Authorities say an explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco, …
This July 10, 2012 photo shows the former residence of Lynn Stephen, a bootlegger during the prohibition era in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Nick de la Torre)
Authorities say an explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco, …
Authorities stormed an underground bunker Monday in …
Three women AIDS activists saying they wanted to highlight the …
Several businesses in the Central Texas town of Waco are …
A soldier from Missouri died in Texas after gunfire blamed on a…
Updated: Saturday, 04 Aug 2012, 1:56 PM EDT
Published : Saturday, 04 Aug 2012, 1:56 PM EDT
BUDA, Texas (AP) — Deep in the heart of Texas lurks larceny.
By 1926, workers at Buda's twice-robbed Farmers National Bank should have been wise enough to be wary. But Becky Rogers, the coquettish newspaper reporter with a lopsided grin, could charm the eagle off a silver dollar. She grilled the men about the cotton business and made them feel like the brainiest guys in town.
Rogers, though, was no newshound. She was just a University of Texas student-cum-bank robber out to pay her off her education. The "interview" ended with a pointed pistol, the theft of nearly $1,000 and the two bankers locked in their own vault.
Buda, a hamlet 15 miles south of Austin, is a key stop in T. Lindsay Baker's "Gangster Tour of Texas," a 330-page Texas A&M Press travel guide to Texas mayhem.
The book highlights the exploits of Rogers, the so-called "Flapper Bandit," as well as Galveston gambling bosses Sam and Rose Maceo, San Antonio moonshine king Lynn Stephens, and even George Barnes — better known to Depression-era Americans as "Machine Gun Kelly."
Train robbers, dope dealers and a rogue doctor who beefed up clients' sagging libidos with goat-gland implants round out the lot, along with crime summaries, maps and tips for further reading.
"I grew up hearing those stories," said Baker, a Texas history professor at Stephenville's Tarleton State University. "One of my father's uncles supposedly shaved Machine Gun Kelly. ... There were all manner of stories about Bonnie and Clyde. It's difficult to determine if the stories are true, but people definitely believed them."
Barnes, who changed his name to "George Kelly" as he gained notoriety as a bootlegger and bank robber, is best known for the kidnapping of oil tycoon Charles Urschel, a crime that brought the thug to Paradise, a tiny North Texas farm town.
Urschel was abducted at gunpoint from his Oklahoma City home on July 23, 1933, and taken to the Wise County farm owned by the gangster's father-in-law. He was freed in exchange for $200,000 in used $20 bills.
Though he had been blindfolded, Urschel provided authorities with important clues, including the taste of the water at the hideout, the variety of animals on the farm and the fact that an airplane flew over the site at specific hours. Agents located the farm, where they found Urshel's fingerprints, which he had deliberately planted throughout the building.
Barnes was arrested in Memphis, Tenn., on Sept. 26, 1933, and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 1954.
"These crimes were absolutely tawdry," Baker said. "It's the passage of time that has given them an appealing aura."
Among the bloodiest was the case of Lynn Stephens, a San Antonio liquor retailer-turned-prohibition bootlegger. By summer 1929, federal agents were closing in.
On Sept. 24, they raided a distillery hidden in the brush near Pleasanton, capturing two gang members. Worried the prisoners would talk, the bootlegger plotted an ambush. That night, federal agents leaving the raid site were surprised to find cars parked on a bridge on the narrow road leading to San Antonio. As they slowed, Stephens, hidden in the bushes with his gang, leaped onto the car carrying the lead agent and two arrested men and opened fire.
One agent and a bootlegger died in the battle.
The next day, agents raided Stephens' home. The bootlegger had fled, but they found the house filled with booze. As they emptied the illicit alcohol, a spark ignited a fire.
Ruben Lara, today's occupant of the restored, two-story, limestone house, said he had puzzled over burned rafters in the attic. "I thought maybe it had been something electrical," the architectural intern said. "I knew nothing of its history ... but I love it."
Stephens never was apprehended, but in 1949, the former bootlegger, broke and sick, returned to surrender. He was tried for the agent's murder, convicted and sentenced to 38 years in prison.
Closer to home, Baker examines the Maceos' booze-and-gambling mecca that flourished in Galveston for more than five decades.
Starting out as bootleggers, brothers Sam and Rose Maceo ran a series of island city nightclubs that featured gambling and top-tier entertainment. The empire's decline began in the early 1950s with the birth of Las Vegas casinos and the Maceos' deaths. Police raids in 1957, resulting in injunctions but no convictions, finished it off.
Baker directs tourists to the Hotel Galvez, where Sam Maceo worked as a barber, and the seawall site of the Balinese Room, later destroyed by Hurricane Ike.
Secretly married to a UT law student, Becky Rogers led a fairly routine life as a history student until her newly unemployed mother moved in with her. Faced with increased expenses — she was pursuing a master's degree — Rogers stepped up her part-time job. Her jumbled bookkeeping practices, which likely brought her illicit cash, cost her the position.
Inspired by a rash of highly publicized bank robberies, Rogers posed as a newspaper reporter to scope out targets in Round Rock,
north of Austin. Torching a vacant house as a diversion, she ran to the bank to raise the alarm, but the employees and customers did not budge.
Then, on Dec. 11, 1926, Rogers turned her attention to Buda, again posing as a reporter working on a story about cotton prices.
"She was beautiful and they were taken with her beauty," Buda town historian Mary Giberson said. "They would have given her anything. She asked them if she could use their typewriter, then she said, 'Stick 'em up!'?"
Fleeing, her car became mired in a mud hole until a farmer pulled it out. Back in Austin, she mailed her pistol and the cash to a post office box, then went to have her car cleaned. Police spotted it and arrested her.
Rogers' arson trial ended in a hung jury. Then she was convicted of robbery and sentenced to 14 years. An appeal by her attorney husband resulted in a reversal, but left open the door for renewed prosecution.
The second robbery trial ended when an impartial jury could not be seated; the third in another split jury. Authorities then dropped all charges.
"I have a lot to live down," Rogers later observed, "but not as much as those men back there who let a little girl hold them up with an empty gun."
She died in 1950.
The Buda bank closed shortly after the robbery. Today an antique shop occupies the building.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com
Comments WLFI.com is migrating to a more stable commenting system called DISQUS. This system is used by CNN, TIME, FOX News, numerous blogging sites and has over 75 Million registered users. Unfortunately we can't migrate our current user accounts to this new system.
To sign up for a DISQUS account, click the DISQUS button just below and to the right and then click Login.
DISQUS lets you login with several different options, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo or OpenID. We expect it to allow more conversation and better moderation. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below.