February 1

Book Review by Retired HPD Sergeant M.D. Beale, Jr. – Dishonored and Forgotten

 

It’s still a mystery.  Can anything be done about it today?  That’s the bottom line question.  Get a copy of the book and make up your own mind.

I bought my copy Thursday, January 12, 2017, at the HPROA meeting from Larry and Carolyn.  They autographed my copy – the first signed copy.  I think the best way to order yours is from Larry’s website.

I read this book in one sitting.  That’s a rare thing for me.  It took the afternoon and a little of the early evening but I didn’t notice too much.  I didn’t realize exactly what I was doing until I was through.  That pretty well tells you how good I think the book is.  Trying to sort out exactly what I think and feel about what happened is totally different.

The fiction part of this book is pretty much in how the story is told.  It’s not in the basic discoverable facts of what happened.  See the website for more of the “back story”.

I joined HPD in 1968 as part of Class 38 and retired in January of 1991.  I was a street cop for almost seven years before going to the Vice Division for a year then promoting to Detective in the Robbery Division in 1975 where I spent the rest of my HPD career.  I suffer from no illusions at all about police officers or police procedures.

Over the years I had heard a few comments about this killing and those were from very senior officers and detectives who were loath to talk about it.  Now I understand why.

A fundamental truth:  Times change.  It is a very grave error, in my not so humble opinion, and one of utmost unfairness – to apply another era’s standards to any given incident.  You have to judge the “rightness or wrongness” of past events in the social context in which they happened.  That does NOT mean you don’t learn and change things.

To try to understand or judge past events using current social conditions, mores and morals is a mistake.  What today are totally unacceptable actions were then considered to be the proper and right things to do given the specific circumstances in which they occurred.

“Best practices” in the 1950’s worked well then but certainly are not acceptable now.

For instance, to condemn the practice outlined in the story of using captured contraband in order to make the absolutely necessary informant system work is wrong.  In a social, political and administrative situation where there was no way to pay informants, officers were faced with choosing whether or not to fight the narcotics trade at all.  There was only the one solution available to officers all across the nation and they used it.  Almost all of them did it following the unofficial but “correct” guidelines established.  They did the best they could with what they had to work with at the time.  The few that “abused the system” – as usual – screwed it up for everybody else.

Having said that – murder, especially for profit, is dead wrong [pun intended] – in any time or situation.  The killing of a police officer in the police station raises it to a whole new level.

At first glance, it would appear that Det. Martin Billnitzer was murdered in his office on the second floor of the main police station at 61 Riesner Street and that the declaration of the killing was a suicide seems a blatant cover-up.

Almost all of the folks that ever mentioned it around me talked of it as a suicide involving a federal narcotics investigation.  That was the “public” version.

However, a couple mentioned that he was shot twice.  They didn’t think a suicidal person could shoot themselves twice.  It’s extremely rare but it’s possible.  There are at least two multiple shot suicide cases that have occurred in Harris County.  The key, I think, is in exactly where the wounds in the chest/heart area were.

Many years after I retired a good friend of mine [now deceased] mentioned to me something that happened at the time of the killing.  A friend of his [who was deceased at the time he was telling me the story] had been nearby when the shots were heard and had seen another officer [now deceased] heading down the back stairs just around the corner from where the killing took place.

There is still some kind of a case file somewhere.  Chief Breashears had it reviewed when he was chief and decided that there was nothing that could be done then about changing the status at that time.

Forensics change every day.

So, we’re back around to the bottom line question:  Can anything be done about it today after all of this time?  If Billnitzer was murdered he certainly deserves to be included in the Line of Duty roster, I think.

But there’s a whole lot more to the story.

Get a copy of the book and see what you think!

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHORS

February 15

THE JUDGE WHO HAD A PRICE TAG

Judge Bates after arrest
Texas elects all its judges. Some say the need to raise campaign funds and placate the wishes of various political constituencies, corrupts the wearers of the black robes. That may be true, but that’s not the subject of this blog. This blog is about a district court judge in Harris County, Texas who was willing to sell his integrity one felony case at a time. It’s also about others who worked in the criminal justice system who took on this powerful judge and sent him to prison.
Sergeant Bob Rees and Officer Stan Plaster worked in Houston’s Vice Squad. One of their informants told them he’d been in a poker game at which there was some talk about bribing a judge by pawn shop owner Nukie Fontenot. Seems Nukie had been indicted for receiving stolen property, theft and aggravated robbery. But he was a lucky guy. His case ended up in the courtroom of Judge Garth Bates.
The case that Nukie Fontenot was charged in was being worked by Detectives Sam Nuchia and Earl Musick, two cops who enjoyed their work. They took a simple approach to this case. Although there’s little debate that the “briber” and the “bribee” are equally criminals, a judge has a higher standard to live up to. So the detectives contacted Nukie and told him simply that they knew he was trying to bribe the judge. The old saying that there is no honor among thieves proved to be accurate once again. Nukie agreed to record conversations, become a state’s witness and help put the good judge away.
I won’t lay out all the details of the pay-off, but for $60,000 Bates agreed to see that Nukie didn’t have to spend time in prison. After the money was paid, the intermediary between the Judge and Nukie, a man by the name of Ed Riklin, was arrested outside his apartment on McCue Street in Houston. As that task was completed, the detectives got a pleasant surprise. Judge Bates, driving his Cadillac, pulled into the parking lot. When he realized his friend was being arrested, he attempted to leave, but was stopped by the officers. Detective Musick arrested him, found $2,900 of the marked money in his coat pocket and a pistol on the seat of the Caddy.
Earl Musick
Now Earl Musick took his job seriously. He carried a card with the Miranda Warning printed on it and read the warning to the good Judge as required. Bates was insulted and interrupted Detective Musick to assure him he was a district judge and understood the law. Maybe so, maybe not, but he continued to talk to the detectives, telling them what a grave mistake they were making by arresting him. Some of that conversation was used against him at trial.
When the case went to court, the prosecutor admitted into evidence the little blue card with the Miranda Warning printed on it that Musick carried. After Bates was convicted, the Detective was allowed to retrieve the card and still has it as a memento, since he is one of the few, if not the only, law enforcement officer in Texas who has ever read a sitting district court judge his legal rights.
Bates got 8 years in prison for selling justice from the bench, but he only served 3 months. Seems fellow District Court Judge Thomas Routt managed to change the former judge’s sentence to allow him to be placed on shock probation. The two men not only served as district court judges together, but both had been municipal (or traffic) court judges previously for the City of Houston.
 
Sam Nuchia later became Houston’s police chief, an attorney and a judge himself. Earl Musick obtained his law degree and now practices law in Houston. I wasn’t able to learn much about Garth Bates after his conviction. He’d be 100 years old today if still alive, but then they say, only the good die young. I’m pretty sure of one thing though, he’s no longer wearing a long black robe with a price tag hanging off it.
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December 25

THE PIMPING POLICEMAN

In 1950 politicians hadn’t invented the “war on drugs” and J. Edgar Hoover was still denying that the U.S. had an organized crime problem called the “mafia”. Law enforcement had yet to learn that convincing the public the legitimacy of the war on drugs would be a huge cash cow for police and swell their ranks beyond anything imaginable.

 

So, when local politicians needed a law and order issue to campaign on, they accused their opponents of being soft on, or if running against an incumbent, ignoring the gambling and prostitution going on right under their noses. That’s what Houston Mayor Oscar “the old gray fox” Holcombe faced from his two opponents that year. So Mayor Holcombe, who had a legitimate reputation of allowing such vices to thrive in his City, needed a police crackdown.
Windal “Dick” Sherman Satterfield was a 21 year old former high school football player who was later described in newspaper accounts as tall and handsome. He had a job making $90.00 a week. He left that job in the summer of 1950 and became a rookie Houston police officer at a salary of less than $50.00 a week. Some might have thought he had suffered a concussion on the football field. But Officer Satterfield wasn’t stupid. He was an entrepreneur.
Only months into his new career, Satterfield rented an expensive apartment and installed his new girlfriend, Tony Middleton, there to run his call-girl operation. He then added Vicki Fillbeck and Bonnie Jean Day to his stable and began bringing in $2000 a week in his new business. All three ladies were described in newspaper accounts as shapely and attractive. But Tony wasn’t happy for long. She told her new boyfriend that she wanted to retire from “turning tricks” and just be available for his pleasure.
Now being a young and inexperienced pimp, Dick Satterfield didn’t respond as most pimps would have by beating his number one whore with a clothes hanger. Instead, he hit the streets and found another lovely girl who had just arrived from Dallas and was plying her trade independently of a business manager/pimp. He suggested that she join his stable and she declined. Dick decided to convince her by giving her the beating any self-respecting pimp would have given Tony. But it didn’t work. She reported him to the police and then accused those she reported it to of beating her as well.
But remember, Mayor Holcombe needed to “clean up” the City for the upcoming election. So Officer Satterfield and his three employees were arrested and held at the police station until they gave confessions. As is often the case, there was one embarrassing detail the good Mayor might have preferred not been made public.  Satterfield told reporters that in Houston, prostitutes had to pay police $40.00 a week to work at their trade. A grand jury was convened but his appearance postponed as they looked for other witnesses.
Satterfield was fired, the Mayor won another term and there was no more mention in the newspapers of a grand jury to investigate pay-offs by the local whores to police. Research indicates that the young officer lived more than 50 years after being fired and is buried in his birth state of Alabama, never again making the news.
November 10

NEW RELEASE! MURDER ON THE SEAWALL

My latest is now available for purchase in paperback or as an e-book. Murder on the Seawall is the third in the Tanner & Thibodaux Series. The first in the series is Homicide in Black & White. 
The latest, Murder on the Seawall, takes place in Galveston, Texas. Tanner and Thibodaux solve the mysterious murder of a wealthy businessman whose mother insists on bringing the killer to account. Molly B is a character in her own right, having grown up in the bordellos of Galveston Island and married a young gambler who ran a numbers racket for the mob. Both turned their entrepreneurial spirit toward creating a successful and legitimate business and becoming very wealthy in the process. Come with the two detectives as they explore the local culture on the Island while searching for clues to who murdered Molly B’s son.
If you would like the paperback version of Murder on the Seawall, it is available at the following link, as well as all the on-line bookstores you usually shop. 
https://www.createspace.com/5505726

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November 3

THE MAD BUTCHER

Ed Gein
Ever wonder who inspired the insane characters in movies such as Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and for the hardcore followers of such movies, Deranged and In the Light of the Moon? In all those movies it was probably a man whose name you’ve never heard.
 
Ed Gein was one of the most bizarre murderers in history. He was born at the turn of the 20th century and raised on a farm in Wisconsin with his older brother, Henry. Their mother raised them alone as the father was an violent alcoholic who abandoned the family. Ed’s mother was a fanatical religious zealot who taught her sons that all women, except herself, were whores and prostitutes who would cause them to be condemned to hell.
 
The two sons stayed with their mother on the farm after becoming adults. Their father died in 1940 and the older brother, Henry, began to reject his mother’s view of the world and probably more specifically, her view toward women.
 
Four years later, he and Ed were fighting a brush fire on their property. When the fire was extinguished, Ed reported to the sheriff that his brother was missing. When authorities arrived, he led them directly to his brother’s body. Although the brother had a wound to his head described as a blunt trauma wound, the death was ruled accidental as a result of asphyxiation. This may have been Ed Gein’s first murder.

Inside the madman’s house

 

Not long after Henry died, Ed Gein’s mother also bit the dust. So he was left alone to grieve and what a way he chose to deal with it. In 1957 a store clerk disappeared. The last sales receipt she wrote was to Ed Gein. The sheriff went to his house to interview Gein, but apparently he wasn’t at home. As the sheriff walked into a shed on the property, he saw a headless woman’s body hanging like a gutted deer from the ceiling. It was the missing clerk’s body.
 
Gein soon confessed to also having murdered a barmaid in 1954. Numerous body parts were recovered at his home. It was a sick mind of a man who skinned a woman to create a body suit from the skin. He apparently wore the suit at times. Gein also made a belt with female nipples attached as studs around it. He was particularly interested in harvesting and preserving female body parts. But there weren’t that many missing women in the entire State.  Who where the women whose body parts Gein had collected?
 
Gein arrested
When questioned, the deranged man told investigators that he had taken the body parts from recently buried females in the local cemetery. He said he had recruited an ally, who was identified by only the first name, Gus, to go with him to the cemetery the night after a funeral, dig up the body, harvest the parts Gein wanted, from skin to sex organs, and then return the body to its grave. Authorities confirmed his story after opening several graves and finding the mutilated remains. By the time Ed Gein was arrested, his accomplice, Gus, had been placed in a nursing home and was apparently not prosecuted.
 
Gein said he wouldn’t have started killing women except that when his friend Gus went to a nursing home, it was too hard for him to dig up the corpses by himself. When asked if he performed sexual acts with the corpses, he consistently denied it, saying simply that the bodies smelled terrible.
 
Ed Gein was determined to be insane and spent the remainder of his life in a mental hospital. But he is immortalized, after a fashion, by becoming the model for deranged characters in movies, some listed at the beginning of this story and others, including the release in the U.S. in 2001 of the movie In the Light of the Moon, under the new title, Ed Gein, the Butcher of Plainfield.

 

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September 14

POLICE CHIEF FOR 41 YEARS!

Billy Neal moved from deep East Texas to Vidor when his wife, Sue, got a job there as a teacher. He drove a truck for a construction company. The problem was, it rained so much he couldn’t get a full weeks pay more often than not. So Billy, at the age of twenty-two, drove to the neighboring town of Nederland to see his friend, Bill Pardon, who was the City’s Assistant Police Chief. He hoped his friend would have advice about a job that didn’t depend on sunshine.
 
“We’ve got a job for a patrolman,” his friend said. “If you want it, it’s yours.”
 
“I don’t know anything about police work. I’ve never even sat in a police car,” the future police chief responded.
 
Apparently never having been in a police car was qualification enough, because the following week, Billy Neal was the night shift patrol officer for the Nederland Police Department. He didn’t know how to write a ticket and when he made calls for police service, he had to rely on common sense, because he had no training. After a couple of weeks, they sent him for a week of training. Neal took the job just to tide him over financially until he could find other work.
 
When he told his wife he’d taken the job as a policeman she wasn’t happy. “Oh, no you’re not taking that job. I’ll never be married to a policeman,” Sue told him. She eventually relented, as long as he stayed only until he found other employment.
 
His wife continued to suggest other jobs he might pursue, but after a few months he quit looking. Billy Neal said he loved the work. He insists that until his last day, he was always eager to go to work and never remembers a time that he was unhappy with the job. When he quit looking for other careers though, he needed an excuse. The City had bought him some uniforms, so he rationalized that after they spent that much money on him, it would not be right to quit right away.
 
Two years later, at the age of twenty-four, both his friend Pardon and the Chief left the Department. The City hired a Chief from another town, but he didn’t last long. The City Council offered Billy the position with a $175 a month raise and a trip to Texas A&M University for a crash course on how to be a better policeman.
 
When he became police chief, Billy Neal was the youngest chief ever appointed in Texas. Forty-one years later, when he retired, he was (and probably still is) the longest serving police chief. His successor, Chief Darrell Bush, says he believes Neal is actually the longest serving police chief in the nation, but such records don’t exist, making it difficult to verify.
 
Neal served as Nederland’s Police Chief from 1960 to 2001, I asked him about the famous James Commission investigation that occurred in Jefferson County (where Nederland is located) during the 1960’s. The investigation was initiated to ferret out police corruption related to prostitution and gambling, mostly in Beaumont and Port Arthur. Two police chiefs and a sheriff, along with other officers, lost their jobs as a result of the investigation and stories about the corruption were published throughout the nation.
 
Chief Neal said the investigation never really got to Nederland, mainly because there were no whorehouses or gambling joints in the City. He said his only encounter with corruption was shortly after he became Chief. A housewife called and complained that her husband was losing money every week when he went to a local bar and gambled in the back room. The Chief drove to the bar on a Friday evening and marched through the establishment to the back room, where he found the bar owner overseeing a gaming operation. He told the owner there would be no arrests that night, but that it was the last gambling he expected to take place there.
 
The businessman followed him out of the bar and asked, “How much do I need to pay you each month to keep my operation going?” The Chief repeated his no more gambling edict and told the man that offers of bribes landed people in jail. It was the last problem he had with that operation.
 
What about the Nederland Police Department’s reaction to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s? Chief Neal said there was little unrest in his City. There was one neighborhood made up primarily of black residents.  He recalled only one conversation with the local NAACP during which both he and the representative made their positions clear, but there was no trouble. Chief Neal said he believed that was the case because of his approach to police work. He always believed and told his officers to treat everyone you come in contact with, the way you want to be treated. The Chief quickly added that he also made sure his officers understood they did not have to take abuse from anyone, regardless of race or any other factor.
 
Chief Neal always tried to take care of his officers and he was disappointed when he learned that they formed an association and were pursuing the right to collective bargaining. He’d never lost a political battle in his town. This would be the first time.
 
“This whole county is really union friendly and the voters agreed to let my guys form a union. It worked out alright though. I still ran the Department and they got some good pay raises. Once it was done, when I saw their union rep, I walked up to him and simply said, ‘Take care of my boys’,” the Chief said without a hint of animosity.
 
One of the Chief’s most memorable incidents was also the only occasion he ever wore a bullet-proof vest. A local resident shot and killed a woman, then barricaded himself inside the home. Officers arrived and surrounded the house. Meanwhile, Chief Neal obtained the phone number and called the man. A few minutes conversation allowed the Chief to establish rapport with him. He knew it had occurred when the man told him, “Chief, you might want to tell your officers they’re surrounding the wrong home. I’m next door to where they are.”
 
The Chief laughed as he told the story, but it didn’t end there. The man refused to lay down his pistol and come outside, saying he believed the officers would kill him. He insisted that the Chief come to the scene, enter the home and walk out with him. That’s when the Chief donned the bullet-proof vest.
 
When he arrived at the scene, he was met by Assistant Chief Kenneth Secrest. “What are we going to do if he shoots you?” the Assistant Chief asked.
 
Chief Neal didn’t waste words. “Kill him,” he said, as he began what he described as one of the longest walks of his life. It was only a few yards from the street to the house, but it seemed like miles. Chief Neal admitted to the fear he would be killed, but he got in the door and subdued the man. He said it was very little physical activity, but because of the adrenalin rush, he was worn out. When other officers took custody of the suspect he had to sit down for a few minutes.

The Chief credits his wife, Sue, with raising their three children almost by herself because he spent so much time at the Police Department. She was a school teacher in Nederland for thirty years. Their two daughters and son are all involved in education as well and have remained in their parents adopted town of Nederland.
 
Chief Billy Neal was an “accidental” police officer. He didn’t grow up with a burning desire to wear the badge. He, like so many others, simply stumbled into the career. His easy going manner and philosophy of treating everyone like he wants to be treated, caused him to excel, not only as police officer and chief, but as a man.
 
“I really didn’t want to retire,” he said, “but I knew it was time. “A year later I ran for City Council in Nederland and have served there ever since.” He’s eighty years old now and shows little sign of slowing down.
 
“I’m proud that during my time as Chief I got to build a new police station and increase the number of officers. When I walk in today, I still feel like it’s my Department, although it’s now in the very capable hands of Chief Darrell Bush, my long-time personal friend and successor.”

 

It’s obvious that those at the Department today understand that too. They still address him as Chief even though he’s been retired for nearly fifteen years.


 

August 19

DEAD-EYE AND THE GHOST RIDERS GANG

Dead-eye Virgil Watts

It was a cool Tuesday evening in mid-March, 1948. Already one could feel that spring was fast approaching, but as dusk settled over the small Oklahoma town of Ripley, the shadowy figure wore a jacket to ward of the chill created by a mild breeze. He stepped onto the porch at the home of local horse trader, Cliff Cantrell. Quickly and quietly he pushed a tack with a note attached to one of the porch columns next to the front door. He moved swiftly back into the street and disappeared in the darkness. Thus began the short-lived crime spree of the Ripley Ghost Riders Gang.
There were four of them, none with criminal records. The note they left demanded the horse trader deliver seven horses to the bridge that crossed the Cimarron River just outside town. If, by dusk the next evening, the horses weren’t there, he wouldn’t see his son again. Of course, the Cantrell’s son wasn’t missing, which was a flaw in the Gang’s plan. Jake, Otis Ted, and my brother, known within the gang as ‘Dead-eye,’ a nickname well-suited for a member of a ruthless gang of kidnappers, had dipped their collective toes into the cold waters of a criminal adventure.
Ripley was a peaceful community with virtually no crime. Those who saw the note questioned whether it might be just a prank, but the Sheriff was notified and the investigation began. A surveillance team staked out the road and the small, steep hills or bluffs that ran alongside the meandering, red clay tinted waters of the Cimarron. After hours of quietly waiting for the gang to appear, the deputies tired of swatting mosquitoes and called off the stake-out.
There were questions to consider. Did the gang get word of the surveillance? Would they make further demands? Was the Cantrell boy safe? A deputy sheriff by the name of Ralph White came up with a theory which he tested the next day.
When the Ripley Public School bell rang, signaling the start of the day’s classes, Deputy White asked the school principal to call all the boys into his office, one by one, to give handwriting samples. Word spread quickly through the halls that the kidnappers might be students and the Lawman was there to ferret out the guilty parties. This heavy-handed abuse of police powers worked before the Deputy had time to make the first comparison. The Ghost Riders Gang, ages 12 to 15, walked together to the principal’s office and confessed their crime.
Ted, the ringleader of the Gang, was reported in the local paper to have commented, “We really didn’t even want the horses and didn’t go to the bridge to see if they had been delivered. It seemed like it would be fun, but now it doesn’t seem so much. It just didn’t turn out like the cowboy movies.”
Deputy White reported that he gave all the boys a stern lecture and no charges would be filed. “The Ghost Riders,” he said, “had been dehorned once and for all.” He was right; none of the four continued lives of crime.
Virg’ on the steel

‘Dead-eye’ Virgil Watts went on to become an accomplished steel guitar player. In a recent interview, he said that he and Otis were only involved in listening to Ted lay out the plan. They didn’t help write or deliver the note, but took their lecture along with their buddies. Ted had thought it would be a lot of fun and carried out the prank.
‘Dead-eye’ admitted that he might have had at least one other brush with the law. In the mid-1950s he was playing music at the Knickerbocker Inn, a working-class bar, reputed to be owned by a member of the Chicago Mob.
One night shortly after he arrived in Chicago and before he’d even unpacked his car bearing out-of-state license plates, he was stopped by a policeman. Now ‘Dead-eye’ says he’s sure he looked a little suspicious, what with the back seat full of clothes, guitars, amplifiers, and other assorted musical instruments. 
At the Knickerbocker


Upon questioning, he told the officer he was new in town and playing music at the Knickerbocker. The officer, apparently suspicious of the story, told him to drive to the club so he could verify it. Once there, ‘Dead-eye’ was instructed to stand by the door as the officer walked to the bar and talked with the owner. After a short conversation, his boss pulled a wad of bills from his pocket and gave a ten to the cop who left, ignoring ‘Dead-eye’ on his way out.
Once the officer was gone, his boss said, “When they stop you, just wrap a fiver around your driver’s license or lay it on the seat beside you. Don’t look at it. When he gives you back the license, the fiver’ll be gone. You won’t get a ticket and I won’t have to waste my time talkin’ to a copper.”
The advice worked and the boss was happy that he didn’t have to bail ‘Dead-eye’ out again. But it turned out that Dead-eye had to find other ways to get to work. Seems the officer recognized a regular source of extra income and stopped ‘Dead-eye’ every time he saw him.

 

All these years later, Dead-eye Virgil Watts still plays the steel guitar and will be inducted into the Western Swing Hall of Fame next year. If Deputy White was still around, he would likely take pleasure knowing that his compassionate approach to law enforcement with four young miscreants was a success. His lecture to the members of the Ripley Ghost Riders Gang and letting them slide on criminal charges was the right way to handle this prank that could also have been a crime.
July 26

UNCLE HILTY – FORMER COP, CROOK, & KID KILLER

McKay Everett called him Uncle Hilty. He was a neighbor to the Everett family and a friend of McKay and his parents. During his life, Hilton Crawford was identified by many names. He was a police officer in Beaumont, Texas for three years, a deputy in Jefferson County, Texas for fifteen, and a candidate for sheriff there when he ran against his boss, Sheriff Dick Culbertson in the 1970’s. He was also called business owner because he later owned a security guard services company. But what he would eventually be best known for and put to death as a result of, was the title murderer. He brutally took the life of his young friend and neighbor, Samuel McKay Everett. During his trial, he was also identified as a man engaged in fraud and murder for hire, all in the pursuit of more money.

As early as 1976, when he was campaigning for Sheriff, rumors swirled that Crawford’s campaign was financed by the Mafia. But he struck back, raising allegations against his opponent. It turned out to be a particularly nasty campaign in which he accused Culbertson and Beaumont Police Chief Willie Bauer of spreading rumors of Mafia connections in an effort to defeat him. He spent more money than any other candidate in Jefferson County that year, but Dick Culbertson remained sheriff then and for many years after.

By the 1990’s, Crawford and his family were living in Montgomery County, Texas. He had owned a security business which failed and left him without enough money to live as he was accustomed. He began working for another security guard company. But his lifestyle needed a large infusion of cash. It was then, apparently after attempting the less violent crime of fraud and the more serious attempt to hire another murderer, that Crawford himself kidnapped and murdered McKay.

After his conviction for kidnapping and murdering young McKay Everett, witnesses testified during the sentencing phase of the trial that he had tried to hire a hit man to kill a business associate. An insurance investigator testified that Crawford also staged a theft of his own property in order to get a settlement.

Finally, his demented mind struck upon the idea of kidnapping his friends’ son and collecting a ransom. Crawford enlisted a female accomplice to make the ransom demands. Next he set up a meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Everett to get them out of the house, never intending to be at the meeting himself, because he would be at their home kidnapping their young son. When McKay answered the door, he could never have believed his Uncle Hilty would commit the vicious acts that led to the boy’s death.

Crawford hit the boy over the head, stuffed him in the trunk of his car and drove away. One might have thought that a crook with eighteen years of experience in law enforcement would have a reasonably well-conceived plan for his heinous crime. But not Hilton Crawford. First, he didn’t show up for the meeting he’d arranged with the child’s parents, no doubt casting immediate suspicion his way. Next, he drove to the victim’s home in his own car which was observed by neighbors. Finally, at the first sign that his plan wouldn’t work, he murdered his victim, although that may have been the plan from the beginning, since McKay would certainly recognize him as the abductor.

It must have been surprising that night, after his accomplice Irene Flores called the father demanding a ransom, that his phone rang and it was his friend, McKay Everett’s father. He knew Hilton Crawford had experience in law enforcement. After calling 911 and his wife, Mr. Everett’s next call was to, unbeknownst to him, the murderer, to ask Crawford’s assistance in finding McKay. Hilton Crawford’s trip to the death chamber was made certain once he learned that his keystone kops kidnapping caper had failed miserably.

So the former cop was arrested and in hours had confessed to the kidnapping and divulged the location of the body. He continued to maintain, however, even as the death cocktail seeped into his veins, that a mysterious man by the name of R.L. Remington had actually killed McKay Everett. Most believe that Remington was a figment of Crawford’s imagination. McKay’s mother said she believed it represented the pistol her former neighbor and friend used to murder her son. He was convicted and sentenced to death.

Like many death row inmates, Hilton Crawford found Jesus as he waited for his sentence to be carried out. He was simply known by other death row inmates as “old man” and when executed, he was the second oldest inmate to have died in Texas’ death house. 


As he lay on the gurney, Crawford asked McKay’s mother, who was there to witness his execution, to forgive him and said he’d had a wonderful opportunity to serve Jesus while on death row. She responded to reporters later that forgiveness was God’s job, bringing to mind that maybe Crawford had finally had a bit of good luck, finding Jesus on death row and all. 

Had Hilton Crawford pursued his religious reformation earlier in life, or have just practiced common decency, this story might well have been about the success of the man who McKay Everett might have become. We’ll never know, but knowing of Hilton Crawford, we know for sure that evil exists in places we least expect.
July 14

FRENCH FRIES! THE EXECUTION OF JAMES FRENCH republished from November 2014

French said he wasn’t afraid and took a seat
James Donald French was cool as a cucumber, self-assured, and a real showman, which may be the only positive attributes of his miserable life. He was convicted in 1958 by Oklahoma jurors for the murder of Frank Boone. Boone had given French a ride when he was hitchhiking in the Texas Panhandle. After driving into Oklahoma, French murdered the Good Samaritan and took his car. Arrested while he was driving the dead man’s car, French was convicted and sentenced to life in prison
Smarter than the average killer.
By 1961, he murdered his cellmate, Eddie Shelton, and was again facing murder charges, this time from a prison cell. Either he or prison workers promoted the idea that he committed the murder because he lacked the courage to commit suicide, but did not want to remain in prison for the rest of his life. That idea was further promoted when he did his best to make a quick trip to Oklahoma’s hot seat, the electric chair. But others who worked at the prison didn’t buy the story, nor did they ascribe to a defense theory that he was insane.

James French
Questions regarding French’s sanity were raised as early as when he was arrested at sixteen, but while in federal prison (on unrelated charges) before the first murder, he finished high school and completed two years of college. He was reported to have written a book, WE, about the compulsion to commit crime. No record of the book was found by this writer. Psychiatric testimony, raised during one of his trials, revealed that his IQ was 117. The average intelligence score on most tests is 100.

After the murder of his cellmate, he admitted to the offense, saying he executed Shelton, just like the State executes people. French said his victim was like a rotten tomato that would destroy the whole basket. He determined there was no alternative but to kill the man. He also said Shelton had called him ‘nuts.’ In keeping with the tradition of providing the condemned a last meal, French allowed Shelton to have breakfast before strangling him to death.

He told the Court he wanted no appeal of his conviction and was not afraid of the electric chair. But the system wasn’t inclined to grant his wish right away. His conviction was overturned and he was tried twice more before the Grim Reaper came to call. After the third conviction, he begged his family not to intercede and to let him die.

French remained calm and confident to the end. Talking to members of the press shortly before he was to be strapped in the chair, he said, “Hey, fellas. How about this for a headline for tomorrow’s paper? French Fries!

A few minutes later, when the Warden asked him if he had any last words, he said, “Everything’s already been said.” He shook hands with the Warden and a prison guard before taking a seat in the chair that would end his sorry life.

No record was found indicating any newspaper used his recommended headline the next day.

June 26

THE PASADENA DOCTOR AND HIS FRIENDS

Archie Burkhalter was a co-owner of the Red Bluff General Hospital in Pasadena, Texas. His primary partner was Dr. Robert Pendleton. On December 9, 1966, Pendleton was murdered by two rifle shots as he strode across the hospital parking lot. Burkhalter, along with Robert Tucker, Robert Akridge, James Steambarge, and Roy Frashier were eventually charged with the murder.

Burkhalter was tried three times on the charges that he hired the other defendants to murder his business partner. He was convicted in the first trial and sentenced to life in prison, however, that conviction was overturned on appeal. The second trial ended in a mistrial, and in 1975 he was acquitted of the murder. Some of the other defendants were not so lucky. One was sentenced to death and another to 99 years. The death sentence was later commuted.

But Burkhalter’s run in with the law was more complicated than a single murder charge, even one for which he was tried three times. After his partner’s murder, but before being charged with the offense, Burkhalter was charged with raping a 24 year old patient at the hospital. He apparently escaped conviction on that charge as well. In addition, one of his alleged accomplices in the Pendleton murder, George French, testified that he offered then Pasadena Police Chief Ellis Means thirty thousand dollars on behalf of Burkhalter, if Chief Means would “lose some of the evidence” in the case. Chief Means confirmed the bribe offer and testified he reported it to the district attorney at the time.

Then, in 1979, Archie Burkhalter was again charged with hiring two men to murder his ex-wife’s new husband. It seems as though Archie Burkhalter didn’t want his ex-wife, Laurlita, to marry her new boyfriend, John Hensley. She alleged that Burkhalter had kidnapped her and taken her to his hospital in Pasadena in an attempt to convince her to abandon Hensley. When that didn’t work, he met with Hensley himself and offered $5,000 if he would stop seeing Laurlita. That offer was rejected as well.

In February of 1979, as Hensley left his condominium to go to work, he was shot in the face, permanently blinding him. S.J. Wilburn was convicted of having been hired by Burkhalter to kill Hensley. A third suspect was acquitted. But this time, Archie Burkhalter wouldn’t be so lucky.

The infamous Pasadena doctor was convicted of attempted murder in the shooting of Hensley. Upon his conviction, Burkhalter met with the press and said he was looking forward to farming and starting a medical practice in Fredericksburg, Texas. Regarding the conviction he told reporters, “I was put in jail three years when I was innocent” (an apparent reference to the murder of Dr. Pendleton) “and eventually I think justice will be done in this case.”

Justice may have been done, but it was not to be in the manner the Pasadena doctor might have liked. His conviction was upheld and he lost his medical license. After serving his prison term, an appeal to regain that license failed as well.

As far as we know today, Burkhalter is finally enjoying the farm in the Fredericksburg, Texas countryside. Although his life was surrounded by violence and accusations of criminal conduct for years, his name is no longer in the headlines of Texas newspapers.