He was pursued by Texas Ranger Clint Peoples during a murder investigation. After Estes was convicted of fraud and sent to prison, Peoples befriended him and convinced him to testify before a grand jury regarding the murder. The testimony was noteworthy because Billie Sol told the grand jury that Lyndon Johnson had ordered the murder of Henry Marshall, a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector.
It was a bizarre murder case in which the victim was shot five times with his own rifle and had a head injury caused by blunt trauma. In spite of that evidence, a Texas justice of the peace ruled the death a suicide and the county sheriff concurred. In 1985 a state district court judge finally ruled the case a homicide, although no one was ever charged with the murder.
Estes may not have committed the murder, but he was a con-man extraordinaire. His financial schemes were so complicated that it is difficult to follow the trail of deception. Before he was exposed, he was chosen by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce as one of America’s 10 outstanding young men in 1953. After the scandal broke, he was featured on the cover of Time magazine and in a not so flattering article. He was involved in the anhydrous ammonia business, or at least in non-existent ammonia tanks which were fraudulently mortgaged. He was also engaged in the illegal transfer of cotton allotments from farmers whose land had been foreclosed. First convicted in 1963 and sentenced to 24 years in prison; that conviction was eventually overturned. He was then convicted for a second set of offenses and served four more years in prison.
Estes could have been a carnival barker or a used car salesman, but instead he became one of the most accomplished flimflam artists in American history. He made donations to politicians and was friends with a man who would become president. Billie Sol was a bible-thumping Church of Christ preacher who held barbeques for governors and senators. But most of all, he was a self-absorbed egotist. After serving his prison terms, he never stopped inventing bizarre murder plots involving President Johnson. From the federal inspector to President Kennedy, Estes eventually accused Johnson of ordering eight murders. Many believed he created these sensational stories to promote a book he wrote as well as one written by his daughter. I would like to recommend more reading for those who are interested, but even the titles of the two books written by Estes and his daughter suggest only more self-promotion.
He never attended college, but amassed a fortune, conning politicians, bankers, and the government, with his smooth talk and enthusiastic personality. Billie Sol Estes died in May this year at home in Granbury, Texas. There will be others like him; but there’ll never be another Billie Sol Estes.