Remembering a Victim

Railcar killing news overlooked Leafie. Her neighbors didn't.

It was not until late July of last year that Kennedy would finally get the opportunity to make that comparison and prove that the infamous Resendiz was, indeed, the man who entered Mason's home and murdered her. In time, Resendiz confessed to the crime. By then, however, the media was focused on activities in the big cities: El Paso, where Texas Rangers took Resendiz into custody, and Houston, where he would be jailed to await trial. Leafie Mason and Hughes Springs fell through the cracks, an afterthought in one of the most highly publicized crime stories in recent years.

Not until the punishment phase of the recently completed Benton trial, in fact, was Mason's name even mentioned.

Now, Cass County District Attorney Randall Lee says he has made no final decision about trying Resendiz for Mason's murder, but it sounds doubtful. "We'll wait and see how the appeals process [on Resendiz's death sentence] goes," he says. "Frankly, I doubt there will be any problem with the verdict in the Houston case. Some of the best prosecutors in the country were trying it.

Murder victim Leafie Mason
AP/Wide World Photo
Murder victim Leafie Mason

"And I understand the D.A. in Kentucky [where two University of Kentucky students were attacked] has said he definitely wants to try the guy. Even if we should decide to move forward, we're pretty far down the waiting list."

To fund a capital murder trial, Lee adds, would almost certainly require a tax increase. "I think," he says, "that folks here feel that justice was served by the conviction in Houston."

Still, whether she ever gets her day in court or not, Leafie Mason is remembered in Hughes Springs.

With the exception of a couple of years in her twenties when she worked as a secretary in Dallas, Mason lived her entire life there. Her father was a well-known deputy sheriff who was killed in a 1919 train accident. Her mother died several years later, leaving Leafie and her two sisters to live alone. Following the death of her older sister, it eventually became impossible for Mason to properly care for her mentally disabled younger sister, and Mason placed her in a nursing home.

"Her sister was her life," Traylor says. "Every day, promptly at two in the afternoon, she came here to visit Berdie. She'd always cooked something for her and would sit and talk with her and sing her songs that were popular back in the '40s. And she would always stop by my office to leave a recipe or bring me a copy of the latest poem she had written."

Time was, in fact, when she was quite well known as a local poet. Written under the pen name Piney Woods Pete, her verse was regularly published in the neighboring Daingerfield Bee.

"She was a strong-willed person but also very thoughtful," says friend Jenny McKinney. "She was always coming by with a jar of jelly or a pie she'd baked. I miss her, and to this day I feel guilty about what happened to her. I'd been busy back then and hadn't called to check on her for a couple of days. I'll always regret that."

People here, then, would rather remember her in life than revisit her death in a lengthy and expensive trial. As Chief Kennedy says, "You can only kill the guy once."

"I think people here are just glad it's over," Traylor says. "I was pleased when I heard that Resendiz received the death penalty, happy that the jury didn't buy that insanity defense he was trying to use."

For Kennedy, now returned to the routine work of a small-town police chief, only one regret remains. "I wanted to ask him why he picked our little town," he says, "but the only time I got to speak to him he wouldn't even make eye contact, wouldn't say anything."

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