Terry Caffey: A Crime of Passion
By Randy Rudder
The 700 Club
March 1, 2008 is a date that will be emblazoned in Terry Caffey’s memory forever.
“About 3:00 in the morning, Penny and I would be awoken to the sound of our door knob hitting our dryer in the laundry room, which was next to our bedroom,” Terry tells The 700 Club. “Very quickly, the gunfire began to erupt, the loudest sound you could ever imagine.”
That evening, Terry lost everything he had. In the early hours of the morning, while he and penny Caffey slept in their home in a rural area near Emory, Texas, two men entered the house and began firing.
“I took several rounds up the arm and in the shoulder,” he says. “I took one round in the right cheek and that round blew out my left ear. That would be the shot that would blow me out of bed.”
The intruders killed Penny and the couple’s two young sons, Matthew and Tyler. They shot Terry five times, then set the house on fire. As the flames raged around him, Terry regained consciousness.
“When I realized I could not save Penny, I crawled toward the woods at the back of our house. We lived out in a rural area, very, very dark—very few houses around. My closest neighbor was 400 yards away. That was Tommy and Helen Gaston. I knew that if I died right there, something told me that maybe they would get away with it. Somebody had to tell who did this.”
“I remember hearing just kind of a bang, bang on the door,” Tommy Gaston recalls. “I opened the door and said, ‘Terry, what’s happened?’ And my first question was, ‘What about Penny and the kids?’ And he said, ‘They’re all dead.’”
The young man who burst into Terry’s bedroom that evening was Charlie Wilkinson, a former boyfriend of Terry’s 16-year-old daughter, Erin. After Terry was taken to a local hospital, he learned that Erin was alive.
“When I heard that, I had a sense of hope again, that maybe she needed me and I needed her. Maybe together we’ll figure this thing out—what went wrong, what happened.”
That hope was crushed moments later.
“My sister told me, ‘Erin’s been arrested for involvement in the murders.’ When I heard that, I just lost it. I remember grabbing at IV’s and tubes that were in me, trying to pull them out. “
The news shocked the community. Those who knew Erin say she was a quiet, shy girl, a good student who sang in the Miracle Faith Baptist Church Choir. Then she began dating Charlie Wilkinson.
“We began to see signs in Erin. She began to not dress like she normally would. The things she was interested in, she wasn’t interested in anymore. She seemed to have lost that smile. She had just kind of distanced herself from her youth group, and got to where she didn’t want to sing at church anymore.”
One day Erin left a computer on and Penny saw Charlie’s MySpace page, which was filled with profanity and references to alcohol and sex. The Caffeys told their daughter she could not see him anymore.
“She held her head down low and began to weep. She said, ‘Daddy I’ve been wanting to break up with him for some time, but I just didn’t know how to.’”
But some friends say she and Charlie began plotting to either run away or murder her parents so they could be together. They enlisted two other teens to assist them. In the wee hours of March 1, after drinking heavily, they decided to follow through with their plans.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that there was a demonic evil presence in my home that night.”
Terry was eventually released from the hospital and began to put his life back together. He read through the book of Job several times trying to find a purpose in the tragedy. One day, he returned to the site of his former home to salvage any final memories. While walking through the ruins, something caught his eye. It was a page from the novel, Blind Sight, by Christian author James Pence, but Terry believes it was a letter from God.
“I went and I stood on the ashes of the place where I had a home and raised three children. I was angry. I said, ‘God, why would You allow this? How could you let something like this happen? Why am I still here? I just don’t understand all of this.’ And no sooner than I said that prayer or had that thought, I looked over, about five feet away, there was a piece of paper stuck to the base of a tree. When I read it, they were the words I had just spoken to God."
I couldn’t understand why you would take my family and leave me behind to struggle without them. And I guess I still don’t totally understand that part of it. But I do believe that you are sovereign. You’re in control.
"And when I read those words, it just brought me to my knees. I remember just falling to my knees, and I began to weep to God. God had just sent me a message.”
For the first time since the murders, he felt at peace.
“Basically, what He said was, ‘Terry I’m not going to give you all the answers right now. You may not have all the answers ever.' But what He did tell me is that ‘Terry, I’ve got your life in the palm of My hand.’”
As the trial approached, Terry knew he would have to forgive his daughter and the other teens that murdered his family.
“Of course they were all blaming one another. The detectives were saying that Erin was the mastermind, that she was the evil one. But none of that really mattered to me, because I had chosen that I needed to forgive them. And forgiveness isn’t always easy.”
Terry even petitioned the lawyers trying the case not to seek the death penalty. All four teens pled guilty and received life sentences for their involvement. When Erin’s sentencing date came, Terry was right beside his daughter.
“It just shows you the power of God, what God can do in your life if you just submit to Him and allow Him to work in your life.”
Terry has since remarried and is now pursuing ministry full-time. He feels that God has restored what the enemy had stolen. Terry’s account of the murders, Terror by Night, was recently released and was co-authored by James Pence.
“When nothing in life makes sense, God is good all the time. When our pain seems too great to bear, God is good, all the time. When our world is spinning out of control, God is good all the time. We know that God causes all things to work together for the good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. All the time, God is good.”
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