WANT TO WRITE A BOOK?

COMING SOON!
I’ve now written and published three novels and a book of short stories. My fourth novel, Rich Man, Dead Man, will be released in September. A number of readers have asked questions about writing and what my experience has been with “finding a publisher.” A few have told me they have this book they want to write and know it’s worthy of being made into a movie. Some have suggested I write the book for them. I decided, instead, to blog about my experience with writing and publishing a book.

FIRST IN THE SERIES
It won’t be a surprise that a lot of people say they are going to write a book…someday. That was me in the ninety’s and well after the turn of the century. I outlined a story and finally, in 2008, began writing. I loved it! I committed to spend at least one hour every week-day working on my story. Instead, I found myself writing three to five hours and soon had my first draft completed. I was proud of my work, but suddenly realized, I didn't know what to do next.

So I set my project aside and began researching the questions about writing, publishing, and marketing a novel. I did internet searches, talked to friends and acquaintances with varying degrees of experience in writing and publishing, and bought books on each of the topics. The information was overwhelming, much of it conflicting. I digested enough to divide the project into three broad categories; writing, research and editing, publishing, and marketing. That’s how I’ve divided this blog series. Here’s the first.

Writing, Research, and Editing.
The fun part of being an author is telling the story. If it’s not, you might want to re-evaluate whether you really want to be a writer. That task, however, is more than getting those thoughts out of your head and onto paper or a computer screen. A few things a new writer should consider follow. Is an outline necessary as a guide to writing? I’ve written from an outline and I’ve written freestyle, just letting the story flow from my mind onto the pages of a Word document. When I use an outline, the finished product never looks much like the outline I started with; when I don’t use an outline, if I reached a point where the story doesn’t flow from my brain to my fingers on the keyboard, often described as “writers block”, I begin outlining until I am back on track. A new writer might use an outline as a starting point, then decide, after a little experience, which method works best. For me, it's a combination of outlining and free-flow.

Early in my research I found authors, agents, and publishers repeatedly warning to edit your work, have your work edited by a professional, and, oh, by the way, edit, edit, edit. I considered myself a capable writer, but heeding the numerous warnings, I asked my wife to edit the manuscript. I was surprised at the errors she corrected in both sentence structure and punctuation. Next, I asked a professor who teaches creative writing to edit it. Even more corrections and advice on improving the sequence of how the story is told. Finally, out of an abundance of caution, I hired a professional editor. All three made corrections, though a "professional editor" can be quite expensive. I have since hired professional editors and I have created a network of authors with whom I trade editing services. Frankly, I think the other authors, well-selected, works best for me. No matter which approach you take with editing, be sure you edit before publishing. Misspelled words, bad grammar, and poorly constructed sentences will ruin an otherwise laudable writing project.

A word of caution. If your editors are personal friends, make sure they will be honest with you. Often friends are hesitant to critically review such work. And develop a thick skin! If you engage editing services, you want the editor to find fault with your work. You’ll decide which criticism to take and which to ignore, but be open. Finally, no matter how many edits, even by multiple editors, don’t be surprised if the first call you get from a friend reading your book is to tell you about an error she found. Some say a book is never error-free. But try to create a work that won’t embarrass your high school English teacher.

Just a word or two about researching the topic of your book. I followed the advice of those who suggest writing about a subject you are familiar with. That said, research is still necessary. For instance, if your story takes place in an earlier time period, it might be important to know what was happening politically and culturally at that time, what technology was available, and generally, whether events you might describe could even have occurred then. For example, how available were cell phones in 1985?  Were they widely used? When did personal pagers cease to be a part of our communication system? For a crime writer, you may need to know when fingerprints came into popular use by investigators. Whatever the question, I suggest you NOT rely on Google searches alone for your research! A little time at the library, or even an on-line library if available, may be a much more reliable resource.


Next time I’ll write about my experience with publishers and publishing.

Herman Short - A Police Chief during times of change

Criminals and their crimes are often the most interesting stories, but I am fascinated by some of the leaders of law enforcement, especially in the South, during the 1960’s. This was a time when society was facing fast-paced change regarding race relations and how law enforcement was expected to dealt with this change. Of course, Bull Conner, Birmingham, Alabama’s police commissioner, became the most infamous, when his use of police dogs and fire hoses to break up civil rights demonstrations were captured by news camera and broadcast for all the world to see. But there are others.


Herman Short, Houston’s police chief during that era, was another of those larger than life characters.  Described by some as a racist and others as a highly respected crime fighting hero; he probably would not have adopted either of those descriptions as his own.
He was born in West Virginia in 1918. In the 1920’s his family moved to Houston, where his father worked for the Hughes Tool Company. After becoming a Houston police officer and being promoted up the ranks, Short was appointed to Chief of Police in 1964, by then mayor, Louie Welch.

By 1967, like most other cities, Houston was embroiled in racial conflict that poured into the streets. Although some civil rights leaders believed he was a racist, another former Houston Chief, Harry Caldwell, probably gave a more accurate assessment. Quoted in an article by former newspaper reporter Tom Kennedy, Caldwell said,
"..... He (Short) was a product of the thirties. Herman had many good qualities and many qualities that had been bypassed by society. The biggest problem was that society placed the police department at the forefront of enforcing Jim Crow laws.

"That created the perception that police were racists.... Unfortunately, we had persons in the department that were..... Herman was a big friend of George Wallace. That didn't help the department's image much in the black community..."
But Caldwell also pointed to evidence that might debunk the racist theory as well, saying, "Herman integrated the police cafeteria without anybody telling him he had to."

There is little, if any, dispute, that Short was a law and order cop who did not engage in public relations. The news media, as well as the officers who worked for him, recognized the “no nonsense” approach he took to running the department. This attitude was evident when media representatives interviewed him. Some did all they could to avoid such encounters.

Black activists, under the banner of the Peoples’ Party II, took over a building at 2800 Dowling Street in 1970 and barricaded themselves in it.  When an outspoken critic of the Department proclaimed publicly at a City Council meeting that Houston police should stay away from the Peoples’ Party headquarters, Chief Short simply said,


“The law will be enforced in the 2800 block of Dowling as it is everywhere else. There is no place in this city where a policeman can’t go.”
Soon, police took over the building, killing one of the leaders, Carl Hampton, in the process. Officers and the public saw that Short was a man of his word.
During George Wallace’s run for the Presidency, it was whispered that Short might be in line to replace J. Edgar Hoover as the Director of the F.B.I. Of course, that never happened, but as Caldwell pointed out, his relationship with Wallace reinforced the opinion of some that he was a racist.

Within the ranks of the police department, he was respected, if not always loved.  His management style was dictatorial and it was abundantly clear that he ran the department. He won praise and loyalty from officers when he would publicly defend their actions, which he did often. On one occasion, when a minority-owned newspaper published an article calling an officer a “mad dog killer”, it was rumored that Short called the officer to his office and encouraged him to file suit against the newspaper, even suggesting an attorney who would take the case.
Was Herman Short a hero or a racist? We know that he was a man charged with running one of the largest U.S. police departments at a time when society’s values and racial standards were changing rapidly. To some he was a real “John Wayne” like figure, strong, silent, and intimidating. To others, Short was little better than former Klansman and Birmingham Police Commissioner, Bull Conner. In reality he was just a man with traditional values, running a big city police department during an era when a change in those traditional values was inevitable.

Sheriff Lawrence Rainey – A Law Enforcement Embarrassment

This is a re-run of a very popular story I published some time ago.

One of my most popular blog stories was titled A Police Chief during times of change. The story was about Houston’s Police Chief Herman Short. (still available to read on this blog) Short served as Chief during the 1960’s, a time in the South when traditional white values were being challenged and law enforcement leaders were measured by their response to the tides of change.

Sheriff Rainey & Deputy Price
It is tempting to compare such leaders to those who followed 20 or even 50 years later, but doing so gives no context to the times during which they served. A more accurate comparison is with other southern law enforcement leaders of the time. As you read about Neshoba County, Mississippi Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, consider how each man, Chief Short and Sheriff Rainey, responded to change. 

Lawrence Rainey was a one-term sheriff in Neshoba County, Mississippi. He campaigned for the job by responding to those traditional southern white values of segregation and keeping ‘negroes’ in their place. During the campaign he said, “I’m the man who can cope with the situations that might arise,” a reference to dealing with the civil rights activism then coming to the south. And “cope with the situation” he did!

Rainey completed eight years of formal education before becoming a mechanic. But, to the detriment of the profession, he soon found his way into law enforcement. In 1959 he was working as a Philadelphia, Mississippi police officer. His reputation was that of a brutal enforcer, especially in the black community. He killed one black man and is reported to have whipped another with a leather strap after stripping his shirt from his back, exacting his own form of justice on the streets of this small Mississippi town that became infamous in the movie, Mississippi Burning.

In 1963 he ran for sheriff of Neshoba County and won. He was known as a tobacco chewing, back-slapping Klansman, whose reputation suggested he supported the status quo in its quest to stop the freight train of change coming to the south. Just months into his term, three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Michael Schwermer, and Andy Goodman went missing after being released from Rainey’s jail.

A quote from the Sheriff at the beginning of the investigation is interesting. He said, “...and if any semblance of violence should seem to be in the making just leave it to the law enforcement officers." Was it a slip of the tongue or a veiled reference to what had already occurred?
Wright and Rainey

Not long after that comment, Rainey, his deputy Cecil Wright and 15 other men were indicted in federal court for the murder of the three men. Seven, including the deputy, were convicted, but Rainey was not. Their arrogance was amazing. Shown in the photo above, Rainey and his deputy, display a confident smugness upon their indictment.

Maybe the bravest comment made at the time was by the eleven year old son of James Chaney, who, even before the sheriff was indicted, said publicly, “and I want us all to stand up here together and say just one more thing. I want the sheriff to hear this good. WE AIN’T SCARED NO MORE OF SHERIFF RAINEY!”

Things didn’t go well for the former sheriff after the trial. He moved to Franklin, Kentucky to work as a policeman. But when the newspapers reported his arrival, civil rights activists sounded the alarm, and the offer of a job was withdrawn. Lawrence Rainey never worked in law enforcement again!

“The FBI set out to break me... and they did it.” Rainey said. “They kept me down to colored folks money,” apparently referring to his job as a security guard at a trailer park. He died in 2002 at age 79.
Lawrence Rainey didn’t accept a changing society, and as a result, lost the only career that apparently ever made him feel important.

An excerpt from my latest novel, HOMICIDE IN BLACK & WHITE

They met in the parking lot of the Community Center. Danielle got in Hunter’s truck and he headed for the cabin. She didn’t say a word. Finally he looked at her.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing that can’t wait until we get there,” she replied.
They rode in silence for the fifteen minutes it took to drive to the cabin. Once there, Hunter unlocked the cabin door and they entered. He took a beer from the refrigerator, sat on the couch and began removing his boots. Danielle stood at the door and watched him.
“Come on, get undressed, girl,” Hunter motioned toward the bed.
“We’ve got to talk, Hunter. I’m pregnant.”
With one boot off, he froze with his still booted foot resting across his knee. After a moment, he spoke.
“So, whose is it? Can’t be mine. I wear a rubber every time.” He proceeded to remove the second boot.
She was surprised and hurt that his reaction was so cold. She had known he’d be angry, but to suggest that she had been with someone else was something she hadn’t expected.
“You know it’s yours! Why would you say that? I love you.” She walked from the door to stand in front of him.
“Get your clothes off. I guess I don’t need a rubber now.” He stood and pushed her toward the bed.
“NO! We need to talk about this! We’re not going to bed!”
She was surprised at the anger in her voice, but the look on Hunter’s face turned the anger into fear as he removed the boot.
“Let me tell you something, nigger girl. You’ll damn well do as I tell you and do it now!”
He rose from the couch and swung his arm in a wide arc as he backhanded her across the cheek. She fell onto the bed and he was on top of her instantly, tearing at her clothes. When her blouse tore and revealed her breasts, he became more excited. He raised his body to a kneeling position on the bed, unzipped and pushed down his jeans as he leaned over her.
“Do it! You know what I want.”
He thrust toward her face, grabbing her hair and pushing himself inside her mouth. She was crying and tried to roll away, but he was too strong. A hard shove and she was on her back. He ripped at her panties after lifting her skirt. She struggled and he began to hit her face. She screamed. He wrapped his fingers around her neck and began to squeeze, harder and harder.
As he peered down at her face, he realized he had gone too far. The beautiful green eyes were bulging and she was no longer screaming. He squeezed harder and wrenched her head to the side. When he let go, she didn’t move.
“Stupid nigger bitch! Why’d you make me do that?” Hunter spoke as if he believed she could hear him.
He zipped his pants and put his boots on. After sitting on the edge of the bed for a few seconds, he walked to the refrigerator and opened another beer. He returned to the couch where he sat, drank the beer, and stared at Danielle’s dead body.
When the beer was gone, Hunter took a deep breath, rose from the couch and took three steps to the bed and rolled the girl’s body to the edge. He then lifted her over his shoulder and carried her to his truck, where he dumped the body into its bed as if she were a sack of flour.

Hunter jumped into the truck and drove back to the main road. He turned left, away from town, and drove a half mile to the Colorado River. Veering slightly right, off the highway, he drove down a dirt lane, parking beneath the bridge. He got out of his truck, lowered the tailgate and pulled Danielle’s stiffening body from the bed. Hunter carried her to the edge of the river and dropped the body on the river’s bank. With a shove of his boot, the body slid into the shallow water.

BUY "HOMICIDE IN BLACK & WHITE by clicking on the "add to cart" icon below the title on the right or for the Kindle edition go to www.Amazon.com 

DETECTIVE MARTIN BILLNITZER'S FAMILY – Last in the Series, IF THE WALLS COULD TALK

Detective Martin Billnitzer
Houston Police Detective Martin Billnitzer’s family never believed he committed suicide at the police station in 1954. Even the most gullible observer would have been likely to question the ruling of suicide. He was shot twice in the heart and was believed to have been cooperating with Federal agents in the investigation of corruption within the highest echelons of the Houston Police Department.

Today when an officer is killed, the Department has a Family Assistance Unit available to guide the family through this difficult time. In 1954 no such unit existed. Some Billnitzer family members felt at the time that the Houston Police Department was more of a threat than a band of brothers. One relative described the funeral as “scary,” saying she believed the killer was a policeman and that he might be at the funeral. Martin's brother, Harold, was reported as having been afraid to go near the casket that day.

But that brother held a life-long hope that the report of Martin Billnitzer’s death would someday be investigated again and proven a murder. He remembered Martin telling him that another officer had suggested if Martin wanted it, he could live more luxuriously than most officers did at the time. In his memoir, published in 1976 or later, Harold wrote, “I pray that someone will come forward to clear Martin’s name before I die. I would like to be able to forgive him (the responsible person) so that God can forgive me.”

Harold’s son, Michael, took up the effort to clear his uncle’s name. He knew it was important to his father. Documents were gathered, including some from the Federal Government, in which agents referred to the Billnitzer death as a murder. A reporter for an internet news outlet wrote about the death, writing that Michael had sought out forensics experts around the country to review the previous autopsy and other reports. One, forensics psychologist Katherine Ramsland, agreed to look at the case. Some of her findings were surprising. According to her review, the reports made at the time indicated no fingerprints were found on the murder weapon; it was highly unlikely that Billnitzer could have accomplished shooting himself twice in the heart; and that The death-scene investigation appears, at the very least, to have involved tunnel vision: an assumption that Billnitzer had reason to commit suicide, so the death event is therefore a suicide.” 

Finally, believing he had gathered enough information to warrant another look at his uncle’s death, Michael Billnitzer wrote a letter in January of 2004 to Acting Houston Police Chief Joe L. Breshears. He requested that the investigation be re-opened and he forwarded the information he had gathered with the request. On March 3, less than two months later, he received a response. The letter read, in part, “…the Homicide Division conducted considerable research into the matter and learned that Detective Billnitzer’s death was thoroughly investigated at the time….. Our research in this matter uncovered no information that would contradict this finding or warrant reopening the case…” In fairness to the Department, maybe Michael Billnitzer’s request was a difficult one to accommodate. Reopening a fifty-year old case is sometimes impractical. 

Approaching the various memorial organizations that recognize officers who sacrifice their lives in the line of duty might have been more successful. We honor our officers who give their lives in the line of duty. We have memorial walls for their names. Families are honored at the State Capitol and survivors have formed groups to help family members cope with the tragic loss. But in the case of Martin Billnitzer, we may have left a comrade behind. Could a definitive conclusion be reached at this late date, sixty years after the fact? Probably not, but a part of me wants to believe that when an officer takes the oath, pins on the badge and straps on the gun, in a case like this, we should err on the side of the deceased officer.

A DEAD DETECTIVE – If the Walls Could Talk – Episode 8

Detective Billnitzer beside marijuana
plant. He was a top narcotics cop
.
Detective Martin Billnitzer lay dying on the floor of an office at the Houston Police Department. In the adjoining office, Detective George LaRue heard two gunshots and when he tried to open the door, believed it was locked. He left to get a key.

In the meantime, a secretary, also hearing the shots, ran into the office and opened the door, which was partially blocked by Billnitzer’s body, but not locked. Soon rumors were circulating that a man had been seen running from the office. Never substantiated, and dismissed as possibly being a janitor who ran after hearing the shots, those rumors became nothing more than anecdotal history. Billnitzer had been shot twice in the heart and had a serious gash to the head.

The Detective had met the day before with federal authorities who were investigating missing heroin from the Houston P.D. He had been involved with two other officers in the initial seizure of the dope. In his first interview, Billnitzer's account of how much dope was recovered conflicted with that of the other two officers. He returned later in the day to meet again with the agents and clarify the differing accounts. Some later speculated that he, as most narcotics detectives of the time did, retained small amounts of narcotics seizures to give to informants in payment for their services. This practice was not uncommon as late as the early 1970’s.

The day after meeting with the feds, he met with the Police Chief, who was sticking to the story that the amount of heroin seized was much less than the other two detectives claimed. Detective Billnitzer left that meeting and walked to his office. He was dead within minutes.

Chief Morrison told the news media that Billnitzer was not suspected of being involved in the missing heroin. George White, the chief investigator in the Federal investigation, confirmed that he was not a subject of the federal investigation. The Chief hinted that the detective might have failed to properly log some narcotics in the past, but said it was not so serious as to warrant a suicide.

Some officers had been concerned since the night of the seizure, when Captain Melton took the dope and told them not to make a report, that rank and file officers would be blamed for the missing heroin. They may have believed those comments by the Chief confirmed their suspicions that the high-ranking officers would be protected at their expense.

Federal Agent George White
There are differing accounts and opinions about whether Detective Billnitzer committed suicide. At the time of his death, Federal Agent George White told the media, “I think the man was murdered. If he killed himself, he is probably the first man who ever killed himself twice,” referring to the fact that Billnitzer was shot twice in the heart. Years later, White said, “I still think it was murder. It just is not possible for a man to shoot himself in the head or heart, stumble against a cabinet, causing a head injury, and after falling on the floor shoot himself in the heart. It could not be done.” Unfortunately for the Billnitzer family, federal authorities had no jurisdiction to investigate the death; that responsibility fell to the local police.

Detective W.C. Pool
Detective W.C. Pool, the officer who reported the missing heroin to federal authorities commented, when referring to Billnitzer’s death, “I don’t believe for a second that he committed suicide. There is a lot that hasn’t come out. I don’t know if it ever will.”

The minister who conducted the funeral service said, “If Bill committed suicide, it was not the Bill we knew.”

 But others, not directly involved, although familiar with the investigation, had a different opinion. A friend of well-respected Lieutenant F.C. Crittenden, who was on the department at the time, told me that Crittenden expressed to him that, “I will go to my grave convinced that Billnitzer’s death was suicide.”

It has also been related to me that an investigator who was assigned to review the case fifty years after the death has strong feelings that the case was properly classified a suicide. An attempt to contact that investigator by e-mail was unsuccessful.

It’s been just over sixty years since Martin A. Billnitzer’s death. It is unlikely that there will ever be a definitive decision about whether he was murdered or committed suicide for those who refuse to accept the results of the investigation by the Police Department. Next week’s story will be about information the family learned through open records requests to the federal government. If there is any chance that Billnitzer was murdered because he refused to go along with a cover-up by others, it is tragic that his name is not included on the various Memorial Walls that honor police officers killed in the line of duty.

Homicide in Black & White is my latest novel and the first in the Tanner and Thibodaux Action, Adventure Crime series. If you enjoy fiction, you’ll enjoy this story about a retired Houston cop and his friend, a retired Delta Force soldier, who team up to solve a murder.

DID WE FORGET A HERO? IF THE WALLS COULD TALK – EPISODE 7

Detective Billnitzer (2nd from right)
In the Forward to retired Houston Police Lieutenant Nelson Zoch’s book, Fallen Heroes of the Bayou City, retired Police Chief Harry Caldwell wrote “Houston Police Officers vow to never forget the ultimate sacrifices made by their fellow men and women in blue in the 166 year history of the mighty law enforcement organization known as the Houston Police Department.” But in the death of Detective Martin A. Billnitzer on June 3, 1954, was a line-of-duty death falsely or mistakenly ruled a suicide?

(1954) On that June day, Detective Billnitzer had just completed a meeting with Houston Police Chief L.D. Morrison, Sr., regarding his interview by federal agents. The subject of the interview was heroin missing from the H.P.D. As he left the Chief's office, Billnitzer told reporters waiting in the hallway that he would return in a few minutes to answer questions. Moments later, two gunshots rang out in the halls of 61 Riesner Street, the home of the Houston Police Department.

Martin Billnitzer lay dead in his office with two bullet wounds in his heart and a nasty gash to his head, blood oozing onto the floor around him. With whirlwind speed, the death was ruled a suicide by the Police Chief and a Justice of the Peace, acting as coroner.

In future blog stories, we'll examine the details of his death, but today we'll get to know more about Detective Martin Billnitzer, the man. Born in 1909, he was just forty-five years old the day that life abandoned him on the floor of an office in the police station. He had been a police officer for twelve years, having joined the Department in 1942.


Martin & Marie
Born in Cave Creek, Texas, a community north of Gatesville in central Texas, his family soon moved to Jourdanton, Texas. There Martin played baseball, enjoying the role of pitcher on his team. As an adult, he married Marie and they moved to Houston. They had no children.

On the 1940 census, Martin was listed as a salesman for Home Electric Refrigerators. Family member say that he managed a business in Houston just prior to joining the police department. Others reported that his wife Marie was a school teacher, though that was not reported on the same census.

Martin at H.P.D
There are at least three somewhat contradictory records of Martin's educational achievements. In an article published in 2005 in the World News Daily, written by H.P. Albarelli, Jr., he is reported to have had a 'college education' at the time he joined the Houston P.D. The article noted that this was unusual for police applicants at the time. Some family members recalled that he had attended Draughon's Business School. But the 1940 census records indicate that he had a seventh grade education. These stories are not necessarily in conflict. After the census, he may have attended the business school and it may have been referred to by those who knew him as a 'college education.'

The Billnitzers were active in their community, particularly the Lutheran Church they attended in Houston. They were involved in helping with the Youth Choir, and the night of his death, Martin and Marie had scheduled a backyard party at their home for the members of that Choir.

I interviewed W.M. "Bill" Elkin, retired detective and current Executive Director of the Houston Police Retired Officers Association as part of my research on this story. Bill joined HPD shortly after this story broke in 1954 and recalls only vague details. He does remember, however, that his father, Joe. B. Elkin, who was also a Houston officer and retired in 1969, knew Martin Billnitzer. He recalls conversations with his Dad about the narcotics investigation and death of Billnitzer. Joe told his son that he questioned how Billnittzer died. He said that Martin Billnitzer just wasn't the kind of guy who would commit suicide.

In 2004, family members of Detective Billnitzer made a request to the Houston Police Chief that the death of their brother and uncle be re-examined. Through the Federal Freedom of Information Act, they had found documents from the 1950's investigation by Federal investigators that referred to Billnitzer's death as a murder, not a suicide. As you might expect concerning a case that happened fifty years prior to the request, the Chief declined to re-open the case.

Next week I write about Detective Billnitzer's death, some of the unusual reports about a man running from the office where he was shot, and forensics speculation all these years after his death.

In the interim, please consider purchasing one or more of my novels, available on this website, at Amazon.com, or wherever good books are sold.



COULDN’T TELL THE CROOKS FROM THE COPS –If The Walls Could Talk –Episode 6

Captain Foy Melton
(June 1954) A month earlier the media and Houston Police Chief L.D. Morrison learned that the federal government had sent agents to Houston to investigate allegations of missing heroin from the police department. The officers who recovered the dope and the dealer who bought it back told the feds there was about $75,000 worth of heroin, nearly ¾ of a million in today’s dollars.

City Attorney Will Sears
Detective Sidney Smith
But the Chief, City Attorney Will Sears and Captain Foy Melton said it was not more than $2,000 worth. Chief Morrison admitted that a single detective, acting alone, sold some of the dope back on the streets. But that detective, Sidney Smith, didn't work in the Vice Division and Morrison didn't explain how Smith obtained the dope that was supposedly in Assistant Chief Seber’s office. It smelled like a cover-up and it was! Eventually the top cops would turn over more dope to the feds, but not all of it.


On Thursday, June 3rd Detective Martin Billnitzer was found shot to death in an office at the police station. He had two bullets in his heart and a nasty gash on his head. Chief Morrison, the City Attorney, and a local justice of the peace declared it to be a suicide. Many others, including the officers who worked with him, the federal investigators, and his family believed that he had been murdered. The following Saturday, Morrison issued an order to all police officers that they were prohibited from talking to anyone, including federal agents, about the heroin or death of Detective Billnitzer. He declared he would answer all questions.

Detective Sidney Smith was fired and charged with selling heroin. He was eventually convicted and sent to prison. When interviewed in prison by federal investigators, he said that Detective Billnitzer was murdered and that the pistol used had been stolen from a store and used to kill the detective. Houston Police records indicated it was Billnitzer's personal weapon.

Dr. Julius McBride
Captain Foy Melton and a local doctor, Julius McBride, were indicted on June 25th. The doctor was indicted for supplying Chief Morrison with codeine for purposes other than medical use. He was eventually sentenced to thirty months in federal prison. Morrison was not charged, but testimony in the trial indicated that he was addicted to codeine. He resigned as Chief of Police, but remained on the Department.

Captain Melton was tried twice on the federal charges. First in Corpus Christi, then in Brownsville, juries could not reach a verdict. L.D. Morrison testified on his behalf. Melton appealed his suspension to the civil service commission and was promptly returned to duty.

Melton was charged a few years later with tampering with a witness and bribery on an unrelated case. He was found innocent of those charges, but his firing was upheld by the Houston Civil Service Commission. Melton appealed that decision and eventually the Texas Supreme Court reversed the decision and he was authorized to return to work as a Houston police officer. He opted instead to retire and began receiving his $187.42 per month pension. He was soon hired by District Attorney Frank Briscoe as an investigator.

On February 2, 1967, Melton pulled into the parking lot of the Harris County Courthouse and shot himself while sitting in his car.  He left two notes which were found in his pocket. A .45 caliber automatic pistol lay on the seat beside his body. 

On one note was written “Medical Examiner: When you finish, call Heights.” This apparently referred to the Heights Funeral Home in Houston. The second note said “Homicide: Let R.O. Biggs have this .45 automatic. God Bless You All. Foy D. Melton.” Melton had succeeded where others had failed. He had finally been removed from serving as a law enforcement officer.

My new novel, HOMICIDE IN BLACK & WHITE, is now available on this site or at Amazon.

A POLICE CHIEF RESIGNS – If the Walls Could Talk – Episode 4


Chief L.D. Morrison, Sr.

(1954) The Feds were in Houston investigating local police for selling heroin to dope dealers. Detective M.A. Billnitzer, shot twice in the heart at the police station, was dead. The Police Chief, L.D. Morrison, Sr., by his own admission in testimony, didn’t hear of the seizure of a large amount of heroin that occurred in August of 1953 until June of 1954, although he ordinarily was told of any narcotics seizure. The police department was much smaller in 1953 and illegal narcotics trade was becoming a major police problem. But Morrison apparently didn’t learn of the dope deal until the Federal investigation was about to become public.
Martin Billnitzer

After the death of Detective Billnitzer, Morrison relieved Captain Melton of duty and fired Detective Sidney Smith. He seems to have discounted any scandal beyond the actions of Smith. He later testified on behalf of Melton who was tried twice but not convicted. I’ll have more on Melton in later episodes.

In addition to the corruption that was taking place in his police department, Chief Morrison must have been uneasy when the Feds started snooping around for another reason. He had back problems and had found a doctor, Julius McBride, who supplied him with codeine which the doctor recorded as going to a patient who had cancer. When McBride was indicted, the charge said that he supplied the dope to the Chief for “non-medicinal” purposes. Medical experts from Baylor University testified in McBride’s trial that Morrison was caught up in the grip of the drug habit and well on his way to becoming an “addict” from frequent administration of codeine.

61 Reisner
Chief Morrison resigned as Chief when the narcotics scandal became public. His reputation within the police department seems to have survived the scandal, including his improper use of codeine. The current Houston Police Academy building is named in his honor. In the book, HOUSTON BLUE, authors Tom Kennedy and Michael P. Roth write that “Morrison is known as the father of HPD academic training...” That honor was accrued prior to his being appointed police chief and when he initiated the first academy class. His son, L.D. Morrison, Jr., later became a Houston officer and retired as a Captain in the Homicide Division.


Next week’s episode will tell more about Officer W.C. Pool, Federal Agent George White, and an interesting note about another officer who testified before the federal grand jury, J.O. Brannon. Stay tuned and check out my novels in paperback or as Kindle e-books.

THE MYTH OF THE BLUE CODE OF SILENCE – If the Walls Could Talk – Episode 5

W.C. Pool
(1954) A large haul of heroin had been recovered. The three officers who brought it in were told by Captain Foy Melton that he was taking possession of the dope because it was part of a much larger narcotics investigation. The officers became suspicious that there was no such investigation and that the heroin seizure was not reported. They decided to tell fellow officer W.C. Pool about the case.

There’s a belief among those critical of law enforcement that a Blue Code of Silence exists among officers, meaning that there is an unwritten rule that officers will not report on another officer’s errors, misconduct, or crimes. While this may be true regarding errors and minor misconduct, there is abundant evidence that officers often come forward to report the criminal acts of fellow law enforcement officers.

Joe Clark
Such was the case regarding the missing dope. At least two Houston officers reported their suspicions to the Harris County D.A. W.C. Pool was first. The D.A. told him to forget about the dope and if he couldn’t forget, he should look for another job. Soon after, Captain Joe Clark also took the case to the D.A. Clark reported that dope dealer Earl Voice told him officers were selling the heroin they had confiscated previously. The D.A. said there was not enough evidence and did nothing. Later, when questioned by reporters as to why he went to the D.A. instead of his superiors in the Department, Clark said he thought his superiors might have been involved in the criminal activity, all the way to the Chief.

George White
But Officer Pool refused to take the advice given him by the D.A. Instead he contacted a federal agent he was acquainted with in Houston. It wasn’t long before an investigation began, headed by Federal Bureau of Narcotics supervisor George White. He came with solid credentials. He had been the chief investigator for the Kefaufer Committee on Crime in America. White did not initially inform Houston’s police chief of the investigation. He was to become a controversial figure in the matter, after Police Chief Morrison and City Attorney Will Sears demanded of the Feds that he be removed from the investigation. In addition to other complaints, they alleged that he was responsible for Billnitzer's death because he "browbeat" him during questioning. White called the charges ridiculous and stayed on the case, suggesting that the pressure was getting to Morrison.

J.O. Brannon
Soon officers were being subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury which was meeting in Galveston. One of the officers who testified was J.O. Brannon, who had been in the Vice Squad previously. I’ve found little about Brannon’s involvement, but interestingly, not long after testifying, his car was vandalized while he was working. The convertible top was slashed, a tire was cut, three windows were shattered, and sugar was poured in the gas tank. When asked by the media about the incident, Brannon would only say that he had been working on something special in the Houston underworld and that he believed it was a warning to lay off.

Though I've found no evidence that ties this incident to Brannon's testimony, the newspaper story about his car being vandalized garnered the attention of news outlets throughout Texas and was published as an AP story in several other cities. This might indicate that reporters knew what was behind the vandalism, but couldn't get confirmation to put it in print. 

I've interviewed officers who knew J.O. Brannon. Some recall talk of him having been blackballed by fellow officers at one time during his career. It is quite possible that he too gave testimony against the crooked cops.

This string of stories began because of the shooting death of Officer M.A. Billnitzer.  Next week's story is about Sidney Smith, the only officer involved in the scandal to go to jail, and Captain Foy Melton. He was fired,charged with taking the heroin, taken to trial twice, not convicted, and got his job back. Melton was later fired on another corruption charge, but remained in law enforcement until his death by suicide several years later. I will conclude this series with two or three stories about Officer Billnitzer, who may have been killed in the line-of-duty when he decided to talk to the Feds.

Please check out my novels, available for sale on this website. 

DOPE DEALERS & COPS - If The Walls Could Talk - Episode 3

Sidney Smith
(1953) The dope dealer's name was Earl Voice. His girlfriend’s sister called police when she saw someone bury two jars of heroin in her backyard in the darkness of night. Let's presume that it was Earl’s dope.

Eight months later, after being arrested, Voice asked to speak to Captain Joe Clark, who was in charge of the Vice Division. Clark said in an interview that he had no idea why the dope dealer asked for him. But the story Earl Voice told was intriguing. 

A Burglary Detective by the name of Sidney Smith approached Voice about a week after the heroin was recovered from the backyard. He proposed selling the dope back to Voice and the two made a deal. Soon, the heroin made its way back onto the streets of Houston. Voice later said, "everything I got, I got from the police station.”

Sidney Smith and Captain Melton were indicted and Smith was sent to prison, but apparently not for his dealings with Earl Voice. He had other dealers whom he was doing business with. Later, Smith would be interviewed in prison by an investigator from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, He had interesting comments to make about the death of Detective Billnitzer.

Before the arrests of Melton and Smith, Officers Conley and Bennett, who recovered the dope, began to worry that they were being set up to take the fall if it was discovered the heroin was missing from the police department. They heard nothing of the "important investigation" Captain Melton told them about when he took the heroin. In an effort to protect themselves from false allegations, they confided in a fellow officer, William C. Pool, about what had occurred the night they brought the heroin to the police station.

Officer Pool was concerned when he learned that Captain Melton had taken the heroin and later that Detective Smith was selling it to the dope dealer, Earl Voice. He decided to take his suspicion of missing dope to the district attorney. The reception he received was less than enthusiastic. According to press reports of an interview with Pool, he was told “It wasn’t enough to go before the grand jury.” He also reported that Assistant District Attorney Ben Morris told him, “Forget about the whole thing. If you can’t forget about it, you’d better quit the police department.”

Officer Pool decided if the local authorities refused to take action, he’d seek help from the feds. He turned to a Houston Federal Customs agent by the name of Al Scharff and told him the story.

Chief Morrison
Pool’s actions would cause a federal investigation to be initiated. When Chief Morrison learned of the federal investigation, he may have had concerns beyond that of the missing heroin. He had a personal issue with the use of prescription drugs that might be discovered by the inquiry. It would be embarrassing at best and criminal at worst.

Next week, the dilemma for Chief Morrison as the investigation by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics begins. Don’t forget to check out my latest novel, Homicide in Black & White, elsewhere on this site. 

HOMICIDE IN BLACK & WHITE

Next week I'll resume my series of stories about the death of Houston Police Detective M.A. Billnitzer and the possibility that he was murdered in his office. I began writing these stories to give readers a glimpse of my writing style. There have been more than sixty-five stories and 20,000 visits to the site. I don’t blatantly advertise my books, but I encourage readers who enjoy my writing to consider purchasing them. The one exception is when I release a new book as I am today.

Homicide in Black & White is the first novel in my new Tanner & Thibodaux Action and Adventure Crime Series. It is available today on my website and at bookstores. The Kindle version is also available by following this link, http://www.amazon.com/Homicide-Tanner-Thibodaux-Actioin-Adventure-ebook/dp/B00KKTHJCS/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1401549050&sr=1-1&keywords=homicide+in+black+%26+white
As an added incentive for you to check it out, my short-story from the book, The Park Place Rangers, titled, The Naked Green Man & Other Colorful Stories, can be obtained FREE on Amazon today through Friday.

Milo Tanner and Calvin Thibodaux are the protagonists in this series. Tanner, a retired Houston police officer, moved to the small Texas town of Success to get away from all the things he’d seen working as a homicide detective. But he met retired Army Delta Force soldier Calvin Thibodaux whose niece had been murdered in the quiet town Tanner wanted to call home. The two men team up to make sure that justice is served, rules be damned!

Here’s a short excerpt from the book. I hope you enjoy it and that you check out Homicide in Black & White as well as my other novels.
Jack Sadosky was not new at dealing with political issues in Fulshear County. He had been the District Attorney for 18 years. During that time, he had faced a wide array of decisions involving prominent citizens and political figures. At times he had become extremely innovative in finding reasons not to prosecute certain cases; those who pulled the strings in Fulshear County had shown their appreciation by returning him to office at each election.
He was so good at walking that line that he also had a reputation as being beyond reproach in his duties as district attorney. That reputation came largely as a result of his ability to re-direct the blame when he chose not to pursue a case. Someone else, past sheriffs, a state agency, or, in some cases, even the victim, was cast in the role of preventing Jack Sadosky from pursuing justice. As a result he had preserved his law and order reputation.
When Sheriff Jackson sat in the chair across from his desk, Sadosky knew they would be talking about the murder of Danielle Parker. It was the only matter being discussed throughout the county. Though rumors had already surfaced regarding Hunter Hansen’s possible involvement, unsolved murders made people uncomfortable until someone was in jail.

Next week - I'll resume the series If the Walls Could Talk.