~ SECOND OF A THREE PART SERIES ~
Another Perspective of the Henry Marshall Murder: The Washington Angle
Note: The narrative (below) partially comes from a series of reedited (for context only) excerpts from my 2011 book LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination and my 2014 book LBJ: From Mastermind to The Colossus, Chapters 1 and 5. The newly-referenced newspaper articles illustrated within have also substantively contributed to this essay. All assertions within the essay not otherwise specifically cited can be found within those books. Additional information may be found in the digital archives of The Texas Observer, including two articles in the April 21, 1962 edition, one titled “Pattern Typical in Land Schuffles on pages 1-3 [here] and “A Smart Man Won’t Get Bloody” on page 3 [which can be found here].
Billie Sol Estes, as noted in the previous (12/16/2020) blog, by 1956 had grown his businesses to the point that—at age 31—his wealth and fame had brought him awards and national recognition. Moreover, he had, through his ten-year friendship with Lyndon Johnson’s Texas-aide Cliff Carter, by now extended to the Senator himself, begun developing new methods for skirting Department of Agriculture rules to generate revenue which he used to “grease the skids” for Washington politicians (LBJ had insisted, for example, that he also donate large sums to his political rival, the liberal Ralph Yarborough, so that he would also be drawn into any future controversy that might emerge if his own role were ever exposed). Estes had previously contributed to Harry Truman’s 1948 Presidential campaign, for which he had received a signed photograph, as well as substantial sums to Adlai Stevenson’s 1952 and 1956 campaigns—and of course the Kennedy-Johnson 1960 campaign.
Estes’s new ventures were arranged with Cliff Carter’s help and facilitated by his boss, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, who had been behind the development of all of his various schemes to defraud the government by twisting rules to his own advantage. Among his intricate schemes, the three primary ones related to his “cotton allotment” transfers noted earlier; his sales of—and fraudulent financing for—mostly non-existent tanks for storage of liquid fertilizer; and the storage of wheat under non-bided government contract. Some of the details were published in the first essay in this series and more will be described below.
Concurrently with Billie Sol’s rise and financial successes, most other farmers were incurring losses due to the chronic problems of low market prices for farm crops due to over-production in certain farm commodities (i.e., cotton, corn, wheat, peanuts, rice and tobacco). Estes was able to succeed where others failed because they properly felt constrained by regulatory rules, whereas he and his mentor viewed them as just another challenge to be circumvented—as he was constantly being egged on by LBJ to bend the rules for his own benefit.
As Billie Sol’s growing empire was still in its infancy, the Eisenhower administration, in 1955-56 was pushing Congress to pass the Soil Bank Program, designed to limit the production of those targeted crops. The idea was for the government to pay farmers a fixed amount per acre for removing land from tillage, putting it in a “conservation reserve” for a minimum of 10 years.
The goal of this legislation was to reduce the surplus, increase the market price of those commodities, and thus improve the financial condition of farm families.
In exchange for the government’s price subsidy, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) was directed to establish rules to enforce the production controls that stipulated how much each farmer could plant. It was also given the responsibility, through their local “Extension Agents,” of monitoring and counseling all farmers within their respective districts to ensure the somewhat complicated rules were understood. The rules allowed for existing land that had been used for cotton production to be “grandfathered” into the program; however, strict controls were established to prohibit cotton from being grown on other acreage.
Billie Sol’s legal troubles began in 1957, the year after Congress had passed that legislation, though for three years he managed—as directed by his “silent partner” Senator Lyndon Johnson— to delay compliance while they carried out elaborate plans to circumvent the rules. One of the schemes they came up with involved fraudulently transferred “cotton allotments.” Estes discovered that the only obstacle to growing more cotton and making more money was those pesky USDA rules that imposed strict acreage controls. One of the rules stated that the acreage allotment remained with the land and could not otherwise be sold or applied to other acreage. The only exception to the rule pertained to land taken by the government through eminent domain, in which case the cotton allotment could be transferred to other land bought by the farmer within three years.
These transfers were approved by the Department of Agriculture—through Johnson’s guidance, and Estes’s bribery of several officials—until USDA agent Henry Marshall began his efforts to stop those approvals. Estes had quickly seen all the loopholes in the law—some real, some by virtue of his loose “interpretation” of it—and lost no time in exploiting them, aided by his close association with Lyndon Johnson and all of the Washington bureaucrats he controlled. In late 1960, Marshall noticed that Estes was suddenly involved in hundreds of requests, involving over 3,000 acres, for exceptions to the rule.
He had previously bought cotton allotments for land submerged under water by new dams, planning to have them transferred to other land he had not yet purchased. He also went to farmers across the South who had lost cotton land by eminent domain, much of it the result of the wide-spread construction of the interstate highway system during that period, soliciting them to purchase land from him. The plan was for a farmer to buy, on a land contract, a certain tract (the lots were designed to discourage anyone else from ever farming them—for example, 40 feet wide but a mile long, adjoining others of the same dimensions—useful only to Billie himself), then place their cotton allotment on it; finally, they would then lease it back to Estes for $50 per acre. The farmer’s land contract called for four installments to Estes, but it was quietly understood that the farmer would fail to make even the first payment, which would allow Estes to foreclose, taking back the land—as well as the newly created cotton allotment with it. The farmer benefited by having been paid in advance for leasing the land back to Estes. The final result was that Estes still owned the land, but it now was an acreage upon which cotton could be grown.
Orville Freeman, the newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture, was suddenly caught in a breaking scandal as soon as he took office. In early 1961 just as the Kennedy-Johnson administration grabbled with such other things as the CIA’s Bay of Pigs fiasco, he authorized contradictory changes in its regulatory rules regarding the administration of the “Soil Bank” law: On the one hand, as pushed by Vice President Johnson, the USDA moved the power to waive certain rules from Washington bureaucrats to local USDA extension agents. About the same time, as pushed by Henry Marshall, it belatedly realized that the methods employed by Estes—though they appeared to conform to the “letter” of the law—were contrary to the “spirit” of the law: In practice, they were merely a complex device to allow for the purchase of cotton allotments—which was specifically against the law.
From the start, Henry Marshall did not think that the Johnson-Estes scam was consistent with his interpretation of the rules, or the original intent of the new law, so he ignored the memo liberalizing his discretion of waiving certain requirements as he continued to pressure Estes to comply with the old rules. Since the new rules gave local officials the power to make exceptions, but didn’t require that they be waived completely, they could be applied on a discretionary basis. Marshall had not appreciated the threats already made against him and was not about to use discretion to sidestep the very rules he had already been enforcing. He resolved only to more vigorously use them to prevent the obvious fraud that Estes was committing through the wide-spread bribery of numerous Washington bureaucrats, a story that was also simultaneously coming out in newspapers, naming the ones who accepted the finest clothing and shoes that Nieman-Marcus had to offer (including the alligator shoes shown in the previous article: $135.00 for a pair of shoes was a lot of money in 1956)..
Marshall proceeded to mount a personal campaign against the Estes-Johnson cotton scam, traveling around West Texas to visit county agricultural committees, explaining the methods used by Estes to circumvent the rules, demonstrating a sample Estes-type contract, and alerting the local office managers to watch for such fraudulent applications.
The Murder of Henry Marshall
On June 3, 1961, Henry Marshall was found dead in a remote area of his farm. Despite the fact that he had been beaten on his head and upper body such that one eyeball had popped out of its socket, forcefully poisoned with carbon monoxide, and shot five times with a rifle, his death was immediately ruled a suicide by the local sheriff, at whose insistence the coroner concurred. No one who knew him well thought that was possible; his wife and the rest of the family thought it absolutely “impossible.” The fact that the sheriff and coroner ruled as they did is a measure of the depth of the Johnson-Ed Clark political power throughout Texas. It was reported that Justice of the Peace / Coroner Leo Farmer, who had originally pronounced Marshall’s death a suicide without ordering an autopsy, later said, ‘I just don’t have nothing to say now.’”
Captain Peoples convinced District Judge John M. Barron to call a grand jury to evaluate the evidence he had collected to seek an indictment. On May 21, 1962, the body of Henry Marshall was exhumed, and shortly thereafter, a report was submitted by the medical examiner, Dr. Joseph Jachimczyk, that concluded his death was the result of five gunshot wounds, three of which were deemed to be “rapidly incapacitating.” He also found a large bruise on the left side of the head and a 15 percent carbon monoxide level, which he estimated was probably 30 percent at the time of death. He concluded that “one cannot say ‘on a purely scientific basis that a verdict of suicide is absolutely impossible in this case; [it was] most improbable, but not impossible.’ He changed the official record of the cause of death to be a ‘possible suicide, probable homicide.’” (That report was not actually the case, as explained in the following paragraphs; there was no such extant wording in the document that was finally filed to revise the previous record, to correct the C.O.D. to “homicide” 24 years later, on October 22, 1985).
Billie Sol’s Empire Continues to Crumble
As two separate investigations into Marshall’s death continued in the latter half of 1961, Estes got word that an audit of his business transaction was about to begin. By the end of the year, Estes would reveal his close ties to Lyndon Johnson to many people in the Department of Agriculture, as a result of his protestations of the continuing investigations and the cancellation of the 1961 allotments which had been promised him previously. One week after the cancellation of the allotments, Estes’s promise to take the matter up with Johnson paid off; not only was the allotment cancellation reversed, but Charles S. Murphy, the undersecretary of agriculture, even named Estes to the Cotton Advisory Board, a position which allowed him to give his expert advice on matters pertaining to the administration of the entire regulatory framework of the USDA ’s cotton program. This was also about the same time that Estes financed the Johnson inauguration ball, through three checks totaling $145,015.
What brought down the Estes empire? Not the government, despite the determined efforts of Henry Marshall and others who tried to trap him as he repeatedly changed his deceptive financial schemes. In fact, through Lyndon Johnson’s efforts, the Agriculture Department practically gave Billie Sol carte blanche to proceed full-bore into his entrepreneurial enterprises. Nor did the major newspapers of the day pursue this story of fraud and political corruption either, even though they had the first opportunity to carry the stories. The big dailies finally started covering it, but only as a secondary story after it got its start in the presses of the little town of Pecos, Texas.
The credit for exposing the details of this sordid affair was due to the perseverance of a local dentist, Dr. John Dunn. Dr. Dunn had acquired some of the security agreements and began printing details of the loans, allegedly including one by Johnson himself. Dr. Dunn had appealed to numerous law enforcement agencies to take up Marshall’s investigation, and after providing his analysis of Estes’s massive frauds to congressmen, senators, and major newspapers, he could find no other way to bring public attention to the scandal, so he bought his own newspaper. The Pecos Independent and Enterprise was only a biweekly local newspaper, but he published three articles in it to expose the truth about the sanctimonious local legend, Billie Sol Estes, who claimed that he “never took a drink, smoked, or cursed.”
A single cataclysmic event led to the downfall of Billie Sol Estes, and came closer than most people realized to bringing down at least the vice president of the United States, if not more than a few others in Congress and a variety of federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture. The cataclysmic event was the Great Pecos Texas School Board Election of 1961, as reported several months later by Time magazine:
“Estes was widely feared in Pecos because of his seeming wealth and power. But he was not widely liked. When he ran for a place on the local school board last year, he lost to a write-in candidate. That humiliating defeat led to Estes’ downfall. The local paper, the twice weekly Independent, had opposed him for the school board post. To get revenge, Estes set up a rival paper. Upshot: the Independent investigated and printed the first exposure of Billie Sol’s tank mortgage fraud.”
It took a lot of courage for Dr. Dunn to publish his stories of the massive fraud being conducted under the guise of a man previously portrayed as “the leading churchman, the financial genius and the ‘most promising’ citizen of the city of Pecos.” For his efforts to bring his fellow Texas citizens the truth of the Estes empire, he was threatened, condemned, barred from practice at the local hospital by the city council, and hounded out of town. Dr. Dunn’s articles appeared in the newspaper between February 12 and March 1, 1962, including many details of select transactions involving fifteen thousand alleged tanks for his county alone and loans totaling $34,000,000 in several Texas counties, most of it on fictitious tanks. Those articles were picked up by other larger newspapers in the area, then the statewide papers, and finally, through the wire services, they began appearing in the national press. During the remaining four weeks of March 1962, the scandal grew by the day until, within a few weeks, Billie Sol Estes, local Pecos legend, was in jail. On Friday, March 30, 1962, the Independent published with a banner headline saying “Federal Charge Jails Estes.” The article, written by Oscar Griffin, said that Estes was arrested by FBI agents at 6:00 p.m., March 29, 1962, and booked into the Reeves County Jail about 10:00 p.m. because of failure to raise a $500,000 bond.
As Dr. Dunn’s newspaper published follow-up articles after the first three, the other town newspaper, the Daily News (founded and owned by Estes with intent to destroy the Independent), began publishing articles of a generally defensive nature, backing Estes’s business practices. Among Estes’s legal defenses, as explained in a retrospective 1974 article published by the Texas Observer [HERE] was that Estes and his lawyers:
“. . . contended that financing with fictitious collateral was routine in many business dealings. Estes told one jury that everyone —his associates, his financing agencies, and even the government —’knew what it was all about’.”
An example of the defensive articles in the Daily News was one dated April 29, stating that another USDA agent, C. H. Mosley, declared that he alone, and not Agriculture Department officials in Washington, made decisions concerning grain storage by Billie Sol Estes. (Obviously the department’s new rules, described earlier, granting local officials more autonomy—which Lyndon Johnson had pushed the department to adopt—had recently been received by Mosley). He also said that no favoritism had been shown to Estes and the government had suffered no loss, and is threatened with none, on the entire grain operation. After that, the rumors, counter rumors, and unfounded gossip sent Pecos into a tailspin, with the town divided into two camps, either for or against Billie Sol Estes.
Dr. Dunn was destroyed professionally and financially through a particularly well-orchestrated and sophisticated public relations campaign designed to portray him as the wrongdoer. The organizers of the campaign against Dr. Dunn operated secretly behind the scenes and were never revealed, but the methods used were well beyond the resources and skills of Estes. There were, however, many connections to the Austin law firm of Ed Clark and his Washington benefactor, Lyndon B. Johnson.
A number of FBI agents were assigned the task of investigating Dr. Dunn, who suddenly began receiving numerous calls from Washington, inquiring specifically about the alleged connections between Estes and Johnson. As reported by J. Evetts Haley [A Texan Looks at Lyndon], “The agent in charge admits that they ‘had the green light’ from Washington, which meant from Bobby Kennedy and his brother.” As would happen again later, when the Bobby Baker case broke wide open in the summer of 1963, there were strong indications as early as May 1962 that the Kennedys were preparing to replace Johnson in 1964.
The aforementioned news articles, leading up to the major cover story previously cited in Time magazine, as well as other stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Life magazine, and untold hundreds of other major newspapers and magazines around the country, were causing too much political blowback for the Kennedys; their only problem was how to handle the delicate matter of announcing such a decision, to replace the vice president, without repercussions from Johnson and his friend Hoover.
Johnson went into hiding for the entire month, winding up at Clint Murchison’s resort and racetrack in California, along with J. Edgar Hoover. Johnson refused to take any calls from Estes, who then unsuccessfully attempted to get a loan from Jimmy Hoffa. The pyramid was in full collapse by then. It was at this point that Johnson began trying to deny any involvement with Estes, distancing himself from his close associate in a fashion similar to that he would use with Bobby Baker some eighteen months later, in the middle of his growing scandal. According to an article in The New York Times, “Vice President Johnson has told friends privately that he had never had any dealings or communications with Mr. Estes. Mr. Johnson also has said privately that he met Mr. Estes only once . . . The Vice President said he wouldn’t know Mr. Estes if he saw him again. It was learned at the Department of Agriculture that when Mr. Estes’ empire collapsed, Mr. Johnson telephoned Freeman. He is said to have told Mr. Freeman that he had never heard of Mr. Estes except on the one occasion at his home.” It is likely that Johnson believed his own words, despite the lack of any element of truth.
Intimidation of Whistle-Blowers
A midlevel manager in the Agriculture Department, N. Battle Hales, openly charged that the department had shown favoritism toward Estes; Hales had caught on to the Estes scam and was one of the—apparently very few—incorruptible staff who thought that Estes should be investigated. For his honesty and candor, he had been suddenly downgraded and shifted to other clerical work, but no one seemed to know where; before he left, he had dropped hints that his outspoken comments caused him to be shunted off to another job in the department and denied further access to the Estes files. Hales’s treatment by Agriculture Department officials led to one of the most unseemly and outrageous assaults on a worker by a federal agency in the annals of human resource management.
In April 1962, a government secretary, Ms. Mary Kimbrough Jones, an employee at the USDA for eleven years, insisted on finding her superior N. Battle Hales and demanded to talk to him; soon, a “doctor” showed up and blocked her exit and shortly had her dragged off to the DC General Hospital as a mental patient. There, she was stripped of her clothing and given only a pajama top, then, according to the previously-noted author J. Evetts Haley, she was:
“left hungry and alone in a room ‘with just a mattress on the floor and possibly a sheet’ . . . Later, in defense, attendants said that ‘there was no misuse of Mary in any way. But when they shut her up they said she ‘became hysterical,’ and when one Dr. Lee Buchanan, ‘of the department’s health unit,’ was sent to check on her, he reported that ‘she screamed and yelled; [and] that he could not deal with her rationally.’ After such a ‘rational’ approach? She was then determined to be ‘a very sick girl, in need of treatment for mental disease’ and hence ‘dangerous to herself and others because of her mental condition.’”
Hales’s real crime was that he was a committed Kennedy supporter, determined to help Bobby Kennedy clean up America; it soon became apparent that Lyndon Johnson did not like government workers whom he could not count on to do his bidding over either of the Kennedys. Hales’s career was effectively over as soon as Lyndon Johnson determined that he had chosen the wrong side.
Senator John J. Williams of Delaware—who was, as legend had it, “the conscience of the Senate”—found out about the plight of Ms. Jones and protested that she was railroaded to a mental institution because she knew too much about the Estes case; he charged that she was ‘guilty of nothing other than refusing to cooperate in covering up the corruption . . .’ and that Dr. Buchanan had ‘arbitrarily ordered’ her committed to a ‘mental institution.’” Her own doctor said that “he had at no time ever detected anything which would even raise the slightest question as to Miss Jones’ sanity.”
This was not the only time we will encounter the use of such tyrannical methods to control people who would not accede to Lyndon Johnson. The depth of his troubles no doubt caused Johnson extreme frustration, and it is likely that it was during this time, with these key participants, that Johnson’s resolve to proceed with his plan was firmed and the specific actions began taking shape.
It was reported in June 1962, after an assistant state attorney general had obtained the telephone company records, that many calls had been made from Billie Sol Estes’s telephones to Lyndon Johnson and/or Cliff Carter during March 1961: “Three calls had been made to Cliff Carter . . . He indicated one call had gone to an unlisted number in Washington . . . One call had been placed from an Estes telephone March 28 to a ‘Mr. Carter’ at Arlington, VA . . . Mr. Estes had talked six minutes to ‘Mr. Carter.’ . . . Two calls had been made from Mr. Estes’ telephones in Pecos to Henry Marshall.” Johnson had obviously trained his aide to obfuscate, as evidenced by his statement in that report: “Clifton C. Carter, a staff assistant to Vice President Johnson, said today he had received two or three telephone calls from Billie Sol Estes earlier this year, including one the day before Mr. Estes was arrested. ‘I told him I knew nothing about it.’ Mr. Carter said.
Carter said Mr. Estes had asked him to call back if he found out anything. ‘But I did not call back,’ Mr. Carter said. ‘I have no unlisted phone and I have never had one. My phone has always been listed in the Washington directory since I’ve been here.’”
What he did not say was that his boss, Lyndon Johnson, did have an unlisted telephone number.
In the meantime, Estes struggled to contain the damage, meeting with the chief executives of the companies that were involved in his deals—Commercial Solvents, Walter E. Heller and Company of Chicago, and Pacific Finance, during the latter part of March. On Thursday, March 29, 1962, Estes and three associates were charged with fraud. During the next few weeks, as Estes scrambled to put a defensive plan together with his lawyers, the extreme reactions of his mentor became more and more obvious to him. First, his chief accountant was interviewed by the FBI a few days after this, on April 2; he was then immediately killed, and his body found two days later.
There were many panicked calls between Washington DC, and Austin and Pecos, Texas, in the next few weeks as Estes, Clark, and Johnson grappled with the now-explosive scandal that threatened to bring down the vice president, who was now being closely watched by John and Robert Kennedy. Any effort of Johnson’s to see his friend and collaborator Billie Sol directly would only hasten the implosion, so he needed some alternate way to personally visit with his unscrupulous business associate and regain control of a volatile situation. In fact, Johnson was stuck in Washington and being monitored by his nemesis, Bobby Kennedy, who Johnson imagined was somehow behind the whole crumbling affair. Fortune smiled on Lyndon shortly thereafter, when one of his friends, Mayor Tom Miller of Austin, died.
On April 30, 1962, Vice President Johnson flew down to Austin for the funeral in a military jet. But before returning to Washington, the jet was ordered to be flown on a side trip to Midland, Texas, where it was parked away from the terminal and closely guarded by the Secret Service. Johnson never left the plane, but two men were escorted to it and stayed for one hour before the airplane took off again for Dallas, where, unfortunately for Lyndon, it made the news because the aircraft skidded off the runway on its landing, causing the hapless Johnson to have to return to Washington by commercial flight. When reporters tried to get the Midland airport records of the stopover, they were told that the records of that day’s flights had been sealed by government order.
The two men surreptitiously visiting Johnson’s airplane that evening were Billie Sol Estes and one of his lawyers. There was, of course, no record made of the discussions between Johnson and Estes at this secret meeting, but it is safe to assume that Johnson would have been anxious to assure that his friend Billie Sol would keep his mouth shut and make sure that Johnson’s name would be kept out of the growing scandal. The facts of the overall situation at this time suggest that the discussion might have touched on the following:
• The need for Estes to keep quiet. His refusal to talk about any of his activities, in fact, caused the investigations to practically come to a halt. Billie Sol Estes later claimed that Johnson had promised him that “if I wouldn’t talk, I would not go to jail.” Given their mutual secrets, Estes had to consider also that his own life could be endangered if he crossed Johnson.
• Getting Estes a good lawyer. Lyndon Johnson’s special criminal lawyer, John Cofer, who had represented him in the election fraud scandal in 1948, and who had gotten his hit man, Mac Wallace, out of jail in 1952, was assigned to Estes. Cofer was an attorney employed by Ed Clark’s law firm in Austin, who was, behind the scenes, managing the entire defense effort on behalf of Lyndon Johnson, including the PR campaign aimed at discrediting Dr. Dunn. It was undoubtedly John Cofer who met with Johnson and Estes on the airplane in Midland.
• Keeping his closest associates silent as well. One of them had already been eliminated, just four weeks previous to this meeting. George Krutilek had been murdered immediately after talking to the FBI on April 2, 1962, and others would follow, partly for the purpose of simply reminding Estes of the need to keep quiet. Krutilek had been Estes’s chief accountant, the one man besides Estes who could have unraveled the immense fraud that had developed over several years. The body of George Krutilek was proof enough to Estes that Johnson was serious, and if he fell out of line, the same fate would await him.
By May 1962, the pressure on Estes had continued mounting, but he continued to resist talking about any of it. Although he thought that his connections and his lawyer would get him an acquittal, Johnson, Clark, and Cofer knew they could not let that happen because the gregarious Billie Sol might then lose his incentive not to talk, and of course, he knew way too
much to risk that. If he were convicted and spent at least a few years in prison, he would not only learn how not to talk, but, as a convict, his word would also lack the credibility that would otherwise be the case in the future.
At least that was the plan, and, until now, it worked exactly as they had expected it would. But, thanks to Texas Ranger / U.S. Marshal Clint Peoples, whose legendary integrity and belief in the veracity of Billie Sol’s testimony—against the lies and deceit of Lyndon Johnson and his acolytes—now forms the foundation upon which Billie Sol Estes’s true character will be vindicated within this three-part series.
How LBJ Sycophant Barefoot Sanders Teamed Up with the lead FBI agent to sabotage the 1962 Grand Jury, Successfully Keeping the Absurd “Suicide” C.O.D. in Effect for 24 Years
Those who knew of Henry Marshall’s involvement in investigating the cotton allotment and fertilizer tank scams being run by Billie Sol Estes suspected a connection between his dogged determination to solve those crimes and his untimely death. Although that very “hot” connection should have been obvious to anyone investigating—or merely reading about—Marshall’s death, the FBI’s chief on-scene investigator of it falsely claimed that there was no indication that they even knew of each other’s existence, as documented in the second newspaper article shown below. That agent, named Tommy McWilliams, was apparently a friend of LBJ-sycophant / U.S. Attorney Barefoot Sanders.
In a United Press International (UPI) article that appeared in newspapers across the nation on June 18, 1962, the lead paragraph stated, “FBI agent Thomas McWilliams, accompanied by U. S. Atty. Barefoot Sanders told a Texas grand jury today what the FBI knows about the death of agriculture agent Henry H. Marshall . . . McWilliams, from Waco, Tex., and Sanders, from Dallas, spent nearly two hours before the jury.”
Regarding Sanders’s presence there, however, it was what was not reported in that story—that he was actually put there to work secretly, in the back rooms of the courthouse, to censor everything presented to the grand jury—that was far more important than whatever he testified about, which was also not fully reported. It was Sanders who first tried to quash Marshall’s report completely, and when that was denied he reduced the 175 page report on Estes’s business dealings to 22 pages, carefully deleting anything related to his communications with Johnson (though he did obtain Robert Kennedy’s approval for that, were it not for the need to save the administration from embarrassment because of Johnson’s criminal actions, RFK would most certainly not have approved it). That point was described in a major 1986 article by Bill Adler in The Texas Observer (linked below) as:
It was Sanders who filed the court motion to quash the grand jury’s subpoena, stating: “The public interest would not be served by production of a document concerned with matters not pertinent to the purpose of the jury.” [Texas Attorney General Will] Wilson, as might be expected, had a different opinion. He said the federal government should be eager to bring before the jury every shred of evidence that might throw light on Marshall’s death. “But we are in a situation where we have to drag from them the report of his activities as if we were pulling teeth.”
Within a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article dated June 6, 1962 (below), two major points reveal how Johnson, through J. Edgar Hoover, clearly attempted to take over the entire investigation of the Henry Marshall murder.
(NOTE: To increase the size of the type on this article, “right-click” on the image and select “open in another tab” then go to that tab — clicking the cursor will allow increase type, for more adjustment, hit the “Ctrl” and “+” keys to increase the size (or the “-” key to decrease).
First, it is reported that “at least 20 FBI agents” were sent to Robertson County—an obvious attempt to intimidate the local police (sheriff and deputies) and diminish their authority compared to the more aggressively arrogant “Feds.” That becomes even more clear when we see how the lead FBI agent, Tommy McWilliams, responded to Ranger Clint Peoples’ question about why he took Marshall’s hat without informing Peoples: “Oh, dadgum, I forgot about that. It just slipped my mind.”
Though Peoples did not say as much, the arrogance and conceit of McWilliams (“Mr. G-man” from HQ) is quite clear. Considering how Hoover and his team routinely functioned, it can be presumed that, in appointing McWilliams to head up the 20-some agents, Hoover would assign that duty to the one whom he considered to be the most imperious of the lot.
But it wasn’t only the investigation Johnson wanted to take over. The conduct of the entire grand jury deliberation was also subverted, unbeknownst to Ranger Peoples, who had aggressively pursued it, but had not realized until it was over that his nemesis, then-U.S. Attorney Barefoot Sanders had crossed jurisdictional lines—indubitably as ordered by Johnson—for that very purpose. He took over the process from the “back rooms” to censor what evidence the jury would see as noted in the excerpt below, from LBJ: From Mastermind to The Colossus.
In a May 30, 1962, news article written by Thomas Turner in the Dallas Morning News, titled “US Yields to State On Estes File Fuss”, it was reported that:
“Federal Dist. Atty. Barefoot Sanders of Dallas . . . had given the jury investigating the strange death of USDA official Henry Marshall a 22-page “excerpt” of the Estes file. Sanders said the remainder of the 175-page report had nothing to do with Marshall’s death and would not be disclosed to the grand jury. Despite the fact that the grand jury wanted to see the entire file, Sanders refused to allow that, knowing that it would reveal the Estes-Johnson connection. That is why he finally agreed to let only the judge have access to it, while he undoubtedly coached, or otherwise persuaded him not to let anything in those other 153 pages be revealed lest the “innocent” LBJ be injured because of his association with Estes, even though the grand jury was sworn to maintain secrecy regarding that evidence. But even before he finally allowed the judge (but not the jury) to see the remaining eighty-seven percent of the file, he had another lawyer, Robert J. Rosthal, who had accompanied Sanders to assist him with the deception, issue a verbal assault on Texas Attorney General Will Wilson in an obvious attempt to intimidate him and force him to back down. According to this newspaper article, Rosthal’s words were: “I wouldn’t want to characterize my opinion of your attorney general right now. I don’t believe any grand jury ever got anywhere trying cases in the headlines. Some officials here don’t believe in the secrecy of a grand jury, something I’ve been brought up to believe.”
Clearly, Mr. Rosthal was merely parroting the taunts and hyperbole of Mr. Sanders, who was himself following the marching orders issued to him by his mentor Lyndon Johnson, then the Vice President of the United States. To publicly accuse the Attorney General of Texas of advocating or condoning such a brazenly illegal practice in advance of his even having had a chance to do so, says more about the bullying tactics of the Johnson / Sanders / Rosthal juggernaut than it does about the head of the Texas judicial system’s aptitudes (who was obviously not a man Johnson viewed as being in his camp).
In the second (1984) article (below), Agent McWilliams’s audacity and arrogance show through again, as when he deceitfully stated that “his investigation found no link between Estes and [Henry Marshall],” which in fact was the very reason that Marshall’s lengthy investigative report on Estes’s business practices had been written (and which his friend Barefoot Sanders severely censored) and which had been subpoenaed by the jury. For that rather contemptable remark, were it made under oath, the judge should have held him in contempt of court.
Furthermore, he attempted to denigrate the new grand jury’s findings by claiming that the fully sabotaged 1962 grand jury “was much more in the know.” Not satisfied that he had adequately assailed the latest verdict, he attempted to belittle the heroic efforts of U.S. Marshall Clint Peoples: “he didn’t know what was going on,” and then insolently asserted that being shot by a .22 caliber bullet would be comparable to “the prick of an ice pick.” And as if that weren’t enough “malarky” (to borrow his own risible phrase) McWilliams then opined that Marshall “aimed the gun toward his heart and shot himself five times . . . [and when he] didn’t realize that he had fatally wounded himself, he tried to asphyxiate himself.” One can only ponder those words and wonder if he was paid extra bonus money to posit absurdities into the official legal record.
McWilliams’ coming forth out of retirement twenty-two years later, to weigh in again with further deceptions to those he had previously injected into the process over two decades past, evokes the similar actions of Cartha “Deke” DeLoach, who came out of retirement multiple times to defend the indefensible treacheries that he, Hoover, Tolson, Sullivan and assorted others at the top of the FBI had committed in their “glory years.” In both cases, their real purpose was to erect more barricades for anyone seeking actual truths. And that suggests such tactics were “standard operating procedure” taught to select agents at the FBI Academy.
(NOTE: To increase the size of the type on this article, “right-click” on the image and select “open in another tab” then go to that tab — clicking the cursor will allow increase type, for more adjustment, hit the “Ctrl” and “+” keys to increase the size (or the “-” key to decrease).
Billie Sol’s Actions to Leverage LBJ’s Authority
Meanwhile, Billie Sol had indiscreetly (perhaps “brazenly” may be more appropriate) had begun using Marshall’s death as a not-so-subtle threat to other employees of the USDA. Wilson C. Tucker, deputy director of the Agriculture Department’s cotton division, said that Estes threatened to “embarrass the Kennedy administration if the investigation were not halted.” Tucker went on to testify, “Estes stated that this pooled cotton allotment matter had caused the death of one person and then asked me if I knew Henry Marshall.”
As Wilson Tucker pointed out, this was six months before questions about Marshall’s death had been raised publicly. There were many other reports of Estes also using his connection with Lyndon Johnson as leverage against uncooperative people, two of which were reported in newspapers of the day:
• Robert E. Manuel, minority (Republican) counsel to the House subcommittee investigating the Estes matter, grew impatient with the cover-up being done and “leaked” a USDA report detailing the fraud. He also revealed that Estes had pressured a department employee, Carl J. Miller, by “invoking the names and influence of Lyndon B. Johnson and the late Sam Rayburn.” Manuel’s “whistle-blower” reward for advancing a measure of truth into the House deliberations was being fired immediately afterward.
• One of Estes’s creditors, Frank Cain of Pacific Finance, swore under oath that when he told Estes that the FBI was investigating him, Estes retorted, “I can stop all that. I will get Lyndon Johnson on the phone,” and that night Estes added, “I’ve got that investigation stopped.”
It was reported that the medical examiner had “firmly believed it was not suicide, but for some reason was reluctant to pronounce it murder.” Chief Medical Examiner Joseph A. Jachimczyk, in a summation of his findings, sent a four-page letter to Judge John Barron dated August 17, 1962. It was written as a response to a series of impertinent questions raised by a juror named Pryse Metcalf—Sheriff Stegall’s son-in-law, one of several he hand-picked. The only thing his letter proved was that Metcalf’s objective was to inject even more inanities into the mix in an effort to bury the truth about Marshall’s obvious murder. Jachimczyk stated that:
“…many of the points in Mr. Metcalf’s letter are purely speculative and based upon circumstantial evidence. Reiterating my initial report of May 22, 1962, based upon reasonable medical probability, this is a homicide; based upon beyond a reasonable doubt certitude, this is a possible suicide. In view of the additional information gleaned from these reports, I agree whole heartedly that the investigation in this case should continue as a “Murder Case.”
Jachimczyk’s attempt to “clarify” his opinion that weighed heavily towards “homicide”—and against suicide—backfired on him, giving the judge sufficient room to wriggle through the tight opening and delay justice for Henry Marshall and his family. Through that single sliver of equivocation, Judge Barron, the 1962 grand jury judge, ultimately decided to make no change to the preposterous finding of “suicide.”
Barefoot Sanders undoubtedly had much to do with that result—undoubtedly spending much time and effort persuading Judge Barron to exercise his “benefit of the doubt” choice—and for that he had earned a position high in his mentor’s stable of sycophants. Sanders would henceforth become invaluable to Johnson during many other key parts of his manic climb up the political ladder, beginning with a role JFK’s assassination, censoring evidence submitted to the Warren Commission and, in October, 1966, conducting what amounted to a “shell game” of culling autopsy evidence (e.g. removing JFK’s brain) or substituting materials to be submitted to the National Archives, all of which is described in my book LBJ: From Mastermind to The Colossus.
How John and Robert Kennedy Entered the Fray
The murder of Henry Marshall and the ensuing ten months cover-up leading to the formation of a grand jury began benignly but grew to become a thorn in the sides of Estes and Johnson, finally spreading beyond the Vice President’s suite in the Executive Office Building.
By May and June, 1962, it was the topic de jure in the Attorney General’s office at the Department of Justice and in the Oval Office within the White House, and had spread further, to numerous offices at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, in Congress. But the biggest reverberation was felt at 1400 Independence Avenue, in the Department of Agriculture.
In a major 12-page retrospective article published November 7, 1986 by Bill Adler in THE TEXAS OBSERVER (see HERE), some of that Washington blowback was described:
In WASHINGTON, the House Inter-governmental Relations subcommittee was holding hearings on Billie Sol’s cotton allotments. Among those testifying was Carl J. Miller, the Agriculture Department official responsible for allowing the Estes grain storage bond to remain at $700,000 instead of raising it to $1 million. Miller said he’d been visited by Estes, who mentioned names of the politically powerful to whom he was connected. [ . . .]
On June 1,  the Dallas News reported in a copyrighted story that “President Kennedy has taken a personal interest in the mysterious death of Henry Marshall.” As a result, the story said, Bobby Kennedy “has ordered the FBI to step up its investigation of the case.”
What went unreported was just -how personal an interest the Kennedys took in the case. Rarely an evening passed during the eleven days the grand jury was in session (over a five-week period) that Bobby Kennedy failed to telephone Judge Barron for details of the day’s testimony. Some-times he called twice, Barron told the Observer. “I talked to John Kennedy one time and I talked to Robert Kennedy 10 or 12 times. He [Bobby] would just ask questions — how we were getting along, what we’d found, things like that.”
Barron said he also heard from the vice president’s office during the proceedings. “Lyndon got into it, took a great interest in it. Cliff Carter [Johnson’s political handyman in Texas] wired down and called me about it two or three times. He said Johnson wanted `a complete investigation made.’ He put on a good act,” Barron said. (Emphasis added by author).
Given the obvious embarrassment of the Kennedys to the scandal of 1962, along with the earlier “TFX” opprobrium, and what would follow in 1963 related to Bobby Baker’s name and face—all reminding them of Johnson’s continuing disreputable behavior—there can be little doubt that JFK and his brother had become disappointed enough with their Vice Presidential pick to be planning to replace him the following year, though for obvious reasons they could not say anything on the public record about that until the deed was done.
The known record, as described within my LBJ Mastermind book is that Robert Kennedy was feeding the ultimate in “insider” information to the editors of LIFE magazine to prepare a major expose’ for publication. James Wagenvoord—in 1963 as a 27 year-old assistant to the senior editor—made this statement in November, 2009:
Beginning in late summer 1963 [Life] magazine, based upon information fed from Bobby Kennedy and the Justice Department, had been developing a major newsbreak piece concerning Johnson and Bobby Baker. On publication Johnson would have been finished and off the ’64 ticket ([the] reason the material was fed to us) and would probably have been facing prison time. At the time Life magazine was arguably the most important general news source in the United States. The top management of Time, Inc. was closely allied with the USA’s various intelligence agencies and we were used . . . by the Kennedy Justice Department as a conduit to the public . . . The LBJ/Baker piece was in the final editing stages and was scheduled to break in the issue of the magazine due out the week of November 24 (most likely one of the next scheduled editions, November 29th or December 6th, distributed four or five days earlier than those dates). It had been prepared in relative secrecy by a small special editorial team. On Kennedy’s death, research files and all numbered copies of the nearly print-ready draft were gathered up by my boss (he had been the top editor on the team) and shredded. (Emphasis added by author).
How Johnson’s Exercise of Power in 1962 Saved His Career – Long Enough to Cement it on November 22, 1963 and Stay Out of Prison for the Rest of His Life
The layers of redundancy in Johnson’s control of Henry Marshall’s murder “investigation”—through injecting 20 FBI agents to usurp Texas Ranger Clint Peoples’ control after the original Sheriff’s incompetent handling of the crime scene in 1961, followed by the sabotaged 1962 grand jury trial consisting of a fixed jury, a corrupted sheriff, a compromised prosecutor and an interloping, cross-jurisdictional, secretive federal judge—in order to sustain the absurd finding of “suicide” that everyone involved had to have known was grossly erroneous, illustrates just how high a priority Johnson had assigned to that mission. The fact that he pulled it off, and extended the preposterous coroner’s finding by 23 more years defies any reasonable standard definition of “due process.”
Giving the devil his due, Lyndon Johnson must have considered it as—by then, yet not for long—the greatest feat of his career, for it meant the difference in attaining his life-long goal vs. certain imprisonment: It was the difference that opened the way for what he believed to be the fulfillment of his destiny, and, with it, beating his grandmother’s prognostication about his eventual fate: “That boy is going to wind up in the penitentiary—just mark my words.”
His grandma’s prediction must have helped drive Lyndon’s mania to heights—unimaginable to anyone else—to succeed despite her doubts.
END NOTES (All assertions within this essay, not otherwise noted, were taken from my previous books as noted above, where they have been appropriately cited):
 Ganzel, Bill, The Ganzel Group. “Farming in the 1950s & 60s” https://livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe50s/money_05.html
 FINALLY, over a year after the 1984 jury verdict, Henry Marshall’s death was properly classified as “Homocide” on October 25, 1985
 The original call of “suicide” was probably thanks, in part, to the assistance of Johnson’s aides Cliff Carter [friend of Sheriff Stegall] and Glynn Stegall [cousin of Sheriff Howard Stegall].
5 thoughts on “Billie Sol Estes: A Sordid History Atoned: “Sol” Finally Vindicated — PART 2”
Good read. Here in Texas, LBJ is considered a criminal and is not well liked. He was part of the old and lethal political machine that ran Texas. Sol Estes was also a crook, not a hero as some say. Our state has a lot to account for.
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Thanks for your comments. Please look for the third part of this three-part series. If you don’t completely change your mind about Billie Sol, I think you’ll at least have a new perspective of him after reading it, and listening to some audio clips from his funeral. They will include eulogies of some people who knew him and loved him for the positive things he did, including many Blacks and Mexicans at a time when “integration” was not appreciated by may “Whites”. If nothing else, everyone will see a completely different person than ever reported in the press, concurrently with all the “bad stuff” that was reported.
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Thanks, I will enjoy the third series. Billy Sol lived down the street from me and I didn’t know it for the longest time. I lived in DeCordova Bend Estates in Granbury Texas for 7 years, as he did. A friend of ours purchased his duplex after he passed. I have his memoir but it’s packed in a box somewhere. Now I will dig around and read it.
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