Houston Babylon

Four of the spookiest true tales in our city's history

Catering to the desires of the rowdy loafers, Houston soon bloomed so many gambling houses, grog shops and bordellos that in 1838, one respectable resident declared that Houston was "the greatest sink of disipation [sic] and vice that modern times have known...What a den of villains must there be here?"

Davy Jones was one such, albeit one with a more impressive war record than most of his fellows. One of just 28 survivors of the Goliad massacre, Jones made it back to Texan lines in time to fight alongside Sam Houston at San Jacinto. (Colonel Alexander Horton — Houston's aide-de-camp at that battle — makes a cameo later in this article.)

That patriotic pedigree came to naught, however, when, as the result of a tragic misunderstanding over a horse, Jones stuck his Bowie knife in the guts of a gentleman named Mandred Wood, whose brother Fernando was a former mayor of New York City and whose other brother, Benjamin, later rose to become editor of the New York Daily News and a New York state representative.

The headline of this March 16, 1910, Houston Chronicle extra says it all. The next day, the Chronicle proudly noted that this extra smashed all sales records to that date.
Houston Chronicle archives, Houston Public Library, courtesy of Mike Vance
The headline of this March 16, 1910, Houston Chronicle extra says it all. The next day, the Chronicle proudly noted that this extra smashed all sales records to that date.

City fathers knew that this murder was bad for business. If ever Houston was going to rise from the wicked muck, the likes of Davy Jones could not go around stabbing gentlemen like Mandred Wood. "I was flabbergasted that Houston was as brazen and depraved as it was," Hardin says. "But at the same time, you had an upper crust who had a vision for the place that went beyond what they could see out their window every day."

Thus Jones, veteran or not, would have to hang. One-armed Dr. Francis Moore would see to it personally, and as both mayor and editor of the newspaper, he was uniquely positioned to effect just such a result. Try to imagine it in today's Houston: Annise Parker editorializes in favor of hanging a notorious criminal in her own newspaper, and then presides over the execution. "And then praises herself for doing so in the paper," Hardin laughs.

After they were cut down and buried in shallow graves practically under the tree where they had swung, Quick and Jones would not slumber long in peace. According to the diary of attorney John Hunter Herndon, later that day five of the town's leading citizens exhumed the corpses, sawed off the heads and retired to Herndon's lodgings to study the shapes of the two skulls for signs of bad character. A day later, the men popped open the skullcaps to sift through the brains, and Herndon decided to keep Jones's noggin as a souvenir.

This was the pseudoscience of phrenology in action, and Hardin believes such practices were more common than we might think. "Most people did not record those shenanigans in their diary," he says. "We're just so lucky that he kept that diary and that it survived." (Another of Herndon's skull-related entries is even more ghoulish: While on a tear in Galveston, Herndon's friend Dr. Robert Watson guzzled whiskey from a skull "that yet had brains in it.")

While that was a little beyond the pale, Herndon apparently saw nothing amiss with keeping two rotting heads in his room for days. He recorded that after pickling Jones's brain, he sat down and cranked out an article for the Telegraph, called on one young lady and wrote a love poem to another.

The next day, Herndon visited two associates, curled up with a good book in the late morning, then went for a ride in the country, before flirting with more young ladies. After that, it was off "over the prairie beautifully clad with grass and wild flowers" to a Mrs. Smith's, "where we had an excellent supper and fine society." Herndon was back in town by eight p.m., he recorded. "Had several calls," he wrote, before closing out his affairs of the day: "Buried the remains of Quick's and Jones' heads."

Which, as Hardin writes, were no doubt quite "ripe" by then: a full three days after the hanging. Hardin also believes that Herndon did not reunite the heads with the rest of the bodies.

"Most likely," he wrote, "he traipsed out behind Floyd's Hotel, dug a hole and plunked them in. In morose moments, one wonders if the skulls are still there, forlorn, forgotten, shrouded under the blacktop of a frenzied, modern city."

The Houston Heights House of Horror

"Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Five slaughtered in Houston Heights house of horror!"

So the Houston Chronicle newsboys on downtown's street corners must have cried on the afternoon of March 16, 1910, for earlier that day, Harris County Sheriff Archie Anderson walked in on one of the grisliest crime scenes in area history.

According to Chronicle accounts, found stacked in a heap between two beds in a humble three-room shack at 732 Ashland Street were the bodies of Gus Schultz, a lineman for HL&P, and his wife Alice, and their two children (ages three years and five months) and their lodger, Walter Eichmann, a painter. The infant was cradled in the arms of her dead mother.

Bits of skull were scattered all about the room, and the beds, floors and walls halfway to the ceiling were saturated with blood. The victims had been dead several days by the time they were discovered, and Anderson said that he had to air the house out for hours before he could even begin to investigate the crime scene. (The carnage moved more than a few papers, and the Chron was not above toasting its own success, noting that its extra smashed sales records.)

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8 comments
carlalex75
carlalex75

Houston was the murder capital in the early 80s. Clocking about 3 times the murders than now days. I think it was 82 or 84 that it had the record number of homicides in the country. Would like to find an article on that. And Jeffery Statton wasn't List murderer, he was in the other end of the house when it happened

innerlooper
innerlooper

Never knew that much about the horror on Toddville Road until this juicy cover story.  Interesting that List's killer, Statton, befriended Elmer Wayne Henley in prison.  The two have an awful lot in common.

Geezy
Geezy

Damn Houston You Scary!!!!

artichokev
artichokev

perfect seasonal article

I came to Houston from NYC in 1988 & was greeted with a news item about a mummy wrapped body found in a a Montrose attic

this poor soul had been the entertainment at a debauched party and was covered in duct tape, save for a few strategic holes

unfortunately the host had a seizure & in the ensuing excitement the bound lad was forgotten by the party-goers

the host was taken to a hospital for a protracted admission as he was found to have a brain tumor

only months later when neighbors noted a foul odor, was the decomposed youth discovered

I learned that NYC had nothing on my new town when it came to edge & that if ever mummified, always have a designated buddy (or two) to bail you out of unforeseen circumstances

DuckDuckGoose
DuckDuckGoose

"Houston and New Orleans stand alone as the creepiest cities on the Gulf Coast."   Galveston might have something to say about that.

 

Great series of stories. Continue, please sir.

roadsscholar
roadsscholar

@innerlooper 

Read the story again, innerlooper.  Jeffrey Statton didn't kill List.  Elbert "Smiley" Homan did.

jnovalomax
jnovalomax

 @DuckDuckGoose Pre-Fertitta Galveston was creepy. Now it's like freakin' Orlando. Well, that's an exaggeration, but it's a lot less scary than it was.

 
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