On December 10, 2003, the Whitaker family was celebrating the college graduation of their eldest son, Thomas Bartlett—known as “Bart,” with dinner at a local seafood restaurant. After the dinner ended, the family returned to their home in a wealthy Houston suburb to continue the celebration. When they arrived, Bart remained outside to call his girlfriend while his mother, Trish, his father, Kent, and his brother, Kevin, all went to the front door. Behind the door was an intruder wielding Kevin’s gun, and within seconds the family was ambushed. Only two of the Whitakers would survive…and one was responsible for the shooting.
Bart had a troubled high school experience, which was why his family was so thrilled that he made it to college graduation. A series of school robberies got him kicked out of high school, and after that a psychiatrist diagnosed him with delusional paranoid disorder.
Kent had expressed how excited he and Trish were to attend Bart’s graduation that next Saturday, and how proud they were of their son. But what the Whitakers didn’t know was that Bart wasn’t going to graduate at all. He had dropped out of Sam Houston State University as a freshman, and had been lying to his family about being a student there for three years. Bart needed a way to ensure his family didn't attend that graduation.
But Bart also couldn’t have the blood of his family on his own hands. So he hired a hitman to kill his parents and brother, and to non-fatally injure him. He also paid someone to drive the getaway car for the assailant, while Bart would stay on the scene and pretend as though he had fought the intruder off himself. He told the hitman where Kevin kept his gun and asked him to stage a robbery.
Miraculously, after being shot in the shoulder, Kent Whitaker survived his attack—something that Bart hadn’t anticipated. He told the police that he would forgive the man who shot his family, not realizing that the man behind it all was his own son.
After a tip came in from Bart’s high school friend claiming that Bart had plotted to kill his family a few years before, the police zeroed in on him as the mastermind behind the attack. He fled to Mexico after learning that he was a suspect, assumed a new identity, and lived under the radar for over a year before he was caught and was extradited back to the United States.
Corey Mitchell’s true crime book, Savage Son, tells the tragic story of the Whitaker family murders. From how the plan was hatched to Bart’s trial, sentence, and the stunning new development in the case, this book provides all the details.
Read on for an excerpt of Savage Son and then download the book.
December 10, 2003, 8:18 P.M.
Heron Way—Sugar Lakes Subdivision
Sugar Land, Texas
Directly next door to the Whitakers’ home on the east side, their relatively new neighbor, Clifton “Cliff” Stanley, sat in his recliner in his family’s living room. He was having a relaxing evening watching television.
Cliff was very fond of his new neighbors. He and his wife, Darlene, had moved into the home just six months earlier. The couple had two sons, Brandon and Dane, who had gone off to college.
Cliff’s job as a vice president of a regional insurance marketing company was quite demanding and kept him very busy. Thus, he enjoyed the little time he was able to spend with Kent and Tricia Whitaker. Cliff met Tricia the day he and his wife had moved in. He described her as “just a very, very sweet person.”
The Stanleys and Whitakers developed a quick, pleasant friendship. They went out to lunch together, had dinner a few times, and even made it out to the theater once on a double date. Cliff Stanley worked out of his home, so he became closer to Tricia, who was a stay-at-home mother at the time. She had previously taught at nearby Lakeview Elementary School and was acting as a volunteer there on occasion. At night, when Kent would return home from his job at the Bartlett Construction Company, the couples would “congregate out in the front yard” and catch up on the day’s events.
Cliff Stanley knew the Whitakers were in for a big weekend. Their oldest son, Bart, whom he had never met, since Bart lived up north in Willis, Texas, was about to graduate on Saturday. Stanley could tell that Tricia was very excited and happy about the impending ceremony. “She was very hopeful, very upbeat and optimistic for [Bart’s] future.”
Cliff and Darlene sat downstairs in the back of their comfortable home, on this particular night. The couple relaxed and watched television. They were also excited to have their eldest son, Brandon, home from college for the holidays. Their son had been upstairs in his room when he peeked in on his parents in the living room.
“Was that on the TV?” Brandon asked his parents.
“What?” Cliff asked his son.
“I heard yelling and shooting,” Brandon stated.
The Stanleys were watching a family show. “No, it wasn’t on this TV,” Cliff replied.
Brandon walked down the steps and insisted, “Then it’s outside. Something’s going on outside. I swear I heard a shooting outside.”
Cliff and Darlene looked at one another quizzically. Cliff rose up to take a look. He and Brandon headed for the front door to see if something was going on.
When he walked out of his home, Cliff first looked over in the direction of the Whitakers’ house. It was natural instinct. Look toward those you are closest with in hopes that everything is fine with them. Unfortunately, everything was far from fine at the Whitaker household.
Cliff spotted Kent Whitaker sprawled out on the concrete front porch next door. He couldn’t tell whether he was dead or alive. Kent’s head was pointing back toward the Stanley house in an awkward position. Suddenly Cliff saw his friend lurch sideways and mutter something.
“I’m bleeding…,” Kent Whitaker pitifully mewled. His voice was barely audible.
“Kent,” Cliff called out to his friend. “Are you okay?”
“I’m bleeding, Cliff,” Kent cried out much louder. “Help!”
Cliff immediately headed in the direction of Kent Whitaker, his own safety not crossing his mind. The thought that a man with a gun might still be on the premises did not enter into his consciousness. He simply understood that his friend was in trouble and needed his help.
Cliff made his way toward Kent. As he came upon him, Cliff looked up and saw Tricia directly in front of the entryway to the house, about six feet away from Kent. She was in a kneeling position with her head on the front porch, near the slight step leading into the house. Her legs and lower body were pointed outward toward the street.
Brandon Stanley followed directly behind his father. When Cliff witnessed the carnage before him, he yelled back at his son, “Go back inside and call 911! Now!” Brandon took off back to the house to make the call.
Cliff turned his attention back to the bleeding Whitaker parents. He looked at Kent and asked, “What happened?”
Kent looked at his friend with pleading eyes and reiterated, “I’m bleeding, Cliff.”
“Okay, buddy. Just hang in there. Let me see what I can do,” Cliff attempted to calm his neighbor.
Cliff hustled back to his house, stormed inside, and began yelling to Brandon, “I need something to stop the bleeding! Bring me something so we can bandage Kent up!” He waited as long as he could, but his son never came out with anything to staunch the flow of blood.
Cliff tore out of his house and returned to the Whitakers. He ripped off his T-shirt and placed it on Kent’s left shoulder. “Kent, hold on to this. It will keep the blood from rushing out too fast,” he ordered. He could tell by the looks of Tricia that she needed his help much more than Kent. “Just hold on tight.”
Cliff edged forward, closer to Tricia. She was moaning in pain, but still conscious. “What happened?” he asked her.
Tricia Whitaker looked up at him, pale and bedraggled, and said, “Someone shot us. You need to go. He could still be here.” She began to moan again—only this time, it seemed more drawn out and painful than before. Cliff could sense that she was going downhill rapidly. Unfortunately, he was afraid to move her body in case her blood had already started to clot up; he didn’t want to break up the clots and cause her to bleed even more.
Instead, Cliff began to pray. Tricia Whitaker continued to moan in agony. He looked up from Tricia into the house, where he spotted someone who he thought was Kevin Whitaker. He always thought a lot of the youngest son who had returned from his first semester in college at Texas A&M University. Cliff thought Kevin was “a special kid.”
It was difficult to tell if it was actually Kevin or Bart, since it was dark inside the house. There was a light on in the foyer, which provided him with his only illumination. Cliff was unsure how that person was doing; that is, until he heard a pitiful sound emanating from the victim. Cliff would later describe it as a “death rattle.” It was marked by “very ragged moaning.” Cliff knew that the boy, whom he could finally make out as Kevin, was breathing his final breaths.
Cliff was unable to get to Kevin because Tricia was blocking the entrance to the front door. Besides, he could tell that Kevin was very close to dead. Cliff bent his head and said a silent prayer for Kevin.
The nineteen-year-old son of Tricia and Kent Whitaker stopped breathing.
Cliff knew he needed to get assistance for Kent and Tricia. He quickly moved back and leaned over Kent to see how he could help. He took over holding the bloody T-shirt used as a bandage and held it firmly in place. He then heard the front door to his house open and saw his wife, Darlene, stick her head outside.
“Clifton, get out of there!” she shouted frantically. “The killers might still be inside their house!” She was frightened to tears and was determined that her husband not join the list of fatalities.
Cliff Stanley had not cared about the possibility of a shooter or shooters still hiding out inside the Whitaker home. Regardless, he continued holding the temporary bandage on Kent’s gushing wound.
Kent then looked up at his neighbor and said, “Cliff, they really could be inside there. I don’t want you getting shot.”
Cliff snapped to and realized that both his wife and Kent were right. He needed to get the hell out of there. “But instead of fleeing, Cliff decided he needed some protection of his own. He went to get his shotgun.
“I’ll be right back, Kent.”
Cliff darted up from his wounded neighbor and bolted back toward his home. He went inside, determined to find his weapon, which he did. He began to load the shotgun with bullets when his wife stepped in front of him. She was scared.
“If they pull up,” she said in reference to police officers, “and they see you with that shotgun, they’ll probably shoot you, too. They might think you are the one who shot the Whitakers.”
Cliff knew his wife was right. He felt so frustrated. It seemed as if there was nothing he could do for his friends. He decided it was best to put down his own weapon; however, he knew he had to do something. Instead, he returned back to the Whitakers’ front porch and attempted to comfort Kent.
Cliff then heard the screech of police sirens.
The whole scenario took less than ten minutes.
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Featured image of Kevin, Tricia, and Bart enjoy food and laughs at Pappadeaux Seafood Restaurant to celebrate Bart’s impending college graduation: Kent Whitaker