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.


Early on a Saturday morning in April of 1971, Galena Park, Texas police officers tried to stop a car that ran a stop sign. A chase ensued, in the vehicle and then on foot. The officers eventually captured two suspects, Bobby Joe Conner and Larry Taylor, who were transported to the Galena Park Police Station.

During the chase, the Galena Park officers called for help. Houston officers Arthur N. Hill, Jack A. McMahon, John H. Gough, and I.B. Guerrero responded to the call. All four ultimately met Galena Park officers at the police station and advised them that Conner had an auto theft warrant pending. According to Hill, as reported during the trial, the Houston officers left Galena Park after learning that the two men would be transferred to the Harris County jail. Later that morning Conner died and Taylor was hospitalized.

What or who caused the death of Conner and injury to Taylor was a matter of dispute. Officers Hill and McMahon were charged with the murder of Conner. Lawyers, whose names and faces are still well known in courthouses throughout Texas, took on the case. Richard “Racehorse” Haynes and Mike Ramsey represented officers Hill and McMahon. Craig Washington represented the suspect, Taylor.

After all four Houston officers gave statements in which they denied beating Conner, Gough and Guerrero decided to change their statements, implicating Hill and McMahon as the officers responsible for the beatings. Thus the murder charge. Galena Park officer, Walter E. Sanders, who was involved in the arrest of Conner and Taylor also contended that Hill and McMahon beat the prisoners.

Police Chief Herman Short commented that both officers had good records and had never been disciplined before. According to an Associated Press article, Chief Short continued, stating, “Since it is police officers, it is spread all over the front pages of newspapers, whereas if the same thing happened to a private citizen, it would have been buried in the back sections. But this is the difference expected between police officers and private citizens. We are just waiting for the onslaught of brutality allegations now.”

The trial in State District Court was moved to New Braunfels, Texas, where the officers were tried. Other Houston officers carpooled to the trial in a show of support for the two men on trial. 

The defense contended that Conner’s injuries were caused when he fled on foot and ran through a pile of rubble and that his ingestion of morphine prior to the chase contributed to his death. The autopsy revealed 12.1% morphine in his blood. Defense attorneys also claimed that Gough and Guerrero conspired with Galena Park officer Sanders to deflect blame from Sanders, because he had previously been fired by the Texas Department of Public Safety after accidentally shooting and killing a citizen.

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found both officers “Not Guilty.” Both had tears in their eyes as the verdict was read. McMahon said he wanted to go back to work. Hill told the media, “There’s nothing else in the world I want to be more than a policeman.” But their trials were not over.

Soon the Federal Government filed charges against both former officers for violating the civil rights of both Conner and Taylor. But after hearing testimony, the Federal jurors in Houston reached the same conclusion as the earlier jury. They were not guilty!

But neither was to return to the Houston Police Department. Chief Short told the media, “They were dismissed for other reasons than what they were being tried for.” He had no comment on the verdict.

John Gough resigned from the Houston P.D. in August of 1971. In his letter of resignation he cited having been the victim of “rumors, gossip, remarks, and insinuations of other officers in the Department.” He disputed a statement made by the Houston Police Officers Association that he had left the Department for a better paying job and not because of any harassment.


Most of us know something about John Dillinger. There have been movies, books, newspaper and other media articles about his criminal life. There’s even a club that celebrates annually at the spot where he was killed. But if you ask who William Patrick O’Malley was, you are likely to be met with silence and no recognition of the name.

In all probability, the last words Sergeant O’Malley ever heard came from Dillinger. He was said to have screamed, “Get over. I’ll get that son of a bitch,” just seconds before pointing his Thompson sub-machine gun at Sergeant O’Malley and firing. Eight rounds found their mark across the lawman’s chest. He died at the scene. He was guilty of only one thing. He didn’t know that Dillinger was wearing a bullet-proof vest when he fired at the crook coming out of a bank he had just robbed in East Chicago, Indiana. Others said that Dillinger told the dying police officer, “You asked for it,” before making his escape.

As he died on the street in front of the bank, his wife and three daughters waited for their husband and father to return home at the end of his shift. Sergeant O’Malley was forty-three years old on that day, January 15, 1934. Research indicates that he was likely a veteran of WWI. Little else is known of the man who was murdered by John Dillinger.

Like most funerals for police officers killed in the line-of-duty, thousands turned out for Sergeant O’Malley, including officers from many other jurisdictions. City offices were closed by order of the Mayor. But once he was buried in Calvary Cemetery, just like many of other officers killed in the line-of-duty, his life was largely forgotten. No movies, no books, just a man who gave his life trying to protect society from one of the sorriest humans to ever take a breath, whose name should be erased from our memory and replaced with the hero, William Patrick O’Malley.


Time to visit the past relationship between law-breakers and cops, since the issue has been dominating the news after Ferguson, Mo. and New York City incidents. It's not the first time a segment of society supported thugs over police. One infamous crook robbed police stations, killed a policeman, and became a folk hero, still celebrated today by some.

John Dillinger is better known for robbing banks and being betrayed by a female friend wearing a red dress. The myth is she wore the red dress to the Biograph Movie Theater she attended with Dillinger so the Feds would easily spot them. She actually wore a white blouse and orange skirt, not that anyone cares. Dillinger was shot and killed that night.

But before his death, John Dillinger also walked brazenly into police stations in Auburn, Peru, and Warsaw, Indiana,  and robbed them of their Thompson sub-machine guns, shotguns, and such. In Auburn, officers were locked in their own jail. Dillinger loved the Thompson. He was quoted to have said, “You get more with a simple prayer and a Thompson sub-machine gun than you get from a simple prayer alone.”

During his short life, Dillinger became a folk hero in some circles. Unlike today’s criticism of police, which has strong racial overtones, Dillinger’s supporters were those suffering from the collapse of the economy. Some were poor people who saw Dillinger exacting retribution against the wealthy banks and bankers. They also saw law enforcement as an extension of corrupt government.

Though the F.B.I. denies on its website that Dillinger had any Robin Hood like traits, there are an abundance of anecdotal stories about his giving money to poor children and families who were suffering financially. People who believed the banks were corrupt along with the government (sound familiar?) cheered Dillinger and his gang on for "sticking it to the man." No doubt Dillinger performed some charitable acts, but most of his ill-gotten gains were likely spent by him and his gang.

Now to the Texas connection. There is a club of sorts that has been in existence since 1966 called The John Dillinger Died For You Society. This organization was birthed in Austin, Texas that year at the famous Scholz Garten (sometimes called Scholz Beer Garden) by a group of University of Texas students and their professor. Seems that one of the students had completed his thesis on the subject of the Thompson Machine Gun and was there celebrating with his professor and friends. Sometime, probably after many pitchers of cold beer, they formed the club. Each member was designated as an “assistant treasurer” and authorized to collect dues from any new member, supposedly because that’s the way Saint John would have wanted it.

The Club’s still in existence today! On the anniversary of Dillinger’s death, members trek to the site of the Biograph Theater where Dillinger was gunned down, play the bagpipes, pour beer on the spot where his body lay, and celebrate his…not quite sure what, maybe his notoriety or could it be, just an excuse to lift a mug.

At any rate, for those interested, there are three Facebook pages for The John Dillinger Died For You Society. One is categorized as simply a “public group,” the second as a “church/religious organization” and perhaps the most appropriate is a “bank/financial institution” group. 

William Patrick O'Malley
But most important, do you know the name of the police officer he murdered? That officer's name can't be found in the FBI's story, but he was William Patrick O'Malley, an East Chicago police officer. He left a wife and three children. I'll publish a story about him soon.