A Descent Into Hell: The True Story of an Altar Boy, a Cheerleader, and a Twisted Texas Murder - Kathryn Casey (2009)
At first, Henriette Langenbach didn’t understand why the other inmates gestured as guards escorted the young woman up the stairs to her second-level cell, number 9 on the unit. Clearly enjoying the diversion the new inmate offered, the women sliced their hands across their throats, in a cutting motion, and laughed wildly behind the new inmate’s back. Then Langenbach got a good look at her and recognized Hall’s face from news reports.
In their cell, Laura unpacked her jailhouse supplies. Langenbach had the bottom bunk, and Hall claimed the top. As she settled in, Hall threw a black-and-white photo of a girl in a business suit and white blouse at Langenbach. “Do I look like her?” she demanded.
Nearing sixty, with black hair and sad brown eyes, Langenbach looked at the girl. It seemed an odd thing to do. “Yes, kind of,” she said. Hall took the photo back. It was her high school graduation photo.
They were an odd pairing. Langenbach’s crime was white-collar, a felony involving her role as chief financial officer of a defunct real estate venture. It wasn’t the first time she’d been in trouble. Years earlier in New Zealand, the Indonesian-born Langenbach had been convicted of attempting to help a friend obtain false documents for a baby the friend wanted to adopt and bring into the United States.
Hours drag in prison, and Langenbach was never sure which of the two Laura Halls she’d share her cell with: the closemouthed girl who seemed leery of talking, or the ranting young woman who blew up and stormed about the cell, saying, it seemed, nearly anything that popped into her mind.
Most often, Laura railed against her father, calling him obscenities, blaming him for calling police. She was furious that Loren hadn’t bailed her out and that he refused to hire a “real lawyer,” leaving her to be represented by Tom Weber, a former assistant district attorney turned defense lawyer who’d been appointed by the court. Although Weber had a good reputation in Austin, his efforts on her behalf didn’t sit well with Hall. One day Langenbach listened as Hall recounted a conversation with her lawyer, in which Weber called Hall the “weirdest” client he’d ever had.
“Why did he say that? What did you say to him?” Langenbach asked.
“I want a lawyer to help me and Colton concoct a story, so that we can get Colton off on a lesser charge and me on a misdemeanor,” Hall said. She talked about O. J. Simpson, whom she said was obviously guilty but had walked with the aid of a high-priced and high-profile band of attorneys.
“Lawyers don’t do that, Laura,” Langenbach said. “They’re not even supposed to put you on the stand if they know you’re lying.”
Laura’s attorney, Tom Weber, would later say that he did tell Hall she was the oddest client he’d ever had. Although she’d never even been arrested before, Hall reveled in her role in the sensational murder case and its accompanying publicity. When he looked in her eyes, he saw no feeling. Laura Hall cared for no one but herself and Colton, whom she talked about constantly, professing her love. When Jennifer Cave’s name came up, Laura fumed about the dead girl, expressing no sympathy for either Jennifer or her family.
Early on, Weber talked to Hall about working a deal with the prosecutors by agreeing to testify against Colton, but she refused. “That’s my homeboy,” she said. “I love him, and I stand by him.”
Weber, chief prosecutor in Judge Flowers’s court until 1996, warned Hall not to talk with anyone about the case, especially in jail, but she didn’t listen.
“That fucking bastard,” Hall said, and Langenbach knew her cellmate meant her father, Loren. “He wants me to talk to the police, tell them what they want to know, but what the fucking bastard doesn’t get is that I’m federally fucked if I do.”
Although Langenbach spoke six languages and had lived all over the world, throughout their weeks bunking together, Hall treated the older woman as if she were an inferior human being, someone with limited intellect who couldn’t understand those with superior intelligence. “I don’t know why they’re making such a big deal about Jennifer Cave. She wasn’t anything,” Hall said more than once. “Colton’s brilliant. He had a full scholarship at UT, in the business school. Jennifer Cave was a fucking waitress ho.”
At times, Hall talked about the night Jennifer died. As she portrayed it, Colton and Jennifer argued, Hall said, over money Jennifer owed Colton for drugs. “The next thing he knew, she was dead. He shot her.”
Colton was in a frenzy when Hall arrived at his apartment that morning, crying, screaming, irrational, drunk, and high on drugs. At first, Pitonyak didn’t tell Hall whom he’d shot, but instead took her to the bathroom to show her the body. “I didn’t realize who it was until he lifted up her head and I recognized her,” Hall said.
“We have to get rid of the body,” Hall said she told Colton. From that point on, Langenbach had the impression Hall was in charge, making the decisions. When she used the toilet, Colton pulled the green vinyl shower curtain to hide the body.
“How could you use that bathroom with a body in there like that?” Langenbach asked.
“When you’re very intelligent, you’re able to compartmentalize things,” Hall bragged.
The gun was in the living room, on the cocktail table, and Colton sat on the couch playing with his machete and the buck knife with the folding blade that locked into place. Hall claimed Colton put the machete to her throat, laughing.
“Stop fucking around,” she told him. “We need to concentrate on getting rid of the evidence.”
“Weren’t you afraid of him?” Langenbach asked.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “I love him, and he knows it.”
Langenbach had the impression that Hall wrote the shopping list Colton took to Breed’s that afternoon. She was furious that he’d gone to the small neighborhood store, instead of a large hardware store where he might have gone unnoticed. “Had I taken control of everything, that would not have happened,” she said. “Getting caught on camera buying the stuff.”
While she was running her own errands, filling the Cadillac with gas and getting it washed, Hall said she stopped for a hamburger. Then she met Colton at a Mr. Gatti’s pizza restaurant. Hall recounted being furious that the waitress tried to charge her when she wasn’t eating. While they were there, Sharon Cave called, saying she’d called the police, and Colton again “freaked out.”
Back at the apartment, they grabbed Colton’s things, and then ran to Mexico.
“Why would you cut up a human body?” Langenbach asked.
“Think of it,” Hall said dreamily. “How many grandmothers can tell their grandchildren that they cut up a body?”
“But how could you eat knowing that you had a dead body, cutting it up?” Langenbach asked.
Again Hall talked about compartmentalizing. “Dead body in one compartment; my hunger in another, and so forth.”
Over the weeks they shared the cell, Hall explained that their plan had been to cut off Jennifer’s head, hands, and feet, the parts of her that were most easily identified, and then throw them in a lake. The rest of her corpse, they planned to dump in Mexico.
When it came to her six days with Colton in Mexico, Hall described the time as “the happiest of my life.”
Sickened by what she heard, Langenbach used her “rack-up” or quiet time to make notes on Laura’s statements. She wrote them into letters she sent to her attorney, asking him to keep them for her. At times, she stayed up after Hall went to sleep, writing.
In addition to emphasizing that Langenbach was her intellectual inferior, Hall crowed that she was smarter than Travis County prosecutors and APD. She laughed about the offer she’d made to APD to take a lie detector test, and boasted that she knew how to lie and pass it. She had ice water running through her veins, she bragged, and had no trouble masquerading her emotions. Still, she looked for other ways to ensure that she passed the test. She talked about taking a jail meditation class to learn how to rein in her emotions even further, and one day returned from the jail infirmary drugged up on what she told Langenbach were antipsychotics. The medicines, which she claimed she lied to get, would mask her reactions and help her sail through the lie detector.
For hours on end, Laura droned on about getting two tattoos, one with her and Colton’s initials entwined, and the other the letter “F” for felon. Perhaps she was emulating Pitonyak with his “fell on” tattoo from his drug-charge jail stay. As Langenbach watched, Hall spent hours scribbling on sheets of paper, trying to design just the right tattoos.
At times, Hall frightened Langenbach. The girl seemed out of touch with reality, devoid of any normal human emotion. Then, the night before Hall’s first court appearance, something even more bizarre happened.
In her upper bunk, Hall slept, doped up on the antipsychotic medicines. Sometime after eleven, she thrashed about, appearing to be in the throes of a nightmare, crying out, “Get away bitch. You’re dead. You’re dead.”
Langenbach got out of her bunk and sat in a chair opposite the bunk beds watching Hall scream at no one. The younger woman writhed in the bed, shouting and cursing, then, suddenly, Hall dove off the top bunk, smashing her head against the edge of the wall and the floor.
The next day, Hall had two black eyes and a lump on her forehead. Laughing it off, Hall told Langenbach that she planned to sue the jail, claiming they had unsafe beds, hoping to make enough money to “pay for a good attorney.”
The day after Hall’s nightmare, she was transferred to a unit with an open lower bunk, near the guard’s station, where she could be monitored. From that point on, Langenbach says, her former cellmate fared poorly in jail, refusing to do her work, such as helping to clean her unit, offering other inmates candy and chips to pay them for doing her wash, and then refusing to give them what she’d promised. More often than not, Langenbach heard Hall was in solitary.
Despite having her out of her cell and her life, Langenbach thought often of Hall, her ice-cold emotions, her unfeeling references to Jennifer as no more important than garbage to be disposed of. And Langenbach would always remember the night Hall plummeted out of the top bunk as the night Jennifer Cave’s spirit haunted Laura Hall’s dreams.