There was a reason Thelma and Louise avoided Texas to get to Mexico (ultimately it didn’t work). Comedian Ron White smiles a big shark-like toothy white smile and sums up the state’s ethos when it comes to criminals.
He says, “In Texas if you kill somebody…we’ll kill you back.”
There’s a lot of truth to that joke and Investigation Discovery has a new crew of true crime stars to introduce to the passionate fans of the network, who tune in for the backstories and the justice served.
Lone Star Justice features Sheriff J.B. Smith and detectives, Pamela Dunklin and Joe Rasco, the three crack unsolved cases and will surely be big hits at next year’s IDCon in New York City.
Everything is bigger in Texas, including Sheriff J.B. Smith’s reputation and his larger-than-life personality.
The Lone Star Justice group relives their memorable cases, proving once and for all that in the state of Texas, no one is above the law of the land.
Smith is a veteran detective of Smith County, Texas, and he handpicked detectives, Pamela Dunklin and Joe Rasco, to crack cases unsolved in Smith County, Texas. Dunklin leads with her intuition, Rasco is the analytical mind and Sheriff J.B. Smith as the fearless leader of the unit.
“Here at ID we are always looking for fresh stories and experts from across the country,” said Henry Schleiff, Group President of Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, American Heroes Channel and Destination America in a statement.
“With Sheriff Smith, Detective Dunklin and Detective Rasco – and, like with any team of real-life superheroes – it is clear that their greatest strength lies in their differences: we are thrilled to bring this dynamic trio’s unique brand of justice to life on ID.”
In the six-part series, each hour-long episode focuses on a different case that went down within the team’s county, retracing the crime scene, the evidence, and the power of deduction it took to bring a killer to justice.
Monsters & Critics spoke to Sheriff J.B. Smith and detectives Pamela Dunklin and Joe Rasco about the long arm of Texas law. Here’s what we found out.
Monsters & Critics: I lived in Houston, Texas for 10 years. I know your kind.
Pamela Dunkin: You were? Oh, wow.
Sheriff Smith: Yeah. Well, Houston has become a big parking lot. I mean I’d rather take a beating than have to go to Dallas or Houston because of the traffic. And now my wife loves it, loves the shopping.
M&C: Tell me about Smith County and where you all do your work. And your last name is Smith, is there a familial connection?
Sheriff Smith: Well, no ma’am, not at all. But there have been four Smiths that have been sheriff of Smith County since we became a county in about 1845… 1847. There’s been four of us, but no kinfolk to the county. None, none, and no kinfolks to any of the sheriffs in the past.
The current sheriff is named a Smith also. I retired six years ago and the guy that ran, his name’s Larry Smith. And so my wife seems to think that maybe he got some votes because of me, and I like to think that a lot of people didn’t vote for him because of me. You just don’t know.
M&C: How did you, Joe and Pam – all three of you – connect? Joe, you were just hired by the sheriff, or how did you connect for the show?
Sheriff Smith: Well, many years ago, I found Pam. Well, she was a dispatcher for a minute there. Keep in mind, I had over three-hundred employees. So I did not know probably three-quarters of them personally because it’s just hard to get to know all of them. But I walked into dispatch one night and there was this lady sitting at the dispatch counter, and she was handling two 911 calls.
She was dispatching to a unit and taking pressure from every direction. And then I walked up behind her, so she’s got more pressure. And she handled it without… never wavered. I mean, just was very, very professional. So I was impressed with that fact. And so I wanted to promote her later on, and did, and kept her on the fast track.
And I met Joe, we were looking for officers to work the street, and usually, I like to hire my people to work in the jail first so they can get a basic idea of the concept of what it’s like through all the phases of law enforcement, and that’s where they start.
So we were going through the applications from the jail to promote, and my chief says to me, “You’re not going to believe this, but there is a retired lieutenant colonel working in the jail.”
I said, “You got to be kidding.”
And he said, “No.”
And so I called Joe over to interview him, found out that he’s an ex-pilot, flew C-130’s with over ten-thousand hours for the Air Force, and was a lieutenant colonel. And I was pretty impressed with that, needless to say.
So I’ve got two people that are very, very analytical, both of them handle pressure very well. Both of them were, in each case they worked, was always concerned about the victim, which always impressed me.
Joe Rasco: We handled pressure well until we got into this business.
Sheriff Smith: But that’s how the three of us… and I became the song and dance man for them. I’m the guy that releases all the information to the media. And so we actually wound up being the trio that, we think, is an Investigative Discovery first because most of those shows are just one person narrating and talking about their case. In this situation, there’s three of us working together.
Pam: Well, and really how Joe and I came together after JB finding us, that’s really a different moment in that time period. Joe had been working homicide before I did. And Joe and I both started law enforcement a little older than most.
But really, they put me under Joe’s wing, like, here, take her, mold her, turn her into the homicide detective. And so he got stuck with me. That’s kind of how we became partners. And I learned so very much from him.
Joe: One of these cases that’s going to be shown is actually going to be Pam’s first case as lead detective. So that was pretty exciting for me to see her go out on her own.
Pam: Because I didn’t want to.
Joe: Yeah. It was kind of a funny story, and you’ll have to watch the show to see what it’s about. But during the course of the investigation, we got to a critical point. And I went into the boss’ office and I told him that I thought it was time for Pam to go out on her own. And he agreed, and it kind of put…
Pam: And they didn’t consult me.
Joe: No, we didn’t consult Pam. And she kind of had a come-apart over that. But it was pretty exciting to watch, and I think it was exciting for her. I think the audience is going to find it quite entertaining.
M&C: Talk about the Amanda Anderson case. I remember her brother, the good little church-going brother, offed his sister. Nice kid.
What bothered me about that particular episode was that he only got twenty years for basically cold-blooded murder. And it bothered me that people get longer sentences for lesser crimes. Can you talk about that first episode? And also Noel Martin, too, and the work that he does with you all.
Pam: Oh, Noel.
Joe: One of the things… I was very fortunate. Kind of right in the middle of my homicide career, we lost a crime scene person. And we only have two. So when we lost that person, they came to me and asked me if I would work in crime scene.
And I spent two and a half years in the crime scene arena. And if I was the boss of detectives, I would make every single detective under my watch work in crime scene for a period of time. I learned more about how to investigate homicide working crime scene than I did probably working homicides.
M&C: Is it about interviewing suspects or the people at the moment? Is it about the collection of evidence? What is it specifically that gives you an edge as a homicide detective when you have that kind of forensic, hands-on training?
Joe: You probably know how this works. When you get to a crime scene as a detective, the crime scene folks are the first to go on, other than the first responders who find the body. And they rope off the area, tape off the area and the crime scene folks go in there and semi-process it before they allow anyone to go in there.
So they’re the first ones, hands-on. And the forensic aspect of that, and learning about blood spatter, and those aspects of investigation, I think, helped me more – again – to become a good detective, a better detective.
And passing that on to Pamela, having worked in crime scenes and then I go in a crime scene with Pamela, and I’ve got a better perspective to show her now.
Pam: To teach me what I’m looking at.
Joe: To teach her. So I think that was the most important thing.
Sheriff Smith: And the unique thing about our crime scene people is it was not uncommon for the Texas Rangers, and the FBI, the secret service that worked in East Texas, to use our crime scene people. That’s the kind of people I had in that division.
Pam: Yeah, you mentioned Noel Martin, and I.
Sheriff Smith: Yeah, Noel goes all over East Texas on major crime scenes, because he’s one of the best in the business.
Joe: Noel Martin was the one I worked with and he’s the one that taught me crime scene. And there’s none better. We had a case, none of these, but we had a case. Noel was out of the office with a broken arm or something. And I had been in crime scene two weeks. I’d been to no schools or anything.
I got a call from the Texas Rangers in another county, on a murder in another county. And I said, “Ranger, I’ve only been working crime scene for two weeks. My partner’s gone. He’s the expert. You need to call Dallas PD or someone.”
And he said, “No, I want y’all to come.” So, that’s the reputation that we enjoy.
M&C: Is there a case that haunts y’all? In closing, is there one that you’re still… is sort of a cold case or one that really you hope to finalize?
Pam: We’re all retired. But…
Sheriff Smith: They are, I’m not.
Pam: Yes. But there are cases that were left behind that we certainly hope get solved. I mean, yeah, there’s still to this day, even being retired, they pop up in your mind for whatever reason. But yeah, we’re all three retired.
Sheriff Smith: One of the things that we did is we solved eighty percent of the murder cases when these two were working, and maybe more. I know we were twenty percent above the national average on solving murder cases, and that’s not bragging, that’s just a fact.
Joe: And I know you maybe want to close it out, but I’m going to tell you that Pam, both Pam and I, all of the murder cases that we worked, we solved.
There are a lot of cold cases at the sheriff’s office still that obviously need to be worked on. But just want you to know that Pam and I were able to solve all our cases.
M&C: Yes…you had mentioned the Chapel Hill area that was really pretty, and in Smith County that the demographics are changing. And you had mentioned gangs. What kind of gangs are in those areas?
Joe: We’ve got every gang that you see on the news media. We’ve got MS-13-
Joe: Yes ma’am. We’ve got Crips, all of them. The gang issue has been a… it’s just like any other place. And you don’t have to be an urban area to have gangs present. It’s been prevalent in Smith County for years. Years, and years, and years. It’s not unusual at all.
Pam: Yeah, that’s what I used to tell my husband. I said, “There’s so much more, unfortunately, crime going on in Smith County than the public actually knows about.”
They just see a case here and there or in the paper, when the detectives may have fifty on their desk or more on their desk. We work closely with higher PD and so on. There’s a lot more going on than the public actually knows.
M&C: There’s an edge to your series. And it reminds me of the [Texas] comedian Ron White, who has a famous bit from his stage act and he says: “If you kill somebody, we’ll kill you back.”
Sheriff Smith: Yep, that’s exactly right. [laughs] Yeah, we’ll give you an express lane to the death penalty, yeah.
Pam: Something like that, yeah.
Sheriff Smith: Yeah, we’ll kill you back, he [Ron White] was very funny in some of that stuff. Yeah.
M&C: That promo ID is running “We’re going to get ya!”
Sheriff Smith: That’s right.
Joe: Correct. And we will. And we will.
Pam: Oh yeah, hunt you down like a dog.
Lone Star Justice premieres on Wednesday, June 5 at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.
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