You would be hard pressed to find a more cold-blooded senior citizen than Clarence Ray Allen.
Allen was the head of a criminal enterprise who showed how easy it is for a well-connected crook to reach out from behind prison walls to commit murder.
His “sordid tale,” as the federal judge termed his crimes, began in 1977 when Clarence Allen, then 47, decided to rob the grocery store owned by some friends of his. He enlisted the help of his son Roger and Roger’s girlfriend along with a couple of employees from his security company to put the plan into action. Clarence’s son, Roger, invited Bryon Schletewitz, whose parents owned Fran’s Market in Fresno, California, over for a swim. While Bryon was swimming, someone lifted the keys to the store from his pants. That same night, Bryon went on a date with Roger’s live-in girlfriend, Mary Sue Kitts.
The 17-year-old kept Bryon occupied while the Allens and two others burglarized the market. They stole a safe that was later found to contain $500 in cash and $10,000 in money orders.
Over the next couple of weeks, the gang cashed the stolen money orders in Southern California until Mary Sue had a change of heart and tearfully confessed her role in the crime to Bryon.
Nineteen-year-old Bryon confronted his “friend,” Roger, who admitted to him that the Allens had burglarized the store. Roger also told Clarence Allen about Mary Sue’s confession. His father responded that both Mary Sue and Bryon would have to be “dealt with.”
Clarence Allen then went to Ray and Frances Schletewitz, told them he loved their son like his own, and denied the robbery. He did intimate that the family was in danger if they proceeded with a criminal complaint by letting them know he heard someone talking about burning down the store. One of Clarence’s hirelings drove by one night and fired at the store, for which he received $50.
Clarence then turned his attention to Mary Sue Kitts, because in his mind, her lack of backbone created the problem in the first place. He convened a council of the conspirators who burglarized Fran’s Market and let them know that Kitts was “a snitch.” He previously had told the group that snitches would be killed and as “proof,” he carried in his wallet a newspaper clipping about a man and woman from Nevada who had been found murdered. This, he told his crew, was what happened to people who talked. The council unanimously decided that Mary Sue had to die.
Clarence instructed two of his gang, Carl Mayfield and Lee Furrow, to procure some cyanide to poison the teen. Furrow and Mayfield had already participated in the market burglary.
The decision to kill Mary Sue wasn’t a slam dunk. Some of the gang merely wanted her moved “out of the way” until things cooled down and Furrow clearly didn’t have much of a stomach for murder. Furrow’s adoptive mother, Clarence’s girlfriend, had a problem with the murder occurring in her apartment. Despite the protestations, Clarence Allen managed to convince the group that Mary Sue Kitts needed to be slain. Clarence told Furrow that if he refused to do the killing, it was just as easy to take care of two instead of one…
While obviously tragic and unnecessary, Mary Sue Kitts’s death is not without grim humor.
She arrived for the party but declined to take the cyanide pills offered to her because the men didn’t have any wine. The killers talked to Clarence, who told them it didn’t matter how it was done, just that the job was accomplished. Later, they tried again to get her to take the pills and she refused. Furrow called Clarence who told him that he would be killed if he tried to leave the apartment before Mary Sue was dead. Resigned to his fate, Furrow began strangling Mary Sue, only to be interrupted by a telephone call from Clarence Allen wondering if the deed had been done.
Furrow proceeded to kill the girl with his hands.
Clarence then led a group of his followers to a remote mountain stream where they weighted down the girl’s body with paving stones and dumped it. He reminded the crew that they were all equally guilty now and pointed out what happened to snitches.
Following the murder, Furrow disappeared into the wind without leaving any word with his friends. Things settled down after Mary Sue’s murder and the gangsters toed the line in Clarence’s crew.
Clarence used Furrow’s disappearance as evidence that he took care of people who didn’t work up to his standards. When one member of the gang asked how Furrow was doing, Clarence responded, “he was no longer in existence” and hinted that it was easy to find someone in Mexico who would kill for $50. Although $50 hired guns come 10 to the peso South of the border, in fact, Furrow was still alive. That fact would come back to haunt Clarence Allen and indirectly lead to even more murder.
The Past Catches up With Clarence
In 1977, Clarence Allen brought in a couple of new recruits, Allen Robinson and Benjamin Meyer, and proceeded to warn them about the rule of silence that he demanded.
“If you bring anybody in my house that snitches on me or my family, I’ll waste them,” Meyer reports Allen as saying. “There’s no rock, bush, nothing, he could hide behind.”
After holding meetings with his new men and his son, Roger, Clarence led the gang to case their first robbery project, a K-Mart store in Tulare. The robbery was moderately successful, but Clarence was reportedly not happy with the way Robinson performed. In a telephone call to Meyer, Clarence openly talked about bumping off Robinson because of his mistakes.
Roger Allen replaced Robinson with a new gunman named Larry Green and the crew prepared to knock over another K-Mart. Unfortunately for the crew, Green shot a bystander and Clarence, Green and Meyer were arrested by police.
It was the beginning of the end for the Allen gang.
Clarence Allen was tried and convicted in 1977 of robbery, attempted robbery, and assault with a deadly weapon for his part in the second K-Mart robbery.
As is typical in gangs, everyone turned against Clarence Allen in an effort to save his own skin and in late 1977, he was put on trial for Mary Sue Kitts’s murder, as well as the Fran’s Market burglary. After a procession of witnesses — including Lee Furrow, who cut a deal to save his own skin — testified against him, Clarence was convicted of first degree murder, as well as burglary and conspiracy. He was sentenced to life in prison and ended up in Folsom.
Behind the 100-year-old walls of Folsom Prison, Clarence Allen seethed.
He had told his crime family that rats paid for their treachery with their lives and he meant it. But serving a long term in Folsom meant he needed someone else to do his dirty work.
Clarence found that someone in Billy Ray Hamilton, a fellow inmate and convicted robber who worked with Allen in the prison’s kitchen. Hamilton, nicknamed “Country,” became Clarences’s “dog,” running errands and taking care of various problems in return for cash. Another inmate, Gary Brady, would assist Hamilton occasionally performing other services for Clarence. Brady was scheduled to be paroled July 28, 1980; Hamilton was scheduled for parole one month later.
Clarence, who, ironically, given his predilection for secrecy, had always been a braggart, confided to another Folsom inmate that he had been convicted of first degree murder on the basis of the testimony of Lee Furrow, “the guy who did the actual killing,” and that he would like to see Furrow and the other witnesses who testified against him killed. Clarence told convict Joseph Rainer that Country was going to get $25,000 for the job and that Allen’s other son, Kenneth, was going to help.
In August 1980, Kenneth Allen and his wife and baby visited Clarence, who told them of the plot. He said the plan called for the witnesses and Bryon and Ray Schletewitz to die and that Furrow’s adoptive mother had agreed to change her testimony so that on appeal, he would be acquitted. Whether or not she knew her step-son was on the hit list was never revealed.
Kenneth agreed to find guns for Hamilton with help from his wife Kathy, who would evidently trade drugs for the guns, and he smuggled Hamilton’s picture out of prison in his baby’s diapers (in the days before online mugshot galleries, he would need the photo to recognize him when he showed up). Thereafter, he received a series of letters from his father, trying to be sly, detailing the evolving plan.
Hey, I hear a country music show is coming to town around September 3rd. Remember September 3, around that date y’all be listening to a lot of good old ‘country’ music, okay? Just for me. You know how I like ‘country.’
Another letter dated August 27, stated
Now remember around September 3rd, have everything ready so y’all can go to that ‘country’ music show. I know y’all really ‘enjoy’ yourselves. I know you kids never liked ‘country’ music before. But I bet when you hear that dude on the ‘lead’ guitar you’ll be listening to it at least once a week, ha. Anyway, forget about rock and roll and get lost in the country. Ha, ha.
Soon after Hamilton was paroled Kenneth wired him transportation money and met him at the Fresno bus depot. At Kenneth’s house, Hamilton confirmed he was there to murder Bryon and Ray Schletewitz, and asked to see the weapons he would be using. He explained he would not kill Furrow’s mother, Shirley Doeckel, yet because she was helping him locate the other hit list witnesses.
Hamilton’s girlfriend, Connie Barbo, joined him in Fresno. During the next few days, she told acquaintances she had a chance to get a few thousand dollars and a hundred dollars worth of meth for “snuffing out a life.”
On Thursday, September 4, Hamilton went to Kenneth’s house and got a sawed-off shotgun, a .32 caliber revolver and seven shotgun shells. In a conversation that was eerily similar to the one that Perry Smith and Dick Hickock had about the Clutter family farm in Kansas, the men discussed the market and Hamilton said he knew there were two safes there, one in the wall and the other in the freezer.
Hamilton and Barbo then left, but returned about 9:45 p.m., explaining that Connie objected to killing a 15-year-old Mexican boy who was in the store that night. Instead, they returned the next night and committed some of the most heinous, cold-blooded murders in California history.
The next evening Hamilton took more than a dozen shotgun shells, 6 more cartridges, and went with Barbo back to Fran’s Market. When they arrived at 8 p.m., just before closing time, Bryon Schletewitz and employees Douglas Scott White, Josephine Rocha and Joe Rios were there. Hamilton brandished the sawed-off shotgun and Barbo produced the .32 caliber revolver.
Hamilton led White, Rocha, Rios and Bryon toward the stockroom and ordered them to lie on the floor. Hamilton told Doug White to get up and walk to the freezer, warning White he knew there was a safe inside. When White told Hamilton there was no safe there, Hamilton responded, “get out ‘Briant.'”
At that point Bryon volunteered, “I am Bryon.” Following Hamilton’s demand, Bryon gave up his keys and assured Hamilton he would give him all the money he wanted.
While Barbo guarded the other employees, Bryon led Hamilton to the stockroom where, from seven to twelve inches away, Hamilton fatally shot him in the center of his forehead with the sawed-off shotgun.
Hamilton returned an asked White, “Okay, big boy, where’s the safe?”
“Honest, there’s no safe,” White responded.
Hamilton fatally shot him in the neck and chest at pointblank range.
As Josephine Rocha began crying, Hamilton fatally shot her through the heart, lung and stomach from five to eight feet away. Meanwhile, Joe Rios had taken refuge in the women’s restroom. Hamilton found him, swung open the restroom door, pointed the shotgun at Rios’ face, and shot him from three feet away. Rios, however, put up his arm in time to take the blast in the elbow, saving his life. Assuming Rios was dead, Hamilton told Connie Barbo, “let’s go baby,” and they fled through the front door, only to be spotted by a neighbor, Jack Abbott, who had come to investigate after hearing the shooting.
As Connie Barbo retreated into the restroom, Hamilton and Abbott traded fire: Although hit, Abbott nevertheless managed to shoot Hamilton in the foot as he ran to his getaway car. Barbo was nabbed by officers at the scene.
Hamilton phoned Kenneth Allen later that evening and said that “he lost his kitten” and that “things went wrong at the store.” They arranged to meet and exchange cars, after which Hamilton drove to the Modesto home of Gary Brady, a Folsom inmate who had been paroled a month before Hamilton. While staying there for about five days, Hamilton told Brady he had “done robbery” and he had “killed three people for Ray,” referring to Clarence Allen as “the old Man.” He also had Brady’s wife write a letter to Clarence asking him for the money he was owed for the job. The letter, signed “Country,” gave Brady’s Modesto address as the return address.
Shortly after, the cold-blooded but equally stupid Hamilton was arrested after robbing a liquor store across the street from Brady’s apartment. The police seized an address book containing a list of names and addresses of those who had testified against Clarence at the 1977 murder trial. When investigators visited Kenneth Allen’s home at about the same time, they were handed Hamilton’s mug shot by Kathy Allen.
Shortly after the carnage at Fran’s Market, Kenneth Allen was arrested on drug charges and was interviewed about his knowledge of the murders. After thinking over his options for a week (and learning that Country Hamilton had been arrested), he contacted the police to offer his testimony in return for protective custody and his choice of prisons.
Clarence on Trial
After his arrest on drug charges and questioning on the Fran’s Market murders, Kenneth Allen eventually entered an agreement whereby he promised to testify truthfully and completely in all proceedings against Hamilton, Barbo and his father. It was made clear to Kenneth that no deal was being made concerning either the drug charges or possible homicide charges against him and that he would not be given immunity from prosecution for anything he told the police.
With his attorney present, Kenneth agreed to the district attorney’s terms and was advised of his Miranda rights. Kenneth explained that during a visit with his father at Folsom Prison on August 17, 1980, dad told him Hamilton would be coming to Fresno to “get some things done for me,” including the robbery of Fran’s Market and the murder of Ray and Bryon Schletewitz. Kenneth insisted he did not provide Hamilton with the shotgun used in the killings.
Approximately three weeks later, on October 7, 1980, Kenneth initiated a third interview with police. After consulting with his attorney by phone, Kenneth told the police that during his August 17 prison visit his father had told him Hamilton was going to kill everyone who testified against him in his 1977 murder trial so that, in the event Clarence’s pending appeal was successful, there would be no witnesses to testify against him on retrial. Kenneth added that he was supposed to provide Hamilton with weapons for the Fran’s Market killings and did, in fact, provide Hamilton with transportation, money, a shotgun and a revolver.
On October 15 and 16, Kenneth testified at the Hamilton-Barbo preliminary hearing in exchange for release on his own recognizance and his choice of prisons. His testimony was generally consistent with his third statement to police and implicated Clarence Ray Allen, Billy “Country” Hamilton and Connie Barbo in the Fran’s Market killings.
In February 1981, Kenneth entered into a formal plea agreement under which he agreed to testify truthfully and completely in all proceedings against Hamilton, Barbo and his father, in exchange for which he would be allowed to plead as an accessory to murder and possession of a controlled substance. The district attorney would recommend a three-year sentence for each offense to run concurrently and that, with time off for good behavior, he would be out of prison in two years.
A complaint was filed in June 1981 against Clarence Allen for the Fran’s Market murders and conspiracy. Kenneth Allen testified at his dad’s preliminary hearing. As with the Hamilton-Barbo preliminary hearing, Kenneth’s testimony was generally consistent with the statement he gave to police on October 7, 1980.
On July 10, 1981, however, Kenneth sent a letter to his father in prison. The letter, which was intercepted by prison officials, indicated that Kenneth was preparing to perjure himself to save his father.
On July 22, 1981, Deputy District Attorney Jerry Jones and Investigator William Martin confronted Kenneth with the letter. He admitted writing it and stated his testimony at his father’s preliminary hearing had been untruthful in a number of respects. Specifically, he told Martin and Jones that Hamilton had come to Fresno not to execute anyone, but to help Kenneth fence some guns. He claimed that he and Hamilton had discussed the robbery but no killing was ever mentioned or planned. Thereafter Jones told Kenneth that in his opinion, Kenneth had violated the plea agreement and the agreement was therefore terminated. Kenneth was then read his Miranda rights and, when he asked to speak with his attorney, the questioning ceased. Kenneth was subsequently charged with the Fran’s Market killings.
A week later, while being transported to his arraignment, Kenneth told Martin that his testimony in the preliminary hearings of Hamilton, Barbo and defendant was in fact truthful, that he intended to testify to the same story in the future, and that what he had written in the July 10 letter to his father was not true.
In late August Kenneth’s attorney requested a meeting with Martin. With his attorney present, and having been advised of his Miranda rights, Kenneth explained he wrote the July 10 letter because of pressure from his wife, Kathy, who had a very close relationship with her father-in-law. Kenneth told Martin that in exchange for writing the letter, his wife resumed giving him sexual favors during “contact visits,” he was able to receive some drugs while in jail, and conditions had generally improved for him as a result of writing the letter. He assured Martin the story he told at the preliminary hearings was the truth. Nevertheless, the district attorney’s office maintained the plea agreement with Kenneth was terminated.
Before Clarence Allen’s trial, a hearing was held to determine whether Kenneth would testify. In response to questions from both the prosecution and the court, Kenneth stated repeatedly that he knew it was the district attorney’s position there was no plea agreement and that he would receive nothing for his testimony in his father’s case, and that by testifying he would waive his privilege against self-incrimination. Nevertheless, Kenneth stated, he wanted to testify truthfully and honestly at the trial.
Kenneth testified at trial for the prosecution, directly tying his father to the Fran’s Market triple-murder and conspiracy, testifying as to Allen’s plotting and recruiting of Hamilton, Kathy, and himself.
Gary Brady, who harbored Hamilton after the murders and had been in prison with Hamilton and Clarence Allen, corroborated Kenneth’s testimony, explaining that Allen attempted to recruit both Hamilton and Brady to kill those who had testified against Allen, and describing how he housed Hamilton immediately after the triple-murder. Kenneth’s testimony regarding his father’s involvement in the Fran’s Market killings was consistent with the testimony he had given earlier.
He testified he wrote the July 10 letter at his wife’s request to confuse law enforcement officials and to discredit his own testimony. He felt his testimony was necessary to bolster the prosecution’s case and if it was discredited, he might have helped his father escape a murder conviction. He added that he hoped by now upholding his end of the agreement, the plea deal would still go through.
Extensive evidence corroborated Kenneth’s and Brady’s testimony. Folsom inmate Joe Rainier testified that Allen told him Hamilton was going to take care of “some rats” for him, that Hamilton would be paid for the job and that “Kenny would take care of transportation.” Rainier also testified that he saw Allen and Hamilton talking together in the prison yard every day for the four to six weeks preceding Hamilton’s release.
Clarence took the stand in his own defense. He denied any involvement in the Fran’s Market murders or in the conspiracy to execute the witnesses who testified against him in his previous trial. He admitted writing letters to Kenneth and Kathy about “Country” Hamilton coming to town and confirmed many details of his prior bad acts about which the people on his hit list had all testified.
His daughter-in-law, Kathy, tried to exculpate him and implicate her husband as a “drug-crazed, hallucinogenic mastermind” of the Fran’s Market murder. She also testified, however, that she heard Allen mention “guns for witnesses.” In addition, the police found the list of witnesses against Allen in Hamilton’s possession and the mug shot of Hamilton — to which Allen had access in prison –in Kenneth and Kathy’s home. She admitted that she had tried to falsify evidence about the murders, and that she had transmitted messages to Hamilton for Clarence.
The jury heard 58 witnesses over 23 days and deliberated for three days before finding Clarence Ray Allen guilty of murder and conspiracy. The jury would now consider whether to sentence Clarence to death.
The People’s evidence presented at the seven-day penalty trial showed Clarence Allen masterminded the following armed robberies:
- August 12, 1974, armed robbery at the Safina Jewelry Store in Fresno in which $18,000 worth of jewelry was taken from the store safe
- September 4, 1974, armed robbery at Don’s Hillside Inn in Porterville in which $3,600 was taken from the safe and hundreds of dollars in cash and credit cards were taken from patrons at the scene
- February 12, 1975, residential armed robbery of William and Ruth Cross, an elderly Fresno couple, in which a coin collection valued at $100,000 was taken
- June 18, 1975, attempted robbery at Wickes Forest Products in Fresno
- October 21, 1976, armed robbery at Skagg’s Drug Store in Bakersfield, in which Raoul Lopez (another stepson of Barbara Carrasco who was recruited by Clarence) accidentally shot himself
- November 20, 1976, armed robbery at a Sacramento Lucky’s market, in which grocery clerk Lee McBride was shot by robber Raoul Lopez and sustained permanent damage to his nervous system as a result
- February 10, 1977, robbery at the Tulare K-Mart, in which over $16,000 in cash was taken
- March 16, 1977, Visalia K-Mart robbery, in which Larry Green held a gun to the head of employee Bernice Davis and subsequently shot employee John Attebery in the chest, permanently disabling him.
The evidence also showed that while in the Fresno County jail on June 27, 1981, Clarence called a “death penalty” vote for an accused child molester and directed an attack on the man during which inmates scalded Bell with over two gallons of hot water, tied him to the cell bars and beat him about the head and face, and thereafter shot him with a zip gun and threw razor blades and excrement at him while he huddled in his blanket in the corner of the cell.
The People’s evidence established that Clarence repeatedly threatened that anyone who “snitched” on the Allen gang would be “blown away” or killed, and that he thwarted prosecution of the attempted robbery at Wickes Forest Products by threatening the chief prosecution witness and his family.
In his mitigation argument, Clarence put on two witnesses. His former girlfriend, Diane Harris, testified to his “good character.” She explained that he had helped her financially both before and after her marriage to Jerry Harris, that he helped rush her to the hospital for surgery on one occasion, that he was good to children and that he wrote poetry. She did admit, however, that he had threatened to kill her husband.
After deliberating one day, the jury returned a verdict of death.
Clarence Allen pursued appeals at every level, but was unsuccessful. Even after the Ninth Circuit found that his trial counsel was deficient during the penalty phase of his trial, the court upheld his sentence and conviction, writing:
Allen continues to pose a threat to society, indeed to those very persons who testified against him in the Fran’s Market triple-murder trial here at issue, and has proven that he is beyond rehabilitation. He has shown himself more than capable of arranging murders from behind bars. If the death penalty is to serve any purpose at all, it is to prevent the very sort of murderous conduct for which Allen was convicted.
This, coming from the 9th Circuit Court which will go out of its way to find a reason to strike down a death sentence, is a pretty damning summary of Clarence Allen’s character.
Clarence Ray Allen, who had apparently embraced his partial Native American heritage by wearing a headband in prison, was executed on January 17, 2006. “Country” Hamilton preceded his friend in death, dying of natural causes while on death row in 2005.