From DNA testing to the Dixie Mafia, we bring you new stories of true crime in American history. Join writer & host Benjamin Morris for exclusive interviews with authors from Arcadia Publishing, writing the hottest books on the most chilling stories of our country’s past.
Texas Oblivion: An Interview with Author E.R. Bills
On February 2, 1963, a tanker with thirty-nine men aboard departed Beaumont and never returned. In the mid-spring of 1882, Billy the Kid’s friend, foe and equal escaped Huntsville Penitentiary and vanished. On December 9, 1961, a young boy in Wichita Falls disappeared without a trace. On November 18, 1936, a father and son were swallowed by a “Walled Kingdom.” On December 23, 1974, three girls went to a Fort Worth mall and were never seen or heard from again. This collection explores twenty baffling disappearances that investigators have studied for decades, to no avail. Homicide, patricide, filicide, genocide, devil worship, the Devil’s Triangle, the Devil’s River, the assassination of JFK, UFO abductions, legal limbo, literal limbo—oblivion. Award-winning author E.R. Bills drags the facts of these mystifying cases back from the void.
Award-winning writer E.R. Bills is the author of Texas Obscurities: Stories of the Peculiar, Exceptional and Nefarious (The History Press, 2013), The 1910 Slocum Massacre: An Act of Genocide in East Texas (The History Press, 2014), Black Holocaust: The Paris Horror and a Legacy of Texas Terror (Eakin Press, 2015), Texas Far & Wide: The Tornado with Eyes, Gettysburg’s Last Casualty, the Celestial Skipping Stone and Other Tales (The History Press, 2017) and The San Marcos 10: An Antiwar Protest in Texas (The History Press, 2019). Bills has also written for the Austin American-Statesman, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas Co-Op Power magazine and the Fort Worth Weekly. He currently lives in North Texas with his wife, Stacie.
Er, thank you for joining us on Crimecap School. We are so grateful to have you here.
[00:00:07.190] - E R
Thanks for having me.
[00:00:08.580] - Ben
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background as a writer and a historian, and how did you come to the stories in Texas? Oblivion?
[00:00:21.290] - E R
Well, my educational background, I pursued journalism in College journalism studies. After being a commercial art major, I switched to journalism. And I got all pretty deep into that. I had some success, won some awards and things of that nature. When I graduated, I wasn't sure I wanted to chase ambulance around with a microphone or have a police beat or a city Council beat or something like that. An established newspaper. So the English Department at my University, Texas State University, offered me an assistant ship. So I talked for a semester, actually a year. And then I decided to take a break and lived in Austin, and that was a two or three year blow. And then backpacked to Europe and came back and really didn't pick up ride again, seriously. I mean, I did a little bit here and there, but I didn't pick it up seriously until 2006, several years after I graduated. And by then I had kids and stuff. I just did it here and there, little features for magazines around the state. But I started to stumble on the stuff that wasn't just interesting. Some of it was sort of disturbing. I needed to do some different kinds of writing, some more in depth stuff.
I felt sort of compelled. And so I wrote a story about the slope of massacre in East Texas, and it appeared in the Austin America Statesman. And that's where it all started. I was just kind of goofing around writing features and having fun with that. And like I said, I stumbled on to some heavier material. I wrote this piece. It goes in the Austin America Statesman, I think it was in February of 2013. And then people started reaching out to me after that particular story. In fact, that's how I wound up writing my first book. A publisher spotted it. Most people that do writing or write a book, a lot of times they've got to find a publisher. Well, I didn't have to do that. Somebody approached me and said, you want to write a book? And I was like, I don't know if I'd have written one, but I was like, well, yeah, sure, they wanted me to do one on the sloping master, but I didn't know if I was ready for that. But I had one, a bunch of stories that I've written already. And I wrote a book called it's called Texas Security Stories of the Peculiar Exceptional in Nefarious.
And I had a chapter on it about the slogan massacre and some other crazy stuff that went on in Texas. And it's been real successful over the years. And it sells in my CVS and cracker barrels and weird places. Yeah, it was kind of like text oblivion, except that it was just more about interesting phenomena, a few dark chapters, things like that. Anyway, also, people reached out to me from different places, like the descendants of the Rosewood massacre in Florida. They reached out to me. And even though they had already been sorry a movie made about that film, they asked me if I do a book about what happened to their families. And I was like, I wouldn't feel comfortable with that because I live in Texas. That would just be too much of a reach for me. But other opportunities present themselves. And of course, my next book was on the slokomas for itself, and it was a big deal.
[00:04:06.230] - Ben
You have written quite a number of books by now, and your attention is often drawn to the obscure and the strange and the forgotten and the kind of quirks of local lore. Where does that form of attention come from?
[00:04:35.750] - E R
Well, I'm not going to ask your age. I think you're younger than me.
[00:04:39.060] - Ben
Not by much, I assure you.
[00:04:41.930] - E R
I'm 54. So by the time I was six or seven there in the early 70s, it was just like a thing culturally in America. Chariots of the Gods, the Bermuda Triangle, these books that were coming out, the Yeti, the Abominable Snowman and the Loch Ness Monster. It was huge. And people were selling me it's me and copies of these books. And then around the mid seventy s, I guess I was around seven or eight. And there were two things that I watched the heck out of on TV. And one of them was, of course, the first season of Saturday Night Live. They're not ready for Primetop Club, John Belushi, Bill Murray and all those guys. But the other thing that I watched religiously was this TV series called Coltshacks and not Soccer. And it was just crazy. It was about this. It was a reporter who kept going to do stories that stumble on to other stories that were paranormal, usually in nature. Fascinating to me. He probably was a big influence on how I looked at things that may be a mistrust of authority, a mistrust of professional, maybe not decorum, but how you got to play the game.
He obviously wasn't good at that. If you saw the series and of course, X Files sprang absolutely the guy who Chris. So it was part of the culture, and it was something that grabbed me at the time. And that may have something to do with my bent sort of or my leanings. But really how you get into a lot of it is you grow up, whether you're in Mississippi or Texas with a sort of a comic book version of history through grade school and high school, and then you go up to College and if the professors are worth their salt, they sort of introduce you to ideas and sort of accounts to make you question, maybe the complicated version. And so that was sort of really influential and had a big impact on me because a lot of things that went on here and even a lot of things that went on around the country, it was bogus, to use the 80s term, or maybe that's 90s Bill and Ted. I don't know what that is.
[00:07:15.540] - Ben
I think it's probably got a little bleed over between the two decades. I think we can give a little attitude there.
[00:07:23.830] - E R
Yeah. So it was just silly and it was almost offensive, some of it. But then again, it's hard to tell. I was also weaned on Bob Dylan. My folks listen to that. And the kind of art that kind of wasn't like rated G or Unquestionably God in country, that sort of thing. So that probably helped, too. So it was just sort of an amalgamation of lots of contrarian views and people that wanted to examine things for themselves. That sort of filled my life.
[00:08:15.940] - Ben
My brother was a journalist for many years, and we've had a number of conversations about that. You get the Bloodhound sort of scent for a good story, and you got to track that sucker down. And we're also just naturally drawn, I think, to the weird, right to the Untold. And there's a lot of that in Texas Oblivion. It is a new book. It's very recently published, and it's an interesting book in that it is an assemblage of many different cases, as opposed to a monograph on a single focused study like your slocomaster book. I want to ask you one question, which is, as I was working through Texas Oblivion, I noticed that many of the cases come from a particular time period. You seem to have a fondness for those decades between the 1940s and the there seems to be kind of a majority of cases that come from the middle part of the 20th century. You got a couple of cases on either side of that. Of course you do, but there's a grouping there. There's kind of a constellation of stars, so to speak. And before we get into the individual cases we're going to talk about today, I was curious.
Was there any particular reason for this? Was there something about that era in. American history or in Texas history, the mid century? We won the war, we're digging up all that oil out of the ground because it's going to defeat communism. There's big broad brushstrokes of kind of like you come home on the GI Bill, you get your education, and everything is supposed to be just dandy from here on out. And yet your book has case after case after case in which nothing is dandy. In fact, everything goes wrong in this little slice of Americana.
[00:10:13.110] - E R
Well, actually, I would have to say it's sort of happenstance really, when I decide I want to write the book. One of the stories, obviously, it's about two girls disappeared at semiary south tomorrow and in 70. So obviously that's also when I was six or seven. So I remember that when I was a kid, I was like, wow. And after that, all the parents were more guarded and stuff like that. So it kind of hit home for us. In a way, it was strange because it was more localized. And beyond that, I wanted to focus on stories that had some I mean, there were a lot of stories here. A lot of people disappeared in the last 20 years. And including that gay linebacker from Missouri, I forgot his name. Now the African American guy. And his story was compelling to me. And his brother disappeared and never turned back up. And I thought, that is incredible. But I kind of wanted it to be I tried to keep everything before the turn of the money because something could still happen in these more recent disappearances. But some of these older ones, it's really strange.
And it looks like nothing's ever going to be done about it. Or they certainly need more coverage than the ones that are more recent. Yes. And so I wanted to do sort of a broad outline. I wanted to try to track down things, and I didn't want to cover stuff. Okay. So it's like my approach to writing some of the history, a lot of text history. It's about what some white guys did and how great they were and how awesome they were. And obviously I'm a white guy. It's like, okay, there's a lot of white guys did a lot of neat things. But you know what? A lot of other folks did things. Women did things, personal color did things here. And you can find 80 books on the Alamo and 75 on David Crockett and blah, blah, blah. And so I didn't want to do even Ambrose Beer, who I mentioned in the introduction, he disappeared out of El Paso just after the turn of the century. And people have written about that. So I wanted to really dig in. And obviously I have a chapter on three girls disappeared in my hometown. But it was strange to stumble on the stories like the one about Jesse Evans, who basically was Billy the Kid here in Texas and really a mentor to Billy the Kid, a huge name.
And so how could I not have known about that? Kind of shocked. And then the other stories, obviously, I knew about the disappearance of the SS Marine sulfur Queen for me to try. And of course, yeah, absolutely. And some of the other stories, the one about the King Ranch, the walled Kingdom, I just didn't know about them. And I wanted to find out more. And I wanted to introduce folks to this idea. I mean, Texas is a big place and it seems like there may have been more disappearances, but you can always get someone to write about or explore the obvious explanations. And the popular explanations, but like, I was talking about going to College and having professors question some of the established accounts. So, for instance, the chapter on John Bellhood losing like seven men at the Devil's River. I've never heard that before. And there's a county the next county over is Hood County. It's named after him. People just don't know some of the stuff that's gone on. And I think that it would be better if we did.
[00:14:06.210] - Ben
I hear you. I appreciate you bringing those to light. Well, let's dive in. As you know, this summer on the show, we are looking at great escapes and disappearances and flights from justice and folks just upping and vanishing. And Texas has a long, rich history, as you say, some of America's greatest Legends, both in law and justice and the flouting thereof, comes from the Lone Star State. Over Christmas, we had Jesse sublet tell us about the Timmy Overton gang, which was a real trip. Got us off to a good start. But frankly, you all have a reputation, and I'm grateful that you can help us explore that. Let's start with Jesse Evans. Take us back to the actual Wild West for a minute. What made Evans special?
[00:15:08.110] - E R
Well, Evans shows up as an outlaw well before Billy the Kid and winds up in New Mexico where Billy the Kids, William Bonnie was, I guess, his real name or one of his names, prior names Billy the Kids. But he shows up in New Mexico and Jesse takes Billy Kids kind of under his wing, and they become buddies. And I think they Ranch together or work for ranches together, and then they both begin lives of crime together, I think. And the impression I get as one of the historical writers that I mentioned describe them as being of like kidney, which is an expression that disappeared from American cliches. They were two peas in a pod, so to speak. But at some point, they were broke off on their own. And at different times in history, they were on different sides of different feuds, and they had their own conquest and they had their own gangs. And it's just sort of fascinating that the ability of the Kid I'm not sure he was any more notorious or that he even really may have killed more people than Jesse Evans or been involved, let's just say been involved in as much mayhem as Jesse Evans.
But he's a legend. And back here in Texas, they claim he came and died somewhere else and wasn't really shopping in a few of those places around where I live, too. But Jesse Evans, he was off and doing his own thing with his own gang and wound up out in West Texas. And they got cornered by Texas Rangered and captured. And while he was in jail, he was sending messages or sorry, when he was in jail out in West Texas, before he was sent to the federal penitentiary, he was sending messages to Billy the Kid, asking him to come break him out. And Billy the Kid, I wasn't able to or wasn't interested in it at that point and didn't. So he wound up at the Huntsville Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. And I think he was there a couple of years. And then he breaks out. He disappears. He sneaks out, and then he disappears to history. He disappears from legend. He disappeared from cowboy and Indian Western history, which is very strange these days. People make fortunes writing about these kinds of characters, but somehow he's not part of that discussion and I'm not sure why.
[00:17:51.040] - Ben
Let me ask you something. Sit there for a second on what you say, that he breaks out and he disappears. What do we know about his form of escape from obviously federal penitentiaries in the mid to late 18, hundreds were not the same kinds of facilities as they are today. We know that much. But what do we know about the means or the mechanism of his shaking out of the shackles and getting on the land?
[00:18:25.750] - E R
Very little of nothing at all. It's reported in newspapers and a couple of accounts. But I don't get the impression that anybody has a lot of real hard information. He disappeared. And as far as how they go down, I mean, there are rumors about where he wound up living on the farm somewhere and being afraid to come out during the day or hiding on the Ranch of a friend or escaping to Mexico. But they're all really rabbit hole and it's all rumor at this point. And so nobody really knows. And I think he suffers from what I would call as far as his notoriety. Also the sort of Martin Brando syndrome. Obviously, Marlon Brando is screen legend and famous, but he was James Dean's idol. James Dean died in a car crash and he became something bigger legend, dying young and all that. Well, it didn't happen to Jesse got away and he didn't die in a hell of gunfire, but Billy did.
[00:19:38.250] - Ben
Or supposedly, hence the legend, right? Exactly.
[00:19:41.110] - E R
Yes. So I really don't know. So it is a fascinating mystery and really like a lot of stories in text oblivion, this is the first step. I mean, I've basically reintroduced this. I've never seen where anybody really wrote about it real seriously before. So you know what an amateur sleuth or an established sleuth, maybe they could get farther. Maybe there's DNA testing. I don't know. Maybe as relatives still live. I don't know. There's a lot of work that could be done. But it's a fascinating sort of a story without an end. It's more like an ellipses. And so what could we find out about this guy? What happened to him? The movie may still be out there. The Netflix series.
[00:20:33.620] - Ben
Well, they know who to call when they want somebody to write it.
[00:20:36.980] - E R
Well, I just took the first step. I mean, some of these stories, I'll tell you, you get to write this and you get into this stuff. And obviously, if you're familiar with my social master book, I uncovered something that very few people knew about and sort of exposed a lot of things that had been covered up or forgotten. And when you're writing a book like Texas Oblivion, every story you get involved in and you can get over committed, you can want to solve, which would be great. But at the end of the day, it's a collection of stories. In that particular story, there's not a book in that story. But now but there could be. I didn't have time to go to the Huntsville prison and go through, see if they had records that far back or something like that. I just didn't have time to do that or try to figure out who his relatives were. I mean, I did checks, Ancestry.com, this and that. Nothing was completely or readily apparent. But you can do a deep dive almost any of these stories and maybe find out a little more than I did and maybe have a breakthrough.
So it's a starting point. Some of these stories and this one on Jesse Evans, I think is a real good example. I'd love to know more.
[00:22:04.730] - Ben
[00:22:05.970] - E R
But I had a deadline, and I have time to write a book.
[00:22:10.350] - Ben
Pesky little things, those deadlines. Let me ask you just briefly on him. You write this kind of very interesting take on what happened after he did escape. Right. And you write that the Texas that he got out, however he got out. But the Texas that he found when he got out was absolutely not the Texas that he had known when he first went in.
His imprisonment was just long enough that without his even really knowing it, the world had changed over the course of those couple of years, and suddenly he didn't have the same support network or gangs to hang out with. What happened in those intervening years when.
[00:23:02.460] - E R
He was that's real simple. A lot of people say the railroads and things like that. But I actually have a chapter in my first book, Texas Obscurity. It's called The Fence Cutters War. So if you have or have not heard supposedly it's still illegal to carry wire cutters in your back pocket in Texas, in Austin, and that all Springs from what was called the fence Cutters War. So what happened to Texas frontier is basically the same thing happened to Jesse and the cattle drive. It was Bob wire. Ranchers started buying, purchasing barbed wire. Texans were suspicious of it at first, and ranchers started buying it. And as soon as it came into being, I mean, Texans, we seem real conservative now, but back then, the idea of a closed Prairie or closed range, that's not who we were. We believe in communal territory and access to water sources. So these ranchers would have these guys come in and put up Bob wire by day. And if not, hundreds or thousands of texts all over the state sneak out the wire cutters and cut it down. And this one offer two or three years. It's a big problem for the ranchers.
But protecting the ranchers would fence in the access to the river or fence in the access to the only tank within 50 miles. And that's not who we were then. Now it seems like that's exactly who we are. But back then, that would have made it hard for Jesse to make that sense. These John Wayne epics, even Clint East would gallop away, escape. But not no, not if you run into our event, if there's no range left to flee to or to exist in and have freedom in, it makes it tough to be an outlaw unless you have the goggles for the military. So private property, Bob wire, all these things that Texas wasn't it became and it became much more difficult, I think, to have kind of that ideal sense that a lot of Americans, not just Texans, have about the American West and the frontier. It didn't just disappear in and of itself. And it wasn't just a railroad. It was private property. It was ownership.
[00:25:31.240] - Ben
Well, that is a.
[00:25:34.570] - E R
Yeah, that has its purpose. That has its place, I guess. But you can't be naive about what killed sort of the freedoms that the frontier permitted, not just outlaws, but normal fees.
[00:25:49.640] - Ben
That is a perfect segue to our next little mini case. We're going to take a look at, which is the King Ranch. Folks who want to find out what may or may not have happened to Jesse Evans, who was in his day as skill the sharpshooter as Billy the Kid. They can read your book and inform their own theories, and maybe there is some undiscovered material waiting to be found out there that folks can dig up and share. But let's move down to the King Ranch. This is a story of a failed escape, a man and his son who tried to get away from vigilante justice. And if you can even call it justice, it's dicey on those grounds. And it's also the story of an entire community who could never escape from the power that a very few members of the elite held. And in some ways, as you write, still hold. So for our listeners who are not familiar with branches and brands and what that means, tell us about the Running W.
[00:27:02.110] - E R
The Running W was a symbol. Well, first of all, let me say that the thing that grabbed me about that story as soon as I started looking into it. Ostensibly, it was about a man and his son who disappeared in November 1936 during the Depression, and they had crossed the fence line there of the King Ranch, which in those days this is what grabbed me. It was called the walled Kingdom. That's what the people in the area called it was known as the Walled Kingdom, which I have never, I never heard before. I think I know a little bit about Texas, but most Texas, I'm sure they're not aware of that is something. Yeah, that's no small.
[00:27:45.010] - E R
That'S very conspicuous. Nonclature. So this is a depression. People don't have much. I think that the father and son, they decide they'd like to shoot a duck and have some meat on the table tonight or that night. And so they think about the fence line. And the impression that I got from all the discussions was that they were friends with some of the fence line riders, that it wasn't a big deal. And so they snuck across to shoot a duck with a shotgun and three shells.
[00:28:17.890] - Ben
Apparently that's some confidence right there. As an occasional shotgun shooter myself, if you're only taking three shells, you must be a pretty good shot.
[00:28:28.390] - E R
Yeah. Well, I think the other side of that is a depressing. They may not have one three, but who knows? I can't speculate on that, but they never turn back up. And of course, the wife, the mother, she went to try to go to the county jail and find them, but they weren't there. The thing is, the Walled Kingdom was a million acres there in Texas. I'm not a Communist and I'm not a 60s free love kind of guy, but a million acres, it's kind of like a billionaire. It's obscene. A million acres the story, how much land does a man need?
[00:29:18.930] - Ben
It's a lot to fathom. It's a lot to wrap your mind around. It's actually very hard to wrap your mind around all of that.
[00:29:25.910] - E R
Right. So they had a million acres and the communities around there were all beholden to them and they wielded a lot of power. In fact, the state tried to cut a highway through there to make the drive from Corpus Christie to Brownsville instead of it taking 4 hours, make it a 1 hour drive or two hour drive or whatever, but nobody had any luck. Needs to folks. Really too much power. And so the runny W. I'm not sure where that name comes from, except when you think of Walled Kingdom, it sure seems Afropo.
[00:30:07.150] - Ben
But anyway, yes, Luther, it's an institution. Luther and John, they go and they try to shoot this duck. And to be fair, they were poaching, but as you say, there was a little bit of an understanding between some of the locals, but they never make it home. And you write that disappearances on the King Ranch were not uncommon, but that the disappearance of Lutheran John Blanton drew much more attention than the other disappearances and that the racial politics of the day actually had a lot to do with this. They are necessary to understanding what was happening in those years. What was the source of all that?
[00:30:58.910] - E R
Well, they were obviously. Why now in the chapter, I talk about how there have been some Mexicans and Mexican Americans, some Mexican Americans disappearing, the Wall Kingdom. And there wasn't a big deal made about it. In part, I think because they weren't locals necessarily. They might have been traveling through, but they were also Hispanic. And let's face it, in those days they didn't have the same rights that whites employed and the crimes committed against them were often not prosecuted. And so there's that element to it. Now the blankets were respected white folks in the neighborhood. And so when they disappeared and King Ranch and it's sort of informal representatives, which included the local police Department and Sheriff when they didn't really do anything about it. When you have one of these small communities to invade someone's property, the Wall Kingdom, that's crazy stuff. You don't hear about that. And now what was fascinating to me about it is that now the King Ranch, they've partnered with Ford and there's like the King Ranch edition Ford pickup. And they're like this huge institution. But I think for the most part of their existence, they were just really shady.
And I think if you go back and look through some of the history, some of the land that's say was acquired by hooker, hooker, and so they collect it all up. Are they really this institution we should look to with respect to reverence or are they something that's a little shady and we should be weary yet. And obviously, if you're partnering with Ford and we see the King Ranch trucks on the road every day, they won the argument and they still were around. There's a Clever Willistice Clever was the guy running the King Ranch, the Wall Kingdom back then. There's a Clever running for state politics. One of the state political candidates right now is a Cleveland. So they're still around. It's like a Southern aristocracy sort of. And it's just sort of scary to me, but people get fascinated. Maybe the Kardashians will have me an acre Ranch sometime and they'll be on the same esteem, I don't know. But we've been fascinated by these sorts of things. And we assume that actually we don't even assume that's above board. They're just famous because they acquired all this land and they had this big Ranch and they wielded this power.
[00:35:03.240] - Ben
It was funny is that I was reading your account. What struck me in your rendition of those weeks and months after the Blounts disappeared, these layers of power are so visible. And, of course, in the south, we've always known that the fabric of our community is very much interwoven. Folks know each other in weird ways, and they can leverage those in order to maintain a status quo or to achieve an outcome. But your account of the local law enforcement is far less than flattering. Er, it's not Keystone Cops. It's cops in the pocket. And even when the Blanton family hires a couple of PiS to get their own version of what happened to Luther and John, you know, try to get an independent assessment outside of these corrupt cops who are on the take, that doesn't go anywhere. These PiS, they get intimidated, they get harassed, they get death threats, they get arrested. Right. The whole investigation just grinds to this halt. And the Blanton, I mean, they get no justice. There's none for years.
[00:36:21.750] - E R
And that's how it works. You could draw parallels if I had to draw parallel, an easy one. What's the difference between the Wall Kingdom in the Russia now? I mean, Putin in Russia, he's unchallengeable and he has protectors all around, and they are invading their neighbor. And I don't want to get into a big discussion about that, but I'm just saying, when you have entities like that in your world and in your neighborhood or in your state, they will power, which is almost absolute, but that's nothing new. I mean, we go back the old fables of Robin Hood. There are these characters that try to rebel. Obviously the blankens. They weren't trying to rebel. They were just trying to put meat on the table week for Thanksgiving. But you're right. I mean, the local police were obviously in the Wall. I love calling the King Ranch the Wall King. I don't know where, but they were in their pocket and they didn't get anywhere. And then, of course, Myrtle went, the mother, the wife, and the mother says, when the governor says, do you want me to send the Texas range in charge of the investigation back down to investigate this?
She says, no, he'll cover up more than he discovers. So, I mean, right from the horse's mouth, so to speak. And it's just insane. But it happened here. And you know what? It happens everywhere. You're in Mississippi. It happens up north. It happens everywhere in the world. People that ascend to positions of power, however they do it, want to maintain it, and they want to control the conversations about them, and they want to control any news or developments that might affect their future prosperity and exclusive to Texas. But it is sort of criminal and it's obviously a Regiment of injustice. But to me, the funny part at the end, when I know I'm praddling on, but after these two white folks disappear and this investigation goes nowhere and people are intimidated and the local threatened to invade the Ranch, then the highway, they want to cut through that Ranch. It winds up getting cut through. And I think it wound up getting cut through because the King Ranch was uncomfortable. I think they might have been leveraged. I think they were uncomfortable with all the publicity and they had had their hands on the throttles of the things in the beginning.
And the folks, the government representatives, I guess at the time, said, listen, you keep your hands on throttles. What's going on down there? We're going to cut this house. I think they were leveraged. I think that's the only reason it got done. It was a concession. And it is fascinating. It is disturbing. That kind of stuff goes on all the time and people should know about it.
[00:39:23.670] - Ben
No, I appreciate your bringing that to light for us. I'm not going to spoil what happens. At the end of your chapter on the Blantons. There is this kind of late stage revelation, which is really interesting. And readers want to find out what actually happened, what the truth, in fact, was. Can do so for themselves. But let's take a last look here at this. Had to be one of my absolute favorite cases in your book. Er, let's look at the Pattersons of El Paso, and this is a disappearance of vanishing that in some ways still Eludes historians today. We're 1957. We are looking at folks who you call I don't think you use this term, but I'm just going to put it out there kind of like the nouveau reach. You did use that term. Okay. Yeah, I think it's bad taste and flaunting money as gaudy as can possibly be. William and Margaret Patterson. William goes by Pat and Margaret Patterson. They just up and vanish one day. So tell us about the Patterson.
[00:40:51.150] - E R
Right. It's a fascinating story. They both came from sort of humble beginnings and they wound up in El Paso during the war and couldn't get out of there because the war was going on. It's what it says in the newspaper account. They just kind of got tied down there and eventually they get involved. He had been involved in street photography, I think, in Chicago and done okay at it. He started working at that there in El Paso. And then he had a few strangers who were doing it for him. And then they started their own. He approached a local businessman. They got some money and started a photography shop, camera supply, stuff like that, and just made a fortune.
[00:41:35.910] - Ben
It is actually a little bit of a rags to riches story or a little bit of a kind of a classic. The whole self made man thing, of course, we know, is always a myth. We don't buy into that around here. But the notion that someone can work hard and good things can happen to those who work hard, I mean, that really was kind of Pat Patterson's story, which is kind of interesting.
[00:42:00.810] - E R
Yeah. But after you finish the story, you wonder because today you can't get along without any collateral or there are. And so he gets this loan with nothing more than fast talking. And you know what? In those days, you could do that. You are right about that. A handshake, firm handshake, stuff like that went on. And that may be what happened, but he gets a loan and certainly has this business starts taking off and making $350,000 a year annually, and they're doing well, but they don't have any kids. And they start to quarrel and he's having affairs and she's drinking too much.
[00:42:44.190] - Ben
That also is really like an episode of something you'd watch on TV set in 1955. Name it. Right. That's what the story writes itself. So what happens? They just vanish one day?
[00:42:58.210] - E R
Well, they have some friends, and one of them is a guy that owns an auto repair shop. But yeah, one day he's over their house, I guess even before. And the next day they disappear. And the car that they own, I think it was a 56 Cadillac. It appears at his shop and someone.
[00:43:21.450] - Ben
Magically appears at his shop.
[00:43:23.160] - E R
Yeah. Dropped off. They said they need work. And he said, I was just over there last night. They didn't mention that it needed work, but the car shows up and then they're gone. They were supposedly on this vacation. They decided to leave the country unexpected, of course. And his buddy, who's a modest local businessman and knows that Pat is sort of a braggart that he came apart and he's enjoying his success and maybe not doing it gracefully, but still his friends, he says they didn't say anything about leaving. My wife talked to Margaret on the phone. What are you talking about? So six months go by and nobody's reported to missing this friend who's just like a regular, average guy, like I said, a modest business owner. He's like, Why? What's happened? What happened to them? How come nobody's doing anything about it?
[00:44:23.660] - Ben
Sure. It's one long trip to Spain they took, wasn't it?
[00:44:27.570] - E R
[00:44:28.710] - Ben
[00:44:29.670] - E R
Yeah. Meanwhile, the business partners are like, oh, they're on a vacation. And even the family, who they had maybe not fled, but they had left in different parts of the Midwest. They're like, oh, no, they're on vacation. And it's strange credulity to believe that something like that could have happened. And this everyday kind of guy, this everyday hero kind of guy, just a friend says this is crazy. Eventually they were able to initiate a criminal inquiry, not an investigation, but an inquiry. And out of that comes well, they left for vacation, but all their luggage still at their house, all their clothes are still at the house or the cleaners and the cars, the fancy cars. And to me, the funny thing, of course, was the cat.
[00:45:26.100] - Ben
I got to ask you, there's this passage I got to ask you to read this passage for er. I mean, this is probably why this is my favorite chapter in the book. It's on page 90, and it's that little snippet from the El Paso Harold Post right there at the bottom of the page. And I just wanted our listeners to hear this. It's not quite straight from the horse's mouth, but it's damn near close.
[00:46:01.870] - E R
It's one of those anomalies. It says, Tommy, the cat was brought back today into the mysterious disappearance of Mr. And Mrs. W. D. Patterson as the silent but most substantial evidence that the Patterson faded out unaware that they were not soon to return. It's very pulpy, pulp fiction, but it's right there. I mean, they had nothing. And whoever was behind what was going on, if somebody was behind it, that was the sort of first weakness in sort of this assumption.
[00:46:48.050] - E R
This cat that they fed caviar that Margaret doted on turns back up where Pat's father had said that when asked about it, somebody says he was given to a neighbor to take care of. And the neighbors say, we don't know anything. We don't know what he's talking about. Nobody provided for the cat's well being. And of course, the cat shows up at a neighbor's house after it's bit the kid of the guy who's got the Patterson house. They take it to the vet. That opens up a whole new can of worms. Everybody's like, well, they wouldn't have left town and gone on even an escape or overnight getaway without cat or leaving.
[00:47:35.870] - Ben
The cat without being hey, man, look, maybe the cat got tired of Spain and came back early. It's entirely possible in this weird world we live in, right?
[00:47:45.790] - E R
Yeah. Cats inherit millions of dollars these days when their owners dies. But anyway, it is fascinating. And the cat turns back up and it raises what it seems to me in the coverage and in the literature of the subject, on the subject, uncomfortable questions. And so it opens it all back up. Of course, as you know, if you read the story, it doesn't really go anywhere. Everybody clamps up and they clam up, coincidentally, for the seven years it takes to declare the Patterson's dead. And then they can distribute the wealth.
[00:48:23.530] - Ben
Yeah. The vultures come in and they start picking apart the bones of that very fat body of money. I want to sit on the cat for a hot second here, though, because I'm a cat owner myself, and I can vouch if I just suddenly vanish one day and my dear little Snickers is still at the house. She's a doll. But I want you to just call it it's foul play. Someone has fed me to the Gators in the Bayou because I'm not living without her either. And it's a funny thing because legally you had me wondering all sorts of questions about to what extent is a cat a piece of evidence in an investigation? Can you declare a living organism? Can you admit a cat to court as evidence? I'm not an expert in these things, but my mind started spinning. Of course, we did have a great case a couple of months ago in which a dog was put on trial for murder. Famous case in Brockport, New York. But that was did the dog do it? Right here you have is the cat. The smoking gun is the cat. The smoking cat. You see, where I'm going with this legal it's got to be like a legal playground for scholars of evidentiary process and so forth.
[00:49:55.130] - E R
Yeah, it was fascinating, but it gave it an extra case. A lot of this stuff is really dark. A lot of these disappearances and stuff that happened in these cases is dark and disturbing. And that was a moment of lightness and a moment of humor, even to me, the way it played out and the way the cat played a role and sort of open the whole case back up. So whether it met procedure or legal precedent of the day or would even today, it did change the conversation, and it made people look at it differently. But the regular customers, it didn't phase their stories, even though they alleged the capital was going to be taken care of. And the business partner, who suppose maybe loaning money, they were like, well, this or that and the other. And it was almost like the wall Kingdom all over again, except in this case, it was a group of individuals involved, possibly in the disappearance of this couple, and they just closed ranks. And the cat was a chink in sort of the armor of the walls of the Kingdom. But it wasn't enough to get anything done.
And it was fascinating. So obviously, if you read the store from there, it takes on a life of legend. They're right next to Fort Bliss or El Paso. I think that's Fort Bliss. And there's all kinds of stuff going on out there and not too far away. Also in New Mexico, nuclear test, this that and the other and this couple that made it rich all of a sudden, photography at a time when nuclear tests and all kinds of secret or clandestine aerospace testing was being done, they disappeared. Some people think that they became involved in the front for Russian intelligence or some entity like that taking pictures, having developed. And if they spies, other folks think that they were abducted by UFOs, which also is close, totally plausible theory based.
[00:52:18.120] - Ben
On the evidence, too.
[00:52:20.050] - E R
Yeah. Well, as plausible in the end to me. And this is sort of funny, but also dark, is that it's just as plausible as what their families or especially past family and their business partners were led to just as possible, that they were abducted by UFOs. And if they just up and left their cat and they left their Weld and they left their clothes and left their hat boxes and chew boxes and didn't tell their best friends they were doing that anything was wrong or they were going to leave or go on a pleasure cruise. But it's fascinating. Sort of. It's a fascinating case. And it's another one. I did as much as I could. I did go out to El Paso. I did speak with a local bookstore over there who had some knowledge. And I tried to talk some folks who are still around, but sorry about that. I didn't really get anywhere. But again, that one's one it may be a book. Maybe somebody could figure this out. I don't know. Now, also, during the proceedings of this case, the Sheriff of the community commits suicide. I thought that was very strange.
[00:53:41.570] - Ben
That would actually be my last question for you. That really was something I wanted to dig into real quick. Let me just ask you flat out there are a lot of shenanigans that are going on in these years after they disappear. And the staff, their accountant, their lawyer, their neighbors, there's false letters, there's dubious confessions, there are any number of things that were going on there. But the one thing er that bothered me the most in this whole story was Sheriff Jimmy Hicks. And you write that in April 1958, Patterson's Photo business was going into receivership and a new criminal inquiry was beginning. And there's this weird weekend where some of the legal doors are opened for investigation and then tell us what happened to Jimmy Hicks.
[00:54:44.930] - E R
Well, I think he's sharing a hotel room with a deputy. And I haven't read that chapter in a while, but as I recall, he just up and shoots himself in the head. He kills himself there in the hotel room or that's the story. And the Sheriff's deputy doesn't know why. And you're right, it leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Knowing that time and place was he not going to. Okay, so again, I alluded to the Wall Kingdom. If you have a group of people that are involved in either a very lucrative. Oh, gosh. Survey. What's the word? Conspiracy? No. Well, it conspiracy, but when you surveillance, surveillance operation. So let's say let's examine some of the theories. Let's say they were involved in the surveillance of espionage, if that's what's going on. And there was a lot of money being made and the partner was in on it, and some of the other folks got cream off the top and even the family said they were involved in something. We're not going to discuss it, but if you play your role, you'll be paid. This won't be way off the spiritual territory. But if at some point.
What if Sheriff Hicks pulls A. Jfk. And says, you know what? I'm just not sure that's going to work for me anymore. We're not going to invade Cuba. We're not going to go along with this because too much is out. The neighbor has been quiet. Too many people know they found the cat. Whatever. Right. He's not going to play ball. Did he commit suicide? It's quite positive. I can't allege that the other Sheriff's deputy killed him to take over and collect the money. Who knows? Hardly anybody's left alive. We may never know the whole story, but certainly there's terrain there to be explored. I don't know how far bank records go or any of that stuff, and I don't know how forensic account I might be able to figure that out. You could look from taxes, from one to the other and what several these players, what they were making and then what they were making again, that's not really my field of expertise. And it wasn't the book and a book that I was writing, but it was a chapter, but it would be very interesting. I don't know why he committed suicide. It's very disturbing that it happened kind of with this case was starting to grow leg.
[00:57:42.630] - Ben
Well, er, you raised some incredibly provocative questions here. And in some cases, the stories write themselves and the ones that don't have endings that we can settle comfortably into, they're the ones that leave us with those itches that we just got to keep on scratching. And I just want to thank you for drawing our attention to these because they are so tantalizing and the mysteries are so great and deep that we cannot help but be compelled to return. Turn to them time and time again. We're going to do more this next. Week and we will pick it right back up.
Thank you so much for joining us this week. This has been such a pleasure.