Dallas Morning News headline, May 4, 2022/photo: Tom Fox
by Paula Bosse
Great work by BeLynn Hollers of The Dallas Morning News for getting comments from Linda Coffee — the Dallas attorney who took her case, Roe v. Wade, to the U.S. Supreme Court (along with her co-counsel, Sarah Weddington) — on the leaked Supreme Court draft decision which appears to signal the overturning of her landmark court case. The story, “Roe v. Wade Lawyer Linda Coffee Laments Potential Supreme Court Ruling to Overturn Dallas Case” (Dallas Morning News, May 4, 2022) can be found here (paywall). Below is the video interview with Coffee, posted on YouTube, here.
The previous DMN interview of Linda Coffee by BeLynn Hollers — “Dallas Lawyer Linda Coffee Launched Landmark Roe vs. Wade Abortion Rights Case with a $15 Filing Fee” (Dallas Morning News, Dec. 16, 2021) — can be found here (paywall). The video interview from that article is posted on YouTubehere.
And, from 1970, what may be Linda Coffee’s first-ever television interview about the Dallas case (which was just beginning its long trek to the Supreme Court) has recently been found in the WFAA Newsfilm Collection at SMU (G. William Jones Film & Video Collection, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University). She was, incredibly, only 27 years old. It is posted on YouTube here. (Read the YouTube notes for background info on this interview.)
On September 5, 1921 — Labor Day — Dallas inaugurated its Aerial Police Reserve, comprised of 15 auxiliary policemen-pilots who patrolled from the skies, led by Chief W. C. Rice. Newspaper stories said that it was only the second city in the United States (after New York City) to have a force of “fly cops.” (Oklahoma was probably a little miffed at this braggadocio, since they had at least a dozen such “air police” squads around the state.)
Dallas Morning News, Sept. 4, 1921
Mayor Sawnie Aldredge was a passenger in one of the “aeroplanes” which flew him around the city on that Labor Day 100 years ago, giving the relatively new mayor a birds-eye view of Dallas. Other planes performed a display of the type of aerial crime-fighting they would now be able to assist the terrestrial police with, using the wireless police communication system devised by Henry Garrett (read how that led to the origin of radio station WRR here). This was a huge step for the Dallas Police Department.
Mayor Sawnie Aldredge, in mayoral goggles
Read the coverage of the day’s events in the article below (click to see a larger image).
Aerial Age Weekly, Oct. 31, 1921
Another photo of Mayor Aldredge (sadly, sans goggles) seated in his chauffeured airship at the Labor Day air-cop exhibition at the Oak Cliff Aviation Field.
DMN, Sept. 7, 1921
Sources & Notes
Photos and articles from Aerial Age Weekly (Oct. 31, 1921), and from The Dallas Morning News.
Linda Coffee, 27 years old, on her way to the Supreme Court to make history
by Paula Bosse
UPDATE 5/4/22: See a brand-new video interview with Linda Coffee — recorded yesterday in Lakewood — in which she responds to the leaked Supreme Court draft, here. Also, the companion Dallas Morning News article (paywall) is here.
The most important woman in the abortion rights fight is someone you’ve never heard of: LINDA COFFEE, the Dallas attorney who took the local case of Roe v. Wade from Dallas all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in a successful battle to have the ban on abortion in Texas declared unconstitutional. She began the case when she was only 26 years old and less than two years out of UT Law School.
Coffee was the driving force of this landmark legal case from the very beginning but preferred to leave the limelight to her co-counsel, Sarah Weddington, who joined the team a short time after the case was underway. (Weddington, an Austin lawyer, was *also* only in her 20s!)
The image above is a screenshot of a 1970 television interview with Coffee in news footage from the WFAA archive, a treasure trove of historical film clips housed at SMU as part of the Hamon Arts Library’s G. William Jones Film & Video Collection (the WFAA archive is viewable on YouTube here, with additions being made all the time).
This rare, recently unearthed Channel 8 interview from June, 1970 has Coffee discussing the ramifications of her first win in the long legal journey which would ultimately end in victory in the U.S. Supreme Court. It is almost certainly her first TV interview. (Read the notes of the YouTube clip for the full description.)
My mother was involved in all sorts of women’s political groups in Dallas in the 1970s (and beyond). Meetings of various progressive political organizations and committees were often held at the First Unitarian Church on Preston Road in University Park (yes, University Park was an unlikely hotbed of activism!), and my mother knew Linda Coffee through these women’s groups. I had heard Linda’s name over the years but didn’t really know much about her until I came across this short Channel 8 interview. I’ve been working in these archives for SMU and wasn’t able to identify this unidentified woman but felt sure my mother would know who she was. I was talking to my mother on the phone trying to describe her: “I’m not sure who she is. She appears to be a lawyer, but she just looks too young and too… disheveled to be a lawyer. A little scroungy.”“Oh!” my mother said instantly, “Linda Coffee.” And she was right! She hadn’t even seen the footage.
I immediately loved Linda from my introduction to her in this footage. She’s earnest, confident, smart, pixie-ish, and she looks a little like a “real-person” version of Linda Ronstadt. I wonder if she ever imagined she would be responsible for one of the most famous legal cases of the 20th century?
I decided to look into her background in Dallas, and I was pretty surprised to see that she grew up one street over from where I grew up (she lived in the 5700 block of Anita) and went to my East Dallas alma mater, Woodrow Wilson High School (she and musician Steve Miller were there at the same time, Class of 1961 — she was in the band, he was on the football team — wonder if they ever met?).
Linda Coffee, Woodrow band, 1961
Steve Miller, senior photo, 1961
While we’re at it, here a few more photos of Linda Coffee in high school.
Linda Coffee, Woodrow sophomore, 1959
Linda Coffee, Woodrow junior, 1960
Linda (dark robe) with the Latin club, attending “Ben Hur” screening downtown, 1960
Linda and other officers of the Woodrow Science Club, 1961
Linda pointing to New Zealand, 1961
Linda Coffee, Woodrow Wilson High School, senior photo, 1961
She apparently excelled at everything and had a wide range of interests.
After graduating from Woodrow, she went to RIce University where she majored in German, then went on to law school at the University of Texas where she passed the Texas bar exam with the second highest score in the class. After becoming a lawyer, she was a law clerk in Dallas for District Judge Sarah T. Hughes (she and another female clerk were profiled in a 1968 Dallas Morning News article which carried the unfortunate headline, “The Law Clerks Are Girls”). It wasn’t long after this that she began working on a case to challenge the constitutionality of a vague Texas law which banned abortions. In January, 1973, Linda Coffee and co-counsel Sarah Weddington won their case in the U.S. Supreme Court. Linda had just turned 30.
I would highly recommend (and I mean HIGHLY RECOMMEND) the Vanity Fair profile of Linda Coffee written by Joshua Prager titled “Roe v. Wade’s Secret Heroine Tells Her Story.” Reading this when I knew virtually nothing about Linda made me want to know more about her and made me want to share her story with as many people as possible. How is it that this lawyer who has had such a massively important impact on modern life (especially women’s lives) isn’t a household name? Prager’s article tells you why. Joshua Prager has expanded this article to a full book concerning the Roe case which will be published in a couple of weeks: The Family Roe, An American Story.With the current news of the newly implemented controversial legislation by the State of Texas, this book could not possibly be more timely.
Thank you, Linda. Thank you, Sarah.
UPDATE, Dec. 16, 2021: Watch the interview with Linda Coffee by The Dallas Morning News, conducted on Dec. 9, 2021 at Linda’s home in Mineola. Read the companion DMN article here (article may require a subscription to view).
Update, June 25, 2022: Another short snippet (silent) of Linda Coffee has popped up in the WFAA archives. She is seen walking through the Dallas County Courthouse on Jan. 20, 1972, talking to WFAA reporter Phil Reynolds (she was working as an attorney on a case unrelated to Roe v. Wade). A screenshot is below — the pertinent footage begins at 21:21 here.
Jan. 20, 1972
Sources & Notes
Top image is a screenshot of a June, 1970 interview of Linda Coffee conducted by Channel 8 reporter Phil Reynolds; this interview can be seen on YouTube here (from the WFAA archive, G. William Jones Film & Video Collection, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University). Bottom image is from a WFAA clip from December, 1971 here.
All high school-era photos of Linda Coffee are from various editions of The Crusader, the yearbook of Woodrow Wilson High School.
I had never seen footage of legendary Texas Ranger Manuel T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas (1891-1977) until now. There is a short clip of him recounting a run-in with a man who shot him in WFAA-Channel 8 footage from March, 1970 (filmed at the Southwest Historical Wax Museum in Fair Park). Gonzaullas was a long-time resident of Dallas, from 1923 until his death in 1977, living for much of that time in Lakewood, in the 6900 block of Westlake.
Here are a couple of screenshots from the news footage. In the first he is seen standing in front of his wax figure.
And in the second, he’s joking with WFAA-Channel 8 News reporter Phil Reynolds, who seems a little star-struck.
Below are a few random Lone Wolf-related photos and articles. (There are tons of histories of Gonzaullas and the Texas Rangers out there — please hunt them down for specifics on his long and respected career in law enforcement. These are just a few things that I found interesting, some of which are of no historical importance!)
The earliest newspaper mention of Gonzaullas I could find was about his participation in an El Paso-to-Phoenix automobile road race in 1919. Biographers have noted that the colorful Gonzaullas sometimes embellished the truth, especially about his early days, and it’s interesting to note that in coverage of this race, Gonzaullas was described as being a “noted European racing driver” who had previously won 32 first-place finishes and 92 second-place finishes (!). The car he had entered in the race was a Locomobile, which he was reported to have driven to El Paso from Atlantic City. He was also identified as being “a Cuban […] who first won his spurs on the Havana track” (his birthplace is usually said to be Spain, where he was born to naturalized American citizens who were visiting that country at the time). He told the papers he had been left with temporary blindness and a permanently injured left arm in a previous auto accident — and another injury was about to come: he didn’t finish the El Paso-to-Phoenix race because his car suffered two debilitating mishaps, including one in which he was thrown from the car “and a blood vessel in his stomach was broken.” He was also said to be accompanied by “Mrs. Gonzaullas,” despite the fact that he did not marry Laura Scherer until April, 1920.
El Paso Times, Oct. 16, 1919 (click for larger image)
In December, 1919, Los Angeles newspapers reported that Mr. Gonzaullas, “who has gold mining interests in Mexico,” was in town, visiting from Havana. Accompanying him was “Mrs. Gonzaullas,” who was indulging in a shopping excursion. They were staying at the Hotel Stowell.
Los Angeles Evening Express, Dec. 3, 1919
While at the Stowell (and about to return to Texas), Gonzaullas put a for-sale classified in the Los Angeles paper, saying that he “must sell within next 24 hours my beautiful combination 2 or 4 passenger Locomobile Roadster Special.” The Cuban’s racing days would seem to be ending.
Los Angeles Evening Express, May 8, 1920
Less than two weeks later — and a month after finally marrying Laura in California — the newly wed Gonzaullas was back in El Paso, looking for a “lost or strayed” pet monkey. It appears the monkey was found (…or replaced…), but in September the Gonzaullases were selling their little “Java monkey,” along with its cage and traveling case. M. T. became “Lone Wolf” after he joined the Texas Rangers in 1920. Perhaps a monkey was not considered an appropriate pet for a lawman. (This is my favorite weird and obscure “Lone Wolf” tidbit.)
Gonzaullas was in and out of the Rangers throughout his career. In 1923, he moved to Dallas where he was stationed as a permanent prohibition agent (he busted a lot of booze-loving Dallasites).
Dallas Morning News, Feb. 25, 1923
In 1929, Gonzaullas was a sergeant in the Texas Rangers, and the photo below captured the first time that the men of Company B had all been together at the same time in the same place — in Fort Worth. The caption for this photo: “Texas’ Guardians, United After 10 Years. Capt. Tom R. Hickman, Gainesville, brought Ranger Company B together Friday for the first time in more than 10 years. Here they are just before visiting the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show. Left to right, W. H. Kirby, Abilene; H. B. Purvis, Lufkin; Captain Hickman; Sergt. M. T. Gonzaullas, Dallas; Dott E. Smith, Abilene; and James P. Huddleston, Dallas.” (Fort Worth Record-Telegram, March 16, 1929) (Read the full story, “Ranger Company B Rides In to Stock Show” here.)
Company B in Fort Worth, FW Record-Telegram, Mar. 16, 1929
In 1933, the Texas Rangers were dissolved, later to re-emerge as part of the newly formed Department of Public Safety in 1935. Gonzaullas served for several years as the head of the DPS’s Bureau of Intelligence in Austin, a Texas version of the FBI. In 1940, he stepped down from that position to rejoin the Rangers. He took over command of his old Company B, which was stationed in Fair Park, and remained in that position for 11 years until his retirement.
Austin Statesman, Feb. 14, 1940
Austin American, Feb. 15, 1940
In 1942, at the age of 50, Gonzaullas filled out a registration card during World War II, as all men were required to do. (A distinguishing physical characteristic of a “bullet hole thru left elbow” was noted.)
Below, a photo from 1944 showing mounted Texas Rangers of Company B in Marshall, Texas: (left to right) Tulley E. Seay, C. G. (Kelly) Rush, Stewart Stanley, Dick Oldham, Capt. M. T. Gonzaullas, R. A. (Bob) Crowder, Ernest Daniel, Joe N. Thompson, Robert L. Badgett, and Norman K. Dixon.
Capt. Manuel Trazazas Gonzaullas retired in July, 1951 and traveled between Dallas and Hollywood where he worked as a consultant on Western TV shows and films. He died in Dallas on Feb. 13, 1977 at the age of 85.
The first three images are screenshots of WFAA-Channel 8 news film shot in March, 1970, from the WFAA Collection, G. William Jones Collection, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University; the footage can be viewed on YouTube here.
A brief biography of M. T. Gonzaullas can be found at the Handbook of Texas, here.
There were several comprehensive and entertaining articles and interviews which appeared around the country about Gonezaullas’ career when he retired. If you have access to newspaper archives, I would recommend the article “The ‘Lone Wolf’ Lays Down His Guns” by Don Hinga which appeared in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 22, 1951.
Today is the 85th anniversary of the 1934 killing of Depression-era outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, two of Dallas’ most notorious former residents. I’ve written several Bonnie and Clyde-related posts over the years, including the following:
As other Bonnie and Clyde posts are added, they can all be found here.
Sources & Notes
Top image is the lurid front cover of a rare 1935 Mexican publication about Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow titled “La Pistolera de Texas” — it is from the collection of the Dallas Historical Society and was featured on their Instagram feed (more info is here).
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy was not only one of the most sobering moments in American history, it was also a turning point for broadcast journalism, particularly in the way television covers breaking news.
The Kennedy assassination and the later captured-live-on-television shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby put broadcast journalists to the test as never before. News coverage was a solid days-long block — with NBC devoting almost 72 straight hours to the assassination and its aftermath. The immediacy of live television and the ability to learn of breaking-at-this-minute news was something that had never been experienced by Americans before — and something which pushed radio and television news reporting to new heights. It was reported that CBS alone used 80 newsmen to cover the story. The Nielsen ratings estimated that an unbelievable 93% of American households with televisions were tuned in to watch live coverage of the President’s funeral procession.
Perhaps the grisliest “first” of this new era of TV news was that millions of Americans watched a murder happen live as they watched from their living rooms: when Jack Ruby lunged from the phalanx of reporters gathered in the parking lot beneath the Municipal Building to shoot Lee Harvey Oswald as he was walking to an armored vehicle to be transported to the county jail, millions witnessed the shooting as it happened, stunned. NBC was the lone network to have broadcast live coverage of this unforgettable moment of 20th-century American history. The other networks followed soon after with recorded footage, but NBC got the scoop.
NBC ad in Broadcasting magazine, Dec. 2, 1963
Broadcasting — an industry trade magazine — devoted an entire 25-page “Special Report” on how television had covered — and shaped — JFK’s presidency and his assassination. Below is the article which specifically focused on the wall-to-wall broadcast news coverage, post-Nov. 22.
OSWALD SHOOTING A FIRST IN TELEVISION HISTORY
For the first time in the history of television, a real-life homicide was carried nationally on live TV when millions of NBC-TV viewers saw the Nov. 24 fatal shooting in Dallas of the man accused of assassinating President John F. Kennedy two days earlier.
Less than a minute after the shooting occurred, CBS-TV telecast the episode on tape, which was made as the homicide took place. Network executives in New York viewed the tape and officially directed that it be placed on network immediately.
The setting for the live NBC-TV coverage of the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin who died a short time later, was this: Oswald, flanked by detectives, stepped onto a garage ramp in the basement of the Dallas city jail and was taken toward an armored truck that was to take him to the county jail. Suddenly, out of the lower right corner of the TV screen, came the back of a man. A shot rang out and Oswald gasped as he started to fall, clutching his side.
NBC News correspondent Tom Pettit, at the scene, exclaimed in disbelief: “He’s been shot! He’s been shot! Lee Oswald has been shot!”
The TV screen showed shock on the faces of police officers as they swarmed over the back of the assailant, Jack Ruby, a Dallas night club operator. The coverage showed Ruby hustled away by policemen and Oswald being sped to the Parkland Hospital in Dallas, the same hospital to which President Kennedy had been taken.
CBS-TV’s coverage of the sudden shooting, relayed a minute after the episode, was reported by Robert Huffaker, staff newsman of KRLD-TV Dallas, the network affiliate. Mr. Huffaker cried: “He’s been shot! Oswald’s been shot!”
ABC-TV did not have live cameras at the scene, having moved them to the Dallas county jail in preparation for Oswald’s planned arrival there. But ABC newsman Jack Lord reported the news flash of the Oswald shooting. The episode also was recorded by film cameras and was telecast subsequently on the network.
Broadcasters were certain the episode marked the first time in 15 years of global television that a homicide was telecast as it happened. It was recalled that in October 1960 Inejiro Asanuma, a Japanese political leader, was knifed on a public stage in Tokyo. Tape recordings of this incident were played back on Japanese TV stations 10 minutes later.
The capturing by TV of the Oswald homicide was one indication of the extensive, though quick, preparations by the networks for coverage of the disaster. Networks had made arrangements for quick switching to Dallas, as well as other focal points of the developing story, and were able to pick up the homicide episode once they had been alerted that Oswald was being ushered out to the garage ramp. (Broadcasting magazine, Dec 2, 1963)
Broadcasting, Dec. 2, 1963 (click to see larger image)
NBC was the only network to carry Ruby’s shooting of Oswald on live TV. The footage — as it was aired — can be watched in the video below (the Dallas footage begins at about the 5:00 mark).
KRLD, the local CBS affiliate, captured the shooting live, but it was not broadcast live. Here is the KRLD footage, helmed by Bob Huffaker (the shooting takes place near the 13:00 mark).
In 2007, Bob Huffaker, Bill Mercer, Wes Wise, and George Phenix — reporters for CBS-affiliate KRLD-TV news — recalled the blur of days on the beat following the assassination in their book When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963. Watch a panel discussion on those days, below, recorded at the Sixth Floor Museum in 2008. (I found Wise’s recollections, beginning at the 39:00 mark to be most interesting.) (RIP, Bob Huffaker, who died June 25, 2018.)
ABC came in late, with reports from affiliate WFAA-Ch. 8 (about the 7:20 mark), but their coverage was certainly no less exciting — in fact, this might be my favorite reporting by local broadcast journalists that day.
Another “first” in these days immediately following that awful day in Dallas was the very first showing of 8mm home-movie footage showing the assassination of the president. The film was shot by Dallasite Marie Muchmore, who reportedly sold the footage — sight unseen (it hadn’t even been developed) — to UPI for $1,000 (roughly about $8,000 in today’s money); the film was then shown on WNEW-TV in New York on Nov. 26. (The short footage, restored in recent years, can be watched on the Associated Press Archive site, here.)
Broadcasting, Dec. 2, 1963
Sources & Notes
A “Special Report” on the broadcast coverage of the Kennedy assassination and the shooting of Oswald by Ruby appeared in the Dec. 2, 1963 trade magazine Broadcasting; the issue may be read in its entirety here (pp. 36-61); the photo at the top of this post (showing Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald) is from that issue.
More Flashback Dallas posts on the Kennedy assassination can be found here.
The March of Justice, July 28, 1973… (photo: Andy Hanson / SMU)
by Paula Bosse
In the wee hours of the morning of Saturday, July 24, 1973, 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez — who was handcuffed in the front seat of a police car — was shot in the head by a Dallas police officer attempting to coerce a confession in a deadly game of Russian roulette. Santos died instantly, as his 13-year-old brother — also handcuffed — watched in horror from the back seat. The shooting (which I wrote about here) set off an explosion of outrage in Dallas, with the bitterest and angriest coming from the Mexican American community.
Four days after Santos was killed, a “March of Justice for Santos Rodriguez” was scheduled to be held in downtown Dallas, beginning at the Kennedy Memorial and ending at City Hall (the old Municipal Building, at Main and Harwood). The event was to be a peaceful march to show the solidarity of the Hispanic community and to protest what many felt was racial prejudice within the Dallas Police Department.
The march down Main Street to City Hall was earnest, and the speeches at City Hall by Dallas activists and concerned civic leaders were impassioned calls to action. After the speeches, many of the marchers headed back to the Kennedy Memorial. About halfway back, they encountered another group of marchers.
At some point, various groups described as “outside agitators” arrived. While the first crowd was listening to speeches at City Hall, a second (and perhaps later even a third) group of protestors assembled and began their own march to City Hall. These new arrivals (many said to be from Fort Worth and Waco) appear to have been the spark that set off what has been described as a “riot,” which erupted back at City Hall, with protesters attacking the police (who had been ordered to refrain from retaliation), breaking windows, and looting several downtown businesses. The image most emblematic of the day was a burning police motorcycle lying in the street just outside City Hall.
…[A]ll was havoc. A motorcycle was burning, a news vehicle was smashed, several officers injured and the sound of shattering glass filled the street… [T]he stench of burning rubber filled the air.” (“Police Taunted By Crowd” by Mitch Lobrovich, Dallas Morning News, July 29, 1973)
Luckily, there were few injuries, and the crowd dispersed after less than an hour.
A couple of days after the protest, the Rodriguez family issued this statement:
The Rodriguez family would only ask that when the people of Dallas hear the name Santos Rodriguez they think not of the unwanted violence that became associated with his name Saturday; but they think of the real Santos Rodriguez, a gentle and well-liked 12-year-old boy who had his life tragically taken from him.
Below (and above), photos taken that day by Dallas Times Herald photographer Andy Hanson which were recently unearthed by curator Anne Peterson, from the collection of his photographs at SMU’s DeGolyer Library:
The only footage I’ve found of the actual march is this video, uploaded recently to YouTube by Mountain View College. It was apparently shot by a Dallas police officer. There is no sound. This is great. Thank you, Mountain View, for preserving this important historical moment.
Sources & Notes
Photos taken by Andy Hanson on July 28, 1973; from the Collection of Photographs by Andy Hanson, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University. See the rest of the photos from this day, here. (Note: this does not appear to be the entirety of Hanson’s photos taken that day.) Read about the full Andy Hanson Collection at SMU, here.
Read “Honoring Santos Rodriguez” by Anne E. Peterson, Curator of Photographs at the DeGolyer Library (and the person who unearthed these Andy Hanson photos), here.
The YouTube video is titled “Santo Rodriguez 1973 News Footage,” with the description “Rare news footage taken during the 1973 protests in downtown Dallas following the tragic shooting death of 12 year old Santos Rodriguez by a Dallas Police officer. No audio.” I’d like to know more about the story behind this footage.
The coverage of the march(es) and ensuing riot is confusing. A couple of months after the march, Jose Antonio Gonzales wrote a fascinating and (seemingly) comprehensive report for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram on how the events developed and unfolded, with an almost moment-by-moment timeline and insight into the individuals involved. Read his fantastic job of reporting in the (awkwardly-titled) article “Chicano Leadership Unity Faulted in Study of Boy’s Death” (FWST, Sept. 16, 1973): part one is here; part two is here.
My previous post on Santos Rodriguez — “Santos Rodriguez, 1960-1973” — is here.
David and Santos Rodriguez (via Austin American-Statesman)
by Paula Bosse
Today is the 45th anniversary of the tragic shooting of Santos Rodriguez, the 12-year-old boy who was shot in the head by a policeman as he and his 13-year-old brother David sat handcuffed in a police car. It shocked the city of Dallas in 1973, and it is still shocking today.
Santos and David had been awakened and rousted out of bed by Officers Darrell L. Cain and his partner Roy R. Arnold who were investigating a late-night burglary at a nearby gas station where money had been stolen from a cigarette machine — the boys matched a witness’ vague description. The boys said they had nothing to do with the burglary but were taken from their home as their foster-grandfather (an elderly man who spoke no English) watched, helpless, as they were handcuffed and placed in a squad car.
The boys were driven back to the scene of the burglary — a Fina station at Cedar Springs and Bookhout. Santos was in the front passenger seat, and Cain sat behind him in the backseat, next to David. Cain insisted the two boys were guilty and, in an attempt to coerce a confession, held his .357 magnum revolver to Santos’ head. He clicked the gun, as if playing Russian Roulette, telling Santos that the next time he might not be so lucky. The boys continued to insist they were innocent. And then, suddenly, Cain’s gun went off. Santos died instantly. Stunned, Cain said that it had been an accident. He and Arnold got out of the car, leaving 13-year-old David, still handcuffed, in the backseat of the police car — for anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour — alone with his brother’s bloody body. (It was determined through fingerprint evidence that Santos and David did not break into the gas station that night.)
More in-depth articles about this horrible case can be found elsewhere, but, briefly, Cain (who had previously been involved in the fatal shooting of a teenaged African American young man named Michael Morehead) was charged with committing “murder with malice” and was found guilty. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison but ended up serving only two and a half years in Huntsville.
The killing of Santos Rodriguez sparked outrage from all corners of the city, but particularly in the Mexican American community. All sorts of people — from ordinary citizens to militant Brown Berets — organized and protested, persistently demanding civil rights, social justice, and police reform. If anything positive resulted from this tragic event, perhaps it was a newly energized Hispanic community.
I am ashamed to say that I was not aware of what had happened to Santos Rodriguez until I began to write about Dallas history a few years ago. This was an important turning-point in the history of Dallas — for many reasons (namely the Chicano movement, race relations, the fight for social justice, and an examination of Dallas Police Department procedure). Over the past week I’ve read a lot of the local coverage of the events of this case, and I’ve watched a lot of interviews of people who were involved, but perhaps the most immediate way I’ve experienced the events and emotions swirling about this case has been to watch television news footage shot as the story was unfolding. Thanks to the incredibly rich collection of TV news footage in the possession of the G. William Jones Film & Video Collection at SMU, I’ve been able to do that.
Below is footage shot by KDFW Channel 4, which has, most likely, not been seen for 45 years. Some of it appeared in news reports and some is just background B-roll footage shot to be edited into news pieces which would eventually air on the nightly news. The finished stories that aired do not (as far as I know) survive, but we have this footage. It’s choppy and chaotic and darts from one thing to the next, which is how a red-hot news story develops. Of particular interest is the short interview with 13-year-old David at 9:16 and the violent aftermath of what began as a peaceful march through downtown at 19:54.
A more comprehensive collection of the events — from just hours after the shooting, to the conviction of Darrell Cain — can be found in this lengthy compilation of WFAA Channel 8 news footage. Heads up to anyone considering a 50th anniversary documentary on Santos Rodriguez — this and the Channel 4 footage are essential sources.
Santos Rodriguez (Nov. 7, 1960 – July 24, 1973)
Sources & Notes
Top photo is a family photo, from the Austin American-Statesman article “Is It Time For Dallas To Honor Santos Rodriguez?” by Gissela Santacruz, here.
My sincerest thanks to Jeremy Spracklen at SMU for alerting me to these two collections of important historical news footage from KDFW-TV/Ch. 4 and WFAA-TV/Ch. 8, both of which are held by the G. William Jones Film & Video Collection, Hamon Library, Southern Methodist University. (All screenshots from these two videos.)
An excerpt from the 1982 KERA-produced documentary “Pride and Anger: A Mexican American Perspective of Dallas and Fort Worth” (the Santos Rodriguez case is discussed) is on YouTube here.
I’ve written about the interesting old WFAA Channel 8 news footage which was either never aired or was aired decades ago and hasn’t been seen since (such as newly discovered Jack Ruby footage and a fantastic short interview with Jimi Hendrix at Love Field), which is part of an ongoing digitization project by SMU’s Hamon Arts Library as part of the G. William Jones Film and Video Collection. There are so many (SO MANY!) quirky clips that are being uploaded to the web almost daily that it’s easy to miss the super-quirky.
A week and a half ago the clip below was posted online, featuring an unidentified man who was much groovier-looking than one would normally have seen on the nightly Channel 8 newscast — he said that someone had shot at him from a car, just before dawn, near the Hilton Inn at Mockingbird and Central. He seemed pretty sure they were associates of Frank Sinatra, who was not at all happy that our mystery man had been fraternizing with his daughter, the singer Nancy Sinatra. Take a look at this short (1:43) footage from May, 1970.
Okay, that was weird. “I’ve been shot at *many* times — for one reason or another….” Add in an unexpected mention of Mrs. Baird’s bakery and, yeah, weird.
Who was that guy? The only information the SMU digitizers had on the out-of-context snippet was that it was filmed on May 21, 1970. It was obvious the guy was not local and, with that voice (and apparent ready access to Nancy Sinatra), he was most likely in the entertainment business. I could find no mention of this incident in The Dallas Morning News archives — I tried using every conceivable keyword I could think of. Nothing. So I checked Newspapers.com and found an AP story about this which had run all over the country — just not in the city where the incident had occurred.
The guy is Ronald Dante, who has gone by a variety of aliases but is generally known as “Dr. Dante,” the stage name he used for decades as a successful nightclub hypnotist. (According to a 1985 Dallas Morning News profile, he had legally changed his name from Ronald Hugh Pellar to “Dr. Dante” — with “Doctor” being his legal first name.) (This may not be true.) (Most of what Dr. Dante has said is not true.) At the time of the shooting described in the video above, he was performing at The Losers Club at 5438 E. Mockingbird, about 2 blocks from his hotel, the Hilton Inn.
To describe Ron Dante (who was born in Chicago on Feb. 5, 1930) (and is not to be confused with the Ron Dante who was the lead singer of The Archies) as “colorful” is an understatement. His extraordinarily … um … extreme life as a performer, con-man, fraudster, schemer, opportunist, convicted felon, etc., is too much to cover here, but there is a fantastic 2006 profile of him from the San Diego Union-Tribunehere (seriously, READ THIS! — the part about him being orphaned in Kuala Lumpur when his family was attacked by Malaysian insurgents is great — in actuality, U.S. Census records from 1930 and 1940 show that he grew up in a nice Chicago neighborhood with his very-much-alive parents and brother).
But back to Dallas in May, 1970. Dante was, at the time, the estranged husband of Hollywood icon Lana Turner. They had married in May, 1969; it was Lana’s seventh (and final) marriage. In news reports of the nuptials, Dante was reported to be the same age as his new bride, but he was actually almost 10 years younger. (In the Channel 8 video above he is 40.) Below are some photos of the happy couple before Lana began to realize what she’d gotten herself into.
Their marriage hit the skids within 6 months, with Turner accusing Dante of misappropriating $35,000 of her money and, later, disappearing with many of her jewels, worth $100,000; on Nov. 14, 1969, Dante (not Lana!) filed for divorce on grounds of “extreme mental cruelty.” Two days later, the ad below touting a “computer-developed” self-hypnosis recording by Dante appeared in a Dallas paper, complete with a suspect thumbs-up testimonial attributed to estranged and recently-bilked Lana Turner (also worth a raised eyebrow was the inclusion of the even more suspect “American Medical Hypnoidal Assoc.” office which resided in a Dallas post office box) (click to see larger image):
Nov. 16, 1969
Six months later, Dante was in Dallas, claiming to have been shot at by men sent by Frank Sinatra to warn him to stop seeing his daughter Nancy. (A similar “being shot at” scenario was reported by Dante in Los Angeles in June, 1969 — photo here — Sinatra was not implicated by Dante in that shooting, but Lana Turner wondered about it in her 1982 autobiography: “Shortly after our wedding he was shot at, or so he said, in an underground garage, by a gunman wearing an Australian bush hat. It got a lot of attention in the papers — maybe that was what he wanted.”) One might reasonably wonder whether Dante was lying about the shooting in Dallas, but there seems to have been a witness: a Mrs. Baird’s employee, David Davis (whose name was misspelled in wire reports). Here’s the Associated Press report of the incident:
AP wire story, May 21, 1970 (click to read)
Other reports noted that “a spokesman for Miss Sinatra said she did not know [Dante]” or had even ever heard of him; a spokesman for Miss Turner said they had been separated for several months and “she doesn’t even know where he is.” (It should be noted that Frank Sinatra had had a very steamy affair with Lana Turner in the 1940s — a tidbit which just adds all sorts of weird tangents to this story.)
I never saw a follow-up, but whether the story was true or not, it was pretty ballsy to accuse Frank Sinatra (a man of known “connections”) of being behind something like this. Someone should crack open this cold case!
“Groovy hypnotist,” Reno Gazette-Journal, Aug. 7, 1970
Ronald Dante’s first appearance in Dallas was at the Adolphus Hotel’s tony Century Room in January, 1963, back when he was known simply as “Dante.” Tony Zoppi, who covered the city’s nightclub scene for The News, wrote, “The handsome showman entertained his Century Room crowd with one of the most amazing hypnotic acts in the business” (DMN, Jan. 3, 1963). Back then his act looked something like this:
An interesting New Year’s Eve engagement at the Adolphus’ Rose Room was announced in The News in December, 1970 (same year as the shooting…):
The Adolphus Hotel has lined up a star-studded evening for its New Year’s Eve celebration, including hypnotist Dr. Ronald Dante, reportedly to be accompanied by his wife, actress Lana Turner. (DMN, Dec. 17, 1970)
An appearance by Lana Turner seems … unlikely. Others rumored to be appearing on the star-studded bill? Actor Ralph Bellamy, comedian Tommy Smothers, and … singer Nancy Sinatra. Unsurprisingly, none of the special guests showed up.
Dec. 20, 1970
A couple of weeks after the New Year’s Eve engagement, an ad appeared in the paper filled with SO MUCH odd stuff in it: after a “world tour” which had him playing at swanky venues in Rome, Paris, London, Athens, Japan, and Bangkok, the next stop by Dr. Dante (“Ph.D.”) was none other than the somewhat less exotic Ramada Inn in the somewhat less exotic Irving, Texas; he billed himself as the “favorite husband” of both Lana Turner and “Brigett” [sic] Bardot (to whom he had never been married); and his eyes and voice were said to have been insured for 10 million dollars. Etc. In general, statements made by Dr. Dante were more likely than not to be absolutely untrue … untrue but usually pretty entertaining.
Jan. 15, 1971
A year later, Lana Turner and Ron Dante were divorced — the judge ruled that Dante had defrauded Turner, dissolved the marriage, and “postponed indefinitely a ruling on community property.” That was soon followed by a string of weirdness including the bizarre case of Dante’s being charged with soliciting an undercover cop to kill a rival stage hypnotist (!), creating a “school” to teach aspiring cosmeticians to administer permanent makeup (via tattoos), suing Johnny Carson for one billion dollars (“billion” with a “b”), and running an extremely lucrative diploma mill. (And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.) There were convictions and there was prison time.
Ron Dante — who is probably 88 years old — is, I believe, still with us. A short documentary about him, “Mr. Hypnotism,” was shown at SXSW in 2009 (watch it here). It’s entertaining, but he really deserves a much longer documentary — and I really hope someone is working on a book. (PLEASE let someone be working on a book!)
In a lengthy Dallas Morning News profile/exposé of Dante (“Dr. Dante’s Traveling Hypnotherapy Show,” Feb. 24, 1985), reporter Glenna Whitley wrote:
Whatever else Dante is, he is likable. Even the most outrageous statements seem strangely plausible when coming from his lips. That may be the secret to his success, says [District Attorney] Gary Kniep, who was alternately amused and exasperated during Dante’s attempted-murder trial.
“Yeah, I kind of like him,” Kniep says. “He’s got some sort of magnetism that gets people into his confidence.” (DMN, Feb. 24, 1985)
I can see that.
This was Dante’s closing statement to Muncie, Indiana reporter Betty Harris after a 1970 interview absolutely LOADED with whoppers. Can’t say she wasn’t warned!
Muncie Evening Press, Oct. 23, 1970
Sources & Notes
Screen captures at top and bottom are from the digitized WFAA Channel 8 News film footage from May 21, 1970; the video is from the WFAA Newsfilm Collection, held at the Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University. The direct link to the Ron Dante clip on YouTube is here. Follow the WFAA clips as they are added by SMU digitizers to YouTube here, and on Facebook here. (Thanks for your tireless dedication, Jeremy and Scott!)
Photos of Lana Turner and Ron Dante are from Pinterest and eBay.
The photo of Dante performing in a nightclub was found on a page about Lana Turner on the University of Alabama site, here.
I HIGHLY recommend listening to Jennifer Sharpe’s 6-minute 2007 NPR story on Dr. Dante (“Lana Turner’s Ex Maintains Dreams of Grandeur”), here (click the “play” button in the blue circle at the top of the page). The short film “Mr. Hypnotism” was made by her and Austin-based director Bradley Beesley — the full film is here, the trailer is here.
Thank you, Robin McLauren, for making me aware of the upcoming “Gangsters, Outlaws, & Lawmen” auction presented by RR Auction (the sale is June 24, 2017, with the lots available to be previewedhereand bidding to begin next week). Of particular interest to those of us in Dallas are the lots concerning Bonnie & Clyde and the lots concerning Dallas County Sheriff Smoot Schmid (known for, among other things, his involvement in the Bonnie & Clyde case) — these Dallas-specific lots can be viewed separately,here (there are three pages, see the page numbers at the bottom of the page).
There is everything from photos of B&C’s bullet-ridden car, photos of the two West Dallas outlaws lying on morgue slabs, Bonnie’s blood-stained glasses, Schmid’s gun, and even his Shriners fez. Here are a few of the items I found interesting.
The first one is pictured at the top: a 3-headed serpent “promise ring” Clyde made for Bonnie while in prison (information on the lot can be foundhere). It’s kind of cool. (Most images on this page are larger when clicked.)
Another lot (here) contains four photos: two show the crowds attending Bonnie Parker’s viewing at the McKamy-Campbell Funeral Home on Forest Avenue, taken by Dallas Times Herald photographer Denny Hayes, and two show the gravesites of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
Another lot (here) has 36 photos concerning Blanche Barrow, wife of Clyde’s brother Buck Barrow. Here she is marcelled and striking a pose.
By far the best item is the bitter and angry letter of April, 1934 sent by Clyde Barrow to ex-Barrow Gang member Raymond Hamilton who was incarcerated in the Dallas County jail. Clyde dictated the letter to Bonnie, who must have had better penmanship (he signed it). A month later, Bonnie & Clyde were dead. The content of the 4-page letter is fantastic — read ithere.
There are several items that once belonged to Sheriff Richard A. “Smoot” Schmid, including this14K golddiamond-studdedbadgepresented to “Smoots” Schmid by his detectives in 1933.