Updated: May 12
Donna "Denice" Haraway (24,WF) was considered to be an attractive woman, though shy and a bit awkward, by those who knew her. She was eight months into her marriage with Steven Haraway at the time of her abduction from McAnally's convenience store. She had been employed there, working the counter, for about nine months.
By all accounts, Haraway was a dedicated student, in addition to being a wife and a holding down a job. She was enrolled at a local college, working towards a teaching degree. She would even study at the store, behind the counter, when things were slow. However, she had also been receiving harassing phone calls while work. And only while at work. This caused her a great deal of concern for her safety, as she often worked alone.
April 28, 1984 — 8:30PM, Ada resident Denice Haraway, 24, disappeared from her night shift as a cashier at McAnally's gas station and convenience store.
McAnally's had 3 locations at the time. One Toni owned, one that was on 14th & Miss either where KOK or Conoco is now, and one that was located out on HWY 1/E Arlington near Rolling Hills. That's the one she was taken from.
Witnesses in the parking lot — an older man and his nephew, who were stopping by to pick up change for a poker game — said they saw her being forced into a gray pickup truck by another man. An APB was put out.
In relation to Haraway's disappearance, a regular customer, Gene Whelchel, made three calls that evening: first he called Mr. McAnally, the owner of the store; second, he called the store manager, Monroe Atkeson; and third, he called the Ada (Oklahoma) Police Department. Mr. Whelchel explained that when he arrived at the store, the clerk was not there and the cash register drawer was open. Mr. Atkeson, the store manager, drove from his home to the store. Additionally, Ada PD responded to the scene.
When investigators arrived, they found no clerk working the store and money was taken from the cash register.
Denice was expected home from her job around 11pm by her husband who had gotten off work at 7pm and went home to study for final exams. Alone.
An APB was put out for the truck, but to no avail.
Denice was 3 months pregnant at the time of her abduction.
A week later a $5000 reward for info was released.
May 1984 — A clerk,Karen Wise, at a store down the road (Homer Store), Karen Wise, told police that she saw two suspicious men come into her store earlier the same night Haraway was abducted, and a newspaper published the composite sketches of the men based on Wise's description. Rumors started swirling about a number of Ada men who resembled the sketches, including Billy Charley and Tommy Ward.
The Confessions of Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot
Oct. 12, 1984 — Ward was first brought into the police station under false pretenses. The investigators, who were the same men who looked into the Carter murder, claimed they just wanted him to look at photos of suspects for them, since he was an Ada native, but instead ended up interrogating him about Haraway's disappearance. He denied killing her and having any involvement, but the police continued to hammer details about her death into him.
Oct. 18, 1984 — Again, Ward was interrogated for hours (he was brought in around 10 a.m. and forced to stay until 6 p.m.) and even given a polygraph test. At the end of the day, the police recorded Ward's "bogus confession," as his defense team later argued, which was full of details about Haraway's death that the police had given him. He also implicated Odell Titsworth, a man who got in frequent trouble with the police, as well as Karl Fontenot.
Oct. 19, 1984 — Fontenot (who has a learning disability) was interrogated and, like Ward, was forced to remain in the police station for hours upon hours. He eventually confessed that he, Ward, and Titsworth killed Haraway so she wouldn't tell the cops about their botched robbery of the convenience store. He said they got high beforehand and that Titsworth was the mastermind behind it all. Both Fontenot and Ward said Titsworth stabbed Haraway over and over again and that Titsworth held her down while Ward raped her.
According to the statements of Ward and Fontenot, Haraway was robbed of approximately $150.00, abducted, and taken to the grounds behind a power plant in Ada where she was raped. According to [Fontenot's] version, she was then taken to an abandoned house behind the plant where Titsworth stabbed her to death. She was then burned along with the house. When Haraway's remains were found in Hughes County, there was no evidence of charring or of stab wounds, and there was a single bullet wound to the skull."
Following this confession, the police went to Titsworth's home to arrest him but realized he'd been in the hospital with a broken arm during the killing, and there was no way he would've been able to do the things they accused him of. They did not arrest him.
Closing statement of DA on Ward – DA Chris Ross says that everything in the confession blamed on Titsworth was actually Ward doing it, like some sort of split personality disorder.
September 1985 — Fontenot and Ward were sentenced to life in prison for robbery, rape, and murder despite Haraway's body never being found.
Jan. 20, 1986 — Almost five months after their sentencing, Haraway's skeleton and pieces of her bloodied clothing and shoes were discovered in a forest 30 miles east of Ada in Gerty, Oklahoma by a hunter passing through.
After an examination, it was established that she was shot in the head and she was wearing an entirely different outfit than the one Ward and Fontenot described (there were no signs of stab wounds on her remains whatsoever).
She also had evidence of childbirth. No child or baby bones were found at the scene.
1989 — Because the true nature of Haraway's murder had been revealed, Ward appealed to be retried in a different county (in an attempt to escape the opinions of Ada residents), but this time prosecutor Peterson convinced the jury that Ward simply remembered incorrectly and that they'd killed her with a gun rather than a knife. Ward and Fontenot remain in prison.
According to testimony given by Terri Holland, she said she struck up a conversation with Fontenot, who told her that he, Ward, and a man named Odell Titsworth, took part in Haraway’s killing. She said Fontenot confessed to raping Haraway after Titsworth had stabbed her to death. The trio then poured gasoline on the body and burned it, Holland testified Fontenot told her.
In an opinion handed down Wednesday by U.S. District Judge James Payne, he wrote that Holland was used multiple times by Pontotoc County prosecutors in order to win convictions in some of the biggest cases in that county’s history.
While Holland’s testimony helped put Fontenot and Ward behind bars, it might ultimately help get them released as well.
Payne mentioned several times in his 190-page order that Holland’s testimony, and the apparent coverup of its inaccuracies by prosecutors, played a part in his decision to order Fontenot to be tried again or permanently released from prison.
Holland’s recompense for her testimony was apparently never revealed by the state. Payne wrote in his order that Holland was asked by Fontenot’s attorney during trial if she was benefiting as a result of her testimony, and said no.
But she was. According to Payne, her husband, Randall Holland, later testified that his wife cut a deal with District Attorney Bill Peterson in exchange for the testimony. Randall was facing 40 years in prison, but if Terri would testify that Fontenot confessed to Haraway’s murder, Randall would only get a seven-year sentence, and he and Terri would be allowed to get married while he was incarcerated.
It was a win-win proposition for both Holland and the Pontotoc County District Attorney's office, who desperately needed convictions in the Carter and Haraway murder cases.
December, 2019 – Karl Fontenot is released from prison. Billy Charlie and Floyd Degraw
Suspected of being the real killers of Denice Haraway.
Bill Peterson’s grandfather, P. A. Norris, had been one of the wealthiest men in the region, had owned the First National Bank on Main Street, had donated the land for the football stadium at the college, which bears his name: Norris Field. Some of this wealth had been passed along to his grandson, William Norris Peterson.
Bud Wolf, Tommy Ward's Brother in Law, is the Pastor at the church behind Debbie Carter's home. Coincidence?
Debbie Sue Carter
Dec. 7, 1982 — 21-year-old Debra "Debbie" Sue Carter drove home, where she lived alone, after work. An unknown assailant knocked on her door and proceeded to force their way in, raping and strangling Carter with her own belt and the cord of an electrical blanket.
Debbie worked at the Coachlight bar, late-night shift as a waitress, that was then located at: Near ECU,
She also had 2 other part-time jobs, which are unknown.
Debbie's apartment was located at: 8th & Highland, behind College Heights Baptist Church
She had just moved into that apartment on October 8th, just 2 months prior to her murder.
Her parents had lived in Ada since 1959, when her mother married her father.
Dec. 8, 1982 — Carter Found Murdered.
The following morning, Carter was found dead by her friend, Donna Johnson. She said glass was all over the porch and the door was ajar and she heard loud music. She went in and found Debbie on the floor . She calls Debbie's mother, Peggy, instead of Police. When Peggy arrived, her sister and her best friend were already at Debbie's apt.
Dennis Smith, Senior Detective at APD at the time, was one of the first on the scene.
His daughter went to school with Debbie and they were friends.
Duke Graham was a prominent man who owned his own nightclub and Jim Smith was described by Grisham as a local small time thug.
He goes to see Peggy at 7pm that night.
CRIME SCENE: Debbie's body was found lying on the floor, totally naked except a cord wrapped around her neck. DUKE GRAM was written on her back and DIE on her chest in ketchup. On the wall was written “JIM SMITH NEXT WILL DIE” in nail polish. On the kitchen table was written “DON'T LOOK FORE US OR EALSE,” misspelled in ketchup. Palms print on wall in blood, and she was raped and sodomized with a ketchup bottle. Debbie also had head trauma, bruises on her arms and sides and a wash cloth stuffed in her mouth. The medical examiner eventually found that she had bruising in her vagina, as well as the presence of sperm in her anus and vagina, collapsed lungs, a dilated heart, but no sign of brain injury.
Gary Rogers, an OSBI agent, worked the crime scene with Smith and filed their reports to Bill Peterson, the D.A. Of Pontotoc County.
No suspects were pursued for quite some time, but the lead detective on the case, Dennis Smith, insinuated that the police knew who did it, but they just didn't have evidence.
March 1983 — Ron Williamson, a man with multiple past arrests who happened to live nearby Carter's apartment, was interviewed by police investigators: Dennis Smith, Gary Rogers, Mike Baskin, and Chris Ross.
According to an eyewitness named Glen Gore, Williamson was reportedly at the Coachlight the night of Carter's death and was seen harassing her before she left.
June 1983 — Dennis Fritz, Williamson's close friend, was interviewed by police in connection to the murder, but no arrests were made.
Arrests and Convictions in the Debbie Carter Case
Spring 1987 — The police asked Carter's mother, Peggy, if she'd sign off on allowing them to exhume her daughter's body. The police said it was because they were reexamining a bloody palm print that was found on the wall of Carter's apartment the morning after she was killed.
Peggy had refused, but Debbie's father signed off.
The palm print, initially, was found by experts not to match either Ron, Dennis, or Debbie.
Police exhumed the body with the approval of both parents after Peggy agreed upon the contingency that she be there when the body was exhumed. An agreement was met, yet they did NOT hold up their end of the bargain and exhumed Debbie's body without family present. Debbie's mother, Peggy, was told of the exhumation by the cemetery worker.
They had the SAME annalist who had previously analyzed the print, do so again, and this time it was found that the print DID match Carter. Strange that they couldn't get a match off of a newly deceased body, yet they CAN get one from one that's been in the ground for 4 years. Odd.
Pictures were taken of the newly exhumed body. Per photos, both hands were already in a bad state of decomposition.
This is the one and only time in his entire career that this analyst would overturn one of his findings.
May 8, 1987 — Williamson was arrested after telling the police that he had a dream of going to Carter's door, breaking in, and raping and killing her.
ABOUT RON: Devout family; in high school he thought he would be scouted for pros for baseball. Was a party boy. Got drafted, but threw his shoulder out. Went to rehab, went back and hurt it again. Went to rehab again, went back and hurt it again. He then had difficulty letting go of that dream and turned to drugs and alcohol. He became manic depressive.
He swears he was fishing with Fritz the night of Debbie Carter's murder, although he did state at one point the he may have made an appearance at the Coachlight that night but couldn't remember because he had been drinking and taking Quaaludes all day. He also mentions a dream where he went to Debbie's apt after that, broke in, raped and killed her.
September 1987 — Ricky Jo Simmons confessed to her rape and murder, but the police refused to accept his confession.
Spring 1988 — The day before the prosecution would have had to drop the charges against Fritz, an inmate who he was paired with in prison years earlier came forward and said she heard him confess to the murder. The "jailhouse snitch" gave a two-hour taped interview including details about Carter's murder she allegedly heard from Fritz. The only other evidence was that Fritz couldn't remember where he was the night of Debbie's murder, although work records show that he called in to work the day after her murder and he never had an alibi for that night.
ABOUT FRITZ: Grew up in Talahina, OK; Married to his HS sweetheart. Was a school teacher. Wife was killed in front of his daughter on Christmas Eve by a man in the neighborhood. He was molesting the daughter and was caught by Mom. He ran out of the house, down the road, got a gun, came back, and shot mom through the window in the head. The man was the nephew of the man renting their home to them. Dennis was destroyed by this. Daughter ended up moving in with grandmother because Dennis couldn't cope. He started taking odd jobs then and floating from town to town. Worked for the railroad at one point. Moved to Ada and became friends with Ron.
April 1988 — During Fritz's trial, an analyst testified that 11 pubic hairs and two head hairs from the crime scene were "consistent" with Fritz's hair. "This means they match," the analyst explained. He also presented highly misleading findings about the semen they examined from the scene.
The analyst who tested semen evidence from the crime testified that he did not detect blood group substances, meaning the result was consistent with a non-secretor (Fritz, Williamson and the victim were all non-secretors). The analyst testified incorrectly that this result meant the perpetrator was a non-secretor instead of a secretor. No potential semen donor could be excluded, however, because the victim’s blood group markers could be “masking” the perpetrator’s. Under such circumstances, the failure to inform the jury that 100% of the male population could be included and that none can be excluded is highly misleading.
April 12, 1988 — Fritz was convicted and sentenced to life in prison (he came within one vote of receiving the death penalty). Given how many years had passed between the murder and his trial, Fritz could no longer recall his whereabouts on that night. The district attorney argued that while Williamson masterminded the murder, Fritz was along for the ride.
April 27, 1988 — Williamson's trial started, which included testimony from a woman named Andrea Hardcastle who claimed he broke into her house years before and raped her and threatened to kill her (she lived near Carter at the time, too). She was friend's with Dennis Smith's (lead investigator) daughter and knew Debbie as well.
Glen Gore testified that Ron was at the Coachlight the night of her murder and that he saw them arguing in the parking lot near her car as she was leaving shift to go home. Other witnesses also said they saw a man arguing with her at her car, but couldn't name Ron as it was too dark for them to tell who it was.
Terri Holland also testified that Ron told her that he said to her that he “shoved a coke bottle up her ass and her panties down her throat.”
ADA Chris Ross has stated that Terri had a sweet C spot, going on to clarify that if they needed a confession, she was the one to go to because she had a C spot or way with confessions. (Can be seen in Netflix Documentary read Debbie's cousin.)
It should also be noted that Holland claimed she had been sexually abused in jail by officers and jailers in which they would force her to have sex with them and video tape it. These videos were supposedly kept in Bill Peterson's office in the bottom desk drawer. Paul Harbin was one of them as well as others. She felt those tapes obligated her to testify to whatever they wanted.
Terri was also in a biker gang, very close to the top in hierarchy, and was possibly dealing drugs to the police... much like Gore.
The evidence produced were two public hairs and two head hairs that were a “match” to Ron.
April 28, 1988 — The jury sentenced Williamson to the death penalty. The district attorney, Bill Peterson, made the case that Williamson got into a fight with Carter at the bar the night of her death, corroborated by eyewitness Gore.
At the trial, Williamson refuted this by saying he had an alibi; he said he was home the entire night and that his mom could vouch for his whereabouts. His mother had a receipt from renting movies they watched that night and also an entry in her journal since she kept fastidious notes about her daily life. Despite submitting both to the police, the journal and receipt ended up going mysteriously missing.
Justice For Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz
1994 — Williamson gave an interview in prison five years after his conviction, saying he thought Simmons committed the crime. The jail psychologist initially dismissed this as an alter ego of Williamson (he suffered from mental health problems). SOUND FAMILIAR? Although it was later proven that Simmons didn't kill Carter, Williamson never wavered in asserting his innocence.
1994 to 1999 — Fritz tried to appeal his sentencing multiple times but was denied. He later contacted the Innocence Project for help, which put him on the radar of author John Grisham (who went on to write The Innocent Man about the case). During these years, it was discovered that the physical evidence from the crime was going to be tested due to appeals filed by Williamson's legal team, so Fritz filed an injunction to ensure the evidence would not be consumed until the cases were joined and proper DNA testing was conducted.
Spring 1999 — New DNA evidence came to light, suggesting Fritz and Williamson didn't actually kill Carter. It turns out the FBI spent decades overestimating the importance of hair in cases like this. For example, the analyst who testified in Fritz's trial about the hair — it's impossible to say definitively that strands of hair "match" because there's not enough empirical data regarding the frequency of specific class characteristics in human hair. On top of that, DNA testing revealed neither Fritz nor Williamson was a match for the sperm found at the crime scene.
April 15, 1999 — Both Williamson and Fritz were set free by Judge Thomas Landrith and exonerated of their crimes. Williamson was within five days of being executed.
Judge Landrith: “What you see today and what's occurred over the last several months was what I truly believe is a non-adversarial search for what the truth really is in this case. We used today's science and today's technology to right a wrong, and we cannot replace the 12 years that the defendants have been incarcerated nor can we ever forget Debbie Carter. All we can do is go forward from today, but what this day really is is a day of freedom. The motions to dismiss will be granted for both of you. Mr. Fritz, sir, you'll be discharged from the custody of the department of corrections and the pontotoc county sheriff's office, and Mr. Williamson, sir, you'll also be discharged from the from the custody of the department of corrections and the pontotoc county sheriff's office. Mr. Williamson, Mr. Fritz, you're free to go.”
JUMP TO year 2000 and then come back.
2003 — Williamson and Fritz sued the City of Ada and won a settlement of $500,000, but both felt many residents of the town still believed them to be guilty despite their freedom. They were also scared that the prosecutor, Peterson, and members of the Ada police force would try to bring them to trial again.
In the years following:
Ron called Peggy to tell her that he was innocent, even after Glen was sentenced for Debbie's murder, he wanted to let her know that he never had anything to do with the murder. She and Ron began talking regularly and according to Peggy, the became friends.
2004: Williamson, who continued to suffer from psychiatric problems, died in his nursing home of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 51. He had only been out of prison for 5 years and only 1 year after winning his civil suit against the City of Ada.
Fritz began teaching again traveling around the country lecturing about the criminal justice system and and campaigning against the death penalty. He wrote a book, a memoir called Journey Towards Justice about the case and his years behind bars.
2009: He is still alive but now lives in a nursing home due to a traumatic brain injury he received after getting into a near-fatal car accident. He is in good physical health, but is experiencing early onset dementia because of his injury. He regularly spends time with his daughter, Elizabeth Clinton, who visits him as much as she can.
Who Actually Killed Debbie Carter?
2000 — Gore, the state's eyewitness for Williamson's and Fritz's trials, became the main suspect when it was discovered that his semen matched what was found at the crime scene (he was serving time for unrelated felonies- kidnapping, shooting with intent to injure, robbery- during Williamson and Fritz's appeal trial).
Gore had gone to school with Carter in Ada for all 12 years, but they weren't in the same group of friends. He also had a history of harassing Carter over the years, a fact that Carter's sisters told police (and which the police proceeded to ignore), and it was in fact him who had been seen arguing with Carter at the Coachlight the night of her death by witnesses, not Williamson.
Fitstown; Debbie Confronted Glen because he had removed her windshield wipers from her car. Another incident happened at Konawa lake not a year later.
Terri Carpenter and her husband were pulling out of the Coachlight the night of the murder and witnessed Glen Gore arguing with Debbie at her car. This was right there in the police reports and witness statements the entire time, but the police had modified the statement to say that “a guy was seen.”
They redacted the man's name when presenting the statement as evidence to fit their suspect saying that the original statement had disappeared. Therefore, this information was never given to the defendants attorneys for evidence. Was there someone in law enforcement intentionally ignoring these kinds of leads in the case?
Glen says it may be the fact that he was dealing drugs and doing drugs with some of the police officers in Ada, including Jeff Crosby (who's titles included: police Captain, public safety manager, and emergency management director), Corvin, and more and could possibly have been a whistle blower for these guys. Bill Peterson even told him to say exactly what they wanted him to or they would “find his fingerprints in the crime scene.”
Gore happened to find out he was a suspect while working in his prison's work release program and proceeded to steal an officer's car and escape. He was later apprehended, and the case moved forward with a trial.
June 24, 2003 — He was the last person seen with Carter, and despite being interviewed by the police the night after her death, they never bothered to take his fingerprints, saliva, or hair samples. When the new trial for Gore began and the DNA was finally proven to be a match, the jury found him guilty. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
August 2005 — Gore's death sentence was overturned.
June 21, 2006 — A second trial for Gore was held, and this time he was sentenced to life without parole by Judge Tom Landrith, since the jury couldn't come to a unanimous decision about sentencing him to death (one woman didn't believe in the death penalty).
July 9th, 2018 –Perry Lott is exonerated by DNA in Ada. 2 days prior, 7th of July, A hearing was scheduled for that Monday in which the Ada police officer who investigated the crime was set to testify. But over the weekend, that Ada officer committed suicide. That officer was Jeff Crosby. This is oddly close to the release of Netflix's series The Innocent man as well, which was set to release December 2018.
"We discovered there was another unsolved rape case that occurred after Mr. Lott's case where all the circumstances of the case were extremely close to Mr. Lott's case, and some of the same police officers were involved in the case," Doug Parr, local counsel for Lott, said.
IF YOU WONDER HOW CLOSE KNIT THIS SMALL TOWN IS and how just about everyone knows someone involved:
PACKOFWEENIES: REDDIT - This case has haunted me since it happened in 1984. I was 10. "Mrs. Haraway" as we called her at Hayes was one of the nicest, and most soft spoken people you could ever meet. All the students loved her. She always graded papers at a table just off the library, and it was hard to see her not there anymore.
We also knew Tommy, Karl, and Odell Titsworth. They used to come over to drink beers with my dad, and Odell even did my dad's bulldog tattoo one of those nights.
I even grew up......about 3 doors down from where Debbie Carter was murdered. My friend also lived where Dennis Fritz was living at the time. It was just around the corner from us.
Seeing The Innocent Man brought back a lot of memories for us. Ada is one of those smaller towns that everyone knows you. I just never realized how much I was entwined in this tragedy until I saw the docuseries.
Raven's bio dad is mentioned in the book The Innocent Man in 2 paragraphs.
Oct. 30, 2018
Please forgive an outsider for meddling in your politics. I wouldn’t normally think of doing so; however, I know a lot of the history behind a certain job that’s on the November ballot.
I urge the good folks in the 22nd Judicial District to remember these Six Innocent Men:
• Ron Williamson: Convicted of murder in Ada in 1987 and sentenced to death; exonerated by DNA in 1999. An innocent man.
• Dennis Fritz: Convicted of murder in Ada in 1987 and sentenced to life; exonerated by DNA in 1999. An innocent man.
• Calvin Lee Scott: Convicted of rape in Ada in 1983 and served 20 years before being exonerated by DNA in 2003. An innocent man. The hairs that put him away were actually dog hair.
• Perry Lott: Convicted of rape in Ada in 1988 and served 30 years before being cleared by DNA in July 2018. An innocent man.
• Tommy Ward: Convicted of rape and murder in Ada in 1985 and still serving time. An innocent man.
• Karl Fontenot: Convicted of rape and murder in Ada in 1985 and still serving time. An innocent man.
These six men were wrongfully convicted before the availability of DNA testing. Their alleged crimes were investigated by the same authorities and prosecuted by the same District Attorney’s office. Their fraudulent convictions were obtained by the use of lying jailhouse snitches, junk science, coerced confessions and eyewitness identifications that were manipulated.
Ron Williamson, Dennis Fritz, and Calvin Lee Scott were fully exonerated and received compensation, though Ron and Dennis were forced to file suit. The taxpayers of Ada paid for some of the damages. Perry Lott served 30 years and was released last July in the face of overwhelming DNA evidence. However, the current District Attorney, Paul Smith, refused to acknowledge this. Perry was forced to enter a bogus guilty plea just to get out of prison. He will not be compensated.
For Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, the clock is still ticking after 33 years. In their case, the crime scene and investigation were bungled so badly that the real killers may never be found.
Six innocent men convicted in only five years and the damage continues. With a population of 18,000, Ada ranks as one of the worst places in the country for wrongful convictions, per capita.
It’s time to stop convicting innocent people.
The 22nd has not had a District Attorney’s election in 28 years. It’s time to start cleaning up the mess by bringing some integrity to the office.
John Grisham, Oxford, Mississippi
Author, The Innocent Man
*Bill Peterson has been the DA involved in some of the other cases we have talked about, including Rachel Woodall and Daniel Furr.
THE INNOCENCE PROJECT – theinnocenceproject.org
The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. It is not only the goal to exonerate innocent men, but help police find the real perpetrators of the crime by ruling out the accused and helping the convicted with funding for new trials, lawyers, dna testing, and more.