HIGHLANDS, Texas – More details have been released in the case against a 21-year-old man accused of robbing and killing an elderly woman, then setting her house on fire.
Ethen Drake was charged with capital murder in the brutal stabbing death of Caroline Stagner, a beloved 72-year-old great grandmother.
Firefighters arrived to find Stagner’s home engulfed in flames in the 800 block of Clear Lake Road on the morning of December 13. Once the blaze was extinguished, they found Stagner’s body.
After seeing the blood all over her bed, firefighters realized they had a possible crime scene on their hands and homicide detectives stepped in.
An autopsy performed at the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences revealed Stagner sustained multiple stab wounds to her chest, neck and head. Her death was ruled a homicide.
Stagner’s death was not only shocking to those who knew her, but puzzling after learning how she died.
Stagner’s daughter said the elderly woman lived alone in the home and did not have any known enemies. The daughter said it appeared that property was missing and she knew her mom always kept a large amount of cash in the house. She said her mother was also preparing to buy Christmas gifts for her grandchildren at that time.
A man who lived three blocks away from Stagner found a pill bottle with her name on it and a bag of jewelry next to a burn pile. He reported the findings to investigators, who came out and searched the premises, also finding another pill bottle belonging to the victim next to a fence. They determined that someone had thrown the items over the fence from a yard next door, located in the 200 block of North Street.
Investigators went to the home where the items were thrown from, which was where Drake lived, and interviewed his mother. Drake’s mother said she was certain he was home the night before the fire, but admitted she would not have known his whereabouts at 3 a.m., the time investigators estimated the fire started. She said the next day her son went with a friend to Gladewater, Texas, but she had to give him money because he was unemployed and didn’t have any.
But the friend who drove Drake to Gladewater said that his friend, who was always broke, had a large amount of cash with him and was very generous with it during the trip. Drake allegedly gave the friend $140 to take him to Gladewater, put $110 worth of gas in the tank, bought a case of beer and gave money to a homeless man, according to court documents.
The friend recalled that there was a large fire the day he picked Drake up and, in fact, had to speak with detectives to get clearance to get to Drake’s house because the streets were blocked. Detectives also remembered the conversation.
Drake denied that his friend picked him up on that day, and also denied being home with his mother the night before the fire. Drake said he had already moved to Gladewater and the others were wrong.
Investigators listened to jail conversations Drake had with family members. He was heard telling his brother that he lied to police about his whereabouts on December 13 and, in another conversation, he told his mother that police would not find anything on the clothing they seized because he “washed them about 500 times.”
Crime scene detectives tested the clothing Drake allegedly wore on the night of the murder and found evidence of biological fluids, including blood, on the front thigh areas of the jeans.
Drake remains in jail with no bond.