Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.
Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.
Erin Caffey was 16 years old when she made plans for her boyfriend and two of his friends to kill her family.
Erin came from a conservative and protective family. Her family began homeschooling her when she was 13 after her family moved from Alba, Texas, to Celeste, Texas, to be closer to Miracle Faith, a conservative Baptist church where her parents worked as ministers. Erin initially started the eighth grade at public school, but her parents were horrified when a girl at school tried to kiss Erin. The Caffeys reacted by “abruptly pulled their children out of school a month into the academic year, and Penny began teaching them a Bible-based curriculum at home.”
Bisexuality was a serious threat in the minds of the Caffeys. Erin’s father Terry said his family was “shocked by a culture of bisexuality,” blaming that bisexual culture for confusing his daughter “before she finally veered off into the premarital relationship that turned deadly.”
For Erin, homeschooling resulted in “an isolated existence for an otherwise social girl whose life was largely circumscribed to Miracle Faith and her parents’ house, six miles from town.” Erin reportedly “didn’t have many friends.” This isolation apparently took its toll. When Erin turned 16, in July 2007, she was allowed to work at the local Sonic. One of her co-workers observed that, “She was so sheltered. It was like she was seeing the world for the first time.”
Erin met her soon-to-be-boyfriend (and later murder partner) Charlie at Sonic. A high school senior, Charlie was known as hotheaded, but he had never been arrested previously and had no serious discipline problems at school. Erin’s parents, however, did not approve of Charlie. After Erin and Charlie dated for a few months, Charlie presented Erin with his grandmother’s engagement ring. It was not a formal proposal, but he was nonetheless making clear his desire.
The semi-proposal infuriated Terry and Penny. From then on, the Caffeys limited Erin’s time with Charlie to “once a week, in their home, under their watch.” Erin became furious and planned to run away. In February, after Penny grounded Erin for talking to Charlie without permission and took away Erin’s keys and phone, Erin decided — and told Charlie — that “killing her parents…was their best option.”
And so they tried to.
On March 1, 2008, Erin, Charlie, and two of Charlie’s friends drove to Erin’s family’s house. Erin waited in the car with one friend while her boyfriend and the other friend went on a shooting and stabbing spree, following which they set fire to the house. During the attack, “Penny Caffey, 37, and her sons Mathew, 13, and Tyler, 8, died.” Terry Caffey, 41, however, “was shot five times but escaped.” Terry survived.
In January of 2009, Erin was charged with “capital murder for her role in the deaths of her mother and two young brothers.” In 2012, Erin’s father told “Nightline” that he has “learned to accept the death of his family, and has even reconnected with his daughter, Erin, who orchestrated the massacre.” Erin will not be eligible for parole until she is 59, but her father visits her every few months in prison.
New York Times bestseller Keith Elliot Greenberg wrote a book in 2011 about the murder titled Love Hurts: The True Story of a Teen Romance, a Vicious Plot, and a Family Murdered.
View the case index here.