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-Spencer L. Simons, former Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law

Monday, June 20, 2011

Murder Texas Style

Aside from Florida, no state rivals Texas for strange, crazy, and down- right fascinating murders. Maybe it’s the heat or maybe it’s the money (it’s probably both), but when Texans decide to kill each other they do it in style. The alleged perpetrators of two of the most famous Texas murders were represented by UHLC alum Richard “Racehorse” Haynes.

The first is the murder of Joan Robinson, a beautiful Houston socialite who was allegedly murdered by her husband, John Hill, a well known plastic surgeon. Haynes represented John Hill, but the case never went to the jury due to the judge declaring a mis-trial. However, before Hill could be retried he himself was murdered by a “robber” who broke into his River Oaks mansion. It is alleged that Joan’s father, oil millionaire Ash Robinson, had his former son-in-law killed to avenge the death of his daughter. Ash Robinson was never tried for the killing of John Hill, but an acquaintance of Robinson’s was convicted for arranging the murder of John Hill. The story is told in Tommy Thompson’s best-seller Blood and Money (HV6534 .H8 T48 1976). The book is a superb read and makes a splendid introduction to Houston in its 1970’s era heyday. A TV movie titled “Murder in Texas” also portrayed events, with G.W. Bailey (a native Texan) playing Haynes.

The other sensational murder case comes from Fort Worth and involves oil man T. Cullen Davis. Davis and his wife Pricilla, a “brassy” blonde disliked by Ft. Worth society matrons. They were in the midst of a nasty divorce (when you are rich is there any other kind?) when a man broke into Pricilla’s home and killed Pricilla’s boyfriend and daughter and wounded Priscilla and another man. The survivors all pointed to Davis as the shooter. Davis was acquitted of the murder as a result of Haynes 13 day cross-examination of Pricilla who brought to light her “shady” past. After the trial, T. Cullen Davis was arrested for soliciting a hit-man to kill the judge who presided over his and Pricilla’s divorce. The conversation soliciting the murder was recorded and a photo of the judge “posing” in the trunk of a car was provided. Davis was acquitted of this charge as well, with Haynes once again representing him. Davis later went bankrupt and became a Christian missionary. A TV movie of Davis’ case was titled “Texas Justice,” and the actor Dennis Franz played Racehorse Haynes.

The Davis case is covered in two books in the library, although each takes a different approach to the case. Texas v. Davis (KF224 .D33 C6) is a straight narrative told by a reporter who covered the trials and is referred to as the “definitive book” on the case. The other book, Sex, Murder and the Unwritten Law (KF221 .M8 N433 2009) contends that the Davis case is an example of an acquittal based on the “unwritten law”: that a man may shoot his wife if he catches her cheating on him (which actually was the law in Texas until 1973).

My descriptions of these stories in no way does them justice, as these are two of the most fascinating “true crime” stories out there. Both prove that the cliché “everything is bigger in Texas” applies not only to the land, and money, but also to murders.

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