Tag Archive for Texas

Don’t Pick Up Hitchhikers

It’s always tragic when a young man makes a bad choice and pays for his foolishness with his life. Those of us who may have momentarily strayed from the “right” path before finding our bearings on the road to manhood should look at the sad tale of Jeff Mays, whisper a prayer of thanks and say, “but for the grace of God…”
 
Jeffrey Leon Mays was a straight-A student until he discovered pot. Marijuana, while not physically addictive like cocaine, nicotine or methamphetamine, can cause psychological dependence in some people; some pot smokers find a special bond with the drug that makes it hard to kick.
 
Jeff’s marijuana use caused problems at home, and in February 1983, the 17-year-old Praco, Alabama, teen decided to run away with his high school buddy, Bee Landrum. The two of them left Alabama in Bee’s 1973 Maverick with $8, some food and a buck knife Landrum took from home.
 
They headed west to look for work and along the way picked up hitchhikers to help pay for gas. One of their fellow travelers, John Sly, suggested that they spend one night in the Salvation Army dorm in Lafayette, Louisiana. In the dorms, Mays, Landrum and Sly hooked up with Robert “Frenchy” Drew and his friend, Frank.
 
The next day, February 21, 1983, Sly left the group to sell plasma and Mays and Landrum agreed to take Frank and Drew to Franklin, Louisiana, about 30 miles from Layfayette. When the crew got to Franklin, Frank visited his bank and then treated everyone to pizza and beer. He filled the car’s tank and gave Drew $65. Mays and Landrum agreed to take Drew to Houston and they headed west.
 
Passing back through Lafayette, they picked up John Sly once again and continued toward Texas. Mays was driving, and everyone else was drinking beer when they picked up a fifth hitchhiker, Ernest Puralewski. After the group smoked a joint, Puralewski announced that he was “on the run” and that he had served time in prison with Charles Manson.
 
While Drew and Puralewski got along OK, Mays was apparently unnerved by the new hitchhiker. At a stop for gas and more beer, Drew took the keys to the car and he and Puralewski went inside. Landrum said later he noticed that they were talking and pointing at the car. He suspected that they had hatched a plan to rob the others.
 
The group drove on for awhile when Mays announced that he was going to stop to make a phone call. After returning to the car, he told the riders that his father had suffered a heart attack and that he intended to go back to Alabama. In fact, Mays never called home, but used the stop as a ruse to get rid of Drew and Puralewski.
 
Drew sucker punched Mays in the face with a closed fist and accused him of lying to avoid going to Texas. Adopting what Sly later referred to as “a mean mood,” Drew “said a prayer” for Mays’s father and convinced the teen to resume the trip.
 
Things had clearly changed among the travelers.
 
Holding a knife on Landrum, Drew said, “I ought to cut your throat in a second.” He repeated this threat to Sly, saying “I am scooter trash and I’ll cut your throat this second.”
 
After they had driven on for a few minutes, Drew ordered Mays to pull over. Puralewski, who had earlier borrowed Landrum’s buck knife, grabbed Sly and ordered him from the car. After they got out, Puralewski threw Sly against the trunk and demanded his money. When Landrum tried to get out after them, Drew turned to him saying, “if you try anything you are dead.”
 
After robbing Sly, Puralewski gave him a shove and told Sly to “get your ass out of here.”
 
Puralewski and Drew ordered Mays into the back seat and told Landrum to drive. Drew and Mays got in the back and Landrum later testified that Drew was hitting and punching Mays in the face and throat until his blood “splattered on the door and seat.”
 
Landrum also testified that Drew repeatedly told Mays that he was going to die and “told Jeff that he was bleeding on his leather jacket.” Drew wiped blood on Landrum and licked Mays’s blood off his hands, while telling him that “nobody gets blood on me for nothing.”
 
At this point, about 10 p.m. on February 21, Puralewski ordered Landrum to stop the car and told Drew to rob Mays. They took his wallet and watch and made him get out of the car.
 
Landrum testified that before the car pulled away, “Jeff said something under his breath or something like you are not going to get away with this or you are on the run or something.” His attackers got back out and forced Mays back into the car. Landrum stated that one of the men “said that he should have kept his mouth shut and now he is going to die.”
 
The men debated about who would kill Mays before deciding that they would both do it. Landrum was ordered to pull the car to the side of an access road on I-10, where they pulled their victim out of the right side of the car.
 
Watching through the rear view mirror, Landrum saw Drew pull Mays’ head back and make a slashing
 
motion across his throat, while Puralewski stabbed him. Landrum stated that he “heard Jeff’s lungs or something,” and that it sounded “like letting air out of something.”
 
The killers rolled the teen’s body down the side of the road.
 
Mays sustained seven stab wound to the left side of his chest and six to the right side of the midline. He also received “two cutting type wounds on the neck.” Three stab wounds penetrated into the chest cavity and were lethal. Two of the wounds penetrated the left lung and one pierced the pericardium of the heart. It was the three chest wounds that caused the death.
 
Landrum drove for “ten or fifteen or twenty miles” to a service station where the older men bought some beer. One of the beers was used to wash off the buck knife.
 
When Puralewski said he wished they hadn’t had to kill Mays, Drew responded, “I f—ing enjoyed it because it got blood on my leather.”
 
The car reached the Houston area in the early morning of February 22, stopping first at a nightclub called the Booby Rock. Puralewski said he was going to find a homosexual to rob and went into a bar. That was the last Landrum and Drew saw of him until he was arrested later.
 
About 3:45 a.m., while Drew was driving on Kirby Drive near Rice University, he was pulled over for speeding and failing to use a turn signal. The officer noticed that Landrum was extremely nervous and that Drew had blood on his clothes.
 
When Drew produced Mays’ driver’s license, the officer became more suspicious. He approached Landrum and noticed that he was “very, very pale; very, very nervous; almost in a state of shock.” When the officer learned that the Maverick was possibly a wanted vehicle (Mays’s body had already been found and the clerk who sold Drew the beer called police after seeing the blood on his clothes), they were arrested.
 
What followed for Drew was a fairly routine death penalty trial (the murder occurred in Texas). He was convicted and sentenced to death after the jury heard that he had previously been on probation for marijuana possession but had violated the terms of that probation by leaving South Carolina and had broken into the home of a man who fired Drew’s wife because her husband’s bad behavior in his restaurant and stabbed the man in the chest. Drew managed to plead that crime down to a misdemeanor with the promise that he leave the state.
 
After Puralewski pleaded guilty to the murder of Jeffery Mays and was sentenced to serve 60 years, he executed a sworn statement claiming that he alone committed the murder. The courts rejected Drew’s requests for a new trial and none of his pleas for habeas corpus were granted. He claimed to the moment he died that he was innocent.
 
When the the last of his appeals failed, his sentencing judge signed Drew’s death warrant with a smiley face, which upset anti-death penalty advocates. The judge defended the move, saying he had signed all of his orders that way for years.
 
For those looking for a bit of vengeance, they may be satisfied that tears streamed down Drew’s face as the lethal cocktail was pushed into his veins. It appears that at the end, despite the tattoo on his arm that proclaimed he was “Big Bad Bob,” Drew was just as afraid to die as Jeff Mays.

Doughnuts and Death

Doughnut shops and a .32 caliber pistol were common threads in a strange tapestry woven by the McCrary family of Athens, Texas in the 1970s.
 
The family, a close-knit clan of hard-drinking sexual predators and their compliant women, traveled throughout the south and west part of the United States, leaving a trail of hold-ups, kidnappings, rapes, and murders until a botched grocery store robbery provided the link police needed to solve at least a dozen murders in California, Texas, Colorado, and Florida.
 
Authorities could prove that Sherman McCrary, his son, Danny, Sherman’s wife, Carolyn, their daughter, Ginger, and her husband, Raymond Taylor were responsible for 12 murders and suspected that their death toll was closer to 24 killings.
 
They were “a family in which criminality was a way of life,” said one investigator.
 
The McCrary clan’s crime spree was spread out in terms of distance, but not in terms of time.
 
The first killing linked to them occurred in August 12, 1971 and the last was in March 1972, but during that time police believe the men of the family robbed and raped numerous doughnut shop waitresses who were kidnapped and slain to avoid leaving witnesses to their robberies.
 
Meanwhile, the women stood by and knowingly allowed the crimes to happen.
 
“I am guilty of staying with my husban while he cometed robberys because I don’t have anywhere to go,” wrote Carolyn, who was described by a probation officer as very limited in both intellectual and social levels. “Most people wont hair because I don’t have an ecition and am in poor helth or am not large enough so I stay with my husban. It may sound crazy but I love him so very much.”
 
The McCrarys were known in Athens as troublemakers, but nothing beyond car break-ins and public drunkenness were found in police files there. The men worked as itinerant ranch hands and carnies, while the women worked as waitresses. From their base of operations in East Texas, they would travel around the south, sometimes working, most often committing crimes.
 
“There is no question that the family operated as a family group and participated knowingly in the various acts and benefited from these acts,” a probation officer wrote about the family after the Santa Barbara, California, robbery that brought an end to the spree.
 
Danny and Ginger both concurred in the officer’s statement.
 
“In the family,” Danny told police, “children don’t question the parents.”
 
Ginger’s statement echoed her mother’s viewpoint.
 
“I love my husband and it never occurred to me to do anything but stay with him,” the 22-year-old mother of four told authorities. “I guess staying with him and doing what my husband told me to do was born and raised into me.”
 
Sherman confessed that he began doing stick ups when he began suffering from a bad back and couldn’t get work. That made him feel “like less than a man,” he said. His health began to suffer because he was drinking a quart of whiskey each day.
 
“Crime became like a business to me,” he said.
 
Raymond Taylor justified his crimes because he was “a family man.”
 
“I know what I done was morally and legally wrong,” he wrote in a confession to California police. “However all the money that I have taken was spent to support my family. I spent all my time and money with my wife and family.”
 
Neither Taylor nor the McCrary men commented on how their wives felt about the rapes committed before their female hostages were killed.
 
The first crime laid at the feet of the McCrary clan happened when the family kidnapped Sherri Lee Martin, 17, from a Salt Lake City doughnut stand. At least two men robbed the shop of $200 and took Sherri with them in her car. Her body was found on September 4 in the Nevada desert. She had been shot several times with a .32 pistol.
 
A week later, Leeora Rose Looney, 20, was taken from a doughnut store in Lakewood, Colorado. Again, the robbers fled in their victim’s car. Leeora was found three days after the robbery in a cattle pasture. She had been strangled and shot several times with a .32 pistol.
 
This time, police had witnesses who later identified the elder McCrary and Taylor as having been in the store a little while before the robbery.
 
On September 28, 1971, the clan struck again. They robbed and kidnapped 26-year-old Elizabeth Parryman from a restaurant near Texas Tech University. Her body was found near Amarillo on December 19.
 
Less than a month later, Forrest Covey, 24, and his 19-year-old wife, Jena, disappeared from a drive-in grocery store which Jena managed. Their bodies turned up in an abandoned barn east of Dallas on October 24. Each had been shot at least six times. This time, in addition to the .32 caliber pistol, a .22 was also used.
 
By this time, police knew that the same .32 was used in each of the crimes, thanks to NIBIN, the National Integrated Ballistics Information Program, which allows law enforcement agencies to compare ballistics data from their crime scenes to others.
 
Despite the knowledge that a serial killer was on the loose, police were no closer to catching the killer or killers.
 
Three days after the Covey disappearances, on October 20, 1971, Susan Darlene Shaw, 16, was kidnapped from a doughnut shop in Mesquite, Texas. Her ravished body was also found on October 24, floating in Lake Ray Hubbard, north of Dallas. She had been shot a half-dozen times by a .22 and a .32 caliber handgun.
 
Two Florida beauticians, Bobbie Turner and Patricia Marr, disappeared on November 30. Their bodies turned up about 40 miles away. Bobbie’s daughter, 16-year-old Valerie was also missing and her skeleton would not be found until June 25, 1972 outside Starke, Florida.
 
In February 1972, Cynthia Ann Glass was found shot to death in Woodland, Washington. She had been killed with a .22 that matched the slugs taken out of the Coveys. Police also believe the family was responsible for the murders of a 69-year-old janitor and a barmaid who disappeared from their tavern in Kansas City.
 
Those crimes only scratched the surface, authorities said.
 
“We don’t know the number that may be involved,” said Santa Barbara police Captain Charles Thompson. “Murders all over the country are being investigated.”
 
It was a botched heist in Santa Barbara, where a police officer was shot in the head that finally brought the spree to an end.
 
Raymond Taylor tried to pull the robbery himself and shot Officer Dennis Huddle, seriously wounding him. The bullet surgeons removed from Huddle’s head was fired from a .32 that set off alarm bells in NIBIN and alerted agencies from Washington to Florida.
 
After the shootout with Huddle, Taylor commandeered a car and escaped, but he was quickly traced through another car he had abandoned in the supermarket parking lot.
 
“He came to the house, and he come in, and he was scared up,” Danny McCrary told police. “He come in and was pretty white and he had a few marks on his side. He said ‘I think I killed a police.’”
 
Sherman McCrary and Raymond Taylor were subsequently convicted of robbery and attempted murder and sentenced to 5-years-to-life. Sherman went to Folsom, while Raymond was sent to San Quentin. Danny McCrary, who was 19 at the time, and his mother were sentenced to county jail for harboring fugitives. Ginger was extradited to Colorado to face a bad check charge. While she was there, she gave birth to her fourth child, a son.
 
Shortly after the NIBIN results were confirmed, Danny McCrary was extradited to Texas to face murder charges in connection with the Covey slayings.
 
Appearing before a Colorado grand jury, Ginger implicated her father, mother, and husband in the murder of Leeora Looney. She was given immunity from prosecution for her cooperation. The trio was extradited there to stand trial. Murder charges had, by that time, also been filed in Nevada.
 
Carolyn pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact in the Looney murder and received a two-year sentence.
 
The men from the McCrary clan all went on trial at about the same time in 1973 — Danny in Texas, and Sherman and Taylor in Colorado.
 
Eventually, Taylor won a motion to have his trial severed from Sherman’s and at Sherman’s trial, a tape was played where he blamed the killing on his son-in-law.
 
“I heard him holler something back to her,” he claimed. “He was socking her or something. I was too far away to see. I was disgusted.”
 
The jury didn’t believe him and Sherman McCrary was convicted on Leeora Looney’s murder. Shortly after, Raymond Taylor was also convicted. They received life terms.
 
A few weeks after his father was convicted of murder in Colorado, Danny McCrary was found guilty of murdering Jena Covey (he was not on trial for killing her husband). He stood emotionless while he received a life sentence from the judge.