- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Jodi Maphis said she became friends with Wendy Burdette in junior high, a time when the two friends were rebelling against authority but before the 15-year-old’s rape and death rocked the lives of her friends and family.

A few years later, on Feb. 17, 1989, Burdette was killed and her body was found behind Permian Metals on West Second Street with her throat cut and with evidence of sexual assault. Thompson Ward Stricklen, 52, was arrested on Thursday and charged with murder and sexual assault in connection with Burdette’s death.

Friends of Burdette said they were shocked when they found out about her death, and were shocked again when police arrested someone 26 years later in connection with her slaying.

And while Maphis said Burdette always wanted to help everyone and made an impact on those she met, they also got into some trouble.

“We were probably into things that weren’t so noble back then,” Maphis said. “And sometimes I wonder if that’s why (police) didn’t look a little bit harder. We were running the streets at all hours of the night.”

Capt. Jesse Duarte with the Odessa Police Department said they treat each case equally and would not have given this one less investigation.

Maphis rebuked statements from Stricklen and other reports that were around at the time of Burdette’s death that Burdette was a prostitute (and even Stricklen’s own statements have contradicted each other on this point), but she said they were typical teenagers of the time period.

“We were just teenagers for the most part, doing mischievous things,” Maphis said.

Donna Parrack Jones, another of Burdette’s close friends, said Burdette was her first friend when she moved to Odessa in ninth grade.

“She was really smart,” Jones said. “She was in a lot of advanced classes. I just remember her being very smart.”

Although Jones said she only knew Burdette for a couple years before the stabbing, she recalled a time when Burdette accompanied her family on a trip to Carlsbad Caverns.

Jones also said being a teenager in the 1980s was different than being a teenager now.

“Back then, you walked everywhere,” Jones said. “It wasn’t like today when parents chauffer you around.”

But both Jones and Maphis said West Second Street was not somewhere Burdette would have naturally gone.

“She didn’t get there by herself, I can tell you that,” Maphis said. “Maybe that’s where she (her body) was just dropped off at.”

There were reports of Burdette running away: Her father in a previous interview said she previously attempted to run away from school after punching a bully; Maphis said she and Burdette became friends after Burdette ran away from home; and Jones said she heard rumors that Burdette ran away from home before her death.

Jones said she herself also ran away around that time, and it’s one story involving Burdette that still sticks out in her mind.

“I got in trouble at home for something I didn’t do and I ran away,” Jones said. “I was going to show my parents and I ran away. So I went to her house and her parents had a camper. And I hid under the camper because I didn’t want anyone to see me.”

Teenage mischief notwithstanding, Jones and Maphis also said they recalled doing what children do, such as being together, sharing each other’s trust, and having sleepovers.

As much as Burdette impacted her friends in life, both Jones and Maphis said she also affected them in her death.

“When you’re young, you think that nothing can ever happen to you,” Jones said. “You don’t understand the risks of what you do.”

Maphis said she first thought it was a joke and it took her a while to understand her friend wasn’t coming back.

“I really at that point realized that bad things can happen to me and I need to get my shit together,” Maphis said.

According to probable cause affidavits, the Odessa Police Department received a report on Feb. 13, 2015, that Stricklen’s DNA was a match to the profile of the DNA found on Burdette that indicated she was sexually assaulted.

As Stricklen is a sex offender — convicted on charges of indecency with a child, criminal solicitation of murder and retaliation on charges that he had sex with his mentally disabled sister-in-law and plotted revenge on the family — his DNA was in a Texas Department of Public Safety database, according to the affidavit.

The second DNA report, received on July 16, showed that Stricklen’s DNA was a match with the DNA found on Burdette and her clothing, according to the affidavit.

Officers originally went at about 2:55 p.m. Feb. 17, 1989, to the 2800 block of West Second Street about a report that a body was discovered behind Permian Metals, according to the affidavit.

Police found Burdette with “extreme wounds to her neck, indicating that her throat had been cut,” according to the affidavit, which the autopsy later confirmed.

In 1989, police said she was stabbed multiple times, but also said there was no immediate evidence of sexual abuse.

Stricklen requested to be interviewed by police on Sept. 18, 1989, according to the affidavit, and said he had been asked to collect money from Burdette on a drug transaction, but said he never collected the money. Stricklen’s story was never verified by police.

After the initial DNA report arrived in 2015, officers with OPD interviewed Stricklen again in Rusk.

Stricklen told police when confronted with the fact that his DNA was found inside Burdette that he believed he picked up a prostitute and he denied killing Burdette, according to the affidavit.

“During the course of the interview Stricklen began to breathe at a rapid pace and appeared visibly nervous, leading detectives to believe he was being deceptive,” according to the affidavit. “Stricklen himself acknowledged that the odds of the girl that he was supposed to collect from also being the prostitute that he picked up that was found murdered were astronomical.”

Stricklen couldn’t remember the 1989 interview, according to the affidavit.

During a Monday interview, Duarte said police do not have a murder weapon or witnesses, and Stricklen has exercised his right to an attorney since his initial conversation with police.

Follow Odessa American on twitter @OdessaAmerican, like us on Facebook at Odessa American or call 432-333-7714 for the main newsroom line.

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(c)2015 the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas)

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