Glenwood Cemetery's Avenging Angel: A Shooting Victim's Family's Vengeance Plot Fails

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Houston Babylon, the feature coming out this week, dissects a few of the creepiest and most chilling events in Houston history. In coming up with four of those tales, we stumbled over many more -- too many to fit the print edition.

All this week we'll bring you some extra, online-only stories. Without further ado, here is the first...

Glenwood Cemetery, the final resting place for Howard Hughes and many other exemplars of Houston's high and mighty, is full of marble angels. All wear melancholy countenances, or tender half-smiles, all except for the one standing guard over the grave of William Dunovant.

A South Carolina-bred rice and sugar planter and would-be railroad magnate, Dunovant and business partner William T. Eldridge founded the Cane Belt Railroad in 1898. At first, the Cane Belt was used to transport sugarcane from Dunovant's plantation near the town of Bonus ten miles north to Lakeside, which was near Eagle Lake, but eventually the line was extended from Sealy all the way to the Gulf.

Perhaps that was an overambitious plan, because by 1902, the Cane Belt was floundering, and Dunovant's shares had been bought out and he had been removed from his position as president. Eldridge, also a sugar planter, stayed on the board as vice-president. Dunovant was none too pleased with that arrangement.

Yes, the Cane Belt's cargoes may have been sweet, but by August of '02, things were definitely sour between Dunovant and Eldridge. According to the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Dunovant was reportedly going around Eagle Lake calling Eldridge a liar, a cheat, and "a dog-faced sonofabitch," and he also publicly threatened to kill Eldridge.

Dunovant never got the chance to make good on that promise. On August 11, as Dunovant boarded a passenger car of a train Eldridge was already aboard, Eldridge got the drop on him. After emptying his revolver into Dunovant, Eldridge pounced upon his bleeding body and pistol-whipped Dunovant's head hard enough to lacerate the scalp.

Dunovant's corpse was taken to Glenwood for burial. The Avenging Angel, brandishing its fierce sword and with the crazy eyes that look like those you see in the mugshots of the women on Lifetime's all-female true-crime show Snapped, was commissioned by Dunovant's sister. It truly lives up to its billing as "a specter bent on revenge."

It turns out that the Dunovant family would not content themselves with leaving their lust for payback in supernatural hands.

Eldridge was charged with Dunovant's murder, bonded out, and returned to his home in Eagle Lake, a town full of Dunovant's friends, family members and supporters. Barely two months after Dunovant's demise, a Dunovant partisan named W.T. Cobb blasted his shotgun at Eldridge as he was walking up his front steps. Cobb missed and was charged with attempted murder and acquitted on September 26, 1903. Strike one for the Avenging Angel.

The months dragged on. Eldridge's attorneys reset his case over and over again, and Eldridge defiantly remained in Eagle Lake.

Team Avenging Angel struck again on June 6, 1904. W.E. Calhoun, Dunovant's brother-in-law, sniped Eldridge out of a second-story window in downtown Eagle Lake. Calhoun's aim was true -- the 30-30 Winchester shell ripped through Eldridge's right lung and chest just above the heart, continued through his left hand and finally lodged in the side of a windowsill at the Eagle Lake depot.

Calhoun was arrested as he attempted to leave the building from which the shot was fired, but none of the witnesses on the scene would testify against him. He was no-billed by a Colorado County grand jury.

Which was probably of lesser import to Calhoun than the fact that Eldridge miraculously survived the attack. Strike two.

Eldridge finally did get the message that perhaps living in Eagle Lake was not exactly conducive to his continued existence on the planet, so on July 4, he announced his planned move to Houston, along with his resignation from the Cane Belt Railroad.

In November, Eldridge finally had his day in court and was acquitted on grounds of self-defense. You'd think that would be the end of it, but by this time Eldridge was out for blood. Weeks after Calhoun was no-billed, he had the misfortune to board a train Eldridge was already riding, and Eldridge wasted no time in reprising the original murder by filling Dunovant's kinsman with lead before he could draw his pistol. Calhoun's body was taken to Glenwood and interred next to Dunovant's ferocious-yet-hapless Avenging Angel, who had now officially struck out.

calhoun grave.JPG
John Nova Lomax
The final resting place of W.E. Calhoun, a would-be instrument of the Avenging Angel's designs.
As for Eldridge, after again pleading self-defense and again winning an acquittal, he eventually wound up in Sugar Land, where he allied himself with Galveston's wealthy Kempner family. With their backing, he helped buy a 20,000-acre sugar plantation and refinery, which was later reorganized and modernized under the new owners as mighty Imperial Sugar, with Eldridge serving as manager. He also bought and sold seven railroads in his remaining years, which sound as if they must have been quite comfortable, despite the two holes in his body from Calhoun's 30-30 shell.

With a population of 200, Sugar Land had been on the point of withering away when Eldridge arrived; by the time he died, in 1932, it had 2,500 residents. That's one reason Eldridge Road and Eldridge Parkway both bear his name today.

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