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13 Unsolved: Courtney Fischer investigates cold case murder of Worthing High School student Trellis Sykes from 1994!

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Houston, Texas — It’s been over 28 years since high school basketball star Trellis Sykes, 16, was murdered while walking to Worthing High School.

On May 13, 1994, Trellis was strangled and raped in Sunnyside, and was found dead on Redbud Street, a few blocks from the house where she had been living with her grandmother.

“It was really hard. Really, really hard,” says Pamela Sykes, Trellis’ aunt.

Even after 28 years, Pamela struggled to talk about that day. Pam, her daughter, and her mother – who was also Trellis’ grandmother – went to look for Trellis in the early evening when Trellis had not come home from school. The group climbed into police cars parked in front of an empty plaza with overgrown grass eight feet high.

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“When the forensic men came and took out her body, (Trellis’s) leg was hanging and we saw her tennis shoes, so we knew it was her,” Pamela says. “I will never forget her. Never. Never.”

Police say the killer was waiting in the weeds.

Pamela says Trellis was the star of the family – and she was going places. Basketball was taking her there. Trellis has made a name for herself on the court. At six feet tall, the teen has outgrown most girls her age, earning her the nickname “Tree.” But its size was the only thing frightening about it. Trellis was kind, calm and focused in school. Ronnie Evans, a former deputy director at Worthing, says Trellis has always been on the honor roll and has been working on a college scholarship.

“(She was) stubborn,” Evans says. “A girl can run. She can jump. She can shoot.” “And I’m telling you, you can’t scare her.”

“She kept everyone happy,” said Pamela. “She was a happy girl. She had a happy life.”

“You could see that she had an idea where she was going, until evil approached her,” says Houston Police Detective Darcus Shorten. We met Shorten along a treaded grass path in that overgrown area where the dead body of Trellis was found decades ago. This is where the disaster happens. This is where the raid takes place. This is where the suspect approaches. This is where he hangs her. This is where he forces her to comply. Unfortunately, this is where she died. .”

Shorten says Trellis fought like hell. The teen broke her fingernails as she scratched her attacker in an attempt to escape. Investigators said Arish was hit on the head, then raped, and then strangled. Her killer seemed to have disappeared through the high grass in the neighborhood.

“Having someone that strong and that strong — if you try to scream (no one will hear it),” Shorten says. “We talk early in the morning. So, people are still with glass eyes and watching the news or what you have. So, it was sad.”

“I haven’t left my house for two months,” says Pamela. “It was scary. I didn’t know who that person was. And everyone was always like, ‘Oh, Trellis looks just like you.’ “And that made me afraid.”

“School has stopped,” Evans says. “It has really stopped.” “The students were so torn about this from grade nine to grade twelve. They were tired of it. It was unbelievable that this happened to one of them. The reality was set in that this could happen to them just like it happened to Trellis.”

Less than a week after Trellis was murdered, her friends and family crowded into Christian Hope Baptist Church, praying and weeping over the teen’s white casket covered in pink roses. There was uneasiness in the room – not only was the killer still there, stories about attacks on women and girls on Sunnyside began to spread. Nobody knows what to believe.

“There were a lot of rapes going on in the area and we didn’t have any evidence,” says Pamela.

In fact, there were at least 11 other women and girls who were sexually assaulted and assaulted a few miles from where Trellis was murdered, in the 16 months before the murder of a sophomore in high school. The ages of the victims ranged between 12 and 30 years.

“The ladies all describe the same type of tennis shoe, the same height…,” says Sgt. Lauren White, of the Houston police. White began working on the Trellis case in 2013, when she worked in the child sex crimes division. “It was just a strange coincidence, this was not just a coincidence.”

It will take more than 20 years to test rape kits from all sexual assault victims due to the backlog of testing in Harris County.

But by 2013, investigators had discovered the DNA of one person on 10 of those 11 victims. Police say the DNA belonged to Hermann Whitfield.

However, Whitfield’s DNA has not been found in Trellis Sykes.

In 2015, Whitfield agreed to plead guilty to four counts of sexual assault, and was sentenced to four life sentences. He is currently serving that prison term in Gatesville, Texas.

Investigators say Whitefield is linked to 21 rapes between 1992 and 2008.

While Whitfield is not a suspect in Trellis’ murder, police say he is a VIP.

“When we saw the map of these groups close to all of these locations where these sexual assaults occurred and he (Trellis) was roughly in the middle during the same time period, there was a lot of coincidence for us to believe it was someone else,” says Lt. Catherine Reiser, a police investigator. Another in Houston worked on sexual assault cases from the early to mid-1990s.

Cold HPD case investigators say they are reintroducing evidence in Trellis’ case. These detectives say they will work to make sure Trellis is never forgotten.

“Her family deserves to be closed,” Reiser says. “They suffered for so long they don’t know. She was just walking to school. She did nothing wrong.”

Hermann Whitfield agreed to speak to ABC13 on camera in his first ever interview about his case. Watch 13 Unsolved: Who Was Waiting in the Weeds? Let’s see what happens when we sit down with him in the Gatesville prison where he is serving his sentence.

If you know anything about the Trellis Sykes case, call the Houston Police at 713.308.3618 or Crime Stoppers at 713.222.TIPS, where your advice is always anonymous.

For more on the Unsolved series, follow Courtney Fisher FacebookAnd the Twitter And the Instagram.

Share your loved one’s story with ABC13’s Courtney Fisher here.

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