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We don’t yet know how the story ends; four more defendants are currently awaiting trial. Margie Easton met and married John Cantrell in 1975, when she was 25 years old.
They had each already been married once and had three kids between them.
Edwards’s column about the swingers inspired more reader response than anything he’d ever written, and by early September, the party house was shuttered. Then, on June 22, 2005, a woman named Margie Cantrell, who had moved to Mineola from California the previous year, showed up at the police station with a shocking story about the Retreat.
Margie and her husband, John, were career foster parents who, after arriving in Mineola, had taken in four new kids.
Wheeler also turned up more than a dozen swingers who went on the record with emphatic statements that there had never been any children in their party house.
Wheeler later told me, “There was a total lack of corroboration for what those kids said happened.” But Wheeler’s investigation had no bearing on the case being prosecuted 35 miles to the south. “A town is shaken by the saga of a child-sex ring.” Smith County assistant DA Joe Murphy summed up the feelings of many in the region and the rest of the country when he said, during Booger Red’s trial, “This case is about pure evil.” That is the one thing, the only thing, on which everyone in this story can agree. If Murphy and Smith County DA Matt Bingham are right, they are the children; if Wheeler is right, they are the defendants.
Three of the adults convicted of running it have already been sentenced to life in prison.To begin with, Wheeler found out that back in 2005 two of John Cantrell’s former foster daughters, Sally and Chandra (not their real names), had accused him of sexually molesting them in California many years before.This information had never been mentioned during the trials of Pittman and Mayo.In Tyler, the kids’ testimony was enough, and the legal system marched on to the next defendant, Booger Red, who was convicted on August 21, 2008, and given life. How could the authorities in one county—the police, investigators, members of the DA’s office—arrive at such a different conclusion than the authorities in the county next door?
Everyone looked at the same basic facts, saw the same interviews, and read the same reports, but Wood County found nothing, whereas Smith County found the worst child sex ring in Texas history. The answers lie deep within a strange, winding story that covers two decades and two states and involves dozens of well-meaning adults and troubled children.
“There are probably two hundred swingers within fifty miles of here,” Russ said.