Debi Scott came home from the movie theater at about 10:30 on the night of Sept. 14, 1990. She watched a little TV in the living room of her small home in Wells Branch just north of Austin, then went to bed.
Five hours later she awoke in the middle a real-life nightmare. A man was standing over her bed wielding a log, smashing it into her head over and over again. She raised her hands over her head and felt six more blows crush her fingers.
“I felt those blows, and I started screaming, ‘Who are you and what are you doing in my house?'” Scott recalled in an interview this month, more than 20 years after the most horrific night of her life.
She reported the attack to police, but they never identified the tall, thin, long-haired man whose silhouette Scott saw running out of her bedroom on that moonlit early morning in 1990. And she tried to put the attack out of her mind, though she still feels fearful entering dark rooms and suffers migraine headaches two decades later. Then, in October, Scott watched an episode of CBS’s 48 Hours Mystery about an Austin woman named Natalie Antonetti who died in 1985 in an almost identical attack. All the questions Scott had about that awful morning came rushing back.
Scott believes the man who tried to kill her is the same man who killed Christine Morton, Debra Masters Baker and Antonetti. She said investigators with the Texas Attorney General’s Office told her they are looking into her case to see if her attack might be linked to Mark Norwood, a 57-year-old Bastrop resident who is in Williamson County Jail awaiting trial on a murder charge.
Like Scott, the other three women were attacked before dawn as they slept, beaten in the head with a large, blunt wooden object. Like the other women, Scott was a mother in her 30s with brown hair and dark eyes.
Unlike them, she survived.
Fortunately for Scott, the attacker used a rotten piece of firewood that he grabbed off of her patio. As he rained blows on her head, the log disintegrated onto the bed and floor around her instead of splitting her skull.
"God blesses me. I didn’t get killed that night, I didn’t get raped that night. So I’ve also been real thankful for that,” she said. “But I also cannot even talk about it without crying.”
A Williamson County grand jury indicted Norwood this month for the Aug. 13, 1986, beating death of Morton. His arrest came after DNA testing showed that Norwood’s DNA was mixed with her blood on a blue bandana found about 100 yards away from the Mortons’ home in north Austin.
That DNA testing also led to the exoneration of Michael Morton, Christine's husband. He was convicted of her murder in 1987 and served nearly 25 years of a life sentence in prison. Michael was released from prison in October, and the murder charges against him were dismissed in December.
Norwood’s DNA was also identified on a pubic hair found at the scene of the Jan. 13, 1988, murder of Debra Masters Baker. Police have said that Norwood is a suspect in her long-cold murder case, but he has not been charged. At the time of her death, Norwood lived just a few blocks from Baker’s home.
In the case of Antonetti, who on Oct. 13, 1985, was beaten to death while she slept on her couch in her home near Austin’s Zilker Park, the victim’s former boyfriend Dennis Davis was convicted last year by a Travis County jury and sentenced to 36 years in prison. He maintains his innocence, and the case against him was circumstantial. There was no DNA evidence or eyewitness testimony that linked him to the crime. Police began investigating Davis after his wife made an anonymous call telling them that her husband had “sinned against God and man.” Then, a series of ex-girlfriends told jurors that Davis was violent, and one said he had confessed to murdering Antonetti. The Travis County District Attorney’s office has said it is discussing reopening the investigation into her death to see whether it, too, could be connected to Norwood.
After she was attacked in 1990, Scott moved to Atlanta. She was too afraid to continue living in Austin, she said. The police told her they had no suspects, that there hadn’t been any other attacks like hers and it was probably just a random act of violence, maybe a drug addict looking for cash for his next score.
But that didn’t make sense to Scott. Her purse with $100 in it was untouched, and a brand new video player was still in its box near the door. She worried it might have been someone she knew, and she wanted to get away.
“What brought it back was, I saw it on 48 Hours,” Scott said.
As Scott watched that episode about Antonetti, she said she was stunned by how similar the attack was to the one she had experienced. When Davis told CBS reporter Tracy Smith, “I’m innocent. I didn’t do it,” Scott said she believed him.
“The [Travis County district attorney] said ‘Who else could it be except the boyfriend? That’s the only person that could have done this.’ Well, who did it to me?” Scott asked. “I just look at [Davis], and I think, 'That guy did not do that.'”
When Scott started looking up more information about the Antonetti case, she found news reports on the internet about the murders of Morton and Baker. She also saw mugshots and courtroom photos of Norwood.
Scott also learned that at the time of the murders, Norwood worked as a carpet installer. Scott worked at a company that sold carpet.
“I really, really in my gut feel like he was the one who did this,” Scott said. “It’s too much coincidence.”
Citing a gag order signed by Williamson County District Judge Burt Carnes, Norwood’s lawyer declined to comment about the new allegations against his client. But Russell Hunt Jr. has said in the past that Norwood, who has a long history of felony arrests, is adamant that he is innocent.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which is acting as special prosecutor representing the state in the case against Norwood, also declined to comment because of the gag order, which was signed shortly after The Texas Tribune interviewed Scott.
Scott moved to San Antonio a few months ago to be closer to her family. Now that Norwood is in jail she said she feels safe living in the area where she grew up, and still calls home.
“It’s just a scary thing,” she said, “and this guy could have done this a lot of times.”