After spending 50 years behind bars, William Huff has been released into the Arizona community, and citizens are concerned for their children’s well-being.
Known as “The Phantom” serial killer, Huff abducted and killed 2 young girls from their small Arizona town.
Now, completely unaware, neighborhood children are walking back and forth in front of Huff’s home. As it turns out there are no restrictions placed upon him regarding his contact with children when he was released.
In a short interview with Huff, a reporter was able to grasp the state-of-mind of his ex-con.
“You understand why people are nervous about you being out of prison?” the reporter said.
“Yeah. Because of my case and the stuff that happened to me,” Huff said,
“You mean the stuff that you did,” the reporter said.
“Yeah, yeah yeah,” Huff replied.
The story begins in 1967 in a small town of Sierra Vista. There was a population of only 5,000 at the time and most residents were there because of the Army post, Fort Huachuca, being close by.
“Sierra Vista at that time did not have a violent crime problem,” said David Santor, who was 22 years old at the time.
That all changed in the spring when the community was struck by a tragedy.
“The element of universal trust was gone,” said Santor.
On Sunday April 30, 7-year-old Cindy Clelland was walking down the street of her neighborhood looking for bottles to exchange at the store for candy.
That was the last time the blond-haired girl was seen alive.
3-days later, a search team discovered her naked, lifeless, mutilated body in a dessert area 120 into the boundary of Fort Huachuca.
“Throughout the three days she was missing, they would find, like, clothes and underpants, and they would bring it to my mom and say, ‘Is this Cindy’s?’” said Darlene Roi, who is Cindy’s older sister.
Roi remembers that her father was deployed overseas at the time, serving as a sergeant in the Army.
“The Red Cross had to track him down in Vietnam, brought him back while the military was looking for Cindy. And on the third day, when my dad happened to arrive was the same day they found Cindy,” said Roi.
One week after the body of Cindy was discovered a handwritten letter arrived at Sierra Vista Police headquarters.
It read: “I am The Phantom. You have found my first victim. My next victim lives on Steffan Street. 9 yrs old. (Fools!!!)”
Police were able to identify the 9-year-old mentioned in the letter and provided around-the-click protection for her.
Residents of the small town now feared for their children’s safety and did whatever they could to keep their loved ones safe.
“People went out and bought guns. People did everything they could to make sure that they knew where their children were every minute of every day,” said Santor.
Police followed all the leads they had, until they hit a dead end.
On June 22, another little girl vanished.
6-year-old Jenelle Haines and her family just moved back to Sierra Vista after being stationed in Germany where her father served as a Lt. Colonel.
At 11 a.m. Jenelle was playing at the pond with her brother. Her brother said that she had been talking to a tall, thin, black teenager before she disappeared.
Search teams found Jenelle’s body later that day. She was discovered naked and murdered in a similar fashion as Cindy.
With her brother’s description police now had a solid lead.
16-year-old William Huff was a high school student who had a history of run-ins with the law. He was suspected of killing cats, stealing bicycles and breaking into his neighbor’s home where he fondled her young daughter.
Chief Vance was driving into the Army post for a meeting the day Jenelle disappeared and notice the teenager walking off the post.
After a handwriting analysis determined that the letter from The Phantom matched Huff’s he was taken into custody.
Huff was charged with the deaths of 7-year-old Cindy Clelland and 6-year-old Jenelle Haines.
On the first day of his 2 trials were scheduled to begin, Huff pleaded guilty to the crimes.
He was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for 1 murder and 40 years to life for the other.
Huff became eligible for parole in 2008. Records show that every time he appeared in front of the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency, his request was denied, until December 2, 2015.
Melisa Haines, the daughter of Jenelle’s brother spoke at William Huff’s parole hearings to ensure that he was kept behind bars. She and Darlene Roi had become friends during their efforts to ensure he stayed in prison for his crimes.
3 excerpts were released from his hearing on December 2:
“I have no plans to go out and violate any law. I do know what I did. And I understand the implications of it,” Huff said.
“As time goes on and on, it makes it more difficult to keep an old ‘lifer’ in prison for life, especially one that was a teenager at the time he committed the offense,” a Clemency Board member said.
“Having a psychopathic personality does not mean you’re going to be a criminal and continue to commit, and continue to commit crimes,” another board member said. “I am going to make a motion to grant home arrest to Mr. Huff.”
The Clemency Board voted unanimously that day to grant William Huff release on home arrest.
Huff was released to a half-way house in Tucson, Arizona in January of 2016.
His release has raised many alarms not only in the community but with newer board members.
“In my view, after reading all the evidence in the file, he should never have been put on home arrest,” said one board member. “If it’s at all possible, my view is to revoke his home arrest and send him back to prison. I think he’s a danger to the community,” she said.
Ellen Kirschbaum, who was the chair of the board when it voted to release Huff said, “It’s a decision I made being on the board at that time. I stand by all my decisions.”
She could not say, however that Huff was no longer a danger to the community.
“I don’t think I can answer that question,” she said.
CT Wright, PH.D., who is the current chair of the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency also couldn’t reassure people on him no longer being a danger to the community.
“I can’t answer that question. The only thing I would say to you, sir, is that for a year and a half, he has proven that he has not committed another crime,” said Wright.
What do you think of his release? Has he served his time, or should he still be behind bars?