Odessa is a town of approximately 128,400 residents located in Ector County, West Texas, near Midland along Interstate 20. The city is not known for substantial street prostitution, but there have been numerous complaints and reports of indoor prostitution for decades, and cases of children present in residences where prostitution occurred (as well as having drugs and weapons present). For example, in October 2017 a woman has been charged after she brought an infant to a “date” arranged during a Backpage prostitution sting. During the sting, an Odessa police officer made contact with a woman who posted an advertisement on the website. The suspect agreed to exchange sex for money, and arrived at the location with a 1-month-old child in the backseat of her vehicle; she was then arrested and charged with endangering a child, prostitution and possession of marijuana. Among the more serious problems associated with prostitution in Odessa the the targeting of prostituted women by a serial killer.
A 2004 case involved an effort to address the customers of prostitution, but not through traditional street or web-based reverse stings. Instead, police leveraged a client list for a prostitution business operating out of a massage therapy business in the town. After an investigation and a take-down of the business, a client list was discovered with over 60 individuals identified. While it is not unusual to discover client lists in raided brothels, the lists often are not used by law enforcement since they alone constitute insufficient evidence that sex being exchanged directly for money actually occurred. In this case, the list is reportedly supplemented by surveillance of the brothel and other intelligence from the investigation, including interview disclosures about the prostitution activity. The client list was released to the public and 68 men were arrested. A news report in May, 2013, the Midland County Sheriff alluded to their conducting reverse stings in Odessa: “”If anyone tries to get a prostitute, they may walk into a room full of law enforcement and get a gun stuck in their face.” [NewsWest9.com, May 14, 2013]
A reverse sting operation focusing on predators seeking to buy sex with children was conducted in Odessa and Midland, Texas in February of 2018. The reverse sting component was Phase 1 of a three-phase prostitution and sex trafficking operation resulting in 62 total arrests. “Operation Gauntlet” used online advertisement postings, texting and phone calls during three phases. In all, undercover officials received 12,329 total incoming messages and “chatted” with 1,361 unique phone numbers. The operation ran from Feb. 16 to March 3 and included local, state and federal agencies. Among those assisting were the Midland County District Attorney’s Office, Midland Police Department, Midland Fire Department and Midland County Sheriff’s Office. Seven men were arrested on second-degree felony charges of online solicitation of a minor under 14 years of age were, and their identities were publicly released. The arrests came during the Phase One two-day child predator sting. Undercover “chatters” posted online advertisements and communicated while posing as 13-year-old females. They responded to 6,095 incoming messages from 330 unique phone numbers during that part of the operation, according to the press release. The Subsequent phases two and three also involved online postings and undercover phone communication.
We know of a few other cases where client lists have been used to arrest johns. In Vero Beach, Florida, a brothel was investigated in 2008 and 35 johns were identified and arrested, through surveillance evidence combined with brothel records and other sources of intelligence. In October, 2012, a prostitution operation connected to a dance studio was revealed in Kennebunk, Maine, and a client list with over 100 names was discovered. Beginning October 15, 2012, the names began being released in batches, and the men summoned to appear at future court dates.
- Odessa Police Department
- Reverse Stings:
- Web-Based Reverse Sting and Shaming:
- https://www.mrt.com/news/crime/article/Prostitution-operation-results-in-7-Midland-12738583.php (March 2018)
- https://www.mrt.com/news/crime/slideshow/62-arrested-in-Midland-Odessa-179279.php (March 2018)
- https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/article/Prostitution-operation-results-in-7-Midland-12739384.php (March 2018)
- http://www.cbs7.com/content/news/62-arrested-in-Midland-and-Odessa-in-Operation-Gauntlet-476267243.html (March 2018)
- https://www.oaoa.com/news/crime_justice/law_enforcement/article_da559a94-7654-11e8-bbab-3f39257bc90d.html (June 2018)
- Massage Parlor Client List Arrests and Shaming:
- “Schorre to Try Odessa’s ‘Healing Touch’ Prostitution Cases, Odessa DA Reports”, Midland Reporter-Telegram, July 13 2004.
- “Odessa Sex Scandal, Pt. 1: Insiders’ View of the Business, Its Clients and Connections”, Midland Reporter-Telegram, July 21 2004.
- “‘Healing Touch’ Investigation: Police Hold Press Conference, Release ‘the List'”, Midland Reporter-Telegram, July 27 2004.
- “Prostitution Charges Slam Odessa Bigwigs; Ex-School Board Member, Lawyers and Editor Among 74 Suspects”, San Antonio Express-News, July 28 2004.
- “61 Arrests Made in Texas Prostitution Ring”, Albuquerque Journal, July 29 2004.
- “Suspects Surrendering in Odessa Prostitution Ring”, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, July 30 2004.
- “So Much for a Discreet Little ‘Massage'”, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 31 2004.
- Background on Prostitution and Related Violence in the Area:
- “Neighborhood’s Problem with Prostitution Improves, But Won’t Go Away”, Odessa American, June 25 2001.
- “Authorities Arrest 20 in Odessa During Undercover Investigation”, Midland Reporter-Telegram, July 14 2002.
- “16 Arrested in Odessa Undercover Prostitution Investigation”, Midland Reporter-Telegram, December 6 2002.
- “Deputies Net Seven in Prostitution Busts”, Midland Reporter-Telegram, October 21 2010.
- https://www.9news.com.au/samuel-little-mcdowell-denise-christie-brothers-serial-killer-murder-texas-california (2018)
- Child endangerment:
- http://www.kxan.com/news/crime/woman-accused-of-bringing-infant-to-prostitution-sting/1031431261 (October, 2017)