‘The will to live’: The sole survivor of the railroad serial killer speaks on Texas Crime Stories

Holly Dunn is the only survivor of Angel Reséndiz, better known as the Railroad Killer

Fight for life

In 1997, Holly Dunn was enjoying her life as a college student at the University of Kentucky.

But everything changed that summer.

On August 29, Holly and her boyfriend Christopher Maier were walking home alongside some railroad tracks in Lexington, Kentucky.

Out of nowhere, a man who was hiding behind an electrical box jumped out and attacked Holly and Christopher.

Christopher died right there, along the tracks, after their attacker dropped a 52-pound rock on his head.

Holly was tied up, severely beaten and raped.

I had actually said my last prayer. I knew that in my heart that Chris had died,” Holly told KSAT in an exclusive interview shown in the video player above. “So I... I was saying my last prayer and thought I was ready to die as well. I mean, I thought that’s what was going to happen.”

But that didn’t happen.

The attacker left thinking he had killed Holly but she was able to gain consciousness and find her way to a nearby home and call 911.

Holly survived but what she endured would stay with her for the rest of her life.

Later she would find out that the man who attacked her and Chris was serial killer Angel Reséndiz, also known as the Railroad killer.

Who is Angel Reséndiz?

Reséndiz is suspected in as many as 24 murders across the U.S. & Mexico in the ‘90s, including in San Antonio and Houston.

He was eventually caught after Reséndiz’s sister Manuela saw her brother on an FBI’s most wanted poster and contacted the police.

On July 12, 1999, Texas Ranger Drew Carter accompanied by Manuela and a spiritual guide, met up with Reséndiz on a bridge that connects El Paso with Juarez, Mexico, and he surrendered.

At the time of his arrest in July 1999, he was suspected in 9 murders near railroad tracks in Texas, Kentucky and Illinois.

Authorities were able to link him to at least 15 murders in six states.

Those murders began right here in San Antonio in 1986.

Here is a look back on his victims:

  • March 1986: Jane Doe was shot 4 times with a .38-caliber gun, and her body was dumped in an abandoned farmhouse. He later stated he met the woman at a homeless shelter and that he shot and killed her for disrespecting him in Bexar County.
  • 1986: John Doe was the supposed boyfriend of the previous victim. He said he shot and killed him and dumped his body in a creek somewhere between San Antonio and Uvalde. The man’s body was never found. Reséndiz confessed to these first two murders in 2001 in hopes it would speed up his execution.
  • July 19, 1991: Michael White, 33, bludgeoned to death with a brick and found in the front yard of an abandoned downtown San Antonio house. Claimed he killed White because he was homosexual.
  • March 23, 1997: Wendy Vo Huben, 16, raped, strangled, suffocated both manually and with duct tape, and buried in a shallow grave in Ocala, Florida
  • March 23, 1997: Jesse Howell, 19, bludgeoned to death with an air hose coupling and left beside the railroad tracks in Ocala, Florida -- (fiance to Wendy Von Huben)
  • July 5, 1997: Robert Castro, 54, a drifter beaten to death with a piece of plywood in a rail yard. Though not officially charged, Reséndiz is considered the prime suspect in Colton, California
  • August 29, 1997: Christopher Maier, 21, a University of Kentucky student walking along a railroad track with his girlfriend, and the two were attacked, Maier was bludgeoned to death with a 52-pound rock. Holly Dunn, 20, was raped and severely beaten but survived and only known survivor of Reséndiz.
  • October 4, 1998: Leafie Mason, 87, was beaten to death with a fire iron in her home in Hughes Springs, Texas
  • December 10, 1998: Fannie Byers, 81, bludgeoned to death with a tire rim in her home in Carl, Georgia
  • December 17, 1998: Claudia Benton, 39, A pediatric neurologist was raped, stabbed and bludgeoned repeatedly with a statue inside her home in West University Place, Texas. Her jeep was later found in San Antonio and Reséndiz’s fingerprints were on the steering column.
  • May 2, 1999: Norman Sirnic, 46, and his wife bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer in the parsonage of the United Church of Christ. Their red Mazda was found in San Antonio three weeks later and fingerprints were inside as well.
  • May 2, 1999: Karen Sirnic, 47, was killed in Weimar, Texas
  • June 4, 1999: Noemi Dominguez, 26, bludgeoned to death with a pickaxe in her apartment. She was a school teacher in Houston. Her car seven days later was found on the International Bridge in Del Rio.
  • June 4, 1999: Josephine Konvicka, 72, bludgeoned with the same pickaxe as Noemi in her farmhouse in Dubina, Texas
  • June 15, 1999: George Morber Sr., 80, was shot in the head with a shotgun in his home near railroad tracks in Gorham, Illinois fingerprints were found in the home
  • June 15, 1999: Carolyn Frederick, 52, bludgeoned to death with the same shotgun used on Morber (Morber’s daughter)

Reséndiz goes to trial

Reséndiz went to trial for the December 1998 murder of Houston physician Claudia Benton on May 8, 2000.

Jurors would eventually reject his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and convict and sentence him to death.

Reséndiz’s trial was presided over by District Judge William Harmon. County District Attorney John Holmes, Jr., assisted by Devon Anderson, acted as the chief prosecutor, Allen Tanner and Rudy Duarte were appointed defense lawyers for Reséndiz by the court.

At the center of the trial was the issue as to whether Reséndiz was sane enough to be criminally culpable for the murder of Dr. Benton.

The psychiatrist examined by the defense opined that the defendant was schizophrenic and could not tell right from wrong on account of his delusions that his victims were evildoers. On the other hand, the psychiatrist for the prosecution testified that despite the defendant’s warped view of mankind, he knew very well what he was doing.

Holly describes testifying against her attacker in interview with KSAT

Holly testified at the hearing and, for the first time, saw her attacker again, this time in court.

She describes that experience in the interview shown in the video player at the top of this story.

“I didn’t actually look at him. My prosecuting attorney was really good. And she was like, you know, look at me. Look at your family sitting behind me. Don’t look at him. He’ll be off to your left-hand side. And so I really turned off my peripheral vision,” Holly told KSAT.

“I mean, I did not look at him the entire time I was giving my testimony. But they got to that point in the trial when they say, is the person who attacked you in the courtroom today? And, you know, I had never actually been in a courtroom. I didn’t know that they actually said this. I thought it was just on TV, but they did say it. And so I knew it was his trial. So I’m like, yes. I still hadn’t looked at him at this point. And they said, Could you please tell us what he’s wearing? And I’m like, Oh, man, you know, like then I knew I had to look at him. And when I looked at him, he had like a smirk on his face and his eyes looked black. And I literally almost fainted,” she said.

“I...my hearing started going inside my head. It started everybody, everything started to sound like echoes. And I started to break out into a cold sweat. And I just remember saying, he’s wearing a white button-down shirt. And then everybody started to realize that I was about to lose it because I think I was even probably emotionally upset. I mean, I don’t even I don’t remember, like how I was. I mean, I’m sure I was crying, but, like, I don’t know if I was, like, hyperventilating or what I was doing to show everybody that this was about to happen.

“So, I mean, the judge was really fast and he was like, okay, do you have no more questions, no defense? Do you have any questions? No, they did not question me. And the bailiff, like picked me up and carried me out of the courtroom. And it’s just amazing that I didn’t faint because, I mean, I was about, I think, as close as you can get to fainting. So that was my experience in seeing him again. It was awful.”

Despite an appeal, his death warrant was signed and he was executed on June 27, 2006.

In his final statement, Reséndiz said, “I want to ask if it is in your heart to forgive me. You don’t have to. I know I allowed the devil to rule my life. I just ask you to forgive me and ask the Lord to forgive me for allowing the devil to deceive me. I thank God for having patience in me. I don’t deserve to cause you pain. You do not deserve this. I deserve what I am getting.”

Reséndiz was pronounced dead at 8:05 p.m.

Holly Dunn still has scars from attack

Along with being sexually assaulted and having her fiance killed in front of her, Holly suffered numerous injuries.

“So I had a broken eye socket, a broken jaw. They never found what he hit me with... And then I think I put my hand up to block, my hand was all swollen. He hit me in my face. I had scratches on my face. Like it was something like a board that he hit me with. And then I think I turned over and he hit me, I don’t know, five or six times in the back of my head. And I still have, like, scars. I mean, I still don’t have all the feeling in the back of my head, which is crazy to think 25 years later. And I still don’t have, you know, all the feeling in my head from those scars. But the broken eye socket, there was nothing they could do for it. The broken jaw, they had to wire my mouth shut, and then I had to put some scar gel stuff on my face to try to get the scars to go away. And they stapled my cuts in the back of my head shutter,” she said.

As hard as Holly’s recovery was, she didn’t let it keep her down. She prides herself on being a survivor, not a victim.

In 2008, she co-founded Holly’s House a child and adult advocacy center for victims of intimate crimes. Since then it has helped thousands of victims.

“The growth that has happened in the past 14 years, because they’ve gotten so much into trying to prevent these crimes from happening, teaching, you know, in the schools,” Holly said. “And it’s gone so much beyond just what we had created Holly’s House for in the first place. We knew that prevention was going to be part of our process.”

Holly also speaks about her experience and has written a book called “Sole Survivor: The Inspiring True Story of Coming Face to Face with the Infamous Railroad Killer.”

“Even in the hospital after the attack happened, I was thinking like, you’re either going to crawl into a hole and not come out again or you’re going to do something. And every day was different. It was. But it was making that choice every day to do something and not let this define me, not let it be, you know, overtake me now, and I still had bad days,” she said.

“My healing was hard. I’ve had days where I’ve cried, days where I haven’t been able to get out of bed. But those days are fewer and far between now. And I think as time has gone on, I’ve gained strength and I’ve gained power over my story. It’s become that it’s my story to have now, and I can define how it’s going to happen now. Nobody else is in control of that. And I think that’s kind of what you’re looking for when you when you’ve been through, I think, a traumatic event like I’ve been through and you’ve had, you know, you’ve been sexually assaulted. You’ve had that power taken away from you. I think you’re looking for that. You’ve had that control taken away from you. And I think you’re looking for a way to take that control back. And I think that’s what I was always doing in my healing, was I wanted to take that control back,” Holly said. “You can live through anything and make it through and live a happy life and it can happen. And I truly, if I can be that inspiration if I can be that person that can show you that it can I want to be that because it has happened for me.”

Forensic psychologist’s insight on Angel Reséndiz and his capture

Forensic psychologist Dr. John Delatorre gave some insight into this case.

“How do we police miles upon miles upon miles of railroad tracks to find essentially a needle in a stack of needles?” Dr. Delatorre said. “A very complicated case that took a long time to really get everything that they needed to get to find out who this guy was. And it really was just really some strokes of luck to figure it out.”

Reséndiz showed he had no remorse for what he did at any point.

“Not having evaluated him, I don’t know if he was actually dealing with delusions. However, thinking about this is not someone who stalked. Right? This isn’t someone like Jeffrey Dahmer. Like he didn’t stalk these people. I think he gets off right. He’s riding the train, doing whatever it is that he’s doing,” Dr. Delatorre said.

“But the one thing that I know was consistent, as after he got caught, was these ideas about him being an angel and there being evil in the world. So it’s certainly possible that he had delusional thinking. It doesn’t quite explain the behaviors that he’s done. You know, he I mean, not to be graphic, but he uses blunt instruments to, you know, to really do damage to these individuals. He covers them up with a blanket. Some people suggest that that’s, you know, evidence of the guilty. I don’t necessarily know that that to be true. He goes through and gets all their food, right, eats the food and steals their stuff, and leaves their driver’s licenses out together on a table easily to be found. I think he does that because of the damage that he does to their heads. I think he left them out so that, you know, whoever found them would know who it was. I don’t know. He’s a unique guy, to be sure.”

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About the Authors

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with 15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.

Leigh Waldman is an investigative reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

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