Murder victim’s mom wants to keep her promise

By Debby Schamber – For the Record

October 15th will mark 30 years since 26-year-old Thomas “Tommy” Bates was murdered. His mother, Mary Bates, 89, refuses to let it go and still wants to see justice served.

One of the reasons she wants to see justice served is because of a promise she made to her son as he lay in his coffin at the funeral home.

“I told him I promised to see justice served,” Mary Bates said.

According to reports, at 10:02 p.m. patrol units were dispatched to the 2200 block of Simmons Drive. An unknown caller had notified the Orange County Ambulance Service of a person walking near the Spare Time Lounge and appeared to be bleeding. When the officer arrived and went into the parking lot of the bar, he did not find anything unusual. Officers checked north on Simmons Drive also and still could not find anyone walking, so they began searching on nearby streets. They eventually found a man laying on the shoulder of the roadway in the 100 block of Hickory Street. An officer checked for vital signs and discovered there were no signs of life.

The victim suffered severe bruises to his left eye and left side of his upper and lower lips. He also had received a bullet wound to his head from a .22 caliber gun which was shot at point blank range. His drug screen was negative and blood alcohol level was .2777 percent according to the autopsy report.

What lead up to and following the murder has many twists and turns. Witness statements were taken and some would later change their story or deny the events ever happened. Another would be killed a short time after giving a statement while others simply died of old age or health problems.

Tommy Bates had two older sisters. When he was born they were 10 and 19 years old. As a result, he was heavily doted on and was a happy child. Photos of him still hang in his mother’s dining room area. The many pictures show Tommy’s sparkling blue eyes and sweet smile.

As an adult, he was kind, caring and gentle, his mother said.

The day before the murder, Tommy had driven to Center to borrow $60 from his father. He spent the night and returned the next day. After he returned he went to the Spare Time Lounge and met up with a woman who would also go with him to the Eagles Hall to play pool. A witness later reported they saw him coming out of the Eagles Hall.

At 6:15 p.m. Tommy was sound asleep at a friend’s house, Betty Hebert, according to her statement given to police.

Sometime during that time the suspect, Donnie Darden, 35, called a former brother-in-law of Tommy Bates and asked if there would be any repercussions from him if he went by and got the victim and took him out and gave him a “whooping.” The handwritten statement from the brother-in-law continues and says Tommy owed Darden’s father money because of a scam he had done to him.

The autopsy report indicated Tommy had been severely beaten prior to his death.

Betty Hebert reported at 8:30 p.m. Donnie Darden arrived and asked to speak to Tommy who was still asleep. After talking to Darden, Tommy quickly put on his boots and left with him. Tommy left his 1976 maroon and white Chevrolet pickup parked at Hebert’s house.

When Darden was interviewed by police it was noted he had fresh abrasions on the back of his hands “as if he had been in a fight.” Darden claimed the injuries occurred at work while climbing poles.

According to reports, Darden was interviewed and stated he picked up Tommy because the pair were close friends. Darden allegedly said they had drove around, drank some beer and smoked marijuana. Around 9:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Darden reportedly said he dropped Tommy off at the Spare Time Lounge. Darden also said during the interview he did not see Tommy go into the lounge. Darden reportedly said he then went to a lounge in Vinton, La. until 3 a.m.

Texas Ranger Haskell Taylor stated in his report there were rumors in the area about the Darden’s whereabouts following the murder. He wrote Darden went to a house in Vinton and burned his clothes because they had blood on them. He later washed his car of the blood too.

Audia Santana, a witness to the blood in Darden’s car, stated in a statement, he saw the blood in the backseat of the car and on the door.

Santana had overheard Darden telling another person Tommy had jumped him while he was driving and the pair had started fighting. As a result, a gun accidently discharged. Darden allegedly offered the man money if he would say he was there all night, but the man refused.

Santana then spoke to Darden and he took him out to see the blood soaked car. When Darden opened the car door the dome light came on he reportedly saw the gruesome sight. Santana was later killed, according to reports.

Taylor noted in his report, “During additional interviews, it became apparent that several individuals have lied about their activities.”

The brother-in-law who initially gave a statement about the phone call from Darden later said the incident never happened. In addition, Darden’s father who was allegedly owed money was contacted and denied Tommy owed him money at all.

In the days that followed, Mary Bates bravely did what she could to help find the killer. She even went as far as viewing pictures of her son laying on the roadway. She was the person who noticed Tommy’s boots were on the wrong feet. She also believes his clothes could have been changed since there was not any blood on them.

In March 1986, Darden was indicted by a Grand Jury on charges of murder. However, the charges were later dropped.

According to archives, in reference as to why they were dropped, County Attorney Steve Howard stated, “The case needed further investigation.”

There are so many questions Mary Bates would like to be answered. Most of them start with “why.” Such as “Why was Tommy killed?” and “Why was this done to him instead of something else?” This list goes on an on, she said.

At times this all weighs heavily on her mind and she worries she may never get the answers she is searching for in the murder of her son.

“I don’t ever stop thinking of him,” she said with tears in her eyes.

According to police, this is still an open case and an ongoing investigation. Anyone with any information is asked to call the Orange Police Department at 409-883-1026.