Bullets ripped into Joyce Marques’ flesh as she held a squirming 3-year-old in her arms 29 years ago.
That horrific event was seared into her brain Dec. 7, 1988, when a gunman entered Little Tykes day care center in League City, shot Joyce and killed her daughter in-law Charlotte “Dawndy” Marques.
Tears still come easy to Marques, as she remembers those moments of terror from nearly three decades ago. But today she has someone beside her as those recollections flood back. That person is Jessica Ward Triplett, the child she was holding the moment she was shot.
“I started looking for Joyce recently and I found out that she lived not far from me right here in Hitchcock,” Jessica Triplett said as she glanced at the person most everyone calls Grandma Joyce.
The pair met recently to talk about the crime and discuss the anticipated release from prison of the gunman, Clyde “Buddy” Spence.
Spence was convicted of murder and attempted murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
He’s being considered for parole now, but Spence doesn’t expect to receive it, having been repeatedly rejected over the past 23 years. Regardless, he will have to be released within 18 months, having served his entire sentence.
A fateful meeting
The shooting stemmed from a romantic relationship gone bad between Spence and Joyce Marques’ daughter, Monique, who goes by Monica.
“Monica and Buddy started seeing each other for a couple of years, and I guess she was living with him and it was pretty clear that her mother didn’t care for Buddy,” said Assistant League City Police Chief Gary Ratliff, who was the lead detective on the case in 1988.
“She definitely didn’t care for the fact that their age was so different — from age 23 to age 40.
“A couple months before this incident occurred, Monique had moved out and broke it off with Buddy. He had been reaching out with her several times to try to get together and she kept turning down all of his requests. It appeared that he had just been so persistent and she finally figured that ‘OK, maybe if I meet with him, he will quit.’
“She agreed to meet him to eat at The Kettle in Webster. After they ate, he was trying to persuade her to go someplace else with him. She declined and finally he said, ‘Well how about if you just go to the park with me,’ and she finally agreed.
“He told her to close her eyes and said he had a Christmas present for her. She closed her eyes and she felt something pressed against her breast and she opened her eyes and saw him holding a gun against her.”
Spence forced Monica Marques back to his apartment and held her against her will, Ratliff said. The next day, though, she talked Spence into temporarily releasing her, he said.
“She was going to drop her vehicle off at Little Tykes day care, where her mother worked, at 900 state Highway 3 North,” Ratliff said. “He finally agreed. He went in a separate vehicle; she went in her vehicle; he kind of followed her as she pulled into the day care.”
Spence, who was never tried on kidnapping charges, insists the police account is incorrect, that Marques accompanied him willingly. Marques did not respond to an interview request. Her relatives, however, stand by the police account.
Monica Marques entered the day care center, warning that Spence was in the parking lot with a gun, and called League City police.
“She called 911 before he got in the building and the police still didn’t make it before he done all the shooting,” Joyce Marques said.
“He came in and had the gun, but he had it covered up with his jacket. I told him, ‘Buddy you need to get out of here. You don’t need to be in here with that gun with all these babies in here.’ That’s when he grabbed me by the head and dragged me in the room with the gun to my head.”
As she and Spence grappled over the gun, it fired and a bullet struck her in the hand, Marques said.
The pistol’s report frightened the children in the day care center.
“That’s when Peanut (Jessica Tripplet) showed up,” Marques said. “She was kind of climbing me like I was stairs or something and I was screaming for somebody to come get her because he still had the gun pointed at me. I picked her up ... and he shot me.”
A bullet pierced Marques’ right breast and exited her back. She also suffered wounds to the neck and hand.
Marques fell to the floor still holding the child.
“My mother said I was completely covered with blood,” Tripplet said. “When she got me home she found that the inside of my diaper was completely soaked with Joyce’s blood. I still have the stuffed bunny rabbit that I was holding that day.”
Spence then turned his pistol toward Charlotte Marques, Ratliff said.
A woman dies
“He turned and shot Charlotte,” Ratliff said. “Apparently, she was shot then, as she turned to run out the back door. And Clyde took off running after her and shot her again as she was going to the back gate to get out of the back playground area.
“That shot went through her back and right through the heart. I remember later on the doctors had said even if she had been on the operating table as soon as she hit the ground they couldn’t have done anything for her.”
For Joyce Marques, bleeding on the floor as Spence aimed the gun at her daughter-in-law, it was a moment of terror.
“He turned the gun on her and she said, ‘Oh, my God!’ She started running out the back door and he followed her and I heard the gun go off, and then I thought he shot her but I didn’t know it was that bad,” Marques said.
“I didn’t know he had killed her.”
Spence was gone by the time police arrived, she said.
“Monica came in and she had blood all over her face,” Marques said. “She had been giving CPR to Dawndy. I asked, ‘How is she? Okay?’ She wouldn’t say anything. She said, ‘Let’s just worry about you now, mama.’”
When emergency medical technician Betty Nelson arrived, she found chaos.
“It was bedlam,” she said. “We never had a shooting before, and it wasn’t pretty. There were some kids crying. People were trying to get in there and get their kids out, and they wouldn’t let them in because it was a crime scene.”
Nelson had never seen a gunshot wound before she bent down to care for Joyce Marques, who was lying in the hallway.
“I was talking to her and I was telling her everything was going to be OK and everything,” Nelson said. “And then they told me to go out in the play yard and see if everything’s OK out there.
“When I got out there, one of the police officers was doing CPR on her. And he was going, ‘Come on baby. Come on you’re going to be OK. Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me. I got you. I got you. Come on, take care.’”
Helicopters landed at Little Tykes and took Charlotte Marques to a Houston hospital, where she was declared dead on arrival. Joyce Marques was flown to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where she went through extensive treatment.
Spence was arrested two and a half months later in Louisiana, where he was hiding. A few months later in 1989, he went on trial and was found guilty of murder. A jury sentenced him to 30 years in prison. Spence later pleaded guilty to attempted murder of Joyce Marques. Under Texas law, he became eligible for parole after serving seven years.
The family struggles
Nearly 30 years after the shooting, pain of the loss still is evident.
“Why not the death penalty?” said Kim Barksdale, of Dickinson. “He killed my sister. What gives him the right to live? Prisons are awesome. He gets food, clothing, shelter, education, a gym, nothing to do. I was angry. I was very angry. And I asked the DA why? And he said, ‘Well that’s the best we can do in Texas.’”
Former Galveston County District Attorney Mike Guarino, who personally prosecuted the case, said this murder did not meet the legal criteria necessary for a Texas capital punishment case.
Although Guarino had sought life imprisonment, the jury chose the lesser punishment of 30 years. What jurors did not know at the time was that a 30-year sentence would make Spence eligible for parole after seven years.
For more than 20 years, Charlotte Marques’ brothers and sisters have been writing the Texas Parole Board asking that Spence not be released.
“It’s horrible,” Barksdale said. “I can’t think of a better word. It’s just horrible. It’s very emotional. Every year we’ve done it. Two years ago, was the one that we were really afraid he was going to get out. And we wrote the letters and got petitions and got the newspaper to do an article on him. It was very emotional, stressful.
“You almost want to just give up and say, ‘Fine just let him out.’ That way you don’t have to relive everything. You can’t just walk in and say, ‘Hey will you sign the petition?’ Everybody wants to know why, ‘What is it?’ And then they say, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry I didn’t realize it was your sister.’ Everybody remembers.”
“I hate to be vindictive, but I hope the same thing happens to him someday,” she said. “I hope he has to suffer. I don’t think that prison is suffering.”
Linda Jeffers of League City was also close to Charlotte Marques, her sister.
“She was my best friend; she was my whole life,” Jeffers said.
Her sister’s death brought havoc to her personal life, Jeffers said. She believes the murder contributed to the breakup of her first marriage.
“He wanted me to start living my life again,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I should be able to live a life and be happy when my sister couldn’t. It ended up with us not making it. I couldn’t do it because I wanted to talk about it.
“People think he killed my sister and that’s all he affected, but it didn’t. It affected her entire family.”
It also has led to finger-pointing between Charlotte Marques’ family and her in-laws.
Jeffers said some in her family blame Monica Marques because “she went to the day care and it was her boyfriend.”
But Jeffers said she doesn’t blame her friend.
“What would you do?,” she said. “I would go to my momma. You want your momma when you need help.
“My sister (Charlotte Marques) and Grandma Joyce wouldn’t let her leave. But instead of the day care locking the door, he came to the door and came in and he shot Grandma Joyce and my sister.”
But Barksdale faults her in-laws in one count.
“I don’t blame them for the actual death,” She said. “I do blame them for not participating in writing letters to keep him in. They just wanted to move on with their life and I guess forget about it. Sweep it under the rug and forget about it.”
But Joyce Marques said that while she loved and misses her daughter-in-law, she doesn’t believe fighting to keep Spence in prison would make the situation better.
“It’s in God’s hands and he will take care of it,” she said.
“I figured if God wanted him to get out, he is going to get out. If I stand up there and preach to keep him in, there he is, going to get out.”
Joyce Marques said she knows the Bible commands her to forgive Spence, but she struggles with that.
“I have tried,” she said.
Spence speaks from prison
During an interview last month at the Cleveland Correctional Center, Spence said he doesn’t blame God for his continued incarceration. He credits Charlotte Marques’ brothers and sisters for persuading the parole board to keep him locked up.
He says he is not bitter and wants to avoid Galveston County when he’s released. He said he plans to live with his sister in Dayton, Texas.
He tells a different story of the shooting. He says Joyce and Charlotte attacked him at the door.
“(T) hey hit me and slapped me, and that’s when I took the gun out,” he said.
“Joyce grabbed for the gun and the gun went off and shot her through the hand.”
He says he never pursued Charlotte or shot her in the back. He claims he reacted almost reflexively in shooting her immediately after the gun accidentally discharged.
Joyce Marques said that is not what happened.
Spence said he is sorry for what he did. But he has never sought the forgiveness of Charlotte Marques’ family.
“Saying you’re sorry for something like that doesn’t seem to be an adequate answer to probably what they’re feeling,” he said.