1987 Tornado Photos
News Photos 1997
News Photos 1998
Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas
Just Musin' - By Alton Hughes
Pecos article brought sales
(Ninth in a series of 12)
The most sensational, and probably the most vicious,
of the big magazine articles was found in Look magazine
dated July 31, 1962, but coming on the news stands
around July 15. All copies coming to Pecos were sold out
within a day or two.
The article started by picturing Pecos before, and
after, the discovery of an abundant supply of water
beneath the arid ground in the Pecos area, and the
description was fairly accurate.
Then began a systematic, rather thorough, history of
the buildup to the Estes scandal. The article did not
hesitate to quote many people. One of the most
interesting was that made by "Tuffy" Alley, a Pecos
old-timer, to a Look reporter, in which he said "I
admire Estes in a way. He's a damn thief, but he's no
petty thief. If you're going to get caught stealing,
don't go to stealing chickens.
Look made many statements that were not true, but
upsetting to many Pecos people who had no leaning
toward either of the factions involved in the struggle.
One statement was that "Pecos was ruled by a small,
entrenched economic-political oligarchy, which played
rough with its foes and often winked at the trespasses
and errors of its friends. Billie So1 Estes, with his
million-dollar deals and $150,000 home, was one of the
Some of the statements made concerns the police
department upheaval in 1961 were incorrect and
mainly incomplete. Look said the upheaval was caused
because some police actions "aroused the ire of the
ruling clique." Most Pecos people knew that the article
did not tell the whole story.
The article then falsely accused W.H. Holcombe,
President of the Security State Bank, of
notifying his employees that their health insurance
would not apply if they patronized either of the two
doctors who were co-owners of the Pecos Independent,
because the Independent had published stories Holcombe
did not like.
It then went into a description of the 1961 case
involving the Pecos Police Chief, a doctor accused of
sodomy, two other doctor newsmen, the Pecos and
Texas Medical Association, and the county hospital
This was a nasty affair that most people would like to
forget - most of them have. It had no place in the
affairs of Estes and Pecos people resented the
All this led up to the Independent investigation of
Estes' activities and the subsequent expose. Most of
this was factual, but it did refer to Mayor Cecil Cothrun
as "a kingpin of the old Pecos machine," which didn't
set well with Cothrun.
The article ended with a paragraph rather complimentary
to Pecos. It said, among other things that "Pecos~has
much to build on," "few cities have done better at race
relations" "it is a prosperous city," and "it is a city
built by sturdy pioneers who worked, sweated and saved,
and could be a city with a future.
The publication of this article provoked later
action by certain Pecos people involved in the story.
Attorney General Wilson held another hearing
in Amarillo, with a large number of important
witnesses, and on July 28, 1962 the News came out
with a banner headline saying "Estes Associate
Tells Hearing Millions May Be Buried in Pecos
Harold Orr said, according to the News, that
$3.5 million received by Estes could not be traced.
Another witness speculated that the $3.5 million
was buried in a pauper's casket, the funeral having
been held at Estes' Colonial Funeral Home. Wilson
said "the biggest digging Pecos ever had is about to
Harold Orr told of C.I.T. asking to see certain
papers. Orr, according to the News, told Wilson "of
course we couldn't show the Superior books because
of all the fictitious paper. Ruel (Alexander) and I
stayed there all night at the office making up a cash
book. We'd walk on it and throw it against the wall
to make it look old. Their auditor came in next day
and it checked perfectly."
Orr and McSpadden told the whole story of
faked mortgages and how they worked, and a
former private pilot for Estes told of flying Jack
Cox, Republican candidate for governor, and Tennessee Governor Frank Clement, all over the country in Estes' private plane.
This was really the only Wilson hearing that brought out much concrete, or worthwhile, information, but the "lid came off" at this one.
Marshall death tabbed murder
(Tenth in a series of 12)
On August 1, 1962 District Judge Otis Dunagan
set the Estes trial for September 24 at Tyler. Then,
on August 7, the Estes anti-trust trial was set for
October 29 in Amarillo. Maynard Wheeler and Bob
Clements were also involved in the trial and
Wheeler said his indictment was "a shocking piece
On August 9, 1962 the Look magazine article
came back into prominence when Look, along with
Drs. Dunn and Avery, were sued for $1.5 million by
W. H. Holcombe and Cecil Cothrun, accusing the
defendants of "false, scandalous and defamatory
libel." The suit was filed in both District and
Federal court but was finally dropped.
During the first week in August, Texas Ranger
Captain Clint Peoples was in Pecos continuing the
investigation of the controversial circumstances of
Henry Marshall's death. Col. Homer Garrison,
Director of the State Department of Public Safety,
still held to the theory that Marshall was murdered.
This theory came from the fact that Marshall had
been shot five times with a .22 caliber, bolt action,
rifle, supposedly by himself.
The next six weeks was more or less a prelude
to the trial of Estes, most of the activity being in
Washington with the Agriculture Department's
concern with Billie Sol's cotton allotments, how he
got them, who helped him get them, and were they
legal or illegal. John Dennison, one of Estes'
lawyers, told the Senators that Estes was innocent
of any wrongdoing as far as acreage transfers were
On September 12, 1962, Reeves County farmers
re-elected Bill Mattox to the county ASC committee,
which was a sort of slap in the face to the
Agriculture Department. The next day, Mattox
resigned, by telegram to the State Chairman, from
the office, explaining that he had no desire to
embarrass the state committee. His resignation was
accepted with thanks.
On September 15 a former general manager of
Estes' operations testified at a hearing that, a few
days before his arrest, Estes had pretty well
"milked" all of his various companies by checks
and withdrawal of cash. Estes had given the
manager two brown envelopes, sealed, to put in his
safety deposit box. A few days later, on Estes'
instructions, he recovered the envelopes and de-
livered them to Estes. The manager did not know
what was in the envelopes, but presumed it was
probably about $17,000 that Estes had drawn from
one of his companies.
The News announced September 20 that 111
witnesses had been subpoenaed for Estes' trial at
Tyler, including many from Pecos and the Pecos
Then, on September 21, the News announced
that a Federal jury at El Paso had found Orr,
Alexander and McSpadden guilty of several counts
of fraud and were given prison terms of from six to
35 years each. Sentencing was delayed until January
7, 1963 to allow the three to testify at the Estes
A number of people had been trying to buy
Estes' assets. After approval of Estes' creditors,
they were finally sold September 23 to Morris Jaffe,
of San Antonio, for $7 million.
The Estes trial started September 24, on time,
but Estes' lawyers immediately started an attempt
to further delay the trial, as was expected. Estes
lawyers also demanded that there be no TV live
coverage of the trial, but Judge Dunagan overruled
The News announced on September 26 that the
trial had been postponed until October 22 because
some key witnesses had failed to appear. District
Attorney R. B. McGowen tried every way he could
to keep the trial from being delayed, but failed in
On October 4 the Judge reversed his original
ruling and said there would be no live TV or radio
coverage of the trial.
The trial opened again on October 24 with
fireworks. Tension had increased and, at one point,
John Cofer and Assistant Attorney General Frank
Maloney indulged in a table pounding, shouting
episode, all over the questioning of jurors. By the
end of the day, five tentative jurors had been
selected. TV coverage was allowed.
(Writer's note: The bound copies of the Pecos
Independent from October 21, 1961 to January 1,
1962, and from June 29, 1962 to July 1, 1963, have
been removed from their place in the newspaper
storage room at the West of the the Pecos Museum
by some unknown, unauthorized, person. For that
reason we have had to rely solely on the News and
Enterprise for those periods. The basic news would
be the same, but each paper would treat it a little
different, especially the accent on certain features.)
Efforts made to delay Estes trial
(Eleventh in a series of 12)
The News said on October 26, 1962 that 18
prospective jurors had been named to the Estes case.
Fourteen more would complete the required panel of 32,
after which the lawyers would have the right to
challenge jurors until the panel was reduced to 12.
On October 30 it was announced that Estes' lawyers
were using every excuse they could bring to bear to get
the trial delayed, all without success, so the trial
The first witness was B.W. Stokey, of Dallas,
assistant operating head of the C.I.T. There was more
shouting and arguments over admitting his testimony.
One witness, T.J. Wilson of Pecos, said that his
signature was forged to a tank mortgage. All this first
day was filled with contentions and arguments, the jury
spending more time out of the courtroom than in.
On Thursday, Novermber 1, a new mystery entered
the case. The original of the lease made by T.J. Wilson,
which he said was forged, had disappeared and only a
photo copy was available. The Judge would not allow
the photo copy to be introduced as evidence. Again, the
defense caused delay after delay in their efforts to
protect their client as much as possible.
On November 2, 1962, according to the News,
Harold Orr testified that he forged the Wilson
instrument, saying Billie Sol told him to do so. Orr
also testified that he sent all available blank serial number identification plates to Pecos with two men to change the plates while C.I.T. was making a check.
The State finished the prosecution testimony on
Novermber 2. The defense immediately started a legal
war to get delay, postponement or dismissal of the case,
all to no avail. When it came time to present the case
for the defense, no witnesses were called, which was
somewhat of a surprise.
Judge Dunagan spent the weekend readying his
charge to the jury. He announced Monday that the case
would be given to the jury at 9:00 A.M. Wednesday,
November 7. The jury was given the case at the time
announced, Estes was found guilty of swindling and
assessed a penalty of eight years imprisonment. Cofer
immediately filed notice of appeal.
Estes was hailed into Judge Sarah Hughes'
Court in Dallas, December 1, 1962, on the charge of
making false statements to Commodity Credit Corporation,
to which he pled "not guilty."
The Daily News of December 8 announced that Estes'
Federal trial had been set in El Paso for December 10.
Estes was to answer 29 counts of mail fraud, interstate
transportation of securities taken by fraud, and
conspiracy. Estes' lawyers were to ask for a dismissal or
change of venue to Pecos.
(On December 11 Judge Thomason set March 11 as
the beginning date of the trial. He split the indictment
and ordered half to be tried in Pecos because the
alleged violations occurred in the Pecos Division. No
date was set for the Pecos trial)
The News announced January 3, 1963 that Glenn
Lester had sued Estes and Commercial Solvents for
$975,000, alleging that they had forced him to sell his
stock in Lester-Stern fertilizer company for $25,000, it
being worth $150,000.
The whole "mess" was confused January 8
when the Pecos "hospital hassle" entered the picture.
It was an affair involving the hospital board, the hospital
staff and one doctor in particular. We do not care to go
into the particulars of this most explosive case, but it
separated neighbors and friends into two separate
camps and, for many weeks, Pecos was in quite a
This affair was not directly connected with the Estes
case, but the Daily News correctly stated that "Had
there been no Billie Sol Estes affair preceding present
events, no newspaper outside Pecos would be
interested." The whole story may be read in the files of
the Pecos Daily News beginning with the issue of
January 8, 1963.
On January 25, 1963 Judge Dunagan, of Tyler,
sentenced Estes to eight years in prison. Cofer promptly
announced that it would be appealed.
The reader will note that we are covering only the
pertinent highlights of the Estes trials. In the skips,
there was much legal maneuvering, investigations,
charges and counter charges taking place, which makes
interesting but tedious reading.
The selection of Federal jurors for the Estes
trial in El Paso began Monday, March 11, 1963. Defense
attorney Cofer immediately moved to declare a mistrial,
which was promptly overruled by Judge Thomason.
Testimony, which proved to be a long, drawn out affair,
began on March 15 with more shouting on the part of
Alexander, Orr and McSpadden were never called to
testify. Then on March, 20, the government suddenly
rested their case, catching the defense off guard, and
court was messed until the next day. Upon convening
the next morning, Cofer moved for a directed verdict of
acquittal, which was again denied.
Newspaper announced verdict
(Last in a series of 12)
Arguments in the El Paso trial were presented and
concluded March 25, after which Judge Thomason
announced he would present his charge to the jury the
morning of March 26.
Then came one of very few "EXTRAS" that have ever
been issued by a Pecos newspaper. This paper came out
March 28, 1963 with oversize headlines reading
"ESTES IS GUILTY!" The jury had found him guilty of
mail fraud. His sentencing was delayed but Judge
Thomason did not announce the date for sentencing.
On April 16, 1963 the Daily News announced that
Estes had been sentenced to 15 years in prison. In
sentencing Estes, Judge Thomason said "The record
shows that you were the perpetrator of one of the most
gigantic swindles in the history of our country." Estes
was freed-on a $100,000 bond pending appeal. The bond
was signed by his uncle, Dr. Sol Estes, and his brother,
Dr. John Estes, both of Abilene.
After being relesed on bond, the News gave
accounts of Estes' visits to a number of schools and
churches in the deep South. He first went to Nashville
on April 23, where he visited the Nashville Christian
Institute, a negro school, where he was emotionally
greeted. Estes haid befriended this school and they were
in the process of taking up a collection for his benefit.
Then, on April 23, 1963, he spoke at Highland
Avenue Church of Christ in Montgomery, Alabama, a
negro congregation. He spoke on race relations, saying
the segregation was unchristian. He also spoke at
the Gayle Streett Church of Christ (Negro) on the race
issue. He spent the night at the home of Mac McLeod,
pastor of the church, but was asked to leave the next
morning. According to the Daily News, McLeod said
"we're not interested in that kind of mess."
On June 2, 1963 the Pecos Furniture Co. and Pecos
Funeral Home bought Estes' Colonial Funeral Home.
This was one assset that Pecos gained from the Estes
At a hearing in Amarillo on June 26, Harold Orr
testified that Bob.Clements, former owner of Superior
Manufacturing Co., suggested to him a plan to sell
fictitious tank mortgages.
On the night of August 8, 1963 a 10 foot high
wooden cross was burned on Estes' lawn. Then, the
next night, a bullet was fired through the picture
window of the Estes living room. Authorities thought
both incidents were cause by thrill seekers who had no
interest in the Estes case.
The Estes home had been opened to guided tours at
$5 to $20 per trip, according to the Independent. On
August 15, 1963 the City of Pecos notified Estes that
there was an ordinance preventing him from conducting
such an operation in a residential area and the tours
were stopped. It was a rather lucrative business for a
time because every visitor that came to Pecos during
that period wanted to see the Billie Sol Estes
"mansion," and were willing to pay the price.
It had been rumored for some time that Estes was
going to move to Abilene. During the night of August
28, moving vans came in quietly and removed the
furniture from the house. Estes then moved into a new
home in Abilene (not a new house but a new home for
On September 20 the Independent reported that
Estes was to be questioned at El Paso concerning "his
Pecos home, his new swank home in Abilene, and the
newly formed International Love and Good Will
The News announced January 16, 1964 that the State
Court of Criminal Appeals had upheld the eight year
sentence Estes had received at the Tyler trial.
The Independent of January 20 carried a story saying
that the I.R.S. said that Estes owed $18.2 million in
back taxes and penalties. For the next 10 months very little of any consequence happened. Of course, there was much legal maneuvering, civil suits, hearings and rehearings, but nothing that had any particular bearing on the main case.
Then, on November 24, 1964, the Independent said
that Estes had spent about two hours in the Dallas jail
before facing Judge Sarah Hughes for violation of travel
restrictions on his bond. After some arguing, Estes was
placed under a new $10,000 bond with travel limited to
the state of Texas.
The final blow came on January 15, 1965 when
the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Estes appeal
and upheld the 15-year sentence imposed upon him in El
Paso. Estes was arrested in Abilene, immediately
following the announcement, and placed in jail without
Estes' trial on charges of making false statements in
regards to his debts came up in Dailps and, on March
15, 1965, he was acquitted of this charge. Some time
later he was committed to the Federal penitentiary at
Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and started serving his 15
His conviction at Tyler was still under appeal and, on
June 8, 1965, it was reversed by the U.S. Supreme
Court because of TV and radio live coverage of the trial.
And that ends the story of news coverage of one of the
nation's most complicated, massive swindles, in which
many people were involved and much money lost. It
should be to the never ending credit of Pecos that, in
spite of two major scandals, the people got back
together, let by-gones be by-gones and continued with
the job of building a community in which anyone would
be proud to live.
Billie Sol Estes is furloughed from Big Spring federal prison camp in 1983 for publisher's release of a book about him, written by daughter Pam from more than 20 years' notes and collected information. (9.6KB)
Billie Sol Estes, in checkered coat, is interviewed at the Big Spring federal prison camp in late October, 1983, shortly before his parole. He began a 15-year sentence in 1965 after conviction for federal mail fraud and conspiracy. Creditors claimed Estes owed them $38 million. (AP Laserphoto, 26.6 KB)
Leaving federal prison in Big Spring in mid-November, 1983, Billie Sol Estes kisses his wife, Patsy. (AP laserphoto, 22.4KB)
Former con-man and wheeler-dealer, Billie Sol Estes, whose circle of friends once included Lyndon Johnson, sits in a Brady,Tex. restaurant Sept. 3, 1997. After two federal prison stints, Estes has quietly settled into Brady on the fringe of the Texas Hill Country. (AP Photo by Ron Heflin, 18KB).
Beginning of Series
Detailed news stories from 1962
Mac McKinnon, Publisher
Division of Buckner News Alliance, Inc.
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321
Associated Press text, photo, graphic, audio and/or video material shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium.
Copyright 1998 by Pecos Enterprise