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Interstate 40 is a straight shot across the Texas Panhandle from the Oklahoma border to New Mexico, just like Route 66 was in its heyday when migrants and tourists traveled its 178 miles across the Texas plains. Most of the vehicles are populated with law-abiding citizens, the sort of people welcome at a rancher’s dinner table. But some of the vehicles moving across Route 66, and the nearly parallel interstate highway that replaced it, contain some unsavory characters who either came to the Panhandle with crime on their minds, or ended up on the wrong side of the law because of passion, circumstance or alcohol. “There’s a whole lot of weird and bizarre people going up that concrete ribbon that’s right smack in the middle of the Panhandle,” says John Mann, a former district attorney in Texas’ 31st District. “We locals would literally shudder at night if we knew what’s going up and down the highway outside our offices — every crazy, every doper, every weirdo. If the natives around here knew what goes on along that highway, they wouldn’t come out of their houses,” Mann says. Here are a few such stories. BONNIE AND CLYDE COUNTRY Criminals have long flocked to the somewhat desolate sections of Texas in Route 66 country. “This was Bonnie & Clyde country,” says Delbert Trew, curator of the Texas Route 66 Exhibit in McLean, Texas. Trew, a retired rancher who has lived off of Route 66 since 1949, says Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow and their gang were seen frequently in the area in the early 1930s, and many locals have stories to tell about them. Trew says one of his old neighbors used to talk about the time when she was a child and spotted Parker and Barrow at a filling station in McLean. Trew says the woman recalled seeing Tommy guns in the back seat of the car used by the outlaws, who were killed in a shootout with law enforcement officers in 1934 in Louisiana. At the time they were killed, Barrow and Parker were wanted in connection with 13 murders and several burglaries and robberies. There’s always been a lot of unsolved and unreported crime along Route 66, Trew says. “Most of the cemeteries along Route 66, mostly the one in Alanreed [Texas], would come up with strange graves when they hadn’t had services anywhere. We suspect they were people who either died on the road or were possibly too poor to pay [for burial],” he says. One of the most famous Route 66 tales of crime was the 1949 murder of Ward “Tex” Thornton, a legendary oil field firefighter who was killed in an Amarillo, Texas, motel by hitchhikers he picked up along Route 66. The passage of time and construction of I-40 as the main roadway across the Texas Panhandle haven’t diminished the frequency of crimes that prompt police to shake their heads in disbelief. Mann, who lives on a ranch near Shamrock but practices out of Pampa, Texas, says one of the most unusual crimes he prosecuted during his two terms as DA, from 1993 through 2000, involved the strangulation of an out-of-state traveler. It happened about six or seven years ago, he says, when Department of Public Safety officers responded to a report of a car driving erratically along I-40 just west of Shamrock. Mann says the troopers stopped the car, which held three men. “They were all three dirty, filthy, very unkempt people, and so they stop them for drinking. They can smell the booze,” Mann recalls. He says the driver was arrested for driving while under the influence and put into a patrol car, and the passenger in the rear seat was arrested for public intoxication. Because the front-seat passenger appeared to be passed out, the troopers decided to leave him in the car and drive him into Shamrock to the Wheeler County Jail. “When they get there, that sucker is dead,” Mann recalls. “He had been strangled by the guy in the right rear seat. We did an autopsy. We got a confession. [He] had choked him to death.” Jim Powell of Pampa, the DPS sergeant who drove the car into Shamrock, says they had figured the man was simply dead drunk, not dead. Powell, who retired from the highway patrol to become a preacher, admits he took a lot of ribbing at the time from other troopers and local law enforcement officers, but says a Shamrock police officer had handcuffed the man in the patrol car and didn’t realize he was dead. “I didn’t even touch him. I simply drove him in,” says Powell, who agrees with Mann that “all sorts of riffraff” traveling from coast to coast pass through the Panhandle. Neither Mann nor Powell can remember the name of the unfortunate man found strangled in the car. Sometimes it takes police some time to identify people found dead along Route 66. Mann recalls two or three instances during his time as DA when police found dead bodies along the roadway. One of them still hasn’t been identified, he says. “People dump everything out on the highway,” he says. “There was one guy who killed his wife and buried her at a roadside park by Shamrock.” Jerry Bob Jernigan, a constable in Wheeler County for nearly 27 years, can’t explain it, but says the area seems to be a magnet for odd crimes. During the oil boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a lot of narcotics traffic across I-40. But some of the crimes are less predictable and simply crazy, he says. “You’ve got everything from drive-off gas [station] shootings, to naked women on buses, to people running scams up and down the interstate, state to state,” Jernigan says. Jernigan recalls chasing a suspect out of Shamrock about five years ago after a gas station owner reported a robbery. After chasing the suspect for 21 miles, Jernigan says officers were able to stop him at a roadblock when spikes they set up blew out all four tires on his vehicle. Jernigan says they were dumbfounded when the suspect wouldn’t get out of his car. “He wouldn’t get out. He wouldn’t get out. We finally got our nerve to go up to the car. It had tinted windows. It was 4 o’clock in the morning,” Jernigan recalls. “He had blown his brains out.” – Brenda Sapino Jeffreys LIKE THELMA AND LOUISE It was dinnertime in the fall of 1994 when Jennifer Davis and Cheryl Stevens drove into Shamrock. The duo was on the run from Oklahoma authorities, and Texas law enforcement officers were closing in. The events of that night are legendary in Shamrock, where Davis, who was an unemployed hairdresser from Baltimore, and Stevens, a boat repairer, are remembered as “Thelma and Louise,” characters in the 1991 movie about two women, who were fed up with men, driving across the country on a cathartic crime spree. When Davis and Stevens crossed the Texas line on Sept. 22, 1994, they were suspected of robbing the Double D convenience store on an access road in Texola, Okla. “They’d committed a strong-arm robbery at the state line,” says Rick Walden, chief deputy of Wheeler County. “They overpowered the clerk — a male — stole the money and stole a revolver in the store.” Driving a black Toyota, they headed west on Interstate 40 through Texas. Deputy sheriff Jerry Bailey was one of the first law enforcement officers to see them. He tried to get them to pull over, but they wouldn’t. Soon police patrolman Monte Cornett and a visiting sheriff followed, too, Walden says. Bailey managed to get his car parallel with theirs, and that’s when, with the window rolled down, Davis positioned herself and began firing — and missing, Walden says. “She wasn’t a very good shot,” says David Holt, Davis’ former court-appointed attorney. “She didn’t even hit the car.” As they got closer to town, the women took the first exit off the interstate onto Route 66 heading from the east side of Shamrock straight toward town. By then, two Wheeler County deputy sheriffs, two Shamrock police officers, one Texas Department of Public Safety trooper and one visiting sheriff were tracking them. As they sped across Route 66, they passed the U-Drop Inn Caf�, the Napa Auto Parts store, the Econo Lodge and some private homes. People stopped and came out from the local businesses and stood on the street watching as the scene unfolded before their eyes, Walden says. The town chiropractor, William Doebele, who has lived in Shamrock for 18 years, says he’d never seen anything like it. He remembers that when the chase passed by, he was standing on a ladder, painting the clinic. His wife and kids were outside the family’s mobile home, which is behind the clinic. “I wondered what was going on,” he says. “It didn’t look like a parade or ambulance or anything.” Once Doebele realized there was shooting going on, he shouted to his wife to get the kids out of the way, then he just hung on tight to the ladder, spilling paint on the sidewalk. “It’s still there,” he says. “Colonial blue.” The police eventually boxed Davis and Stevens in and ran them off the road on the west edge of town. They were taken to the Wheeler County Jail and indicted on charges of attempted capital murder. “You’re looking at a small town and nothing like this happens — two women running from police shooting at us,” Walden says. LUCK OF THE IRISH Shamrock came to be in 1890 when an Irish immigrant sheep rancher, George Nickel, named the area for good luck and courage, two things Davis and Stevens must have had, considering how their story ended. The townspeople grew genuinely fond of the women and vice versa. “Almost everyone down at the jail is a guy, and they were really likable women,” says Denise Ware, a lay minister who befriended the two while they sat in the county jail. “They knew they’d screwed up.” The ladies from the Church of the Nazarene would bring them Sunday lunch, and Davis began cooking for the people working at the jail, who especially liked her chocolate chip cookies. And Stevens raised a vegetable garden in the jailhouse lawn. “They even let them out of jail one night, and I took them to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve,” Ware recalls. “They had on their little prison clothes, and they got to take their handcuffs off.” “It worked out real well,” says Pampa solo Holt, Davis’ former counsel. “After spending about a year in the Wheeler County Jail, [officials] reduced the attempted capital murder charge to a misdemeanor and released [Davis] with credit for time served.” Stevens got the same deal, says her former court-appointed attorney J.A. Martindale, a solo in Pampa. “That was one of the more interesting cases I’ve looked at,” says Holt. “All I did was let her sit down there in jail for a year and let the sheriff convince the DA that she was a changed woman and ought not to be prosecuted. We never had a court appearance except for the plea. It was just a deal we made with the DA’s office.” Because the women pleaded guilty, the charges were reduced to misdemeanors. “Everyone grew fond of them,” says then-Wheeler County District Attorney John Mann who prosecuted the case. “Myself included. One of them was a good worker, and the other one was an extremely good cook.” Mann liked Davis’ cinnamon rolls, biscuits and homemade gravy. The real reason authorities released them so quickly, jokes Holt, was that Davis’ cooking was so good. “Beans and corn bread,” he says, recalling the delicious yet simple cuisine. After the women were released in Texas, they went back to Oklahoma. There they were charged with robbery, convicted and sent to prison, says Tami Brown, records officer of District 5 Community Corrections in Enid, Okla. Davis was released in February 1998 and Stevens a month later, she says. Neither Davis nor Stevens could be located for comment. Shamrock hasn’t forgotten the duo, Walden says. “All you have to do is say ‘the Thelma and Louise situation’ and people remember what happened.” — Stephanie Hoops GOT A QUARTER? Seven or eight years ago, Jackie Lane, owner of the Shamrock Laundry, installed a video camera in his business not knowing the important role it would one day play. When Lane originally installed the camera, it was intended to keep people from writing on the walls and tearing up tabletops. But it also came in handy on Jan. 28, 1998, when he noticed one of the washing machines had been emptied of all its money. “We immediately checked the tape, and there they were collecting the quarters,” he says. “Two guys and a girl. I’ve never seen them before except on the tape. They were so slick. They came in the door, and the woman kept guard, and the other two just immediately went to the coin boxes and started unlocking them.” Lane took the tape to Shamrock Police Chief Joe Daniels. Because Shamrock sits along Route 66, he’s seen his share of odd crimes. And, it turns out, Lane’s report wasn’t the only one. There were other victims of coin-operated machine burglaries. As alleged by Wheeler County District Attorney Richard Roach, the people who burglarized Lane had stolen several million dollars worth of quarters from coin-operated machines in a number of states. They lived in fancy homes, drove fancy cars and every now and then would make their robbery rounds as a way to support their lifestyle, he alleges. Using keys made by the ringleader, a locksmith, they’d get the quarters from the machines and then take the loot to Las Vegas, where cashing in lots of change is common, Roach and the FBI allege. “It could be a script for a movie,” he says. “It’s the most novel thing I ever heard of.” Three years after Lane dropped off his videotape, the Shamrock police finally got a lead in the case when three suspects were arrested with the help of Texas Ranger Gary Henderson and FBI Special Agent Bart LaRocca, Roach says. On Jan. 25, 2001, a Wheeler County grand jury returned indictments against John William Shaw, Trelia Renee Moon and John Lee Henson for allegedly conspiring to commit burglary of a coin-operated machine, according to Wheeler County court records. The suspects did not have attorneys in the matter, according to the district clerk’s office, and Roach says no one filed an appearance on their behalf. The suspects were released after the indictment. The two-year statute of limitations period expired before the case could be filed, and charges against the three were dismissed on Feb. 9, 2001, according to court records. Roach says he was under the impression that the statute of limitations was three years because he was dealing with an organized crime that would enhance the burglary offense to a felony. But the way the statute reads, the applicable time frame was that of the underlying offense of burglary, which meant the statute of limitations was two years. “What should have happened in this case in hindsight is the case should have been referred to the DA’s office, which it was not,” Roach says. “And they should have done a ‘John Doe’ indictment and that would have tolled the limitation period.” But some good did come out of the situation, he says, because the story got press and alerted people in Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico about the coin-operated burglaries. Not getting the case filed “was a mistake,” Roach says. “But it was an honest mistake.” — Stephanie Hoops A WILD RIDE In Vega, Texas, and just about 30 yards from Route 66, the Oldham County Sheriff’s Department stumbled onto one of the most unusual yet easily solved crimes it had ever seen. It was just after sunup on Jan. 22, 1995, when a deputy noticed a luxury car parked at a rest stop; the driver was asleep, Sheriff David Medlin says. The deputy called for backup, and Medlin was the only other officer on duty at the time because the department has just four deputies and a sheriff. The deputy and Medlin approached the man, later identified as 22-year-old Denium Michael Roman. There was a loaded revolver on the seat beside Roman, the sheriff remembers. To be on the safe side, Medlin says, “we handcuffed him and then began asking questions.” Medlin headed back to the patrol car to run a check on the license plate and found a missing person’s report had been filed on the driver of the vehicle. “We realized the missing person wasn’t the person driving the car,” Medlin says. “We knew something wasn’t right.” Meanwhile, Medlin alleges, Roman confessed to the deputy that he had killed the driver and put the body in the trunk. When they opened the trunk, Oldham County sheriff officials found the body of Gregory Crouch, 45, a limousine driver from the Detroit suburb of Allen Park. The luxury car was part of a fleet used by a limo/taxi service in Michigan. According to Medlin, Roman allegedly said he had previously used the limo/taxi service and watched Crouch to learn his habits. Roman told officers that when he was a passenger in Crouch’s vehicle, he asked to use the luxury car’s cell phone, knowing that Crouch would roll down the dividing window and smoke a cigarette while he waited for the passenger to finish the phone call. Medlin says Roman told police he waited for Crouch to roll down the window so he could shoot him without shattering the window. Medlin says Roman told him and the deputy that he shot Crouch in Michigan and drove 1,500 miles to Vega, with the body in the trunk. Once back in Michigan, Roman was convicted of murder in the first degree and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, according to the Wayne County, Mich., prosecutor’s office. Judge Daphne Curtis of Detroit sentenced Roman in 1995 to life plus two years in prison. His appeal was unsuccessful when, in 1997, the Michigan Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his conviction, according to Wayne County court records. On Sept. 6, 2000, Roman, acting pro se, filed a motion for relief from judgment with the Detroit Recorder’s Court — the last action documented in the court records, according to the Wayne County prosecutor’s office. “It was an unusual case because we had the criminal, the victim, the murder weapon and the crime scene all in one — a limo,” Medlin says. Vega — population 2,400 — is the county seat of Oldham, which measures about 50 miles by 30 miles. Although it’s a small Texas community, “we’ve had some really oddball things,” Medlin says, noting the 1995 murder. “Probably, if we weren’t on the interstate, we wouldn’t see this stuff. But I could tell you odd stories all day.” – Lisa Fipps

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