Photo: Fort Smith (Ark.) PD.
From the moment he began to investigate a rape in his capacity as the on-call detective for the Fort Smith (Ark.) Police Department's Criminal Detective Division, Jeff Carter knew he would have his hands full. For one, his victim had waited until September 7, 2010, to report the crime-several days after its alleged occurrence. For another, his informant fit a victim profile that Carter had seen all too often: a criminal record, chemical dependence on whatever substance her system could tolerate, and an attitude that suggested a long-held resignation to life's more sordid realities. Not exactly a dream prospect for developing a jury's sympathies.
Despite such barriers, Carter attempted to put together the bits and pieces of her story. She told of a pair of brothers who lived in a trailer park where she planned to move in with her father. The younger brother, Jonathan Thacker, was big and burly, but it was the smaller, slightly older brother, Elvis Thacker, who made the fateful decisions for the pair.
She said the men accompanied her to her apartment on the pretext of wanting to rent a place of their own. But once inside the location, the brothers reportedly produced a knife and threatened to kill her unless she submitted herself to them. She told police the brothers raped her until a knock at the door interrupted their attack. Seeing the girl's father outside the apartment, the men reportedly told her to keep her mouth shut or they would kill both her and her father. Agreeing to keep silent, she answered the door. The brothers left shortly thereafter.
Whatever sense of self-esteem the girl might've once possessed had long since been a thing of the past and her monotone delivery belied the trauma of her words. But the harrowing details of the crime were undeniable and frustrated Carter all the more. It was bad enough the girl was—by nature, not by trauma—barely articulate. It was worse that more than 72 hours had lapsed since the crime took place, effectively erasing any hopes of a viable rape kit test being conducted.
Examining the girl's apartment proved no more profitable; she'd cleaned up the crime scene and discarded any potential evidence. Suspecting that he would never get a chance to see the brothers brought to trial, let alone convicted, Carter nonetheless obtained the victim's shorts and sent them to the crime lab in the hopes that some of the suspects' DNA might be recoverable.
It was that same sense of due diligence that prompted Carter to call Elvis Thacker's phone number. Reaching an answering machine, Carter left a message asking the man to respond to the station and volunteer a DNA sample. To his surprise, Elvis returned his call … repeatedly.
Carter found himself on the listening end of a series of calls in which a loud and profane Elvis Thacker accused him and his peers of corruption and planting evidence. Thacker dared Carter to try to find him. One such call concluded with an invitation from Elvis for Carter to suck his "big, fat c__k," if he wanted his DNA. Carter suspected the man would not be coming into the station of his own volition anytime soon.
An Unfortunate Break
On Sunday, September 12, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigators (OSBI) was assigned the case of Briana Ault, a white female whose body had been found in a pond across the state line in Ocala. One of the OSBI officers investigating Ault's murder was a former Fort Smith officer who happened to be visiting his old department a few days into the investigation. Detectives from the two agencies were discussing the homicide when someone recited the digits of a phone number recovered from Ault's cellular phone.
Two cubicles away, Carter's ears pricked up as he heard the conversation.
"What was that number?"
The OSBI officer repeated it. Carter immediately recognized the phone number as the same from which Elvis Thacker had repeatedly dialed him over the preceding days.
An impromptu conference convened and commonalities between the OSBI's case and Carter's emerged. Throughout her rape, Carter's victim was held at knifepoint and threatened with getting her throat cut; the Ault girl had been raped and her throat slashed. The girls' victim profiles were similar: young, white, and from lower income families. The investigators concluded that both girls had crossed paths with Elvis Thacker.