on the edge of the road, maybe twenty-five yards from the body, there were no houses or businesses close to this section of the road. You're talking thick forest, filled in with dense bushes and tall, dry weeds. There was a house nearby, but not in the eye line of where a potential witness could have seen what happened. It appeared to be a hasty dump site—not the ideal place to hide a body, but also not out in a wide open space, either.

Wallace stepped down into the culvert. The woman's body was bent over. She was naked from the waist down (except for those rainbow- colored toe socks). All she had on was a hoodie.

Within this scene, there was something that struck the detective as he took it all in: "You could see her breasts, butt, and vagina area—there [were] bugs crawling all over her...."

This told investigators the potential existed for her having been down in the small culvert for "a while." She had not been dumped there just recently, it seemed. Possibly not even the night before, and certainly not that day.

Studying her body (she was young, a teenager or early twenty- something, for certain), Wallace saw the girl had "a deep scratch in her side from a claw or something." He noticed this as he got down on one knee. And looking even closer, the detective saw additional marks, maybe three or four "deeper cuts" along her body, "like she scraped across something."

Was she dragged?

There appeared to be some "redness" around her neck, too, just above an area where her sweatshirt had been pulled up to expose her breasts.

Ligature marks? Strangulation?

There was one pressing issue here, however: How to identify her? And a bigger overall question, of course: How to explain to the public that a teenager had shown up dead in a culvert, nearly naked, with scratches all over her and indistinct red marks around her neck?

"Fingerprint her," someone suggested. It was the only way to begin the process of finding out who she was. After all, there had to be someone out in the world looking for this young woman.


As the crime scene off Robinson Yelton Road, located just south of the North Carolina/South Carolina state line, filled in with investigators of all types, and yellow crime-scene investigation (CSI) tape was unspooled and wrapped around trees, the on-scene supervisor called in K-9 sergeant Randy Clinton. The theory was that the rest of the girl's clothing could be somewhere in the woods. But even more shocking: Were there additional bodies out there waiting to be found?

Sergeant Clinton had nearly three decades on the job, the last seventeen dedicated to the YCSO's K-9 Unit. If you were looking for a cadaver, a trail of a criminal at large, the possibility of drugs inside a house or car, the dogs were the go-to team of law enforcement for the job.

"We work on break-ins, armed robberies, anything that a person left on foot, missing persons ...," Clinton said later.

The dogs have been trained to pick up a scent and follow it.

"I want you to search along the roads to see if you can find any clothes that might have been tossed out of a vehicle," the captain told Clinton. This seemed like a logical approach. The dead teen was missing some of her clothes. If she had been raped and murdered, as many suspected, her killer might have speedily torn her clothing off and tossed it wherever the attack began. Or taken it with him and tossed it elsewhere. Finding that type of evidence could produce those three magic letters: DNA.

When Clinton met with several other investigators, one suggested walking along the roadside with the dogs. There were three additional officers on scene to assist Clinton. Together, they could cover a lot of ground.

Respectfully, Clinton didn't like that idea. His thought was to have two cars drive along the roadside and conduct a cursory search first, in order to see if they spotted anything out in the open. The incident had likely occurred at night. Out here in these parts of the south, the night sky is a shade under "cave dark." Out in the woods and along the dirt roads, the moon is your only light. There could be evidence left behind in plain sight, which the killer had not seen.

Those in charge agreed with Clinton.

Clinton and a colleague hopped in one vehicle and two other officers in another. Each went their separate ways along Robinson Yelton Road, north toward the state line between North and South Carolina. The small town of Clover is directly south of Gastonia, North Carolina, a mere thirty-minute, twenty-mile ride up Highway 321. These cops see lots of crimes generated by people from nearby Charlotte and other North Carolina towns across the border. Not that there aren't the same types of crooks, dopers, and criminals in South Carolina, but this region of the state is prone to people coming down from the north and bringing their trash and trouble with them.

Clinton and his colleague took off south down Robinson toward Lloyd White Road, the 148. Both cars inched slowly along the side of the road. Officers peered out the windows, looking into the brush and gravel off on the side of the road to see if anything popped out. The thought was: Conduct a passing search by eye first and see what came of it. If they didn't spot anything, they could double back with the dogs on foot and go deeper into the brush and woods along the roadside.

Not long after they started, Clinton and his partner came to a stop sign at Crowders Creek Road, right on the North/South Carolina border.

"Take a right," Clinton suggested. His eyes were focused on the side of the road.

They drove for a mile and a half; Clinton thought he saw something.


They were just beyond a small concrete bridge, now in Gaston County, North Carolina. Something red, with smudges of mud, was half on the edge of the roadway and half in the brush, almost in front of a striped orange-and-black road sign indicating a bridge.

Clinton got out.

"A red shirt!" the cop yelled.

Deputy Mark Whitesides, Clinton's colleague, called it in.

Standing up at the bridge, looking down into the woods, Clinton spotted what appeared to be something sparkling in the sunshine like a disco ball. As they trekked down the hill and searched the immediate area in the woods, a short five- to six-foot embankment from where the shirt was located, Clinton saw a pair of "blue jeans with a diamond-studded belt." The jeans and belt were farther down near the actual creek that the road had been named after.

Upon an even closer examination, the officers discovered that stuffed inside the jeans were a red bra and a pair of black panties with red stripes. The jeans had that diamond-studded black belt inserted around the loops.

When law enforcement looked at the area where the clothing was recovered—the shirt at the top of the ridge near the bridge, the jeans and bra and panties down by the creek—it appeared someone had tossed the items out of a car window while pulled over, or hurriedly flung the clothing out of a moving vehicle.

Or maybe this was where the attack occurred?

Clinton's gut told him the person was fleeing toward North Carolina.

The items matched with the size of the woman found not too far away. They had to be related.

Neither officer touched the clothing. Instead, Clinton had forensics come out and photograph everything before they could look inside the pockets and see if there was identification.

After a meeting and several conversations regarding how they could identify the dead woman, it was decided that the most productive task the YCSO could do was issue a press release and involve the public. If the girl had been missing, and family and friends were out looking for her, they would be watching the news. Additionally, the YCSO had several pieces of clothing, along with some jewelry, that could help with that process.

On Friday, October 30, 2009, as the young woman's body went off to the medical examiner's office for autopsy, the YCSO issued a press release explaining how the body of a young girl found on Robinson Yelton Road was that of an 18 to 28 year old white female approximately 5' 6" tall, weighing 150 to 160 pounds, brown hair ... and dark eyes. They published photographs of the clothing on the victim and the clothing located down the road, along with a necklace she was wearing. The YCSO held back the identity of several personal belongings, however, which had been found inside the pockets of the clothing. This might become important to the investigation later on.

"We haven't determined if she was killed where the body was found," a YCSO spokesperson said in a statement released to news outlets. "Part of the reason we need to speak to anyone who has any information is to piece together [answers to] these questions."

An additional motive for going public and hopefully identifying the girl was to try and reach "anyone who can tell us" who she was and where she had been during the final days of her life.

"We want any information about her, period," the YCSO spokesperson said.

Two suspicious vehicles had been spotted on the road during the time her body could have been dumped, the YCSO had learned during early interviews. One was a Ford F-150 red pickup, the sheriff's office reported, almost pleading for someone to come forward. This vehicle had tinted windows and a flatbed liner cover. It had been seen in the area of Robinson Yelton Road between noon and one o'clock on October 27. The second vehicle was a two-tone Chevy S-10 pickup with a blue top and tan bottom, possibly a 1987 to 1990 model. That vehicle had been seen in the area on October 25 and 26, between 9:00 and 10:00 P.M. The YCSO believed, without coming out and stating as much, that the girl's killer was driving one of the vehicles.


She was sitting on top of the knee wall surrounding the carport, her tiny legs dangling, her barefoot heels kicking against the brick, waiting in anticipation for her daddy to come home. She had freckles flanking the bridge of her nose, big, sad brown eyes, and straight, shoulder-length brown hair cut Dutch-boy style. Her rosy smile displayed two missing front teeth, which the Tooth Fairy had scooped up from underneath her pillow one night recently while she slept.

"Man, she sits there every day waiting for you, doesn't she?" his boss asked as they pulled into the driveway.

"Sure does," Nick said. "That's my baby. Daddy's girl."

Nick Catterton had never married his daughter Heather Catterton's mother, Stella (Holland) Funderburk. Stella had a four-year-old boy she brought into the relationship she and Nick had begun in 1983. They lived in South Carolina then, just below the North Carolina border. Stella got pregnant and they had Nicole first, followed by Heather, with her perpetually cheerful outlook on life and lively demeanor.

Nick worked as a plumber on new construction sites. These were long, hard, dusty, and sweaty days. He'd leave the house at six in the morning and not return until six or seven that same night.

"We started off in South Carolina and things [were] going great," Nick later told me. "We were a family."

Whenever work dried up, Nick found it elsewhere. During the early 1980s, Nick packed up his family and moved down to St. Augustine, Florida, where they set up home for about five years, living a mile from the coastline. Sunday was the day Nick and Stella took the kids off to the beach for a fun family day.

"We had to cut back after Heather came along," Nick said in his slow Southern drawl. "But theys was some really good ... good times."

As Heather grew, Nick noticed how different she was from the other kids. Heather exhibited what seemed to be an inherent love for all kinds of people, especially kids her age—seven, eight, nine, ten. At this young age, Heather was already thinking about worldly issues, like poverty and homelessness and starvation. Sure, other kids cared. But with Heather, it came from somewhere deep inside.

"She was a real kindhearted person," Nick said of his daughter. 'A real smart girl. She would have graduated high school and went on to bigger and better things."

In a school essay, "What I Would Do to Change the World," which Heather had written when she was eleven, she spoke of a desire to end all war, saying how she really [didn't] understand why there is a war. In a profound statement for a child her age, Heather tried to reconcile the idea of how it really hurts my heart that people are out there trying to save our lives and killing theirs. She then went on to talk about wanting to meet some of the soldiers fighting for the "freedoms of America," expressing how she loved them very much. Little Heather claimed she could never be brave enough to go fight for [her] country.

While in grammar school, after the family moved from Florida to Grover, North Carolina, Heather had such a sophisticated understanding of computers and the skills to back it up that she found herself helping out in class by teaching the other kids how to use the computers.

Nick and Stella had been having problems for a lot of years and they got worse after the family had moved back to North Carolina. When they finally split, Nick took the girls and moved to Gastonia, and Stella and her son went their own way. Over the years, Nick was the first to admit, drinking became an issue for him. Either from genetics or through the course of drinking what Nick described as "a twelve-pack every day, on the weekends a case in a day" for a period of years, Nick's heart grew weak and enlarged.

"I knew the dranking would eventually kill me," Nick said of his drinking.

Both of Nick's parents had died of a heart attack younger than they should have. So Nick knew the physical costs of abusing alcohol, not to mention the emotional toll it had on his family.


Excerpted from THE KILLING KIND by M. William Phelps. Copyright © 2014 M. William Phelps. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Crime writer and investigative journalist M. William Phelps is the author of twenty-four nonfiction books and the novel The Dead Soul. He consulted on the first season of the Showtime series Dexter, has been profiled in Writer’s Digest, Connecticut Magazine, NY Daily News, NY Post, Newsday, Suspense Magazine, and the Hartford Courant, and has written for Connecticut Magazine. Winner of the New England Book Festival Award for I’ll Be Watching You and the Editor’s Choice Award from True Crime Book Reviews for Death Trap, Phelps has appeared on nearly 100 television shows, including CBS’s Early Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today Show, The View, TLC, BIO Channel, and History Channel.

Phelps created, produces and stars in the hit Investigation Discovery series Dark Minds, now in its third season; and is one of the stars of ID’s Deadly Women. Radio America called him “the nation’s leading authority on the mind of the female murderer.” Touched by tragedy himself, due to the unsolved murder of his pregnant sister-in-law, Phelps is able to enter the hearts and minds of his subjects like no one else. He lives in a small Connecticut farming community and can be reached at his website,

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The Killing Kind 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Debi1 More than 1 year ago
This was a great read, I could hardly put this book down. Phelp's did a great job into bring you into the world that the family that this story revolves around live in. The only criticism I would have is that I would have like to have heard the serial killers mother thoughts as the investigation was going on. It seemed since the crimes where committed in her house while she was at home that the police would have at the very least questioned her, yet there is nothing from her until she testify's to try and save him from the death penalty. It was almost that maybe there was a deal made that the author of the book could not mention her or something because I cannot imagine her not being questioned and would have loved to have heard what she had to say. Other than that this is a great read for any true, true crime lover. I am here writing this review because I came back to buy another Phelp's book, hope ever which one I pick is a good as this one was.   
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While I am enjoying book immensely, being a NC-SC border native from the coastal plans area, and knowing there are many different dialects in this region of the country, I find the use of adjective "done" very much over "did". Other than that the book so far has "done" been highly entertaining and interesting. A very good read.
Anonymous 7 months ago
I was relieved at the end to find that it ended the way it was supposed to: Hembree on death row. My heart goes out to the families and friends of Heather and Randi. They did not, in any way, deserve what happened to them. To the author, M. Williams Phelps, you did your homework well. It was written with the utmost respect to the families and friends of. the Cattertons and Saldanas, and you are a good author. I've read many of your books.
JEN-E-- More than 1 year ago
This book is good, but is all too real. I thought I would be reading a story about a serial killer whose killed many women he does not know. Instead, avid Phelps readers get a glimpse into a serial killer--on technicality-that lures the teenage girls to have sex with him for drugs in exchange. That premise leaves the book less than appealing because relationships like that are very common. Danny Hembree kills Heather Catterton and Randi Saldona the same way a real drug dealer would kill a customer that has yet to pay up. I myself know of some. Nevertheless, The Killing Kind is the answer to why we have the death penalty in the United States of America.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Poorly structured as in, when will this be done? Save the cash!
1-Ammy More than 1 year ago
This score is not for the author or the book. It is for advertising that there are pictures available, when, after downloading, NO PICTURES. I would have bought the book anyway, I love this author, but I think false advertising sucks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago