When Ángel Maturino Reséndiz shuffled into the courtroom in May 2000, few could believe their eyes. This was the man who considered himself an “immortal, avenging angel,” who had bludgeoned at least a dozen people to death, who had nudged aside Osama bin Laden on the FBI Most Wanted list, who had been labeled by law enforcement “a walking, breathing form of evil.” The Railroad Killer was a pudgy, short-ish, middle-aged man with overgrown sideburns and bad glasses.
Most people learned of Maturino Reséndiz two years before, following the brutal December 16, 1998, robbery, rape, and murder of Claudia Benton in her West U home, which was located near Union Pacific railroad tracks. A clinical geneticist, Benton had fallen asleep watching TV after a long day preparing for a presentation when Maturino Reséndiz entered the house—selected at random—stabbed her repeatedly, and beat her with a 2-foot-tall bronze statue.
West U police said it was one of the most shocking crime scenes they’d ever encountered. After discovering fingerprints linking the killer to a chain of crimes across the country, authorities quickly concluded that a serial killer was on the loose.
Panic erupted among those living near railroads as more murders transpired across Texas—all near tracks—with some occurring hundreds of miles apart within just a day. The crisis precipitated an international manhunt, and authorities convened a multiagency task force dubbed “Operation Train Stop.” But it wasn’t until John Walsh introduced the suspect via America’s Most Wanted that the killer’s sister negotiated his surrender to a Texas Ranger at an El Paso border crossing.
At his Houston trial, Maturino Reséndiz claimed that God had ordered him to destroy abortion clinics before an “evil presence” compelled him to kill at random. At one point, the Houston Chronicle reported, the killer testified that if he were executed, “he would enter suspended animation for three days before appearing in a new body in the Middle East to battle Israel’s enemies.” Unsurprisingly, Maturino Reséndiz pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but the prosecution nevertheless prevailed; he received the death penalty.
Families of his victims packed the observation area on execution day in 2006. Devon Anderson, the Harris County prosecutor who oversaw the case, recounted the events in a recent 48 Hours interview. As Maturino Reséndiz awaited the lethal injection—just minutes after confessing to at least six previously unsolved murders and apologizing for his misdeeds—his feet trembled beneath the sheet covering his body.
“That,” Anderson said, “gave me a small sense of satisfaction, that he was scared.”