It was Monday afternoon of the 17th of August, 2015, when three-year-old Mason Cuttler was reported missing in Lufkin, Texas. He had been playing on and around the family’s front porch on Earnest Landrum Road, just off Highway 103.
The last time that anybody saw him was at around 1:30PM. According to his parents, Kevin Cuttler and Brandi Wonzer, they had been cleaning the house while Mason was playing outside. As his father explained: “He’s allergic to some of the cleaning products, so he was playing on the front porch with my sister. I told them that if he went anywhere to let me or his mom know. A little while later, nobody had come to get me, so I went outside to have a cigarette break, and the last time I saw him he went around the corner of the house into the back yard — and that was it.”1
His parents said that he had never wandered off before. Kevin said he sometimes used to hide underneath the house but when they would call his name, he would burst out laughing “but he’d never go anywhere else but underneath the house.”
A search party was assembled, consisting of the Angelina County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Lufkin Fire Department. A PHI medical helicopter crew also embarked on the scene to assist.
Before dawn the following morning, Mason’s body was in the pond located behind the family’s home. A deputy had been walking around the property searching for Mason when he spotted something just below the surface.2 He then noticed that there were small footprints leading towards the pond.
While by first appearances, this was nothing more than a tragic accident, the Angelina County Sheriff’s Office announced that they were launching an investigation into Mason’s death.3
The following week, there was an unexpected update in the case when it was announced that 17-year-old Bobby Woods Jr. had been arrested for the murder of Mason. Woods was the boyfriend of Kevin’s pregnant sister and according to investigators, they he had pushed Mason into the pond to make room for their unborn child to live at the family’s home. At the time, three families were living in the home and he feared there would not be enough room for his future child.
As a matter of fact, Woods had made a full confession. He had told investigators that he knew Mason was only three-years-old and was unable to swim. He said that he pushed Mason into the pond and then turned his back and ignored his cries for help as he struggled to say afloat.4
Then in October, Woods’ girlfriend, 19-year-old Billie Jean Cuttler, who was Mason’s aunt, was arrested in connection with the murder of Mason.5 Woods and Cuttler would both be indicted on capital murder charges.
Cuttler would be ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether she could stand trial on the murder charge.6 It determined that she was competent. However, a second evaluation contradicted the first evaluation.
Her defence attorney, Al Charanza, said that he believed that she was functioning at a kindergarten level or below while her aunt, Jean Oates, stated that she had the mental capacity of a child. She said: “Even before the evaluation, we have always known that she is physically 20 years old, but mind-wise she is below kindergarten level. As far as the lawyers and court, she doesn’t understand any of that.”7
It would be up to a jury to decide whether Cuttler was competent to stand trial. Dr. Joseph Kartye testified that she had been born prematurely, sustained lead poisoning as a child and attended special education classes. Others detailed how she had below-average mental capacity and could not perform basic math or understand complex concepts at a minimal capacity.
A video of Cuttler’s confession was also played out during which she said that she and Woods had discussed and planned killing Mason the day before his murder. She said that somebody in the family had told Woods that he and Cuttler could not have a baby because it was “too much to deal with.” She said: “I understand that because kids are expensive with diapers and stuff like that.”
She said that when Woods drowned Mason, she was in the bathroom. She told the investigators that prior to going in the bathroom, Woods had told her: “I’m going to handle my business.” When Woods returned home, Cuttler said that he changed his clothes, took off his boots and put on different shoes. She made the startling revelation that she wasn’t actually pregnant and had made it up “to see what he would do.”8
Lt. Brett Maisel would reveal to the jury that in a recorded phone call between Cuttler and her father, Kevin Cuttler Sr., she had said: “I’m going to act stupid too” which was in reference to her upcoming hearing. While her family claimed she could not read or write, an inmate who she shared a cell with testified that she had seen her writing letters. “They looked fine to me, I understood it,” she said.9
Ultimately, the jury would decide that Cuttler was incompetent to stand trial. She would subsequently be sent to a maximum-security mental health facility to restore competency and in 2018, she was declared competent. She would appear in court to plead guilty to the lesser charge of conspiracy to commit murder. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
In August of 2019, Woods stood trial for the murder of Mason. His videotaped confession would be played aloud for the jury. Woods would take to the witness stand and claim that he had nothing to do with Mason’s death. He claimed that on the day of his death, he and Cuttler had been having numerous arguments and said that the last time he saw Mason, he was sitting on a four-wheeler with Cuttler. He claimed that his confession was a false confession yet he knew details of the case that weren’t made public, such as how Mason was facedown with his eyes closed when his body was found.10
Bobby Woods Jr. would be found guilty of the murder of Mason Cuttler and was sentenced to life in prison.11 During victim impact statements, Mason’s great-grandmother, Janey Ramsey, said: “The day you and Billie took Mason’s life, you took away all of his rights. The right to have a birthday every year. The right to his first day of school. The joy and love of his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. He was just a little boy who couldn’t defend himself from someone like you. It is my hope that Mason will be the first and last thing you think of every day while you are in prison.”12
- The Daily Lufkin News, 17 August, 2015 – “Search Crews Find Body of Missing Lufkin Boy”
- Associated Press, 18 August, 2015 – “Body of Missing East Texas Boy, 3, Found in Pond Near Home”
- The Lufkin Daily News, 22 August, 2015 – “Sheriff’s Office, CPS Investigating Boy’s Death”
- Associated Press, 29 August, 2015 – “Teen Charged with Pushing Texas Boy into Pond in Drowning”
- Longview News-Journal, 2 October, 2015 – “2 Arrested in Drowning Death of 3-Year-Old”
- The Lufkin Daily News, 20 May, 2016 – “Judge Orders Second Mental Evaluation Charged with Capital Murder”
- The Lufkin Daily News, 24 June, 2016 – “Jury Will Determine Lufkin Woman’s Competency”
- The Lufkin Daily News, 2 August, 2016 – “Competency Trial Begins for Woman Accused in the Murder of 3-Year-Old”
- The Lufkin Daily News, 3 August, 2016 – “Testimony Continues in Day Two of Competency Trial”
- The Lufkin Daily News, 16 August, 2019 – “Woods Testifies in his Capital Murder Trial”
- Associated Press, 19 August, 2019 – “Texan Gets Life Term in 2015 Drowning of Boy, 3, in Pond”
- The Lufkin Daily News, 18 December, 2019 – “Billie Jean Cuttler Gets 35 Years in Prison for Conspiracy to Commit Capital Murder”