My latest is now available for purchase in paperback or as an e-book. Murder on the Seawall is the third in the Tanner & Thibodaux Series. The first in the series is Homicide in Black & White. To introduce new readers to the Series, for the next seven days it can be downloaded in any e-book format for FREE at Simply follow this link and enter the coupon code KQ39C at check out. 

The latest, Murder on the Seawall, takes place in Galveston, Texas. Tanner and Thibodaux solve the mysterious murder of a wealthy businessman whose mother insists on bringing the killer to account. Molly B is a character in her own right, having grown up in the bordellos of Galveston Island and married a young gambler who ran a numbers racket for the mob. Both turned their entrepreneurial spirit toward creating a successful and legitimate business and becoming very wealthy in the process. Come with the two detectives as they explore the local culture on the Island while searching for clues to who murdered Molly B's son.

If you would like the paperback version of Murder on the Seawall, it is available at the following link, as well as all the on-line bookstores you usually shop.


Ed Gein
Ever wonder who inspired the insane characters in movies such as Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and for the hardcore followers of such movies, Deranged and In the Light of the Moon? In all those movies it was probably a man whose name you’ve never heard.

Ed Gein was one of the most bizarre murderers in history. He was born at the turn of the 20th century and raised on a farm in Wisconsin with his older brother, Henry. Their mother raised them alone as the father was an violent alcoholic who abandoned the family. Ed’s mother was a fanatical religious zealot who taught her sons that all women, except herself, were whores and prostitutes who would cause them to be condemned to hell.

The two sons stayed with their mother on the farm after becoming adults. Their father died in 1940 and the older brother, Henry, began to reject his mother’s view of the world and probably more specifically, her view toward women.

Four years later, he and Ed were fighting a brush fire on their property. When the fire was extinguished, Ed reported to the sheriff that his brother was missing. When authorities arrived, he led them directly to his brother’s body. Although the brother had a wound to his head described as a blunt trauma wound, the death was ruled accidental as a result of asphyxiation. This may have been Ed Gein’s first murder.

Inside the madman's house

Not long after Henry died, Ed Gein's mother also bit the dust. So he was left alone to grieve and what a way he chose to deal with it. In 1957 a store clerk disappeared. The last sales receipt she wrote was to Ed Gein. The sheriff went to his house to interview Gein, but apparently he wasn't at home. As the sheriff walked into a shed on the property, he saw a headless woman's body hanging like a gutted deer from the ceiling. It was the missing clerk's body.

Gein soon confessed to also having murdered a barmaid in 1954. Numerous body parts were recovered at his home. It was a sick mind of a man who skinned a woman to create a body suit from the skin. He apparently wore the suit at times. Gein also made a belt with female nipples attached as studs around it. He was particularly interested in harvesting and preserving female body parts. But there weren't that many missing women in the entire State.  Who where the women whose body parts Gein had collected?

Gein arrested
When questioned, the deranged man told investigators that he had taken the body parts from recently buried females in the local cemetery. He said he had recruited an ally, who was identified by only the first name, Gus, to go with him to the cemetery the night after a funeral, dig up the body, harvest the parts Gein wanted, from skin to sex organs, and then return the body to its grave. Authorities confirmed his story after opening several graves and finding the mutilated remains. By the time Ed Gein was arrested, his accomplice, Gus, had been placed in a nursing home and was apparently not prosecuted.

Gein said he wouldn't have started killing women except that when his friend Gus went to a nursing home, it was too hard for him to dig up the corpses by himself. When asked if he performed sexual acts with the corpses, he consistently denied it, saying simply that the bodies smelled terrible.

Ed Gein was determined to be insane and spent the remainder of his life in a mental hospital. But he is immortalized, after a fashion, by becoming the model for deranged characters in movies, some listed at the beginning of this story and others, including the release in the U.S. in 2001 of the movie In the Light of the Moon, under the new title, Ed Gein, the Butcher of Plainfield.


Billy Neal moved from deep East Texas to Vidor when his wife, Sue, got a job there as a teacher. He drove a truck for a construction company. The problem was, it rained so much he couldn't get a full weeks pay more often than not. So Billy, at the age of twenty-two, drove to the neighboring town of Nederland to see his friend, Bill Pardon, who was the City's Assistant Police Chief. He hoped his friend would have advice about a job that didn’t depend on sunshine.

“We’ve got a job for a patrolman,” his friend said. “If you want it, it’s yours.”

“I don’t know anything about police work. I’ve never even sat in a police car,” the future police chief responded.

Apparently never having been in a police car was qualification enough, because the following week, Billy Neal was the night shift patrol officer for the Nederland Police Department. He didn’t know how to write a ticket and when he made calls for police service, he had to rely on common sense, because he had no training. After a couple of weeks, they sent him for a week of training. Neal took the job just to tide him over financially until he could find other work.

When he told his wife he’d taken the job as a policeman she wasn’t happy. “Oh, no you’re not taking that job. I’ll never be married to a policeman,” Sue told him. She eventually relented, as long as he stayed only until he found other employment.

His wife continued to suggest other jobs he might pursue, but after a few months he quit looking. Billy Neal said he loved the work. He insists that until his last day, he was always eager to go to work and never remembers a time that he was unhappy with the job. When he quit looking for other careers though, he needed an excuse. The City had bought him some uniforms, so he rationalized that after they spent that much money on him, it would not be right to quit right away.

Two years later, at the age of twenty-four, both his friend Pardon and the Chief left the Department. The City hired a Chief from another town, but he didn’t last long. The City Council offered Billy the position with a $175 a month raise and a trip to Texas A&M University for a crash course on how to be a better policeman.

When he became police chief, Billy Neal was the youngest chief ever appointed in Texas. Forty-one years later, when he retired, he was (and probably still is) the longest serving police chief. His successor, Chief Darrell Bush, says he believes Neal is actually the longest serving police chief in the nation, but such records don't exist, making it difficult to verify.

Neal served as Nederland’s Police Chief from 1960 to 2001, I asked him about the famous James Commission investigation that occurred in Jefferson County (where Nederland is located) during the 1960’s. The investigation was initiated to ferret out police corruption related to prostitution and gambling, mostly in Beaumont and Port Arthur. Two police chiefs and a sheriff, along with other officers, lost their jobs as a result of the investigation and stories about the corruption were published throughout the nation.

Chief Neal said the investigation never really got to Nederland, mainly because there were no whorehouses or gambling joints in the City. He said his only encounter with corruption was shortly after he became Chief. A housewife called and complained that her husband was losing money every week when he went to a local bar and gambled in the back room. The Chief drove to the bar on a Friday evening and marched through the establishment to the back room, where he found the bar owner overseeing a gaming operation. He told the owner there would be no arrests that night, but that it was the last gambling he expected to take place there.

The businessman followed him out of the bar and asked, “How much do I need to pay you each month to keep my operation going?” The Chief repeated his no more gambling edict and told the man that offers of bribes landed people in jail. It was the last problem he had with that operation.

What about the Nederland Police Department’s reaction to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s? Chief Neal said there was little unrest in his City. There was one neighborhood made up primarily of black residents.  He recalled only one conversation with the local NAACP during which both he and the representative made their positions clear, but there was no trouble. Chief Neal said he believed that was the case because of his approach to police work. He always believed and told his officers to treat everyone you come in contact with, the way you want to be treated. The Chief quickly added that he also made sure his officers understood they did not have to take abuse from anyone, regardless of race or any other factor.

Chief Neal always tried to take care of his officers and he was disappointed when he learned that they formed an association and were pursuing the right to collective bargaining. He’d never lost a political battle in his town. This would be the first time.

“This whole county is really union friendly and the voters agreed to let my guys form a union. It worked out alright though. I still ran the Department and they got some good pay raises. Once it was done, when I saw their union rep, I walked up to him and simply said, ‘Take care of my boys’,” the Chief said without a hint of animosity.

One of the Chief’s most memorable incidents was also the only occasion he ever wore a bullet-proof vest. A local resident shot and killed a woman, then barricaded himself inside the home. Officers arrived and surrounded the house. Meanwhile, Chief Neal obtained the phone number and called the man. A few minutes conversation allowed the Chief to establish rapport with him. He knew it had occurred when the man told him, “Chief, you might want to tell your officers they’re surrounding the wrong home. I’m next door to where they are.”

The Chief laughed as he told the story, but it didn’t end there. The man refused to lay down his pistol and come outside, saying he believed the officers would kill him. He insisted that the Chief come to the scene, enter the home and walk out with him. That’s when the Chief donned the bullet-proof vest.

When he arrived at the scene, he was met by Assistant Chief Kenneth Secrest. “What are we going to do if he shoots you?” the Assistant Chief asked.

Chief Neal didn’t waste words. “Kill him,” he said, as he began what he described as one of the longest walks of his life. It was only a few yards from the street to the house, but it seemed like miles. Chief Neal admitted to the fear he would be killed, but he got in the door and subdued the man. He said it was very little physical activity, but because of the adrenalin rush, he was worn out. When other officers took custody of the suspect he had to sit down for a few minutes.

The Chief credits his wife, Sue, with raising their three children almost by herself because he spent so much time at the Police Department. She was a school teacher in Nederland for thirty years. Their two daughters and son are all involved in education as well and have remained in their parents adopted town of Nederland.

Chief Billy Neal was an “accidental” police officer. He didn’t grow up with a burning desire to wear the badge. He, like so many others, simply stumbled into the career. His easy going manner and philosophy of treating everyone like he wants to be treated, caused him to excel, not only as police officer and chief, but as a man.

“I really didn’t want to retire,” he said, “but I knew it was time. “A year later I ran for City Council in Nederland and have served there ever since.” He's eighty years old now and shows little sign of slowing down.

“I’m proud that during my time as Chief I got to build a new police station and increase the number of officers. When I walk in today, I still feel like it’s my Department, although it’s now in the very capable hands of Chief Darrell Bush, my long-time personal friend and successor.”

It’s obvious that those at the Department today understand that too. They still address him as Chief even though he’s been retired for nearly fifteen years.


Dead-eye Virgil Watts
It was a cool Tuesday evening in mid-March, 1948. Already one could feel that spring was fast approaching, but as dusk settled over the small Oklahoma town of Ripley, the shadowy figure wore a jacket to ward of the chill created by a mild breeze. He stepped onto the porch at the home of local horse trader, Cliff Cantrell. Quickly and quietly he pushed a tack with a note attached to one of the porch columns next to the front door. He moved swiftly back into the street and disappeared in the darkness. Thus began the short-lived crime spree of the Ripley Ghost Riders Gang.

There were four of them, none with criminal records. The note they left demanded the horse trader deliver seven horses to the bridge that crossed the Cimarron River just outside town. If, by dusk the next evening, the horses weren't there, he wouldn’t see his son again. Of course, the Cantrell’s son wasn’t missing, which was a flaw in the Gang’s plan. Jake, Otis Ted, and my brother, known within the gang as ‘Dead-eye,’ a nickname well-suited for a member of a ruthless gang of kidnappers, had dipped their collective toes into the cold waters of a criminal adventure.

Ripley was a peaceful community with virtually no crime. Those who saw the note questioned whether it might be just a prank, but the Sheriff was notified and the investigation began. A surveillance team staked out the road and the small, steep hills or bluffs that ran alongside the meandering, red clay tinted waters of the Cimarron. After hours of quietly waiting for the gang to appear, the deputies tired of swatting mosquitoes and called off the stake-out.

There were questions to consider. Did the gang get word of the surveillance? Would they make further demands? Was the Cantrell boy safe? A deputy sheriff by the name of Ralph White came up with a theory which he tested the next day.

When the Ripley Public School bell rang, signaling the start of the day’s classes, Deputy White asked the school principal to call all the boys into his office, one by one, to give handwriting samples. Word spread quickly through the halls that the kidnappers might be students and the Lawman was there to ferret out the guilty parties. This heavy-handed abuse of police powers worked before the Deputy had time to make the first comparison. The Ghost Riders Gang, ages 12 to 15, walked together to the principal’s office and confessed their crime.

Ted, the ringleader of the Gang, was reported in the local paper to have commented, “We really didn’t even want the horses and didn’t go to the bridge to see if they had been delivered. It seemed like it would be fun, but now it doesn’t seem so much. It just didn’t turn out like the cowboy movies.”

Deputy White reported that he gave all the boys a stern lecture and no charges would be filed. “The Ghost Riders,” he said, “had been dehorned once and for all.” He was right; none of the four continued lives of crime.

Virg' on the steel
‘Dead-eye’ Virgil Watts went on to become an accomplished steel guitar player. In a recent interview, he said that he and Otis were only involved in listening to Ted lay out the plan. They didn’t help write or deliver the note, but took their lecture along with their buddies. Ted had thought it would be a lot of fun and carried out the prank.

‘Dead-eye’ admitted that he might have had at least one other brush with the law. In the mid-1950s he was playing music at the Knickerbocker Inn, a working-class bar, reputed to be owned by a member of the Chicago Mob.

One night shortly after he arrived in Chicago and before he’d even unpacked his car bearing out-of-state license plates, he was stopped by a policeman. Now ‘Dead-eye’ says he’s sure he looked a little suspicious, what with the back seat full of clothes, guitars, amplifiers, and other assorted musical instruments. 
At the Knickerbocker

Upon questioning, he told the officer he was new in town and playing music at the Knickerbocker. The officer, apparently suspicious of the story, told him to drive to the club so he could verify it. Once there, ‘Dead-eye’ was instructed to stand by the door as the officer walked to the bar and talked with the owner. After a short conversation, his boss pulled a wad of bills from his pocket and gave a ten to the cop who left, ignoring ‘Dead-eye’ on his way out.

Once the officer was gone, his boss said, “When they stop you, just wrap a fiver around your driver’s license or lay it on the seat beside you. Don’t look at it. When he gives you back the license, the fiver’ll be gone. You won’t get a ticket and I won’t have to waste my time talkin’ to a copper.”

The advice worked and the boss was happy that he didn’t have to bail ‘Dead-eye’ out again. But it turned out that Dead-eye had to find other ways to get to work. Seems the officer recognized a regular source of extra income and stopped ‘Dead-eye’ every time he saw him.

All these years later, Dead-eye Virgil Watts still plays the steel guitar and will be inducted into the Western Swing Hall of Fame next year. If Deputy White was still around, he would likely take pleasure knowing that his compassionate approach to law enforcement with four young miscreants was a success. His lecture to the members of the Ripley Ghost Riders Gang and letting them slide on criminal charges was the right way to handle this prank that could also have been a crime.


McKay Everett called him Uncle Hilty. He was a neighbor to the Everett family and a friend of McKay and his parents. During his life, Hilton Crawford was identified by many names. He was a police officer in Beaumont, Texas for three years, a deputy in Jefferson County, Texas for fifteen, and a candidate for sheriff there when he ran against his boss, Sheriff Dick Culbertson in the 1970’s. He was also called business owner because he later owned a security guard services company. But what he would eventually be best known for and put to death as a result of, was the title murderer. He brutally took the life of his young friend and neighbor, Samuel McKay Everett. During his trial, he was also identified as a man engaged in fraud and murder for hire, all in the pursuit of more money.

As early as 1976, when he was campaigning for Sheriff, rumors swirled that Crawford’s campaign was financed by the Mafia. But he struck back, raising allegations against his opponent. It turned out to be a particularly nasty campaign in which he accused Culbertson and Beaumont Police Chief Willie Bauer of spreading rumors of Mafia connections in an effort to defeat him. He spent more money than any other candidate in Jefferson County that year, but Dick Culbertson remained sheriff then and for many years after.

By the 1990’s, Crawford and his family were living in Montgomery County, Texas. He had owned a security business which failed and left him without enough money to live as he was accustomed. He began working for another security guard company. But his lifestyle needed a large infusion of cash. It was then, apparently after attempting the less violent crime of fraud and the more serious attempt to hire another murderer, that Crawford himself kidnapped and murdered McKay.

After his conviction for kidnapping and murdering young McKay Everett, witnesses testified during the sentencing phase of the trial that he had tried to hire a hit man to kill a business associate. An insurance investigator testified that Crawford also staged a theft of his own property in order to get a settlement.

Finally, his demented mind struck upon the idea of kidnapping his friends’ son and collecting a ransom. Crawford enlisted a female accomplice to make the ransom demands. Next he set up a meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Everett to get them out of the house, never intending to be at the meeting himself, because he would be at their home kidnapping their young son. When McKay answered the door, he could never have believed his Uncle Hilty would commit the vicious acts that led to the boy’s death.

Crawford hit the boy over the head, stuffed him in the trunk of his car and drove away. One might have thought that a crook with eighteen years of experience in law enforcement would have a reasonably well-conceived plan for his heinous crime. But not Hilton Crawford. First, he didn’t show up for the meeting he’d arranged with the child’s parents, no doubt casting immediate suspicion his way. Next, he drove to the victim’s home in his own car which was observed by neighbors. Finally, at the first sign that his plan wouldn’t work, he murdered his victim, although that may have been the plan from the beginning, since McKay would certainly recognize him as the abductor.

It must have been surprising that night, after his accomplice Irene Flores called the father demanding a ransom, that his phone rang and it was his friend, McKay Everett’s father. He knew Hilton Crawford had experience in law enforcement. After calling 911 and his wife, Mr. Everett’s next call was to, unbeknownst to him, the murderer, to ask Crawford’s assistance in finding McKay. Hilton Crawford’s trip to the death chamber was made certain once he learned that his keystone kops kidnapping caper had failed miserably.

So the former cop was arrested and in hours had confessed to the kidnapping and divulged the location of the body. He continued to maintain, however, even as the death cocktail seeped into his veins, that a mysterious man by the name of R.L. Remington had actually killed McKay Everett. Most believe that Remington was a figment of Crawford’s imagination. McKay’s mother said she believed it represented the pistol her former neighbor and friend used to murder her son. He was convicted and sentenced to death.

Like many death row inmates, Hilton Crawford found Jesus as he waited for his sentence to be carried out. He was simply known by other death row inmates as “old man” and when executed, he was the second oldest inmate to have died in Texas’ death house. 

As he lay on the gurney, Crawford asked McKay’s mother, who was there to witness his execution, to forgive him and said he’d had a wonderful opportunity to serve Jesus while on death row. She responded to reporters later that forgiveness was God's job, bringing to mind that maybe Crawford had finally had a bit of good luck, finding Jesus on death row and all. 

Had Hilton Crawford pursued his religious reformation earlier in life, or have just practiced common decency, this story might well have been about the success of the man who McKay Everett might have become. We'll never know, but knowing of Hilton Crawford, we know for sure that evil exists in places we least expect.

FRENCH FRIES! THE EXECUTION OF JAMES FRENCH republished from November 2014

French said he wasn't afraid and took a seat
James Donald French was cool as a cucumber, self-assured, and a real showman, which may be the only positive attributes of his miserable life. He was convicted in 1958 by Oklahoma jurors for the murder of Frank Boone. Boone had given French a ride when he was hitchhiking in the Texas Panhandle. After driving into Oklahoma, French murdered the Good Samaritan and took his car. Arrested while he was driving the dead man's car, French was convicted and sentenced to life in prison

Smarter than the average killer.
By 1961, he murdered his cellmate, Eddie Shelton, and was again facing murder charges, this time from a prison cell. Either he or prison workers promoted the idea that he committed the murder because he lacked the courage to commit suicide, but did not want to remain in prison for the rest of his life. That idea was further promoted when he did his best to make a quick trip to Oklahoma's hot seat, the electric chair. But others who worked at the prison didn't buy the story, nor did they ascribe to a defense theory that he was insane.

James French
Questions regarding French’s sanity were raised as early as when he was arrested at sixteen, but while in federal prison (on unrelated charges) before the first murder, he finished high school and completed two years of college. He was reported to have written a book, WE, about the compulsion to commit crime. No record of the book was found by this writer. Psychiatric testimony, raised during one of his trials, revealed that his IQ was 117. The average intelligence score on most tests is 100.

After the murder of his cellmate, he admitted to the offense, saying he executed Shelton, just like the State executes people. French said his victim was like a rotten tomato that would destroy the whole basket. He determined there was no alternative but to kill the man. He also said Shelton had called him 'nuts.' In keeping with the tradition of providing the condemned a last meal, French allowed Shelton to have breakfast before strangling him to death.

He told the Court he wanted no appeal of his conviction and was not afraid of the electric chair. But the system wasn't inclined to grant his wish right away. His conviction was overturned and he was tried twice more before the Grim Reaper came to call. After the third conviction, he begged his family not to intercede and to let him die.

French remained calm and confident to the end. Talking to members of the press shortly before he was to be strapped in the chair, he said, “Hey, fellas. How about this for a headline for tomorrow’s paper? French Fries!

A few minutes later, when the Warden asked him if he had any last words, he said, "Everything’s already been said.” He shook hands with the Warden and a prison guard before taking a seat in the chair that would end his sorry life.

No record was found indicating any newspaper used his recommended headline the next day.


Archie Burkhalter was a co-owner of the Red Bluff General Hospital in Pasadena, Texas. His primary partner was Dr. Robert Pendleton. On December 9, 1966, Pendleton was murdered by two rifle shots as he strode across the hospital parking lot. Burkhalter, along with Robert Tucker, Robert Akridge, James Steambarge, and Roy Frashier were eventually charged with the murder.

Burkhalter was tried three times on the charges that he hired the other defendants to murder his business partner. He was convicted in the first trial and sentenced to life in prison, however, that conviction was overturned on appeal. The second trial ended in a mistrial, and in 1975 he was acquitted of the murder. Some of the other defendants were not so lucky. One was sentenced to death and another to 99 years. The death sentence was later commuted.

But Burkhalter’s run in with the law was more complicated than a single murder charge, even one for which he was tried three times. After his partner’s murder, but before being charged with the offense, Burkhalter was charged with raping a 24 year old patient at the hospital. He apparently escaped conviction on that charge as well. In addition, one of his alleged accomplices in the Pendleton murder, George French, testified that he offered then Pasadena Police Chief Ellis Means thirty thousand dollars on behalf of Burkhalter, if Chief Means would “lose some of the evidence” in the case. Chief Means confirmed the bribe offer and testified he reported it to the district attorney at the time.

Then, in 1979, Archie Burkhalter was again charged with hiring two men to murder his ex-wife’s new husband. It seems as though Archie Burkhalter didn’t want his ex-wife, Laurlita, to marry her new boyfriend, John Hensley. She alleged that Burkhalter had kidnapped her and taken her to his hospital in Pasadena in an attempt to convince her to abandon Hensley. When that didn’t work, he met with Hensley himself and offered $5,000 if he would stop seeing Laurlita. That offer was rejected as well.

In February of 1979, as Hensley left his condominium to go to work, he was shot in the face, permanently blinding him. S.J. Wilburn was convicted of having been hired by Burkhalter to kill Hensley. A third suspect was acquitted. But this time, Archie Burkhalter wouldn’t be so lucky.

The infamous Pasadena doctor was convicted of attempted murder in the shooting of Hensley. Upon his conviction, Burkhalter met with the press and said he was looking forward to farming and starting a medical practice in Fredericksburg, Texas. Regarding the conviction he told reporters, “I was put in jail three years when I was innocent” (an apparent reference to the murder of Dr. Pendleton) “and eventually I think justice will be done in this case.”

Justice may have been done, but it was not to be in the manner the Pasadena doctor might have liked. His conviction was upheld and he lost his medical license. After serving his prison term, an appeal to regain that license failed as well.

As far as we know today, Burkhalter is finally enjoying the farm in the Fredericksburg, Texas countryside. Although his life was surrounded by violence and accusations of criminal conduct for years, his name is no longer in the headlines of Texas newspapers.


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

On Halloween night of 1974, in Pasadena, Texas, Ronald Clark O’Bryan distributed five Pixie Stix candies to five children, including his son and daughter, whom he had volunteered to take trick or treating.  Not long before that Halloween night, he had taken out insurance policies on both his children. He had also opened each of the Pixie Stix tubes, filled them with cyanide before stapling the ends closed and giving them to the children.
Later that night, O’Bryan told his son Timothy, he could have one piece of candy before going to bed; then he sat beside Timothy and encouraged him to choose the Pixie Stix. Within minutes Timothy was ill and vomiting. He died shortly thereafter at a hospital emergency room.

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

Another was trying to open his with a knife in the kitchen when his father interrupted him and insisted that he go to bed. It was also reported that, in the ambulance, on the way to the hospital, attendant David Malone was prepared to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if Timothy had stopped breathing. Doctors later said that there was enough cyanide in Timothy’s mouth that it might also have killed Malone.
Execution night in Huntsville
O’Bryan never confessed to the crime. He maintained that a person at one of the houses he took the children to, gave them the poisoned candy. However, he could not identify the house or the street it was on, though they had only visited two streets. He eventually changed his recollection and identified a house after being pressed by investigators. But police learned that no one was home at that house on Halloween, as the man who lived there was working at the time, surrounded by 200 witnesses.

As his story began to fail, police learned of the new insurance policies and that O’Bryan had asked acquaintances about cyanide and where it might be purchased. A search of his house revealed a knife with traces of powdered candy and plastic on the blade. Pixie Stix containers were made of plastic and held powdered candy.
The jury took only 45 minutes to convict O’Bryan and 70 minutes to assess the death penalty. The musical group Siouxsie and the Banshees recorded a song, Candyman, on their album Tinderbox, about O’Bryan and his infamous deed. The song can be heard on YouTube.  

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

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


Sam Hoover was a kid from Oklahoma. He went to high school in the small town of Cushing, Oklahoma, known now the “pipeline crossroads of America.” He worked for the local newspaper. He said he liked journalism, but although he was lots of things during his life-time, it was his only venture into the newspaper business.

By 1936, Hoover was familiar with Oklahoma lawmen, having been arrested for robbery or burglary, maybe both. In any event, he found his way into the military and served as an infantryman during World War II. He then migrated to Pasadena, Texas, where, it appeared for a time, his criminal life would be left behind.

Sam Hoover found Pasadena to be an accommodating community. He served for a time as the Chamber of Commerce manager and was elected Pasadena’s mayor in 1948. He served for four years, enrolling in law school while mayor. He ran twice for county judge and lost, but was soon making a name for himself practicing criminal law. Some said had he applied his skills solely to the practice of law, he might have rivaled famous Houston lawyer Percy Foreman. But it wasn’t to be.

In physical appearance, Hoove
r was an unlikely criminal mastermind. He was describe by a columnist for the El Paso Herald-Post in 1964 as a slight clerical-looking criminal lawyer recently indicted on enough points to electrocute him on the one hand, or send him to prison a la Al Capone, on the other.

One of the earliest indications that Sam Hoover was a practicing criminal as well as a criminal lawyer, came in July of 1958. That’s when the body of Hoover’s client James Laird was discovered in Port Arthur, Texas, dead from a gunshot wound to the heart. Detectives found a note covered with bloodstains in the lining of the dead man’s jacket. The note said: To Whom It May Concern, I, James E. Laird, if found murdered it will be by Harvey Stewart, Lee Myers and ordered by Sam Hoover (attorney) Pasadena, Texas. March 26, 1958.

Hoover had bonded Laird out of jail in La Grange, Texas a month before the note was written. Lawmen believed Hoover did this to keep Laird from telling officers what he knew about a robbery Hoover had planned. Once out of jail, Laird agreed to allow Hoover to apply for a life insurance policy on him, a policy that was apparently never issued. But it obviously caused Laird to begin to mistrust his lawyer and to write the note found by investigators. Sam Hoover was arrested, but was never charged with the murder, although the other two crooks mentioned in the note were.

The former Mayor’s next, and most infamous involvement in a life of crime, came in 1964. In March of that year, the wealthy owner of a dairy and wholesale grocery supply business, Mair Schepps, his wife, infant child and a family nurse maid were abducted and tortured as they were held captive in the Schepps River Oaks home. The robbery was set up by Sam Hoover, who never appeared at the crime scene, but gave continuing telephone instructions to the three criminals as they attempted to extract information from the victims about the location of a large sum of cash that Hoover believed Schepps was keeping in the home.

The victims were bound and sadistically tortured for three hours. Mrs. Schepps was burned with a butcher knife that was heated on a stove and by cigarettes, wired to an electrical cord and shocked when it was placed on her teeth, breasts, and “private parts.” When later arrested, they named Sam Hoover as the mastermind. Of course, Sam claimed to be only their lawyer. But this time, he wouldn’t beat the system.

At trial Hoover was found guilty and sentenced to sixty years. One of his accomplices became an informant and was given immunity. The other two were sentenced to die by electrocution, but their lives spared when the Supreme Court invalidated Texas’ death penalty.

While Hoover’s conviction wound its way through appeals, the federal government stepped in to prosecute him on tax evasion. That trial took place in Laredo, Texas and he was again convicted. Soon, Sam Hoover was an inmate in the Texas Prison System. He had been 57 years old when the torture and robbery of the Schepps family occurred. But Sam Hoover’s criminal escapades were far from over.

Almost 19 years later, according to a story written by retired police officer Earl Musick and published in the Badge & Gun, a publication of the Houston Police Officers Association, Hoover was back on the streets and again engaging in crimes, particularly, home invasion robberies much like the Schepps case.

When Hoover and his accomplice tried to set up a ransom payment by the victim of one such robbery, Houston Police, for the first time in his Texas criminal career, arrested Sam Hoover at the scene of his crime. He was sent back to prison at the age of 76. This may not have been his last criminal act, but it was the last one he was tried for. Sam Hoover died in 1992.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innocent Man Executed

Innocent Jack Marion on the gallows
It’s not unusual, since the development of DNA evidence, to learn that someone sitting on death row is proven to be innocent. In some cases, that’s occurred after the execution takes place. But prosecutors have often offered arguments that just because a convicted murderer’s DNA wasn’t found, it didn’t PROVE that the man wasn’t guilty. Somewhere in that equation, those prosecutors seem to forget that the accused is never required to prove innocence, just a reasonable question as to his guilt.

But in the case of William Jackson Marion’s conviction and execution, no such argument could be made by prosecutors. Marion’s innocence was confirmed four years after his execution, when the man he was convicted of killing, John Cameron, returned to Nebraska. There was no DNA evidence, but there was the live body of the man who was supposed to be dead.

Jack Marion shortly before his execution
It seems that Marion and Cameron were in business together and set out on a trip with both their teams and wagons. But only Marion returned. He told those who inquired that his partner had decided not to return. Some local Nebraskans became suspicious and when, a year later, a skeleton was found on the trail the two men had traveled, the conclusion was soon reached that it was the remains of Cameron and that Marion had murdered him. Marion's conduct didn’t help matter much when he disappeared after learning of the finding of a skeleton. It was ten years before  he was captured and tried.

Jack Marion was tried three times, finally convicted and sentenced to hang fifteen years after his business partner went missing. Nebraska’s governor refused to commute the sentence, even though there was an organized protest against the conviction.

The McCook Tribune reported on March 31, 1887, under the headline “Paid the price at last,” that the condemned man spoke with a clear, strong voice and without emotion, when asked if he had any final words. “I have made no confession and have none to make,” he said moments before he was hanged.

Four years later, John Cameron returned to Nebraska from Alaska, where he apparently spent the years since leaving Marion along the trail. He was surprised to learn that his former partner had been hanged for his murder and told reporters that he and Marion had not even had harsh words for each other.

Interestingly, there was very limited reporting at the time of Cameron’s return about the unwarranted execution of Jack Marion. Maybe that’s why it took the State of Nebraska another hundred years before they pardoned the innocent man. 

Oklahoma City Officer’s Name Forever Tied to Jesse James

The murderer Edward O'Kelley
“The man who shot the man who shot the man who shot Jesse James is most often how Joseph Grant Burnett is described in writing. Known as Joe Burnett, he was an Oklahoma City police officer from 1901 until his death in 1917. He died as a result of a stroke and the day of his funeral, the Police Chief arranged for one-half of the police force to be granted leave to attend the funeral.

Officer Burnett’s fame was ensured when, in January of 1904, while walking his beat in downtown Oklahoma City, he encountered Edward O’Kelley, who, in 1892, shot and killed a man named Bob Ford in a silver mining camp in Creede, Colorada. Bob Ford had shot Jesse James in the back of the head ten years earlier in order to collect a reward. According to accounts of Ford’s killing by O’Kelly, Ford was accorded the opportunity of facing his killer, when O’Kelley walked into his saloon and, seeing Ford turned away, said, “Hello, Bob.” As Ford turned to face him, O’Kelley fired his shotgun killing the man who killed Jesse James.

It’s not known exactly why O’Kelley killed Ford, but it was clearly not because he believed in law and order. He was considered a dangerous killer and may have murdered Ford to enhance his reputation. After serving eight years in Colorado prisons for the murder, he was released and moved to Oklahoma City, where he would soon make the deadly mistake of challenging Officer Joe Burnett.

Some accounts of their encounter detail a pleasant Officer Burnett speaking to O’Kelley, addressing him by his name as they passed on the street. But O’Kelley is reported to have responded by striking the officer and drawing a pistol. The two men struggled, with O’Kelley firing his pistol until it was empty, then biting chunks from both ears of Officer Burnett. During the struggle, Burnett cried out for help, identifying himself as a police officer. Several men refused to come to his aid. Finally, a railroad baggage man named A.G. Paul heard the commotion and ran from the depot. He grabbed the hand of O’Kelley, freeing Burnett to draw and shoot the outlaw twice, killing him. 

When it was over, both Burnett’s ears were mangled from having been bitten. One ear also had powder burns from the firing of O’Kelley’s pistol. In addition, Burnett’s overcoat had two bullet holes in it. Officer Joe Burnett barely escaped being another law enforcement statistic in the long list of line-of-duty deaths.

Officer Burnett's tombstone
Joe Burnett stayed with the police department, eventually being promoted to Captain and serving for a time as Night Chief. His brother was also a police officer in Oklahoma City. When he died in 1917, he left a wife and three children.