Five employees were working their shifts at Pace Dry Goods on Nov. 18, 1983, when an unknown man entered the store clad in a cap and sunglasses.
He was interested in a pair of pants, witnesses said, and one of the workers, 62-year-old Thomas Henry Marsden, approached him to see if he could be of service.
Selecting a pair the man had shown interest in, Marsden wove through the rows of men’s and women’s ware, showing the stranger to a dressing room where he could try the fit.
Boxes of boots lined the upper shelves of the walls, and rows of neatly-stacked jeans, button-downs and t-shirts formed dense isles of clothing racks; a layout similar to Bill’s Man Shop downtown, featuring comparable retail offerings.
“A few minutes later, he came out, approached the check-out counter desk with the pants and it was just Mr. Marsden and him at the counter at that time,” SAPD Cold Case Detective Jim Coleman recalls. “Then witnesses looked up and saw a man producing a handgun and was pointing it at Mr. Marsden.”
The store was empty at that time, save for the handful of employees and the killer, who despite his weak disguise executed a brazen killing at roughly 3:35 p.m. in the clothing store formerly located at 603 S. Chadbourne.
Coleman, a two-year patrolman and detective in a trial phase, was one of the San Angelo police officers to respond to the scene over 30 years ago. He remembers being at the station that afternoon when the call came in and rushing off with senior officers to respond to a report of murder.
“Back in those days, around 4:00 (p.m.) detectives would all get off…so everyone was kind of gathered up here (in the Police Department)—including myself,” Coleman explained. “I was a patrolman, but had been reassigned to detectives for 30 days. It’s a program that the chief had to try and integrate patrolmen into detectives. Let the detectives look at them and let them look at the detectives as possibly something to do…We were all just gathered in the hallway when they put this out, so everybody just starts heading that way.”
Coleman had never been called out to a homicide before, and with “big eyes” and his “heart just beating a hundred miles a minute”, climbed into a car with three to four other detectives and met witnesses at the scene.
Once there, the remaining employees explained what they had seen and heard after the man produced the gun.
“One…thing the witnesses heard inside the store, they did hear Mr. Marsden state, ‘No, I don’t want you to shoot me,’” Coleman said. “They kind of heard some of the conversation—not really much—and then they heard him pop a shot. Before the shot, they both started heading toward the north exit door like maybe they were both going to leave together. They don’t know if the suspect was going to try and take him with him or if Mr. Marsden was following him out for whatever reason, but they kind of started for that door and that’s when the shot occurred. Mr. Marsden took a couple more steps and then collapsed inside the store.”
Pace Dry Goods was not an ideal place for crime back in the ‘80s, with a large supermarket, M Systems Foodstores, located across one street and the Texas Department of Public Safety across another. DPS cruisers and radio towers are visible in the background of some of the old crime scene photos, as is the parking lot of the supermarket, where a couple of shoppers were witness to the suspect’s flight.
“Just by chance, there was a husband and wife that were across the street at the M System Foodstores [parking lot],” Coleman said. “They were getting in their car and they heard what sounded like a gunshot. They go, ‘well, that’s strange’ and got to looking around and about that time this guy comes out the door. They described him pretty much the same as the employees did and they saw him coming out with a gun in his hand.”
The suspect was described as a Hispanic male in his 20s, approximately 5’8” to 5’9” and weighing between 150-170 pounds. As he left the store, witnesses stated, he concealed the gun under his shirt and climbed into a brown, four-door sedan with Texas license plates.
As detectives worked the scene, employees called in the store’s owner, Mr. Pace, to have a look at the cash drawers and see if anything was missing.
“He came in and did an audit of Mr. Marsden’s drawer and…he determined that there was some cash missing that could not be accounted for with sales and receipts,” Coleman said. “At that point, he said, ‘yes, we’re pretty sure that the person actually took money.’ So that’s when it actually changed to a robbery.”
Murder in commission of another felony makes the homicide a capital crime, punishable by life in prison without parole.
With a handful of witness testimony, a description of the perpetrator and of his vehicle, detectives began to interview dozens upon dozens of potential suspects and witnesses, to no avail. Despite the crime haven taken place in broad daylight, in front of witnesses and the murderer wearing a weak disguise, the case went cold.
“It’s been years since someone came forward with information,” Coleman said, however 30 years after the crime was committed, he’s still intent on solving the mystery and finding the perpetrator that alluded police so long ago.
“I can’t hardly describe it,” he said, reflecting on how he feels now about working on the case. “I mean, you look back at something you did 30 years ago, you know. You look at some of these old pictures, look at some of the officers and some of those officers are not even alive anymore that I knew. They were like something out of a book back then…it’s kind of humbling, a little bit, to see it now.”
Coleman said he does feel an elevated sense of motivation to solve this crime, have begun the work at the beginning of his career. Since January 2012, he’s been assigned to the PD’s Cold Case Division, and is seeking answers to this and 12 other unsolved homicides.
“If there’s anyone who saw something, don’t try to decide if it’s something that you need to report or not,” he said. “If you saw something, if you’ve heard something since then, just let us be the judges of good information-bad information. Just let us know.”
If you or anyone you know has information pertaining to the murder that took place on Nov. 18, 1983, contact Crime Stoppers at 325-658-HELP. Tips may also be submitted online at sanangelocrimestoppers.com, or via the SAPD website under cold case investigations.
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