The application of criminological theory to a true crime text

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On June 13, 1983 around three o’clock in the morning, twenty-three year old Karla Faye Tucker and her thirty-seven year old biker boyfriend, Daniel Ryan Garret, broke into the apartment of Jerry Lynn Dean and murdered Jerry along with a companion of Jerry’s, Deborah Thornton, with a pickaxe in Houston, TX. Karla and Jerry were both members of “The Banditos” motorcycle gang and were under the effects of drugs and alcohol when they infiltrated Jerry Dean’s apartment which Karla Faye held a grudge with. Originally, one could easily summarize that Karla Faye Tucker’s pickaxe murder crime was the result of her being in the outlaw biker gang “The Banditos” and one could say that the theory that represents how this crime manifested the closest would be the social learning theory because in the social learning theory, people develop motivation to commit crime and the skills to commit crime through the people they associate with. However, if one looked at Karla Faye Tucker’s past and the traumatic episodes she experienced when she was younger, one can then deduce that the theory that best represents how the crime unfolded would be Social Control Theory. Before we go into the social bond theory, we have to look Karla Faye Tucker’s history.

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Karla Faye Tucker was born in Houston, Texas in November 18, 1959 to Larry and Carolyn Tucker. She was the youngest of three girls: Kari Ann is older by a year and Kathi Lynne is older by two years. The family had what may seem like the “perfect American family”. A father working as longshoreman, mother who stayed home to maintain the home, a German Shepherd, and a cottage in Brazonia, Texas where the family often retreated to. However, Karla Faye’s parents’ marriage was falling apart due to infidelity and trust issues. Karla Faye was ten years old when her parent got a divorce. It turns out that Karla Faye’s mother was having an extramarital affair and it was at this point where Karla Faye learned that she was the result of that affair. This crushed Karla Faye reality of being a “real” Tucker because she often questioned why her sisters had blonde here while she had brunette.[1]

Larry Tucker stood by Karla Faye as her father and he eventually gained custody of all the girls. The girls rather lived their mother because they felt their father couldn’t adequately discipline them. Because of the lack of discipline, Karla Faye began to smoking marijuana at ten and was injecting herself with heroin by she was eleven, following the steps of her sisters.[2] Her sisters hung out with older people and they did a lot of drugs. Most of the people that Karla and her sisters hung with were members of the outlaw motorcycle gang, The Banditos. The Banditos were known to party hard with drugs, alcohol, and sexual activity. Kayla Faye lost her virginity to a biker member of The Banditos in exchange for drugs when she was twelve. With a father who’s too overworked to keep his daughters in line, Karla Faye dropped out of school when she was fourteen to live with her mom, Carolyn Tucker, who was a call girl prostitute.

Karla Faye became a teenage prostitute in order to win approval and please her mother. Karla and her mom did a lot of things together as she quotes “We used to share drugs like lipstick.”[3] Her mother was also rock groupie and Karla Faye travelled with her on concert tours and other illicit activities she did. By the time she turned sixteen, she met Stephen Griffith, a mechanic, and they got married. However, their marriage ended as quickly as their relationship began. They drank and did drugs together but there was no love within their relationship. According to Griffith, he stated that they fist-fought a lot and he never had men hit him as hard as her.[4]

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It was during Karla Faye’s early twenties when she returned to The Banditos and got close to a woman named Shawn Dean who later introduced her to Daniel Ryan Garret. Daniel Garret was a thirty-seven-year-old, Caucasian Vietnam veteran who quickly became romantically involved with Karla Faye. On Sunday evening June 12, 1983, the night before the gruesome murders, a birthday party for Karla Faye’s sister, Kari, was underway. It was a nonstop party that has been going on for several days prior and everyone was heavily under the effects of drugs and alcohol. It was during the party where Karla Faye was furious with Jerry Lynn Dean, Shawn Dean’s husband for beating and abusing his now ex-wife, Shawn Dean. Shawn was Karla’s best friend and very protective of her like as if she was a blood sister. Her idea of getting even with Jerry Dean was a one-on-one fist fight.

Karla’s rage for Dean grew prior to the killings with the effects of drugs and alcohol clouding her judgment. According to Karla, Dean would piss her off in other ways like parking his motorcycle in her living room releasing oil and fumes, disrespecting her, as well as picking on her.[5] Karla Faye and a friend, James Leibrant, went to pick up Garret around two o’clock in the morning at a tavern he owned, to discuss teaching him a lesson he’ll never forget for abusing Shawn. James suggested that they should steal his car and his motorcycle and then scare him. Everyone agreed to the plan. Though she wasn’t involved, Karla Faye somehow convinced Shawn to give the keys to Jerry’s apartment, unaware what they were planning. The team of Daniel, James, and Karla Faye arrived at Jerry’s apartment around three-thirty a.m. on Monday, June 13 armed with a shotgun and a pistol Daniel owned.

While Leibrant was searching for the car and motorcycle, Karla Faye and Daniel caught Daniel in his room where they sat him down while Karla was spewing profanities. Daniel took a hammer and was clubbing Jerry in the back of the head. Jerry was trying to fend of the blows while pleading for mercy, but was still being clubbed. Daniel left room to loot motorcycle parts while Karla Faye stayed behind watching Jerry making weird sounds gurgle on his blood apparently. Disturb by the sounds and wanting it to stop, Karla took a three foot long, fifteen pound pickaxe and began stabbing him ferociously. In the process, she felt she was letting Dean to pay for all the wrong he’s done to Shawn and to her. Daniel came back into the room to deliver the final blow to Daniel’s chest and leaves to continue looting. It was at this point that Karla Faye spotted Deborah Thornton underneath covers. Deborah was married and apparently met Jerry that night during the party. Karla Faye was not only upset that it didn’t take Jerry very long to move on from Shawn but that fact that there was a witness that she wanted to silence permanently.

Karla Faye then charged at Deborah who tried to defend herself and Daniel reappears to make a half-hearted effect to two come between them. Karla Faye struck Deborah violently and relentlessly before leaving the axe lodged in her heart. James came in the room to only see the bloody mess and witnessing Karla Faye smile before striking Deborah over and over. James ran away leaving Karla Faye and Daniel to deal with the bodies. Karla Faye bragged to Daniel’s brother, Douglas, and Karla’s sister, Kari, about the double killings so casually. She claimed it was like getting multiple orgasms while they entertained themselves watching murder stories. So, Kari and Douglas turned Karla Faye and Daniel in and they were arrest along with James Leibrant and Ronnie Burrell, the ex-husband of Kari and getaway driver for James Leibrant.

James testimony and cooperation allow him and Ronnie not to face any prison time while Karla Faye and Daniel Garret faced prison time. Karla Faye was sentenced to execution by lethal injection while even though Garret died in an inmate hospital by “natural causes” before a final sentencing was ruled out. Karla Faye gave her heart to God in prison and become a born again Christian. She also married man named Dana Brown, who was a prison minister, and pleaded her life be spare or changed to life imprisonment. She pleaded forgiveness and claimed she was truly sorry. Hey psychiatrist for the defense testified as to Tucker’s long history of drug abuse, including becoming addicted to drugs, how the night before the killings she was under the effects of drugs and alcohol, and she wasn’t sleep for three days prior to the killings.[6] She was denied and was executed February 2, 1998.

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Social Control Theory, originally called social bond theory, is a theory of criminology that points out that people are less likely to commit crime due to controls that society places on individuals like institutions such as schools, workplaces, churches, and families. Under the social control theory, individuals break the law due to a breakdown with their societal bond. Moreover, Hirschi refers to four elements which constitute the societal bond. These bonds include: attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. Attachment corresponds to the affective ties which the youth forms to significant others. The family environment is the source of attachment because parents act as role models and teach their children socially acceptable behavior.[7] We saw earlier that Karla grew up in a household where her parents were married and had everything she needed to maintain stability. It was after the divorce when things started to go downhill from there. Without a mother and father under the same roof, the source of “attachment” was never there for Karla Faye. No one was ever there to teach her right from wrong and we did see that her father was too overworked to adequately disciple her or her sisters. It was at this moment when delinquency started for Karla Faye.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that children of divorced parents have more behavior and conduct issues when compared with kids living with parents whose marriage are intact. They have more aggressive, impulsive, and antisocial behaviors and more issues in their relationships with their mothers and fathers. They demonstrate a much lower academic accomplishments, with three of four kids demonstrating decay from their previous academic performance. Kids who experienced the divorce of their parents at younger ages are more prone to develop issues. Divorced sons living with their fathers and divorced daughters living with their mothers indicated fewer effects than youngsters living with the opposite-sex parents. [8]

Commitment is related to the aspiration of getting a good educations and obtaining a high-status job. Adolescents that partake in drinking, smoking, dating and other behavior not directed towards future goals are much more likely to get involved in delinquent behavior.[9]


[1] Flowers, R. The Pickaxe Killers: Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Garrett: A True Crime Short. 2013. https://read.amazon.com/?asin=B00C45BROW (Location, 100)

[2] Ibid; (Location, 114)

[3] “Special Report 1998: Karla Faye Tucker: Portrait of a Repentant Killer,” BBC News

[4] “Special Report 1998: Karla Faye Tucker: Portrait of a Repentant Killer,” BBC News

[5] Flowers, R. The Pickaxe Killers: Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Garrett: A True Crime Short. 2013. https://read.amazon.com/?asin=B00C45BROW (Location, 157)

[6] Flowers, R. The Pickaxe Killers: Karla Faye Tucker and Daniel Garrett: A True Crime Short. 2013. https://read.amazon.com/?asin=B00C45BROW (Location, 245)

[7] Wiatrowski, Michael D. Griswold, David B. Roberts, Mary K., Social Control Theory and Delinquency. (American Sociological Association; 1981) p. 525

[8] Medspace, “Children of Divorce” http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/405852_6 (accessed May 3, 2015)

[9] Wiatrowski, Michael D. Griswold, David B. Roberts, Mary K., Social Control Theory and Delinquency. (American Sociological Association; 1981) p. 525b