Tuesday, November 2, 2021

"Don't expect me to wear a dress." Guest Post by Kathryn Casey

Kathryn Casey: “Don’t expect me to wear a dress.”

“If you’re going to go for it, why not go for the best?” Marrie Aldridge told me. “I knew I could do the job.” 

I first met Marrie at her ranch outside San Antonio in 2008. At the time, I was a magazine writer and a true crime author. Marrie was a Texas Ranger, the first female Ranger in the elite organization’s storied history. When we got together that day, we’d talked about her career, her life. 

The reason for my visit wasn’t idle curiosity. I’d started writing a mystery, the first in my Sarah Armstrong Series, and I’d made my main character a Ranger. Decades writing about real murders, I’d had one foot in the criminal justice world for a very long time, much of it investigating sensational Texas murders. A Ranger as the protagonist seemed a perfect choice, because I didn’t want Sarah hemmed in by jurisdictions. I wanted her free to investigate a car theft ring in Abilene, a kidnapping in Dallas, a spate of drug cartel killings on the border, or a stalker in Texarkana. 

Since Rangers have state-wide authority, that fit the bill. But what did I know about being a Texas Ranger? 

To get ready, I’d hung out with Rangers in Company A, Houston, my hometown. But it was really Marrie I most wanted to talk to. Although women officers seem like the norm on TV, nationally they make up only 12 percent of officers. A woman Texas Ranger? Very rare. 

Recently, I reconnected with Marrie for this piece for Mystery Readers Journal. I’d been asked to write about how I came up with my character, and Marrie, of course, came to mind. She’s still living on her ranch, and it’s been thirteen years since she retired and took off her badge. That’s a long time, but her memories were vivid when I asked her about those early days, when she was the first woman to enter the most traditional of male worlds. 

Like all Texas Rangers, Marrie started as a state trooper. It was 1977, and there was a push underway to bring in more “minorities,” women and people of color. When she filed her application, there were only a handful – ten or less – female troopers in the state. 

One memorable occurrence was the day of her preemployment physical. The doctor walked into the exam room and asked, “Where’s the trooper applicant?” 

“I’m here,” she said, and he looked dumbfounded. 

It didn’t end there. Once hired, there were other hurdles. Marrie chuckles at the assumptions those in charge made about what it would be like to have a woman in their ranks. For instance, someone decided the semi-automatic the men carried wouldn’t be appropriate, and they issued Marrie a Colt. “They thought a Smith & Wesson would be too heavy for a woman,” she says. They also gave her a leather bag with a pocket for handcuffs. “Later, I gave it back to them—unused. I wasn’t carrying that ridiculous purse.” 

After nearly sixteen years as a trooper, all of it in the driver’s license division and working highway patrol, Marrie applied to the rangers. She’d wanted to for a couple of years, but she’d seen other women try and fail. But by 1993, she’d worked her way up to sergeant, and she felt confident that she’d proved her worth. When the news that she’d been accepted came, she truly made history. 

Yet again those around her seemed uncertain about how she would fit in. It still makes her laugh when she talks about how someone in the higher-ups thought that rather than a uniform like the men, she should wear a dress. “I said if that happens, I will quit,” she remembers. The idea died, and she ended up in the traditional starched shirt and slacks. “The only thing I changed was that I wore kind of a floppy bowtie, not the standard man’s tie. But I had no problem wearing the cowboy hat. When they questioned if I wanted to, I told them I look good in them.” 

Out on the job there were hurdles as well. In the beginning, the other rangers were told to watch their language around Marrie. Determined to be accepted as one of them, “I had to convince them that their words weren’t going to shock me. I’d heard them all before.” 

Gradually, the men relaxed around her. And when it came to her job, Marrie took on everything they gave her: crooked politicians, a triple murder case where they wrapped the bodies in a rug and burned it, the kidnapping of a five-day-old baby. And then there were the death investigations. “They called me the autopsy queen. I went to the first one, and I was fascinated. Pretty soon, I was going to them all.” 

What she was hooked on were the clues that came out in the morgues and how being on site and could speed up investigations. Those bodies incinerated in a rug? At the autopsy, Marrie recovered a charred envelope with a name and address on it, information that justified a search warrant and ultimately led to a conviction. There was the time the officers on the crime scene thought that a victim had been shot through the head, but during the autopsy a piece of plastic dropped onto the stainless-steel table—a chunk of a trigger guard. Marrie called the ranger in charge of the case and told him, “If you find a gun with a broken trigger guard, you may have your murder weapon.” 

He did, and it led to the killer. 

Ranger Marrie Aldridge loved her job, and she found it disappointing that few women followed in her footsteps. Rarely throughout her years on the force were there more than two or three women rangers at any one time. 

Why? When asked, Marrie gives it some thought. Ultimately, she speculates that some of the women who became rangers found it wasn’t a good fit. Rangering can be a hard life. On the road investigating cases for days at a time, called out in the middle of the night to a crime scene, covering multiple counties that spread for hundreds of miles; none of it melds easily with maintaining a relationship and raising children. “I lucked out because my husband was in law enforcement. He understood,” she says. “But that kind of schedule can be tough on a family.” 

Even in 2021, only four of the state’s 166 rangers are female. Yet some things have changed: for the first time, two of the women have climbed the ranks and become captains. 

Since my first meeting with Marrie, I’ve written four books in the Sarah Armstrong series, and I’m currently working on the fifth. I’ve never been sorry that I made my protagonist a Texas Ranger. It’s given me the latitude to have Sarah chase a serial killer from one end of the Lone Star State to the other. She’s investigated Big Thicket church burnings, a Houston child abduction, and the assassination of a Fort Worth doctor. In one book, she unraveled the twisted intentions of an aging oil man intent on leaving behind a legacy. 

“Looking back?” Marrie tells me, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” 

I have to agree.


Kathryn Casey is the creator of the Sarah Armstrong and Clara Jefferies mystery series. She’s also the author of eleven highly acclaimed true crime books. True crime matriarch Ann Rule called Casey, “One of the best.” And #1 NYTimes bestselling author Gregg Olsen has said, “Casey is a true crime great.” www.kathryncasey.com


Jessicawilliamson said...

Kathryn hands down best writer ever! Every book she writes I get it on release day. Can't wait for the next one!

Unknown said...

Fascinating - will def check out Kathgryn Casey's "Armstrong" series.

Unknown said...

Awesome to hear more about Kathryn's inspiration for her series. What an awesome Ranger. Cool!

Cardinal said...

This was fantastic. Kathryn, I love hearing back stories like this. It captures Ranger Aldridge's dedication, tenacity and intelligence, as well as her drive to be one of the best in what had previously been a man's world. I have read that at least one male ranger retired when Marrie was promoted, and I found that quite sad.

In my opinion, law enforcement is better with both men and women, because there can be differences in thinking that complement each other and make for stronger cases. The Texas Rangers did the right thing in hiring women to work closely with their male countrparts. They continue to show other law enforcement agencies how things should be done, something they should be very proud of now and always.

Kathryn Casey said...

Thanks, everyone. I enjoyed reading all the comments. Marrie truly did make history.

Richard Goutal said...

I posted on Nov 3 saying I would def read a book in the "Armstrong" series. Just finished SINGULARITY. I enjoyed it. Suspense kept growing through to the climax. Settings are well described and realistic. You could do a field trip, in other words. Good intro to the characters. Armstrong could grow on me. I have already bought the Kindle for BLOODLINES and I will find out.