1985 AUSTIN, Texas — A government official who died 24 years ago was a victim of murder, not suicide, a state judge has ruled in a case sparked by allegations former President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the killing.
Tuesday’s ruling by District Judge Peter Lowry changed the official cause of death on the death certificate of Henry Marshall, a U.S. Agriculture Department worker found dead in 1961.
Henry Marshall, the son of a farmer, was born in Robertson County, Texas, in 1909. He studied chemistry at the University of Texas before becoming the only teacher at the Nesbitt Rural School. The school was forced to close in May 1932, a victim of the Great Depression.
Marshall managed to find work at a Franklin gin company. However, in August 1934, Marshall became a clerk with the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). He worked at the agency’s Robertson County office. Marshall was a good worker and it eventually held a senior post in the agency.
In 1960 Marshall was asked to investigate the activities of Billie Sol Estes. Marshall discovered that over a two-year period, Estes had purchased 3,200 acres of cotton allotments from 116 different farmers. Marshall wrote to his superiors in Washington on 31st August 1960, that: “The regulations should be strengthened to support our disapproval of every case (of allotment transfers)”.
When he heard the news, Billie Sol Estes sent his lawyer, John P. Dennison, to meet Marshall in Robertson County. At the meeting on 17th January 1961, Marshall told Dennison that Estes was clearly involved in a “scheme or device to buy allotments, and will not be approved, and prosecution will follow if this operation is ever used.”
Marshall was disturbed that as a result of sending a report of his meeting to Washington, he was offered a new post at headquarters. He assumed that Billie Sol Estes had friends in high places and that they wanted him removed from the field office in Robertson County. Marshall refused what he considered to be a bribe.
A week after the meeting between Marshall and Dennison, A. B. Foster, manager of Billie Sol Enterprises, wrote to Clifton C. Carter, a close aide to Lyndon B. Johnson, telling him about the problems that Marshall was causing the company. Foster wrote that “we would sincerely appreciate your investigating this and seeing if anything can be done.”
Over the next few months Marshall had meetings with eleven county committees in Texas. He pointed out that Billie Sol Estes scheme to buy cotton allotments were illegal. This information was then communicated to those farmers who had been sold their cotton allotments to Billie Sol Enterprises.
On 3rd June 1961, Marshall was found dead on his farm by the side of his Chevy Fleetside pickup truck. His rifle lay beside him. He had been shot five times with his own rifle. Soon after County Sheriff Howard Stegall arrived, he decreed that Marshall had committed suicide. No pictures were taken of the crime scene, no blood samples were taken of the stains on the truck (the truck was washed and waxed the following day), no check for fingerprints were made on the rifle or pickup.
Marshall’s wife (Sybil Marshall) and brother (Robert Marshall) refused to believe he had committed suicide and posted a $2,000 reward for information leading to a murder conviction. The undertaker, Manley Jones, also reported: “To me it looked like murder. I just do not believe a man could shoot himself like that.” The undertaker’s son, Raymond Jones, later told the journalist, Bill Adler in 1986: “Daddy said he told Judge Farmer there was no way Mr. Marshall could have killed himself. Daddy had seen suicides before. JPs depend on us and our judgments about such things. we see a lot more deaths than they do. But in this case, Daddy said, Judge Farmer told him he was going to put suicide on the death certificate because the sheriff told him to.” As a result, five days later justice of the Peace Lee Farmer pronounced a verdict of suicide without ordering an autopsy, despite the protestations of Marshall’s widow, according to the newspapers, that “he was not the type to commit suicide.”
Marshall was buried and his work as an investigator was unknown to most, and all but forgotten by a few, while the wheeler-dealer from the Pecos flew on, his twin-motored plane virtually at the beck and call of important public figures, from Senator Yarborough and Lyndon’s staff in Washington down to John White, Commissioner of Agriculture, in Austin. After all, “nothing succeeds like success.”
Sybil Marshall hired an attorney, W. S. Barron, in order to persuade the Robertson County authorities to change the ruling on Marshall’s cause of death. One man who did believe that Marshall had been murdered was Texas Ranger Clint Peoples. He had reported to Colonel Homer Garrison, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, that it “would have been utterly impossible for Mr. Marshall to have taken his own life.”
Peoples also interviewed Nolan Griffin, a gas station attendant in Robertson County. Griffin claimed that on the day of Marshall’s death, he had been asked by a stranger for directions to Marshall’s farm. A Texas Ranger artist, Thadd Johnson, drew a facial sketch based on a description given by Griffin. Peoples eventually concluded that this man was Mac Wallace, the convicted murderer of John Kinser.
In the spring of 1962, Billie Sol Estes was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on fraud and conspiracy charges. Soon afterwards it was disclosed by the Secretary of Agriculture, Orville L. Freeman, that Henry Marshall had been a key figure in the investigation into the illegal activities of Billie Sol Estes. As a result, the Robertson County grand jury ordered that the body of Marshall should be exhumed, and an autopsy performed. After eight hours of examination, Dr. Joseph A. Jachimczyk confirmed that Marshall had not committed suicide. Jachimczyk also discovered a 15 percent carbon monoxide concentration in Marshall’s body. Jachimczyk calculated that it could have been as high as 30 percent at the time of death.
On 4th April 1962, George Krutilek, Estes chief accountant, was found dead. Despite a severe bruise on Krutilek’s head, the coroner decided that he had also committed suicide. The next day, Estes, and three business associates, were indicted by a federal grand jury on 57 counts of fraud. Two of these men, Harold Orr and Coleman Wade, later died in suspicious circumstances. At the time it was said they committed suicide, but later Estes was to claim that both men were murdered by Mac Wallace in order to protect the political career of Lyndon B. Johnson.
The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations also began to investigate the case of Billie Sol Estes. Leonard C. Williams, a former assistant to Henry Marshall, testified about the evidence the department acquired against Estes. Orville L. Freeman also admitted that Marshall was a man “who left this world under questioned circumstances.”
Billy Sol Estes was a “good old Texas boy.” He and Lyndon Baines Johnson were long time friends. The centerpiece in Estes’ home was an autographed portrait of LBJ which perhaps signified their mutually profitable relationship. Estes helped finance Johnson’s campaigns and allowed Johnson to use his private plane for campaigning. On a reciprocal basis Billy Sol Estes was then “federally privileged” to make millions of dollars on fees for storing federal government grain and on federal cotton allotments. The economic relationship between Johnson and Estes was so open that at Kennedy’s first Presidential anniversary celebration, Estes was not only invited to the premier event but was seated at the table immediately next to Johnson.
It was eventually discovered that three officials of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration in Washington had received bribes from Billie Sol Estes. Red Jacobs, Jim Ralph and Bill Morris were eventually removed from their jobs. However, further disclosures suggested that the Secretary of Agriculture, might be involved in the scam. In September 1961, Billie Sol Estes had been fined $42,000 for illegal cotton allotments. Two months later, Freeman appointed Estes to the National Cotton Advisory Board.
It was also revealed that Billie Sol Estes told Wilson C. Tucker, deputy director of the Agriculture Department’s cotton division, on 1st August 1961, that he threatened to “embarrass the Kennedy administration if the investigation were not halted”. Tucker went onto testify: “Estes stated that this pooled cotton allotment matter had caused the death of one person and then asked me if I knew Henry Marshall”. As Tucker pointed out, this was six months before questions about Marshall’s death had been raised publicly.
However, the cover-up continued. Tommy G. McWilliams, the FBI agent in charge of the Henry Marshall investigation, concluded that Marshall had indeed committed suicide. He wrote: “My theory was that he shot himself and then realized he wasn’t dead.” He then claimed that he then tried to kill himself by inhaling carbon monoxide from the exhaust pipe of his truck. McWilliams claimed that Marshall had used his shirt to make a hood over the exhaust pipe. Even J. Edgar Hoover was not impressed with this theory. He wrote on 21st May, 1962: “I just can’t understand how one can fire five shots at himself.”
Joseph A. Jachimczyk also disagreed with the FBI report. He believed that the bruise on Marshall’s forehead had been caused by a “severe blow to the head”. Jachimczyk also rejected the idea that Marshall had used his shirt as a hood. He pointed out that “if this were done, soot must have necessarily been found on the shirt; no such was found.”
The Robertson County grand jury continued to investigate the death of Henry Marshall. However, some observers were disturbed by the news that grand jury member, Pryse Metcalfe, was dominating proceedings. Metcalfe was County Sheriff Howard Stegall’s son-in-law.
On 1st June 1962, the Dallas Morning News reported that President John F. Kennedy had “taken a personal interest in the mysterious death of Henry Marshall.” As a result, the story said, Robert Kennedy “has ordered the FBI to step up its investigation of the case.”
In June 1962, Billie Sol Estes, appeared before the grand jury. He was accompanied by John Cofer, a lawyer who represented Lyndon B. Johnson when he was accused of ballot-rigging when elected to the Senate in 1948 and Mac Wallace when he was charged with the murder of John Kinser. Billie Sol Estes spent almost two hours before the grand jury, but he invoked the Texas version of the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer most questions on grounds that he might incriminate himself.
Tommy G. McWilliams of the FBI also appeared before the grand jury and put forward the theory that Henry Marshall had committed suicide. Dr. Joseph A. Jachimczyk also testified that “if in fact this is a suicide, it is the most unusual one I have seen during the examination of approximately 15,000 deceased persons.”
McWilliams did admit that it was “hard to kill yourself with a bolt-action 22”. This view was shared by John McClellan, a member of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He posed for photographs with a .22 caliber rifle similar to Marshall’s. McClellan pointed out: “It doesn’t take many deductions to come to the irrevocable conclusion that no man committed suicide by placing the rifle in that awkward position and then (cocking) it four times more.”
Despite the evidence presented by Jachimczyk, the grand jury agreed with McWilliams. It ruled that after considering all the known evidence, the jury considers it “inconclusive to substantiate a definite decision at this time, or to overrule any decision heretofore made.” Later, it was disclosed that some jury members believed that Marshall had been murdered. Ralph McKinney blamed Pryse Metcalfe for this decision. “Pryse was as strong in the support of the suicide verdict as anyone I have ever seen in my life, and I think he used every influence he possibly could against the members of the grand jury to be sure it came out with a suicide verdict.”
In 1964 the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations reported that it could find no link between Marshall’s death and his efforts to bring to an end Billie Sol Estes’ cotton allotment scheme. The following year Billie Sol Estes went to prison for fraud relating to the mostly nonexistent fertilizer tanks he had put up for collateral as part of the cotton allotment scam. He was released in 1971 but he was later sent back to prison for mail fraud and non-payment of income tax.
Clint Peoples retired from the Texas Rangers in 1974 but he continued to investigate the murder of Henry Marshall. In 1979 Peoples interviewed Billie Sol Estes in prison. Estes promised that “when he was released, he would solve the puzzle of Henry Marshall’s death”.
Billie Sol Estes was released from prison in December 1983. Three months later he appeared before the Robertson County grand jury. He confessed that Henry Marshall was murdered because it was feared he would “blow the whistle” on the cotton allotment scam. Billie Sol Estes claimed that Marshall was murdered on the orders of Lyndon B. Johnson, who was afraid that his own role in this scam would become public knowledge. According to Estes, Clifton C. Carter, Johnson’s long-term aide, had ordered Marshall to approve 138 cotton allotment transfers.
Billie Sol Estes told the grand jury that he had a meeting with Johnson and Carter about Henry Marshall. Johnson suggested that Marshall be promoted out of Texas. Estes agreed and replied: “Let’s transfer him, let’s get him out of here. Get him a better job, make him an assistant secretary of agriculture.” However, Marshall rejected the idea of being promoted in order to keep him quiet.
Estes, Johnson and Carter had another meeting on 17th January 1961, to discuss what to do about Henry Marshall. Also, at the meeting was Mac Wallace. After it was pointed out that Marshall had refused promotion to Washington, Johnson said: “It looks like we’ll just have to get rid of him.” Wallace, who Estes described as a hitman, was given the assignment.
Billie Sol Estes also told the grand jury that he met Clifton C. Carter and Mac Wallace at his home in Pecos after Marshall was killed. Wallace described how he waited for Marshall at his farm. He planned to kill him and make it appear as if Marshall committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. However, Marshall fought back and he was forced to shoot him with his own rifle. He quoted Carter as saying that Wallace “sure did botch it up.” Johnson was now forced to use his influence to get the authorities in Texas to cover-up the murder.
The grand jury rejected the testimony of Billie Sol Estes. Carter, Wallace and Johnson were all dead and could not confirm Billie Sol’s testimony. However, the Grand Jury did change the verdict on the death of Henry Marshall from suicide to death by gunshot.
Convicted swindler Billie Sol Estes told a grand jury that illegal cotton allotments and other business deals he arranged with Lyndon B. Johnson’s help in the early 1960’s generated $21 million a year, with part of the money going to a slush fund controlled by LBJ, sources close to the grand jury said Friday. _ Dallas Morning News
According to the sources, Estes testified that Wallace hit Marshall on the head and then placed a plastic bag over Marshall’s head and the exhaust pipe of Marshall’s pickup truck.
About that time, the sources quoted Estes as saying, Wallace heard a noise that sounded like an approaching car. Fearing that he was about to be discovered, Wallace shot Marshall in the abdomen five times with the .22-caliber rifle and left the scene, the sources quoted Estes as testifying. In the next two years, three other men with ties to Estes – George Krutilek, a Clint, Texas accountant; Amarillo businessman Harold Eugene Orr, and Chicago fertilizer supplier Howard Pratt – were found with indications that they had died of carbon monoxide poisoning, according to press reports at the time.
On 9th August, 1984, Estes’ lawyer, Douglas Caddy, wrote to Stephen S. Trott at the U.S. Department of Justice. In the letter Caddy claimed that Estes, Lyndon B. Johnson, Mac Wallace and Clifton C. Carter had been involved in the murders of Henry Marshall, George Krutilek, Harold Orr, Ike Rogers, Coleman Wade, Josefa Johnson, John Kinser and John F. Kennedy. Caddy added: “Mr. Estes is willing to testify that LBJ ordered these killings, and that he transmitted his orders through Cliff Carter to Mac Wallace, who executed the murders.”
Mr. Estes is willing to testify that LBJ ordered these killings, and that he transmitted his orders through Cliff Carter to Mac Wallace, who executed the murders. In the cases of murders nos. 1-7, Mr. Estes’ knowledge of the precise details concerning the way the murders were executed stems from conversations he had shortly after each event with Cliff Carter and Mac Wallace.
In addition, a short time after Mr. Estes was released from prison in 1971, he met with Cliff Carter and they reminisced about what had occurred in the past, including the murders. During their conversation, Carter orally compiled a list of 17 murders which had been committed, some of which Mr. Estes was unfamiliar. A living witness was present at that meeting and should be willing to testify about it. He is Kyle Brown, recently of Houston and now living in Brady, Texas.
Four days later, the Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics ruled that there was now “clear and convincing” evidence to prove Henry Marshall was murdered and State District Judge Peter Lowry ordered that the death certificate should be changed to “homicide by gunshot wounds”.
John Dunn, the man who had dared to seek and speak the truth, was destroyed. He was threatened, hounded and condemned. His business holdings were sacrificed. The City Council barred him from practice in the municipal hospital on vicious, trumped-up charges of malpractice. He fought the issue against a stacked tribunal in public hearing where, in diabolical perversion of the finest and highest virtue of the medical practice – the warm sympathy of the real physician for his patient-he was pictured in the public mind as guilty of lust for a negro woman whose life he had saved. By corrupt and ruthless; power in his home town, he was destroyed, professionally and financially and in virtual penury was forced to move away to seek another start in anonymity.
“Dr. John Dunn was guilty of but one thing and that was mistaken judgment. He had dared to believe that truth and virtue would prevail where public apathy condones illicit power, and he had paid the price exacted by faith while denied in reason. This is the second profound historic principle-and tragic truth, that his marvelous investigation proved.” Dallas Morning News (1962)