Who Killed Jim and Tina?
A double homicide in Kyle, Texas, goes unsolved
Shortly after 8pm on Thursday, June 25, Kyle Police responding to a check-welfare call at 810 S. Sledge St. found two bodies in the home. Jim Wright, 45, lay out in the hallway of the home he rented. Tina Combs, 44, who had traveled to Kyle from her home in Arlington, was in the master bedroom down the hall.
Throughout the summer, little information about the murders was forthcoming. In early September, the city issued a press release indicating that an investigation was ongoing. On Sept. 17, the Hays Free Press reported that the official autopsy – released by Hays County Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Beth Smith – indicated that Tina was killed by gunshot and stab wounds. Jim had died instantly from a bullet to the head.
A December Freedom of Information Act request for autopsy documents was denied; an opinion from a city attorney indicated that, as KPD's investigation was "very active," KPD would decline to provide the Chronicle with a corresponding police report. The department did provide a one-sheet report summary of case details. It listed two suspects: Larry Simon and Ryan Kidd. Midway through January, a spokesperson for the department confirmed to the Chronicle that the Department of Public Safety and "other law enforcement agencies" were assisting KPD detectives. (The U.S. Marshals Service denied any involvement, and the FBI declined to comment.) On Feb. 9, a spokesman for DPS told the Chronicle: "Evidence in this case has been submitted on multiple occasions from July 2015 through January 2016. Some analysis has been completed, but there is evidence still being processed in this case."
"We work on that [case] almost daily," Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett told the Press in January. "Weekly, we are making progress or some step forward."
Eight months after the murders, however, friends and family of the deceased tell the Chronicle that discussions with police have been perfunctory. They say the identities of certain relevant figures still catch investigators by surprise. Many have lost faith in KPD, and have begun to question the capabilities of the small department. Those same individuals acknowledge the case's inherent difficulties: Jim and Tina weren't old friends. In fact, they barely knew each other. Aside from isolated instances, the two never spoke to the friends and family of one another. Whoever killed the two could not have conceivably planned to kill them both at the same time. This makes the mystery of who killed Jim and Tina that much more difficult to solve.
"He'd Give You the Shirt Off His Back"
Jim Wright was the youngest of four children born and raised in Indiana. He moved to Austin in 2002, then spent 12 years bopping around the city and surrounding suburbs before settling down in Kyle. There, as everywhere, he made friends almost immediately. If there was a man to call gregarious, said friends and family, you can bet it was Jim Wright.
"He's the kind of guy who takes your call at 2am when he's got to be up at 5," recounted his childhood friend, Tim Eggert, who still lives in Indiana. "Your wife's car's broken down on her way home from work, so he gets out of bed to pick her up. Drives 25 miles to your house to drop her off, then calls a tow truck to bring her car back to his house. He'll fix the car himself and not accept a dime."
Jim never married. He worked construction, rode a Harley, and liked to stay at the bar drinking beer until its close. His natural state was making friends with new people. His three-bedroom house a mile from Kyle's town center routinely hosted guests.
"A freakin' carny circus," said Michael Scheiern, a longtime friend and colleague who helped persuade Jim to move to Kyle. "He's one of those guys: Some oddball he'd meet at a bar would be like, 'Oh, I don't have a place to stay,' and he'd tell them that he's got a spare bedroom. Not just figuratively but literally, he'd give you the shirt off of his back."
Such conviviality would be the perfect complement to Tina Combs, who at the time of her death was out of work, just divorced, and in need of some good fortune. Tina's mother, cousin, eldest daughter, and first ex-husband each spoke to the warmth and resilience she would demonstrate throughout her trials.
She built a family tree just like a live oak: seven kids, two husbands, a granddaughter, and one ex-fiancé. All her cousins were called sisters, all her boys were nicknamed "bub." Her first husband, Randy Hall, still speaks highly of the man for whom she left him, and remembers fondly their time co-coaching his kids in sports.
"We put the funk in dysfunctional," Tina wrote to a Facebook friend just weeks before her murder. "But we put the fun in it, too."
Tina was 18 when she married Randy, a childhood friend of her older brother. By then, they had one child, Mitchell. Their first daughter, Miranda, came along in 1994. Six years later, Tina and Randy would have their second son, Mason, then another daughter, Madison. They built a good, happy life for each other, Randy and Miranda both report: big house, big family, big home-cooked meals every night.
Tina and Randy broke up in 2002 after Tina began a relationship with a co-worker, Jeremy Adams, at Delphi Automotive, where she'd begun working in the factory. It was an ugly divorce between her and Randy, but the two eventually reconciled and forged a strong relationship. "I just want to remind you," Randy wrote to the Chronicle one night recently, "that when Tina and I were married she was the mom [who] took extremely good care of the kids, taking and teaching them in Bible study ... as well as being a class mom. She was awesome. I've got pictures I can send in which you can see the innocence and the devotion."
In 2004, Tina took a transfer from Delphi to General Motors, and with it a move from Indiana to Mansfield, Texas. She moved her four children and Adams, whom she'd made plans to marry. Together they had a son, Meryck, Tina's fifth, but soon after Meryck's birth they split. A sporadic methamphetamine user most her life, Tina slipped into deeper dependence in 2007. Adams went home to Indiana, taking Meryck. Mitch moved out to a friend's house. Mason and Madison went to live with Randy. Miranda, then 13, stayed with her mom.
Tina rented a four-bedroom house in Burleson and fixed it to her liking. In 2008, she started dating Ryan Kidd, who also worked at General Motors. Kidd moved into Tina's house and the two had a child together, Mayleigh. Tina quit her job. (Miranda, at this point in her late teens and with a child of her own, moved to Ft. Worth with her boyfriend.) Kidd bought the home they rented in Nov. 2009. Two years later, the two had a son, Makane. They were married in a courthouse on Feb. 15, 2013.
Miranda and Tina's mother Linda Inlow both report that in Jan. 2014, during a family visit to Indiana, Kidd threw Mayleigh and Makane into his car and drove back to Texas, leaving Tina stranded in a motel room. Johnson County records show he filed for divorce when she returned. The two reconciled during mediation, but by the summer their marriage was over. That summer, Miranda says, while Tina was back in Indiana for her first son's wedding, Kidd went AWOL on her and refused to return her calls. Miranda said Kidd sought divorce again when Tina got back. On Sept. 22, Tina filed the necessary paperwork to make that happen.
Tina split time after the break between Miranda's home and Skeeter's, a trusted friend she'd known since 2007. She met Eric Spaulding in Nov. 2014 and moved into his house in Arlington the following month. A judge determined her separation from Kidd final May 18, 2015. They each got a car. Kidd got to keep the house. And the kids, ages 6 and 4, would split time evenly between them. Tina, however, did not feel as though Kidd was capable of properly caring for their children. In the weeks before her death, Tina texted family members about opening conversations with Child Protective Services to get full custody.
Tina and Jim would have never met had it not been for their ties to Indiana. Though the two didn't know each other as children, they did share one strong connection: Kriste Upton, Tina's cousin, was Jim's neighbor growing up. In early June, Upton put a post on Facebook asking if anybody knew someone who bred blue heelers. Tina chimed in about looking in Texas. That afternoon, Jim seconded her suggestion. The two bonded over shared connections and mutual disdain for Texan drivers before moving their conversation to another medium.
It's not clear whether Jim and Tina ever met in person until the day they were murdered. Friends and family of both of them spoke to their shared penchant for privacy. Tina, while staying with Skeeter, would regularly go absent without announcement. "She liked to run at night," he said. "Oftentimes she'd get back at 3 or 4 [in the morning]." Jim, who answered to no one, kept friends even those closest to him would never meet. "I wouldn't call it a dark side," offered Eggert. "He just wasn't so free about everything in his life."
A few people suggested that the two may have met for lunch one day in Dallas-Ft. Worth, though no hard details have emerged of such a visit. Colleagues have said Jim made a trip to Dallas one day mid-June to return some tools and collect a check from Greenleaf Construction. (The company had hired him to build the Twisted Root Burger building on Burnet Road.) They speculate that Jim and Tina may have had lunch there.
Whether that meeting occurred, there is no evidence that Tina ever spoke to anyone about Jim – no mention of her new friend, or the coincidence of knowing an Indiana native living in Texas. To his friends, Jim made at least three references to Tina by name, and other, more vague references to a friend living in Dallas-Ft. Worth. One night in mid-June, he texted a friend from San Marcos to tell him that he was spending the night in Lakeway at a house that he was renovating. Jim had been on the phone with Tina into the late hours and did not want to make the long drive home.
On Friday, June 19, a colleague says Jim told him that Tina was planning a trip to visit, and that the two may have some help Monday laying some hardwood flooring. Jim's San Marcos friend says Jim told him Sunday, June 21, that Tina had delayed her visit. In the weeks before she died, Tina had grown increasingly wary of what she perceived as Kidd's surveillance of her. Miranda passed along texts her mother sent her that said she feared she was being watched wherever she went; she would send Miranda pictures she said were of the Ford Mustang Kidd's new girlfriend Elissa Crary owned, driving past her own new boyfriend Spaulding's house. (The Chronicle was unable to make contact with Crary by phone or email.)
Jim spent the Sunday before he died at various bars around the area, beginning at Zelicks in San Marcos. There, he told his friend that Tina was hesitant about visiting. He also mentioned a guy he'd met through construction jobs, Larry Simon, who had been staying with him and fallen delinquent on his rent. Simon was three years removed from a 14-year stay in Louisiana custody after being convicted on two counts of simple burglary and one count of aggravated battery, according to a spokesperson from Louisiana's Department of Corrections. (A source later elaborated to say that Simon "beat the pulp" out of a bar patron after deciding the patron had moved too close to Simon's wife.) He was released to Texas on supervision to live with his wife, who moved to Kyle. They reportedly had a fight, however, and he took temporary residence at Jim's place. Tired of seeing Simon spend money on drinks and not able to pay his rent, Jim had begun talking to friends and family about having a come-to-Jesus moment with his tenant.
Interviews the Chronicle has pieced together lay out Jim's activity that Sunday evening. From Zelicks, Jim drove to Kyle and stopped by the Dark Horse Lodge and Down South Railhouse. He drove back to San Marcos around 2am to meet a bartender from the Dark Horse, eventually making his way to Kyle before sunrise. Still up on Monday morning at 6am, he told his niece Rachael via telephone that he had to catch a nap: At 8am, he was meeting Tina at the Casa Maria restaurant off I-35. Tina arrived at the restaurant a few minutes after 8. They ate breakfast, sent three selfies to Jim's friend, paid the check, and went back to Jim's house.
Miranda Hall says that she talked on the phone with her mother just a few minutes before noon. Tina said she had to go and would call her back, but Miranda received no call.
Jim, who rarely went an hour without returning phone calls from his family, did not respond to any calls made by family members to his phone after breakfast.
Jim didn't go to work the Monday that he died because the hardwood floors hadn't shown up. A subcontractor said that Jim called him before breakfast to say he would provide an update around lunch, but Jim never made that second call. The same subcontractor said he called Jim "four or five times" Monday afternoon and another time on Tuesday before stopping by his house on Wednesday. Jim's red Chevy Avalanche was in the driveway, alongside Tina's white Mercedes-Benz ML350.
The subcontractor said he noticed the curtains were drawn in every window of the house – something he hadn't seen before. The front and back doors were both locked. That, too, was uncharacteristic for a man who kept his house open at all hours. The subcontractor checked the garage; the door inside it to the house was also locked. On the dashboard of Jim's truck sat the JNA Construction checkbook for his contracting business. A key usually left in a "wrought iron deal" outside Jim's house was also missing from its spot.
The subcontractor called Kyle Police asking if an officer could be sent out to Jim's house to conduct a welfare check. He says an officer called his house later that day to say that KPD found a receipt from Casa Maria out front but could not break down a door and check inside the house until someone from Jim's family made a request.
A friend and colleague, Michael Scheiern, says he went to Jim's house Thursday morning to get a ladder Jim had borrowed. He noticed the blinds were drawn as well, and Tina's Mercedes parked outside, but thought nothing of it at the time. Scheiern knew Jim had a light workload that week, and thought maybe he'd left town.
Back in Indiana, Jim's family was getting nervous. His sister, Sheri Byall, says she had been calling him since Monday. She left a voicemail that morning. Tried calling him after lunch; his inbox was full. When she tried a third time early that evening, she says, his mailbox had been emptied.
Chuck Wright Jr., Jim's older brother, says he made a number of calls to his brother early that week. He tried Monday night, then Tuesday throughout the day. On Wednesday, Chuck called his father and said he couldn't get in touch with Jim. His phone's mailbox was full again. On Thursday evening, Jim's father said he called the Hays County Sheriff's Office. They patched him through to KPD.
A few minutes after 8pm, Brock Chapman, the 18-year-old son of Jim's friend Lisa, says he was driving home from work when he saw a police car in Jim's driveway. He got home and told his mother before heading back out to get a milkshake. Chapman again drove his car past Jim's house on his way home. This time, he saw more officers, and what looked to him to be a coroner. He saw Larry Simon out front; he was leaning against the tailgate of his Ford Ranger. Chapman says Simon told him he did not know what was happening and was not allowed inside to get his stuff. A police officer approached Chapman's car and told him to keep moving.
Jim's father says he called KPD at 10:30pm hoping for an update. At half past midnight, he called again. At 4:30am, while sitting in his living room with his wife Carylyn, he saw the headlights of a car make its way up his driveway. The driver was a friend, a deputy of the local sheriff. He told Jim's father to call Kyle Police, who told him his son was dead.
Miranda Hall said that she didn't start to worry about her mother's absence until that Monday night, when she realized that Tina had never called her back. On Wednesday, she drove to Tina's boyfriend Spaulding's house and left a note outside his door asking him to call her when he got home from work. Miranda says she learned through Spaulding that night that he and Tina got into a fight on Sunday night over how he didn't like it when she brought her young children to his house. Spaulding told her, Hall said, that Tina grabbed her belongings, threw them into her Mercedes, and left. Spaulding did not return multiple phone calls and texts from the Chronicle.
That Friday morning at 6am, Ryan Kidd placed a call to Miranda's boyfriend's phone. That's when Miranda learned her mother was dead.
"She Fought for Her Life"
Kyle is a small town of roughly 32,000 that hardly ever deals with murder, much less one that doesn't lead to a quick arrest. That's a point of pride for Chief Barnett. In a press release issued Sept. 11, he stated, "Other than this specific case, we do not have any unsolved (suspect identified) homicides during my tenure as Chief of Police." (Barnett took office May 2011. He did not mention that there have been only two other murders within city limits during that time.)
In the aftermath of the murders, KPD remained mum on crime scene specifics, but the families gathered preliminary details from conversations with one another in the days following and at funerals. Jim was cremated (in addition to the gunshot, he had suffered post-mortem injuries), but Tina's body had a viewing. A scarf was tied around her neck to conceal knife wounds. Miranda Hall said her mother's hands were swollen; a few fingernails had been broken.
"My mom was feisty," she says. "She fought for her life."
On Aug. 2, members of Jim's family drove to Kyle from Indiana to take stock of his possessions. They spent the weekend at the house. Jim's parents stayed in one guest room, his niece slept on a couch, and Chuck Jr. lay out a box spring and mattress by the front door for himself.
"They'd already gone in and knocked the walls out of the bedroom," he remembered. "The front wall was completely torn off – drywall down to the stud. The floor through the whole house was torn out. Where my brother was laying at, there was a 4-by-8 sheet of plywood laying there. They took everything in his bedroom, wrapped it up into bags, and deemed it hazardous. They threw everything in his room away."
Chuck also alleged that a number of Jim's personal items were unaccounted for. In addition to Jim's phone, which has not been found, Chuck says that KPD has been unable to find one of Jim's guns. (Jim owned "at least six" firearms, according to Tim Eggert.) KPD declined to comment on any specifics concerning the crime scene.
Jim's family spoke individually with police and answered questions as best they could. Miranda Hall had driven down from DFW that same August weekend to collect her mother's car and belongings. She briefly conversed with Jim's family outside the house just as the Wrights prepared to leave.
By mid-August when a summary incident report was made public, police had identified Kidd and Simon as initial suspects. Both families said that they have not been made aware of the summary document. KPD declined request for comment from the Chronicle concerning the status of either suspect.
"Too Much of a Coincidence"
Jim's friends around Kyle often wonder where Simon spent his time immediately after the murders. He'd been living at Jim's place for weeks, they said, yet left no evidence or implication that he'd returned to the house at any point between Monday and Thursday night when police showed up. Simon has since been seen sparingly around Kyle. He also disconnected his listed phone number. After the Chronicle used Facebook to try to reach him, he deleted his account.
Since the murders, Simon has been arrested three times: twice in Hays County and once in Travis. On Oct. 18, 2015, he was picked up for a DWI and spent 10 days in Hays County Jail. On Nov. 19, he was arrested and sent to Travis County Jail for 15 days after trying to steal clothing and two watches from a JCPenney. (Simon pleaded no contest to the charges.) On Jan. 5, he was picked up on a warrant and spent 20 more days in Hays County. A probable cause affidavit related to the arrest indicates that he's been charged with assault causing bodily injury, a Class A misdemeanor.
Simon currently awaits trial on those charges in Hays County. Back in Kyle, those who know him doubt his direct involvement in Jim and Tina's murders.
"It's not like Larry to use a gun," speculated one individual who wished to remain anonymous. "He was a very physically powerful individual. He was temperamental. If he were the person who would have perpetrated the crime, he probably would have beaten and stabbed them to death."
Meanwhile Kidd, Miranda Hall reports, provided an alibi that checked out with KPD. However, after learning of the acrimonious nature of Kidd's and Tina's divorce, Jim's friends and members of both families still believe Kidd was involved. Even if he didn't do it, they each separately speculate, perhaps he knows who did.
"It's just too much of a coincidence," said one friend, noting Jim's Sunday mention of Tina's hesitation in visiting Kyle. "Just the fact that she came down here."
Many divorces are messy, but there's something particularly unsettling about the end of Kidd's and Tina's marriage. There was the incident in which she was left in Indiana, as well as the times when Tina texted Miranda to say she felt she was being followed. In late May she thought her phone was being used remotely by someone else. She texted Miranda: "There were messages to people that I did not write." Many of those in Tina's family believe that Kidd figured out how to track her whereabouts through her iPhone.
Selina McManus, who works at the Family Law Firm of Donna J. Smiedt, which represented Tina in her divorce, told the Chronicle that the office called KPD to offer Kidd as a potential suspect as soon as it learned of Tina's death. McManus called Kidd "vindictive" and accused him of fabricating evidence during custody hearings. She says he's "one of the worst people we've ever dealt with."
Kidd has been cagey with Miranda and her friends since Tina's death. He bought a house in Alvarado, Texas, on Aug. 11. On Sept. 30, he sold the one in Burleson to RAM Equities Group, a "residential redevelopment company" that markets its ability to purchase "problem properties." Earlier that month, Hall says, he delivered Tina's death certificate to Chase bank and withdrew her remaining balance. He's since remarried – to a woman who is not Crary – and changed his phone number. The public portion of his Facebook profile shows no updates between July 2012 and Nov. 2015.
Hall's friends have seen Kidd recently: in November at a Chick-fil-A and around Christmas at the mall's ice rink. In late January, when Miranda Hall was at the mall to see a movie with her daughter, she stopped by the ice rink and saw Kidd skating with his stepdaughter. In early February, a close friend of Hall's said she saw Kidd with his new family at the restaurant where she works. She stopped by their table, and tried to say hello to Makane and Mayleigh. She said Kidd acted as if they'd never met. Hall says Kidd has not let her visit at any point with her two half-siblings.
Kidd sounded anxious and off-guard when reached by the Chronicle in late January on his new number.
Austin Chronicle: I'm calling about the death of your ex-wife. Is that something you can talk about?
Ryan Kidd: Um, not really. I mean, uh, you know that's, uh – that, uh – I wouldn't like to talk about it really, so...
AC: Is there an attorney who can talk about it?
RK: That's, uh – not sure what you're looking for here. I don't feel comfortable. I'm going to have to let you go.
Kriste Upton still carries a sense of guilt for bringing Jim and Tina together.
"This has been a nightmare," she said in late November. "Life changing, a little. Jim and Tina were two of the most kind-hearted [people]. We all have ghosts in our closet, but they were just two really kind people."
She remains friends with Jim's family and still communicates with members of Tina's family, trying to pick up pieces of information about the case as best she can. KPD remains out of touch with the Wright family, Jim's father reports, and only occasionally does Miranda get phone calls from the investigating detective or Chief Barnett. In early February, she called the Chronicle confounded about how Barnett seemed surprised to hear her mention Crary's name.
"When the Police Chief doesn't know the name of the woman one of your suspects was with after his divorce from someone who's been murdered, that's a problem," insisted Miranda's father, Randy, in a conversation later that evening.
Jim's friends and family occasionally speak via telephone with Miranda; his friends and family back home in Indiana communicate regularly with the friends he made in Texas. They all wonder: Who would have the heart to kill a stranger? If someone wanted to murder Jim, why wait until Tina's Mercedes sat in his driveway? And if it was Tina who had been targeted, why did Jim have to get caught in the crosshairs?
Two people who barely knew each other spent more time together dead than alive. Eight months later, those closest to them still have no clue what happened that day in Kyle.