|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?
|FREE FOR5 DAYS ONLY|
The first in my Tanner and Thibodaux Mystery and Crime Series is titled Homicide in Black & White. It will be FREE as a Kindle e-book beginning Friday, September 26 through Sunday, September 30. This free book promotion is a celebration of the publication of the second book in the series, Rich Man, Dead Man. The FREE e-book can be downloaded at FREE FOR 5 DAYS "HOMICIDE IN BLACK & WHITE" STARTING FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26TH
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
|Mickey Cohen's telegram|
In the early 1950’s the Texas legislature convened a Special Crime Investigation Committee, which soon became known as the James Committee referring to its vice-chairman, Tom James, of Dallas. Many people know this piece of Texas history, but mistakenly believe it was limited to an investigation of organized crime in Galveston, Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas. While Galveston’s gambling, liquor laws, and prostitution were a part of the investigation, the Committee subpoenaed witnesses regarding crime in El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo, Dallas, and other locations. In fact, well-known mobster Mickey Cohen, of Chicago and Los Angeles, was even subpoenaed. On the left is his Western Union response to the subpoena.
James was interviewed in 2005 by the Beaumont Enterprise and said the Committee had been investigating for some time, when a mid-day shooting in downtown Beaumont, between two numbers-running racketeers caused the Committee to turn its attention to Beaumont and Jefferson County. On a hot July afternoon in 1958, Banjo Red Marshall shot Jake Giles four times in the back, killing him. The Committee heard rumors that it was a hit ordered by New Orleans mobsters. So began a colonoscopy of Jefferson County law enforcement.
|Sergeant Bauer on right|
Today’s story focuses on a police chief who was appointed as the Crime Committee’s work was winding down in Beaumont, Texas. Willie Bauer became a Beaumont police officer in 1938. He was promoted to sergeant in 1941, detective in 1943, and captain in 1949. A year later he went to the FBI National Academy for local law enforcement training. Just months after completing the training, Bauer became Beaumont’s Assistant Chief of Police.
|A dapper Detective Bauer|
In January of 1961 three days of hearings began. The testimony was at time frightening and comical. As related in an article in the Beaumont Enterprise by Brooke Crum in June, 2014, a numbers racketeer by the name of Russell Bond testified the cops didn’t bother his operation because he paid them three thousand dollars a month. Savannah Godeaux ran a bordello featuring black whores for white men only. Her lawyer told the Committee she couldn’t understand their questions because she only spoke French.
The County Sheriff, Charles Meyers, Port Arthur Police Chief Garland Douglas, Beaumont Police Chief Jim Mulligan, and Assistant Chief Willie Bauer were among the many officers subpoenaed to testify. Most admitted that gambling, prostitution, and illegal liquor sales ran rampant in their jurisdictions. The Sheriff admitted to taking over $56,000 in what he characterized as “campaign contributions”. It must have sounded believable to Port Arthur Chief Douglas because he also testified to receiving over $65,000 in “campaign contributions” even though his position was appointed and he wasn’t an elected official. There was testimony that these gallant enforcers of America’s laws found brown envelopes full of cash laying on the seats of their cars. They apparently never questioned how it got there.
Some were fired from their positions, others lost elections, but Willie Bauer was the beneficiary of the uproar about corruption. In 1961 Chief Mulligan was fired and Willie Bauer became Beaumont’s police chief. It was a position he would retain until his retirement in 1984.
So was he a reformer or a bag-man? One person interviewed for this article said that he was told by an old-time Beaumont officer who worked there during the corruption that Bauer was the bag-man for the Chief, but that he was smart enough to see the tide turning. He embraced the public perception of a changing society. One of his first acts was to fire the Chief of Detectives, Jim Stafford, who was directly implicated in collecting the bribes. That firing may well have been a condition for Bauer getting the job.
Others, who grew up in Beaumont and knew Bauer and his family, remember him as just another police officer, family man, well-respected. They don't associate his name to the gambling and prostitution scandal of the 50's and 60's, although he served as Assistant Chief for nearly all of that era.
Ron DeLord, became a Beaumont police officer in 1969. He said that even then, Beaumont had no formal training for new officers. He was instructed to buy a pistol and holster, find a uniform from a stack of used uniforms previously worn by other officers, and to report to work on the evening shift.
“I was given a copy of the justifiable homicide statute from the penal code and advised not to use the word "Nigger" on the radio. We had one black patrolman serving warrants on black people and one black detective who worked with a white detective handling what was termed 'misdemeanors murders' (black on black)," said DeLord.
For months after going to work, he never met Bauer, but that changed in 1970. A friend was fired when a citizen complained. The Chief never asked the officer what happened before firing him. DeLord thought it was unfair and expressed his opinion to fellow officers.
Soon after, he was called to the Chief’s office. The Chief sat behind a desk eating sunflower seeds and spitting the shells into a trash can. When DeLord was seated, Chief Bauer said, "Boy, I heard you were unhappy with my decision to fire your buddy. Look around this room and see if you see anyone backing you up. Now shut up and go back to work or I will fire you."
DeLord said, “There were rumors that Willie had profited from the bad old days and was rich. He had a beach house at Bolivar. A city custodian was alleged to have dragged the sack all over town whenever Willie wanted stuff for his beach house. One story went the chief wanted some railroad ties and the custodian went to the railroad and they donated some. Willie found out they were used and sent them back and requested new ones.”
His reflections, forty-five years after that stint working for Chief Bauer, “Willie was smarter than those before him and understood that he needed civic support when the hammer fell with the “James” investigation. He became entrenched and outlasted numerous mayors, councils and managers and had the goods on many people.”
It’s hard to believe that the man who served as assistant police chief during all the years of police corruption in Beaumont was squeaky clean. And if he was still with us, I’m not sure he would pretend to have been. But one thing we know. Banjo Red shot Jake in broad daylight over a gambling turf war in downtown Beaumont. If not for that event, the investigation of police corruption, elevation of Bauer to Chief, and speculation about his integrity might never have occurred.
Before Galveston had a Sheriff J.B. Kline or Joe Max Taylor, there was a man named Frank Biaggne. He had been a Galveston police officer for eleven years before being elected sheriff and taking office on January 1, 1933. He was to serve in that position for the next twenty-four years at which time he was defeated for re-election by Paul Hopkins. He ran again in 1960, but time had passed him by and he retired from seeking political office.
Biaggne’s twenty-four year stint as sheriff is most remembered for a comment he made while testifying before a legislative committee in Austin and which was published in newspapers throughout the nation. He was asked why he allowed the Balinese Room, an infamous gambling establishment in Galveston, to remain open. He responded, “The Balinese Room is a private club. I’m not a member. When I went there and knocked on the door, they wouldn’t let me in.”
In reality, Sheriff Biaggne was exactly the kind of sheriff Galveston County residents wanted. Many Galveston residents have always maintained somewhat of the pirate mentality of Jean LaFitte, a one-time Galvestonian. There is a rich history of rogues, crooks, and local business owners cooperating to offer the illicit gambling, liquor, and prostitution services that other communities frown upon publicly while often sneaking over the causeway into Galveston in the dark of night to partake of these activities on the sly.
As early in his tenure as April of 1938, after Governor James Allred ordered Texas Rangers into Galveston to close down illegal gambling operations, Sheriff Biaggne made clear his feelings about his job. He cooperated in closing the gambling houses and seizing gaming equipment. But he told the news media that he closed the businesses and seized the equipment reluctantly because he estimated that it could put as many as 500 workers and their families on county relief when they lost their jobs providing these services.
One article published in The Texas Ranger Dispatch claims that Police Commissioner Walter Johnson bragged about being on the payroll of 46 whorehouses and that Sheriff Biaggne went around to the clubs and demanded money if the clubs wanted to stay open. While this may be accurate, it begs the question, if true, why didn’t the Texas Rangers have him prosecuted. The article, in my opinion, tends to glorify the honor and integrity of the Texas Rangers, possibly at the expense of other agencies. In any event, the Sheriff was apparently never charged with crimes and continued to be re-elected to office.
One indication of what the locals thought of the sheriff, gambling, prostitution and illegal liquor can be found in statements made in 1951 by then Galveston Mayor Herbert Cartwright. When subpoenas were served on the Sheriff and other prominent residents of the County by the legislative committee that Biaggne later testified before, the Mayor called their investigation a witch burning. He also said that when he testified it would be embarrassing to “some state officials”. One might surmise that the Mayor knew of some of these state officials who secretly partook of Galveston’s easily obtained vice activity while publicly expressing their false moral outrage.
The sociology of law enforcement work can be intriguing. Police agencies usually provide the kind of law enforcement that leaders of local communities want. When politics change, law enforcement must read the political mood of the community and make adjustments to the way laws are enforced.
A great example of this is the civil rights era of the 1960’s. For years, agencies throughout the country did the bidding of primarily white business and community leaders by helping to keep black residents “in their place” by using a variety of policing tactics. Yet when the civil rights movement was successful in convincing the establishment leaders that they must change, there was no “memo” sent to law enforcement. Suddenly state and federal prosecutors were charging law enforcement officers with crimes of civil rights violations that only a few years previously were considered to be nothing more than “good police work.” As a result some officers lost their jobs or went to prison because they failed to read the “tea leaves” of public opinion quickly enough.
Sheriff Frank Biagnne was a man of his time for the citizens of Galveston County. With the exception of his final bid to retake the office of Galveston County Sheriff, he read the tea leaves well. The history of Galveston County is rich and those who identify with it often find humorous pride in that ribald era of pirate morality. The Sheriff died on January 12, 1964 and is buried in the Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Galveston.
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.
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.
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.
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|
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.
|Detective Billnitzer beside marijuana|
plant. He was a top narcotics cop.
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|
|Detective W.C. Pool|
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.
|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.
|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.