[This story originally aired on January 16, 2021.]
In September 2016, Grapevine, Texas, police responded to a gruesome discovery in a park., a 24-year-old college student, had been found murdered.
Police soon uncovered video of a man she was last seen with at some college bars in Denton, Texas.
Jackie had just met him that night, but Caitlin Mathis already knew him well. Mathis had dated Charles Bryant in that past summer and had recently broken things off.
“He was just trying to win me back and I was just like, nothing is going to work,” she told CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod.
In the weeks leading up to Jackie’s death, Bryant kept showing up on Caitlin’s campus in Denton and was arrested three times. She had also filed a restraining order against him.
This history made Bryant a good suspect for Jackie Vandagriff’s murder, but police didn’t have enough evidence to arrest him right away. But shortly after Jackie’s body was found, he tried to contact Caitlin again—which was a violation of that restraining order. He was brought in for questioning.
At first Bryant denied knowing who Jackie was. But Texas Ranger Jim Holland, who specializes in interviewing serial killers, thought he might be able to get Bryant to confess. Holland got Bryant to admit he had been with Jackie that night, but he wouldn’t admit to murder – claiming she had died accidentally after a consensual sexual encounter.
“It’s a total fabrication,” said Holland. Ranger Holland believes Bryant did kill Jackie intentionally and it was all triggered by his feelings for Caitlin.
“I think that he really wanted to kill me. I think that he wanted me dead,” said Mathis.
A GRUESOME DISCOVERY
John Luna ([n the park]: When I first arrived on the scene, I saw a lot of police cars, saw fire trucks. There was a lot of activity.
It was September 14, 2016, just before dawn, when John Luna, a captain with the Grapevine Police Department, responded to a call about a gruesome discovery at Grapevine Lake.
Capt. John Luna [in the park]: Just off of the worn footpath, you have an area that’s pretty well overgrown with weeds, but you can clearly see a small area that was burned just beyond where I’m standing … There was a – body that was obviously charred. It had been set on fire …
The body, found inside a blue kiddie pool, was so badly damaged that police could not determine the most basic facts about the victim.
Capt. John Luna: We didn’t know if that was an adult or a child, male or female.
The next day, using fingerprints, police were able to identify the victim. It was Jackie Vandagriff, a 24- year-old nutrition major at Texas Woman’s University in nearby Denton.
JACKIE HOME VIDEO: “I chose this major … because I realized the importance of nutrition in just overall health.”
Jackie Ton was one of Jackie Vandagriff’s closest friends. They met in high school.
Jackie Ton: We’re both named Jacqueline … after Jacqueline Kennedy. Ever since then we were Jackie squared and I loved it. …She made me feel like I could be myself and just be goofy and funny.
Jackie Ton remembers her friend as a good student who was focused and trusting.
Jackie Ton: That girl, smartest girl I’ve known [emotional].
Capt. John Luna: She had her whole life ahead of her. She had plans. … Me and my detectives, we went out there for her memorial service [cries]. Sorry.
For Captain Luna, the brutality of this crime hit close to home.
Capt. John Luna: It could have just as easily been my daughter that this happened to.
Jackie spent the last evening of her life in Denton with a man. Police didn’t know his identity right away, but one woman knew him very well.
Caitlin Mathis: He would always give me flowers – always. Especially if he had something to be sorry about.
Charles Bryant lived some 20 miles away, but he had been making frequent visits to Denton, trying to rekindle a relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Caitlin Mathis, who had recently moved there to attend the University of North Texas.
Caitlin Mathis: He was just trying to win me back and I was just like, nothing is going to work.
Caitlin’s involvement with Bryant had begun three months earlier, in June, in the town of Grapevine, when he came into the restaurant where Caitlin was working as a server.
Caitlin Mathis: The day that I met him was the day after I graduated high school. … He had lots of muscles and tattoos, which kind of interested me at the time.
Bryant was then 29, working as a bartender and a personal trainer.
Jim Axelrod: You’re 18. He’s 29. He’s got muscles and tattoos and must’ve made your mother crazy.
Caitlin Mathis: Yeah. Extremely crazy … in a good way though, yeah … She cared about me.
Karen Hulsey: Being a mother of adult children is a different role. … You have to let go for them to fly away and grow up.
Caitlin is the youngest of Karen Hulsey’s four children. She says Caitlin was hard to miss.
Karen Hulsey: A fireball. Like, you know when she’s in the house. … She never walked anywhere. She ran everywhere.
And Caitlin ran headlong into the relationship with Charles Bryant that summer of 2016. One of their regular date spots was at the park by Grapevine Lake. When Karen learned about the relationship, she asked Caitlin to show her a picture of him.
Karen Hulsey: I got this feeling just deep inside to my bones, an evil feeling. And … I said, “he’s going to hurt you. He’s going to do something bad”
Jim Axelrod: Wow.
Karen Hulsey: And she’s like, “Oh, he’s nice. He’s good to me. … He makes me feel like an adult.”
Jim Axelrod: Were you’re thinking to yourself, “you’re 18. You’re too young to know.”
Karen Hulsey: Yes. But I didn’t want to insult her.
Within weeks, Caitlin was having serious doubts of her own about Bryant.
Caitlin Mathis: I started to see these warning signs that he was manipulative, he was a bit of a narcissist. … He thought very highly of himself. … he would say things like,” oh, you’ll never find anyone better than me.” … It was just toxic, and he was toxic.
In mid-August 2016, Caitlin broke up with Bryant. She thought that was the last she’d see of him, but the next day, he showed up, uninvited, at her mother’s house.
Caitlin Mathis: And somehow, he convinced me to get back with him. … He was trying to say, oh, I can work on this and … I can be better and making all these promises.
But Caitlin realized she wasn’t interested in promises.
Caitlin Mathis: That was one of the things that my mom taught me … people do not change. You can’t change someone. … At that point, I was just waiting for the perfect time to end things.
A little more than a week later, after Caitlin moved away to school, she told Bryant it was over—again. Later that night, police found him on her campus.
Capt. Jeremy Polk: Just by sheer coincidence, I had made a traffic stop and he was driving that vehicle.
Captain Jeremy Polk was then a lieutenant for the UNT campus police. He pulled Bryant over early in the morning of August 24.
Capt. Jeremy Polk: I thought he was an intoxicated driver by the way he was driving, and that was my focus.
OFFICER TO BRYANT: So, right now I have to place you under arrest so you can just remain seated. It’s all good.
Bryant was not over the legal limit. He was charged with a few outstanding traffic tickets and they let him go. Later that same day, he was back on Caitlin’s campus … again.
Caitlin Mathis: He actually knocked on the door of my dorm room … He didn’t know prior where I lived … And he said, oh, your name was on the door.
Jim Axelrod: Did that creep you out?
Caitlin Mathis: It did. At that point I was scared.
Caitlin got him out of there and called campus police. Captain Polk recognized Bryant’s name on the report and went along to interview Caitlin the next day.
Capt. Jeremy Polk: She told us things like, “I just did not like the way Charles spoke to me” or “I did not like the way he treated me.” … And I made that choice then and there, you know, I would do everything I could to help her with this situation.
Polk issued a no trespass order, banning Charles Bryant from the UNT campus. But once again Bryant would not take no for an answer.
Capt. Jeremy Polk: The biggest fear I have as a police officer sometimes is emotion … because … emotion drives people to do things you would never imagine.
It was August 31, 2016, a week since Charles Bryant had tracked Caitlin Mathis down at her new dorm, and now he was invading her space again— coming into her new restaurant on her first day of work.
Caitlin Mathis: It was my first day there. … And he walked through the door, and my heart just dropped to the bottom of my stomach. … I was, like, “I just want you to leave. “
Jim Axelrod: What did he say to that?
Caitlin Mathis: He didn’t really say anything. … He looked upset … My new co-workers – they were, like, “yeah. He was here yesterday looking for you.”
Caitlin asked her manager to keep Bryant out, but her manager said there was nothing he could do.
Caitlin Mathis: I can’t work here. I don’t feel safe enough to work here.
Caitlin went back to her old job a half hour’s drive away. Her mother found it all hard to watch from a distance.
Karen Hulsey: I said come home. … It was my motherly instinct to protect her. And in order to protect her, I had to have her with me.
But Caitlin thought she’d be safe in her dorm. A week later, on September 6, what would have been their three-month anniversary, Bryant was back … yet again.
Caitlin Mathis: He showed up to my dorm, knocked on my door. And at this point, I was shaking. … I’m all alone. … I actually hid in my suitemate’s closet.
Jim Axelrod: You hid?
Caitlin Mathis: Yes … when I was on the phone with the police they were like, “We can’t hear you; you need to speak up.” And I was just afraid that he was going to hear my voice. … I did hear him say, “Caitlin, I know you’re in there, just open up. I have something for you.” And I’m like, God, what do you have for me? I don’t want it.
Bryant left flowers and a two-page letter. When police arrived, he was gone.
CAITLIN MATHIS: I heard him say, “Hey, it’s Charles. I have something for you” …
OFFICER: You know for sure it was him?
CAITLIN MATHIS: Yeah, I know it was him.
Police found him outside 10 minutes later – now in running clothes—and arrested him for trespassing.
OFFICER TO BRYANT: You know you’re not supposed to be here.
Bryant posted bond and was released within hours. Although Caitlin had already blocked him on her phone, email and social media, he created a new email address, and wrote to her later that same day: “here i am heartbroken and with a criminal record for bringing the girl i love flowers.”
Capt. Jeremy Polk: That’s when it became really serious for me … if … an actual physical arrest doesn’t stop the behavior, then you’re – you know, something is wrong.
Captain Polk helped Caitlin get an emergency protective order. And because Bryant had kept trying to reach her after his arrest, Polk had his officers go to Bryant’s house the next day and charge him yet again—this time, for stalking. This was his third arrest in 14 days.
Capt. Jeremy Polk: I told him … if he continued to communicate with Caitlin, I would use every email, I would use every text message, I would use every phone call as a reason to have him rearrested.
Two days later, Bryant posted a $5,000 bond and got out of jail.
Caitlin Mathis: He was telling his roommate that I was the crazy one in this relationship, so all of his friends were kind of coming at me and they were like, why – you need to, like, drop these charges against him.
By September 13, Bryant was back in Denton – just a half mile from Caitlin’s dorm, in an area she had told him about back when they were still dating.
Caitlin Mathis: I was talking about going up to Fry Street and meeting new people.
Bryant went to Fry Street Public House that night at about 7 p.m. An hour later Jackie Vandagriff walked in, asked about a job, and ended up in a conversation with the bartender … and Charles Bryant.
About 45 minutes later, Jackie posted a message on her Twitter: “I’m glad I decided to get off tinder and waked [sic] to a bar.
Jackie Ton | Jackie Vandagriff’s friend: Jackie was a very social person, whenever she went out she would make friends with everybody. … And it wasn’t even flirty, it wasn’t anything, you know? She was talking to the bartender, talking to other people.
At about 9 p.m., Jackie left with Bryant and the bartender. She and Bryant went to another bar nearby and started talking to a group of women. By 9:45 p.m. it was raining, and everyone was headed out. Jackie left with Charles Bryant.
Jackie Ton: I feel like she felt comfortable enough with him that night because she had been hanging out with him for so long … that she was like, “Hey, well, whatever. He’s just gonna drop me off, it’s not that far, and I’ll be good.”
Once in his car, Bryant stopped at a convenience store. This was the last time Jackie Vandagriff was seen alive. The day after she was found dead, there was a new post on her Twitter: “never knew I could feel like this”
Capt. John Luna: It was just really bizarre.
Police suspected it was a message from her killer and they knew they had to move quickly to ID the man Jackie had been with. They had some luck when they tracked down the women Jackie met that night.
Capt. John Luna: One of the … friends that was with her had gotten a business card from this person because he was a fitness instructor.
Now that Grapevine police had Charles Bryant’s name, they learned about that restraining order.
Capt. John Luna: So, in my eyes, that played into him as being a good suspect.
Grapevine police called Captain Polk—who was running in a race when he got that call.
Capt. Jeremy Polk: The first thing he told me was Charles Bryant was their main suspect in Jackie’s murder. And I immediately just sat down on a park bench in the middle of the race. … it floored me.
Bryant was emerging as a strong suspect, but Grapevine Police did not have physical evidence connecting him to Jackie’s death. So, for now, Bryant was free, and Polk was worried about what he might do next.
Capt. Jeremy Polk: I called Caitlin, and I just asked, “Where are you?
Caitlin Mathis: I was like, does this have to do with the murder that happened in Grapevine? And he’s like, I can’t tell – I can’t specify that to you, Caitlin. But are you safe right now?
Jim Axelrod: And what did you say?
Capt. John Luna: I said, I think so.
She might have been wrong. In the days after Jackie’s murder, Charles Bryant sent Caitlin several emails including a picture of a tree, writing on it… “first kiss under this tree once upon a time…” That photo was taken at Grapevine Lake.
Caitlin Mathis: He might have taken that picture that same day that Jackie was killed.
QUESTIONING CHARLES BRYANT
It was September 2016 and Caitlin Mathis, Charles Bryant’s ex-girlfriend, was very worried he might have been involved in the brutal murder at Grapevine Lake just days before.
Caitlin Mathis: I was waiting for more news to come out. Because at that point they hadn’t even arrested him yet.
Jim Axelrod: Were you worried he was going to come after you?
Caitlin Mathis: I was. I thought that’s exactly what he was going to do.
The emails and picture Bryant had recently sent Caitlin were proof that he was still thinking about her in the days after Jackie was killed. But they were also proof of something else.
Capt. Jeremy Polk: It was prohibited for Charles to communicate with her in any manner… and if he did, he would be violating the restraining order.
Captain Polk thought they could use those violations to help the Grapevine police who didn’t have enough to make an arrest yet.
Capt. Jeremy Polk: I told the detective we can get a warrant signed on some evidence we just got … and at least, you know, get him off the street.
GRAPEVINE P.D.: Do you go by Charles? Do you go by Dean?
CHARLES BRYANT: Charles.
GRAPEVINE PD: OK.
Charles Bryant was arrested on September 18 for violating Caitlin’s restraining order. Grapevine detectives were hoping they’d soon find more evidence connecting him to Jackie’s death.
Capt. John Luna: He’s brought to the Grapevine Police Department for an interview. … And right away, he’s beginning to distance himself from having any – almost any interaction with Jackie …
GRAPEVINE P.D.: [showing photo of Jackie]: You recognize who she is?
CHARLES BRYANT: I saw her at a bar.
GRAPEVINE P.D.: OK, what can you tell me about her?
CHARLES BRYANT: That’s about it, I guess.
Capt. John Luna: And at the same time, we begin serving a search warrant for his residence.
It had been four days since Jackie’s body was found, plenty of time to dispose of any possible evidence, but Captain Luna at Grapevine P.D. says they found a lot at Bryant’s home, including a large military-style knife.
GRAPEVINE P.D.: You know what? Her purse was found in there too.
Bryant had no way to answer for any of it – including two more items police found while he was in custody: video of him buying a shovel the night Jackie disappeared and a kiddie pool missing from his backyard that matched the one Jackie was found in.
GRAPEVINE P.D.: OK, you we have video of you with this girl that you’re at the bar.
CHARLES BRYANT: Show me.
GRAPEVINE P.D.: You’re walking around Walmart at four o’clock in the morning and buying a shovel.
CHARLES BRYANT: Can’t recall certain times.
GRAPEVINE P.D.: She’s found dead in a pool that came from your backyard.
Capt. John Luna: He even got to the point at the end of his interview with our detective where he said, “well, I must have done it. I don’t remember doing anything.”
CHARLES BRYANT: Everything points to me. It’s like I had to have done it
An open-and-shut case? Not even close. Although there was overwhelming evidence that Bryant had disposed of Jackie’s body, there was no evidence yet that confirmed how Jackie had died or that Bryant had killed her.
Ranger Jim Holland: That’s when they reached out to me and asked if I could come in and spend some time with him and interview him and see what I could get.
Jim Axelrod: Because … you have an expertise in dealing with this kind of personality.
Ranger Jim Holland: Right. This is kind of my calling.
Jim Holland is the senior member of an elite team of Texas Rangers, a select division of Texas State Police. He specializes in interviewing some of the country’s most prolific killers—and analyzing their thoughts. And Charles Bryant seemed to fit the bill. Jackie’s body had been dismembered before being set on fire. How do you begin to understand the mind that would do that?
Ranger Jim Holland: A lot of these people actually want to tell you. They want to tell someone.
At first, Bryant kept to his claim that he didn’t remember a thing.
CHARLES BRYANT: It’s crazy because I really don’t remember meeting this girl.
Ranger Jim Holland: The idea that he doesn’t remember doing it, no, it’s absolute nonsense.
Jim Axelrod: So, you knew Charles Bryant remembered exactly what had happened?
Ranger Jim Holland: Oh, yes, absolutely.
Jim Axelrod: And your job was just to pull that out of him.
Ranger Jim Holland: Right.
Holland says his strategy was to try and make friends with Bryant and get him talking.
RANGER HOLLAND: You’re not a violent dude, you haven’t really been in trouble, you know.
RANGER HOLLAND: You obviously work out. I mean, you’re a stud, right?
Ranger Jim Holland: You don’t want him to look at you as a law enforcement officer. You want him to think of you as a friend, a compadre, a drinking buddy. … you kind of go back to what two boys would talk about in a high school locker room, you know, about the girl they kissed on Friday night.
RANGER HOLLAND: You don’t have any issues with girls.
CHARLES BRYANT: No, nothing either. It’s just blowing my f–––g mind.
And Holland suggested possible scenarios—to see if Bryant will take it from there:
RANGER HOLLAND: OK, so something happens, bam, there, there’s a snap, and we need to figure out what that is.
RANGER HOLLAND: Maybe, you know, she got mad. Maybe she’s giving you all the signals and then cuts you off. I mean, there could be all kinds of different things going on here, right? I mean, chicks- right? You know chicks.
Ranger Jim Holland: You know, as we’re going through the interview … I’m watching him. I’m I guess, in a way, a human lie detector. … I’m reading him and I’m throwing things at him in which I know the answer and I’m looking for his responses, whether they’re false or true.
Under the pretense of helping Bryant remember what happened, Holland suggested they do a memory exercise.
RANGER HOLLAND: What we’re going to do is these mind exercises, which means we’re going to move back in time.
Bryant, who claimed he didn’t know who Jackie was, then seemed to remember her. He says he can see her coming into the bar:
CHARLES BRYANT: She is looking for a job – that’s what it was.
And offering her a ride:
CHARLES BRYANT: It makes sense. It was raining, I probably would have offered her a ride home.
RANGER HOLLAND: So, there’s tons of things in this that I can tell you, right?
Over a pizza, as Holland tries steering Bryant to confess, he probed about a possible motive:
RANGER HOLLAND: But what does everyone want to know?
CHARLES BRYANT: Why?
RANGER HOLLAND: Yeah, why? And who’s the only one who can tell us that?
CHARLES BRYANT: Me.
Holland eventually cut to the chase, and asks if what happened with Jackie was all really about Caitlin:
RANGER HOLLAND: Was there a time that you pictured her as this girlfriend that did you wrong or did anything like that come into play?
CHARLES BRYANT: No. … Nothing at all.
Ranger Holland: The level of nonsense that came out of his mouth at different points about that was just astonishing.
Jim Axelrod: Do you think Charles Bryant looks around the bar and sees Jacqueline Vandagriff? Oh, she looks like Caitlin.
Ranger Holland: It wouldn’t surprise me if he actually mistook her at first, you know, saw her from behind and thought, man, you know, my ex is here. … I think in his mind that whole night, I think that’s what he pictured.
Caitlin Mathis: After the murder – right after the murder, he took Jackie’s phone and used it to add me on Facebook.
A SERIAL KILLER IN THE MAKING?
When Texas Ranger Jim Holland was brought in to interrogate Charles Bryant, the nature of the crime made him wonder if Bryant’s brain was wired like the serial killers he’s encountered.
Jim Axelrod: In what way is the mind of a serial killer different from the common criminal?
Ranger Jim Holland: You know, generally, people like that tend to be sociopathic or psychopathic mindsets, and it’s just a different game.
Ranger Jim Holland: A psychopath would be someone who’s basically born with a scar on their brain. … then a sociopathic mindset is something that society has brought on. … Something happened to them that changed their psyche.
Kristie Dixon: … something maybe had happened in his childhood.
Kristie Dixon got a glimpse of Charles Bryant’s psyche firsthand. She met him on a dating app the year before Jackie Vandagriff’s death.
Kristie Dixon: He seemed pretty quiet and reserved, almost like he was shy. … By the second or third time that we were hanging out, I noticed … he was getting pretty attached pretty quickly, and I just was not there. It was very casual to me.
After she broke things off, he continued to pursue her. Bryant even told her that he loved her. Kristie says they had never even shared a kiss.
Kristie Dixon: …it was a little too much too soon, too fast. … I work with abused children, and that, to me, kind of stuck out.
Kristie says that’s when she asked Bryant about his childhood. He told her he had been molested – a claim that “48 Hours” could not independently verify.
Kristie Dixon: I remember thinking, that makes sense. … I’m not a psychologist or anything. But …
Kristie Dixon: His behavior sort of came off to me as maybe an abused child or someone who is just needing that extra love that most people probably aren’t seeking.
Still, Kristie thought he was harmless and stayed in touch.
Kristie Dixon: I thought he was just a really nice guy … and felt sorry for him.
CHARLES BRYANT [interrogation]: I’m not an angry guy. I’m not aggressive.
As Ranger Holland continued his interrogation, he wanted to see if Bryant would answer the key question: how did Jackie Vandagriff die? Her autopsy didn’t provide many answers.
Ranger Jim Holland: There was a lot we didn’t know. We didn’t know where it occurred. … We didn’t know exactly how it broke down. … And so that’s what my goal was.
Holland wondered if the crime had a sexual element, but Bryant initially denied anything sexual took place:
CHARLES BRYANT: I don’t recall having sex.
RANGER HOLLAND: You don’t?
CHARLES BRYANT: No, normally I recall having sex.
After three more hours of interrogation, Bryant said they did have sex – kinky sex. According to Bryant, Jackie wanted to be choked with an over-sized zip-tie that just happened to be in his car.
RANGER HOLLAND: She didn’t fight you in any way when, when you were putting it on?
CHARLES BRYANT: No.
Ranger Jim Holland: The consensual sex aspect of it was one of those things that no, I felt strongly that he was lying about.
And Bryant also claimed that neither he nor Jackie had tightened the zip-tie intentionally.
RANGER HOLLAND: OK. So, you think it just tightened up on its own, basically?
CHARLES BRYANT: Not – it had to like – it had to snag on something. …
RANGER HOLLAND: OK. And then what happened?
CHARLES BRYANT: I’m trying to remember. She’s not responsive. … I shake her. Nothing.
Jim Axelrod: Are you just thinking this is a complete and total lie?
Ranger Jim Holland: Yeah, it’s total fabrication.
Ranger Jim Holland: Did he kill her? Yes, absolutely.
Ranger Jim Holland: When you deal with these people, it’s so rare that you would sit down with them and they would just tell you A to Z this is what occurred. … they’re always going to leave out things that make them look really bad. In other words, there’s an excuse. … I’m not a bad person. I didn’t mean for this to happen. It was an accident.
Although Bryant was evasive about how Jackie died, as Holland led him through the memory exercise, he went into gruesome detail about how he disposed of her body:
RANGER HOLLAND: And what do you see in the pool?
CHARLES BRYANT: Her in, like, garbage bags.
RANGER HOLLAND: All right, now tell me exactly what you see occurring after that.
CHARLES BRYANT: I go down that trail … [ puts his face in his hands]
RANGER HOLLAND: And what happens next?
CHARLES BRYANT: I set it on fire.
RANGER HOLLAND: The fire. Why do you burn the body?
CHARLES BRYANT: Destroy the evidence.
Even if he couldn’t admit to murder, Bryant seemed to waver between denial and acceptance – at one point, conceding that the evidence showed he had to have done it:
CHARLES BRYANT: … I can’t fight it. It’s obviously me.
After an intense, six-hour interrogation and with mounting evidence, Charles Bryant was finally charged with Jackie Vandagriff’s murder. Kristie Dixon could not believe the news.
Kristie Dixon: That night I actually was scared to go to sleep. I had nightmares. …he had never threatened me before. But just the fact that someone that I felt that I knew had murdered someone potentially, I was terrified.
For Caitlin Mathis, her worst fears were confirmed. And when she tried to learn more about the woman Bryant killed, she made a shocking discovery on Facebook.
Caitlin Mathis: I looked up Jackie Vandagriff … and I realized, oh, my God, I’m already friends with her.
Caitlin says that digital friendship began after Jackie’s death.
Jim Axelrod: You got a friend request from Jackie Vandagriff?
Caitlin Mathis: Yes.
Caitlin believes that Facebook friend request could only have come from one person: Charles Bryant.
Jim Axelrod: That really sounds diabolical.
Caitlin Mathis: It was.
Bryant pleaded not guilty to Jackie’s murder. His defense was the same story he told Ranger Holland.
Glynis McGinty: These two young people met. They consumed a lot of alcohol. Our position is they had sex – kinky sex, albeit – and she died.
Bryant’s court-appointed defense attorney, Glynis McGinty, says Jackie Vandagriff’s death was a tragic accident.
Jim Axelrod: Are you telling me there’s no evidence that Charles Bryant killed Jackie Vandagriff?
Glynis McGinty: Not direct evidence.
Prosecutors Lucas Allan and Anna Hernandez believed that the evidence they did have would be enough. But they also knew that most jurors want a motive. And they weren’t sure they would be able to tell this jury why they thought Jackie was targeted.
Lucas Allan: You have to wonder what is driving this person to do something like that.
Jim Axelrod: In your minds, there is no doubt that the murder of Jackie Vandagriff is connected to the stalking of Caitlin Mathis.
Anna Hernandez: Yes, I think we believe that definitely. … She might have just been victim number one with Caitlin being victim number two.
To help prove this, the prosecution was hoping the judge would allow Caitlin to testify against her ex-boyfriend-turned-stalker in open court.
Caitlin Mathis: I felt sick.
SEEKING JUSTICE FOR JACKIE
In April 2018, a year-and-a-half after Jackie Vandagriff’s untimely death, Charles Bryant was standing trial for her murder. Her friend Jackie Ton could not bring herself to be there.
Jackie Ton: I wanted to go. … But I’m going to be honest. I couldn’t look at him.
Charles Bryant would have to answer for a long list of items the prosecution had collected including that giant zip tie, the shovel he purchased the night Jackie died, and that large knife which police believe he used to cut up her body, all found at his house.
Anna Hernandez: This is something that you pray every night does not happen to your child when they go off to school.
Investigators had also found a stun gun in his car with Jackie’s DNA on it. But it appears Jackie was spared at least one horror. Prosecutors Ana Hernandez and Lucas Allan say the medical examiner was able to run tests on Jackie’s remains and found no evidence of sexual assault.
Lucas Allan: There was zero evidence to support that they had any type of sexual encounter.
Prosecutors say this undermines Bryant’s story that this was kinky sex gone wrong. His attorney Glynis McGinty.
Jim Axelrod: How could they have had sex if there’s no evidence?
Glynis McGinty: No evidence to the degree of no sperm found in her? … That doesn’t mean they didn’t have some type of consensual sexual encounter.
CHARLES BRYANT [interrogation]: She liked it when we were making out.
Prosecutors chose not to play that interrogation tape for the jury… which meant Bryant would have to take the stand if he wanted jurors to hear his version of events. He elected not to.
Jim Axelrod: Shouldn’t he be explaining to the jury why he’s not at fault for her death?
Glynis McGinty: And then that flies … in the face of our constitutional rights.
But the defense knows they have an uphill battle to convince a jury that Bryant is not guilty of murder while admitting he disposed of Jackie’s body.
Jim Axelrod: If he says it was just an accident, why didn’t he call for help?
Glynis McGinty: Sure. Fair question. … Intoxicated … panicked – and his mind would not process all of that to make a rational decision that you or I would have made: call the police.
But Bryant went further than simply discarding Jackie’s body—much, much further. And prosecutors wanted the jury to hear their theory.
Anna Hernandez: A huge piece of that story … was the stalking.
But before the jury could hear from Caitlin, the judge would have to rule on whether or not to allow this evidence. Local TV cameras were there when—without the jury present—Caitlin took the stand and faced her ex.
Caitlin Mathis: I was disgusted just to see his face.
Jim Axelrod: Did he look at you? Did you meet eyes?
Caitlin Mathis: At one point, we had to. When they made me describe to the court what he was wearing. And he just had this smirk on his face.
Jim Axelrod: There’s nothing really that can prepare you for that, is there?
Caitlin Mathis: No. … The second I walked out those doors, I started bawling.
In the end, the judge ruled against Caitlin being able to tell her story to the jury.
Anna Hernandez: It was definitely a real blow to us.
Glynis McGinty: That was the right decision.
Jim Axelrod: Why?
Glynis McGinty: He had not been convicted of anything with Caitlin.
As the jury went out to deliberate, the defense was hopeful.
Glynis McGinty: I don’t believe that they could prove that he murdered her … I don’t think that they proved that.
But would the jury agree? They were out for a little over two hours and — even without hearing Caitlin’s story, Charles Bryant was found guilty of Jackie Vandagriff’s murder and dismemberment.
Jim Axelrod: To your way of thinking, was justice done?
Lucas Allan: Yes.
Jackie Ton: I knew she was up there and said, “Thank you.”
Because prosecutors had no evidence Bryant committed another crime at the same time as Jackie’s murder—like rape or kidnapping—he was not eligible for the death penalty. He was sentenced to life.
Caitlin Mathis: As terrible as this is to say, but I wanted the death penalty.
Under Texas law, Bryant could be eligible for parole after 30 years. Caitlin says she feels like she’s still looking over her shoulder—and always will be.
Caitlin Mathis: I fear that when he gets out / he’ll come and find me and do something to either me or someone that I love. That’s my biggest fear.
Ever since this happened, Caitlin and her mother have been thinking about Jackie and her family.
Karen Hulsey: This whole time I wanted to reach out … But … I didn’t know how they felt.
Nearly two years after Jackie died, they finally met.
Karen Hulsey: Her grandmother, bless her heart. … She immediately came up to us and to Caitlin and hugged her and said, “I’ve been so worried about you these past two years.”
Jim Axelrod: Wow.
Karen Hulsey: [Crying]
Jim Axelrod: Karen, why is this the part that gets you?
Karen Hulsey: He took away their little girl. And the pain I saw in their eyes. I could feel their pain.
Jim Axelrod: And yet the grandmother was telling Caitlin she was worried about Caitlin.
Karen Hulsey: Yes.
Jim Axelrod: They sound like very special people.
Karen Hulsey: They are.
Caitlin says she’s struggled with the fact that she survived — and Jackie did not.
Jim Axelrod: This so easily could have been you.
Caitlin Mathis: And some days I wish it was. … It’s just the guilt that eats me up sometimes. … I would have easily have taken her place if I had the chance.
Jackie Vandagriff’s family has endowed an internship in health and wellness at Texas Woman’s University in her name.
Produced by Sarah Prior. Claire St. Amant is the development producer and field producer. Lauren A. White is a producer. Ken Blum, George Baluzy and Michelle Harris are the editors. Lourdes Aguiar is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.