June 6

Episode 2 IF THE WALLS COULD TALK – A Houston Police Scandal

J.T. Conley (left) & E.H. Bennett
My book, Dishonored and Forgotten, a fictional account of this scandal, will be released later this year.

The call came in on the night of August 11, 1953 from Vivian Timms.  She lived at 3306 Bacchus in Houston, Texas. Her home was about five miles north of the new Houston Police Department building at 61 Riesner Street.  Billed as the most modern police facility in the South, it had opened three years earlier.
Officers M. A. Billnitzer, J.T. Conley and E.H. Bennett, who worked in the Vice Squad, made the call.  Vivian told the officers she saw two men come into her backyard, dig a hole, and bury a garbage can.  Once they left, she dug it up and found that it contained two jars filled with a white powder. Vivian Timms was no stranger to narcotics.  Her sister was dating and probably whoring for a man known in Houston as the Kingfish of drug pushers.  His name was Earl Voice.  He would play a major role in the police scandal that unfolded.
61 Riesner Street
Billnitzer, Conley and Bennett, after interviewing Ms. Timms, took the narcotics to the police station where they inventoried it and opened some of the packets for testing.  Their field test indicated the substance was heroin.  They knew the street value of their discovery was many thousands of dollars.  The confiscation of such a large amount of dope was likely to have major implications in the drug culture on the streets.

As they inventoried the dope, Captain Foy ‘Junior’ Melton strolled into the room.  As reported in T. Lindsey Baker’s book Gangster Tour of Texas, J.T. Conley later recalled, “Melton came in and asked where we got the stuff.” 

The captain left for a few minutes, taking the dope with him, after informing the three officers he would secure the drugs.  He emphatically told them that only he and the three of them knew about the haul and said he wanted them to stay quiet about the discovery because otherwise it might blow an important investigation.  After thirty minutes, the Captain returned, telling Conley that he had put the stuff in the chief’s safe.

And that’s how the intrigue began!  It would last nearly a year, but that night, neither Conley, Bennett, nor Billnitzer could have imagined that in just a few months one of them would be dead, the police chief would resign, others would be accused of corruption and federal agents would be investigating.  So began the first narcotics scandal in the Houston police department.

In the next episode of IF THE WALLS COULD TALK – A Houston Police Scandal readers will be introduced to Earl Voice, the drug dealer and pimp who bought his own dope twice — from a cop. You’ll also meet William Pool, a cop who refused to ignore corruption in the H.P.D.
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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April 3

Galveston Bookshop

Galveston Bookshop 

317 23rd Street, Galveston, Texas 409-750-8200
Click to see the Galveston Daily News Book Review

Murder on the Seawall

Saturday, April 9th, 2:00-4:00 p.m.
Larry Watts joins us Saturday, April 9th from 2:00-4:00 p.m. with his detective mystery set in Galveston
Murder on the Seawall
Murder on the Seawall is the third book in the Tanner & Thibodaux series featuring a retired Delta Force soldier and a retired cop, who have teamed up as detectives to fight for justice in the small towns of Texas. Now they travel to Galveston to solve the murder of a wealthy businessman whose tough-as-nails mother has not only hired them, but has instructed them as to who should be arrested for the murder. Tanner & Thibodaux quickly learn the family’s Galveston history which began in the whorehouses and gambling joints at the water’s edge. They also rule out family matriarch, Molly B’s favorite suspect along the way.
Larry Watts likes to say that he reinvents himself every 20 years going from country boy, to cop, to labor negotiator, and now author of social justice, crime and mystery novels. Larry draws on his many years in law enforcement in representing Texas peace officers and their investigative procedures in his novels. This is his sixth published novel. He lives on the Texas Gulf Coast with his wife Carolyn.
March 2


Judge Sam Kent was appointed to the federal bench by George Bush in 1990. He was the only federal district judge in Galveston, Texas. During his tenure on the federal bench he was described by those who spent time in his court as a bully. In an article written after his downfall, Texas Monthly Magazine described him as the most powerful person in Galveston. His reputation was such that some referred to him as ‘King Kent’ and he was reported to enjoy using the moniker himself at times.
In 1994, when sentencing a former police officer, Billy Sanchez, to prison for sexual assault of several Galveston prostitutes, Kent was attributed with the following quote, which, if he had replaced the words ‘police’ with ‘judge’ and ‘uniform’ with ‘robe’ might well have applied to his own behavior. 
“This court views illegal police conduct as being akin to treason. Cloaked with the awesome mantle of power, honor and responsibility with which society imbues its police, the rogue cop uses that mantle as a cloak of evil…” said Judge Kent. He went on to say that Sanchez behaved like a cowardly predator, using his very uniform and police status to victimize what he perceived to be weak and vulnerable prey. When offered the opportunity to address the court, Mr. Sanchez declined.
Just a few years after sentencing Sanchez to fifteen years, the maximum allowed, King Kent himself would be facing a prison sentence for obstruction of justice, a charge to which he admitted repeatedly engaging in ‘nonconsensual sexual contact’ with two female employees who worked for him. The accusations included the judge grabbing the breasts, running his hands up the skirts and sodomy of those whose very jobs depended on the whim of his desires. So instead of the power of a uniform and police badge, King Kent used the judge’s robe and his standing as a federal judge to abuse women who worked for him.
The judge, however, would receive a more lenient sentence of just 33 months in prison than that which he had bestowed upon the errant cop. But even that was too much for the bully judge. Once in prison, he whimpered that he should be released because he was treated inhumanely and that prison officials were mistreating him. Fortunately, the magistrate hearing his pleas dismissed his whining accusations and, at least temporarily, left his sentence intact.


According to Wikipedia, Sam Kent was furloughed in July 2011 to attend his daughter’s wedding and permitted to serve the remainder of his prison term at his home in west Texas. Billy Sanchez should be out of prison as well, but it is likely that he served much more of his sentence than did King Kent.
Category: Cops, Crimes and Criminals | Comments Off on KING KENT, AN OUT OF CONTROL FEDERAL JUDGE
June 1


He was called the “candy man” by his fellow inmates. He lived on death row in Texas for nearly ten years after being convicted of murdering his eight year old son. When his death was announced on the night of his execution outside the Walls Prison Unit in Huntsville, Texas, the crowd chanted “Trick or Treat”.

On Halloween night of 1974, in Pasadena, Texas, Ronald Clark O’Bryan distributed five Pixie Stix candies to five children, including his son and daughter, whom he had volunteered to take trick or treating.  Not long before that Halloween night, he had taken out insurance policies on both his children. He had also opened each of the Pixie Stix tubes, filled them with cyanide before stapling the ends closed and giving them to the children.

Later that night, O’Bryan told his son Timothy, he could have one piece of candy before going to bed; then he sat beside Timothy and encouraged him to choose the Pixie Stix. Within minutes Timothy was ill and vomiting. He died shortly thereafter at a hospital emergency room.

The other children did not eat their poisoned treats, but media reports at the time indicated that there were some close calls. One of the boys had gone to sleep with the Pixie Stix in his hand. 

Another was trying to open his with a knife in the kitchen when his father interrupted him and insisted that he go to bed. It was also reported that, in the ambulance, on the way to the hospital, attendant David Malone was prepared to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if Timothy had stopped breathing. Doctors later said that there was enough cyanide in Timothy’s mouth that it might also have killed Malone.
Execution night in Huntsville

O’Bryan never confessed to the crime. He maintained that a person at one of the houses he took the children to, gave them the poisoned candy. However, he could not identify the house or the street it was on, though they had only visited two streets. He eventually changed his recollection and identified a house after being pressed by investigators. But police learned that no one was home at that house on Halloween, as the man who lived there was working at the time, surrounded by 200 witnesses.

As his story began to fail, police learned of the new insurance policies and that O’Bryan had asked acquaintances about cyanide and where it might be purchased. A search of his house revealed a knife with traces of powdered candy and plastic on the blade. Pixie Stix containers were made of plastic and held powdered candy.

The jury took only 45 minutes to convict O’Bryan and 70 minutes to assess the death penalty. The musical group Siouxsie and the Banshees recorded a song, Candyman, on their album Tinderbox, about O’Bryan and his infamous deed. The song can be heard on YouTube.  

For several years, the murder caused parents to promote Halloween parties and avoid door-to-door trick-or-treating. Hospitals offered to x-ray the trick-or-treat candy, though it probably would not have caught the cyanide.

But in this case, as in most murder cases, the murderer knew his victims. It was not the random act of some Halloween Murderer, but that of an evil man who had been a sperm donor. He should never be called a parent or a father.
January 6


Curtis Harris
Six times in the modern history of Texas, brothers have been convicted of crimes and executed. The first were the Noel brothers, executed in 1925, followed by the Robins brothers in 1926. It was ten years before the next set of brothers were introduced to ‘Old Sparky’ and they were the Browns, followed two years later by a second set of Brown’s in 1938. They were the last siblings to be executed by electrocution.

Danny Harris
The remaining two sets of brothers, who were put to death by lethal injection, received their sentences in the 1990’s. Interestingly, in both cases the crimes were committed in Brazos County, Texas. Jessie and Jose Gutierrez murdered a female clerk at a U-tote-em store during a robbery. Curtis and Danny Harris crime was even more gruesome.

The Harris brothers, along with co-defendants James Charles Manuel and Valarie Denise Rencher, beat a Good Samaritan to death who had stopped to assist them. Timothy Merka was an employee of Texas A&M University. He was flagged down by the murderers after their car stopped running. He tried for a half-hour to get their car started before they rewarded him by knocking him to the ground and beating him to death.

Danny Harris held Mr. Merka on the ground as he pled for his life. Curtis Harris beat him to death with a car jack as their accomplices apparently stood by and watched, although Rencher testified that she begged them to stop. Manuel was sentenced to 25 years for his part. Rencher became a witness against the Harris brothers and was not sentenced to prison.  The brothers received the death penalty and were executed in 1993 for the crime they committed in 1979. Curtis Harris is reported to be the youngest person to ever have arrived on death row.

A quick internet search to find what the other two defendants are up to these days revealed little. Manuel was reported to no longer be in prison. There is a female by the name of Valarie Denise Rencher who is reported to live in Brazos County and has been arrested for forgery, aggravated assault on a police officer and multiple traffic offenses since the execution of the Harris brothers.  

But the name we should remember is Timothy Merka, the Good Samaritan.
December 30


Billy Joe Shaver is a song writer and singer whose work is legendary. His song writing marked the beginning of the ‘outlaw country’ music made famous by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash. His songs have been sung and recorded by Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers, Carol Channing, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Tom Jones, and Elvis Presley. But this is just a story about a man in a Texas beer joint!

In 2007, Billy Joe and his wife had been out taking photos around central Texas for the cover of an album he was going to release. Like all good country song writers, he decided to stop for a beer, and Papa Joe’s Texas Saloon in Lorena, Texas was just the spot. After ordering a beer, the story gets a little less clear, but whichever version you choose to believe, it sounds like a pretty average day in a Texas beer joint.

Billy Joe and a man named Billy Bryant Coker got in an argument. The result was that one invited the other outside and Coker suffered a non-life-threatening gunshot wound to his face. Charges of aggravated assault and possessing a firearm in a prohibited place were filed against our song writer.

The media loved it. One of Billy Joe’s lawyers was reported to have responded to a radio reporter’s question about how his client was doing after being charged by saying, “What more can they do to him? He’s already sentenced to life living in Waco.”

Famed criminal defense attorney Dick DeGuerin represented Billy Joe free of charge. When the case went to trial in 2010, friends of the song writer were there to support him. In addition to members of his band, Willie Nelson and Robert Duval attended the trial.

Billy Joe and his attorney, Dick Degueren
Outside the courtroom just before the trial began, Billy Joe told a reporter, “I’m very sorry about this incident. Hopefully, things will work out where we become friends enough so that he gives me back my bullet.”

He continued with his blunt talk once he was on the witness stand. After he testified that he was intimidated by the much younger and larger Coker, the prosecutor asked him if he couldn’t have just left the bar. His response was that of a true redneck Texan when he told her, “to leave the bar just because he was intimidated would have been chicken-shit.” And when she suggested that he may have been jealous because Coker was talking to his wife, Billy Joe said, “I get more women than a passenger train can haul. I’m not jealous.”

Whatever caused the dispute, at some point, Billy Joe says that Coker asked him to go outside. He testified, according to the Austin American-Statesman, that “Next he (Coker) headed for the door. And being a John Wayne type of person, I went ahead and got to the door, too.” He said that once outside, his antagonist pulled a pistol, as did he, but that his was the better aim. The pistol that Billy Joe says Coker drew was never found.

When asked in a Rolling Stone magazine interview about what happened outside the beer joint that day, he responded, “Actually, that song “Wacko from Waco” pretty much tells it. He fired on me before I fired on him. That never even came up in the trial. But you can go back and listen in the script and tell it, because there’s people inside, every one of them thought it was firecrackers. You need more than one shot, and I only shot once, just a little old .22 and that was it.  He had some other kind of gun. I don’t know what it was, but he shot at me three times, and I thought, “Well I better do something.”

Billy Joe Shaver was found not guilty of the charges and continues to write great music and to perform shows, primarily in Texas. The song, Wacko from Waco, was written and recorded by Billy Joe and his friend, Willie Nelson. You can hear the song on YouTube by clicking on this link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ii-4teVplZ8

It was a bar room shooting that was determined by a jury not to be a crime. In other words, it was just another day in a local Texas beer joint where John Wayne still lives.

December 23


Those who chronicle the commission of crimes and deeds of criminals rarely mention this ruthless criminal, yet he stands out as possibly the most vile of them all. It may be that historians tend to be generous to those misfits who seek redemption. Even after attempting to spread misery and gloom around the world, he is often given a pass by serious crime writers.

He targeted an entire city although he never even live there.  And he did it, simply because he hated the tradition of those who did. Some have speculated that he had mental problems, having been quoted as saying “his head wasn’t screwed on quite right.” Others attributed his evil deed to physical possibilities, suggesting perhaps his shoes were too tight. But in the end, the best conclusion was that his heart was just too small. Whatever the underlying causes for his criminal behavior, he donned the garb and appearance of one of the community’s most revered characters on a night reserved for family cheer to commit crimes throughout the city in a single night.

He was called the Grinch and he stole Christmas from “Whoville,” or at least he thought he had. He took all the presents from every home, all the decorations, and the food for the Christmas Day feast. But to his surprise, the citizens awoke the next morning and celebrated Christmas. They didn’t need all the commercial accompaniments. Instead they began singing Christmas carols, and enjoying the special day despite the Grinch’s efforts to ruin the holiday.

The vicious criminal suddenly realized that he may have been wrong about Christmas. As he said himself, upon seeing the citizens celebrate even in the shadows of his dastardly deed; Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas….perhaps….means a little more.” So he returned the loot, sought to be forgiven, and served up the Christmas roast himself.

If you would like to read the entire account of this horrific crime, the poem can be viewed at this website. http://xmasfun.com/stories/Grinch/Text.asp

Category: Crimes and Criminals, Other | Comments Off on A MOST DESPICABLE CRIMINAL SEEKS REDEMPTIOIN
December 9

A Weird Key West Crime

Having just returned from a few days in the balmy weather of the Florida Keys, I couldn’t resist a story befitting the small but eclectic community of Key West. It is a great place to visit, especially when the weather turns wet and chilly in Texas. Enough vacation reminiscence; this is not a travel blog!

The Count – Carl Tanzler
Carl Tanzler was born in Germany. He later moved to Zyphyrhills, Florida with his wife and two daughters. Leaving his family behind, he eventually became a resident of Key West, Florida, where he was known as Count Karl von Cosel. He was a man who embellished his accomplishments and education, claiming to have completed several university degrees, having previously served as the captain of a submarine and that he was an inventor. In reality, he was simply a civilian x-ray technician with questionable credentials for that occupation, who worked at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Key West, Florida.

In 1930, 20 year old Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos met Tanzler when she came to the hospital with her mother. Elena was soon diagnosed with tuberculosis, which was, at that time, a likely death sentence. Tanzler became obsessed with Elena, making proposals of marriage and attempting to win her affection. His proposals were rejected. Tanzler did convince Elena and her family that he could treat her illness with a variety of medicines, x-rays and electrical equipment. His treatment, however, was not performed at the hospital, where he would likely have been found out, but at the Hoyos home. Elena succumbed to the disease a year later.

This could have ended the story of a beautiful young woman dying and an older man’s obsessive love for her going unfulfilled, but that was not to be. Two years after her death, Tanzler, in the dark of night, stole Elena’s corpse from the mausoleum where her family had laid the body to rest. He took her remains to his home where he began repairing the decomposing Elena. He used plaster-of-paris, wax soaked silk rags, strands of Elena’s hair that had been cut by her mother and given to Tanzler shortly after her death, wires, and glass eyes. He also bought and dressed the corpse in fine jewelry and clothing. Copius amounts of perfume, disinfectant and preserving agents were also used to cover the odor and slow the process of decomposition.

Soon other residents began questioning the “Count’s” excessive purchases of perfume and women’s clothing. A paper boy reported seeing him, through the window of his house, dancing with a large doll. Rumors began to circulate that he had stolen the body of his love. Elena’s sister confronted Tanzler about the stories and he was arrested for grave robbing, desecrating a corpse and destroying a grave. Surprisingly, he was found mentally competent to stand trial.

 A trial was held amid much publicity, but charges against Tanzler were eventually dropped due to a problem with the statute of limitations. You see, he kept the body at his home for seven years.

After the trial, Elena’s corpse was placed on display at the Dean-Lopez Funeral Home in Key West where it was reported that more than 6,800 people viewed the abused body. With all the public attention, Tanzler was reported to have later charged 25 cents for tourists to view his home.

As with all morbid, twisted, and garish crimes, many myths have surfaced about the events surrounding Tanzler’s love affair with the dead body of Elena. A short YouTube clip claims even more disgusting details. That video can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rT1g0U0o4n4.

Tanzler eventually moved back to the town in Florida where his ex-wife lived. He wrote an autobiography in 1947, is reported to have been granted U.S. citizenship in 1950 and died in 1952.

November 18

Ken Anderson, Crook, Judge, or District Attorney?

Williamson County, Texas has always been proud of its “tough on crime” reputation. There are anecdotal stories of undercover drug agents from Austin, in neighboring Travis County, making sure they set up drug buys just inside Williamson County so that the dealers could be charged in the much tougher environment of the Williamson County judicial system.

Ken Anderson (left) was the face of that Williamson County system for many years. He served as District Attorney for 16 years and as a District Court Judge from 2002 until his recent resignation and conviction for Criminal Contempt of Court. Depending on who you ask, he was either “upstanding citizen, prosecutor of the year, and local Sunday School teacher,” or he was a man whose sense of values didn’t include the word “justice.” In either scenario, he is now a convicted criminal.

Michael Morton was a young husband and father who lived in Williamson County when his wife was brutally murdered. The highly regarded, but incompetent investigator, Sheriff Jim Boutwell, decided that Morton murdered his wife, even though no physical evidence existed to suggest that theory. He and Anderson, who was then District Attorney, made a case against Morton, ignoring and concealing a few facts they learned along the way.

Anderson apparently didn’t think it was important to let Morton and his lawyers know that his dead wife’s credit card was used in San Antonio after she was murdered or that Williamson County sheriff’s investigator, Don Wood, had been told there was a witness who could identify the woman who used it.  Also concealed was the fact that witnesses in the neighborhood told investigators of a suspicious green van seen behind the Morton home on the day of the murder.

He also concealed details of a conversation Wood had with the mother of the dead woman. She called Wood and told him that her grandson witnessed the murder and said that his father, Michael Morton, was not there when it happened. The child had also described other details of the murder scene which indisputably indicated he witnessed the murder, but ace investigator Wood apparently never followed up. Even more importantly, Ken Anderson (above right) hid this evidence from Morton, who was convicted of murdering his wife. Morton went to prison and Ken Anderson became a judge.

After 25 years in prison, the last five of which he fought John Bradley, the man who replaced Ken Anderson as D.A., for the right to test DNA evidence, Michael Morton (left) was cleared of all charges. Lost forever was the ability to see his son grow into a man. He went into prison a young man full of dreams. After 25 years, he came out unbent.

Anderson was recently convicted of contempt of court for having hidden the evidence and then lying about it. But his deeds are more repulsive than that. The real killer of Michael Morton’s wife also murdered an Austin woman after Mrs. Morton’s death, a crime he couldn’t have committed if he had been arrested for the previous crime. That murder went unsolved until Morton’s defense team connected the two. The real murderer also committed other crimes in the 25 years before he was exposed. Nearly as catastrophic was that a young child grew to adulthood believing his father, Michael Morton, had murdered his mother. All these tragedies are piled at the feet of Ken Anderson.

 He served five days of a ten day sentence for his criminal act. Anderson’s no longer a judge and can’t practice law. Many question what that says about Texas justice. Before his professional demise, groups were calling for his resignation, even starting a yard sign campaign as depicted in the photo above. During the nearly 30 years after he committed the crime, he continued to enjoy all the family freedoms his victim, Michael Morton, was denied. He also continued to practice his brand of justice in Williamson County, Texas.

I’ve published a novel, Cheating Justice, in which I describe some of the reasons I believe our criminal justice system sometimes goes awry. The Michael Morton case is one of several such injustices in Texas that inspired me to write the novel. Our law enforcement professionals are usually heroic, but it is important that we not ignore the short-comings of those who soil the profession.