Thomas Charles Fuller

As I began to research this case two other cases came to mind, The DeFeo Murders (aka The Amityville Horror murders) and the case of Charles Starkweather and his 14 year-old girlfriend, Carol Ann Fugate.  In the DeFeo case, despite the fact that Ronald DeFeo Jr was the only one convicted of the murders of his parents, two brothers and two sisters, it has been speculated and sometimes said by DeFeo that his sister, Dawn, who he admits to killing was also in on the crime.  DeFeo has claimed that he and Dawn had in fact planned to murder at least their father, but not their mother, and that he murdered her after she had moved on to their siblings.  Of course criminals blame others all the time.

In the Starkweather/Fugate case it is said that Starkweather murdered Carol Ann's mother, step-father and toddler sister and when she returned home she helped hide the bodies while the two of them went on a murder spree across the upper northwest.  Starkweather, who would be executed in 1959 claimed that while he took the blame for the murders he said he committed, that Fugate was in on the planning of the murder of her family and had committed some of the murders while they were on the run.  Carol, for her part, at her trial would claim that she had nothing to do with the murder of her family and that after which she feared for her life, hence helping hide the bodies but was then held hostage by Starkweather.  The jury apparently did not believe all of her story and she would serve seventeen years in prison before being paroled in 1976.

The difference in this case is that the other person that has been theorized (apparently also by some family members), to have been involved was neither killed, nor ever charged.  In fact, the only indication that I found that the person was even implicated came from a newspaper discussion topic created decades after the crime.  As you often see in those types of forums there was a heated discussion about the crime between those who claim to have known or been related to people personally and those who claim to have studied the case enough to know more than the average person.  It was within these forums that at least one relative to the victims claimed that another was involved.... but here I go getting ahead of myself... as usual.

Here is what we do know about events that took place on April 27, 1968 just outside the town of Mattoon Illinois....

An 18 year-old boy, by the name of Thomas "Charlie" Fuller was dating 16 year-old Edna Louise Cox.  Edna's parents, William and Lydia, had twelve children.  By most accounts nine of the children (one report said ten) still lived at home while the others were grown and had moved out. Edna, along with her twin brother, Louis, were the oldest of the children in the home.  Fuller had been at the home since sometime that Saturday morning, but most of his time was spent with the other children because Edna had chores to do that including house cleaning.  There were stories about things that happened that day, that'll I'll get into in a bit. But, what we do know is that by days end, five of the Cox children were dead.  The following day Thomas Fuller was arrested .... by October he had plead guilty and in December of that year, he received 5 sentences of 70 to 99 years.  The five who were murdered were Louis, age 16, Theresa, age 9, Mary Katherine, age 8, Gary Lee, age 7 and Kenneth, age 5.  In his sentencing it seems that the girls were grouped together and then so were the boys and then added together.  What this means is that he was sentenced to 70-99 years for Theresa while serving consecutively for Mary.  Once it is deemed he has served the time for that he would serve an additional 70-99 years for Louis (or any of the others since I'm not sure it was specific or not) while consecutively serving that same time for Gary and Kenneth.  According to the Illinois Department of Corrections his projected discharge date is in 2057, 89 years after he was sentenced.  

According to guidelines in 1968 Fuller was eligible for parole at least every three years.  That has since changed to every five years.  I found a record of his parole hearing from 2011. The board voted 14-0 to deny parole.  It was shown that he has adapted well in prison and has learned a "skill" although I was not able to determine what that was, but they determined that the heinousness of his crime was so great he would remain in prison.  I found a short record saying that he was again up in 2014 and according to the records he's still in prison so obviously he was not granted parole then.  I did find it interesting though that the website says his next parole hearing is not until 2019.  I am unsure if this is true or if it is an error considering all I have read about his eligibility and the fact that it would be a five year gap.  

So what happened on that Saturday in April of 1968 and the bigger question is why did it happen?  As is the case with many trials, the prosecution had their theory as to why.  Over the years there are some who have disputed that theory and had theories of their own.  The prosecution argued that Fuller murdered the five children so that Edna would not have to work so hard taking care of them and the house and could spend more time with him.  Some have argued that he did it because he had asked permission to marry Edna a few months prior and William Cox had not allowed it.  Others argue that Edna broke up with him (although, there seems to be little to back this up) and he was "getting even" with her.  And there are even still more who believe that Edna was in on the plan, and maybe the execution or that she manipulated Fuller to do it. So let's look at all these theories.

The first was that Fuller did it so Edna would have more time with him and he felt her family used her for their own needs.  I cannot say that is why he did what he did, but from everything I could determine it does seem that Edna had her hands unreasonably full for a 16 year-old girl.  Her father was described as a man who worked in the spring and summer at a seasonal type job and that through the fall and winter the family lived on welfare.  Her mother was simply described as not employed.  I am sure having twelve children and looking after them was likely a huge chore and there was absolutely nothing wrong with the older children helping but it was described as if Edna did most everything in the home.  One report came that at some time throughout the day Edna had been upstairs cleaning when the other children went upstairs to where she was.  According to the information it began with Louis first wrestling, and then hitting Edna, then all of the other children joined in. Edna could be heard downstairs asking for help.  It was said that Fuller asked Lydia Cox permission to go upstairs (apparently somewhere he was not allowed) but she had refused. He became angry and went outside.  Edna, according to the report came outside a few minutes later and was angry that Fuller had not helped her but there was no indication that this was a fight or continued after he explained her mother had not allowed him to go up.  It does seem that at least later she did ask him to entertain the younger children so they would stop bothering her and she could get done with her tasks faster.  

Along with this theory that Fuller did this to in essence lighten Edna's "load" is the theory that his initial plan was to murder all of the Cox family but I found nothing that proved this in any way.  At the time of the murders William Cox had left the home with his son, Timothy to visit relatives.  Not long later Edna's sister Patricia had leaned up against the hot stove and had burnt herself apparently rather badly.  Lydia Cox called a neighbor to get a ride to take her to the hospital.  By all accounts, when Lydia returned home Fuller asked the neighbor for a ride and left.  So, if the plan had been to kill everyone I am unsure what excuse was given as to why that did not happen.  Presumably when Lydia returned with Patricia the only living person on the property besides Fuller was Edna Cox.  The bodies of the five children were out near a barn on the property. William and Timothy would return later and it would not be until dinnertime that the bodies were discovered after the five children had not come in for dinner.

The theory that this was done to get back at William Cox for not allowing him to marry Edna would really only seem plausible if Edna was involved, as some, including some family members, apparently believe.  It does not seem to make sense that he would have murdered the children on his own just to get back at William because this would have presumably hurt Edna too as these were her siblings.  But, in the same respect,why did he and Edna not just take off together after it was done considering they were the only ones at the home.  Without really knowing anymore this theory is very hard to come to terms with.  I suppose it's possible they did plan it together and were planning to leave together when Lydia returned home, but to be fair I heard nothing that said this had happened.  

Then there is the theory that Edna had broken up with him.  I cannot say where this theory came from. It does not even sound as if the prosecution used that theory and I truly believe we would have heard a lot more about that over the years, not to mention hear less about the possibility of Edna being involved.  By all accounts he had been at the house since sometime in the morning and did not leave until close to 5 or 6 pm, and then only after Lydia had returned home with Patricia.  The only discussion of an argument was when the other children had been hitting on Edna and Lydia had refused Fuller to help.  This incident was apparently discussed at some length but nothing seemed to come of it.  There simply seems to be no indication that Edna had broken up with him and even if she had, why would he have stuck around, only murdered her siblings and then took off when others could see him?

What about the theory that Edna was involved and possibly even the instigator?  Well, if you know anything about true crimes, then you know this is definitely not out of the realm of possibilities. But, to be fair, apparently the authorities never thought she was involved and Fuller, for his part apparently never implicated her.  However, if we rely on a newspaper forum in which discussed this case and believe at least one of the posters who claimed to be family members (there were several) while the family absolutely believes in Fuller's guilt (as some other posters questioned) there did seem to be suspicion also directed at Edna.  Some argue that soon after the murders Fuller went through a battery of mental tests and that he was eventually diagnosed with some form of schizophrenia.  This in and of itself could mean absolutely nothing but some argue it made him more susceptible to manipulation.  There is a fine line between giving a reason and giving an excuse for actions taken and while some may see his diagnoses as an excuse I see it more as a reason.  The reason does not excuse the crime, but if this is, or was the case, it could explain some things.  I can see where the situation could look as if Edna was involved or at the very least knew about that had happened, but again there's absolutely no proof of this.  

There are a few side notes to this case.  First I will start with Fuller himself.  It seems due to his plea of guilty, that by all accounts took everyone by surprise he was not entitled to a direct appeal.  Of course his plea also prevented a trial in which some of the questions that have been asked could have been answered.  However, he did file an appeal in 1974.  His main argument was ineffective counsel and while that always seems to be the "stand by" issue on appeals, and in his case, as it usually is, it was denied, the dissenting judge had a very different out look on things.  Keep in mind that from the time of arrest to the time of the guilty plea was a total of six months.  It is true things moved along faster in those days in the justice system but faster does not always mean better. There were reports that one of his lawyers (who was a public defender) had obtained rights to his story from Fuller to tell his story.  It is speculated that this constituted a conflict of interest for the attorney.  Basically it was theorized that by owning the rights to his story, the story itself would be more sensational or better as a closed and simple case and that this lawyer could have influenced Fuller's decision on his plea.  To be fair there are only two books about this case that I am aware of, and neither seem to be available in print anymore.  One is called The Mattoon Murders by journalist Diane Sawyer.  

One of the interesting things I found through discussions were things about the family, particularly against William Cox.  Let me start by saying I have lived in a small town for several years and the thing about them is that rumor fly and fly quickly. But, in the same respect so do facts that often do not make it much further than the town.  It is often hard to tell the difference and with the Internet those rumors, and facts spread further than the small town and are often believed, no matter how untrue they may have been.  I found statements that stated that apparently the community had come together and there was a fund for the funeral for the five children.  It was claimed that with that money William Cox had instead bought a car and had not paid for the tombstone or the funerals of the children. Some family members claim that they were given the car and it had nothing to do with the money that had been donated.  Now, of course I cannot confirm or deny this.  However, in the course of saying this a poster claimed that the man who manufactured the tombstones had told him this information and that he had repossessed a large tombstone but left the smaller ones with the children's names on them.  I was able to go to the website findagrave.com and saw pictures of the tombstones.  There is a large tombstone  that says "Cox Family" and states "taken before their time."  The date on the picture says it was taken in 2011 (no date of when it was erected), which was after both Lydia and William had passed away, she in 2006, he in 2010.  But, that does not mean it has not always been there and truthfully I cannot say that it hasn't.  There are not pictures of Lydia or William's stones on the site and all I can say about the large tombstone and the individual ones for the children is the granite does look a bit different in color, but to be fair one cannot fully tell from a picture.  Reality of it is this... maybe William Cox did buy a car with that money and not pay for the funeral, maybe he did all that he was expected and someone gave him a car..... the man lost five of his children in something that he had no part of what so ever.  He was not even there when it happened.  It is not like a case in Kentucky I have read in which a mother and eight of her children died in a house fire in which only her husband and a ninth child survived. Like this case it's a small town and rumor and facts circulating.  In that case the father/husband was there at the time and it was ruled "accidental." In this case a man has confessed and it was not the father so what anyone thinks he may or may not have done some nearly 50 years ago matters not.  


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