Lone Star Lawmen: Texas Rangers work on area's most challenging cases
A picture of the three Texas Rangers from Larry McMurtry’s novel-turned-TV miniseries Lonesome Dove hangs on a wall in the office of Texas Ranger Brandon Bess in the Liberty County Courthouse. “Which one are you?” Bess is asked. Glancing at the iconic photo, Bess responds, “I would have to say that I would be more like Gus and Ryan is more like Woodrow.” “So, who is Jake Spoon?” he is asked. Sitting across from each other in Bess’ office, Bess and Texas Ranger Ryan Clendennen, both amused at the question, look at each other for an answer. Nobody wants to be Jake Spoon, the Ranger-turned-outlaw. Like the characters in the TV show, the partnership between the two Rangers, assigned to neighboring counties, is one built on trust, friendship and a respect for each other’s strengths. Bess is assigned to Liberty, San Jacinto and Hardin counties while Clendennen’s territory includes Polk, Tyler and Jasper counties. The two Rangers have developed such an ease between them that each automatically knows the responsibilities to assume when investigating crimes. “When we go out to complex murder investigations together, I know Ryan is going to process the crime scene as an expert. He’s going to map it, read the blood and collect evidence,” Bess said. “I am going to start looking at videos, running down the witness list and start collecting all the police officers involved to see what happened before we got there. Then potentially go out and interview witnesses to the case. There is a lot of hard work that goes into it.” The more difficult cases, they say, are the ones that seem simple and straightforward. “When we get a murder case, we stress about it less. We know we will be there for days on end, long hours in a row, but it is what it is. You know that someone is going to jail for it. You just have to identify your suspects,” Bess said. “We stress over the easy cases, like an assault between public officials, because you aren’t sure if a crime has occurred and you have to be certain.” Murder cases involving children, however, are the worst and leave scars, despite the invisible shield that all law enforcement officers seem to possess. It comes with the badge. “We have to put on a shield to see the things we see and be able to get the job done so we can speak for the weak and for those who can no longer speak for themselves. That’s what we are here for,” Bess said. When a gunman recently opened fire inside of Sante Fe High School, killing nine students and a teacher, Bess and Clendennen assisted in the investigation. Before that, Clendennen also helped with the investigation of the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Last year, Bess was called upon to interview serial killer Anthony Allen Shore, who was executed on Jan. 18, 2018. Shore, who was convicted of one murder but confessed to four others, was thought to be a suspect in the 1983 murder of 20-year-old Susan Eads of Seabrook. Bess says he is certain Shore was not responsible for the crime. “I believe he committed more murders, but we proved that he did not kill Susan. He provided me with DNA and it did not match the DNA in Susan’s case. Shore also told me why he wouldn’t have targeted Susan. You can look at his victimology – the types of people he targeted – and it didn’t match,” Bess said. According to Bess, Shore admitted to sexually assaulting as many as 40-50 women in Texas and other states, but with no evidence or victims’ outcries, the investigation died with the condemned man. Both Clendennen and Bess were initially involved in the interviewing of Shore, but Clendennen exited the interview early on when Shore seemed to have a clear disdain for him. “It goes back to the first question about whether we relate to Woodrow or Gus. I sat in on the interview, but Shore just didn’t like me. We made an immediate decision that I would exit the room because Brandon had a nice rapport with the guy,” Clendennen said. “Looking back on it now, it’s kind of funny. I remember Brandon telling me several months later that he had gotten a Christmas card from the guy. “Think about that. Here is a guy on death row and he’s built such a rapport with the Ranger who interviewed him that he sent him a Christmas card not long before he was scheduled to be executed,” Clendennen continued. When asked what cases keep them up at night, they said “cold cases,” those that appear to be unsolvable without a major development or confession. For Bess, the case that haunts him is the 1982 murder of Monica “Christy” Wilson, who was killed at the age of 20. At the time of her death, Wilson was a newlywed and worked at a convenience store named Snappy’s in Liberty. The morning after her disappearance, Wilson’s body was found on FM 1409 in Dayton near an area known to locals as Dead Man’s Curve. Her killer was never identified. Clendennen says the unsolved murders of two young people from Polk and San Jacinto counties top his cold case list. “I think a lot about the Natasha Atchley case and the Carl Wills’ murder. There have been a lot of good investigators who have worked on the cases, but the thing about cold cases is a lot of times there isn’t a lot of evidence,” he said. “It almost takes a confession or a CODIS hit to get a suspect.” In 1992, 19-year-old Natasha Atchley disappeared following a birthday party in her hometown of Shepherd, Texas. The next morning her body was found in the charred remains of a vehicle that was set afire about a mile from where the party was held. Carl Wills, 22, was murdered in late August of 2011. His body was found on Sept. 1 by a fisherman in a roadside ditch on CR 2132 in north Liberty County, a few miles south of Rye. Wills had died from gunshot wounds to his back and head. Investigators believe that Wills, who lived in Livingston at the time, was killed elsewhere and dumped in Liberty County. “The cold cases require a ton of dedicated time, and you have to pick them up and drop them all the time to work on other cases,” Bess said. “Think about how many other cases are like that out there.” One of the biggest misconceptions about Rangers, they say, is that they are an internal affairs division to investigate law enforcement officers. “We actually are here to assist law enforcement. About 90 percent of the cases sitting on my desk, and the cases we handle, are assisting other agencies in their investigations,” Bess said. “But we are not in the business of interjecting ourselves into local departments’ investigations,” Clendennen added. Their role is often misunderstood by the public, they say. “People think they can just call us up to report a crime. We take citizens’ complaints but advise them to start with the agency in their jurisdiction,” Bess said. “We will do our best and be objective. The one thing we never want to do is harm the public’s opinion of the Rangers, no matter what we do.” Even when they are away from work, they know they have a reputation to maintain as one of the 162 Texas Rangers representing the state. “There just aren’t a lot of us across the state. We are just another police officer. The only thing that is different for us is that we are part of a family that has been around for almost 200 years. Our history is the oldest police agency in the world,” Bess said. “Once you are a Ranger, you are always a Ranger.”
Article courtesy of Vanessa Brashier with the Bluebonnet News
Arkansas State Police graduates 38 new members
The Arkansas State Trooper Training Academy began with 45 recruits on Sunday, February 25, 2018 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Twenty-one weeks later, Thirty-eight Arkansas State Police Trooper recruits graduated on Thursday, July 19, 2018. According to the Arkansas State Police news release, each recruit has accumulated more than one-thousand hours of classroom and practical training. Major General Mark H. Berry, Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard, was the keynote speaker addressing the graduates and assisted Colonel Bill Bryant, Director of the Arkansas State Police, in presenting the new troopers their certification and commission credentials. Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice John Dan Kemp administered the Oath of State Trooper Commission. Other dignitaries present for the ceremony included representatives of the Arkansas State Police Commission, department deputy directors, and division, troop and company commanders assigned across the department. Special recognition and awards were presented to the recruits who attained the highest scores within the respective training categories: academics, physical fitness and firearms. Upon reporting for duty at their respective troop headquarters, the new troopers will be placed with a certified departmental Field Training Officer (FTO). Each graduate will work in tandem with their respective FTO for a transitional period prior to being released to their assignment.
West Virginia State Police trooper honored with three awards for service
A State Police trooper injured in the line of duty received three honors Wednesday during a ceremony at the West Virginia State Police Headquarters. In March 2017, Sgt. David Fry responded to a domestic violence call in Lincoln County where a man high on meth was holding his wife hostage with a gun. Fry acted to save the woman and was shot in the shoulder and wrist. It took him eight months to recover from his injuries from which he had to undergo reconstructive surgery on his arm and intense physical therapy to be able to return to work. Governor Jim Justice and Superintendent of State Police Jan Cahill were both present to honor Fry with a Purple Heart, Medal of Valor and 2017 State Trooper of the Year. “This is a hero,” Justice said about Fry. “All these people are heroes. What they do for us every day is just this, and sometimes we forget it or we don’t appreciate it enough.” Justice explained the situation that Fry was involved in that night in March 2017 where he was the only responder to the incident and did not have any backup. He said the bravery that one has to display to go into a situation like that is amazing. “Let’s be real. How many of us, on our own, would go to a home where a guy is holding his wife hostage with a rifle and no back up anywhere and go try to help somebody?” Justice said. Fry was joined by his wife, daughter and mother at the WVSP Headquarters to receive his honors and said that he was very thankful for everything. “I feel fantastic. I’m very glad to be here,” he said. “I very much appreciate the governor’s remarks. I very much appreciate Col. Cahill not only in his official capacity but the way that the State Police, which is my family, has taken care of me through this.” He explained that it was just by chance that he was the trouper to be on the scene that night. “I’m in the position I’m in right because my number got pulled to take that call. There are two troupers who are out there right now who were in Hamlin with me at that time, but I’ve since been transferred,” he added. “It could’ve easily been them, and they would’ve done the same thing I did. I was given the opportunity to prove what we can do and that’s all it was.” Above all, Fry said that he is a state trooper and acting the way he did was not a personal thing at all but just what he was supposed to do. In the WVSP Headquarters there is a wall with photos of officers who have been killed on duty. Fry said his picture could’ve been added to the gallery. “This is about as close as you can get to not being on that wall,” he said. “I’m very proud, very honored, and I’m just really glad to be here.”
Nebraska State Patrol troopers honored for relaying rare lifesaving meds for child in Colorado
The late-night relay of a rare, lifesaving medication from Omaha to a children’s hospital in Colorado earned high praise for eight Nebraska State Patrol troopers Monday. At a press conference, Gov. Pete Ricketts commended the troopers for their teamwork and dedication. He particularly praised the initiative of Lt. Matt Sutter, who got the call from the Nebraska Medical Center about 10 p.m. May 29. Medical center officials needed a way to deliver the medication, which is usually used to treat brain infections caused by parasites, to Aurora, Colorado, as quickly as possible. But the last commercial flight of the day had left Omaha, and storms in eastern Nebraska kept smaller aircraft grounded. Sutter set in motion a modern-day Pony Express relay. An Omaha trooper picked up the medicine at about 10:15 p.m. from the medical center and headed west. The box was handed off to another trooper and then another and so on until it arrived in North Platte, where conditions allowed a medical transport airplane to take off. The medication arrived about five hours after it left Omaha. On Monday, Sutter said the teamwork required for the relay is typical for the patrol. But the possibility of saving a child’s life made the job special.