Video: Tangled Lives

By Chris Hansen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/6/2010 9:34:00 PM ET 2010-08-07T01:34:00

This report airs Dateline Friday, Aug. 6, 9 p.m./8C.

Two women: Mary Dabbs and Teresa French. They'd never met, but became connected in a way no one could have predicted.

CHRIS HANSEN: Was there a day that went by where you didn't think about Teresa French?

MARY DABBS: Never. I never had a moment's – not even a moment's peace.

It would be terror in both their lives that would ultimately bring them together – one helping the other – in a case that frustrated police for nearly 15 years. The story begins with Teresa French, who was a young mother in Muncie, Indiana, back in 1993.

LANA NANNIE: She had an innocence about her.

GINGER ENGLE: She just loved everybody. She was just so nice and friendly.

JENNIFER NYE: Would never say anything bad about anybody.

Teresa was beautiful and petite, had an open heart and unlimited compassion, offering help when needed and love without condition – qualities that amaze her older sister, Jennifer Nye.

JENNIFER NYE: She'd gather up any animal in the neighborhood, bring it home.

CHRIS HANSEN: Whatever it was?

JENNIFER NYE: Always. Didn't matter. She had raised a raccoon – bottle-fed it. Get up every two hours and fed it. She loved everybody. She loved life.

Which was a good thing, because she was forced to grow up at a young age. Teresa was in junior high when she started dating Tony French, almost three years her senior, a local boy some described as a loner. Tony and Teresa had been dating a couple years – Teresa was by now a high school freshman, 15 years old – when her sister, Jennifer, saw something she couldn't ignore.

JENNIFER NYE: I just noticed the change in her body and I knew she wasn't gonna tell Mom because she was scared. So I called Mom and said, ‘I think we need to go to dinner.’ And I said, ‘I think Teresa's pregnant.’

Their mother confronted Teresa and found out, yes, she was indeed pregnant, and then told their dad.

CHRIS HANSEN: And how did that go over?

JENNIFER NYE: Not so well. Not so well. Dad was traveling. And she called Dad and said, ‘You're gonna be a grandfather.’

CHRIS HANSEN: What did he say?

JENNIFER NYE: Well, he was very angry, of course, at Tony. And Mom said, ‘Well, I know we're gonna need to plan a wedding.’ And he said, ‘There'll be no wedding. She's not marrying anybody. She's 15.’ And, more than one occasion, the invitations went into the trashcan.

But eventually a wedding did take place. Teen marriages too often don't last long. But, in fact, this one did, and they went on to have more children. Teresa was a natural mother.

JENNIFER NYE: She adored them – it was almost like she put them on a pedestal like a Barbie doll, she took that kind of care of her children. Just went skating with them, watched movies with them, get up and do the Barney dance in the middle of the floor with them. She's just a wonderful mother.

While Teresa raised the kids, Tony worked at the large BorgWarner plant in Muncie, now shut down, which manufactured parts for the auto industry.

It was a good factory job, a nice middle-class life: Several cars, a boat, and two homes, one they rented out. Next door, they had a large garage where Tony liked to tinker. That's where he met Hank Rowe.

HANK ROWE: I bought a house a half a block away from him, so I can hear somebody working in the garage. And I kind of thought, ‘Boy, this guy's got a set-up. He's got a nice garage. He can work on all his cars. And he's got a nice wife and family.’ And his wife was pregnant at the time with their daughter. And he was – seemed to be a pretty nice person.

After Hank and Ginger Engle became a couple, they grew close to Teresa and Tony, going out to dinner, playing cards, boating.

HANK ROWE: We went down on the river together, us in our boat, them in their boat. We really enjoyed ourselves.

It seems life was good...Teresa and tony appeared happy. Then her family began to notice Tony was bossy, increasingly so, and becoming very controlling.

JENNIFER NYE: I think she was just tired of being told what to do, where to go, when she could do it, what she could wear, when she could cut her hair, if she could cut her hair.

At the same time, Teresa, who had gotten married so young, started to wonder what life would be like on her own.

GINGER ENGLE: She wanted to go back to school and he did not want that. And I just think she wanted to go on, to know if there was a life out there besides home and children.

Tony was having none of it. But Teresa summoned the courage to leave. The house went on the market, the divorce would soon be finalized.

And then, one sunny May morning, it happened. Ginger was on the phone with Teresa. There was a stranger at the door. "An inspector," Teresa said, "I'll call you back."

But Teresa didn't call back – and Ginger couldn't reach her again. After lunch, she headed to her friend's home to check on her. She couldn't get down the street.

GINGER ENGLE: All I seen was an ambulance, cop cars, every neighbors out. And I just pulled up there, and the neighbor was out across the street. And I said, ‘What happened?’ And she said, ‘Something happened to Teresa.’

What happened to Teresa was about to launch a mystery that would haunt her family and friends for 15 years... A puzzle that would be put together with the help of a woman Teresa never met, a woman who had the courage to expose the truth.

Part 2


It was May 1993. Teresa French’s sister, Jennifer, received a frantic call from a close family friend.

JENNIFER NYE: She said, ‘You need to get to Teresa's right now.’ I said, ‘Why? What's going on? Tell me what's going on.’ She said, ‘Just get here now,’ and she slammed the phone down.

CHRIS HANSEN: What did you think had happened?

JENNIFER NYE: When I saw all the crime scene tape and all the police cars and the ambulances, I knew. I knew.

CHRIS HANSEN: You knew what?

JENNIFER NYE: She was dead. I knew. I didn't even have to pull up.

Jennifer was right. Teresa was dead – on the floor of her garage – shot eight times with a .22 caliber gun. 

JENNIFER NYE: She loved her children more than life itself.

And now their mother, only 29 years old, was gone. The two younger children were away on a trip with Teresa’s mother. The oldest child, a teenager, was picked up at school by police and taken to the station where his Aunt Jennifer met him.

JENNIFER NYE: I got down on my knees in front of him and told him that his mother had been killed. And he said, ‘Where is he? Where he's at? I know he did it. Where's he at?’

CHRIS HANSEN: Talking about his father?

JENNIFER NYE: Right. Those were the first words outta his mouth to me.

Police thought the same thing. In fact, they'd arrested Tony shortly after Teresa's body was found. But Tony had an iron-clad alibi for the time of the killing, as Richard Bradshaw, then a Muncie police detective, discovered.

RICHARD BRADSHAW: His alibi was he's at work. He was seen by numerous co-workers. All of whom were interviewed, gave statements that they were with him all day long and that he was inside a secure plant, where you were logged in when you came to work and you were logged out when you left.

CHRIS HANSEN: So there was no way that he could have committed this murder himself.


With a firm alibi and no physical evidence tying him to the crime, Tony couldn't be held more than 48 hours. He was released... But the more that police learned from Teresa's friends and family about Tony, the more that they were convinced he was involved in the murder. Teresa's lawyer described their divorce as the most violent one she'd ever handled.

RICHARD BRADSHAW: The history of their divorce was something in itself, with the violence, the threats – the multiple reports that were done.

The French’s older son, the one who'd told his Aunt Jennifer that he thought his own father had killed his mom, provided eye-witness accounts of Tony's abuse. He told police he'd seen his dad get physical with his mom for years – including one day a few months before she was killed.

JENNIFER NYE: He was talking about how his mom had to get to the neighbor's house to call an ambulance to come and get her because he wouldn't let her use the phone at the house.

What prompted that fight was an evening when Teresa went out with a few friends. Tony was suspicious.

JENNIFER NYE: And he'd come to my house looking for her. I pulled the curtain back and it was him and I had a hold of the door and I said, ‘She's not here.’ And he shoved the door open.

CHRIS HANSEN: Literally pushes his way in?

JENNIFER NYE: Right. And I said, ‘She's not here.’ ‘Where is she?’ And I said, ‘Well, I don't know where she's at. I've not talked to her tonight. I have no idea.’ And he said, ‘Well, the next time you see her, she'll be in the hospital.’ And the next morning, when I got up, I got a phone call from my brother and he said, ‘Sis, you need to get to the hospital.’ And I said, ‘Why, what's going on?’ He said, ‘Teresa's in the hospital.’

CHRIS HANSEN: So Tony made good on his promise?

JENNIFER NYE: Right. That next morning he broke her nose and fractured her cheekbone – the eye socket area – and they had to do reconstructive surgery on her.

Teresa went to police... And her divorce attorney.

JENNIFER NYE: She suggested since things were so heated at that point in time, her face was all messed up and two black eyes and her nose was crooked and, you know, the situation was still heated over—over the punching that she took, that she would be better off if she went and stayed at the shelter, a battered women's shelter.

They were at the shelter a few days when Teresa went in for surgery on her battered face. That same day, Teresa’s close friend, Ginger, ran into Tony in a grocery store parking lot.

GINGER ENGLE: He asked me if he could speak and I said, ‘Yes.’ So I got in his truck and he asked me where Teresa was, and I told him, ‘I don't have any idea,’ and he slammed his fist on the dash and said, ‘I'm going to kill her.’

Then, as Jennifer drove Teresa home following the surgery, she was terrified as she looked in the rearview mirror and saw Tony tailgating them.

JENNIFER NYE: I drove like a maniac. And I was in a smaller sports car and he was in a big truck and camper, and I lost him. And I called the police. They sent two squad cars down and gave me a police escort home, helped me get her in the house.

Jennifer says the menacing behavior didn't end.

JENNIFER NYE: And then we started receiving phone calls from him just nonstop. ‘You tell her I'm gonna kill her next time I see her. I'm gonna kill her.’

A few months later, Tony pleaded guilty to battery, and as the divorce went through its paces, Jennifer says tony became increasingly furious about the prospect of losing his home and especially his beloved boat, fuming about it to anyone who'd listen. Teresa's friends were frightened for her.

HANK ROWE: One time, he ran in their van and chased down there and almost threatened to run her off the road. 

LANA NANNIE: She cut through the neighborhood just trying to escape him.

GINGER ENGLE: She never disclosed where she was at each day. And this went on for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks. It was tough keeping, you know, keeping her secret. We couldn't see her unless we met at a certain place to meet out in public.

HANK ROWE: She was scared.

LANA NANNIE: She lived in fear.

It wasn't just Tony's wife who lived in fear. Tony had threatened others as well, including Lana Nannie, Teresa’s friend since childhood. Tony and Lana never got along. She says she was stalked and threatened by him for about a year before Teresa was murdered. Lana says she was so scared of Tony, she bought a gun. Security at her work advised her on how to evade him.

LANA NANNIE: ‘Whatever way you drive to work, drive home a different way. Mix up your routine.’

Jennifer says Tony's threats and demeanor were so dark, Teresa was convinced he meant what he said.

JENNIFER NYE: I think she actually knew she was going to die.


JENNIFER NYE: I think she believed every word that he told her – and I took her to cancel the life insurance policy.

CHRIS HANSEN: You drove her over there.


Tony had two life insurance policies on Teresa – a $5,000 policy through his work and a $50,000 policy he bought himself. Teresa tried to have the larger one cancelled.

JENNIFER NYE: They wouldn't let her cancel because Tony owned the policy. And they told her, ‘Sorry.’ She said, ‘I don't want him to gain on my death and I know he's gonna kill me.’ And the lady said, ‘I'm sorry. You know he paid for it, it's his. I can't – there's nothing I can do. My hands are tied.’

A month later, Teresa was dead. But despite Tony's history of violence, police couldn't link him to her murder. They kept trying, though – and one guy they thought might have information that would help make that connection was a co-worker of Tony's named Oren Johnson, also known as OJ. Tony had moved in with him during the divorce – and was living there when Teresa was killed. 

RICHARD BRADSHAW: We felt that if he wasn't a participant of some sort, that he would have at least knowledge that would be extremely useful to us. Tony was never very secret about what his feelings were and what he – what his ultimate goal would be or what he planned to do. We thought that OJ's information would be helpful to us.

CHRIS HANSEN: And what did he say?

RICHARD BRADSHAW: He actually disappeared a day or two following the murder and he was difficult to locate. Once located, he said that Tony French had made no threats against his wife the entire time while he lived with him.

CHRIS HANSEN: No threats.

RICHARD BRADSHAW: We knew that was a lie.

They tried to find other witnesses who could shed light on the case. But because Tony was known as a bully, and people assumed he had something to do with the murder, they mostly kept their mouths shut – or when they did talk, they didn't want to be seen doing it.

RICHARD BRADSHAW: There were several people that would call thinking that they had information or wanting to talk to one of us where I couldn't get them to come to my office. I met people in coffeehouses. I've met people in parking lots. In cars. Just so they wouldn't be seen coming to City Hall because of that – that fear.

CHRIS HANSEN: People were scared.

RICHARD BRADSHAW: They were absolutely scared.

CHRIS HANSEN: And with good reason.

RICHARD BRADSHAW: Well, he was well known to carry guns. I think the biggest problem with Tony is people didn't know what he was capable of. I think they figured he was unpredictable.

What was predictable, though, was that with Teresa’s death, the divorce case went away and Tony got everything: The $55,000 in life insurance money, their cars, the boat and both houses. He moved back in the home where Teresa was murdered. It was all so galling to Jennifer. Not only was her sister dead, but the man who she believed was behind her murder got everything... Including his freedom.

JENNIFER NYE: I was mad. I really didn't understand the way of the law at that time.

CHRIS HANSEN: There was no physical evidence tying him to this murder?


CHRIS HANSEN: No fingerprint, no DNA?


CHRIS HANSEN: No witnesses who saw him do anything?


CHRIS HANSEN: Did you see him anywhere around town?

JENNIFER NYE: Oh, yes. He'd pull up beside you and just – and – on more than one occasion did he do that to me.

CHRIS HANSEN: Just pull up right next to you and scoff?

JENNIFER NYE: Oh yeah, and grin and ride by and wave on his motorcycle with his new girlfriend. It was a little hard to take.

Police had no suspects, other than Tony French, and he had a concrete alibi. Still, they suspected that, while he didn't pull the trigger, Tony definitely was involved. But the case went nowhere – until years later. That's when a woman, whose life would become intertwined with Teresa’s death, heard something. She asked a question that would change everything.

MARY DABBS: I said, "What the hell's going on?"

Part 3


The case of Teresa French's murder had gone cold and stayed that way for almost five years. Then, suddenly, it heated up when this woman told Muncie police detectives about a man they had never heard of.

MARY DABBS: He was very good to me and very good to my daughter. He made me feel relaxed and comfortable. I felt safe.

When Mary Dabbs fell for David Woods, he was a tough-guy mechanic and friend of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang...but he had a charming side. He showed Mary great compassion and kindness when she had breast cancer. He took care of her when she had no one else.

MARY DABBS: I didn't have any help, no support system. I had a 10-year-old daughter. I'd just moved into a small town, and didn't know anybody. Didn't even know my neighbors.

They married in the summer of 1996.

CHRIS HANSEN: And in the early days, how was the marriage?

MARY DABBS: It was good.

CHRIS HANSEN: What kinds of things would you do together?

MARY DABBS: It was not that we really did anything together, except go to OJ and Linda's house.  We always did that together.

CHRIS HANSEN: Oren Johnson and his girlfriend?


CHRIS HANSEN: And how would you describe OJ, Oren Johnson?

MARY DABBS: He was always drunk, always on pills.

Oren "OJ" Johnson... Remember him? He was Tony French's friend, the guy from work who let Tony move in when he was going through his divorce. Well, Woods and OJ were also friends – very close friends – since childhood. And, in the summer of 1997, Mary and her husband were visiting OJ and his girlfriend when the two men started talking about Tony's late wife, Teresa French.

CHRIS HANSEN: Had you heard the name Teresa French before that?


CHRIS HANSEN: Did you know who that was?


CHRIS HANSEN: Did you know the circumstances around—


CHRIS HANSEN: —her murder?

MARY DABBS: No. I was confused at first. Didn't know what they were talking about.

Police had interviewed OJ back in '93 when Teresa was killed, but they hadn't learned anything from him.

Now he'd been arrested on cocaine charges. The charges were eventually thrown out, but, Mary says, for some reason, her husband seemed worried OJ might have talked to police about Teresa French. He asked OJ if he had. 

CHRIS HANSEN: And what did OJ say?

MARY DABBS: He told him not to worry about it, that he hadn't told them anything and they weren't gonna get anything out of him.

CHRIS HANSEN: Did your husband seem relieved at that point?

MARY DABBS: He was very unsettled. He was very agitated. He was very nervous. He was a very different person at that point. He was different than I'd ever seen him.

Tony French's name also came up... A man Mary had never met, knew nothing about. But just the secretive way that they were talking made her suspicious and she demanded to know more as they drove home.

MARY DABBS: As soon as we got in the car, I got very ballistic on him.

CHRIS HANSEN: You were upset.

MARY: Oh, big time. I said, ‘What the hell's going on?’

At first, Woods told her nothing, but she wouldn't let it go.

MARY DABBS: He tried to avoid me. He tried to make me shut up.

CHRIS HANSEN: By doing what?

MARY DABBS: Telling me it was none of my business.

CHRIS HANSEN: None of your business?


CHRIS HANSEN: Did you buy into that?

MARY DABBS: No. I said it was very much my business and I wanted to know what was going on.

CHRIS HANSEN: What did he tell you?

MARY DABBS: He got very angry. He was pounding his fist into the dashboard. He was trying desperately to intimidate me to shut up.

CHRIS HANSEN: Did he hit you?


CHRIS HANSEN: How many times?

MARY DABBS: I can't remember.

CHRIS HANSEN: Over and over?

MARY DABBS: Yes. He shoved my head into the side of the car window.

CHRIS HANSEN: So, this man who was once so kind when you were recovering from breast cancer was now slamming your head into the car window?


CHRIS HANSEN: What was going through your mind at that time?

MARY DABBS: Terror. I was in shock. But I wouldn't let it go. We fought all the way home. We fought all the way into the house. We fought all the way into the middle of the night.

CHRIS HANSEN: For hours?

MARY DABBS: Long hours.

CHRIS HANSEN: Did he ever admit to you what he had done?


What exactly had David Woods done? And what did it have to do with the murder of Teresa French?

Part 4

After Mary relentlessly hounded her husband, David Woods, about a woman named Teresa French, he finally told her a story. It was a secret he had kept for more than four years. Back in 1993, said Woods, he'd met Tony French while Tony was living with their mutual friend, Oren "OJ" Johnson. Back then, Tony was very upset and angry – he wanted his wife killed because he felt the divorce was ruining him financially. Woods said he could help him out.

MARY DABBS: He originally was to hire a friend of his, Chad, that he knew from the Outlaws.

CHRIS HANSEN: The biker gang?

MARY DABBS: Yes. David chose him because he had no morals, was his way of describing him.

Mary says her husband told her for some reason Chad was not following through with the hit. Tony was getting nervous. He wanted his wife out of the way before their home was sold and the divorce became final. It was then, Mary says, her husband told her something that took her breath away – he'd become directly involved in the murder. His justification?

MARY DABBS: He thought he was helping God rid scum of the earth.

CHRIS HANSEN: Helping God rid scum of the earth?

MARY DABBS: Yes. He felt that way about all women, he said.

CHRIS HANSEN: How did you react to that?

MARY DABBS: I hated him.         

CHRIS HANSEN: Was this the David Woods you married?

MARY DABBS: I didn't know anymore. I didn't know who I married anymore.

Then... The story got even worse.

MARY DABBS: Deadline was coming around, and Chad wasn't getting the job done, and Tony was freaking out. And OJ was calling him. And so, he had told his boss at work that he was gonna take the car he had been working on and take it for a test drive. He said that he took one of the guns out of his toolbox, that had the silencer on it, and he took the car to Muncie. He had changed clothes into a suit and he went to her house.

CHRIS HANSEN: Posing as an inspector.

MARY DABBS: He said someone from the real estate company. He said he walked up to her door and that she was on the telephone and she told the person that she was on the phone with that she had to get off the phone, that someone from the real estate agency was there.

CHRIS HANSEN: Did he describe how he carried out the hit?

MARY DABBS: He just said that he killed her.

CHRIS HANSEN: Did he tell you what her last words were?

MARY DABBS: [crying] He said she looked up at him and begged and pleaded not to kill her, and said, ‘She cried. ‘My babies, my babies.’’

CHRIS HANSEN: And then he pulled the trigger?

MARY DABBS: Yes. [crying] To just see the look on his face, tellin' it. I lived that over and over and over.

CHRIS HANSEN: How would you describe the look on his face?

MARY DABBS: A man of evil.

CHRIS HANSEN: You had to be blown away to hear him make this confession to you.

MARY DABBS: It's just tough to relive those moments.

CHRIS HANSEN: Why do you think he confessed to you?

MARY DABBS: I wouldn't leave him alone.

CHRIS HANSEN: You just were on him?

MARY DABBS: I wouldn't stop. I don't know what drove me. I still can't decide what drove me so hard. Why I needed to know so much.

Mary finally got what she wanted – the truth – but there'd be serious collateral damage.

MARY DABBS: He had pulled out all the guns out from underneath the bed, laid 'em out across the bed. Pulled out all the boxes of ammo. He reached in the drawer; he had a shirt, had the logo of The Outlaws on it.  It had – picture of a heart – started out with a heartbeat, and then it goes to flat line and it says, ‘Snitches are a dying breed.’

CHRIS HANSEN: ‘Snitches are a dying breed.’

MARY DABBS: And he threw it on my face. He told me that's what was gonna happen to me.

CHRIS HANSEN: That he'd kill you?


CHRIS HANSEN: Just like he'd killed Teresa French?

MARY DABBS: Yeah. Repeatedly.

CHRIS HANSEN: Did you believe him?

MARY DABBS: Oh, yeah.

CHRIS HANSEN: Why didn't you just leave?

MARY DABBS: You're trapped, you can't.

Mary said she didn't leave because she felt Woods would harm her if she left.

CHRIS HANSEN: What would your husband do to drive home the point that you better not talk about the details you knew of the Teresa French murder?

MARY DABBS: He'd drive by her house.

CHRIS HANSEN: And say what?

MARY DABBS: He'd say, "That's what's gonna happen to you."

CHRIS HANSEN: And he would drive by there on purpose?


CHRIS HANSEN: That had to be terrifying.


If Woods' fear tactics weren't enough, things got even worse. Mary says she discovered illegal drugs in their car and flushed them down the toilet. Woods was enraged.

MARY DABBS: And when he found out about it, he came after me at work and he threatened to kill me. He asked me if I was ready to pay for what I'd done. I told him I wasn't gonna pay for drugs. And he said, ‘Yes, you are. You're gonna pay with your life.’

She says he was reaching for a weapon as they struggled in the parking lot.

MARY DABBS: And there was another person in the parking lot who had seen us, and asked me if I needed help.  And he hollered, ‘She doesn't need help.’ And it was at that moment he threw me. And I went sliding across the parking lot.

Mary was able to escape.  

CHRIS HANSEN: Had that stranger not come out?

MARY DABBS: I'd probably be dead.

It was then that she finally found the courage to go to police and tell them everything. Officers went to their home and found Woods' weapons, including an illegal machine gun. He was arrested, convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison on a weapons charge. But, detailed as Mary's account was, nothing happened in the Teresa French murder case.

RICHARD BRADSHAW: Even though it was a huge break, it was another piece of the puzzle. Prior to that, we really hadn't had much. She gave us a lot of information. But it, itself, wasn't enough to actually go to court.

CHRIS HANSEN: What did your instinct tell you at the time about David Woods?

RICHARD BRADSHAW: That he was the shooter. He was the hit man.

This was big news to them because, until Mary Dabbs came forward, they had never heard the name "David Woods." he had never been connected to the case... til now.

CHRIS HANSEN: Did you call him in?


Police wanted to do more investigating before tipping their hand to their main suspect and his associates.

RICHARD BRADSHAW: We feel – felt at the time that, if we went to him, all the rest of the potential witnesses would either never be cooperative or potentially disappear.

CHRIS HANSEN: Scatter like cockroaches.

RICHARD BRADSHAW: He didn't know what information she had given us. And we knew that the secrecy at that point was on our side. And we were gonna take that information and pursue it the quietest and best way we knew how to do it.

What Mary had told them was explosive, but it was very hard to substantiate. There were no other corroborating witnesses and no physical evidence linking Tony or Woods to the murder.

It was all so frustrating. A brutal murder of a young mother… but still no arrests.

Mary Dabbs divorced David Woods. Fearful for her life, she told virtually no one about the case for a decade.

Then Lt. Al Williams, who by now had joined the case, got a call from a local prosecutor that finally blew the case wide open.

AL WILLIAMS: And just kind of out of the blue, you get a call that, ‘Hey, we've got Oren Johnson and he's – he's thinking about talking to us. How do you feel about it?’ You knew, right then that this could be our big break, you know.

Soon a sting would be set up, with cameras rolling.

JEFF ARNOLD: At one point he looked dead center into the camera.

CHRIS HANSEN: Right into it.

JEFF ARNOLD: Right into it. ‘I know there's a camera in here,’ and looks dead center into it.

Would the murder case of Teresa French finally be solved?

Part 5

Fifteen years after the murder, and a decade after Mary Dabbs had gone to police, the killing of Teresa French remained unsolved. Police now believed that Teresa's husband, Tony French, had hired a man named David Woods to kill her. Woods was out of prison and had recently moved to California, when out of nowhere, the key link in the case started talking. Finally, in from the cold, came Oren "OJ" Johnson.

JEFF ARNOLD: It was beyond my wildest expectations because I had dealt with OJ in the past. He was a hard nut to crack, lemme tell ya.

Prosecutors Jeff Arnold and Eric Hoffman – as well as the police – were excited. Tony had lived with OJ during his divorce. He'd been questioned by police a number of times since 1993, but had never revealed anything. Now he was coming forward on his own, ready to tell all. And he knew a lot.

CHRIS HANSEN: What was OJ's motivation for wanting to talk to you guys?

AL WILLIAMS: I think there was a lot of things going on in his life. He was older now. He was retired from the factory, wasn't in that same environment. Wasn't around Tony French anymore. David Woods had recently moved to California – was not in the area anymore. OJ talked about his family and just carrying this burden for years. I just think he felt guilty about it and wanted it off his chest as much as anything. Wanted to move on with his life.

OJ also had recently been busted again for cocaine, which is what brought him in contact with the law. Prosecutors offered him a deal: If he told all he knew about Teresa’s killing, they wouldn't charge him with conspiracy to commit murder.

AL WILLIAMS: He told me he was there present when the whole idea was thought of – how Teresa French was gonna be murdered. He was present when Dave Woods and Tony French went into detail about how they could do it and get away with it, what they were gonna use, the ruse they were gonna use to get in the house and things like that. I mean he – you know, they had five or six different conversations in his presence, in his living room, about her death and how it was gonna play out.

CHRIS HANSEN: So he was there, OJ was there –

AL WILLIAMS: Absolutely.

CHRIS HANSEN: –at his house when David Woods and Tony French were discussing the details of how they were going to carry out this –

AL WILLIAMS: Absolutely. Several times.

CHRIS HANSEN: –this murder.

AL WILLIAMS: I mean, he's the one that actually introduced them. Everything he's telling us is accurate. You know, we can prove that through other witnesses, corroborating statements. We can prove that through evidence from the scene.

CHRIS HANSEN: Why kill her in the garage?

ERIC HOFFMAN: Tony insisted upon it. He told David that, ‘I don't want you to kill her in the house 'cause I'm gonna get that house back once she's dead. I want that house. I don't want my house shot up and I don't want blood on the floor.’

CHRIS HANSEN: So it was a matter of convenience.

ERIC HOFFMAN: And – correct.

CHRIS HANSEN: No muss, no fuss.

ERIC HOFFMAN: He told David to take her into the garage and kill her there.

It took 15 years to find out exactly how Teresa’s murder went down. Now it was finally being revealed. But prosecutors needed more... They wanted OJ to secretly record tony talking about the murder. OJ agreed.

CHRIS HANSEN: What's the ruse? What's the reason for getting together?

ERIC HOFFMAN: Oren Johnson was going to drop in on Tony outta the blue and tell him that David Woods was out in California and he had gotten into some trouble. And a mutual friend of theirs called Oren and told him that David Woods was telling everything about the French homicide back in Muncie. OJ was gonna tell Tony that we need to – to get our – in – in his words, ‘Get our ducks in order and get a story down so if the police come to us, we'll know what to say.’

CHRIS HANSEN: And how does Tony French react to this news?

ERIC HOFFMAN: He was shocked.

AL WILLIAMS: Wanted to know why he'd be running his mouth. Wanted to know why he'd be cooperating with the police. At one point in time, you know, he even made the statement, ‘What's he trying to do? Go to prison the rest of his life?’

TONY FRENCH: Does he want to go to prison for life or what?

OREN JOHNSON: I don't know what he wants to do.... But it's got me scared, man.

TONY FRENCH: Me too, yeah....Looks like it's gonna get bad, huh?


TONY FRENCH: For sure, huh?


The first taped rendezvous went well. In fact, there was talk of the payment for the hit – a total of $5,000 – but prosecutors wanted OJ to talk to Tony again, see if he could get Tony to make more incriminating statements. This time, they had the truck wired for sound and video, and had OJ meet Tony in this parking lot the very next morning.

ERIC HOFFMAN: We knew he was nervous. You could tell he was scared with what may happen.

AL WILLIAMS: So we didn't want him to contact Dave Woods. And we didn't know at that time if they talked to each other.

CHRIS HANSEN: So you have to move fast.


CHRIS HANSEN: Before he had a chance to talk to David Woods.

But now, Tony was on edge, suspicious – and started accusing OJ of setting him up. He anxiously searched the truck for wires and a camera. And it got very intense.

TONY FRENCH: What are you doing to me, OJ?

OREN JOHNSON: I ain't doing nothing to you, man. I'm just telling you what's going on.

TONY FRENCH: You're setting me up.

AL WILLIAMS: It was pretty intense watching the recording as it's going on. I remember us sitting there with guns in our lap.

Part 6

It was March 2008, nearly 15 years after the murder of Teresa French. Oren "OJ" Johnson was in a truck, wired for sound and video. He was meeting with Tony French, a second time in two days, trying to get him to talk more about his wife Teresa’s murder. The day before, he was surprised to be contacted by OJ. Today he was suspicious.

AL WILLIAMS: He was looking in the vehicle for a wire at one point in time. OJ pulled his coat off just to show him he didn't have any –

CHRIS HANSEN: –offers to take his –

AL WILLIAMS: –on him.

CHRIS HANSEN: –his underwear off.

AL WILLIAMS: Right. This – that was pretty much the conversation on and on. ‘Are you wearing a wire? Are you trying to set me up? What are you doing this to me?’ Things like that.

TONY FRENCH: You ain't setting me up, are you?


TONY FRENCH: You wearing a wire?

OREN JOHNSON: Hell, no, I ain't wearing no f------ wire. I don't do wires, brother. Here, I'll take my underwear off if you want. No, I don't do wires, man. No, uh-uh.

CHRIS HANSEN: And what are you thinking?

AL WILLIAMS: It was pretty intense. I'm sitting probably 75 yards away watching the recording as it's going on. I actually remember telling the other officer, ‘If this starts to really go bad, your job is to get us across the street,’ and I remember us sitting there with guns in our lap.

JEFF ARNOLD: At one point he looked dead center into the camera –

TONY FRENCH: Is there a camera in here somewhere?


TONY FRENCH: Something is up.

JEFF ARNOLD: ‘I know there's a camera in here,’ and looks dead center into it. When we were done, I asked Eric, I said, ‘Did anybody else think that was just a little intense?’ And Eric said, ‘I thought I was gonna get sick.’ And my stomach was absolutely a knot.

It ended up being worth all the acid build-up and chain-smoking. They didn't get a full-out confession... But they caught Tony in a web of lies that they thought was incriminating and put him at the center of his wife's murder.

TONY FRENCH: I want you to stay the f--- away from me. I don't ever want to see you, hear you again. As far as I know, we ain't never even spoke. I ain't see you since you retired. I don't know f------ Dave Woods, never seen him, never met him a day in my life.

OREN JOHNSON: That's cool...

TONY FRENCH: You better hope s--- don't go down. All I've got to say.

AL WILLIAMS: He's trying to get his story together with OJ. ‘You make sure you tell them I don't know Dave Woods. Never met him. And we haven't talked.’ I think the one line that is the topper of all when he tells OJ, ‘Unless there's something in this vehicle to prove otherwise, that's our story and we're sticking to it.’


OREN JOHNSON: Yeah, I don't know anything either.

TONY FRENCH: Stick to it.

Eight days later, Tony French was arrested in Muncie, David Woods in California.

For years, Mary Dabbs had concluded – like so many others – that the men had gotten away with murder. But then investigators called her in to tell her the news.

MARY DABBS: I was a basket case, after all those years, for it to surface.

CHRIS HANSEN: Was there a day that went by where you didn't think about the murder of Teresa French?

MARY DABBS: Never. I never had a moment's – not even a moment's peace.

Prosecutors say Mary was a crucial and compelling witness for the state, even though she was terrified to face her ex-husband in court.

MARY DABBS: The hardest thing I've had to do.

Based on Mary’s testimony, as well as that of OJ and others, both men were convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Tony French, in late 2008, was sentenced to 80 years in prison; David Woods, in 2009, received a sentence of 100 years. Both filed appeals. Woods' is pending. French lost his, but he has a new attorney who's trying to find another way to get him a new trial.

Tony's current lawyer, Jeff Lockwood, thinks the police unfairly focused on him all along, ignoring other possible suspects, including OJ, who, he says, was out to save his own skin.

CHRIS HANSEN: Can you look me in the eye and tell me that you truly believe Tony French should be walking the streets of Muncie, Indiana?

JEFF LOCKWOOD: Yes, sir. Yes, sir, I can.

CHRIS HANSEN: In spite of all that testimony? In spite of abusing his wife?

JEFF LOCKWOOD: I am not overly impressed with that testimony. If you don't have Oren Johnson, what proof do you have that Tony French killed anybody?

But to those close to Teresa, there was never any doubt Tony was behind the murder. It took patience, hard work and a lot of courage... Especially from Mary Dabbs, a woman who herself had been in an abusive marriage and risked her life for a woman she'd never met. To this day, she can't go past the French home without being overwhelmed. Teresa's friends and sister say they're just thankful the truth finally came out.

LANA NANNIE: Our prayers had been answered.

JENNIFER NYE: A million pounds had been lifted from my chest. And my mother finally knew what happened to her baby. Such a peaceful feeling.

© 2013  Reprints

Discuss: Do you agree with Tony French's attorney that he belongs back on the street? What do you think of Oren "OJ" Johnson's actions?

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