One afternoon, 17-year-old Christine Paolilla returned home from school, where she enthusiastically praised her two new friends. Christine's mother, aware of her daughter's social struggles, was ecstatic. Not long after, Christine would shoot and kill these very same girls—Tiffany Rowell and Rachael Koloroutis—at point blank range.
But that was still to come. In that moment, Christine was talking to her mother, unusually happy about her life. Her childhood had been marked by tragedy—the loss of her father to a freak accident, her mother to drug addiction, and her hair to a condition known as alopecia—but it seemed things were finally looking up. She had recently been voted "Most Irresistible" by her classmates. She had a steady, if not tumultuous, relationship with bad boy Chris Snider. Now, two popular girls had taken Christine under their wings. With their friendship, she was no longer the prime target of high school bullies.
But somehow, somewhere, things went horribly wrong. On July 18, 2003, Christine and her boyfriend tried to steal drugs from Tiffany's house. Instead, they shot her, Rachael, and two others with a .38-caliber rifle. Three years would pass before an anonymous tip led investigators to Christine and Chris—and another two before Christine was sentenced to life in prison. Chris Snider, having caught wind of the police's suspicion, committed suicide in 2006.
Journalist and true crime author M. William Phelps explores the infamous mass murder through interviews with the victims' and murderers' families. The result is Never See Them Again—a heavily researched, gripping account of a crime that shocked America.
Get an inside look at the day of crime with an excerpt from Never See Them Again.
IT WAS JUST after 6:00 on the evening of July 18, 2003. For the past 90 minutes, 18-year-old Brittney Vikko (pseudonym) had been calling Tiffany Rowell, one of her BFFs since middle school. Something was wrong, Brittney felt. She kept dialing Tiffany’s number, but there was no response.
Brittney had spoken to Tiffany’s boyfriend of several years, Marcus Precella, earlier that day, after Marcus had answered Tiffany’s cell phone.
“She’s in the bathroom,” Marcus said. It was close to 3:00 then.
“I’ll call back,” Brittney told him.
Thirty minutes later, Brittney started phoning her friend again.
But no one—not even Marcus—picked up.
“I was in the area, so I drove over to Tiffany’s house,” Brittney recalled later.
Brittney’s boyfriend, her nephew, and her boyfriend’s cousin went with her.
Brittney drove. They stopped at a McDonald’s after leaving an appointment Brittney had downtown at 4:10 P.M. A few minutes after 6:00, Brittney pulled into Tiffany Rowell’s driveway in the stylish suburban neighborhood of Millbridge Drive, Clear Lake City, Texas, and noticed immediately that Marcus’s and Tiffany’s vehicles were there. Tiffany’s truck was parked in front of the house; its back wheel up on top of the curb. Marcus’s car was positioned next to the garage.
Why aren’t they answering their phones?
Brittney pulled in behind Marcus’s car.
Odd, she thought, looking at both vehicles. They must be here …
Brittney got out and rang the doorbell.
She rang it again.
Not a peep from inside the house.
She knocked. Then she tried to look through a nearby window, cupping both hands over the sides of her eyes to block the light.
But again, no movement or sound from anyone inside.
Brittney kept banging, harder and louder, eventually forcing the unlocked door to creak open.
Brittney’s boyfriend and the others watched from inside Brittney’s vehicle as she slowly walked into the house.
Something seemed peculiar about the situation. It was eerily quiet inside the house. There was a steely, metallic smell in the air.
The door left unlocked and open? Both cars in the driveway and no one around? It was so unlike Tiffany.
Where was everyone?
Brittney walked through a short foyer before entering the sunken living room. She took five steps. Then found herself standing and staring at a scene that, at first, didn’t register.
As Brittney’s boyfriend got out of her vehicle, he watched Brittney run like hell back out the same doorway she had just walked through.
Brittney Vikko was screaming, with a look of terror on her face.
“Call the cops!”
Out of breath, approaching her boyfriend, who was now looking toward the house, Brittney yelled again. “Call … the … cops!” She was hysterical.
Her boyfriend walked up to the doorway and approached the inside of the house. Then he came barreling out of the same doorway, screaming.
Brittney was on the ground by then, crying, smashing her fists into the grass. Her boyfriend noticed a neighbor across the street talking on his cell phone. So he ran toward the guy, yelling, “Call the police! Call the police!”
The man dialed 911.
“There was blood everywhere,” Brittney’s boyfriend later said, describing what he had seen inside Tiffany Rowell’s house.
All photos: Kensington