May 26

IF THE WALLS COULD TALK – A Houston Police Scandal

61 Riesner Street
In anticipation of the release later this year of my book, Dishonored and Forgotten, I am re-posting a series of stories relating to the 1953 narcotics scandal in the Houston police department. My book is a fictional account of the events.

In 1967, after joining the Houston Police Department, I heard stories of a narcotics scandal that occurred several years earlier.  Those who talked about it usually related that a Captain had been involved and a detective died of gunshot wounds on the third floor of the old headquarters at 61 Riesner Street.  His death was ruled a suicide, but most seemed to presume, often with a nod and a wink, that he had been shot by someone else.  I never learned the details and regret that I didn’t ask more questions.  Most of the officers involved were still on the department then.  If only those walls could talk at the old police headquarters, I’m sure there are some things many wouldn’t want to hear.  But might they tell of the murder of a hero who has been judged a suicide victim for more than fifty years?
 
Fast forward to a recent trip I took to Galveston with my wife. We strolled along The Strand shopping and exploring.  In one shop, I found a book titled Gangster Tour of Texas written by T. Lindsay Baker.  As I thumbed through the book I found a chapter with the heading The Houston Police Dope Scandal: Selling Heroin Back to the Dealers.  I couldn’t resist! Sale made!  Even at the thirty-four dollar price.
 
After reading that story and completing some initial research I recognized several of the officers involved.  Most were “old heads” when I first met them.  I decided to dedicate a few of my blog stories to events surrounding the scandal.
 
The following summarizes some of the details I’ll explore here in the weeks to come.  Heroin was taken in as evidence, but went missing.  A police chief, L.D. Morrison, resigned as an indirect result of the scandal.  Assistant Chief George Seber kept some of the suspected stolen heroin in his office. Officers J.T. Conley and E.H. Bennett were caught up in the scandal simply because they answered a call where the dope was recovered.  Detective Martin Albert Billnitzer was not suspected of being involved, but allegedly committed suicide after talking to federal investigators about the missing heroin. He supposedly shot himself in the heart…twice! Captain Foy Melton was charged and tried twice on charges related to the missing heroin, but was not convicted.  A few years later he too was reported to have committed suicide.  Officer William C. Pool learned of the scandal from his two friends, Conley and Bennett.  He reported the wrongdoing to the District Attorney and the Feds.  Detective Sidney Smith was the only officer to go to jail.
 
Fifty years after his death, the family of Officer Billnitzer asked the Houston Police Department to reopen the investigation.  In part, their request was made because of documents they had discovered in Federal Government archives through freedom of information requests.
 
It’s a fascinating story.  If the family is correct, was Detective Martin Albert Billnitzer killed in the line of duty?  And, if so, should his name be on the City, State, and National Memorial Walls.  I’ll explore the possibility in a future blog.
 
Feel free to e-mail me with comments or information at Larry@LarryWatts.net.
 
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Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

Posted May 26, 2016 by Larry Watts in category "Cops", "Crimes and Criminals

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