Sheriff: ‘An emotional, hate-filled crime’
AP, Aug. 19, 2002
TROUP, Texas (AP) –Despite her jitters, Marla Tabb braced herself for the avalanche of responsibilities that awaited her as the new pastor’s wife in this small Texas town.
But Tabb, who made a life out of ministering to others with an effervescent charm, would not live to fulfill her newfound duties.
Just two months after the family left the Navy and moved to Texas, Marla Tabb was found savagely beaten to death in the parsonage bedroom, still wearing her pajamas.
Her husband, 41-year-old pastor Mike Tabb, was charged with murder last week in what Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith called “an emotional, hate-filled crime.”
Former neighbors in North Carolina were shocked to hear of the pastor’s arrest in the August 5 slaying in Troup, a town of about 1,900 in eastern Texas.
“I’ve looked back in that rearview mirror for the last two weeks,” said Jim Sliger, the pastor at Marla Tabb’s childhood church in Beaumont. “I’m as lost as a goose in high grass about this.”
New job, new worries
Sliger’s wife, Donna, said Marla Tabb seemed preoccupied in their last visit.
“She said, ‘We’re going to be taking a church and I don’t know whether that’s good or not,” Donna Sliger said. “I thought she was worried about not being a very good preacher’s wife.”
Taking on a small pastorate is like being tossed into a high-pressure aquarium, surrounded by the wide eyes of church members always watching, waiting, judging, Jim Sliger said.
That situation — compounded by the dramatic shift from military life to private life — along with the arrival of the baby and financial constraints would be “a lot of stress on the family,” he said.
But nothing could explain murder, he said.
On the evening Marla Tabb was killed, just six weeks after she gave birth to a second son, authorities received a frantic 911 call from her husband. He said he had just come home and found the front door open and his wife dead.
Authorities are still searching for the weapon used to beat her to death. The attacker went to great lengths to clean up the scene but left behind a large wooden table with two legs broken off. One leg remains missing.
A fierce struggle
The night of the killing, after authorities had asked Mike Tabb to turn over his clothes and shoes and take the children to safe places, the minister made another call in a shaken voice, this time to Bryan Donahoo, a family friend and Baptist minister who married the Tabbs in 1998.
“He just said ‘Marla’s been killed’,” Donahoo said. “I said, ‘What happened.’ I was thinking maybe a car wreck, and he just said ‘Someone has come into our home and murdered her,’ and that it was a violent death.”
Overturned picture frames and lamps in the bedroom showed Marla Tabb struggled fiercely with her attacker. Autopsy results indicate she sustained blunt force trauma to her head, and a jaw broken in several places.
Mike Tabb attended his wife’s funeral in Beaumont, and friends said his face carried the deep pain of a widower.
Still, suspicions grew. Authorities wondered why there were no signs of forced entry the night of the murder, and nothing stolen.
On Wednesday, authorities arranged for the minister to turn himself in, saying they found blood on his shoes and in his truck bed. He was released the same day from Smith County Jail after posting $50,000 bond.
Troup Mayor John Whitsell, a spokesman for the church, said members are wrestling with anger and disappointment but trying not to judge the minister.
“The person we trusted to guide our spiritual beliefs, at least allegedly turned against everything we stand for,” Whitsell said. “I think we all have to realize the fact that he’s human just like the rest of us.”