Thursday, January 9, 2020

When walking with Mrs. Fitzpatrick after 9 p.m. could get you arrested

In Stephenville, Texas, in the late 1890s, any man seen walking with Mrs. Mary Fitzpatrick after 9 p.m. could be arrested and fined. Why? Because city penal code made it a misdemeanor for any male over 14 caught strolling the streets or riding in a vehicle with a known prostitute. Mrs. Fitzpatrick was one such character.

In December 1896, six men were arrested for taking night-time strolls with the strumpet.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Lifetime's "The Night Stalker" based on true-crime bestseller

Eddie Ramos and Lou Diamond Phillips 
both play killer Richard Ramirez in The 

Night Stalker, Lifetime's movie version of 

Phillip Caro's bestseller of the same name.
(Photo: copyright 2016 Michael Clifford)
   The Night Stalker, premiering on Lifetime at 8 p.m. (CT), Sunday (June 12), stars Lou Diamond Phillips as Richard Ramirez, the serial killer who terrorized Los Angeles in the mid-1980s. This “real-life” story is not a remake of Nightstalker, the 2002 flick inspired by Ramirez’s crime spree.

  Lifetime’s Night Stalker, based on Phillip Carlo’s bestseller of the same name, opens in June 2013 with a lawyer named Kit (Bellamy Young) visiting Ramirez in San Quintin where he’s been imprisoned for two decades. As Kit leaves the prison, she sees other women are waiting to visit with the convicted killer, too. But she’s not there as one of his fans. Kit meets with the Night Stalker to get a confession; she’s been hired to clear another convict who she believes is serving time for murders committed by Ramirez. 
  Flashbacks retrace Ramirez’s steps in becoming the Night Stalker, but they also reveal disturbing memories from Kit’s past. “You affected my whole life,” she tells him, explaining how their lives paralleled nearly 30 years earlier. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Violent Life and Death of Samantha Olds

    Halloween 2015 marks the 165th birthday of Samantha Olds, one of the victims of an axe-wielding frenzy at a dilapidated Texas farmhouse in 1925.

    Violence had a strange, lifelong grip on her.
    Beautiful and vivacious, Samantha had a penchant for dangerous men, and they were equally drawn to her. Her teenage marriage to Amos Smith ended when he was gunned down in a hit orchestrated by a couple of his gambling partners in Iredell, Texas, in 1875. One of the men, according to The Austin Statesman, “was exceedingly intimate with Smith’s wife.” However, Samantha was never implicated in the crime, whereas the two gamblers and their triggerman were lynched. While awaiting execution, one of the men reportedly said, “This will make seven men who have been killed in quarrels about Mrs. Smith.”
    Soon Amos Smith’s widow was on the prowl for a new husband. She found Bill Olds, who was later arrested for theft, forgery, and murder. The daughters from the first marriage despised Olds for mistreating their mother. Samantha, however, used a gun to keep her husband at bay. She finally abandoned him in Iredell and moved to Waco with family members. “That old lady could shoot better than any man I know,” recalled a longtime Wacoan. “She lived down by the wagon yards and used to shoot up the place right regular—just for the hell of it.”
    Samantha’s legacy as a beacon of brutality passed to her daughter by Bill Olds, Maggie, who was twice widowed with the murders of her second and fourth husbands. Her choice for a fifth husband, F. M. Snow, led to the 1925 gruesome tragedy. She married the woodchopper shortly after the family moved to Erath County from Waco. Samantha’s new son-in-law, whom she called a “no-account,” was a violent ex-convict. Weeks after this unholy union, Samantha, Maggie, and Maggie’s son were butchered by Snow in an uncontrollable fit of rage. 
    No pictures are known to exist of Samantha or Maggie. Curiously, photographs of the fireplace where Snow burned her body show what some say is a woman’s face outlined on the chimney’s bricks.


Monday, July 13, 2015


That's the name of Bill O'Neal's upcoming presentation at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. We'll be there!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lizzie Borden Brings Her Hatchet to TV

One of America’s most infamous unsolved murders will unfold in Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, premiering on Lifetime, January 25 (8 p.m., ET). Golden Globe® and Emmy® Award nominee Christina Ricci takes on the title role, while Stephen McHattie and Sara Botsford portray her father and stepmother. Screen Actors Guild Award® winner Clea DuVall plays older sister Emma. The 2014 movie, however, is not a remake of The Legend of Lizzie Borden, the 1975 made-for-TV movie starring Bewitched actress Elizabeth Montgomery.
On a hot August day in 1892, wealthy Andrew Borden and his wife, Abby, were the victims of a hatching-swinging killer in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. Borden’s daughter Lizzie, an unmarried Sunday school teacher, was charged with committing the double homicide, but at the sensational trial that followed, the accused murderess was found not guilty. The gruesome story, a crime writer’s dream come true, has spawned countless books, many with different perspectives and theories which set out to prove or disprove Lizzie’s guilt.
Lizzie Borden Took an Ax ­captures the tension and resentment in the Borden household, but viewers can expect the movie will take creative license with the facts. Five-foot-three Abby Borden was “very well nourished and very fleshy,” at least according to the autopsy. That hardly describes Sara Botsford, the outstanding yet oft-overlooked Canadian actress who portrays Lizzie’s stepmother.
Christina Ricci had already turned 33 when it was announced she would play Lizzie Borden, making her closer in age to her character than Elizabeth Montgomery, who was 41 when she depicted the 32-year-old accused murderess. Although it’s hard to imagine the 2014 movie—or any other incarnation—eclipsing The Legend of Lizzie Borden, Lifetime’s Lizzie Borden Took an Ax sports a fine cast and a script from Mod Squad screenwriter Stephen Kay. 

Christina Ricci stars in Lifetime's fact-based movie, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax
(Photo Courtesy of Lifetime. Copyright 2014)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A review of "Sins of the Pioneers"

Bob Alexander’s latest book, Riding Lucifer’s Line: Ranger Deaths Along the Texas-Mexico Border, includes a review of my second true-crime volume, Sins of the Pioneers: Crimes & Scandals in a Small Texas Town. Alexander wrote:
“Author Pylant creates an enlightening portrait of the routine and not-so-routine criminality and scandals, surgically exposing the underbelly of Stephenville's raunchy and racy and sometimes perilous past.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pistols, Petticoats, and Poker

     I first read about Lottie Deno in the pages of a Texas history book, Ida Lasater Huckabay’s Ninety-Four Years in Jack County, 1854-1948 (privately published by the author in 1948). Lottie Deno, Huckabay explained, was one of the most successful gamblers at Fort Griffin during the Old West days of Lone Star State. Lottie, whose real name was unknown, was also regarded as strange and very reserved. Somewhere along the way she earned the nickname Mystic Maud. 
     Jan Devereaux, recipient of awards from both the Western Outlaw-Lawmen History Association and the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History Association, carefully backtracked the legendary Lottie Deno’s life, sifting through the folklore until she could reconstruct a true portrait of the lady gambler. Even the oft-published photograph identified as being that of Lottie Deno, Ms. Devereaux learned, was actually of someone else. 
     Lottie Deno is said to have been the inspiration for the character Miss Kitty Russell, the red-headed saloon keeper portrayed by actress Amanda Blake in the long-running TV series Gunsmoke. “We never say it, but Kitty is a prostitute, pure and simple,” said Norman McDowell, the show’s creator. Jan Devereaux found evidence where Lottie Deno was charged with “keeping a disorderly house.” Like Miss Kitty, Lottie Deno was described as having dark red hair.
     In Silver City, New Mexico, in 1880, Lottie Deno, at age 35, wedded Frank Thurmond. The marriage license records giving her name as Carlotta J. Thompkins. 
     Despite these discoveries much of the colorful Old West character’s life is shrouded in mystery. Jan Devereaux’s research unfolds in a book entitled Pistols, Petticoats, & Poker: The Real Lottie Deno: No Lies or Alibis. This well-documented, 277-page volume includes more than 100 photographs. It's available from the publisher’s website,