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.

OFFICERS NOT GUILTY, BUT CAREERS OVER!

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.


















WE MUST NEVER ALLOW THIS HERO’S NAME TO BE LOST TO TIME

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.

TEXAS CONNECTION TO THE THUG WHO ROBBED POLICE STATIONS

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.

SYLVIA DICKEY SMITH, "IF I TELL YOU A HEN DIPS SNUFF, YOU BETTER LOOK UNDER HER TONGUE!

Sylvia Dickey Smith
      In 2015 I will dedicate six blog stories to other authors' thoughts and advice on the second phase of writing a book…SELLING it! A number of friends, who believe they have a novel secreted away somewhere deep inside them, have asked about the process of writing and publishing a book. I hope this series of interviews helps answer their questions. I will continue my blog series, Crimes, Criminals, and the Cops Who Chase Them on this site as well.
      Sylvia Dickey Smith is a writer I met at a book festival, where we were both marketing our writing. Since then, I have read much of her work, visited with her about writing, and asked her to be the first author in this series about marketing. Sylvia's most recent novel, Original Cyn, captured my attention because of the title. After reading it, I realized it represents an entirely new side of Sylvia’s story-telling ability. Original Cyn deals with issues that draw the reader in and may cause one to question long-held ideas about people, institutions, forgiveness, and redemption. It is an extraordinary work of fiction.
      Her work includes the Sidra Smart Mystery Series, a historical fiction titled A War of Her Own, and even a cookbook with a catchy name, Sassy Southern, Classy Cajun. Sylvia grew up with the Cajun influence of Southeast Texas, made stops in the Caribbean Island of Trinidad, El Paso, Texas and other U.S. locations. Along the way, she earned a degree in sociology and a post-graduate degree in counseling. As she explains on her website, www.sylviadickeysmith.com, her stories dwell on the wondrous twists and turns of human behavior rooted in her background as a counselor before she became a novelist. Sylvia says, “The tales are fun, sassy, and (according to my fans) darn good reads.” 


      Question:  Before you published your first book, how did you define what success as an author would be and how, if at all, has that changed as your writing career has developed? 

       Answer:  Heck, Larry, before I got my first book published, I defined success as getting it finished and in print! After way too many rejections, I finally landed an agent and the first thing she said was, “I want to sell this as a series, so send me synopsis for two more books.” What? Two more? Good grief, I just got the first one done. I honestly felt like I had nothing left to give—not an iota of an idea. But somehow I squeezed blood out of that turnip. 
      Yes, my definition of success has changed. I now have six novels and a cookbook published. I have won numerous awards, spoken in many writers conferences, mentored other writers, and conducted radio talk shows on writing. Do I define all of that as successful? Well, yes, I suppose so, but am I satisfied with my accomplishments? No way! Still waiting on that movie deal, or that New York Best Seller list… But one thing I have learned—there is an endless supply of stories within me, waiting to be told. 

      Question:  What are your top three marketing strategies, ranked in order of success if possible?

      Answer:  Make it fun—for me, and for readers. Honor those who purchase as well as those who do not purchase. BE EVERYWHERE! TRY EVERYTHING! Give back to the writing community—not as a marketing strategy, but as a way to pay it forward. (Okay, that’s four!)

      Question:  What marketing strategy have you tried that didn’t work for you, if any? 

      Answer:  Signings at bookstores. I have done many, several which were successful; but that strategy seems to have had its heyday and passed on. People are not interested in them. I don’t schedule them anymore.
      Another strategy I rarely do now is drive for hours and pay for a hotel room to set up a booth at book fairs. Several authors I know, like me, don’t do them anymore. It is a good way to gain a certain amount of name recognition, but the expense far outweighs book sales. We just can’t afford it. I will do them, however, if I am on the program and the organization compensates my expenses.

      Question:  Is there a marketing strategy you are not employing that you would like to try? 

      Answer:  Good question. Yes, I’d love to participate in marketing one of my novels after it was made into a movie. Who wouldn’t?

      Question:  What advice would you give aspiring authors about selling their books? 

      Answer:  My advice: If I tell you a hen dips snuff, you better look under her tongue! The same holds true when I tell you to embrace the fact that marketing is fun. True, it can be difficult, time-consuming work. That is exactly why I decided, since it is necessary, to have fun while doing it. 
      We authors often obsess and stress about marketing. Likely that’s because selling or not selling books may well impact whether or not we get another book contract or can afford to publish another book. Even so, don’t let that scare you away from a new way of approaching the activity.
      One day, while stressing over marketing, I decided life is too short and writing way too much fun to allow marketing to leave me feeling negative. So, by an act of will, I reframed the process and ran smack into the law of attraction, which is: When we have fun, we attract people to us. Now, I create enjoyable ways to market my books and set up activities that make me laugh. An example: I spent several days in Orange, a Texas town with a population of 20, 000, as I launched the third book in my Sidra Smart mystery series, Dead Wreckoning. I had tons of fun—and sold 150 books!
      What did I do differently: As my final draft of Dead Wreckoning neared completion, I made pickles and named them after my protagonist, Sidra Smart. Since it is set in bayou country, I labeled them with a comic alligator wearing an apron and red lipstick. I bottled a few dozen jars, affixed the label and took them to the event along with my books. The pickles led folks to my table. One man said he didn’t even like pickles, but bought a jar just because he loved the label. Folks who bought the whole mystery series got a free jar of the pickles wrapped in colorful tissue paper and stuffed into a bag. Customers left with smiles on their faces.
      I sign books in coffee shops, antique stores, and boutique wine shops while an Elvis impersonator sings, at art events, libraries, pharmacies, Mardi Gras celebrations, a crawfish boil—anywhere I can set up a table. I offer something for the customer, like wine and cheese, cookies, sandwiches and coffee, seafood gumbo, crawfish cornbread, etc. If it fits, I dress in costume of a character in one of the books and decorate the table accordingly. Anything that will attract a customer and get them hooked on my books. For example, with A War of Her Own, my first historical fiction, I bought a hot pink Bergdorf Goodman original hat from the 40's to wear. 
      I don’t mean to mislead. There have been events where I sold zero books, but if I find myself in such a situation, I’ve learned to turn the events into fun. I challenge myself to see how many people I can engage in conversation and delight in making a new friend—even if we never see each other again. It is sort of like paying joy forward. Sometimes the person may end up buying my book and sometimes they don’t. But I’m a winner either way.
      So, remember this. If I tell you a hen dips snuff, you better look under her tongue, because snuff is indeed there—and marketing can be fun!

      Question:  Which of your books is a personal favorite?

      Answer:  My favorite book is always my last—my baby—my youngest! In this case, Original Cyn. Writing Original Cyn pushed me harder and deeper than anything I have written to date. I didn’t want to write a book I’d already written. I didn’t want to write a book that simply entertained. I felt compelled to push the envelope. Something that made people think; that shoved me, and my reader, beyond our comfort zone, a book that raised questions. Reviews reveal that is indeed happening.

Visit Sylvia at www.sylviadickeysmith.com, connect with her on Twitter @sylviadsmith or on Facebook.

ATTACKING COPS IS NOTHING NEW, EVEN ON CHRISTMAS DAY!

Amarillo Officer Berry Joe McQuire
After media attention, demonstrations, and the resulting outright assassination of police officers recently, one might think the much-publicized police shooting in Missouri and the death of a resisting suspect on the streets of New York have spawned an unprecedented attack on police. That, however, is not necessarily correct. A segment of American society has always viewed law enforcement as the symbol of repression by government. Officers have been assaulted, spit upon, called "pigs" or worse, and murdered since the inception of organized law enforcement in the U.S, yet little boys and girls still grow up wanting to be cops!

Peace officers’ willingness to risk their lives to perform the duties they swore to carry out never takes a break. Whether activist are demonstrating or civic clubs are bestowing honors on law enforcement, there are thousands of officers patrolling the streets while the rest of us sleep, some of them just seconds away from giving their lives for the values Americans have asked them to uphold.

Even Christmas Day is no exception to the danger inherent in the law enforcement profession. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a total of ninety-one officers have lost their lives in the line-of-duty on this, one of the most sacred of American holidays. At least fifty-four of those deaths were the result of violence perpetrated by some other person, most from gunfire, three from stabbing, two from assault.

Fort Worth Officer Marvin Elton Wills
Texas has suffered the most line-of-duty deaths. Eight Texas officers have lost their lives on Christmas, the first being Officer Absalom Kyle McCarty, a Denison, Texas police officer, who was shot and killed while attempting to arrest a man. The suspect fled and it is not known if he was ever arrested. Other Texas officers kill by gunfire on Christmas are Falls County Deputy Constable Tom H. Loftin (1894) Dallas police officer William McDuff (1896) Fort Worth police officer Marvin Elton Wills (1955) Tulia Assistant Police Chief Robert Henry Potter (1960) and Amarillo police officer Berry Joe McGuire (1980).


As the news media and demonstrators are sensationalizing anti-police sentiments, appealing to that segment of society, including the mentally unstable, the threat is even greater this holiday season. So in the words of Sergeant Bill Esterhaus of the 1980's television series, Hill Street Blues, Hey, let’s be careful out there!

THE COCAINE GODMOTHER

The Black Widow
She was known as La Madrina, the Black Widow, and the Queen of Narco-trafficking, but her name was Griselda Blanco. She was born in Columbia and grew up in the infamous city of Medellin, once considered the most violent city in the world. The city's name is most recognizable as the home of Pablo Escobar, the leader of the Medellin Drug Cartel.

One former lover claimed that Griselda was only eleven years old when she kidnapped a child from a wealthy neighborhood not far from her own home and attempted to ransom the child. She was a pickpocket, a prostitute and a drug dealer. Though she was openly bi-sexual, at age twenty she married her first husband and bore three sons.


Blanco brought her violence and drug-running to the U.S. in the mid 1970’s. She operated in New York, California, and Miami. Griselda had a fourth son by a Columbian lover while in Miami and named him Michael Corleone Blanco. By 2012, he was under house arrest for distribution of cocaine and his three half-brothers had been assassinated in drug related wars.


Griselda Blanco was a violent woman with an explosive temper. She had her lover, the father of Michael, murdered when he argued with her about who would raise their son. While in Miami, one of her enforcers, Chucho Castro, fell into disfavor with Griselda because of a dispute with her son during which he embarrassed the son by kicking him in the rear-end. She ordered that Chucho be murdered, but the assassins fired on Castro while he was driving with a two-year old son, Johnny Castro, missing the target and murdering the child.

One of the assassins, who later testified against Blanco, said at first she was angry that they had failed to kill the elder Castro, but upon learning they had killed the two-year old son, she was happy. She declared that she was now even with Chucho Castro. Charged with only three murders, law enforcement estimated that she was responsible for as many as forty. She is sometimes credited as the person who invented the motorcycle drive-by shooting in the late ‘70’s as she used such murders to strike fear into her competitors and to control her cocaine empire in Florida.

After a plea agreement on the murder charges, Griselda spent time in U.S. prisons before being deported back to Columbia. She had hundreds of enemies, some legitimate citizens such as law enforcement and others rival criminals who knew that she was an unrepentant murderer who would kill a person for nothing more than an insult.

At the age of sixty-nine, as she walked out of a meat market in her hometown of Medellin with her pregnant daughter-in-law, she was gunned down. A motorcycle riding assassin, no doubt exacting revenge for one of her many exhibits of bad behavior, double-cross, or thievery, accomplished the task by shooting her twice in the head. And so ended the life of one of the most despicable women in world history.

WAR HERO, PSYCHOPATHIC MOBSTER, OR BOTH?

Sam the Sailor
USS Robley D. Evans
Samuel Volpendesto was a young sailor in the U.S. Navy, when on May 11, 1945, Japanese kamikaze pilots attacked the destroyer, USS Robley D. Evans. According to Volpendesto’s lawyer, and undisputed by federal prosecutors, he volunteered to risk his life by diving under water into the sinking ship to make repairs so that it could be towed to shallow water. Other sailors were trapped in the bowels of the ship, but had found air pockets where they survived until the ship could be towed. The lawyer said numerous sailors owed their lives to his client. Sam was awarded several medals for his service, including the Bronze Star, which is awarded for acts of heroism.

But Sam Volpendesto came home and apparently failed in several career attempts. Finally, he found a profession at which he succeeded. He associated himself with the Chicago Outfit. He became close to mobster Michael “The Large Guy” Sarno. Although arrested numerous times, he was, according to defense court filings, never convicted of a crime. That came to an end when he was eighty-seven years old.

The U.S. Attorney was investigating the Chicago mob and as a result recorded several of Sam’s conversations with other mobsters. He told of watching another target of the investigation, Sam DeStefano, grind up human body parts in a meat grinder and bounce the severed head of the victim against a wall. He was convicted of bombing a competitor’s video poker business, driving a get-away car in a robbery, and organized criminal activity.

At the age of eighty-seven, Sam stood before the Judge, beside his walker, and pleaded that he wanted to die with honor. He asked that he be allowed to return home, die, and be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The Judge was not amused. The sentence was thirty-five years and he pointed out that he expected Sam to die in prison.

Sam’s attorney swore to fight for his right to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, after a question arose as to whether he still qualified after being sent to prison. There would likely have been no question prior to the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing by Timothy McVey. In 1997, Congress passed a law to prevent those convicted of capital murder from being buried in a national cemetery because McVey was otherwise eligible to be buried there.


Sam Volpendesto died in 2013 while in federal prison. My research did not reveal whether the lawyer pursued internment of Sam’s remains at Arlington National Cemetery, but the mobster was buried at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois. The heroic acts of a young sailor apparently overshadowed the sordid criminal career of Sam the mobster in the eyes of the Federal Government. 

RONNIE BECK - NOT A HERO BECAUSE HE WAS A COP

Ronnie Beck
Ronnie Beck was a friend, killed in the line of duty in Houston, Texas in 1971. He was run over by a drunk after he stopped another car on Houston’s Southwest Freeway. He was a hero for how he lived.

Ronnie was a character! Although he was only twenty-three years old when his life ended, everyone at the Houston Police Department had a story to tell. I related a few of those tales in a fictional short story published in my book, The Park Place Rangers. A more in-depth look at Ronnie’s life can be found in Fallen Heroes of the Bayou City by Nelson J. Zoch.

He was a hard-charging cop, who worked the night shift and never waited for crime to come to him. He sought it out. But that was just part of his life. He worked an extra-job at a low-income housing project. When he realized many of the young boys with long shaggy hair couldn’t afford haircuts, he bought a pair of clippers and became a part-time barber, albeit one dressed in a police uniform. He volunteered in the Big Brothers Program, becoming a mentor for some of these same kids. Ronnie donated much of his earnings from this extra work to programs designed to keep kids off the streets through athletic and other programs.

Maybe the best compliment was written by Nelson Zoch in his book. He wrote, “In his own way, he (Ronnie) was geared toward the community-oriented approach, which many police administrators have unsuccessfully tried to imitate in later decades.”

Ronnie Beck was from Fordyce, Arkansas. He moved to Houston to become a cop.  A tall and affable country boy with a big smile, Ronnie soon earned the nickname Jethro. The name was bestowed upon him because of his enormous appetite and uncanny resemblance to the lovable character by that name on the television show, The Beverly Hillbillies. He’d been married less than three weeks when he was killed. His widow became a Houston officer for a time after his death.

There’s an old saying that a police career can be described as years of pure boredom accentuated by a few moments, interspersed throughout that career, of sheer terror. But Ronnie Beck's career wasn't boring, nor was his life to be defined by those moments of terror that took it. 

Had he lived to complete his career, he would have been a legend within the Houston Police community and probably in the lives of underprivileged young people whose lives he impacted. To those who knew him, he is a legend. 

We overuse the term hero. Ronnie was a hero, not because he was a policeman, nor because he was killed in the line of duty. He was a hero because of who he was as a man. He would have been a hero, no matter what vocation he had chosen.

FRENCH FRIES! THE EXECUTION OF JAMES FRENCH

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.

CHARLES FORBES, ARMY DESERTER, DIRECTOR OF VETERANS BUREAU, & CONVICTED FELON

Charles R. Forbes
In 2014 a scandal erupted within the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was learned that veterans had died while awaiting treatment at Veteran Health Administration facilities. But scandal in the administration of veterans’ benefits is not a surprise. The predecessor to the Department, first known as the Veterans Bureau, was steeped in corruption and scandal from its very beginning.

President Warren G. Harding recognized the need for such an agency in 1921. That’s when he created the Bureau and appointed a former Army deserter to lead it. Charles Forbes was in the U.S. Army in 1900 when he was charged with desertion. Captured, but mysteriously never prosecuted for the offense, he went on to become a decorated soldier in World War I. When the war was over, he ended up in Hawaii, where he played a part in the construction of Pearl Harbor.

Characterized as a playboy, gambler, and glib-tongued shyster, it was in Hawaii where he first met the future President Harding. The two became close friends, apparently sharing the interests in women not their wives and gambling. When he created the Veterans Bureau, Harding appointed Forbes its first Director.

Never committed to providing services to those who served in World War I or previous conflicts, Forbes set about stealing an estimated two million dollars from the Bureau in the two years he served as  its Director. Though over 300,000 wounded veterans returned, Forbes allowed less than 50,000 disability claims. His interest was focused on taking bribes from contractors and selling hospital supplies to private businesses at a fraction of their value. One corrupt contractor, E.H. Mortimer, paid a $5,000.00 bribe and made his wife available for an affair with Forbes.

Once rumors of Forbes illegal activities reached the White House, President Harding was forced to take action. In keeping with his style of never making a hard decision, Harding allowed Forbes to resign. That might have been the end of the scandal, except that prior to the resignation, the embattled Veterans Bureau Director left on a trip to Europe in a pre-arranged deal with Harding. Forbes mistake was taking the wife of the contractor Mortimer with him.

The Congress, amidst the rumors of corruption, began an investigation. Mortimer, either insulted at the audacity of Forbes taking his wife to Europe, or maybe just smart enough to be the first crook to turn on the other, agreed to testify before the Congressional Committee. Other testimony revealed that more than 200,000 letters from veterans were left unopened by Forbes and his scandal-ridden Veterans Bureau.

Charles Forbes was indicted and convicted of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Government. He was sentenced to two years in federal prison and served most of the term at Leavenworth. After his release, he continued to seek the limelight, casting allegations of corruption at other Harding appointees, but never at the President himself.
 

Forbes died at Walter Reed Hospital in 1952 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. One might wonder, how many of those WWI veterans who were denied benefits by Charles Forbes’ Veterans Bureau, received treatment at Walter Reed or were buried at Arlington? 

RICH MAN, DEAD MAN

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In the latest of the Tanner and Thibodaux Crime and Mystery Series, the retired cop and Delta Force soldier return to investigate the death of Trey Ward, a drug-dealing son of San Antonio billionaire Trenton Ward. Venturing into the high-stakes drug culture, they discover another wealthy Texan is responsible for the murder. 


Wealth has its privileges and it appears the murderer will go unpunished. But Tanner and Thibodaux discover other dark secrets. Follow their exploits as they search for a way to see justice served.

Rich Man, Dead Man is available in paperback at Rich Man, Dead Man paperback edition or as a Kindle book it is available at Rich Man, Dead Man, Kindle edition