The Last Sheriff in Texas: A True Tale of Violence and the Vote

Counterpoint Press
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An Amazon Best History Book of the Month

"[A] narrative with resonance well beyond seekers of Texas history. The Last Sheriff in Texas would be an amazing allegory for our times, were it fiction. Instead it suggests cultural trenches that we view as new that were dug decades ago." —Houston Chronicle


Beeville, Texas, was the most American of small towns—the place that GIs had fantasized about while fighting through the ruins of Europe, a place of good schools, clean streets, and churches. Old West justice ruled, as evidenced by a 1947 shootout when outlaws surprised popular sheriff Vail Ennis at a gas station and shot him five times, point-blank, in the belly. Ennis managed to draw his gun and put three bullets in each assailant; he reloaded and shot them three times more.

Time magazine’s full-page article on the shooting was seen by some as a referendum on law enforcement owing to the sheriff’s extreme violence, but supportive telegrams from all across America poured into Beeville’s tiny post office. Yet when a second violent incident threw Ennis into the crosshairs of public opinion once again, the uprising was orchestrated by an unlikely figure: his close friend and Beeville’s favorite son, Johnny Barnhart.

Barnhart confronted Ennis in the election of 1952: a landmark standoff between old Texas, with its culture of cowboy bravery and violence, and urban Texas, with its lawyers, oil institutions, and a growing Mexican population. The town would never be the same again.

The Last Sheriff in Texas is a riveting narrative about the postwar American landscape, an era grappling with the same issues we continue to face today. Debate over excessive force in law enforcement, Anglo-Mexican relations, gun control, the influence of the media, urban-rural conflict, the power of the oil industry, mistrust of politicians and the political process—all have surprising historical precedence in the story of Vail Ennis and Johnny Barnhart.
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About the author

James P. McCollom is the author of The Continental Affair: The Rise and Fall of the Continental Illinois Bank. A native son of Beeville, Texas, he has worked as a banker and business executive in the Northeast before settling back in his hometown.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Counterpoint Press
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Published on
Nov 1, 2017
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Pages
260
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ISBN
9781619029972
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Law Enforcement
History / United States / 20th Century
History / United States / State & Local / Southwest (AZ, NM, OK, TX)
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The haunting true story of the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California during the 70s and 80s, and of the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case—which was solved in April 2018.

Introduction by Gillian Flynn • Afterword by Patton Oswalt

“A brilliant genre-buster.... Propulsive, can’t-stop-now reading.”   —Stephen King

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Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called "the Golden State Killer." Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it has been hailed as a modern true crime classic—one which fulfilled Michelle's dream: helping unmask the Golden State Killer.

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Just two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist. While her husband and their toddler held down the home front, Judy threw herself into the fascinating world of death investigation—performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, counseling grieving relatives. Working Stiff chronicles Judy’s two years of training, taking readers behind the police tape of some of the most harrowing deaths in the Big Apple, including a firsthand account of the events of September 11, the subsequent anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the disastrous crash of American Airlines Flight 587.

An unvarnished portrait of the daily life of medical examiners—complete with grisly anecdotes, chilling crime scenes, and a welcome dose of gallows humor—Working Stiff offers a glimpse into the daily life of one of America’s most arduous professions, and the unexpected challenges of shuttling between the domains of the living and the dead. The body never lies—and through the murders, accidents, and suicides that land on her table, Dr. Melinek lays bare the truth behind the glamorized depictions of autopsy work on television to reveal the secret story of the real morgue. “Haunting and illuminating...the stories from her average workdays…transfix the reader with their demonstration that medical science can diagnose and console long after the heartbeat stops” (The New York Times).
In 1998, William Queen was a veteran law enforcement agent with a lifelong love of motorcycles and a lack of patience with paperwork. When a “confidential informant” made contact with his boss at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, offering to take an agent inside the San Fernando chapter of the Mongols (the scourge of Southern California, and one of the most dangerous gangs in America), Queen jumped at the chance, not realizing that he was kicking-starting the most extensive undercover operation inside an outlaw motorcycle gang in the history of American law enforcement.

Nor did Queen suspect that he would penetrate the gang so successfully that he would become a fully “patched-in” member, eventually rising through their ranks to the office of treasurer, where he had unprecedented access to evidence of their criminal activity. After Queen spent twenty-eight months as “Billy St. John,” the bearded, beer-swilling, Harley-riding gang-banger, the truth of his identity became blurry, even to himself.

During his initial “prospecting” phase, Queen was at the mercy of crank-fueled criminal psychopaths who sought to have him test his mettle and prove his fealty by any means necessary, from selling (and doing) drugs, to arms trafficking, stealing motorcycles, driving getaway cars, and, in one shocking instance, stitching up the face of a Mongol “ol’ lady” after a particularly brutal beating at the hands of her boyfriend.

Yet despite the constant criminality of the gang, for whom planning cop killings and gang rapes were business as usual, Queen also came to see the genuine camaraderie they shared. When his lengthy undercover work totally isolated Queen from family, his friends, and ATF colleagues, the Mongols felt like the only family he had left. “I had no doubt these guys genuinely loved Billy St. John and would have laid down their lives for him. But they wouldn’t hesitate to murder Billy Queen.”

From Queen’s first sleight of hand with a line of methamphetamine in front of him and a knife at his throat, to the fearsome face-off with their decades-old enemy, the Hell’s Angels (a brawl that left three bikers dead), to the heartbreaking scene of a father ostracized at Parents’ Night because his deranged-outlaw appearance precluded any interaction with regular citizens, Under and Alone is a breathless, adrenaline-charged read that puts you on the street with some of the most dangerous men in America and with the law enforcement agents who risk everything to bring them in.


From the Hardcover edition.
Here, from Jay Dobyns, the first federal agent to infiltrate the inner circle of the outlaw Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, is the inside story of the twenty-one-month operation that almost cost him his family, his sanity, and his life.

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Dobyns leaves no stone of his harrowing journey unturned. At runs and clubhouses, between rides and riots, Dobyns befriends bad-ass bikers, meth-fueled “old ladies,” gun fetishists, psycho-killer ex-cons, and even some of the “Filthy Few”--the elite of the Hells Angels who’ve committed extreme violence on behalf of their club. Eventually, at parties staged behind heavily armed security, he meets legendary club members such as Chuck Zito, Johnny Angel, and the godfather of all bikers, Ralph “Sonny” Barger. To blend in with them, he gets full-arm ink; to win their respect, he vows to prove himself a stone-cold killer.

Hardest of all is leading a double life, which has him torn between his devotion to his wife and children, and his pledge to become the first federal agent ever to be “fully patched” into the Angels’ near-impregnable ranks. His act is so convincing that he comes within a hairsbreadth of losing himself. Eventually, he realizes that just as he’s been infiltrating the Hells Angels, they’ ve been infiltrating him. And just as they’re not all bad, he’s not all good.

Reminiscent of Donnie Brasco’s uncovering of the true Mafia, this is an eye-opening portrait of the world of bikers--the most in-depth since Hunter Thompson’s seminal work--one that fully describes the seductive lure criminal camaraderie has for men who would otherwise be powerless outsiders. Here is all the nihilism, hate, and intimidation, but also the freedom--and, yes, brotherhood--of the only truly American form of organized crime.
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