In May 1997, things were looking up for Gary Patterson, a 33-year-old Waco, Texas draftsman and single dad with a 6-year-old daughter Crystal.
A job opportunity to oversee a new development in El Paso would be a chance for Patterson to build a more secure future for them both.
His fiancee, Michelle Wilson, helped him pick out an outfit for his interview, she told Buried in the Backyard, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. They selected black pants, a white shirt and cowboy boots, and he headed to the Waco airport. “He looked nice,” Wilson said.
She never saw him again.
Gary Patterson Goes Missing
A day later, Wilson and Patterson’s folks, who were watching Crystal, hadn’t heard from him. Convinced something was amiss, Patterson’s family filed a missing persons report.
Patterson had mentioned that he planned to visit a job site east of El Paso deep in the Chihuahuan Desert. This sparked concern because that area was across the border Juarez, Mexico.
“Juarez is infamous for its corruption, for its violence, and for its crime rate,” said Texas Ranger Matt Cawthon.
Waco Police Dept. Det. Steve January expressed similar concern. “Somebody could have robbed him. Somebody could have shot him. Somebody could have killed him,” he said. “Anything could have happened.”
Investigators confirmed that Patterson had flown from Waco to El Paso. But then the trail went cold.
With help from the Mexican consulate, Patterson’s family made sure that he wasn’t in a jail or prison south of the border, according to his brother, David Patterson.
Investigators learned that Patterson’s divorce in 1992 had been turbulent because of custody issues. In 1994, his ex-wife, Lisa Urick Patterson, had taken the girl and “was in the wind” for nearly two years, according to Buried in the Backyard.
When detectives questioned Patterson’s ex-spouse she had a solid alibi, said January. “She wasn’t a person of interest.”
Investigators also questioned Williams to make sure she wasn’t tied into the disappearance. She was quickly “marked off the list,” said January. “She had an alibi. She loved Gary.”
Detectives focused on Patterson’s job interview in El Paso, an opportunity connected to the development of a modular home community initiated by a supposed developer named Ned Wright.
Patterson had kept the interview and the trip to El Paso a secret to most people because his current employer might resent his job search, according to Buried in the Backyard.
Detectives determined that Wright had stayed at the Fairfield Inn in El Paso. However, they found no one registered under that name. Using phone logs they found that one guest had made calls to Brazos Environmental and Engineering, Patterson’s workplace in Waco.
That lodger, who was required to share his driver’s ID, was Theodore Young. Interviews with witnesses confirmed that Young and Wright were the same person.
Con Man Theodore Young Enters the Case
Young had been “convicted of a massive fraud in South Carolina worth $26 million,” said January. Young failed to surrender and was on the run from federal police.
It was unclear what a fugitive con man would want with Patterson. Investigators focused on his ex-father-in-law Sam Urick, who had a history of checkered business dealings.
Father-in-Law Potentially Involved in Gary Patterson’s Death
Urick declined to speak with authorities, and they couldn’t force him to do so. Investigators circled back to a private investigator Patterson hired to search for his ex-wife and his daughter.
That private eye had removed a journal from the front seat of Sam Urick’s car and sent it to detectives, January told Buried in the Backyard. The journal contained pages of names and contact numbers, including that of Theodore Young.
Gary Patterson's Ex-Father-in-Law Sam Urick a Suspect
The focus of the investigation became the connection between Sam Urick and Theodore Young. Urick’s network reached beyond the Texas state jurisdiction, so investigators enlisted the help of the U.S. Marshals to track him down.
Detectives on the Patterson case found out that Urick had been flagged by the CIA. “He was allegedly involved in some shady dealings with rogue government agents back in the ’80s,” said January.
Investigators shared the discovery with Patterson’s family. “We knew Gary was gone,” said his brother David.
Waco investigators grilled Sam Urick’s known El Paso accomplices. They told them about a mining scheme in the desert outside of El Paso, said January.
In June 1998 investigators drove to the sprawling property in the desert, where a security guard told them that there were “a lot of shady things happening,” said Cawthon.
Evidence shared by the guard included a human bone. Investigators leaned on Patterson’s ex-wife, who at this point was in jail for a parole violation related to her prior custody and kidnapping charges.
Gary Patterson's Case Goes International
“She let us know that she knew her father had intentionally lured Gary El Paso and didn't mean to kill him, but had been beating on him,” said January.
A thorough search of the desert ranch property turned up a human skeleton investigators believed was Gary Patterson. It was, in fact, the remains of another man who’d gone missing.
Nonetheless, Patterson’s ex-wife’s confession made it clear that her father and fraudster Theodore Young had plotted an attack on him.
Waco detectives turned their focus to finding Young and sought help from federal authorities and Interpol. In August 1998, Interpol police captured Young in Honduras, said Cawthon.
When questioned by Waco investigators, Young spilled all about what happened to Patterson 15 months earlier.
According to investigators, Young said that he went to Waco to draw Patterson to El Paso. When they arrived he drove Patterson to the desert, where Sam Urick was waiting. Young held a gun to Patterson’s head as Urick bound him.
“Young said, ‘I left at that point,’” said January. The next day, Young claimed that Urick told him that Patterson was no longer a problem. For January, this confirmed that Patterson had been killed, the investigator said.
Confession Leads to Gary Patterson's Buried Body
Young drew a map for investigators where this fatal encounter took place. Using that map, human remains were found that were confirmed through dental records to be Gary Patterson.
The medical examiner determined that Patterson had been struck by a blunt object — and that he had sand in his nasal cavity and lungs. “Gary Patterson had been buried alive,” said January.
“If you ever believe that evil does not exist, take a look at what happened to Gary Patterson.That’s pure evil,” said Cawthon.
Prosecutors sought the death penalty. But in September 1999, Sam Urick and Theodore Young pled guilty to Patterson’s murder.
Young received 20 years for his role in the crime and was released after 17 years in 2018. Lisa Urick Patterson received three years, which was added to two she was serving for the parole violation. She served five years in full before her death in 2005.
Mastermind Sam Urick, now 86, received a life sentence and is currently behind bars.
To find out more about the case, watch Buried in the Backyard, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.