She can change her name, she can change her life, but she can’t change her past. Convicted serial killer Charlene Williams insists she’ll do anything to make up for it.
In her first-ever television news interview, Williams talks about the murders that put her and her boyfriend Gerald Gallego behind bars.
She’s clearly uncomfortable talking about the past, but unwavering when it comes to charity work she pledges her life to today.
It’s become one woman’s mission to make sure one fallen soldier’s memory lives on.
“He was a very special, special person,” said Williams.
But in her quest to keep her family member’s memory alive, no matter how much good she says she does, she lives trapped in the shadows of evil.
“I see it every day. It never goes away,” said Williams. “I should’ve been able to stop all of this.”
As much as she tries to forget, she says she can never escape.
“Memories never stop. Never, never will,” she said.
Hiding in the darkness is a woman who claims she is trying to make up for a past of kidnapping, torture, rape and murder. It was all part of a horrific serial-killing spree.
“Over 30 years ago, I would give anything in the world if I could change that,” said Williams.
Williams agreed to talk to CBS13 if we hid her identity, still fearful of those connected to the man who, she says, forced her into the kidnapping and murders of 10 victims and an unborn child. The crime spree was called the “Sex Slave Murders.”
Williams testified in court that Gallego made her search for girls at malls and then lure them into their van.
“He was right there. It isn’t the way all the books are written,” said Williams of what she thought of when the girls agreed to go with her. “He was right there. I think this is more than enough.”
A plea deal sent her to prison for 17 years; but she’s been free for almost as long now. Williams has lived among us since 1997 with a new name and new life as, she says, she focuses on saying sorry the only way she believes she can.
“You can’t say I’m sorry. Those are empty words to so many people. You can’t say how I wish I could’ve. Those are empty words too,” said Williams. “I’d do anything in the world to make up for it, anything in the world, and I always will. That’s the way I’ll spend my life, is always trying to make up.”
“I certainly don’t have sympathy for her,” said Hal Sowers, whose only daughter was one of the 10 victims.
More than 30 years ago, Williams testified in court that she and Gallego kidnapped Sowers’ only daughter and her fiancé. Gallego shot Craig Miller, then took Mary Beth Sowers back to his apartment, raped her, and then killed her.
“She’s just a bad person,” said Sowers.
These days, Williams says her job is her charity work.
In part, she asks the public for donations, meaning she must appeal to some who decades ago may have feared they could be the next victims.
So, why did Williams return to our region, where most of the crimes took place?
She refused to explain why she made the decision, but said she wasn’t afraid that someone might recognize her, even while in the public eye with her charity work.
“I’ve never been out of the public eye. I have always been in public service,” said Williams.
“That’s a joke. She’s sick. Well, she obviously was sick to get involved with that thing with Gallego in the first place,” said Sowers.
Williams says she wishes she could change the past.
“I wish I could have made it different, how I wish they never even had to go through this,” she said. “I’m never going to say I’m blameless, because I should’ve been able to stop all of this.”
Williams knows she’ll never convince everyone of her undying dedication to serve through charity work after a history of unforgivable sin.
But, surprisingly, Sowers believes there is some hope that she has changed.
“That’s possible. It’s been a long time. Yeah, she could change. I’m sure of that,” he said.
Those words struck a cord with Williams.
“That means so much. That means so very, very much,” a tearful Williams said. “I’m trying to do the best I can, and if there is anything that I can do to have changed anything, I would have done it. But now, just let me please keep doing what I’m trying to do, and that’s to make things better. That’s all I want to do.”
CBS13 spoke to several family members and friends of the victims who’ve tried to move on and forget about Williams and Gallego. They question why Williams would move back to our area, a question she refused to answer.
Williams believes the young girls Gallego turned into sex slaves weren’t his only victims.
Williams grew up privileged as the only child of well-to-do parents. Investigators say, when she met Gallego, he gave her the wild lifestyle she’d never had.
However, Williams believes Gallego led a double life.
“He never left. He was always watching,” she said. “I tried to get away.”
By the time Williams met Gallego, investigators say he’d already become a career criminal.
Williams says she had no idea.
“He was very charming, fun-loving,” Williams said. “I felt, ‘Wow, this is really nice.’ Flowers all the time and just, you know, everything was wonderful.”
What started wonderfully, quickly became violent and near deadly for her.
“I know he threatened to kill my family. I know that the second time I was pregnant, that he actually put a gun into my stomach, and told me what I was going to do,” Williams said. “Whatever he said, and that was to go with him. … We have to stop this part (of the interview). I can’t, I can’t. We have to stop this part.”
Williams, overcome with emotion, says she is still in fear.
She’s changed her name and she’s hiding her identity, worried Gallego’s family will target her for putting him on death row.
“But, from what I understand, this may not have been the beginning,” Williams said.
Williams says it wasn’t until much later that she began to look at Gallego a little closer.
Gallego’s face, his sex crimes, his victims all seemed to match the profile of another prolific serial rapist.
“He really fit the description,” Williams said.
It was a bold predator who preyed on victims in the Sacramento area, a man known as the “East Area Rapist.”
“I think it could’ve been him, I really do,” Williams said.
“We know that he had some very sick fantasies,” said Sacramento County sheriff’s Det. Paul Belli.
Sheriff’s detectives, at one point, seemed to agree as well.
“They were both sexually motivated, that was his crime, area of operations, age group of his victims,” said Belli.
Could Gallego also be the “East Area Rapist,” a man who stalked and raped 50 women who mostly lived alone?
“A lot of us single, successful females that lived on our own were very cautious, very leery,” said Williams.
The crimes paralyzed many women with fear because the “East Area Rapist” was methodical, careful, clever, and very successful in committing his crimes.
“You never heard anything else after we started dating,” said Williams.
The rapes stopped a year into the couple’s own kidnaps and killings. Years later, Gallego’s DNA would be uploaded into the crime database a couple years ago and so would the East Area Rapist’s.
“Those two have not matched,” said Belli.
In the end, the evidence, and then the DNA, ruled out Gallego as a suspect.
The identity of the East Area Rapist still remains a mystery.
Gallego, however, has never been far from investigator’s minds. Soon after the serial killer’s arrest, and to this day, investigators search for other unsolved rapes and murders of young girls.
“I think there are crimes that Gallego just has not been connected to. I have a hard time believing there are things out there that we just don’t know,” said Belli.
Investigators believe the serial killer committed his first sex crimes in his teens; and likely raped and killed before Williams, and during their relationship without her help or knowledge.
Williams also believes there may be more victims of Gallego’s out there.
Williams never returned to a life of crime after her release; but investigators don’t doubt he was a willing participant in the crimes the couple committed.
“I think it was kind of a perfect storm,” said Belli of the couple.
Williams never confessed to her full role in the murder spree but always saw Gallego as the architect of evil.
“She was submissive to Gallego and looking for a wild lifestyle. I think as it went on, she did want it to stop,” said Belli.
Detectives don’t believe we will ever know the truth.
“Unfortunately, he took that with him,” said Belli of Gallego.
Gallego died from cancer awaiting his execution. If he did commit any other crimes, he never confessed to them.
“Right up until the end, he was just hateful and evil,” said Williams.
But, his death did bring her some relief.
“It was finally over,” she said.
When a CBS13 viewer saw Williams was telling her story, she decided to tell her own for the first time of what could be a close encounter with the couple behind the “Sex Slave Murders.”
That story will air during Monday’s CBS13 News at 10 p.m.