Funny thing, I was watching the DVDs of the first season of FX’s TV show, Justified and in one episode there was a side character who was a retired football player and Superbowl champ in the plot. There were some photo shots and discussion about his Superbowl ring. Made me think of the story I wrote and published many, many years before the TV show, of a similar situation that happened to me with a Superbowl champ. Funny how these coincidences occur huh? Funny how they wind up in a TV show later. Anyway, here again is the story.
Our city boasted two Superbowl player residents. And the two of them were as different as day and night and as racially typecast as one could imagine. One was a retired white guy in a very big house with many investments. The other was a black guy from what one might call our slums, or projects. He had no such monied investments. And no such home. He was older than most players but still playing ball. And every off season he would return home to Texas. And every season he seemed to get into trouble of some sort. Both these guys wore the big brash and legendary Superbowl ring. I never met the white guy, but did meet the black guy. In fact, he kind of saved my ass one Saturday morning…in a knife fight.
Saturday morning, 1970s. Patrol. In one “hood” in our city we had a old drinking place called The Wine Tree. It was a bar, but not a bar. It was an open house with a jukebox and the booze flowed (illegally sold) along with the drugs. An old, crippled man named Willie lived in the back room and “ran” it with a henchman or two. Through time you learn, either by emergency calls or by investigation that many of that area’s crimes, at some point started, ran through, or ended up at the Wine Tree. Did Willie have a liquor license? A business permit? No. It was just a house. An open house party 24/7. The neighbors didn’t care. Hell, they hung out there, too. The attendees parked everywhere and the dancing and drinking and conniving and hustling spilled out onto the pounded-down and dry front lawn, and out onto the streets. There was even a jukebox in there.
The next mornings, especially after weekends, The Wine Tree had a hang-over. There were always stragglers still hovering on or about the property. One Saturday morning either a neighbor reported a fight in progress out front of the Wine Tree, or I drove up on this fight. I just can’t remember. I was a young turk back then and worked this district. I was just as fearless as I was dumb. As I drove up to the Wine Tree, I saw at least three men arguing and another two others apparently interceding and peacemaking. The peacemakers weren’t doing so well. In total, five knuckleheads bandied about.
Two of the arguing guys started a sloppy fight. The other three guys started in cheering or jeering. Some in the general area scattered. Some remained at a distance, on-looking, rubber-neckers in the general area.
I got out of the car and tried my hand at this peace-keeping routine too, but these men were charged up on who-knows-what from the night before and pissed off. My Gestalt therapy training just wasn’t working, and the two main men crashed in on each other. I dove in trying to separate them. And wild fists flew. Then a third guy jumped in, and I’ll tell you it was a free-for-all. Everybody against everybody, and I wasn’t winning. I wound up half-wrestling, half-punching with one of them as the other two, struggled off a few feet and bumped into us.
Then one of them pulled a knife. It was a switchblade. He was cursing up a storm, and this whole event was going south very badly. He was not cursing or pointing the knife at me, just the other guy he was originally mad at. Then, to satisfy the arms race, one of the onlookers passed the other unarmed man a knife!
“Put down those knives!” I ordered.
The peacemakers and a few gathering onlookers did bail back about 15 feet when those knives came out. Some did! Some onlookers got involved and grabbed my arms. I think, as if, to stop me from shooting their friends? They kept me away. They tried holding my arms as if to protect their fighting friends from me.
HA! So that “drop it,” command of mine didn’t work and I had this gut-crushing feeling this would end with my gun out, maybe shooting somebody and it all turn, six different kinds of crazy bad, because I couldn’t get a handle on the situation. I pushed back, got free and damned if they didn’t re-grab me.
These two armed goons cursed a blue streak and were dueling as in a comedy of drunks! Slashing and stabbing at each other in uncoordinated, wild lunges and swings. Wild enough for one fool to almost fall over.
Then suddenly a stout black man charged up. From the proverbial “nowhere.” He was not drunk. He hit the guy hanging on my right arm, using his shoulder and we both pushed this pain-in-the-ass off of me. Without hesitation, he pivoted and ran up to one in the knife party dance and belted him in the side of his head, with a fist, a forearm, or an elbow? I can’t say which. It was a blind side, sucker shot. The man did not see it coming and was so stunned, he dropped the knife on impact, stumbled off and fell.
Arm now free, I pulled my Colt Python pistol. The onlookers gasped and cursed and groaned at its sight. I stepped before the other armed man and told him I’d kill him if he didn’t drop the knife. I got in such a position that the other drunk that was first fighting with me, now shared my gun barrel time too.
The guy with the knife just stood there, tip of the knife aimed at my face, his eyes all google-eyed, bloodshot and watering, his lip busted open and bloody. He was wavering before me like a heat wave on booze and drugs. It would have been funny, but for the knife, the jerks around me…well, frankly, I guess it wasn’t much funny at all.
“Don’t even think about it,” I warned him. Good God, was I going to have to shoot this stumbling drunk? I decided I would if he lunged at me.
Meanwhile, this hard-charging citizen hero snatched up the loose knife from the ground and walked right up to the man before me and removed the knife from his hand while the drunk just stared at me. I ordered the two men on their knees. The first was already grounded. The hero stood there like my professional backup! And, I wondered where my official back-up unit was, speaking of backup. They didn’t get there in time.
Don’t let your imagination run wild about this, as if it was a cool, fight scene in a movie or something. These guys were staggering, stinking, drugged jerks. Yeah, yeah, dangerous and all, sure, as the textbooks would remind us, but a lot more low-key than it reads here. Two pair of handcuffs hung on my belt, and I had three men to shackle! I cuffed the bystander guy fighting me with one pair, figuring if he were damn fool enough to fight with me before, I needed both of his hands linked up now. Then I split my second pair of cuffs with these two so-called, “knife fighters.”
“There ya go. Now go on and beat yourselves to death now,” I told the two handcuffed slobs. “See if I stop you again.”
At this point I didn’t care if they clobbered each other down. One cuff to one’s right hand, the other cuff to the other man’s right hand. This way if they both ran off, it wouldn’t be too easy to run. In theory, one faced one way, one faced the other, (but in actuality, one of them could cross their arm over for them to run. Anyway, that didn’t happen.)
Other units arrived, and we carted the men away. Armchair, Sunday-morning quarterbacks would say that I should have waited in the squad car until backup arrived. But how do you do that? Imagine sitting in a police car like a timid, church mouse while men fought with knives for several minutes just a few yards away? Waiting for backup? Impossible. What if one killed the other while the police watched safely in their locked car? No way. No way. No way.
I had to get the name and address of this hero for my crime and arrest reports. I thanked him profusely. He was all smiles and told me everything. I’ll call him “Ray Wilson” here.
At the station, our Patrol Lt Gene Green wandered into the book-in room and wanted the sitrep. After my report, he said,
“Ray Wilson? He plays for the _____________. Ya’ met Ray! Ya’ see his big Superbowl ring? He comes home every off-season and stays with his momma. He gets into some kind of trouble every year.”
“Well, he sure helped me out of a mess here!” I said. “He needs a medal.”
“Just wait,” Lt Green warned. “You’ll see him in here for somethin’ er’ another.” By “in here,” he meant the book-in room.
“He comes home every year and sorta cleans up after his relatives’ and friends’ bad business. He has a helleva’ family. Always in trouble.”
That Wilson clan. Oh, yeah. Those kin folk! Well, I saw his point. What a shame. The guy just charged right in and helped me.
About a month or so later we were on midnight shift, and I walked through the station to the squad room. The old headquarters was situated kind of funny because you had to walk through the book-in room of our jail to get from the front side of the station and into to the back squad room. There on the book-in room bench, sat a handcuffed Ray Wilson. My Wine Tree hero. He was arrested for assaulting some men with a baseball bat! Some kind of a family, revenge/vendetta, just like Lt Green had said.
Ray nodded to me as I approached and passed through. His possessions were laid on the book-in counter, ready for safe-keeping collection. A worn wallet. Some pocket change. An old watch. A belt…and a big, golden, Superbowl ring.
“Take care of that ring,” Ray asked cordially.
“We always do, Ray,”the arresting detective said. He retired in our city, took over the family’s, older home and then years later died of old age, but a poor man. He was one of the regulars I would stop and talk to through the years.
Through the years, I worked several cases involving dead babies. Dead babies in murders and car wrecks. Frozen in cars. A rape. Beatings. But one was by far the weirdest and most ironic.
In Dallas, Texas, in the last few years, the city had started what they called a Baby Moses program. This program was where unwanted babies could be dropped off at fire stations and safe havens with no questions asked rather than be abandoned or killed. As I watched this news feature about the new program on television, my mind flipped off into the various dead baby cases I had worked in the past. Would the Baby Moses plan have helped? All had a snapshot stain in my brain of a telling moment or two. But … one sight, one night sticks in my mind.
That case involved what was probably one of the most ironic moments of my life because it was intertwined with the law, races, friendships, death, abortion, poverty, education, and, … well, so much it was too hard to categorize it all. I will just have to tell you about it, and I promise you won’t know what to do with it either.
I will start by recalling a guy named Sam Till for you. Many of our officers knew Sam Till. Sam lived in one of the projects or “poor” parts of our city; and, yes, it was the black part of town. Sam was a Vietnam vet and a retired, high-ranking Army NCO. He was a hard-working, ambitious person and ran two successful businesses. One was a large, citywide sanitation company; and the other was a well-established funeral home. On any given day, you might spot Sam supervising a garbage truck or even loading one on a route; or he might be giving a sermon at a funeral or driving the limo to a graveyard. He often came to crime scenes and collected the murder victims or scraped together what was left of accidents and suicides. Sam, like the other funeral home folks, would transport the bodies to the lab for autopsies if needed. Sam pitched in and did it all. Yes, Sam was a black guy.
One day, he and two workers saw a crazed man beating one of our officers and trying to take his pistol. Sam and the men jumped on the criminal and saved the day and the life of the already-unconscious officer. Sam was one of the locals who renovated his house and remained in the projects as many successful people did at that time. It was where he grew up! Where he wanted to be. He was even mildly involved in city politics and become involved with various good causes. He had several good sons who stayed out of trouble despite where they lived.
During my years as a patrolman or a detective, Sam supplied me with a lot of information about people he knew and suspected of crimes. I could go to him anytime for intel and gossip. He in turn would give me a phone call if he thought he’d discovered something. I think he knew I meant well for the community. He also knew that one of the most influential people in my life was a black Army NCO named Gaston; and, therefore, I mustn’t have been much of a racist. But racism was an overall problem back then—not as bad as before the 40s, 50s, and 60s, but still bad in the 70s and 80s.
I was a fairly “new” detective in 1981 or thereabouts (technically “new” as Texas goes as I was one in Army) . I was dispatched one chilly, early evening to meet a patrolman about a “family” problem in that part of the city. When I arrived at this sprawling, older home, a patrolman introduced me to a mother and father. The parents had become burdened with a problem, and neither they nor the patrolman knew what to do about it.
I first met the officer standing outside on the walkway and alone in the dusk. “Hey, Hock,” the patrolman said. “We’ve got a problem here. I don’t know. I don’t know what to do with it.” The officer shook his head. He opened the front door and steered me in. What is there not to know? I asked myself. Then I found out.
“Sandra has not been well, and her friends have told us something,” the mother spoke up. “Sandra was pregnant. And we had no idea.” Pregnant? No idea? I saw the family color portrait on the wall. The parents were big people, and I mean really big people. Sandra, who looked to be about twelve years old in the picture, was a very, very big girl. We all sat in the living room.
“Her friend told us she was pregnant, and she had the baby,” the father said. “Sandra has not been to school in a week. She’s been throwing up … we just thought … we just thought she was sick.”
“Where is the baby?” I asked. “Is there a baby … yet?” “No one knows,” the officer added. “Sandra’s friend says she had the baby last night,” the distressed mother said. “Where?” “In there,” the father said, pointing to a bedroom. “In there. Have you looked yet?” “No, Mr. Hock, we were afraid to look.” “Any … ahh … crying or…?” I asked with trepidation. “No. Sandra is in there now. She won’t open the door.” “Well, Mrs. Rankin, this is your house; and you can go anywhere in it. Let’s go,” I said.
We all stood, and the mother announced to Sandra that we were coming in. Sandra wouldn’t unlock the door, so I kicked it open. The bedroom was quite large, yet it was stacked and cluttered with … with just about everything you’d find in a teen’s room at the time times 10. Clean clothes. Dirty clothes. Furniture. Some stuff just stacked and other things grossly shoved and tossed everywhere, all atop a dirty carpet and a few pieces of old wooden furniture. The mother started to explain to her why we were there. Sandra was now about 15 years old and still quite a large young girl, much larger than the photo I’d seen in the living room. It was possible to live around her and not detect a pregnancy? I guessed. Possible? As they talked, as she denied, I started prowling the room, lifting, and looking. And then I spotted a newborn baby pushed against the wall and buried in towels and clothes. Dead.
The parents knew I’d spotted something. I must have grunted or something. And in an instant, they charged over to look. They moaned and screamed. “Don’t touch,” I said quietly. Regretfully. “Let’s all get out of this room.”
I left the house for my sedan radio. I requested our crime scene man, Russell Lewis, to come as well as my supervisor, Detective Sergeant Howard Kelly. Kelly called the house phone, and I ran down to explain the deal to him. He would contact a Juvenile Division Detective to take over any investigation, but that wouldn’t be until tomorrow unless something unusual happened. It was my mess until then. I hung up the phone. I knew the girl would eventually be charged for something that would probably be impossible to prove or disprove back then. Stillborn? Starved? Killed? Not too sure what the prosecutors would do. But my involvement would be temporary.
Now, I am trying to keep these details brief. Russell came. We snooped around, and he took pictures. Then he left. What came next is why I write this…
A funeral home was called to handle the dead body after we processed the crime scene. Sam Till’s was next on rotation and took the call and drove right over as soon as he could.
As soon as he could, because he was still in his garbage truck! Not the usual Till funeral van, as Sam was out delivering a truck to his office and was already nearby. Sam came in and was greeted by the parents as though they were longtime friends. He sat with them. He listened to them. Sympathized with them, as Sam always did so well. There would be a proper funeral. The family left the house for the police station, where I would later collect some preliminary statements.
Then it was just me and Sam. The baby would next go to his funeral home and as soon as possible be driven to the Dallas County Southwest Forensics lab for an autopsy. Sam had a white towel in his hands, and we walked to the bedroom and up to the baby. He was talking about something to me the whole way. I don’t remember what. He grabbed this baby by the ankles, and with it hanging upside down, we went back out on the street. While we discussed whatever it was, he laid the towel down on the passenger floorboard of the garbage truck and laid the baby atop the towel. We said goodbye.
He roared the garbage truck engine as I walked to my car and unlocked the car door, but I just stood there for a second, you know? What just happened? As he drove away in the garbage truck, I stood rather dumbfounded on the city street; and I knew I had just witnessed a most ironic, twisted, odd, social statement or situation. I mean, how can I describe this? The words “dead black baby born in secrecy and removed from the slums … in a garbage truck at night.” Is that how the report could read?
I have a vivid memory of that moment in my head. Standing on the street watching the garbage truck drive away. A memory, to this very day, I still just don’t know what to do with.
Hock’s email is HockHochheim@ForceNecessary.com
This is excerpted from Hock’s book by Wolfpack Publishing Kill or Be Killed, True Crime – Detective Books. Click here
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.”
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.
It was gruesome. Memories of pain fade, but not those of parents much. Out of respect for the surviving parents, I will pass on revealing the details of this child murder here, the death, rape and mutilation of a young girl, even though it was long ago. Suffice to say that we’ll start here, when this freshly, arrested killer was first incarcerated in our county jail, so that I might focus on only telling the tale of the greatest pistol shot I have ever “seen,” while the gunsmoke was still in the air, or more specifically, ever investigated, and one that has all the elements of a helleva, Texican lawman tale. It was the 1980s…
The day after the arrest, the brutal killer, Reilly Rice was in the county jail and due his very first visit to the judge for his judicial warnings, what is often called a preliminary arraignment. In our old, county jail building, just up the street from our city police headquarters, one judge had offices on the first floor, making such visits a handy process, as the jails themselves were all upstairs. Getting that first-day, mandatory visit could be geographically challenging in some jurisdictions, like organizing a chain-gang, bus ride to a courthouse. Nowadays, this type of appearance is often done by close circuit TV!
Judges can be power mad, quirky or cantankerous. You’ve seen this on TV, the movies and in the last two decades, you’ve seen these “Judge Judy” TV shows. Some actually talk and act like that. On this fateful day in the 1980s, a traveling judge was in chambers and he was one that demanded all prisoners who enter his court must be free of shackles. I guess he hadn’t has his nose broken yet. But something dramatic was about to happen that would at least make him think about that idea?
Whatever the process was assigning jailers to suspects for their court trip downstairs – rotation? Dice game? Short straw? Whatever, an overweight, out-of-shape jailer named Barry Bale got the chore of marching Reilly Rice downstairs to the judge’s chamber for this un-handcuffing and visit. Alone. Yes, alone! “Such be things at the ol’ jail-house.”
At that very time in the late afternoon, Texas Ranger Weldon Lucas walked into the Sheriffs Office on the first floor. He’d been in on this investigation and was there to collect paperwork on the case to send to his Dallas Ranger Company and then on to Austin, and to clear up some loose ends. Lucas was dressed in his usual, work clothes of a Ranger – western boots, pants and matching vest, tooled gun belt and classic, engraved, model 1911, .45 caliber handgun. (See the photo below.)The famous Ranger badge adorned his vest like it had on Rangers for hundred-plus years. Lucas was a regular sight to every police agency in the region and I can’t think of a police officer that didn’t know him, or certainly know of know of him, certainly we detectives did. I had worked with Lucas dozens of times on felonies. He had full jurisdiction throughout the State of Texas, which was handy.
Appointed by the Texas governor, Rangeren’ was a great job coveted by almost all, and Lucas was one of the troop that had considerable experience in investigation before pinning on that legendary badge. He’d been a state highway patrolman, as all Rangers start out, and then worked auto theft, narcotics and organized crime. The three big State branches. Many Rangers are appointed without such stout backgrounds and are a bit behind the curve in investigation skills. I recall one Ranger being “made” that had worked only as a patrolman and then for many years in a section called “Weights and Measures.” Weights and Measures involved weighing and overseeing trucks on the highway. Jobs like this offer zero qualifications for an investigative position, but sometimes politics get in the way with Ranger appointments. Very few had Weldon’s background.
Reilly Rice was due in court. A local Dallas, television station sent a news van up to the court to film the proceedings. The reporter and cameraman positioned themselves in the hall for the 6 and 11 o’clock news shot of Reilly Rice walking into the courtroom, as no cameras were allowed inside. A reporter would enter and take notes.
A hurried, representative of the DAs office showed up, but not much legalese would be crunched in this early visit of the case. Bales took Reilly Rice down the elevator. He walked Rice past the camera crew and into the court. He took off the handcuffs, as required. The TV crew got their “perp walk shot,” and walked out of the building to their van. Weldon Lucas was talking with some deputies in the lobby of the S.O. just down the hall.
And then all Hell broke loose. Rice punched and shoved the jailer, and took off!
I was working in our detective bay, closing out the day, when that hell broke loose. There were some other investigators there also. I can’t remember who bellowed out the announcement across the room.
“Reilly Rice just escaped from the jail. Eastbound on foot.”
We stampeded down the stairs, hit the street and ran to the S.O. just a long block away. Oddly, there were quite a number of prisoners through the years who’d ran/escaped from the sheriff’s office; right out the back door usually during book-in, interview or some transfer process. The bad guys could see the irresistible green of civic center park out the back doors and windows, versus the battleship gray cinder blocks and bars inside. And they bolted. They were always caught. We ran, all of us passing on getting into our cars and driving there, thinking we would be searching the surrounding park and streets afoot anyway.
My gut instinct was to flank over into the park behind the S.O., but my eye caught a disturbance way down on the major intersection just east of the jail. Four lanes of rush hour, east/west traffic stopped cold.
I ran past the county building and saw jailer Barry Bale, sitting on the ground, all multiple hundreds of pounds of him, his back propped against a tree, hair messed up, shirt tail out, gasping for breath. He must have chased Rice all of about 15 feet and collapsed. Acting like he was near a heart attack, another jailer attended him and pointed us east. He actually shouted to me,
“They went that-a-way.”
That-a-way. Yup. He actually said that.
Then Boom! A single gunshot from…thataway. We all converged. Patrol. Detectives. EMTs. all up ahead on the northwest corner, in a small dose of short bushes and foliage of the civic center parking lot, were multiple official types working on a downed man. When I closed in, I saw that the downed guy was Reilly Rice. Ranger Weldon Lucas was standing over him, with his hands on his hips. Huffing and puffing. A patrolman showed up. Our CID Captain Bill Cummings drove up and bailed out of his sedan.
In so many words, Weldon told us he shot Rice. Okay. You must be thinking can police shoot fleeing, unarmed suspects? First off, this was Texas many decades ago. Back then there was a running joke that if you ran 8 feet from us? It wasn’t the law. It was…a suggestion. We would start shooting at ya’. That also included driving away from us too. Rice was a child raper and killer, otherwise known as a dangerous felon we could not allow to escape. Just couldn’t.
The shooting at escaping felons laws in the USA has been evolving since about 1977. The general, modern letter of the law requires that to shoot someone, it must be in defense of yourself or to interrupt the imminent serious injury of others. Seeing the back of a head, ass and pumping elbows of a fleeing felon does not constitute these imminent categories. But, many state laws include shoot/don’t-shoot and the fleeing felon problem. Many states and police agencies say that permitting the felon to escape would pose a grave and continuing danger to public safety. Shooting them is an option. Not misdemeanors mind you. Felons.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which owns and operates the Texas Rangers, then and now didn’t completely address the feeling felon matter in its policy guidelines because “Every situation is different,” DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange said. “It’s officer discretion,” she said. “If they perceive that there’s an imminent threat, they can take any action they feel necessary to protect themselves.”
If you are citizen? I wouldn’t do this, by the way. And as for police officers, different states have differing laws about this. Even police departmental policies may be more strict than state law. And local county, state, and federal prosecutors and grand juries can have say on the subject. If driven by politics they may weave some charges in and around the laws. Then there are the civil law suits! Shooting your gun can always be very messy.
Speaking of messy, I examined Reilly Rice. Prone, he was panting from his own mad dash, but otherwise he seemed just fine. Not too messy. An EMT was patching up the side of his head. A head shot?
“Where’s he shot?” I asked the EMT, kneeling beside him.
“Earlobe,” he repeated.
I looked at Weldon and Weldon shrugged.
The TV news crew, there at the S.O. for the child-killer arraignment, was setting up for an impromptu street shoot. A patrol sergeant was organizing traffic control to allow the far lines to pass. The EMTS were standing Reilly Rice up and preparing to transport him…back to the jail, not the hospital. After all he was only shot in the earlobe. More county officials jogged up.
“Hock, you got this case,” Captain Cummings told me. Though this involved the Sheriff’s Office and the state police via the Texas Rangers, the shooting did occur within the city limits and it was also our city’s problem. I knew that people from the Rangers and Austin would eventually be involved in this, but there was work to do right then and there. First, documenting the crime scene, which ran from the S.O. courtroom to the intersection.
Weldon and I walked off a bit and he told him what had happened. I paraphrase here a bit because some 40-plus years have passed since that afternoon. He basically said,
“I heard the shouting that Reilly Rice had escaped out the front door.” It must have been the jailer calling out. Of course, I knew Weldon had worked on Rice case and was well aware who and what Rice had done.
“He ran into the middle of traffic and turned east. I took off after him and got in the middle of moving traffic, chasing him. He had a big lead. It was getting bigger. I felt like he could get away. I couldn’t shoot at him because it was rush hour. Cars and people everywhere. But, Rice started angling north and in front of him was that brick building.”
Weldon pointed to the two-story brick building behind us and to our east. It looked pretty big as close up as we were.
“I could see he was going to pass in front of that building and it was my only safe shot. I drew my pistol and fired one shot when he crossed in front of the building. Rice went down.”
“How far away were you?” I asked, thinking about the ejected, spent shell from Weldon’s .45 handgun.
“Up there,” he pointed up the avenue. We both grimaced at the sight of the cars being filtered into the right lane, albeit slowly, and allowed to pass the intersection by our erstwhile patrol officers. Oh well, life – and cars – move on. I least they were moving slow. A crushed shell would be better than a no shell.
My unmarked detective car was back at the station. I approached an patrol officer and asked for one of their distance measuring wheels and some chalk. This is like a walking stick, with a wheel at the bottom and distance counter. Back then, the numbers rolled like a slot machine. Some today are of course – digital. The officer pulled it from his trunk. Weldon and I started from where Reilly Rice took his dive and walked west on the avenue, marking off the feet.
I hit about 30 feet and I asked Weldon,
“Anywhere around here? “
“Nope.” My eyebrows raised.
We keep moving in between the cars and impatient drivers. Our eyes were scanning the roadway for that single spent shell. We hit about 60 feet!
Nope? How far was this shot? We continued.
“Right about here, I think,” Finally, Weldon stopped me. He looked around.
I looked at the scrolling meter. It read “97 feet.” Good God, could that be right?
And sure enough, to our right, untouched, unbent and pristine, lay the spent shell in the middle of the street.
“97, 98 feet, Weldon. Thereabouts” I told him. “Maybe 100.”
I took out the chalk from my pocket, circled the shell on the asphalt and put the shell in my pocket. I don’t want any of these cars rolling over it. I looked back at the intersection. That two-story brick building that Rice passed in front of? It was now about the size of postage stamp from here.
I looked over at Weldon and he was staring back at the intersection. “Yup. This is about right,” he said, nodding his head.
I walked up beside him. “Shit, Weldon, this is like a circus shot, like a wild-west show, shot.”
“I reckon,” he said.
“Was it a moving shot? How’d you do it?” I asked him.
“I was running. I saw my chance. I pulled my gun. Two-handed grip. I think I stopped just for a second. I think. Kinda’. I shot. Cars out here were whizzing by me.”
“Well, go on back and I’ll start taking some other measurements.”
I recorded the distances, “triangulated” them if you will, from the S.O. front doors, the shell scene and other related landmarks. Nowadays I guess they use GPS and satellite photos on big cases? Russell Lewis took land-level photos with his 35 mm camera from each important spot.
Weldon went to our P.D. and started his own statement on one of our new, electric typewriters. There was much for me to tighten up and I wanted as complete a report as complete as possible before the state bigwig, shooting team started showing up. Russell and I worked the scene. The only loose end was the bullet and the brick wall. It might take a major deal to find and recover that slug, as we couldn’t see it with a quick walk-by.
Two high-ranking Rangers were there at my desk the very next morning and I had a good, solid report for them to kick off with. As we went over the details, I got a call from the Sheriff’s Office CID, Captain Ron “Tracker” Douglas. He told me the latest news.
“Hock, Reilly Rice hung himself last night.”
“Hung himself! How? Where?”
“He was first booked in wearing his own socks. We let them keep their socks. You know those long, white tube socks? He got one end around his neck, tied of the other end on bunk bed and hung himself.”
“Dead?” I asked.
“Deader’ than hell. Dead right there in the cell,” Tracker said.
Shocking for sure, but I really didn’t care. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he wasn’t officially convicted on the case, but the case was airtight with a confession that lead to other evidence. I mean, the son of a bitch was a child rapist and killer. And “death by sock” was too damn good for him in my book. Too damn good.
“You gonna’ call Weldon?” I asked Tracker.
And we hung up.
“Well, gentlemen,” I told the Rangers at my desk, “looks like our ear-pierced, shooting ‘victim’ hung himself in the jail last night.” They exchanged glances. They collected my reports and their very next visit was to see Ron Douglas at the S.O.
Weldon Lucas later became the Sheriff of Denton County and quite a controversial figure.
I next made it a point to try and find the bullet itself. Honestly, I would have loved to dig the bullet out of that brick wall and tie Weldon’s perfect shot package into a bow. I made two trips out there with two heights of ladders and a metal detector trying to find the slug. It was tedious work but I just couldn’t find it and would need a third trip with a damn fire truck or utility cherry-picker to do it. But, how high could the slug be? I think not that high?
I could arrange for a construction “basket-lift” but it would be a pain. Around the time I started making calls for one, but nobody cared anymore. There was no further case to pursue as the county and the state declared it a closed investigation and justified shooting. The local D.A., the state, no one found any fault with the actions of Ranger Weldon Lucas taking that single shot and winging, or “lobing” the dangerous, fleeing Reilly Rice. That bullet remained in the wall until the building was torn down years later? Who knows? Did it miss the wall? No matter where it went? It went nowhere anyway.
When I think about it, it was the greatest shot I’ve ever seen, given the circumstances. I’m sure there are many record-breaking, amazing, military sniping shots on the books, quick-kills and all, but think about it. Think about this one and why it is so unique.
The shooter was a Texas Ranger (already cool).
The shot was taken in the middle of moving, rush hour traffic.
It was about a 100 foot, high-stress shot with a pistol.
Weldon still had the foresight to wait until Rice had a safe background. (Which was about the size of a playing card from the trigger pull site.)
Rice was a confessed, child-raping, child-killing, dangerous, escaping felon/murderer.
Rice was a moving target.
Rice was shot only in the earlobe and it knocked him down.
Rice didn’t even require a hospital visit. The escaping Rice was returned to jail with an ear bandage. How and what could he sue Weldon and the State about? What Texas jury would award escapee Rice for damages, for an ear piercing?
The state police had no defined policy for shooting dangerous escapees.
The passing bullet did no further damage. Any possible, crazy, residual legal problems were over when Rice hung himself in the jail.
We know it would be impossible for Weldon to actually aim at an earlobe in a split second like that at 100 feet. Impossible. Sure, but all the events played out so very well and with minimal, post-shoot problems, it makes for the best shot I have ever “seen.”
And I must add – for a while there was a running joke in the county. We wished that all prisoners would be issued extra long, tube socks upon their jail book-in. Who knows what they would do with them?
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W. Hock Hochheim teaches hand, stick, knife and gun combatives to military, police and savvy citizens.