Something’s Rotten in the State of Texas

The Mysterious Murder of Texas Deputy Sheriff Sam Smithwick, a man “Who Knew Too Much”

And Notes on an Important News Article: “Something’s Rotten in the State of Texas” Colliers magazine June 9, 1951

In 1951, Colliers was one of the several widely-read, nationally distributed news and entertainment magazines in the United States. Authors contributing to its “entertainment” side short-story fiction included  Erle Stanley Gardner, Zane Grey, Ring Lardner, Sinclair Lewis,  J. D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut.  But its main focus since its founding in 1888 was in-depth investigative reporting, bringing national attention to major scandals that would otherwise be unknown to most of the population.[1]

Though Colliers’ mission early on was to promote social reform, not everyone considered that to be a worthy goal. Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “muckraking journalism” to describe its effect on politically sensitive topics that had previously been well-hidden, and he, among others, preferred to keep it that way.

The primary “muckraking” story in the issue dated June 9, 1951, “Something is Rotten in the State of Texas,” was certainly embarrassing to a number of people, but the top two contenders had to be Lyndon Johnson and his friend George B. Parr. Parr was known as the “Duke of Duval” for his complete control of a political machine that wielded absolute control over his own county, as well as neighboring Jim Wells County and Nueces County; through alliances with the bosses of many other counties, he had substantial influence and control of all of South Texas, thus he also “exerted a powerful influence on state and national politics.” [2]

This excerpt from the referenced article describes the background circumstances of Parr’s machine: [3]

“He ‘inherited’ his domainmost of South Texasfrom his father, the late State Senator Archie Parr. The Parr family’s power lies in the Spanish-speaking ‘Latin Americans’ (as U.S. citizens of Mexican ancestry prefer to be called), who in south Texas out-number ‘Anglo-Americans’ (whites of non-Mexican ancestry) two to one.”

The lengthy article explores the brazenly illegal methods Parr and his father employed to obtain political power comparable to that of the 1930’s Pendergast organization in Kansas City or the 19th century’s Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall infamy in New York. Like those political machines, his large network of family and friends ensured that only like-minded candidates were elected through voter fraud if all else failed who controlled their flock through handing out no-bid government contracts and patronage jobs only to party loyalists. 

The pinnacle event of George Parr’s infamous career the manufacture of 203 fake ballots in the 1948 election that caused Lyndon Johnson to “win” his seat in the Senate is among the subjects covered within this historically important news article. Since the article was published only two years after Johnson was sworn in, it served as an excellent record of how the two of them were able to derail democracy so that Lyndon could continue his climb up the political ladder. In another, more esoteric, sense, it portended what the ascension of LBJ would mean for the future of America: That nothing, or anyone, would stand in his way to achieve his goal to become President of the United States.

The Murder of Bill Mason

The article also covered the murder, eight months after the stolen election (to be examined below), of Bill Mason, a radio reporter who had begun reporting on his investigation of the frauds used by Parr to ensure that Lyndon Johnson would win.

Mason had set out to expose the corruption that put Johnson into his Senate seat, pointing the finger of blame directly at the “Duke of Duval” and his sidekick, H. T. Sain, the sheriff.   Sheriff Sain, who had previously directed one of his deputies to rough up the editor of the town’s newspaper for his attacks on the Parr regime, then repeated that same treatment on Bill Mason.

After the beating, Mason was so incensed that he then accused, on his radio show, one of the sheriff’s deputies, Sam Smithwick, of getting a cut of the revenue from gambling and prostitution at a building he owned that he leased to the proprietor of that enterprise.

On July 29, 1949, Mason was shot and killed by Deputy Smithwick, who had counted on being freed by Parr or his political benefactor Lyndon Johnson for his services in eliminating that thorn, Bill Mason, from both of their backsides. But he went to trial, where he was found guilty of murder with malice (i.e. 1st Degree Murder) and was sentenced to life in prison.[4]

The Murder of Sam Smithwick

When the Colliers article was published in June, 1951, that was as far on the timeline as it could go in its reportage of the continuing saga of public corruption in South Texas. What it couldn’t cover was what happened fifteen months later, when Sam Smithwick was found hanged in prison.

Parr and Johnson had abandoned Smithwick in prison, where he was supposed to stay. The plan — like that later used to shut many other’s mouths, from Billie Sol Estes to James Earl Ray — even if he were ever freed, it would ensure the loss of any credibility he had left, thus destroying his ability to harm them. After two years of waiting for Parr and Johnson to get him freed, Smithwick decided to take matters into his own hands, which he did by writing a letter to Coke Stevenson, who had lost the rigged 1948 election to Lyndon Johnson.

Robert Caro, in his second volume on Johnson, described Coke Stevenson as an honorable statesman and reluctant candidate, compared to the venal and intrinsically dishonest Lyndon Johnson. Certain other authors and critics — accepting without question the lies originally planted by Johnson in 1948 — disputed Caro’s characterization. In response to those critics, he wrote a lengthy rebuttal, “My Search for Coke Stevenson” in the New York Times Book Review of February 3, 1991, in which he detailed how he had met with many people who had known him, and how all of them had backed up Caro’s descriptions. [5] See Endnote for link to article.

Smithwick’s message to Stevenson stated that he was ready to talk to him about what had really happened, and the fact that he had possessed first-hand knowledge of the 1948 election fraud. Someone — either through an indiscreet comment from Sam himself to another prisoner or a guard, possibly a person whose job it was to screen outgoing mail — let the word out and it was then reported to George Parr, who undoubtedly then informed Senator Lyndon B. Johnson.

According to Barr McClellan, an attorney who worked for Johnson’s lawyer and “fixer,” Ed Clark, a secret band of prison guards known as the “Death Rangers [were] called upon to silence Smithwick. Moving quickly, the goon squad cornered Smithwick in his cell and strangled him. The body was then hung from one of the steel bars on his cell’s gate by his bed. The death was reported as suicide.“[6]

Stevenson was on his way to the prison when he stopped to call ahead, to inform the warden of that, when he got the news that Smithwick was dead. “I had left the ranch and got as far as Junction,” Calculatin’ Coke recounted, “ when I got the information that he was dead.”[7]

Despite the widespread suspicions of Johnson’s involvement in Smithwick’s untimely death (as we will see shortly, even the governor said that) as the single person benefiting from the high-risk, elaborate scheme that had been designed for a purpose custom fitted to LBJ’s unique interests Robert Caro, unsurprisingly, concluded: “No evidence whatsoever was ever adduced to link Lyndon Johnson with Smithwick’s death, and there is no reason to believe such a link existed.”[5]

He then acknowledged that Smithwick’s letter to Stevenson kept the saga alive and “in the news” for decades thereafter. Were it not for that continuing media interest, Caro might not have ever written about the death of Sam Smithwick, or even the stolen 1948 election, just as he has elected not to mention the name of Johnson’s partner in crime, Billie Sol Estes (among many others linked to his criminal activities), or the names of the five people connected to him who were murdered, all of which are now “closed cases.” [8]

The “Something Rotten in the State of Texas” Story was about the Most Brazenly Illegal Voter Fraud Case in American History

As the saying, “The Devil’s in the Details” goes, the archived pages (below) from this article contain the complete, unexpurgated story of how the George Parr – Lyndon Johnson – Lucifer team managed to “win” his seat. But what the article missed is that, in the process of winning, Johnson had actually stolen tens of thousands of votes; the final 202 were merely the last ones needed to put him over the top, going further than anyone else had ever ventured. Robert Caro affirmed that point, and acknowledged that “even in terms of a most elastic political morality—the political morality of 1940s Texas—his methods were immoral.” [9] Actually, of course, they were more than merely immoral, they were outrageously and brazenly illegal, and they struck against all the precepts of the Constitution’s promises of democracy — thus were they unconstitutional as well.

The additional votes were clearly fraudulent — they had been “cast” as though the 200+ phantom voters appeared in alphabetical order, with each signed by the same blue pen, in the same handwriting. Many people later testified that ballots purporting to be theirs were not valid, since they had not voted; other ballots were determined to have come from people who had previously died. The furor over the obvious signs of voter fraud caused Lyndon Johnson to bring in a team of lawyers led by Abe Fortas to work out a devious plan that would take the matter out of the realm of a fair and honest evaluation of the merits of the case and into a more esoteric battle over jurisdictional issues (For more information on that point, see the following citation). [10]

The skirmishes over the results had barely begun when they suddenly came to an end. As the Colliers article explained, after fighting to keep the ballots and tallies hidden from the news reporters — thus the public — and even the attorneys for Stevenson (who obviously wanted them open for inspection), Johnson flew back to Washington and met with President Truman, who immediately called for “all Texans to back Johnson.” But, much more importantly, the very next day, according to this article, he had also made sure that the “fix was in” at the Supreme Court as well:

“[J]ust as the remaining Precinct 13 ballot box was to be opened with horse-opera timing, an order arrived from Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black quashing the federal investigation. By the time the U.S. Senate investigators arrived on the scene, all of Duval County’s ballots had been burned. Thus all three investigations were abortively ended. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s order also had dissolved the temporary federal injunction barring Johnson’s name from the general election ballot. “ [11]

Fortunately for Johnson and for years afterward his lead attorney / advisor Abe Fortas, they were both close poker-playing friends with Hugo Black (until the mid-1960s when Fortas himself was appointed to the Supreme Court, when a rift occurred between them). An insight into Black’s character can be revealed when one considers that:

Before he became a senator, Black espoused anti-Catholic views and was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama,” consistently opposed anti-lynching legislation as a senator, and as a Supreme Court Justice, wrote the majority opinion that validated Roosevelt’s decision to intern Japanese Americans on the West Coast during World War II. [12]

Clearly, Black had a lot in common with LBJ, even possibly the ties to the KKK, according to contemporaneous rumors as reported by the FBI. [13]

The Repercussions Continue . . .

According to the indubitable Texas journalist Ronnie Dugger, in 1956, when Governor Allan Shivers and Johnson were fighting each other for political control, “Shivers charged me with murder,” Johnson, with great incredulity, told me. Speaking from his four-poster bed late one night in the White House, Johnson said that Shivers had made a speech accusing him of Smithwick’s murder, and in San Antonio:

[T]he reporters came running up to me saying Shivers had charged me with murder, and what did I want to say about it?” Obviously Johnson had dismissed the charge, but he did not say so, rather repeating indignantly, “Shivers said I was a murderer!” Shivers, shown this account of what Johnson said, told me, “I don’t care to discuss it.”[14]

Sadly for those who expected Robert Caro’s last two books to be similar to the first two, among the many other people and events he failed to reference was Gov. Shivers’ above assertion about Johnson’s involvement with the murder of Smithwick. That Caro — famous for proclaiming how his mentor-editor taught him how he needed to “turn every page” in his research — did not reference the fact that so many people believed that Johnson had been behind Smithwick’s murder, even Governor Shivers, suggests that he purposely avoided turning numerous pages that contradicted his conclusion. As Ian Fleming famously said, “once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, but three times is enemy action.” Interestingly, a number of less-notable authors besides Dugger have been more forthcoming about this event, including Randall Woods and Robert Dallek.

Yet many other self-identified establishment “historians” — just like Robert Caro — continue missing not only a few “pages” of Lyndon Johnson’s most corrupt actions, or as in this case, entire chapters of Johnson’s true historical mayhem. When one closely examines the totality of the evidence, and his proven acts, his role as the only realistic beneficiary of Sam Smithwick’s untimely death becomes quite clear. Were it not for the fact that this is merely one such “cold case,” out of the many I’ve documented elsewhere it could easily be ignored; but when they are counted by the dozens, it is an entirely different context.

If the Ian Fleming axiom is substantively true, it, the circumstantial evidence summarized above excerpted from my book LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination would be enough to convict Lyndon B. Johnson of the murder of Sam Smithwick, were Johnson still alive.

But Deputy Sheriff Sam Smithwick was only the first fatality in Lyndon B. Johnson’s long list of victims that would, a dozen years later, include his ultimate most infamous betrayal.


[1] Wikepedia – George Berham Parr

[2] “Something is Rotten in the State of Texas,” Colliers magazine, June 9, 1951, p. 14

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Caro, Robert, “My Search for Coke Stevenson,” New York Times Book Review, Feb. 3, 1991, Section 7, Page 1 . (See article here)

[6] McClellan, Barr, Blood, Money and Power: How LBJ Killed JFK, pp. 103-104

[7] See HERE for other names similarly omitted by Caro and other “historians / biographers” — who are not nearly as thorough as they are purported to be.

[8] Op, Cit. – (Colliers article, pp. 70-71). The “203” vote figure was widely reported at the time, as reflected in the fact that it was also used in this 1951 article. The article also stated that the ballot count was originally reported after the ballots were closed as 841, and the 203 were subsequently and mysteriously added, for a total of 1,044 six days later.

Robert Caro, in his second volume, Means of Ascent, stated on two pages (317 and 328) that the original votes for Johnson totaled 765, and that the “7” was subsequently changed to a “9” for an additional total of 200 votes, but also on page 328 (and the following page) used the figure “201,” the extra one being the single vote for Stevenson, evidently to make the scam look more “realistic.” He did not explain how the total (965) had not been revised to reflect the revised number (966), nor how the original “203” number had been discarded, or the provenance/disposition of the “841” and “1,044” figures reported by Colliers, an article he cited and of which he was thus aware.

[9] Caro, Robert, The Master of the Senate, p. 116

[10] Nelson, Phillip, LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination, pp 28-37

[11] Op, Cit. – (Colliers article, pp. 70-71)

[12] See Wikipedia entry for Hugo Black

[13] See FBI memorandum undated but received by another agency 5/4/1964

[14] Ronnie Dugger, The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson, pp. 340-341

Pages from Colliers article:

To enlarge the pages, right-click on the page then select “Open in New Tab” (for smaller screens, when the page opens, the cursor will then show a “+” which will enlarge it further)

Page 13
Page 14
Page 15
Page 68
Page 70
Page 71

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