Cruel Deception

Gregg Olsen

St. Martin's True Crime

Chapter 1
Tanya Reid was like a lot of women. She was not unattractive, though neither was she gorgeous. She was a woman with the kind of looks that either went unnoticed or sparked a person’s memory of someone else. Tanya’s tiny nose at times seemed too small to hold the bridge of her oval-shaped eyeglass frames; her brown hair was of a sensible cut, the kind that takes only a minute to shampoo and just a few more to brush out. It was the look of a woman with plenty to do.
Of course, Tanya could dress up. And when she was in one of her skinnier cycles, she looked pretty good.
But mostly, with her well-trod sneakers and car crammed with kid stuff, Tanya looked exactly like what she was: a busy wife, a caring mother.
When she flew from Amarillo to Des Moines, Iowa, to join her husband Jim at a Holiday Inn, she had paid a little extra attention to her hair and makeup. She wanted to look nice for Jim. Reunions were important to Tanya Reid.
In what had become a cruel merry-go-round in the era of corporate takeovers and mergers, the Reid family was moving again. In the three years since their baby’s death, the Reids had lived in Hereford, Texas, returned to the Chicago area, and gone back to Texas—this time, Amarillo. They knew the drill—Jim went ahead, while Tanya spiffed the house for real estate agents and packed the cartons for the movers.
It was the last week of May 1987.
Jim had been transferred again by Swift Independent, the meatpacking giant that had employed him since he was a teenager working himself through school. If Tanya wasn’t happy about the move because she would rather have stayed closer to Dumas, her husband was decidedly and justifiably bitter. His pay had been cut in Texas and his responsibilities reduced. What could he expect in Iowa, where he was told he’d be working evenings? It had been years since he worked nights. But what choice did he have? He needed the job to keep the health insurance for his children. The Reids had been boxed into a take-it-or-leave-it situation. He swore that once they were settled, he’d look for a new position in the industry.
Tanya had come to Iowa to find a suitable place to live for six-year-old Carolyn and two-year-old Brandon Michael, a good school, and a doctor who could keep watch over the boy. Michael had suffered from repeated apnea—episodes during which his breathing abruptly stopped—and some seizures of an undetermined cause. The health of the Reids’ children was always on their minds.
On the morning of May 28, Tanya and Jim arrived for an appointment with pediatric neurologist Thomas Kelly. The doctor, a soft-spoken, gentle sort with a drawn face set off by the sparkle of eyeglasses, listened intently to the sad story of the couple’s beloved baby Morgan and how she had died of SIDS. Tanya said postmortem testing had determined that Morgan had Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic defect sometimes linked to retardation, though primarily in boys. Tanya explained how at one time she believed she was a carrier for Fragile X, but that followup testing had proved negative. And while the information was interesting to the neurologist, he knew of no studies suggesting a link between SIDS and Fragile X.
Both parents were concerned that Michael was suffering from problems similar to those of the sister who had died fifteen months before his birth.
Tanya did most of the talking. The twenty-nine-year-old mother rattled off the names and dates of medical procedures her son had endured. She provided the information in an extremely clear, ordered fashion. Her chronology left nothing out, so there was no need to backtrack on a point missed along the way. That she was able to do so could not have been a surprise. Not only was she the boy’s mother, she also told Dr. Kelly she was a trained nurse.
Amid the medical diatribe was good news. Thankfully, Michael had not had any apnea episodes for a while. He was no longer on seizure medications—dosages of Tegretol, pheno-barbital, Dilantin had all been discontinued by April. He had been off a home apnea monitor since December of 1986.
Dr. Kelly took a single page of notes and told the Reids he was looking forward to taking care of their son’s neurological problems. For regular pediatric care, the neurologist gave Tanya and Jim the name Dr. Leonard Gangeness, a pediatrician nearing retirement whom some young residents had fondly nicknamed “Old Bear.”
During the mornings of that week in late May, Tanya scouted the area for a house while her husband was at work, getting up to speed on his new job. Since the Reids would be taking a financial hit with the sale of the house in Amarillo, they quickly decided houses in suburban Des Moines were too expensive, beyond a practical reach.
Jim and Tanya found an apartment in Urbandale, one of Des Moines’s bedroom communities. The complex was located near the Sherwood Forest Shopping Center—one of those pseudo-Tudor developments more akin to a bargain-basement Disneyland than a replica of Merry Olde England. The massive maze of apartments and town houses called Nottingham Square was built on an incline overlooking the Kmart on Hickman Road. The units, clustered in groups of six, were painted gray and beige and trimmed in dark timbers. Each apartment had two floors, cut-loop carpeting, a balcony, and a patio. Some had views of the back side of the Kmart. And during springtime, and sometimes into summer, the cloying scent of blooming lilacs hung in the moist air like damp clothing on a line.
Tanya liked the fact that Nottingham Square was close to the grade school, and that it appeared many of the families who lived there had young children. She thought the apartment itself was adequate, though a lot smaller than the homes they had owned in Texas and Illinois. When one became available, they planned to move into one of the roomier town houses.
It didn’t matter much, though; neither husband nor wife planned on staying in Des Moines very long.
This was not going to be home.
BACK IN Texas, good-byes and unfinished business were in order.
On June 27, before leaving for Iowa, Tanya Reid carried her son into a pediatric clinic in Amarillo. Not only did he have a sore throat, but the second toe on Michael’s right foot was infected. Tanya told the doctor her little boy had “stubbed his toe.” The two-year-old’s toenail was removed and antibiotics were prescribed for the infection.
Tanya Thaxton Reid had always been close to her parents and three sisters. She was tearful when it came time to say good-bye. Her mother, Wanda, wasn’t entirely pleased with her daughter’s move either. Tanya was her baby girl, and she liked having her close to home. Since John Thaxton’s business was now headquartered in Amarillo, sometimes before work John and Wanda would stop by the Reids’ house for coffee. That could be no more. Everyone understood Jim had no choice but to accept the position. But no one had to be happy about it.
Iowa seemed like a million miles away from the Panhandle.
“I really was not averse to going to Des Moines,” Tanya insisted years later. “It was a big enough town; I could continue my nursing degree. Yes, I would miss my folks, but they could come up and visit and I could go down to see them, too.”
Jim flew back to Texas to escort his wife and children as they drove north. Carolyn and Michael took turns riding with their mother or father. Tanya drove her car, an ’85 blue Cutlass Ciera, and Jim’s Ford pickup pulled a boat. Michael was quiet, but Carolyn jabbered all the way to Iowa.
The Reids moved into apartment #122 at 7400 Canterbury Road on July 1. Two days later, Tanya carried Michael into the emergency room at Iowa Methodist Medical Center. It was late afternoon, around four-thirty. The little boy had had a fever since eight-thirty that morning. The mother told the ER staff about her son’s history of seizures and her concern that something could be happening to Michael. He wasn’t eating, and had, in fact, vomited. His temperature was 103 upon admission by Dr. Leonard Gangeness. A young intern named Robert Colman also examined the boy. A blood workup was ordered, chest X rays were taken, urine was analyzed, and the boy underwent a thorough physical examination. He was healthy except for the toe and the fever. He slept well through the night.
The Fourth of July holiday for Tanya and her son was spent at the hospital. Since Michael wasn’t eating, IVs were continued. He vomited again, late in the afternoon, but slept well that night.
The next day was a repeat of the previous one, though Tanya was able to get her son to eat some solid food.
By the third day in the hospital, the boy’s temperature was normal and his elevated white blood cell count had dropped. Michael was released. Tanya carried her son, along with a little pink bottle of the antibiotic amoxicillin and a slip of paper with Dr. Gangeness’s phone number to confirm a follow-up visit in a couple of days.
NEVER ONE to make friends easily, Tanya spent much of her days isolated in her apartment. Sure, she had the kids, and granted, her husband did come home after work, but for someone who loved to talk as much as she, having no adult ears around during the day was unbearable.
She and her sisters and mother kept in constant contact by telephone, but that could only ease the boredom to a point. Tanya needed some new friends. She could do it, all right. She had done it before.
According to her oldest sister, Beverly Kay, Tanya had to “teach herself to be outgoing.”
One way to meet friends was to hang around the pool at Nottingham Square and engage other stay-at-home moms in conversation. But Tanya’s initial poolside efforts proved futile. She tried to befriend women who had their own lives, own friends. None had time for the talkative gal from the Panhandle.