Odessa arson suspect charged with capital murder in death of great-grandmother

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UPDATE: The family has included a GoFundMe to help cover funeral expenses and the cost to clear the land. You can find that fundraiser here.

ODESSA, Texas (Nexstar) – Shane Wagner is recalling how he and another neighbor tried saving Jone Rister.

“Between the two of us, we couldn’t get the door open. We kicked on it. I put my shoulder into it. Nothing. And it’s bad. We knew she was in there. I just couldn’t get her out,” Wagner said.

The fire started Saturday afternoon, just before 2 p.m., on the 6400 block of St. Louis Avenue.

“They have two little girls. I think 5 and 7, who were not in the house at that time,” Wagner said. “Guilt is the first thing that comes through you… I’m the one who put the door on. I used to come by and do all sorts of knick knack stuff to help her out, because she was a widow. I knew her husband.”

The girls’ family said off-camera, the two girls were safe at their grandmother’s house. Jone Rister was their great grandmother, whom they lived with.

The charged arsonist, 71-year-old Linda Letcher, is no stranger to the neighborhood or law enforcement. Shane recalled what the suspect told him on the day of the fire.

“This old lady, we call her ‘Crazy Linda,’ walking about her as she normally does on the streets… we came out to the car, she told us they had her social security check,” Wagner said. “And she was mad about it.”

Shane said he has called the Sheriff’s Office more than a dozen times about problems stemming from the suspect’s house.

“And just to the family, I wish I could have done more,” Wagner said.

John Anthony also lives in the neighborhood. He’s the newphew of the suspect.

“She’s had history of being in the state hospital and stuff, we tried getting her help,” Anthony said. “And it’s hard getting somebody help.”

John says he walked over to the victim’s family to apologize.

“I spoke to them earlier. I mean I’m sorry. It doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t change anything, but just because she’s my aunt, what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. That was wrong,” Anthony said.

John said his aunt is a military vet, and that he desperately tried to get help for Letcher’s mental health.

“Just why did she feel like she had, if she did do that, why did she feel like she had to do something that crazy?” Anthony asked. “And just, hurtful to someone else. I mean, what was that, what were you trying to get done?”

The family of Rister is accepting donations for her great grandkids, who are students in the Ector County Independent School District.

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