POLICE CHIEF WILLIE BAUER, REFORMER OR BAG-MAN?
|Mickey Cohen’s telegram|
In the early 1950’s the Texas legislature convened a Special Crime Investigation Committee, which soon became known as the James Committee referring to its vice-chairman, Tom James, of Dallas. Many people know this piece of Texas history, but mistakenly believe it was limited to an investigation of organized crime in Galveston, Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas. While Galveston’s gambling, liquor laws, and prostitution were a part of the investigation, the Committee subpoenaed witnesses regarding crime in El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo, Dallas, and other locations. In fact, well-known mobster Mickey Cohen, of Chicago and Los Angeles, was even subpoenaed. On the left is his Western Union response to the subpoena.
James was interviewed in 2005 by the Beaumont Enterprise and said the Committee had been investigating for some time, when a mid-day shooting in downtown Beaumont, between two numbers-running racketeers caused the Committee to turn its attention to Beaumont and Jefferson County. On a hot July afternoon in 1958, Banjo Red Marshall shot Jake Giles four times in the back, killing him. The Committee heard rumors that it was a hit ordered by New Orleans mobsters. So began a colonoscopy of Jefferson County law enforcement.
|Sergeant Bauer on right|
Today’s story focuses on a police chief who was appointed as the Crime Committee’s work was winding down in Beaumont, Texas. Willie Bauer became a Beaumont police officer in 1938. He was promoted to sergeant in 1941, detective in 1943, and captain in 1949. A year later he went to the FBI National Academy for local law enforcement training. Just months after completing the training, Bauer became Beaumont’s Assistant Chief of Police.
|A dapper Detective Bauer|
In January of 1961 three days of hearings began. The testimony was at time frightening and comical. As related in an article in the Beaumont Enterprise by Brooke Crum in June, 2014, a numbers racketeer by the name of Russell Bond testified the cops didn’t bother his operation because he paid them three thousand dollars a month. Savannah Godeaux ran a bordello featuring black whores for white men only. Her lawyer told the Committee she couldn’t understand their questions because she only spoke French.
The County Sheriff, Charles Meyers, Port Arthur Police Chief Garland Douglas, Beaumont Police Chief Jim Mulligan, and Assistant Chief Willie Bauer were among the many officers subpoenaed to testify. Most admitted that gambling, prostitution, and illegal liquor sales ran rampant in their jurisdictions. The Sheriff admitted to taking over $56,000 in what he characterized as “campaign contributions”. It must have sounded believable to Port Arthur Chief Douglas because he also testified to receiving over $65,000 in “campaign contributions” even though his position was appointed and he wasn’t an elected official. There was testimony that these gallant enforcers of America’s laws found brown envelopes full of cash laying on the seats of their cars. They apparently never questioned how it got there.
Some were fired from their positions, others lost elections, but Willie Bauer was the beneficiary of the uproar about corruption. In 1961 Chief Mulligan was fired and Willie Bauer became Beaumont’s police chief. It was a position he would retain until his retirement in 1984.
So was he a reformer or a bag-man? One person interviewed for this article said that he was told by an old-time Beaumont officer who worked there during the corruption that Bauer was the bag-man for the Chief, but that he was smart enough to see the tide turning. He embraced the public perception of a changing society. One of his first acts was to fire the Chief of Detectives, Jim Stafford, who was directly implicated in collecting the bribes. That firing may well have been a condition for Bauer getting the job.
Others, who grew up in Beaumont and knew Bauer and his family, remember him as just another police officer, family man, well-respected. They don’t associate his name to the gambling and prostitution scandal of the 50’s and 60’s, although he served as Assistant Chief for nearly all of that era.
Ron DeLord, became a Beaumont police officer in 1969. He said that even then, Beaumont had no formal training for new officers. He was instructed to buy a pistol and holster, find a uniform from a stack of used uniforms previously worn by other officers, and to report to work on the evening shift.
“I was given a copy of the justifiable homicide statute from the penal code and advised not to use the word “Nigger” on the radio. We had one black patrolman serving warrants on black people and one black detective who worked with a white detective handling what was termed ‘misdemeanors murders’ (black on black),” said DeLord.
For months after going to work, he never met Bauer, but that changed in 1970. A friend was fired when a citizen complained. The Chief never asked the officer what happened before firing him. DeLord thought it was unfair and expressed his opinion to fellow officers.
Soon after, he was called to the Chief’s office. The Chief sat behind a desk eating sunflower seeds and spitting the shells into a trash can. When DeLord was seated, Chief Bauer said, “Boy, I heard you were unhappy with my decision to fire your buddy. Look around this room and see if you see anyone backing you up. Now shut up and go back to work or I will fire you.“
DeLord said, “There were rumors that Willie had profited from the bad old days and was rich. He had a beach house at Bolivar. A city custodian was alleged to have dragged the sack all over town whenever Willie wanted stuff for his beach house. One story went the chief wanted some railroad ties and the custodian went to the railroad and they donated some. Willie found out they were used and sent them back and requested new ones.”
His reflections, forty-five years after that stint working for Chief Bauer, “Willie was smarter than those before him and understood that he needed civic support when the hammer fell with the “James” investigation. He became entrenched and outlasted numerous mayors, councils and managers and had the goods on many people.”
It’s hard to believe that the man who served as assistant police chief during all the years of police corruption in Beaumont was squeaky clean. And if he was still with us, I’m not sure he would pretend to have been. But one thing we know. Banjo Red shot Jake in broad daylight over a gambling turf war in downtown Beaumont. If not for that event, the investigation of police corruption, elevation of Bauer to Chief, and speculation about his integrity might never have occurred.