This article was written by Steve Blow of the Dallas Morning News and published on the 25th anniversary of the tragic death of Bill Thompson, father of Mark Thompson, President of Smith Thompson Security, detailing a dark time in their family and how a burglary changed their lives.
Sunday, November 16, 2003, Dallas Morning News, published by Steve Blow
Even after 25 years, the questions still gnaw at Jo Ann Thompson Parkman. Who are you? And do you have any idea how much pain you caused?
Tomorrow it will be 25 years since Jo Ann's husband, Bill Thompson, was killed in a head-on car crash. She thought her pain couldn't be worse. But she was wrong.
Bill was a longtime newspaper man and much-loved figure in Paris, Texas. He worked his way from paperboy to editor of The Paris News. Then, in 1972, he took a job in Dallas as manager of communications for Texas Power & Light Co. Jo Ann already worked for TP&L so she transferred to Dallas.
The Thompsons and their three sons settled into a new home in Plano. Part of their hearts remained in northeast Texas, however. They purchased 80 wooded acres outside of Paris as their country retreat.
On the Friday evening before deer season opened, Bill and his youngest son, then 16-year-old Todd, headed for their land. They were in separate vehicles, with Todd following by a few minutes.
Someone had already called state troopers with reports of a drunken driver on U.S. Highway 82. A battered, old pickup was weaving along the highway without headlights. At the crest of a hill near Honey Grove, the truck swerved into Bill's lane. Bill's watch stopped at 6:18 p.m.
Todd came upon the crash soon after. He tried to free his father's lifeless body from the wreckage. The other driver was killed, too. Jo Ann and her sons stumbled through the following days. The funeral was in Paris that Monday.
Middle son Mark, then 20, remembers the family returning to his grandparents' house after the funeral. "There was such a blue feeling," he said. "It was like we were just cried out."
And then came the wound atop their tragedy. A neighbor in Plano called. "Your house has been burglarized," he blurted. News of Bill's death and funeral had been in all the newspapers, of course. The burglars apparently took notice. For the house wasn't merely broken into, it was methodically, leisurely ransacked. Virtually everything of value was taken, and everything else was torn apart.
"They knew they had plenty of time," said Mark, now 46 and a resident of Fairview. "What they did was both clever and very cruel. Very clever from the standpoint of a criminal mind. But one of cruelest things you could do to a family."
Jo Ann thought she couldn't feel more sorrow. But when she walked into her home and saw the chaos, she plunged to new depths of despair. Cabinets were emptied. Drawers dumped out. Finger printing powder was everywhere. "The only thing I can equate it to is like a rape," she said. "I felt defiled. I felt violated." The crime was never solved. One neighbor remembered seeing an old custom van pull away from the house. She took them to be family friends. Jo Ann and her sons went on with their lives, of course. What choice did they have?
In fact, the burglary begat a career for Mark. He became fascinated with home security. A friend was already working in the alarm business. Mark persuaded him to join him in starting a business. Today, Smith Thompson Security Systems is the largest independent security company in North Texas.
Jo Ann was thrilled when, two years after Bill's death, TP&L promoted her to a job in Sherman. "I was so glad to be moving," she said. Since the burglary, the house had never felt like home. She eventually returned to Paris as manager of TP&L operations there. She remarried in 1984, retired in '97 and still lives in Paris. She doesn't dwell on Bill's death. But every year, about this time, her mind goes back to that burglary. She can't help it. The wound is that deep. She tries to imagine who would plunder a family already in sorrow. She knows the burglars must be middle-aged men by now. "I wonder about them. Are they able to sleep at night?" she asks. "Or do they even remember doing it?"
Jo Ann's voice suddenly breaks, and tears pour forth. "I just want to ask them, why?"
She doesn't expect answers. But after 25 years, she wants her questions heard.