May 5


Easily recognized local theater
Pasadena, Texas was first inhabited by the Karankawa Indians. They were cannibals, known to enjoy eating the flesh of their captives, believing that doing so would transfer power and strength from the dead enemy. Maybe that should have been a forewarning that once the city was formed, there would come to be a reputation, for barroom brawls, murders, and political corruption, that could rival many larger cities.

An industrial town, Pasadena is bordered on the North by the Houston Ship Channel, a fact that gave rise to an economy based on the petroleum industry.  Working class neighborhood bars and country music dance halls thrive throughout the town, most notable of which was Gilley’s Nightclub before its demise.

There are many rich stories of Pasadena’s inhabitants. One, a man named Hoover, no relationship to J. Edgar that we’re aware of, was a mayor before he became a lawyer and a murderer. Then there was the doctor who was charged with having his business partner murdered and contracting to have his ex-wife and her husband killed as well. 

Of course, there’s the story of the guy with a great last name for a story like this, who was a stand-out high school football player in Deer Park, Texas. Jimmy Steambarge, after the Friday night lights dimmed on his football career, became a union activist, involved in sometimes bloody battles on the picket-line, before and after being connected to the aforementioned doctor and sharing the charge of murder with him.

The Gilleys, Cryer, & his mate
Another was Sherwood Cryer, a refinery worker, who opened an ice house (a colloquial term for a bar) in Pasadena. He later became the owner of Gilley’s Nightclub, the scene of many a fistfight before the bar’s namesake and Cryer engaged in a battle of their own. 

Then there was Dean Corll, the mastermind behind the rape, torture, and murder of twenty-eight teenaged boys in the early 1970’s. He was killed at his home in Pasadena by his partners in crime who still reside in the Texas prison system for the atrocious crimes they committed with him. 

A Klan ad
There’s also the story of the Klan and its very public residency in Pasadena at a time when many thought and wished that it was gone forever. But it wouldn’t go away.

And most recently, Joe Horn, a Pasadena resident, called police before shooting and killing two men in the front yard of his neighbor’s home as they carried out loot from a burglary. His story was a precursor to the stories later cropping up across the nation of citizens taking the law into their own hands.

It’s safe to say that Pasadena, Texas is a place where, throughout the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, working class white folks could drink a beer, get in a fistfight, ride a mechanical bull, hire a contract killer, or become one themselves. The racial make-up has changed, but the reputation as a working class, rough and tumble community hasn’t. Today’s Pasadena includes a growing Hispanic community mixed with white refinery workers, NASA engineers, professionals and grey collar workers. A fist fight on a Saturday night, maybe even a contract killing or political corruption scandal is never far from reality along this stretch of the Houston Ship Channel.

I’ll write a few stories about these characters, some crooks, others just colorful personalities, in the months to come. People who have made for great fodder for the rough and rowdy reputation of Pasadena, Texas will be the subjects. If you happen to have related stories, photos, or documents, I’d love to hear from you. E-mail me at

Copyright 2020. All rights reserved.

Posted May 5, 2015 by Larry Watts in category "Other