Back in the 1970s, the 80s and even the 90s, this phrase “the car as a coffin” was a warning, a cop, training phrase, a “word to the wise” about being stuck in the car and being killed while stuck by an outside shooter. The advice was to…
“Get out of the car! Because the car is a coffin.”
When things got hot and you predicted bullets could/would fly, or while bullets were indeed flying, you have to try and get out of the car. Get out of the car because the car is an enclosed coffin. So, we got out if we could, because you know, sometimes you can’t! We got out the driver’s side, or we planned on traversing across the front seat to escape, low and crawling, to get out the passenger side if need be. OR, I have had friends successfully dive under the dashboard while under fire.
But alas, that was the good ol’ days of big cars. Who can dive for cover under a dashboard in today’s cars or worse, today’s patrol cars? They have some small patrol cars today, and some big police SUVs too. But, have you seen the front seat of a police car lately? It resembles a miniature version of the bridge of the Star Trek Enterprise. Computer systems, like a Robby the Robot, if you will, sits in the middle of the front seat. You CANNOT traverse the front seat anymore! And in civilian cars, the popularity of the console traps you in the driver’s seat more than ever.
I followed this golden rule, but even when you believe in it, you can still get caught there in an instant. Like I did this one disturbing Saturday, summer night in 1980.
“Sixty-one,” the dispatcher said.
“Go ahead,” my reserve police partner Joe Reilly said.
“Domestic. Brothers fighting in back yard. The Starnes brothers. Mother called it in. 15 Jasper Street.”
“Ask if the two brothers are wanted,” I told Reilly.
“Dispatcher, check wants and warrants on the brothers.”
“In progress. They’re clear.”
Damn. The Starnes brothers. Bout half-crazy, trouble makers. Almost twins, born so close and virtually look-alikes. In just about the same kinds of twin trouble. Drugs. Fighting. Burglaries. It wasn’t too late yet in the evening. About 8 p.m. Too early for the real trouble these neighborhoods brewed. We drove through the busy streets on the warm night. We didn’t need to look 615 Jasper up on the map. We’d been there before.
When we pulled up, Reilly and I got out and heard the loud argument in the backyard, behind the long, old white house. We walked up the driveway beside the house, passed through the metal, chain-link gate and into the yard.
The mom was there in a house dress, arms folded. A neighbor we knew by sight, a very big dude was calmly standing by and when he needed to, pushing the brothers apart. The bothers were neck vein, popping mad over something.
“Hey!” I said loudly. “What’s going on?”
The mother spoke up and relayed the problem which frankly, I don’t recall to report here. We all talked it over for a moment, and I appreciated the presence of the neighbor. But, upon our very arrival, the brothers wanted to disappear. Afraid of being arrested again? Something else? I don’t know. It seemed like our very appearance ended the fight.
Brother Buddy Starnes was shirtless and wearing very tight, light-colored jeans. This is important later.
Just about the time I was officially wrapping up the conversation, Buddy left prematurely. Looking back now, it was obvious he had something to hide or be worried about. He turned and walked away well before I finished, and I, casually, walked after him down the driveway. Reilly lagged back just a few seconds more to finish up with the mom.
I felt Buddy’s exit was a little too soon, but I really didn’t know what to do about it. He led the way down the driveway to the street, and I looked him over from behind. There weren’t any clothing prints of weapons that I could see in those tight pants.
“Buddy, next time, don’t leave until we’re through,” I said.
I wasn’t trying to be bossy, or a prick, but I wanted to say something to…to see what he would say or do.
He looked over his shoulder at me and gave me a real dirty look. Which, you know, “sticks and stones,” and a look never hurt me. But he strutted off onto the street heading in the way of a crowd of folks up the next avenue.
I walked around the front of the patrol car, opened the door and sat in behind the wheel. The very instant my butt hit the seat? I caught motion in the corner of my left eye.
Buddy was strutting back to me, his right hand borrowing into his right pocket.
Shit. I instinctively, instantly pulled my revolver. The window was already down, and I laid the 4 inch barrel of my magnum on the top of the door. Barrel right at him. It’s big and he saw it.
“WHAT you pulling?” I growled.
He yanked his empty hand out of his pocket and stood there. Expressionless. Looking at the hole in the barrel of my gun.
Now, I tell you I stared hard at the pocket. It was flat, flat, flat and his jeans were very tight. I made a snap decision that he could not have anything at all in that pocket, or any pocket for that matter.
“Get the fuck outta here,” I told him in a very quiet, sinister way.
Expressionless, he waited in a stare down with me and the gun, then turned and walked away in his original direction. I did not holster my Python. I just watched him walk off.
Reilly slipped into the passenger side, sat and was shocked at my position. Gun out, barrel on the door.
“I don’t know,” I told him. “He turned back on me, and it looked like he was pulling something from his pocket.”
“But I can’t imagine he had anything in that pocket. Those pants are skin tight.”
I put my gun away, started the car and drove off. Not even a half a minute later…
“Sixty-one, are you still on Jasper street?” the dispatcher asked.
“Just a block away,” Reilly answered.
“Man shot on porch. 12 Jasper. Ambulance in route.”
What? I whipped the car around and blasted over to 10 Jasper. We slid up in front, ran up the to the porch where an older woman was tending to man lying on the porch. He was down and shot in the chest. I propped him up just a bit. We told her to get us a towel, and Reilly made for the trunk for our first aid kit. We plugged the hole. Applied pressure.
The old man could talk. He said he was sitting on his porch when “that boy” without a shirt in tan pants walked by, out in the street, looked at him and then shot him.
“Was that Buddy Starnes?” I asked while the ambulance sirens closed in on us.
“It coulda been, but I don’t sees real well. Real far. At night.”
The bullet hole didn’t look very big on his chest, but a chest wound is a chest wound. The EMTs got there and took over. Reilly and I jumped back in our car and I checked in with the dispatcher. I put Buddy Starnes out on the air as the shooting suspect.
We and other units scoured the streets for Buddy. Reilly and I made every nightclub in the district. Asked everyone on the street. For hours. Nothing. And boy-howdy, I knew I screwed up. I made a snap decision to let that little piece of shit walk off. He did have a thin gun after all, must have, probably a small, semi-auto in that pocket. That bullet was meant for me. But since he couldn’t shoot me, he, frustrated, walked off a few houses away and shot that old man. I should have stepped out, and patted him down. But, I let a visual-search-only, trick my judgement.
I met with the detective on call that night, and I told him what had happened. He also hunted Starnes with us in his own car. I can’t remember which detective it was. He asked Reilly and I to write supplements to the shooting crime report when we got back to HQ.
CID worked up a case on Starnes. The old man lived. It was a .32 caliber bullet that didn’t do much damage at all. Within a day or two, the detectives found Buddy, but they never found the gun. He confessed to shooting the old man because he said he’d always had trouble with him as he was growing up. A cranky old neighbor motive?
But deep down, I knew what happened. I first ticked Buddy off. He wanted to shoot me in the car but I got the drop on him. And since I let him walk off, he shot that old man instead.
Months and a few years later, I would stop and talk to this old man a time or two, when I saw him on the porch in that same chair. Even years later as a detective. He frequently reminded me that he and Buddy had problems since Buddy was a kid, and that is why he was shot, but I still feel like I was a precursor to his shooting. I know I was. What…what do you say to this guy, to make any kind of amends? The old man died in the 90s. I still think about it sometimes. A missed chance. A missed chance!
“The car as a coffin.” My good, trusty friend and working Texas cop, Jeff “Rawhide” Laun, told me that even now, 40 years later, they still use that phrase in police work and training. Even though they are now more captured today on the driver’s side of their cars with the techno systems in the middle of the front seat. No crawling across the front seat to escape! No dropping out the passenger door! No diving under the dash! You are stuck. The coffin shrinks.
But, this was as close as I got to being stuck in a car and shot. My friends have been shot at while inside cars and those are other stories. But, no matter how well I understood, and how much I believed and worried about that classic training line – “the car is a coffin” – in a single instant, I still got stuck in there.
I am alive today because several times over the years I got my gun out first and fast. I am not some kind of a quick draw artist, not at all. I am…just quick-to-draw. My gun just “appeared” when I needed it. Practice, I guess? If you have to shoot through the glass of your car? Shoot. Don’t worry about the finer points of trajectory and how the bullets will go slightly up or down due to the angle of the car glass. You don’t have time to run the math. Just shoot. Make a hole and shoot through that hole!
For me, fighting is always "more like checkers and less like chess." Another favorite line is "starting from the fight and working backwards," and that also seems to simplify things. Reduces the abstract.
I think the formula is, a person needs to collect about 4 or 5, maybe 6 things that will work for their shape, size, age, strength. The task is collecting those things for you, personally. From whom? How to decipher them? And working on them to develop the time, grade and savvy to be successful. My favs aren't always your favs, but they probably are, to some extent. But not always.
The problems of complication begin in thee "working on the basics" – workout stage, and with the human desire to challenge yourself, fight boredom, etc … somehow, usually this becomes add, add, add. There have been many comments and essays by smart people about losing touch with the important basics for whatever reason and getting "technique-crazy," adding on, and, or doing alot of unnecessary stuff. Art for art sake? The study of simple fighting for some also becomes an addictive hobby, or a complete obsession with a traditional art, perhaps? And with these complications and distractions, we can lose the "reality" way, things get abstract and we start building larger wooden ships inside larger glass bottles. The more matchsticks, the bigger the bottle, the more fragile.
"…we can lose the "reality" way, things get abstract & we start building larger wooden ships inside larger glass bottles. The more matchsticks, the bigger the bottle, the more fragile."
When they ask various all-pro, football lineman, what they plan to do for the upcoming Superbowl game, they answer, "the same 5 things I always do." Whether it's the Superbowl or not. But then look at all the support work (dare I say "skill" drills) that built this all-pro, Superbowler! The time. The grade. The savvy. The "touch." Testing what does and doesn't work. Pushing the envelope.
Anyone can hit and shove a football, tackling dummy. Anyone can punch a heavy bag. Anyone can wrestle with a grappling dummy on the floor. Anyone can shoot a paper target. The trouble starts when the criminal or soldier moves and thinks and shoots back. Then the formula starts looking like "attack, counter, counter the counter (which is another attack)…". Or for some situations, "defend/counter-attack, counter the defense." I mean, what if he zigs when you zag? What if he blocks the almighty strike or kick? Did anyone say you might be ambushed? How many situations and positions are there? Suddenly there is the chaos theory of problem-solving?
So, 4 to 6 or 8 favorite things? Then the question becomes, is that also:
4, 5, 6 fav things for the hand?
4, 5, 6 fav things for the stick?
4, 5, 6 fav things for the knife?
4, 5, 6 fav things for the gun?
4, 5, 6 fav things for the ground with hand, stick, knife and gun? (that mean 4 for the topside? 4 bottom? and then 4 side-by-side?)
4, 5, 6 fav things for……what?
Trainers frequently mention the few fundamental boxing strikes – jab, cross, hook, cross, uppercut, overhand, and how boxers work for years on them in combinations. Do the math on the combinations in sets of two, three and four. Lots of numbers there. Filipino master and veteran stick fighter, Remy Presas use to say that you need just "a few favorite fake and strike moves." More combinations for success. That basic, yet very necessary 4, 5, 6 moves numbers you absoutely need to know, seem to quickly increase by topic and combinations. Remy also said, "You practice your whole life for a 4 second stick fight." And for all the many Filipino stick techniques FMA systems have, Remy would stop, grin and say, "of course, I could just hit him in the head with my stick."
And when you are always looking around for the "better 4 things," this search never ends. It shouldn't end, actually. It's part of the…
It was a head.
I mean a skull.
Just a skull. Laying there on the ground.
And I realized why I was there.
I was there because of the radio message:
“Eighty-nine, Meet Texas Ranger Phil Ryan at the southwest intersection of Highway 55 and Juniper Road.”
That message came over the air and not from the regular police dispatcher, but rather from my CID Captain. That was unusual for him to be on the radio sending anyone, anywhere.
“Ten-four,” I said, wondering what was going on. Ranger Ryan worked the next county over and not ours.
I drove across the city to the west side and under Interstate 55. West of the highway, south of Juniper was nothing but scrub brush fields. North of Juniper was hotels and stores and a truck stop. Why was I going to the south west corner?
Clearing the overpass, I looked over the fields and saw several men walking around in the distance. I could see that two of them were county deputies from neighboring Brooks County, along with a small, thin man. It was easy to spot Phil Ryan, who dressed like the classic Ranger, white shirt, white hat and big, tooled, brown gun belt.
I turned onto the field and parked my unmarked sedan on some low grass, got out of the car and made my way to these wanderers.
It was then I saw it. The human skull. Laying in the open. Not 40 feet from the road and right across the street from a busy truck stop, cars buzzing by every which way. The loud hum of interstate traffic loomed.
“And that,” I said aloud, “is why I am here.”
I walked across the field and up to Ranger Ryan.
“Hi, Hock,” he said quite normally.
“Hi, Phil,” I said.
“We’re out here looking for a body,” he said.
I saw the strange, thin man with a bad eye, unhandcuffed, standing around and he smiled at me.
“Hock this here is Henry. Henry Lee Lucas,” Phil said. “He killed a girl and cut her up out here. He’s killed some other folks too.”
“Well, I about stepped on a skull back up there by my car,” I pointed my thumb over my shoulder back toward Juniper.”
Phil looked at the deputies and Henry.
“I didn’t put no head up thare,” Henry said with a quizzical face.
Phil started out for my car and we all followed. We knew that animals would spread body parts all over and these fields had bobcats and coyotes to name a few critters.
I keyed up my handset and asked the dispatcher for our crime scene man, if Russell hadn’t already been notified.
Phil walked over by me to explain.
“Henry killed a woman in Brooks County. He confessed, and when I got him to talking, he wouldn’t stop,” Phil said. “He said he killed his girlfriend Becky here in this field. He killed her, had sex with her body, then cut her up and buried her in different spots.”
The longer story, the one I found out later was that an 80 year-old, Kate Poor of Ringsilver, Tx was a small landowner and she’d vanished. She let some travelers stay on her property frequently in exchange for some labor around the farm. She suddenly disappeared and her friends contacted the police about it. As the case grew more suspicious, the Ringsilver PD, a small department, asked for help from their local friend and Ranger Phil Ryan. I’ve written about Phil before in this book and Don’t Even Think ABout It. Phil was a terrific Ranger and a dedicated investigator. Phil began questioning everyone and Henry’s actions and words didn’t add up. Then, Phil found and collected a “deadly weapon” on Henry, and Phil put Henry in jail.
The next day Henry called out to a Brook County jailer, “I’ve done some bad things! I need to talk to that Ranger.”
That he had.
We walked up on the skull and we all solemnly looked it over. Henry kept sizing up the field and the distances.
“I kilt her over thar,” he said. “How’d her head get here?”
“Probably animals, Henry,” Phil said calmly. I knew that he’d stay calm and friendly with him for as long as possible to keep him talking. I would and the in the coming days, would more.
CID Sgt Howard Kelly pulled up and so did our crime scene guy Russell Lewis. We filled them in. Russell started on the skull and its area and we all walked back to the center of the field.
“I buried parts of her here,” Henry said. “You’ll find her leg bones over there and her arms bones over there.”
Sounds like a lot of digging. I looked at Howard Kelly.
“Hock,” he said, “bring Henry in. Get a statement from him, if you can.”
In meant book and arrest him. He knew I would.
“I’ll get some of the boys out and start digging.”
I have done some digging for bodies before, and I thought this arrangement might get me out of that ugly, shovel chore. I will go ahead and ruin the suspense for you right now. It didn’t.
“Hey, Henry,” I said, “we need to take a little trip downtown. And, I have to handcuff you.”
He was expressionless. I cuffed his hands around back and walked him all the way back to my car. I let him sit up front on the passenger seat. This was a detective car with no screen or cage.
“Where you from, Henry?”
And it went like that. Light conversation. Very light. I took him into our jail and drew up a quick arrest report. Printed him and got the classic mugshot below, a photo used in dozens and dozens of news reports and about 30 or so books.
“Come on with me,” I walked him down to my office in the CID section of the building.
I sat at my desk and put my feet up. He sat in a chair, now cuffed around front and we relaxed.
“What in the world is going on?” I asked.
“Well, like I told Ranger Phil, I killed that ol’ lady in Ringsilver, and…”
“Before we talk about this,” I interrupted, “let me go ahead and read you your rights, otherwise you know we can’t talk. And I want to talk to you for sure.”
And that we did, but first I got us some coffee. Then covered the classic Miranda warnings. He told me that he and his girlfriend, Becky Rowlett, this girl in the field, hitchhiked away from Brooks County and were dropped off at the Interstate by the field. They bought some food from the stores at that intersection, with stolen money from Kate Poor, walked to the center of the field, started a fire and camped.
They had some kind of an argument. She slapped him and he pulled his knife from a sheath on his belt and stabbed her right in the chest. He watched her die. Then he had sex with her body. (As you get to know Henry, you learn this happens a lot). With that same knife, he cut up her body, head off, arms off, legs off. He put some parts in pillowcases that he traveled with. He decided to gather up his belongings and cross the street to stay in a motel.
He hitchhiked around and walked around for about two weeks and returned to that campsite. He told me he wanted to bury her.
“Why,” I asked.
“Because I loved her.”
“Okay,” I said.
Henry said that when he walked out onto the field that dark night and saw her decomposing body parts, he buried most of them he could find. He told me that his and 14 year-old Becky’s relationship was like a father/daughter “thing.” He had pictures of her in his wallet and he carried those photos from jail to jail, state to state, thereafter. How did this Texas killer go state to state later? A Texas Ranger Task Force, that’s how. Stand by on that.
We were about three cups of coffee into this by now.
“I need to get this down in writing, Henry. We need a statement about all this from you. Can we do that?”
“Yeah. I already fessed up to Phil. So, yeah.”
And I got a statement on the murder, which was my job. Other crimes in other jurisdictions would be secondary to me tightening up this one. We finished off that typed statement. I typed line by line as he told me line by line.
“I’ve got a problem,” he said.
As if I needed to confirm my suspicions.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been killing things. Dogs, Sheep. Cattle…and having sex with them. Something just snaps in my head, a sex thing. He told me about a man named Bernie who “taught” him how.
“When I kilt my mother…”
“You killed your mother?’”
Keep in mind this was the early 1980s. There wasn’t much literature and psychology collected and disseminated on serial killers. The FBI VICAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program) was fairly new and largely unheard of at the time, and frankly were not very helpful when we needed them through the years. In short they match up violent crimes around the US and develop profiles of suspects. So, what has become this textbook case of someone killing small animals and the sex was news. Serial killer movies like the “Silence of the Lambs” were not popular. (But Hitchcock’s “Psycho” was! Huh? Norman Bates killed his mother and dressed up in her clothes. Weird was weird.)
Lucas killed his mother when he was 24 years old. He told me (and other psychiatrists) that he had sex with his dead mother, but years later he denied that. He killed her in the kitchen with a knife and then fled the state in a stolen car. He ditched the car and was arrested while hitchhiking in Ohio. He said that was his first murder.
So, I am sitting in this office with a lunatic who killed his mother about 20 years ago. What was he doing roaming the streets? Obviously, somehow released, like…parole or something?
“How did you get out of jail,” I asked him.
“I was in mental prison. The doctors said I was alright one day. I wasn’t. But they said I was. One morning they just let me out the front door.”
He started to tell me about all kinds of murders, all over the country that I just found hard to believe. It started to look like he wanted to shock me, like a braggart. I still have these details in my notes. And I knew we would be talking about all that again and all too soon.
I walked him back into the jail and locked him up.
Then I jumped back in my car and drove to the site by the highway. A lot was underway there. Four detectives and Howard Kelly were combing the area and digging up body parts. Newspaper and TV crews were showing up.
“You get a confession?” Howard Kelly asked me.
“I did. He’s a real nut-job. He killed his mother, that woman in Brook county and this girl. And he started telling me he’s killed a bunch of women all over while hitchhiking.”
Howard’s eyes widened and head tilted. He had a certain way of looking at you over his glasses.
“We are going to have to spend a lot of time with him,” I said.
We had about four unsolved murders in recent years that we would have to run by him. Then, there’s the county, the state and what now? All 50 states? Boy howdy, how far could this go?
“Well, Phil will hep’ us on all that,” Kelly said.
I got my “crime scene shovel” out of my trunk. (This wasn’t my first dead-body-rodeo.) and got with the guys and started digging.
The Justice of the Peace was finally called. I say “finally” because I remember he was really mad at us. He’d heard the news at about 11 a.m. He needed to be called out to the death scene. And he knew that we knew. We had a body parts he needed to officially presiding over. No one called him all day until it was his dinner time. He got out to the field at about 6 p.m. and he really pitched a high-holey, embarrassing fit.
“You know I could have you all arrested!” he yelled at us. “By law you are supposed to notify a magistrate as soon as reasonably possible! I could have all of you arrested right now.”
Whew! The judge looked like he was about to have a heart attack, but he finally calmed down. Dinner is really important to some folks! But apparently not so much to us as we worked well into the night. We called a funeral home to transport the remains of the body to the forensic morgue in Dallas.
Nowadays, police agencies have special forensic, like “archaeological” teams that sift through the turf like they look for Tyrannosaurus Rex bones. Not back then. We just had five shovels, a Polaroid camera and some trash bags. (More or less. We also had a tape measure and a 35mm camera. I am just being dramatic.)
I drew up diagrams of the parts in relation to fixed objects in the filed, triangulating the dig sites. Ranger Phil Ryan and the Brooks deputies went home. Lucas was in our jail, and we felt we could leave the field until the next day. End of day one.
I drove home a filthy mess and stripped naked in the back yard. Bad news. The itching started. It was getting worse and worse. I was covered in chigger bites that were growing and expanding into a leper’s landscape on my skin from my sock line up to my chest. I ran into the bathroom and got into the bathtub while my wife tried to look up in a medical encyclopedia what to do. It started to drive me insane. Finally, I took pain-killers we had left over from my various injuries. That took an edge off. That and a little whiskey.
I know some folks reading this won’t know what a chigger is. I hope you never do. A chigger is a bug I’ve only run across in Texas. Virtually invisible, they get on you and scamper up as far as it can. They they bites and burrow into your flesh. Lives. Parties, and legend has it, procreates in there until for some reason the clan dies off. (Experts say they die quick and don’t reproduce, but once bit, it sure feels like chigger generations stay and have an orgy.)
I arrived at work the next morning and all of us that had toiled in the field, even the poor angry, judge I heard, were suffering from these chigger bites. And we had to go out there again! Not without a visit to the pharmacy for nuclear, bug protection, though. But Detective Jack Breasley had another plan.
“You see this raw potato?” Jack said, holding one up.
“If you keep a raw potato in your pocket, chiggers won’t bite you.”
“That so,” I said.
“I got some potatoes out in the car for us.”
“I think I will stick with the nuclear, bug spray, thank ya kindly.”
“OKAY then!” Jack said, as though I were a fool.
We returned to the field and worked all morning. By lunchtime, we were through. I hadn’t accumulated any more bites, that I could tell anyway over the red rubble of my lower chest and legs. But Jack? Jack’s chigger bites had chigger bites. I can’t really say I remember for sure? But I think he went to the emergency room at the hospital that night. I think the chiggers even ate the potato.
In the afternoon, we sat back down with Henry at the police department. We ran some unsolved murders past him, showed him photographs. This is routine in a situation like this. A kidnapped and killed young teen, found in a Dallas gravel pit. Strangled woman found out in the woods by some railroad tracks. At first, he said no to them, then fudged on his “no,” and said maybe. I watched him look at photos of the victims and had a feeling that they were strangers to him.
Howard and I talked in the hallway. We didn’t believe him, but we were obligated to test him through and through.
“Me and Breasley will run him around these crime scenes. You catch up here,” Howard said.
There was plenty for me to catch-upward-with. Reports. Warrants. Body parts in the morgue. Confirm Henry was at that hotel. Etc.
Howard and I spoke about two full days later and in summary, he discounted all the other Lucas verbal confessions.
We filed the only case we had in our jurisdiction, the murder of Becky in the field. Henry was then quickly out of our hair, and Ranger Phil Ryan’s hair too.
Henry was convicted and sentenced to many decades in prison. Phil Ryan had his case over in Ringsilver. But Henry would not shut up about killing a lot of people. I mean a LOT of people. So mnay, Henry was next embedded with a special Texas Ranger Task Force to look into his stories.
The Dallas Observer newspaper reported, “A special task force, manned by the Williamson County Sheriff Jim Boutwell and members of the Texas Rangers, was formed to help other agencies sort out the stream of horrors that Lucas couldn't confess to fast enough. Soon, he was being jetted all over the country to lead investigators to crime scenes and recount the terrifying manner in which his victims had met their fates. Henry said, "I done it every way imaginable," he liked to say. "Shootings, stabbings, strangulations, drownings. Killing somebody, to me, was just like walking outdoors.’ For good measure, he occasionally added details of post-Mortem sex or experiments in cannibalism. ”
None of us locals, including Phil Ryan thought Henry had killed all the people he’d suddenly claimed at the time. We read in the newspapers the toll was running up to 300 people. What?
Phil told me early on, that he’d accompanied one of these crime scene visits with other detectives from another Texas city and murder. The body was found under an overpass. With two detectives, with Phil and Henry in the back seat, Phil recalled for me what happened on that trip.
“Henry had been shown, and had studied all the crime scene photos before we left the station. He collected the crime story and evidence in the course of the first interview. As we drove up the highway, they kept asking him. ‘Look familiar? Look familiar?’
Finally, Henry said, ‘Stop here.’ We all got out and looked around. Henry pointed to this or that. Back at the station he gave them a bare-bones confession to the killing. I said to Henry later,
‘why did you take that killing, Henry. You didn’t do that?’
Henry smiled at me.
I asked, ‘how did you know which overpass to stop at?’
Henry said, ‘well, the driver kept slowing down and slowing down and I just guessed.’ Henry didn’t kill all those people, Hock. He’s working the cops.’ ”
Working the cops. Then one morning, about two years after I snapped that popular mugshot of Lucas in our jail, I bought a weekday copy of the Dallas Times Herald and a headline declared that the Henry Lee Lucas murder spree was all false. A local reporter Hugh Aynesworth, had constructed a map and a time line of Henry’s confessions and found it physically impossible for him to travel all across the United States and commit most of them. Hugh inserted into the time-line, proven facts of Henry’s whereabouts. For example:
Henry collected a paycheck on one date, than claimed he killed a girl six states away later that same day. Anyesworth concluded, “Lucas would have had to drive 11,000 miles in the space of a month to have murdered all of the victims on his confession list.”
Now, I ask you, why didn’t this Texas Ranger Task Force run a simple chart like this on their headquarters wall? We all asked this. Phil Ryan too, and he couldn’t believe the mess. Why did it take a local newsman to do this?
In the middle of this is an odd tale of the Waco, Tx. prosecutor Vic Frizzell, which is another complicated story, too long to shoot off-course here with, but that you might care to look up on the web.
The New York Times concluded, “After his arrest in 1983, Lucas claimed to have killed as many as 600 people around the country, and detectives from 40 states talked to him about an estimated 3,000 homicides. Mr. Lucas later recanted, and many of the murder cases attributed to him were never reopened. He attributed the false confessions to a steady diet of task force tranquilizers, steaks, hamburgers and milkshakes fed to him by investigators, along with crime scene clues that he said he had parroted back to detectives.” Henry also got to travel, play cards and watch television and enjoyed numerous other benefits at the “Lucas Headquarters.”
Lucas’ lawyer Don Higginbotham, said that, “Henry lies to everybody. That`s how he maintains control over his situation. Anybody in authority. He`s playing with the system.”
Get this mess. While I was hanging out with Henry before he wet hog-wild with tall tales of killing, he told me about his traveling, murdering buddy Ottis Toole, and how they killed people. He also told me that Ottis had kidnapped and killed young Adam Walsh, the son of John Walsh. John had gone on to become the famous host of “America’s Most Wanted” TV show. Was this yet another lie? Not up to me to decide, so when the dust settled a bit, I called the detective division of the Hollywood, Florida Police Department and reported all these details to them. Never heard back from them.
Years later, Toole became infamous thanks to Henry’s popularity. But, apparently my early 80s phone call to Hollywood, Florida CID fell upon deaf ears! And unchecked? Then months later I learned the Texas Ranger, Lucas Task Force called them also with the same news. Read what Time Magazine wrote about this:
“While the FBI would credit “America’s Most Wanted” for helping nab at least 17 of the agency’s “10 Most Wanted” fugitives, John Walsh had to wait 27 years for the Hollywood Police Department to both admit that drifter and serial killer Ottis E. Toole abducted and murdered his son and apologize for investigative mistakes that transpired during the early years of this investigation,” as police chief Chad Wagner said in a news conference.
Toole first confessed to the Walsh killing in October of 1983, but, as the department’s police chief told TIME in the mid-’90s, Toole and his accomplice Henry Lee Lucas were notorious for ‘confessing to crimes they didn’t commit.’ Toole would end up dying in prison in 1996 while serving five life sentences for other crimes.”
But, there was also supporting evidence against Toole. Walsh would later write a book about this. In the late 1990s, Walsh was on a book tour and I was hired to assist FOX security with protecting John on his trip through Texas. I had a chance to get to know John and we discussed this overall situation. Ironic, isn’t it?
And now for even more madness and weirdness, in the mid 1990s, then Sheriff, Weldon Lucas (no relation) called me at home. Weldon was a former Texas Ranger and was indirectly involved in Henry’s local case with us. He told me there was some new ado about a woman claiming to be Becky Rowlett in the media. Becky alive and well? Whose skull was that I’d almost tripped over that fateful day? He warned me that there might be a quick, new court date/hearing over the issue.
But, this was quickly dismissed as a fraud. Some bizarre married woman named Phyllis had befriended the imprisoned Henry. You know, first pen pals. Jail visits. Then, “prison love.” She thought she could somehow throw a monkey wrench into the works of Henry’s death sentence by suggesting Becky was still alive. She was quickly arrested for this fraud. Like the entire Henry Lee Lucas penumbra, this too was very, very strange. Years later, even Geraldo Rivera did a TV show on Henry and Phyllis.
Of course, Henry’s story morphed into books, documentaries and, even a movie. All of these are available on the internet for further investigation, with the proper names and locations. I was
interviewed once in awhile by them, but Lucas disgusted me so, I didn’t add much more to their stories. I have only decided to tell my small involvement in this book, for the purpose of history.
But, I feel as reporter Carlton Stowers felt when he wrote in the Dallas Observer: “The furor over the latest Lucas scam attempt had already died when, one evening, I answered the phone to hear a long-distance operator say that I had a collect call from Lucas (in prison). "Will you accept charges?” she asked.
‘No,’ I replied for the first time. Then, realizing that he was likely listening for my response, I added emphasis. ‘Not only no,’ I said, ‘but hell no.’ Finally, I had too belatedly realize, the time had come to put the life and lies of Henry Lee Lucas behind me.”
I guess I should sum up by saying that Lucas died in prison from a heart attack. All the stories about Henry’s killing spree, lies, and manipulations still fascinate people, but all agree that he did kill “some” people, and the murders they mention as real include our Becky case and Phil Ryan’s case.
Of course, I and all others are also convinced he killed Becky in our city. I still remember that afternoon, all of us standing in the field west of the interstate, and Henry pointing to the ground and telling me, after I almost tripped over a human skull, “If you dig here, you’ll find a pillowcase with arm bones in it.”
I was nosing around a gun store, looking to handle and finger another Ruger LCR-22, hammerless, revolver. Many of my friends I know and trust, love their's. I want one. I just….want one. I was weaned on small revolvers, issued one as an Army investigator and I just like them. I will eventually get this Ruger revolver too. But, but, but…I also spotted the Walther P22 in the glass case. I want another thin, small, carry gun and this was thinner than the Ruger. (Yeah, yeah, 22, I know, but ! I have worked a few killings with .22s. Then too with numerous survivors. But 22s are no BBs.)
"Let me hold that Walther," I asked the guy behind the counter.
Now, in year's past, I have shot these "new," shapely ergonomic handguns, thinking I would just fall in love with their feel. But, I am also a boxy, old-school, pistol guy and I didn't care for the feel. Like a match-gun feel.
This Walther had that ergo look I thought I would not like in my hand. But it felt great. Jeez..I…like a damn teen-ager…bought it. Impulse. New. It was on sale for only $289. Regularly, what? $380 or so?
Next day, took it apart. Clean and oiled it up. Next day, shot it. Shot light, like a cap gun when it shot. Great groupings at reasonable distances when it shot…for what little time I had shooting it. Little time you ask? In the first 44 rounds it malfunctioned 5 times. Why stop at 44 rounds? The 44th shell got stuck and failed to eject from the barrel. An overall…cycling… problem.
The guys at the gun club had a thin rod handy and we tapped out the empty shell. One guy there has the Walther P22, never had a problem and loves his?! (I used classic, Federal ammo, which should not be a problem.)
Then, ass-backwards, too late, I went home, did some research on the gun. These malfunctions, feed and ejection problems are rampant with this model.
The gun store said, they would take the gun back and ship it to Walther to "fix it." Huh? Well, I will have them "fix it," but, I need a gun I can count on, and between this experience and these numerous bad, reviews? My confidence is shaken. I am back on that little Ruger revolver again for a summer pocket gun, or whatever. I will get it back from Walther. I will shoot it, but…
I have made an expensive, impulsive mistake. And now, you all also have another review on the Walther P22. Like a teen-ager in a bar, I brought home a looker who went bat-shit crazy the next morning.
It was afternoon in August in the early 1980s.
Egg-frying, Texas hot. That is to say that if you plopped a raw egg down on the street, it would sizzle in less than a minute.
CID Sgt. Howard Kelly and I were cruising back into our city from a long day of looking around the countryside on the north side of our county. Looking over open, condemned land. Howard had caught a tip that a ring of car and truck thieves were stealing vehicles, stripping them down and discarding the remnants out on the vast fields and farmland very soon to be covered over by a major lake project. If we didn’t find the stripped vehicles soon, they’d all be under about a hundred feet of water. Howard had an idea about this location and we hoped we might catch the ring at work. Who in the world would be working out in this laser heat, though? Still, we had to try.
We were in my assigned Chevy, but Howard was driving because he knew where he wanted to go. I had my hands up on dashboard to collect the air conditioning shooting it up the short sleeves of my damp dress shirt. No matter the heat, we usually had to wear a tie and a sport coat or a classic suit. Had to cover the gun back then. Kelly almost never wore a tie, or a jacket for that matter, and “they” (admin) were kind of afraid to tell him otherwise. He was the NCIS, Jethro Gibbs of the detective division, if you get my drift with this modern analogy.
We hit town, turned down Chester Ave and into the busy downtown area, talking about who knows what all, when a screaming man yelled over the police radio, “Jailbreak! Jailbreak! A whole floor is loose!” It was the county dispatcher. He was desperate.
“All available units report to the SO, ASAP.”
This news quickly went out over the city radio airwaves too. This did not sound like the usual “suspect bounding out of the first-floor, book-in room” and off to the city park north of the Sheriff’s Office.
Howard and I looked at each other. We were about 100 feet from the County Sheriff’s Office! He pulled onto the lot. We bailed, pulled our guns and ran into and into the building. We could see some city police cars zipping in, and some officers running across the field from the neighboring city PD.
We got inside and three county investigators were standing by the doors, guns up and at the ready, as the one main elevator descended from the cell floors above. What was this? Were escapees coming down? Howard Kelly and I pointed our guns at the doors too.
The elevator descended. Descended. The doors opened. On the elevator floor laid a jailer. Johnny Yale. He was howling and quaking. There was blood all over his torn shirt.
“He stabbed me!” he yelled. “They stabbed me. The whole third floor is loose!”
SO investigator Jim Wilson hit the kill switch on the elevator wall and knelt beside Yale. Lt Jim Neel knelt also.
“Who stabbed you?” Lt Neel asked over and over. “Who?”
“Crebbs! Crebbs did this. It’s a jailbreak up there. He turned everybody loose.” Yale yelped, almost crying.
“Everybody” on the third floor of the county jail was about 75 inmates.
“Block off the stairwells!” Jim Wilson ordered. Some deputies near there with shotguns and pistols, took positions.
Crebbs. I looked up at the ceiling, my .357 Magnum revolver in my hand. Crebbs. I’d put that raping, stabbing, psycho Martin Crebbs in this jail. I caught him. I put ‘em in here. And now?
Now I’m gonna go upstairs…and I’m gonna kill him.
Who is this Crebbs? How did I catch him? Why did I think he needed killing?
He was Martin J. Crebbs. Years ago, back in the 1970s as a patrolman in Texas, I’d heard of a rape case from station-house gossip and crime updates. A woman had been awakened in her bed by an intruder. The intruder controlled her with one of her own kitchen knives he’d collected from her counter on the way to her bedroom. She was raped at knife point in her bed. Then she was abducted to another house and tied up and raped again. Held for hours, she escaped. Our detective squad caught this teenager, also a known burglar. He was convicted and sent to the Texas Pen. Somehow, don’t ask me how, perhaps his age? Perhaps the trying times of overcrowded penitentiaries? He was released on parole. The man’s name was Martin J. Crebbs.
Then, there was another home intrusion rape in the neighborhood, and a series of aggravated robberies and burglaries throughout our city and in North Texas, and by this time, I was a detective.
May 19 Paroled
June 12 Aggravated robbery
June 12 House burglary
June 20 Aggravated robbery
June 20 House burglary
June 20 House burglary
June 20 Attempted rape
June 23 Attempted rape/home invasion
June 24 House burglary
June 26 Aggravated robbery
June 26 Aggravated robbery
June 30 House burglary
June 30 House burglary
July 1 House burglary
July 4 House burglary
July 5 House burglary
July 5 Aggravated rape
July 8 Aggravated robbery
July 12 House burglary
July 12 House burglary
July 14 Aggravated rape
Other crimes too…
Also, I might mention that not all of these crimes listed were within our city limits. Some occurred outside the city, in the county and in the counties north of us. In the 1980s we were not in “lightening” touch with each other as we are today. It would take days, even weeks, maybe even a month or two before regional crime patterns over multiple jurisdictions could be recognized and organized.
Where did I come in? July 14. The a.m. hours of. There was a pool of detectives in our squad, all taking general assignments and some of these crimes were routinely spread out among us.
I happened to be the “detective on call” so I was summoned to an old house on the northeast side of the city in zero-dark-thirty hours of the 14th of July. A home invasion, rape case. Crime scene specialist, Russell Lewis was also dispatched. In route to the house, I was informed that the victim was rushed to the hospital and with the crime scene in Russell’s expert hands, I turned off my path to speak with the victim and oversee the rape kit process. At the hospital, I learned what I could from this poor exhausted, bruised woman, I’ll just call her “Judy” here, before she was rolled into an examination room. I left Judy with a patrolman to gather info for the basic, crime report. Judy had a good friend who quickly met her at the hospital, as well as the ever-handy “Friends of the Family”a group of female counselors we used to help rape victims. Judy, the friend and the counselor promised they would all be at the police station by about 11 a.m. for a detailed statement.
By 6 am, I was at the house. Russell and I had to swap stories to really know how to scour the residence, yard and area again. The open (an left unlocked the night before), a kitchen window of the older, wood framed house, and the big kitchen knife (from the victim’s kitchen drawer) and the bed in total disarray, and the strips of cloth used to tie her spread hands and feet to the bed frame…well…they all told much of the overall story. The three-hour ordeal.
We stepped through the yard and with the help of the rising, welcome, dawn light and with our giant flash lights, we saw four, dry, Marlboro cigarette butts by the doghouse (there was no dog) in the yard. We collected them. I found another cigarette butt by a big tree in the yard. Another place to hide and watch from? Russel photographed and printed. We carefully folded up the sheets and pillows hoping for fluid stains and head and pubic hair and so forth. Was anything stolen or missing? I wouldn’t know until the victim could return to her house and take stock. You never know how fast you might need this info and the first few days are a thirsty rush for intelligence.
By mid-afternoon, I knew a few things. The suspect was young, white male, 20s maybe, long blonde hair. He surprised Judy when she was in bed. He had one of her big kitchen knives. He treated her “like a candy store,” as she described it. He brandished the knife until she was tied up and even after at times while she was tied. The tip was at her neck.
He told her as he left, “Don’t bother calling the police. They’ll never find me.”
Forty something years later as I type his last words to her, those words still burn my stomach and piss me off, not unlike when I heard them the first time.
Well, guess again, dipshit.
Judy, nor anyone she knew, smoked cigarettes, least of all Marlboro cigarettes. The presence of such butts in the yard was mysterious to her. Perhaps we could run some successful saliva tests on them? She said she’d looked over her house and thought she’d lost one piece of jewelry. It was a customized piece. I learned she was an art student and I asked her to draw the suspect and draw that customized piece of jewelry. She did, and man! Did that come in handy later.
I started a neighborhood canvass around dinnertime on the 14th, looking for any and all information about people, cars and suspicious things.
That began an amassment of suspects. One of Judy’s next door neighbors was a parolee, who had killed is wife in the 1960s, and was a known “window-peeper.” Another “weird” guy lived a block away, the neighbors told me. Plus, we had an occasional “butcher-knife” rapist working that side of the city for years, but he was a little older and always brought his own butcher knife. Neighbors reported their usual, suspicious “hippies.” One of these “weird hippies” was wanted for assault. I wasted a day running him down and arrested him inside a college night club. I quickly cleared him of this crime.
Russel Lewis checked in with me to report the fingerprints were smudges and not comparable. He sent other evidence off for testing.
Meanwhile, I’d also caught “talk” of this Martin Crebb’s parole, once again from general “cop gossip.” I cannot tell you how important just gossip and talk was and is with fellow, area investigators, especially back in those non-tech, days. When on day shift, after the morning crime briefings, a bunch of us would go eat breakfast at a series of restaurants. We, the county and the state investigators would congregate, talk smack, hunting, sports and oh yes…crime! Some of us on evening shift would still drive in and eat breakfast for this. Ignorant police supervisors and bean counters who’d never served as investigators, would oft times complain about this “laziness.” But, they were just plain ignorant and frankly, pains-in-the ass.
At one breakfast, someone from the state, warned us to watch out for , “Hey, a crazy somabitch, Martin Crebbs was paroled and he is a little psycho, crime machine. A robber and a rapist. He’s got relatives in this county and up north in Crisco.”
So, I looked into Crebbs and contacted his state parole officer in Crisco County. After this phone conversation, I could see it deserved a drive north to look at his file, which the officer said was thick, and always a pain to fax back then. Faxes were a bit foggy to read especially if you received copies of copies. Better and quicker to make the 90 minute drive.
Once in the state building in Crisco county, I sat down with the Crebb’s file. The parole officer said that in just the few short weeks Crebbs had been on parole, he was already a growing problem. He lived with his parents in a rural area in Crisco county. His picture matched the suspect description and Judy’s drawing. Some of his prior rape conviction details did match those of Judy’s crime, but still, many rapists share common denominators. Had robberies increased since his release? Yeah. Burglaries? Well, yeah. But they come and go. Maybe up here in Crisco too? I took one Polaroid photo of Crebbs from the file, and collected some copies of ID data.
My next stop was the Crisco County Sheriff’s Office where I met CID Captain David Bone. Bone and I had worked together a bit in the past. Bone was about 6’5”, a power-lifter, former Texas Tech lineman, ex-rough-necker/oil field worker and smart as a whip.on fire. What little we had and knew about computers back then, was already Bone’s new interest and his specialty. If I ever build a Dirty Dozen, police force, Bone will take up two slots. He had a very simple business card that had two things on it – the word “BONE” in the center in capital letters, and his phone number in the lower right. Not Captain, not Sheriff’s Office, just “Bone.” If you got one of those stuck in your front door, that Bone had been there looking for you? And you’re a shady character? You’d better just pack up and head on out to Mexico.
“Martin Crebbs!” Bone said to me. “I am right this instant, looking at him for an armed robbery of a convenience store.” South part of the county. I need to talk to the clerk. Let’s go.”
Go we did. I climbed into his sedan and took the front seat, passenger side. I felt like a small child there. Bone was such a giant that he’d removed the front seat and welded a new foundation for it, moving it back a few more inches than factory spec, so that he could fit his giant self behind the wheel and work all the pedals. So, though my own 6’3” self felt like a kid in there. I drove his car once on another case we worked and could barely reach the steering wheel, and I needed a Dallas phone book to sit on. But, I digress. Back to the case….
The robbed county store was not that far from the Crebb’s family house. The owner himself was robbed, and he thought the getaway car he spied parked up the road from the store was familiar looking “Seen it around,” he said.
The masked man with a gun reminded him over-all of someone in the area, but he couldn’t say for sure whom. The man said that the .45 pistol aimed at him was old and even “rusty-looking.”
Right then I recalled that we too in my city, had two armed robberies where a suspect held an old, .45 pistol. I realized the suspect at home did match the overall shape and size of this Crisco crime.
Back the Crisco Sheriff’s Office, Bone and I made a plan. We would take turns surveilling the Crebb’s family house and if that dried up in a day or two, we’d march up to the house and question everyone. As Howard Kelly would say, “When you hit a brick wall, go shake the tree. That might not make sense, a “wall” and then a “tree.” But it meant that when all leads fail, go shake up, and mess with the suspects. Sometimes they react in a beneficial way. What have you got to lose? You never know what will fall out of the wall…er, I mean…the tree.
The next day I asked Judy to make a return visit to the P.D. I showed her a photo line-up with Crebbs and with similar males with blond hair. Since the rape occurred in darkness, she just couldn’t be sure enough to pick Crebbs out. She gave me a maybe on Crebbs. I can’t work with a maybe.
I did a “shift” on the Crisco county house. Bone did a shift and he had a deputy do one too. We never saw Crebbs, and only observed the comings and goings of a large rural, family. Nothing
interesting happened. Not even a sighting of Crebbs.
We decided to do that “march” and “tree-shaking” after three days. We drove up the dirt road to the two-story house and knocked on the door. What we found was a mad mom, a mad dad and a mad uncle. Not mad at us. Mad at Martin! We all sat down in their large living room.
“I know that little shit is robbin’ places! I know it!” the dad exclaimed. “The day after he got out of jail, his little sister took him to Boydston, to a pawn shop, and he bought a gun.”
“What kind of gun?” I asked.
“It’s an old Army pistol,” he said. “I’ve seen him with it.”
“By old you mean…”
“Like World War II? An automatic.”
It was very common to call semi-automatic pistols, “automatics” in those days.
“He is a hangin’ out with that Steve Spitz from Sherman. He’s trouble,” the mom said.
Bone nodded and said, “Heard of him.”
“I’ll bet you have. He’s a snake in the grass,” the dad said.
“They drive around in Spitz’s car,” the mom said. “Some kind of Camaro, dark red. It ain’t his, belongs to some poor girlfriend of his.”
We collected various bits of other information, like the little sister’s name and birthdays. Cars. Etc.
Then Bone and I drove back to the Crisco Sheriff’s Office and we went straight to their records room. We looked up Spitz. Bone uncovered in the county files that both Spitz and Crebbs were roommates in their jail years ago under burglary charges. With the Spitz birthday on file, we ran his criminal history and drivers license info. We had mugshots. Spits had dark hair, Crebbs had blond hair.
Back home I collected all our resent armed robbery reports. I was not assigned to any of those robberies. One robbery was at the usual gas station combination convenience store.
According to a customer pumping gas who saw the robbers approach the store, one robber was masked, the other man was still donning his mask while running across the lot. This almost masked man had black hair. And the customer saw the man’s face before the mask slipped on. The robbery team got inside, pulled an “old” semi-auto gun and robbed the place.
Who was the witness pumping gas, the customer who saw the face? I scoured the report. The detective assigned to the robbery case had not found out, even after three weeks? I will only tell you that the detective assigned to the robbery was a slug, and I wasn’t surprised.
I drove to the store and working with the manager, looked over the credit card receipts from the crime date and time, hoping the guy didn’t pay for his gas with cash, but used a credit card.
He did use a card! He used a company card. With some long-distance phone calls, we found him, an Oklahoma truck driver. I created a photo line-up of similar white males, and I met this witness at a restaurant on the Texas/Oklahoma border. He actually picked Steve Spitz out very quickly.
The next day, I got an arrest warrant for Spitz and we spread the word all over North Texas.
Meanwhile, I contacted Texas Ranger Phil Ryan who worked the region including Boydston. I gave him the info on Crebbs and Crebbs’ little sister and asked him to find the pawn shop where the gun was purchased. Ryan was a great Ranger and I write about him often in my recollections. He would work a tractor theft as hard as a triple murder and within two days we learned all the details of the gun purchase. It was an old, .45 caliber, semi-auto pistol.
Days later, my desk phone rang. It was Bone.
“We got Spitz,” Bone said. “A state trooper found him driving on Highway 8. Alone in his car. Nothing in the car. I’ll wait for you to get up here, and we’ll talk to him.”
“I am on my way,” I said.
Spitz was a real punk, but he knew he was caught and he did talk in the hopes for leniency.
“Cripps is crazy, man! He thinks he is Joe the Dope Dealer with drugs and Bonnie and Clyde, Clyde the robber. And he thinks he is Jack the Ripper.”
In just three weeks these idiots committed a crime wave of felonies with more plans on the Crebbs drawing board for supermarket robberies, raping lone convenience store clerks and Crebbs favorite – home invasions, but of families at night. They had even plotted a bank job. Police officers stumbling into these scenes would be taken hostage or shot.
“You know, it was all Crebbs. I…I wouldn’t do all that,” Spitz said.
Spitz was an emotional mess. Crying. Bulging veins. Pleading. We knew we would have to prove and re-prove everything he said, anyway we could.
I won’t bore you here with the skyscraper of paperwork this produced. And all this back in the day when we typed reports on typewriters, maybe electric, sometimes not, with carbon paper, and used expensive, copy machines when we could. But filing warrants and cases on 30-plus felony crimes was a paper puzzle. We did it none the less, filing cases in three counties. Welcome to my world. Today, all this would be done by a task force. Back then, it was just me and Bone. (In case I forget to tell you later? Spitz took a 10-year plea bargain.)
We were informed by the angry relatives that Crebbs was still coming and going from the family house once in a while in another friend’s borrowed, two-door, light yellow Chevy. Bone drew up a search warrant for Crebb’s room in his house, just in case, which we searched and turned up nothing.
Now, all we had left to do was find Crebbs and that gun. The word was out he was a wanted man. We were back to staking out the family house in plain cars. I was driving my personal Ford Thunderbird.
And then one afternoon after a few days, we saw him go by in the two-door Chevy. We pulled a simple traffic stop and an “under-the-gun arrest.” He tried nothing. He knew he was surrounded. Cuffed and stuffed, I took a quick look over his car. There in an open compartment in the console was a chain and a piece of jewelry. It looked familiar. It actually looked like the drawing Judy sketched of her stolen necklace. I walked back to my car and returned with my Polaroid camera. I snapped a photo of the console and the jewelry. I pulled the jewelry out. It matched Judy’s drawing perfectly. Her missing piece! The souvenir of a rapist. I stuck the picture and jewelry into my pocket.
Next, began one of the most unusual relationships I guess I have ever had with a criminal, and I have had many, from Narcs, to Cowboy Mafia-men to dopers and killers. Back at the Cisco jail, Bone and I sat down with Crebbs in an interview room. We read him his Miranda rights. He waived them. I think he was dying to talk and see what we had on him. At first, Crebbs denied everything and was only concerned with the evidence we had, trying to play all the angles he could. He yelled and swelled up, and pitched a fit of innocence. He called us crazy.
I pulled the chain and pendant from my pocket and held it up, the pendant swung like a hypnosis watch.
“You took this from a woman,” I said calmly.
His head shook slightly, just back and forth, not side-to-side, not yes, or no, and he almost smiled. Then I proceeded to tell him a list of what we had on him, step-by-step, to include a complete confession from Steve Spitz. Then I told him about the evidence the lab was working on. He listened intently.
“You’re good,” he said.
“No,” I said. “You’re just that bad.”
But actually, he was impressed with me and Bone. His whole demeanor changed and he sat there and told us everything, almost as only an actor could, playing the part of psycho, talking about someone else, not him. He spoke in a passive, monotone voice. He did slightly giggle over some of the rape details. He bragged about the houses he “shafted.” He criticized his accomplice’s inadequate performances.
“Did Spitz lie about anything?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” He said.
It was pretty clear we were dealing with a psychopath, who viewed the rest of us as mannequins to his passing fancy. Bone and I took long, separate written (actually typed) confessions from Crebbs. He was quite proud of himself and his…achievements.
Over the next few days, Bone and Crisco County kept Crebbs as they worked on paperwork and court appearances for the crimes in their county. Meanwhile with Judy’s jewelry and the confessions, I obtained a few more arrest warrants on Crebbs and pushed the local paperwork monkey further up the tree. By this time, Texas Ranger Weldon Lucas caught wind of all this and wanted to help out. In about a week, Weldon and I drove up to Crisco, served the warrants and transferred Crebbs to our jail in cuffs and a hobble.
Once in our jail, I had several visits with him, and frequently took him out to cruise the city and further document the locations of his rape, robberies and burglaries. I never once talked down to him, and always treated him “normally.” And we talked about a lot of things other than crime. This is an important strategy for every detective to try. You either have this knack, or not. Now, this method of “questioning/interrogation” has been quite formalized by the FBI and now even for fighting terrorism.
Crebbs sat in the passenger seat of my car, cuffed around front to drink coffee and eat from drive thru, fast-food places. This was a treat for an inmate. I knew he would kill me in an instant, but I had a detective in the back seat right behind him that I could really trust and would…seriously intervene. It was probably another detective in our squad, Danny McCormick back then, but I just can’t remember. I knew this was tricky and dangerous, but it was the confession game I was playing. A risk I knew I was taking. And I knew Danny would just shoot the son of a bitch, if Crebbs tried to kill me.
In the process of his first local court appearances, he was appointed an attorney, who immediately shut all this interaction down. This attorney, first-name Gary, was a sharp guy, and we were friendly adversaries, as I was with almost all local defense attorneys. Gary could not conceive the unusual mountain of evidence and confessions I’d obtained from Crebbs. Within a few weeks, I would have a sperm match with the rape kit and a saliva match on the cigarette butts from the yard. Solid, solid case. This surely looked like a major, plea bargain to all of us. When Crebbs was eventually transferred from our city jail to the county jail, he told our city jailer to tell me goodbye.
This had all the earmarks of a plea bargain indeed, but we had a new, go-getter, assistant district attorney I’ll call here “Hal Sleeve.” Hal craved the Crebbs prosecution. He asked me over for a meeting at the DA’s Office, and I expected a puzzle-piece, plan to bunch the crimes together into one big, plea bargain with a hefty jail term.
“I am going to start with the rape,” Hal said.
“Start?” I repeated.
“This guy is an animal, and we are going to try him one felony at a time.”
Okay. He’s the boss and that is what we did. Sleeve really was one helleva an attorney too and he did quite a job.
So, within a few months, with Crebbs in our county jail with a “no-bond” the entire time, a trial eventually began. When I walked into the courtroom, Crebbs waved at me, and I nodded at him. Do you see what I mean by strange? When I was called to the stand to testify and Gary could not shake off any of the evidence we presented, especially the confessions I took from Crebbs, that I had to read aloud before the jury. I was dismissed. I had to walk past the defense table and Crebbs nodded at me again. Strange. I just fried him alive, and still he acknowledged me.
Crebbs got about 30 years in the Texas Pen for aggravated rape. But, the next trail date was set a month off, and Crebbs remained in his cell on the third floor of the county jail. And during that wait? Crebbs called a friend on a pay phone for a pick-up, escape vehicle for a planned date and time, took small pipes off of an exercise bike, sharpened one end of each, wrapped the other ends of the pipes with a small, hand towel, tied the towel with some string, and tried to kill a jailer named Yale with seven stabs. Yale fell screaming. Crebbs took the keys off of Yale’s belt. With the Jailer’s keys in hand, he turned the whole 3rd floor of the jail loose, and they gained access to the office off the elevator. There were various staff weapons up in that office.
And now you know why on that hot, August afternoon, with jailer Yale screaming bloody murder on the floor of the elevator, and the SO in chaos, I stared at the ceiling, gun in hand, and wanted to kill Crebbs.
With the elevator sealed, with just a few moments ticked off, we made our move. There was one stairway to the 3rd floor. Me, Howard Kelly, a city patrol officer named Jim Tom Bush (who was a decorated Vietnam War sniper and now brandishing a shotgun) and Jim Wilson gathered at that doorway. Wilson opened the steel door and we heard the raucous yells and crazied chants from above. With all our guns pointed upward, just me, Kelly, Bush and Wilson ran up the stairs. For some reason? No one else followed us up. I can imagine why.
Oh, you might think, “Now wait a minute now, isn’t this a job for SWAT?”
But back in those thrilling days of yesteryear, Tokyo and Los Angeles had SWAT teams. Back then, we were the SWAT team. In my department the detective division was the SWAT team. Same with the County Sheriff’s Office. So me, Kelly and Wilson had been on quite a number of raids and actions. Patrolman Bush? Bush was just a routine bad-ass. (Many years Bush later became a leader on our SWAT team.)
We got to the big, vault-like office door on the 3rd floor, which lead to the cells. There was a window in the door and we saw the inmates walking around, yelling, throwing stuff. Unlike modern jails with open pods, this jail was mostly a series of hallways and cells on either side, and some open, sitting and eating areas. Wilson unlocked the big door, shoved it open, and we marched in.
“Back in your cells or die!” we shouted, pointing our guns at everyone we could see. This was Texas in the 80s and they knew that we were not bluffing. Mostly, they did return. Some were shoved.
“You cannot get out of this building. Get back in your cells!” we said.
I also was on the visual hunt for Crebbs. I couldn’t find him. I couldn’t see him. I ran down an empty hall to one of the day areas. I heard a voice. Angry, pleading. His voice. I turned the corner to see Crebbs on one of the pay phones. He was yelling at someone about his car ride escape. He held the shank in his hand. Jail keys hooked on his pants.
“HEY!” I yelled.
He turned. He dropped the phone. And pissed-off, stared at me. We were completely alone in this end of the wing. The ruckus in the halls seemed far away.
It was another one of those moments in my life. I could have shot him. Dead right there. No one would have doubted or questioned the action under these circumstances. Somehow I had this odd feeling that shooting him was just not enough. It was a gut feeling. I holstered my gun and walked toward him, pointing my finger, “Drop it! Drop it. Drop it.”
He didn’t. He didn’t. He didn’t.
He raised it as I got close, and we had a fight. I can’t specifically remember each step of this, but I beat him down pretty bad. He’d had a lit cigarette in his mouth and I hit him there first, which was hard enough to make him drop the shank in his hand. After that? Confusing mess. When it was done, I picked him up off the floor and handcuffed him. A deputy ran down the hall and shouted.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, can you get that?” I motioned to the shank.
I marched Crebbs back down the hall as Kelly, Bush and Wilson and another deputy or two locked up the last of the loose inmates. I took Crebbs through the office, down the stairs and was sort of surprised how no one else had really joined us? No one else in the stairwell, until I got to the bottom, where some officers stood an anxious guard. Maybe they thought we would just take the floor office back, shut the office jail door, and only secure the office? I don’t know. I walked Crebbs past the Sheriff, past some of the
detectives, officers and civilians congregating on the first floor hall. The local news was already there, their office building a few blocks away. All solemn eyes were upon us. Maybe I had a bruise or two on my face. Crebbs did. He was bleeding. I took him into their CID offices, followed by some of the investigators, and sat him in a chair. Nobody cared about the blood.
“Yale?” I asked of the jailer when CID Captain Ron “Tracker” Douglas walked in.
“He’s all yours. Let me get my handcuffs,” I said.
And some of the SO detectives stood Crebbs up, and we exchanged cuffs.
“I caught him on the pay phone. I’ll write you up a statement right away and get it back to you,” I told Tracker.
I needed out of there. Needed air. I walked outside. My car was still outside and Howard Kelly could simply walk across the parking lot to the City PD. This was a county crime, and a county arrest. I didn’t need to do that usual ton of city paperwork. The county did. I just needed to type a statement. This whole thing took about 15 minutes? 20 minutes? From the second we heard the radio call of “Jailbreak!”
I saw my car on the crowded parking lot. I could squeeze it out between all the emergency and news vehicles.
I was going to make my own little escape from the mayhem! I could of killed him. Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda. But I didn’t. I just didn’t. It just didn’t… play out that way. And, I did what I did, and I felt real funny about it. Kind of mentally sick in a body-chemical way I can’t explain. A hard to describe feeling. I just wanted to get to my office and type up a short, concise, statement.
I backed out of the parking spot, and then I saw in my mirror, Tracker Douglas outside running toward me and waving.
“Oh shit, what now?” I said to myself. I rolled down the car window.
“Hock. Crebbs said he wants to talk to you.”
“Talk to me?”
“Yeah. We need a statement, and he said he would talk only to you.”
They really didn’t need a statement. Yale was alive to testify about his attack. But to be thorough, a statement is always…nice to have. I pulled back in the parking spot and got out. Tracker and I made our way back to the CID offices.
We found an interview room with a desk, and they sat Crebbs in a chair, cuffing his wrist to the arm of a chair. A deputy with a shotgun sat outside the door.
I walked in, closed the door and sat on the desk. I said in an astonished tone, like two old friends talking, “What in the fuck happened up there?”
And he began and wouldn’t shut up. He told me everything and I mean everything. I got off the desk and sat in the other chair. He told me with the rape conviction and more trials coming, he realized his life was over and had to escape.
“Well, the only chance you have for any kind of leniency is to explain all this in a statement. If you don’t get your voice heard, you’ll just be like a cool-blooded killer. An attempted murderer,” I said. “You know they won’t let you speak up in court. The prosecution will really tear you apart if you take the stand.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “Yeah, I’ll make a statement.”
Now, technically, Crebbs was still under the auspices of Gary the attorney. In some locales, this might shed a darkness over any statement Crebbs might give. But, on the other hand, he could waive his rights at any time, and offer a statement. So I went with that angle. Worse came to worse? They would just outlaw/dismiss the statement.
And so I began the statement process with Crebbs yet again. I got a standard confession form with the Miranda warnings on the top, and I began collecting a confession from Crebbs. We went line by line. When it was done, I told him, “good luck,” and handed Tracker the confession. It had various details like who the getaway driver was supposed to be. And so, to my memory that was like the 23rd or so confession I had collected from Martin Crebbs. The last one, I had hoped. But oh, no. No.
The next morning, prosecutor Hal Sleeve called me. He wanted to know the details of the escape from my perspective. I told him. In those days, video tapes were a growing interest in the legal system and Sleeve had massaged the DA’s office budget into buying some expensive, camera equipment. He was a real advocate for maximizing the use of video in court from crime scenes to confessions.
“So, he confessed,” Sleeve said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Would he confess again? I mean on tape? Could you get him to confess again?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t know. What would Gary say?”
“Gary’s on vacation for two weeks. Crebbs waived his rights. What can he say? Would he confess again,” Sleeve asked, “up on the scene. Would he walk you around the 3rd floor and explain what he did? Could you get him to do that?”
“Can you get an SO detective to do that?” I asked.
“You know he won’t do it for anyone but you. Go try, Hock.”
I didn’t work for the DA’s Office, but I kind of do, you know? We all do in this business, and the police chief and sheriff are really just anal retentive, hotel managers. And, as the old Al Pacino movie line goes, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
Sleeve set it all up. 1 p.m., the next day. Two days after the escape attempt. I went to the SO. Sleeve was waiting there for me. Their crime scene people and operators of the video equipment were at the ready. Tracker Douglas was also at the ready to facilitate. Crebbs was brought down to the same interview room and there we were again. Just me and him. He was surprised to see me. This was the kind of guy that, if you fight him? And you beat him? He respected you even more. And, after some conversation, like a damn salesman on cue, I reluctantly began my requested pitch.
“Listen, Martin, it would be a great service to this agency and all the other agencies to hear you describe how you did all this yesterday. You know it’s a new world with these video tapes. And a video like this would be helpful, also make it look like you were trying to help us, and fully cooperate. Show full cooperation. It might show the jury that you have some…you know, hope? Compassion? Whatever.”
I guess he had nothing better to do! Why not. His face was expressionless.
“Yeah, sure,” he said.
And we did. Uncuffed, he stood beside me, on the third floor, with all the hooting and hollering of a hot, un-airconditioned day in the county jail. I read his Miranda rights yet again on film. Maybe the 24th, 25th time? I don’t know anymore. He waived them again. I asked him to start explaining what happened. He walked us to the exercise area, showed us the particulars on the exercise bike where he got the two pipes for his shanks…showed us everything, right up to the point where he and we had our little, physical confrontation in that day room by the phones. I was wondering how he would handle that, describe that part of the tour? Just at this point, I asked him a question and broke his chain of thought.
Video done. I left again.
I got back to our station and sat down in Howard Kelly's office, stretching out.
“Is it over?” Howard asked.
“I think that part is over. Now comes the rest of the trials.”
I didn’t see Crebbs for about 3 months until the next case came to trial. The jailbreak case was put atop the list in his crime wave. He was charged with Attempted Capital Murder with a Deadly Weapon. In the hall Gary the attorney looked at me, half-smiled and shook his head.
“I don’t know how you do it,” he said.
Meaning my conscience? I think I knew what he was talking about. Should I have waited for Gary to return two weeks before I questioned Crebbs? That whole protocol thing?
“He said he wanted to talk to me, Gary. They pulled me off the street to see him. Then he kept waiving his right to counsel.”
“And yet? I am still his counsel,” Gary said.
“And yet you are.” What else could I say?
In court, there were arguments for and against both the written and taped confessions. The judge ruled in the state’s favor and both confessions were admissible. I did a lot of testifying that week. The jailer testified. Sleeve’s great, closing argument was another patriotic, crowd pleaser. In the judge’s chamber, awaiting the jury verdict, Hal Sleeve was ecstatic. At one point he even put his head on my shoulder and said, “Thank you.”
Somewhere in the annuals of the county court evidence records, in a locker somewhere is that very strange video tape of Crebb’s confession, taking us on a violent tour of a jail stabbing and mass escape.
Crebbs was convicted, received nearly a life sentence and following that, the prosecutors from various counties joined together for a big plea bargain. There were aggravated robberies, rapes, burglaries, drug charges…what a bundle. He wound up with over a hundred years to do.
Somewhere in all this, and I don’t remember how, nor is it in my notes, I somehow recovered that rusty old “Army” gun. Crebbs must have told me where it was. But I got my hands on it and I do recall, and do have notes, that I traveled around and showed it to the robbery victims in our city to further close up our robbery case files. One woman I showed it to jerked back at its sight, like it sent an electric shock her way.
And that is the Crebbs story and his jailbreak scheme. I sometimes think about the victims of his crimes. And that line, “Don’t bother calling the police. They’ll never find me,” Martin J. Crebbs told Judy the rape victim as he left.
Well, guess again, dipshit.
Just a few months after his confinement in the Texas Pen, Crebbs was almost beaten to death by fellow inmates. I received no further information about this.
Just a few months after this beating, Crebbs was stabbed four times by another inmate. He survived. I received no further
information about this.
After a few years, Crebbs was killed in prison by another inmate. Once again, I received no further information about this, nor did I care. This is a typical end for a psychopath.
I would like to identify two types of physical attack "starters." But first, as for situational starters, when I often say –
"life is either an interview or an ambush,"
… and I mean that it is in the most broad and generic of terms. Whether in business, marriage, child-rearing, or in gang fights, you are either surprised (ambushed) or have a few seconds or even longer trying to figure out what's going on and take some course of action (which would be the interview). So, in the most generic sense, most fights, even arrests, start this way. A clever person once added that, "You could have an interview to set up the ambush or an ambush to set up an interview!" But it still starts with these two terms and situations.
Having covered that set of two very broad, primitive ideas – the interview or the ambush – which also is the subject of another essay, let's be even more definitive then in a category of two actual physical, "fight-starting movements and moments," because this smaller, refined slice of a fight is important enough to discuss. Very important, especially when it comes to training methods. I have come to believe that many people train one way or the other way, but rarely both ways with the proper priorities.
The confronting aggressor does two common fight starters in the Stop 1 "showdown" of our Stop 6 – the Stand-Off confrontation and the Mad-Rush attack. You might summarize with the phrase "close and not close."
Close or Closer – The Stand-Off/Confrontation. He stands before you with his routine, be it the stare down, the bullying threats, or the yelling. Finger pointing? Even stupid chest bumping. You know what a bully does. You know what the instigator does. The pusher. The prodder. He's the troublemaker and the sucker puncher.
His measured and acquired distance is usually way too close for natural comfort. You try to fix that quickly and move, and he dances in and around with you trying to maintain that distance. This attack starts too close and tries to stay too close for comfort. Lots of sucker-punch problems here. Lots of strikes and not from a classic fighting stance either.
I know instructors will bark at you that you screwed up by letting him too close, but let me warn you that this sudden, surprise closeness can and does happen to the best of us in real-life situations. In a flash! I should know. I, too, have been jumped despite all the warnings I spout. If you think you cannot be surprised like this? You are naive.
Not Close – The Mad Rush. I had coined this term for our training programs back in the 1990s and made…
I was thinking about Benny Parkey the other day. Thinking about some of the last photos of him, on a balcony in South Padre, South Texas, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico right before he died. And he knew he was going to die. One photo (below) kinda haunts me. I wonder what he was thinking, looking over those waves. Then, today, (Thanksgiving, 2016) this came in my email. (I have deleted/altered some info – we have to keep sex crime victims protected.)
"Subject: You and Det. Parkey solved my case.
Dear Detective Hochheim,
My name is __________. My maiden name is ______. Back in October 1990, I was followed home from the Kroger on ______ Drive to my apartment on ____Street. _____________ followed me there and abducted me at knife point, kidnapped me in my own car and drove me to the outskirts of town where I was sexually assaulted. He planned to dismember me. I remember begging and pleading to for my life at the beginning and quickly saw that added fuel To the fire. So I pretty much surrendered to the situation. I accepted the fact I would be murdered. The turning point came when I asked him for the switchblade he was holding. I asked for him to let me have the dignity of killing myself. I meant it.
Anyway, you and Benny were the detectives and I remember you so clearly sitting in your office that cold fall day at your typewriter taking my statement. I'll never forget, the next afternoon you all called me to tell me a State Trooper had pulled over a Brown Datsun with heavy front end damage that matched the description of the suspect (as he was) leaving the ________ Street Trailer park. You (got his picture) called me in for a photo lineup and when I identified him, you and Benny high fived and I'll never, ever forget how excited everyone was , including myself, to capture that creep. It was one of the best days of my life in so many ways!!
Y'all two together went to the trailer park (suspect's trailer, arrested him) and saw my mom's old super 8 film camera on the suspect's couch, but I had stupidly forgotten to mention that I had one (in my car). Anyway, y'all drove me to the crime scene too where we found more evidence way out in the middle of nowhere.
Had you both not worked so dam hard, ________ would not have gotten that 85 year sentence or even had gone to trial. I'll never forget your dynamic personality and Benny's sweetness. You were too!! You took me and my best friend for a coke that next morning after the assault. I know this thank you has come too late. I'm heartbroken over Benny's death. I think of y'all often and wish I could have thanked you both much earlier. I owe you my life in many ways.
I went on to earn 2 bachelor degrees. I'm married now for 14 years to a great guy who is sensitive to the debilitating PTSD I have. I'm grateful to be here!! I mainly want to thank you with every fiber of my being and from the depths of my heart and soul. I thank you. I'm so grateful. I'm sending Benny my thanks and keep him alive in my spirit. I'm so proud of you both and I treasure you both!!!!
Sadly, I don't remember this at all. Isn't that terrible I can't? I mean, It's so important to a person, I am so ashamed. But, It is hard to remember when you have about 22 new cases a month for about 14 years in CID. It's a rat race, chasing rats. And…all the pain. The pain. It all melts together as your brain melts. Benny and I worked on many cases together (by choice) and for a period of time, he and I and a Margaret Yarbrough worked Crimes Against Persons section within the division. Now Benny and Margaret are both dead from cancer.
But, I hope Benny did remember this one case, sitting on that balcony on the Gulf, remembering things like this, and the times that we "won," when thinking about…life…and some of things that managed to work themselves out well enough.
Lots of people post pictures on the Facebook and the internet of themselves on Veteran’s Day, but I’d like to post this guy. One of my personal heroes I guess you could say. TC Gaston. He was kid from the projects of Washington D.C. He joined the Army and was a decorated Korean AND Vietnam war vet and my MP Sergeant in South Korea. In the 1970s, we were all stuck in an a crappy Army base just south of the DMZ on the west side of South Korea. We did the usual policing and force protection along with the ROK Marines and overseeing KATUSAs. Gaston never went to college but he was one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. If you could imagine a black Clark Gable in mannerisms and speech but a wicked sense of humor and real understanding of people.
Through the years some of you have heard me talk about him. And my recollections of his fighting and uncanny way with dealing with all kinds of people (he had most of the officers afraid of him) I could tell many stories but briefly here’s one of my favorite: In the 1970s, and I hear tell in the 80s too, there was constant trouble at the DMZ, and we had various levels of alerts, but one morning, the war sirens went off. When this special baby sounded off, we appeared ASAP, even if in our skivvies, civies, Mickey Mouse pajamas or Ho Chi Minh flipflops. You got there.
In this ragtag formation a LT. told us,
“I don’t know anything about this yet, but we now are at war. Somethings happened. We are at war.”
Everyone was quickly released to scatter off to their attack positions and jobs. A few of the guys – some were missile tech guys there and in the Army only to eventually go to college – were actually sobbing. For me, I had this sick sense of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but I was in for it. There. Not up for it, there. It’s an “oh-shit moment.”
The MPs met at our little station house and were given the force protection assignments. My job was to oversee a 50 caliber, machine gun team on the north west corner of the camp. It was facing north and overlooking the valley/rice patties that the Red Guard first invaded over in the 1950s. It was a breathtaking valley I had walked over and jogged on and now it became a ticking time bomb.
We each had an M-16 and a .45 pistol. Big problem, while we MPs had ammo for our .45s, while some of our guard staff had some M-16 ammo, we and no one else had any ammunition for the M-16s or the 50 cals! I learned later that through history, in places like Pearl Harbor, the ammo has been locked up and no one either sent release orders, or they forgot too up and down the chain of command…I don’t know…but locked-up ammo has been a problem through military time.
Gaston, now suddenly in full charge of force protection, walked in the shack having just supervised a bunch of stuff outside. Several of us said, “Sarge, we have no ammo!” He was aghast, “WHAT?” So far, he’d only had his pistol belt with mags. He disappeared and marched across the chaotic grounds of the base. He commandeered an open-backed, duce and a half (that’s a big old Army truck) jumped in the bed and standing up in the open back, ordered the driver up a long steep hill to the ammo dump. In his force protection role, he had keys to everything. Too include the ammo dump. They returned within minutes, him standing behind the cab of the open truck with bandoleers of ammo hanging over his shoulders.
At the main grounds he shouted out to all, “Ammo! Ammo!” and desperate men ran to the truck where he dispensed the ammunition to the troops.
A Captain and Lt. ran out of HQ and the C.O. said, “SGT Gaston! No one authorized that ammo release from the dump!”
Gaston gave him a dirty sneer, ignored him and continued distributing the ammo. They could not say much. I mean, how could they? Gaston whistled us over and we got our ammo too.
This little base has several operational assignments. One was to missile the holy fuck out of North Korean planes, and also bomb a few sites over the DMZ before we were over run. We were not meant to "stay." To "defend." Just hang on till the damge was done, then “retreat” the best way to Seoul.
Gaston was in full infantry mode once back in the shack. He looked pissed. He look concentrated. He looked at all of us and said,
“When they shoot off all their missiles this place is empty. Worthless. We’ll work out way back to Youngsan.” He looked into each of our eyes. “When we go, you don’t follow these officers and these college boys, you follow me! You got that? You follow me, because I am a combat muther-fucker and I’ll get you there alive.”
I’d follow that son-of-bitch anywhere. I still get goosebumps when I think about that speech. I guess ya had to be there.
We remained on war status for several days. Intense at first because we heard nothing but the classic "rumors of war." The GI radio and one TV station told us nohting. The people in the village played out their lives. We sat and stared at that valley and the skies. The thought always occurs to you in these times, "we didn't make enough sandbags!"
Then it downgraded after a few days, day by day. There were numerous alerts while I was there but none as big and serious as that one. It was all over an multiple killing incident at the DMZ that is too long and distracting to explain here.
This is a small story. I could tell many stories about Gaston. Police stories too. Like the time he knocked out a knife attacker with one punch. Or, when he played on the unit football team, damn near 60 years old, playing tackle with us kids. On the way to the games in one of the duece and a halfs, he'd have a pack of gum, ten pieces and give 9 of them away to us nearby. I noticed small stuff like that. Or the time…well…DON'T get me started.
He retired right after this tour and returned to his life in the Washington DC projects. I was on a security detail on a small mountain that overlooked the base below and I saw him get into a KATUSA jeep for last ride to Youngsan. I watched the jeep for as long as I could from up there. I never saw him again. None of us heard from him again. He had an ever-lasting impression on my life, as a cop, a soldier and person. I can still picture him on the back of that deuce and half, ammo hanging off of him, and see him handing out ammo from the back of that truck to the troops.
This Veterans Day I would like to especially salute Staff Sergeant Thomas Gaston. I ain't much in life. But whatever I am? He helped.
(This “never-knife,” and “anti-use-knife” subject came up somewhere else on FB, where a Krav school decided to completely stop teaching the use of the knife for self defense. One reason was that carrying knives is prohibited in their region. Another reason was the low stats of such events – might be the lack of carry-knives is a reason for the low stats of events? These observations are actually a common argument in various countries around the world and from various instructors AND practitioners around the world I meet with.)
“I’ll never have a knife!” they declare.
“Yes you will, you’ll have the knife of the guy you just disarmed.” I add. (Insert the word “pistol” in place of “knife” when you hear about that subject.) Because they do spend copious amounts of time, disarming, disarming, disarming. What happens next?
Others say that aspects of the knife training “culture” can be whacky, extremist and too ugly to connect with, even loosely. Stigma!
Still, I carry on with my own knife course – Force Necessary: Knife! Here’s why and perhaps some of the talking points I use, may be used by you for your positions. Below is how and why I justify a “nasty, violent” knife course, and how I have wrangled with these issues myself, into something I can morally and ethically work with.)
“I’ll never use a knife.”
“I’ll never need a knife, I have my unarmed skills.”
“Even if I disarm a knife, I’ll just throw it off.”
“Carrying Knives are illegal where I live.”
“I don’t need knife training. Everyone alreday knows instinctively how to use a knife.”
“People who like and use knives are crazy, like criminals.”
…and so on.
First off, I understand your concerns. I really do. I myself have no particular fascination with knives. I do not collect them, nor would I collect wrenches or hammers, or tools in general. Some folks do collect knives. And of course, that’s fine. But since I feel this way, I might offer a very practical viewpoint on the subject, needless to add my decades of investigating crimes might add some value too.
We live in a mixed weapon world and therefore I accept the challenge of trying to examine this hand, stick, knife, gun world. I have a knife course. I have my own motto in my knife course. “Use your knife to save your life.” which is the opposite of the “no-use,” “never-need them,” anti-knife movement remarks we hear. Mine is a politically correct slogan that sets the stage for the carry and use doctrine. I would like to say in summary for myself, and some things to think about, is that…we all live in a hand, stick, knife, gun world. Carry and possession laws aside. It’s still a hand, stick, knife, gun world. It’s a world of war and crime and that includes weapons. We fight criminals and/or worse, we fight enemy soldiers.
– Sometimes we escape them.
– Sometimes we capture them.
– Sometimes we injure them.
– Sometimes we kill them.
It’s all situational in “who, what, where, when, how and why.” I believe that those “Ws and H,” based on good intel,not assumption, should set priorities for training schedules for you and your areas/regions. Where you live and what goes on there are very, important considerations.
However, one set within those priorities should never ignore that in a hand, stick, knife, world, a person (who lives anywhere) should know how to use a stick, a knife or a gun, despite the laws possessing them. I am not talking about possessing here, as in walking around with an illegal weapon in your pocket, though I know many world-wide that do, I am just talking about using. Using it. Knowing. Messing with it. Familiarization.
Statistics of things almost never happening? Knife defense hardly ever happens? I agree. If you do big-picture studies of fighting in general, I think you would discover though that even simple, unarmed fights are also extremely rare when compared to population size and the billions of personal interactions people every day. I believe this to be true in USA states, Australia, United Kingdom and other countries banning common also. When you consider this big picture, places like Australia are a wonderful, peaceful places. (USA is too when you think of 320 million people and billions of easy, successful, interactions every single day).
So then, if an actual, unarmed fight, or an actual unarmed attack/crime is so very, very rare, why do we then bother to practice any self-defense at all? If it hardly ever happens? Even crime rates are small compared to the over-all population. Most of you reading this now will never be in an unarmed fight, never a knife fight, never be shot, or never be a victim of crime. Still we work on these problems because on some level we know, it has happened, will happen and could happen to you and yours. It sort of – needs to be done. Needs to be looked at. With these very low stats, this “understandable, needy” acceptance, logic suggests to us to work unarmed material. This very same logic should suggest that we include stick, knife and gun too.
You’ll never have or will never touch a knife (or gun)? In a fight, you might well pick up a knife, a stick or a gun in the area, or right from the bad guy’s hands. I might mention here too, that an attacker’s knife, disarmed and dropped on the ground? It is still dangerous and the death threat is NOT over. A person was just trying to kill you with it, and his knife is still just 3, 4 or 5 feet away from his hands on the ground? It is still a very deadly situation and a very quick pick-up.
So you have disarmed him or picked it up and now hold his weapon? What happens next? Can you fight with it? He’s charging in! (My favorite “What” question is “what happens next?” What happens next? ( Ending down the “what question” line with in – “are you arrested or sued?) Don’t know what to do next? Do you think you will just become a knife fighter/user because of some magical, inert, instinct? Why do you spend all that time working on simple, unarmed moves and spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars shooting guns and bulleye chasing, and yet ignore the knife? (Some people suggest getting a disarm and “throwing it away,” tossing a knife “away.” This is suggested by the naive as some sort of consummate solution, but is not consummate or universal, such is highly situational, and is the subject of another essay.) I might add here there are numerous Department of Justice stats through the years in the USA that even holding a knife, “presenting a knife,” can scare off over 50% of common criminals.
Knives are EVERYWHERE, (and knife-like items). “sticks,” or stick-like things are too in a way. Guns? In many countries the opponents bring the guns to you, barrel first. Many of the Krav schools around the world (oh, about 40% of the schools I teach at each year are Krav schools) have no weapons handling at all. All unarmed stuff. Not all, but many. This is a criticism I hear with some regularity from many Krav people actually. But whatever. In a way that’s fine if all the parties involved are educated enough to know this incomplete status and where they fit in the big picture. I don’t agree doctrine-wise, but whatever.
In order to best use or fight against a weapon, you should at least know how that weapon is actually used. Not how you assume it is used. Your assumptions may be wrong. Know something about it. We have that USA expression about baseball –
“you’ll never hit a curve ball if you never see one in practice.”
This involves studying the curve ball, throwing good curve balls in practice and a lot of batting practice concerning curve balls. We also have another old expression, “life throws you curve balls.” This is trus in all confrontational endeavors. You must know what a boxer does. You must know whet a grappler does. You must know what the current armed robber team in your area is doing. You must know what the street thugs are doing – the the fad of the “knock-out gangs.” Know they enemy, Which brings us back to the “who, what, where, when, how and why.”
The knife-stigma issue can be challenging. Weird and violent course names and weird, macho knife names don’t help you in the end. Trust me on this. I’ve worked these cases. I have no grim reapers, no flaming skulls and none of those suggestive, macho mantras made by people (mostly/usually from folks inexperienced with the true, real, ugly, wet violence and the aftermath) who seem obsessed with a certain “type” of knife culture. (I have seen photos of knife training where attendees wear bandanna-masks on their faces like cartels or something like that?) Associate with criminal looks, themes, names and behavior? And then use a Klingon knife in an incident and the police and prosecutors will use all of this against you, every Facebook entry. Every strange tattoo, photo, hobby, associates, etc. Anyone teaching anything about the knife, must know about this stigma and should try to overcome it with a level of professionalism. Remember, by selecting and promoting your own “dark” premise, you are defeating your own end game. Concerned about thus, all my courses are stacked and packed with legal issues and the “who, what, where, when, how and why” questions. It has to work in court as much as possible! I repeat – remember, by selecting and promoting your own “dark” premise, you are defeating your own end game.
Historical stigma. Many times through history, self defense has been hidden inside martial arts when self defense seemed threatening to the local governments. The same can be said for modern times. For example, the study of “knife fighting” can be condemned in some societies, yet is okay when done inside the auspices of say – a “Filipino Martial Arts Class.” The trappings, as in the “look” and style and so forth, make it an art form to the shallow eye, tempering criticism. Packaging. Many groups in these weapon-restrictive countries, still openly practice sword fighting and “short-sword” fighting, rapier and dagger (that’s a knife, folks) but in the wrappings of a Medieval disguise. Those folks get featured on the TV news as an interesting hobby, but some guys in street clothes in the park doing the similar things might get… arrested?
Force Necessary: Knife! is VERY simple course about the mechanics of the knife. Simple as needed. Complex as necessary. It is a popular course throughout the UK and Australia too, as in other countries, despite the no-carry laws found. Some people are just plain interested in the subject for whatever reason. Historical? Perhaps. Numerous police officers and agencies attend these classes to gather expertise and information on the subject for their professions. Others may have a morbid curiosity on the subject of edged weapons.
The knife course, all knife courses, should also have less-than-lethal applications, which I think is very important from a doctrine perspective, and people want to know these applications too, as do police. As do the military, as they often are under orders to take prisoners. Less-Than-Lethal applications includes the verbiage around “situational surrender,” or scaring the attacker off (this happens in high precentages in the States), closed folder strikes, pommel strikes and areas on the body to slash (like incoming fists) that are meant to slow and wound.
While you might quickly punch something or someone, as you might quickly stab or shoot something or someone, an overall “fight” is much more than that singular event. The knife-criminal-attack or knife-war-event is surrounded by details and situations. One studies the situational responses. Your knife course also must cover knife ground fighting as well as fighting against common “weapons,” (like a chair for example). Overall, knife “combatives,” as well as all “combatives really must include in doctrine:
* ground top
* ground bottom
* ground side-by-side
* fighting versus common weapons, not just knife vs. knife or other exotic martial weapons
All of it seamlessly because, “you fight where you are, with and against what you and he have.”
Of course, in the history of crime and war, a knife (and sharp, knife-like things) has been used, dare I say, countless times to defend oneself. Since this “no-knife-no-matter-what” discussion “aired” on the web, Britians and Australians have added presented examples where desperate they have used knives to save lives and have been acquitted. Even guns have been used in self defense and shooters were acquitted. In the end, the “totality of circumstances” (a legal term) and common sense should usually win out.
Self defense instructors? School owners? And here are some points from a business/training perspective, and is part of the “who question.” Who do you teach? Who do you want to teach? And the “How questions” – how big is your course? How diverse is your outline? How many people do you really teach, or how many groups and people do you want to teach? Do you expect to teach only citizens, or the police and the military also? Do you want too? Or just teach some nice, neighborhood people in your classic 5 square mile demographic? If you want to do more, reach more, then your curriculum must be of a big mind. That bigger mind is hand, stick, knife, gun. Keep in mind also, that there are just men and women – customers – who are just interested in the use of a knife. They just…want to learn what they call “the knife.” For knife sakes? It fascinates them. These folks too, are your customers.
Should you ever, even dare to use a knife to save your life? It will certainly be ugly. There will be ramifications. Knives! Look…hey…they exist. They are everywhere. To save your life and the lives of others, use them when and where you gottem’. Its a hand, stick, knife, gun, world. To me, you are either in it or out of it. If you can’t do it all (I can’t) know where you are in the big picture, and were you need to send people for the rest.
I will leave you “never-ever-knife” folks with this thought. This question. It’s 4 am and you hear two thugs breaking into your back door. Your spouse and kids are asleep. Presuming you are unfortunate enough not to have a gun handy, do you reach for the biggest kitchen knife you can find? Will they get yours first instead, as so many home invaders and rapists do? If you don’t even think about getting a knife in that very dark moment? You may have a thinking disorder.
In old-school police training, (and probably first in the business world and certainly in psychology) in the 80s and 90s, there was a teaching term called “Gilligans.” The object was to find one word that instantly conjures up as much as possible. Mental force multipliers? (Oh that sounds way tacta-cool). But, smart instructors were encouraged to invent as many Gilligans as possible. This idea took a good hold by some of the original Calibre Press instructors in the 80s and 90s.
What is a Gilligan? Of course, youth and even many adults today don't know of, or don't remember Gillgan’s Island, the VERY popular TV show of its times. When one said,
…back then people immediately had a flash of the show, its overall context – “lost on an island” – and picture of the whole cast. The concept. Virtually instantly.
I remember when I first heard of the idea decades ago, the police instructor stood still in front of the class and said “Gilligan,” with a big smile. Then he asked for a show of hands of how many people flashed to the Gilligan’s Island TV show. We ALL did. ALL. He explained that it was a one-word concept, He suggested that we invent as many Gilligans as possible when teaching. Find the word (or very short phrase) that means a lot of words, long phrases, sentences and maybe even paragraphs. At best, it should have an emotional contact/connection too. The teaching idea was nicknamed “Gilligan” by whom I do not know.
Another example of a Gilligan? Classic JKD instructor Larry Hartsell said in a seminar once that when you punch, you should "dent." Imagine denting reasonably thin/thick metal. For me that simple word "dent" put me on the overall right structure to punch harder, penetrate and leave a mark. It "lights" up the brain.There are so many examples and uses of this idea.
When you say Gilligan today, almost no one thinks of that show, or thinks of the teaching concept even. I just referenced this while teaching in Denver last weekend and one guy there, Larry Cline, "comfortably" over 65, knew the old TV show I was talking about. He immediately said out loud, "Mary Ann.”
But it’s the idea, the teaching concept that still lingers. Some young people think they have invented it? But, its what Dave Spaulding always says, "there's a difference between new and original. Its just new to you."
For a period of time in the thrilling days of yesteryear, at least, the idea of Gilligans was sort of a known term in police training and I am sure other business circles and some military too.
Maybe we need a new TV show? Big Bang Theory?
(Jiyu Yushi checks in – "The above ideas involve the psychological concepts of associative learning that were quite popular in that time frame from the Behavioralists who were impacting learning theory. Associative learning postulates that certain events and things occur together, making recall and subsequent performance more accurate and swifter with the stimuli received. This learning involves both Classical and Operant conditioning to specific stimuli (visual, audio, tactile, etc)."