Tag Archive for Texas

If the Cat Could Talk, What a Tale He Would Tell

Tommy Patterson the Cat

The reappearance of Tommy, a 9-year-old orange tabby, on the front stoop of the home he shared with William and Margaret Patterson in El Paso, Texas, only exacerbated the mystery of what happened to his owners.
The couple had been absent (most people considered them missing under suspicious circumstances) for more than four months when an undernourished and bedraggled Tommy showed up at his house, strengthening the belief that something bad was going on.
William, 53, who went by the nickname “Pat,” and Margaret, 48, had owned the Patterson Photo Supply Company in El Paso for years and were established in the community. Because they had no children, friends said Margaret treated Tommy “like a mother loves a child.” When they saw that Tommy had not been boarded at the D.L. Cady Animal Hospital as was the Pattersons’ habit when they traveled, friends went to the sheriff’s office with their concerns.
Presented with the strange circumstances (there was much more than the return of a wandering cat), Sheriff Jimmie Hicks opened a missing persons file and assigned Deputy Sgt. John Frizzell to get to the bottom of the matter.
Unfortunately for Frizzell, the Pattersons did not leave one shred of evidence that they planned to leave town. In fact, the opposite was true. Almost everyone interviewed in the investigation said the Pattersons were clearly staying put for a while.
It is possible, even likely, that Tommy was present during the Pattersons’ final hours in their home before they vanished, seemingly into thin air. Unfortunately, whatever secrets Tommy knew he would not part with, so Frizzell was forced to deal only with the humans connected to the case.
“Every phase of the case discloses that they vanished by surprise,” Frizzell said later. “Surprise to themselves as well as to every person who knew them.”
That was in March 1957 and what happened to Pat and Margaret Patterson remains one of El Paso’s greatest mysteries.
An article in the November 12, 1957 home edition of the El Paso Herald-Post, by reporter Cliff Sherrill listed the questions that plagued authorities then and now:

Where are Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Patterson?
Why did they disappear like magic from their home at 3000 Piedmont Avenue the night of March 5?
Did they leave voluntarily? By ruse or trick? By compulsion, under threat of instant death if they didn’t go?
If they left voluntarily, what was the reason?
If they left by force or threat, who forced or threatened them?
And if they disappeared by force or threat, what was the motive of the person or persons guilty of the force or threat? Robbery? Extortion? A desire to keep the Pattersons from telling something they knew?

At first glance, the couple’s lifestyle gives no clue to the answers to those questions. But scratch a little deeper and the story gets odd.
The Pattersons spent a quiet night in their home with friends days before they disappeared. They invited Cecil Ward and his wife, who goes by the nickname “Mrs.,” over for dinner. Following the meal the men went out to the Patterson garage to apply a coat of acrylic to the wooden boat Patterson was building.
Questioned by police, Cecil Ward said Pat not only failed to mention a trip, they discussed plans for later in the week.
“He talked about what we would do on the boat the other nights during the week, and about plans for fishing and doing a lot of other things in the spring and summer,” the owner of the Ward Motor Clinic told investigators.
Mrs. Ward confirmed her husband’s account.
“Margaret never mentioned anything at all about plans for a trip,” she said.
The next day the couples saw each other in the afternoon.
“They drove by here (the Ward Motor Clinic) and talked to us,” Ward said. “They said nothing about plans to go away.”
When the Wards opened their place of business Wednesday, March 6, Patterson’s prized Cadillac was left parked in the driveway of the Ward garage. That day, Ward said, Doyle G. Kirkland, a manager of Duffy Photo Service in El Paso — a rival firm, but Patterson’s friend — came into the shop and directed Ward to service the Caddy and repair a broken horn ring on the steering wheel.
Then Kirkland said something that appeared on its face to be quite benign, but in light of what happened, is extremely suspicious. According to Ward, Kirkland said that he had helped Patterson work on the boat on the previous evening, adding that “the Pattersons were going on a little vacation.”
Kirkland was connected to another possibly innocuous act that later raised eyebrows.
Patterson had been using Ward’s electric sander and on Friday of the same week, the mechanic needed it back for a job. He called Patterson Photo Supply and asked that it be returned. He did not speak with Patterson. Later that day, Kirkland showed up with the sander. He had obviously been in the Patterson home some time earlier that week as Ward remembered leaving it in the Patterson garage. Ward did not say that he expected Patterson to deliver the sander, however, or that having Kirkland deliver it was unusual.
Comments made by Ward paint a picture of Patterson as a man who only liked the best in life — and when he got it was happy to let you know about it.
“If it wasn’t the best, he wouldn’t want it,” Ward said. “Sure, he was loud-mouthed and a braggart, but a pretty good guy. He lived it up, but I guess he was making up for all those years when he didn’t have anything.”
Patterson’s loud mouth got him into trouble on occasion. A month before he disappeared, Pat got drunk in a Juarez, Mexico “night club,” and when his waiter refused to serve the Mexican girl he was with because she worked at the “night club,” a fight started and Patterson found himself outmatched by the club’s bouncers. Fortunately, he was not badly hurt nor arrested. It turns out that the woman he was with, 20-year-old Estefana Arroyo Marfin, was his girlfriend.
Both Pat and Margaret were pretty much closed-mouth about their backgrounds, except to hint that each had a rough upbringing. Pat was a native of Chicago and worked as a carny, touring the country working the games and serving as a barker. It is not surprising that with a pedigree like that, Pat would fall short of the expectations Margaret’s family had for a suitor.
Friends said Margaret never told them where she was born or even her birth date. They did not know how she and Pat met, or how long they had been married.
“It seemed they told her she would have to choose between them and Pat,” said one friend. “She chose Pat.”
They knew she had a brother somewhere, but that they were estranged.
The couple moved to El Paso from Dallas around 1940, where they built up their business. During the war, Patterson sold nylon stockings smuggled from Mexico on the black market and made quite a nut for himself.
His father, Luther, testified in a court of inquiry (a watered-down version of a grand jury where witnesses are still questioned under oath) and asserted that his son still had a little bit of carny in him:
“I always knew Pat and Margaret would take off like this some day, but I figured it to be four or five years away,” he testified. “They’re not dead; my boy has done things like this before. He made his living doing sleight-of-hand tricks.”
Although she later retracted the statement, Estefana Marfin told authorities that Patterson told her he may have to disappear soon and do it quickly.
The El Paso Herald reported that a few years later Luther Patterson said he suspected his son and daughter-in-law were dead.
Besides not boarding Tommy, other evidence was circumstantial proof that the Pattersons did not plan ahead to leave town:

  • Expensive clothes, including a fur coat, were left with cleaners and a furrier, without instructions to store them
  • Utilities including telephone, gas, and electricity were not disconnected
  • Mail was not stopped and no change of address was given to the post office until 21 days after the disappearance, when the post office was told to deliver all mail to the photo supply store. There is no evidence that either of the Pattersons issued the change request. Newspaper delivery was unaffected
  • Dishes from dinner the night before the vanishing were left unwashed in the kitchen sink
  • The Pattersons had been planning to attend the spring National Photographers Association convention in Washington, DC, but did not show up at their hotel or attend the conference. The hotel could not locate any record of a cancellation, but the Pattersons never registered at the conference.

The best clue to the fate of the Pattersons came on March 15, when Herbert Roth, the Pattersons’ accountant, received a telegram with instructions on managing some of the couples assets and their business.
Roth was directed to act as business manager of the Patterson Photo Supply Company and directed to cancel the reservations for the Pattersons’ trip to D.C. He was told to hire a new manager for the store who would replace the missing owner, to sell a mobile home owned by the Pattersons and to use the proceeds to support the store.
The telegram also indicated that the Pattersons planned to be gone for some time: Roth was instructed to rent out the Patterson home for at least nine months.
The telegram came into the Western Union office in Dallas via pay phone in an area near Love Field, possibly indicating that the couple was flying out of the area. However, the sender of the telegram was listed as “W.H. Patterson.” His middle name was Durrell. The mistake might have been made by the Western Union agent, of course.
The manager Patterson wanted hired to oversee the operation in his absence was Doyle Kirkland, who was the self-admitted last person to see them alive.
No evidence other than conspicuous behavior linked Kirkland or anyone else to the crime. He disappeared from the police radar after he moved from El Paso in the 1960s.
In 1960 Sheriff Bob Bailey went to a resort town outside Mexico City, tracking down a rumor that the couple was seen there. He found some hotel workers who identified photographs of the Pattersons as a couple who stayed at the hotel for several months in 1957. However, there was no record of the Pattersons registering at the hotel and from there the case, for the most part, went cold until the mid-1980s, according to the El Paso Times when a witness came forward claiming to have seen blood and other signs of violence in the Patterson garage.
Freddie Bonilla, former El Paso homicide dick who is now a private eye, said that an illegal immigrant named Reynaldo Nangaray, the caretaker of the Pattersons’ home, made an official statement that he not only saw blood, but that there was part of a person’s scalp on the propeller of Pat’s boat. Further, writes Sam Stall in Suburban Legends: True Tales of Murder, Mayhem and Minivans, Nangaray witnessed one of the Pattersons’ friends putting bloody sheets from the house into a car.
Bonilla said Nangaray was afraid to come forward because he was an illegal immigrant at that time.
“Nangaray told us he found blood in the garage and a piece of human scalp on the propeller of Patterson’s boat,” Bonilla told the El Paso Times. “He found a pair of jeans with a Rolex watch that belonged to Patterson, and said he also saw one of Patterson’s (associates) remove bloody sheets from the home and put them inside the trunk of a car. He did not talk to police sooner because he was an illegal immigrant at the time, but when he came to see us, he was a U.S. citizen.”
Unfortunately, Nangaray died in a car accident two years after speaking with the cops.
As for theories of what happened, it’s a you-pick-’em:

  1. They were kidnapped and killed
  2. He killed her and fled
  3. She killed him and fled
  4. They were spies and returned home
  5. Alien Abduction
  6. Tommy killed them both

Item 4 might seem a bit farfetched until one looks at Pat Patterson’s behavior. He got his start in El Paso as a “street photographer,” taking pictures of everyone and everything and was reportedly seen around nearby Fort Bliss with his camera on a regular basis.
In 2009, El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego said the espionage theory was valid.
“I think they were spies,” he told the Times in a retrospective. “The way they got up and just walked away and left everything behind. The Russians, or whoever sent them, probably told them to drop everything and go back. Some people said they had seen Patterson take photographs of Fort Bliss and of military shipments on the trains that came here.”
The Times did not report if Samaniego was speaking tongue-in-cheek, but reporter Diana Washington Valdez did take the next step of checking with the FBI to see if the couple was ever under investigation for espionage. The SAC for El Paso at the time said the Pattersons were not in any records going back that far.
There are many people in El Paso who think that the Pattersons never left the home. At one time, Sheriff Bob Bailey said at one time it was believed that the couple was buried on the property somewhere, but nothing was ever uncovered.
That prompted people to believe the place was haunted by the spirits of Pat and Margaret Patterson, which only caused problems for the police.
“When I was a city patrolman, the house on Piedmont was in my district,” Samaniego told the Times. “I would get a hundred calls … all these kids would stop by the house because they thought the house was haunted, and they would scare this poor old lady who (once) lived there.”
On March 27, 1964, the Pattersons were officially declared dead. The Patterson mystery is regularly reviewed by the city and county cold case squads.
What happened to Tommy the cat is also a mystery. When he reappeared at his home, the persons renting the place took him to the Cady Animal Hospital where his trail goes cold. No one has reported seeing the ghostly apparition of a cat around the old Patterson house.

Goodbye, Mr. Chipps

J. Frank Norris

A week before his murder trial in January 1927, the Rev. J. Frank Norris announced that his Sunday sermon would be on the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate. Norris was clearly putting himself in the position of Christ; he was a righteous man oppressed by the forces of a state that wanted him silenced.
When that argument failed to sway the general public, the Rev. Norris went to the Old Testament Book of Esther which recounts the story of Haman and Mordecai — a gallows built by the king’s favorite prince, Haman, to execute Mordecai was instead used to hang Haman, a biblical lesson that all princes and hangmen should take to heart. Like Mordecai, Norris was convinced that his trial was a vendetta sponsored by those who opposed him speaking the truth.
A media-savvy man before his time, Norris, who was a world-famous Texas Baptist evangelist and well-known foe of evolution, hosted a radio station at his church, published a newspaper, and broadcast his sermons nationwide. One can imagine what he would have done with the Internet or cable television.
“Since the death of William Jennings Bryan, Dr. Norris is considered the outstanding defendant of fundamentalism in the United States,” wrote an INS wire service reporter. “He was a close friend of ‘the Great Commoner‘ and is said to possess the last letter (Bryan) ever wrote — a letter dealing with the victory of the fundamentalist forces in the Scopes evolution trial in Tennessee.”
Although he was well-known among those on the evangelism circuit, the mainstream Baptist churches of the United States did not have much use for the minister. Twice he was refused a seat at the Baptist General Convention, as were other representatives of his church.
Perhaps it was his background which gave the church elders some concern: This trial would not be Norris’s first time in the docket. In 1912, his church in Fort Worth burned and he was indicted in connection with the fire, deemed to be arson. With a defense paid for by a supportive congregation, Norris was acquitted of arson and perjury. Following the burning of the church Norris said he received written death threats.
“The minister defied his enemies and on the night he was ordered to leave he stood on a box on a downtown street near where he said his enemies ‘had headquarters and preached,'” an anonymous reporter informed readers. “He waged an unceasing war against evil as he saw it, and in his church organ, the Searchlight, as well as in the pulpit denounced individuals by name for sins of which he said they were guilty.”
The homicide victim, Dexter E. Chipps, was almost as famous in Texas as his killer. Chipps was a wealthy businessman and pioneer in the hardwood lumber business of the state, according the San Antonio Light.
Chipps was shot and killed in the minister’s study on July 17, 1926. According to the prosecution, a drunken but unarmed Chipps went to Norris’s house to protest against the evangelist’s criticism of the businessman’s close friend, Fort Worth mayor H. C. Meacham.
Norris claimed Chipps attacked him without provocation.
“Mr. Chipps had previously threatened the Rev. Mr. Norris with violence,” said defense attorney Marvin Simpson. “The minister shot to protect himself when he was called upon within the precincts of his private office.”
Both sides would present witnesses who claimed to see Chipps in the office building the day he was gunned down. They differed on just where they saw the lumberman, however.
Whether or not Chipps was shot in the minister’s office or in the vestibule outside the study was the major question in the case for on it hinged Norris’s self-defense claim. An easier case for self-defense could be made if Chipps was killed in the study, while the state attempted at trial to show Chipps was leaving the meeting when he was shot.
Chipps was shot five times: one through his left side four inches below the collar bone, two wounds through the right shoulder, and two others close to the heart. One of the bullets passed through Chipps’s body and through his left elbow.
Chipps died on the stretcher in the church office without making any statement, the ambulance driver testified.
Although there was a blood stain about the size of a half-dollar found in the vestibule, its presence there was inconclusive. It might have left there when Chipps’s body was removed. To bolster Norris’s claim of self-defense, a bullet hole was found in the ceiling of his office. That could have been the bullet that passed through Chipps’s body.
The case of the Rev. Norris was great fodder for the newspapers of the time, and Norris had no problem talking to the press.
“How do you reconcile the killing of Chipps with the Commandment ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill?'” asked one reporter.
“That is not difficult,” the pastor replied. “The New Testament commandment sic) against killing means killing with hate. The reason my shooting of Chipps was not murder is because my bullets were not winged with hate,” Norris preached, obvlious to the location of the 10 Commandments in the Old Testament. “There was no hate back of them. God did not intend man to run from a rattlesnake.”
During jury selection after the case had been moved at the request of the defense to Austin, Norris said the only thing that could convict him of murder was if there were too many Catholics on the jury.
“It was the purpose of the Catholics who had been drawn to qualify and go on the jury. Everybody can draw their own conclusion,” he told reporters. “It was the determined purpose of the prosecution to send the case to a large city where there was a big percentage of bootleggers, Roman Catholics and other enemies of evangelical Christianity.”
On the other side, Norris, a reputed member of the Ku Klux Klan (he denied this), had the support of that organization.
Norris had a solid argument that he could not get a fair trial in Tarrant County: At the change of venue hearing, Mayor Meacham admitted that he had agreed to pay $15,000 (about $200k today) personally toward the prosecution of the minister for the murder of his friend.
The gallery was packed by observers — mostly members of Norris’s church — when the trial opened. His loyal supporters had already raised about $20,000 (approximately. $270k today) for his defense.
The weather was unseasonably cold for Austin, so the choice seats were near the coal-burning stove on the side of the courtroom.
A special prosecutor had been appointed for the state: William P. (Wild Bill) McLean, described as “a picturesque figure of Southwest court circles,” was an unusual choice; he was usually a defense attorney.
Norris was successful during jury selection: all 12 men on the jury professed a literal interpretation of Genesis and disputed the idea of evolution. The jury was overwhelmingly Protestant.
The prosecution’s star witness was Roxie Parker, widow of a Tarrant County judge. She had been trying to interest the minister in buying her farmhouse for use as a Sunday School camp. According to Parker, the minister agreed to come look at the property but had never shown up. As a result, she decided to drop by his office to see if he was still interested.
“It happened that the day and the hour she selected for the visit was that fatal day and hour when Mr. Chipps lost his life while on a mission of protest,” Wild Bill explained to the jury in his opening statement. “As she stepped to the door of the anteroom leading to Norris’s private office, a man came out of the inner door. She stood at the threshold of the room and it proved to be at the threshold of a tragic adventure.”
Thanks to reporters who used to get paid by the word, we know that when she took the stand, Parker appeared as “a little widow in black, past middle life, a little white-faced woman in gold-rimmed spectacles, a small lace collar, gray gloves, and with a soft voice.”
The man who appeared in the anteroom was a hale and hearty, albeit angry, Dexter Chipps, she said.
“The man had one hand on the door knob,” she said. “He stepped through the inner door just as I arrived at the outer door. I heard the man say, ‘I’ll be back.'”
As Chipps said he would return, he turned slightly and for a moment appeared to be heading back into the office, she said.
“I saw Dr. Norris. He had a gun. There was a shot,” she recalled in dramatic fashion for the jury. “The man staggered and reeled toward the wall. I turned and went down the stairs. Before I reached the stairs I heard two or three more shots.”
According to Parker, Norris was standing about five feet away from Chipps when he fired the fatal shots.
During cross-examination Parker stood behind her story, rarely even deviating from the words she used during direct.
“I saw Dr. Norris shoot the man when the latter was leaving Dr. Norris’s private office,” she testified.
A second witness, Harold Rains, was employed by a tire company that rented part of the first floor of the building where the shooting took place. He testified that he heard the shots and raced up the stairs where Norris told him, “I’ve killed me a man.”
One of the first witnesses for the defense was a former Fort Worth police officer who described Chipps as “a dangerous bully and an almost habitual drunkard.”
“I was in Dr. Norris’s office the day before the killing to talk to him about the sheriff’s race and I told I had heard Chipps threaten to kill him and told him the kind of man Chipps was,” testified Fred Holland.
The defense presented testimony by L. H. Nutt, a deacon in Norris’s church, who, not surprisingly, testified that the shooting took place in the pastor’s study. According to Nutt, who said he witnessed the shooting, Chipps refused to leave and threatened Norris.
“I will kill you if you don’t leave my friends, Meacham, Roach, and Austin alone,” he said Chipps yelled at Norris.
Nutt said that Norris fired in self-defense after Chipps “made a motion as if he would draw a gun and said, ‘Now, let’s go to it.'”
Norris on the standOf course, the star witness was the Rev. Norris himself, who took the stand as the defense’s last witness.
Norris said he first spoke with Chipps on the day of the murder by telephone and that the businessman arrived at his office about 20 minutes later.
“He closed the door and stood for perhaps a minute staring at Mr. Nutt. After remarking to Mr. Nutt that he knew him, Chipps turned to me and said he would kill me if I didn’t stop talking about his friends.”
Norris said he went to the door to the anteroom and demanded that Chipps leave.
“He walked out of the study and into the anteroom. When almost even with the telephone desk, he turned and said: ‘Remember what I have told you. I mean every word of it.'”
With tears in his eyes and an uncharacteristic tremor in his voice, Norris said he saw Chipps reach back to his hip, at the same time he began moving toward the minister.
“Then I shot him.”
After hearing the prosecution call for the death penalty for “the pistol-packing parson,” the jury retired to deliberate. It took the members just two ballots and less than 90 minutes to find Norris innocent of murder.
Wild Bill McLean was angry with the verdict, but like Pilate, washed his hands of the matter.
“When he goes back and begins slandering people again, and you open up the paper and see where he has killed another man — not a poor drunken man this time, he’ll be your criminal and not mine,” he said.