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St. Patrick’s and Sts. Peter and Paul in Liturical Arts Magazine

Posted by on Oct 4, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  The Liturgical Arts articles and photos from the OU Architecture Library collection in Norman.  Vintage images by Julius Shulman, and the modern-day photos by Lynne Rostochil.


Last week, the Oklahoma City Foundation for Architecture sponsored a tour of one of my very favorite buildings of all time, the glorious St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on NW 19th and Portland.  This building is special for so many reasons, from the architecture itself to the manner in which it was constructed.  You can read all about the fascinating history of the church in the Mod Blog.  There’s also this Mod Blog featuring St. Patrick’s in Progressive Architecture, where one of Julius Shulman’s images of an angel made the cover.

The modern cathedral, which was designed by Robert Lawton Jones of the Tulsa firm, Murray Jones Murray, was also the subject of an article in the August 1962 issue of Liturgical Arts magazine.  Its sister, Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, is also featured in the magazine, so I thought I’d share both with you.  The article begins with an editorial (click a photo to enlarge it):


Then, there’s an article entitled “Vitality in Oklahoma,” which provides a historical context for the building of these two very modern takes on Catholic church design:

Next up is a spread on Sts. Peter and Paul, which was designed by Murray Jones Murray and is located in Tulsa.

How great are those exterior angels?  Here’s a close-up photo of them that I took a couple of years ago:

And, here’s the spread on St. Pat’s, which had recently won the first prize in the annual Spaeth-Cardinal Lercaro design competition:

Also, there’s an interesting article in the magazine about abstract art in the church:

Finally, I can never get enough of the angels at St. Pat’s and had to take tons of photos of them during the tour.  Thought I’d share a few of the images with you:

The inner sanctuary surrounded by angels.  I learned from architect Tony Blatt that the skylights in the sanctuary were covered soon after the church was completed because they leaked so badly.  They remained that way for decades until Tony and some friends came up with the idea of making a domed-shaped skylight to cover the existing ones to block out the rain.  So, now the sanctuary is as light and bright as it was the day it was constructed.

It’s such an amazing feeling to walk among the 50 angels that surround the sanctuary.

The Felix Candela-designed thin-shell concrete umbrellas that allow for such openness inside:

The Reverand Thomas McSherry has had the honor of calling both Sts. Peter and Paul and St. Patrick’s home and he’s an excellent caretaker for this stunning piece of mid-century modern architecture.  Here, he’s telling tour goers some of the interesting history of the church:

Finally, a parting shot of St. Pat’s as the sun was going down after the tour.  Even in silhouette, it’s a stunner:


The Flamingo: Bringing a Little Palm Springs to OKC

Posted by on Sep 26, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Photos by Charlie Merida of Kevo Properties.

Over the last year or so, many of us have excitedly watched the transformation of the former University Manor Apartments, located at 1844 NW 23rd across from OCU.  Here’s what the building looked like in 2010 (from the Tax Assessor website):

It’s always been a building I’ve admired for its mid-century style and the repeating pattern of the walkway in front.  It’s a beautiful design and the building, which was constructed in 1961, looks like it has always been well maintained, but the bland tan paint job didn’t show off the complex to its full potential.  Well, all of that has changed in a big way with the structure’s stunning transformation from University Manor to the sleek and fabulous Flamingo:

How fun is this?  I’m so in love with all of that color, I can’t stand it!

The 32-unit complex offers 31 one-bedroom, 550-square-foot apartments and one two bed/two bath apartment, along with on-site laundry.  Inside, the light and colorful units have been completely updated and feature well-appointed kitchens (with custom-crafted dividers) and crisp, clean bathrooms.

The nice-sized living areas, which open to the kitchen, are a pleasant surprise, too:

Two couples, Jason and Sara Kate Little and Ben and Jessica Chamberlain are the brains behind this beautiful renovation, and the team was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the project.

Why did you decide to go with a mid century theme?

Flamingo disappeared on 23rd Street before we painted it and we felt it deserved a Palm Springs style upgrade.  We chose a mid century design because it fit the lines and the era and left room for playfulness and that we thought could bring the property to life. — Jess

Do you have any original drawings or photo of the complex?

I spent hours looking through the archives at the Historical Society and never seemed to stumble upon that “needle in the haystack.”  Instead, we gained inspiration from roadside motels from Route 66 and Palm Springs, as well as Luis Barragan for his use of color and form.” — Sara Kate

What has the response been to this project?

The response has been really favorable.  It’s been really fun to see so many people get excited about the design and most surprisingly, the color.  I never thought I would have men messaging and approaching us to tell us how much they loved the pink!  It makes me very excited that our city is embracing something that is a little quirky and outside the box. — Sara Kate

Is this the first project like this you’ve done?

I consult on aesthetics for clients and Jason helps broker real estate investments for his job.  We were really looking for a way to start doing design and development projects together and so we created “Nostalgia Shoppe” as a vehicle to do that.  We partnered on this project with some of our best friends, which was fun, but we are also working on another project independently that will hopefully be live next year. — Sara Kate

We have bought and renovated several historic multi family properties in Oklahoma City but Flamingo is a unique project for us because we have collaborated with the Little’s and we have exercised a little more creativity on this renovation.  Luckily, we have a solid team of subcontractors who are willing to with us on installing a custom made metal bar cabinet or making sure we get the lighting just right or helping us bring the color palette to life.  It has been fun to let our eccentricities come through in design versus picking a safer route and even more fun collaborating with dear friends.  — Jess

Do you plan to do more projects like this?

At some point in the future there will be more projects after a respite from construction.  It was fulfilling to see the vision come to life in the end.  Ben

Well, if the Flamingo is any indication of what this dynamic team of friends can do, I can’t wait for them to get started on their next colorful, fun, and invigorating project.  If you are interested in leasing an apartment at the swanky Flamingo, contact Shawn Shafer at Kevo Properties — 818/915.3168.

In the Rearview: The Life and Times of OKC’s Most Notorious Bootlegger — Conclusion

Posted by on Sep 21, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Photos from the Oklahoma History Center unless otherwise stated.

This week, we wrap up the story of bootlegger, Lindsey Chambless and his cohorts in crime.  To read previous installments, go to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

“On a Job”

On the balmy evening of Thursday, July 5, 1956, Lindsey, Mary Lou, and the kids were entertaining fellow bootlegger, Seth Stone and his wife at their home across the street from the lot where Putnam City High School was about to be constructed.  I imagine that Lindsey and his family were enjoying a lazy summer week of attending fireworks demonstrations, eating fried chicken, drinking cold lemonade (likely spiked in Lindsey and Mary Lou’s case), and having watermelon seed spitting contests in their backyard.  It was summer, after all.

As the group sat down for dinner just before 7:00, the phone rang … and not the liquor store phone that Mary Lou got busted for taking orders on several months before.  Lindsey went into the living room to take the call.  When he hung up, the 40-year-old rum runner excused himself, saying that he had to go “on a job.”  Then, he grabbed his rifle and revolver and, as he was heading out the door, told Mary Lou, “If you don’t hear from me by noon on Friday, have Dave Tant (his attorney) start looking for me.  I’ll be in jail somewhere or in trouble.”

The rest of the group finished their meal, then Stone and his wife left.  Interestingly, Stone and Lindsey and recently stopped working with large wholesalers, led by big time bootlegger, Grady King, and planned to start their own rum running syndicate, which apparently wasn’t going over well with local underworld bosses.  Meet Grady King:

In fact, just a couple of weeks before on June 24th, Stone was sitting in his living room when a car drove up and shot at him through the living room window.  He fared much better than Lindsey had when he was shot; however, because the bullet barely missed Stone and the would-be assassin scrambled back to the waiting car and quickly took off.

Stone and his wife came from the Lawton area, where the bootlegger once claimed to a local reporter, “It is much more wide open than in Oklahoma City.  The girls here, well they just … uh, you know, it is wide open.  Of course, it’s an Army post town and all that.  But it looks to me like an Army post town would be more strict than other towns for this type of activity.”  His wife also lamented about the poor quality of spirits – presumably brought in by other bootleggers and not themselves – when she said, “Tell me one place you can get a fifth of Ancient Age whiskey (a high quality brand).  (The whiskey sold in Lawton) isn’t even fit to make a cocktail out of.”  Maybe that’s why the couple moved to Oklahoma City and hooked up with Lindsey – to get better quality booze and move up to the big leagues.

Lindsey Doesn’t Come Home

As the night faded into morning, Mary Lou began to worry about Lindsey.  He always called when he was out on a job, even if it lasted for days.  She should have heard from him by now.  With the kids in bed, the house clean, the dinner dishes put away, and the TV networks signed off for the night, there wasn’t much for her to do but smoke, pace, and imagine the worst.

Thursday became Friday and Friday turned into Saturday, and she still hadn’t heard from Lindsey.  The young wife’s trepidation turned into near panic, and Mary Lou knew that it was time to do the unthinkable … call the police.

Sheriff Bob Turner and Deputy “Boots” Capshaw arrived, interviewed Mary Lou, and began an investigation immediately.

(Sheriff Bob Turner after a raid in 1955.)

(“Boots” Capshaw – right – after a 1957 raid.)

Within hours, they found Lindsey’s car abandoned in the parking lot at the Municipal (now Will Rogers) Airport.  There was no evidence of a struggle; the bootlegger’s shotgun was missing but his hat and pistol remained in the car.  The pistol made police suspect the worst.  One vice squad officer who had many dealings with Lindsey over the years said, “I don’t believe Chambless would have got in another car of his own accord without his pistol….  He never trusted anybody that far, not even his good friends.”

Lindsey’s old pal in the Cuban robbery, Gene Paul Norris, was brought in for questioning but denied all involvement in the bootlegger’s disappearance.  Before he was released, however, the killer told authorities, “Don’t bother looking for Chambless.”

Immediately, informants came forward saying that Lindsey had been murdered, but as days turned into weeks and months with no sign of the missing man, others speculated that he had run off to avoid the five-year sentence looming over his head.  Capshaw told reporters, “I’m not going to speculate on whether he’s dead or alive.  I just want to know if he’s standing or lying down.”  Mary Lou’s gut told her that Lindsey was surely “lying down” somewhere.

A few months later, police uncovered a crazy gangster plot indicating that Mary Lou’s instincts might be right.   Apparently, a group of Dallas mobsters that included Lindsey’s old pal from the Cuban holdup, Gene Paul Norris, met with a few big time Oklahoma County bootleggers during OU/Texas weekend in Dallas.  Led by “the mastermind of the Oklahoma bootlegging syndicate,” Grady King, the Oklahoma gang supposedly offered to pay their Dallas friends $15,000 to kill five bootleggers in the Sooner State.  These guys are some of the players in the conspiracy — that’s Grady King signing the paper:

One of the intended victims was Seth Stone, who had fled back to Lawton after Lindsey’s disappearance because he knew he had a price on his head and the next shooter might not miss him.

By eliminating these five competitors, the two gangland groups led by Grady and Norris reasoned that the bootlegging wars could end and they would take over the entire Oklahoma operation for themselves.  However, their plan derailed when one of their hired guns turned out to be good friends with one of the intended marks and told him all about the nefarious murder plan.  In a plot twist straight out of a Hitchcock thriller, the intended victim and his supposed assassin then schemed to double cross their bosses.  The assassin would go back to Norris with some of the victim’s possessions as proof that he killed his target, get paid for the assassination, and the two friends would split the proceeds.

With all of the plotting, planning, and scheming going on, it’s no big surprise that someone blabbed to the wrong person and the police found out about this latest and most daring episode of the bootlegging wars.  Since the plan took place so soon after Lindsey’s disappearance, authorities suspected that he may have been the first hit in this crazy plot for control and one detective told reporters, “We intend to break the back of that outfit before anything else happens.”  As for the double crossers, it was never a good idea to go against Norris, and, not surprisingly, one of them soon ended up in a ditch.

Although Grady King and his associates were arrested…

… they were soon released for lack of evidence.

Meanwhile, with no one to support her and the kids, Mary Lou lost their house out in the country and moved to Cisco, Texas, to be near her mother and Lindsey’s former flame, Stella.  Looking for a fresh start in life after her divorce from Lindsey, Stella had moved to the small town in 1949 and was working as a waitress in a popular café.  There, she met a local mechanic and World War II vet named Robert Massey, who was a widower 10 years her senior.  The two married in 1953 and, grateful for the quiet of her new life, Stella quickly settled into small-town life and became a regular fixture at the local Methodist Church.

Mary Lou still had to face charges of running a liquor store out of her Oklahoma City, home, though.  After a short trial in the spring of 1957, the young mother was found guilty and given probation.  As for Lindsey, he was still nowhere to be found, although rumors swirled that he was in Mexico, San Antonio, Lawton, Wichita Falls, back in Oklahoma City, or buried somewhere in the Arbuckles.

The wild rumors were put to rest, however, on that rainy November night over a year after Lindsey’s abrupt disappearance when Sheriff Turner, Deputy Capshaw, and FBI agent, D.A. “Jelly” Bryce found the rum runner’s decomposed body in the shallow grave on the Rowland farm not far from where they had found Lindsey’s car at the airport 17 months before.  The cat-and-mouse game that they and the “Flying Bootlegger” had been playing for decades was finally over.

Norris Seeks Revenge

When police examined the remains of Lindsey Chambless, they found that he had been shot twice (once in the head and once in the hip) and had received a “crushing blow to the head,” according to the Oklahoman and Lindsey’s death certificate:


Lindsey’s wife, Mary Lou, and his sister were among the handful of mourners at the bootlegger’s graveside as he was laid to rest less than 10 miles from where his car was found at the airport the year before.  There is no marker on his grave.


While police highly suspected that Gene Paul Norris either hired someone to take out Lindsey or, since he was known as “the Smiling Killer” and had been seen in Oklahoma City at the time of Lindsey’s disappearance, pulled the trigger himself, they had no evidence.  Either way, karma finally caught up with the charming but cold-blooded gangster, who law enforcement in Texas and Oklahoma called the “most dangerous man in the Southwest” and would kill anyone, man or woman, for a price … or just for revenge.

That was the case in April of 1957, nearly a year after Lindsey’s disappearance, when Norris followed through on a long-simmering plan to seek revenge against the man who, he believed, landed his beloved big brother, Pete, in prison 20 years before.  Pete “Big Boy” Norris was 10 years older than Gene Paul and, as with many sibling relationships, the younger brother adored his older sibling and followed him everywhere.

In 1937, Pete labored as an oil field worker and rum runner in Stafford, Texas (which has now been pretty much gobbled up by Houston) when he killed fellow bootlegger, R.E. Rutledge after a dispute.  Gambler Johnnie Brannan was a witness to the events and testified against Pete in court.  The elder Norris was convicted and sentenced to a long stretch in nearby Ferguson Prison.  In 1942, Gene Paul concocted a successful plan to break out his big brother, and the siblings went on the lam for several months, robbing stores and banks to get enough money to live on.  The escape and robberies landed Pete at the top of the Oklahoma and Texas authorities’ list as Public Enemy #1.

In late February 1943, a tip led a 75-man posse to a remote farm in Texas where the two brothers were holed up.  The brothers surrendered without incident, and Gene Paul got eight years for planning the breakout and the robberies (he was paroled after two years).  Pete was sent back to prison, escaped again in 1944, then was caught a few days later in Detroit. The big league trouble maker then received a 700-year sentence, which all but ensured he would spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Gene Paul long fostered a great hatred for the man he blamed for Pete’s initial incarceration, Houston gangster Johnnie Brannan, and resolved to take revenge.  According to an account by Texas Ranger, Johnny Klevenhagen:

Houston police received a call from a known associate of Brannan.  He said that he had been trying for hours to telephone Brannan, all to no avail.  A patrol car was dispatched to Brannan’s home.  The officers knocked on the door, but received no reply.  They tried the front door and found it unlocked.  When they entered the house, they were greeted with a gruesome sight.  Both Brannan and his semi-invalid wife were dead, and the heads of both victims had been beaten to a bloody pulp.  In fact, Brannan had been hit so hard that one of his eyeballs had been literally knocked from his head.  The crime-scene investigation revealed that, after the killers had massacred their victims, they had gone into the bathroom and washed blood off themselves.  Then they had calmly gone into the kitchen and drunk coffee.

At first, no one suspected the gangster of the brutal double homicide, but when police picked up Norris’s bodyguard, William Carl Humphrey on a public intoxication charge a few days later in Temple, Texas, they noticed he was wearing a gold ring in the shape of a horseshoe, which was just like one Brannan wore and that was missing from the murder scene.  However, Humphrey had bailed out and skipped town before homicide detectives to get to him and question him about the slayings.

The Brutal End of Norris and Humphrey

The two criminals laid low for a few weeks until they popped back up near their old stomping ground: Fort Worth.  Fort Worth Police Chief Hightower got word that the criminals were planning to hold up the Fort Worth National Bank branch on the Carswell Air Force Base in this, the most daring crime of their already-impressive careers.  On April 29th, Norris and Humphrey, who were both just 35 years old, were driving along Meandering Road near the base in Norris’s souped up and shiny new ’57 Chevy heading to heist the $225,000 payroll at the branch (which would be worth $1.8 million in 2017).  They were spotted by police, who were told to keep an eye out for the duo.  A thrilling pursuit began.

I’ve combined two accounts from the Texas Rangers website about what happened next:

Heading toward the area, the Rangers soon spotted the pair, and the race was on. Humphrey was driving the outlaw car. Jay in pursuit, Ranger Jim Ray was in a second car right behind his captain. Hitting speeds of 115 mph, the chase continued. For the next several minutes, a running gunfight covered an area over much of the western area of Fort Worth. 

Finally, Humphrey made a fatal mistake: he turned onto a country road that was covered with caliche (crushed rock). It had rained shortly before, and the road surface was very slick. When Humphrey turned onto the road, he fishtailed several times before straightening out.  (Texas Ranger) Jay did two complete spins himself, but ended up heading in the right direction.

The race continued along the road that ran beside the swollen Walnut Creek. All the while, Norris and Klevenhagen were hanging out their respective car windows, firing away at one another. Just outside the tiny community of Springtown, the chase came to an end.  

Charging into a curve too fast, the bandits’ ’57 Chevy slid off the road and slammed into a tree. 

(Police inspecting Norris’s car after the incident.)

Jay tried to stop behind the killers’ car, but instead slid right up beside it. He said later that this really worried him. He was concerned that Norris would be able to level his deadly shotgun—Norris’ weapon of choice—at the Rangers. He need not have worried. Though shaken, Norris and Humphrey stumbled out of their car and started running up a nearby hill.  Jay rolled out of his Dodge and gave chase. In a desperate effort to escape, Humphrey and Norris jumped into the flooded Walnut Creek and made for the far shore. Humphrey headed north and made it to a small island in the creek. He died on that island in a hail of Jay’s gunfire. Meanwhile, Norris was trying to go straight across the creek. He made it to the water’s edge.  Norris surely knew what was about to happen, but he also knew that all he had waiting for him if he surrendered was the electric chair.  He started shooting and, in turn, he took a full twenty eight rounds.  Banks started at Norris’s ankles and worked his way to the top of his head.  (Norris was shot 16 times while Humphrey was shot 23 times.)

As Jay said, the most heartless of killers, Gene Paul Norris, “died screaming like a baby.”


You can read more of Norris’s murderous exploits here and here,

Gene Paul Norris was buried in the family plot near his family’s farm in Healdton:


Where Was Lindsey Murdered?

With the death of Norris, the investigation into Lindsey’s murder was shut down and the case was closed, but there has been speculation ever since Lindsey’s bones were discovered in the shallow grave about how and when he actually ended up there.  Here’s one account from a blogger at that fits in with several other accounts I’ve read.  The author accidentally got Gene Paul Norris’s name mixed up with another of Lindsey’s cohorts, George Fuqua, but the store is intriguing and has a ring of truth to it since Norris’s family had a farm in the Healdton area.  I’ve changed the references from Fuqua to Norris to avoid confusion (the name is not in italics and isn’t part of the actual quote):

Chambless’ remains were officially found near the South Canadian river, south of Wheatland and a bit west of Will Rogers Field (OKC), but he had actually been killed and first buried on a farm near Healdton. The killer was one Gene Paul Norris, who himself was later executed by Dallas police while en route to hold up the Carswell AFB finance office. Unknown to Norris, the FBI had an informant who witnessed the murder but could never testify to it because she was Norris‘s wife. She said that Chambless was forced to dig his own grave, then shot.  After Norris’s death, the FBI dug up the remains and moved them to the spot where they were officially found, then waited for a rainstorm to cover their tracks and settle the ground over the new grave before “receiving a tip” and uncovering the bones.  … Norris’s parents were decent folk who in no way shared any responsibility for their son’s criminal activities, but the killing took place on their farm. That’s why the FBI covered up the original burial and the transfer. 

Lindsey and Gene Paul Norris were gone, but the debate whether or not to end prohibition in Oklahoma was heating up once again.

Oklahomans Will Vote Dry as Long as They Can Stagger to the Polls

… or so said Will Rogers, and he was right for a long time.  Although illegal, it was easy for Oklahomans to obtain liquor (beer was legal), and because it was bootlegged, they didn’t have to pay taxes on it.  Another benefit was that bootleggers would discreetly deliver their product to customers.  And, with just less than 10% of illegal alcohol being confiscated, bootleggers made a ton of money with relatively little risk of being caught by authorities and supplies were ample.

All of that changed with the election of Tulsa County attorney, 33-year-old J. Howard Edmondson, who took office in 1959.

To force the repeal of prohibition, Edmondson began strictly enforcing the ban on alcohol and, as a result according to, “Oklahoma came closer to being truly ‘dry’ than ever before.”  A petition was circulated calling for the issue to come before voters yet again…

While, as usual, religious groups, concerned mothers’ groups, and others fought hard to retain prohibition:

(Leaders of the Mothers Against Prohibition group.)

Election day came.

While some people gathered at the State Capitol to eagerly watch the vote…

… others against repeal gathered in churches to pray for continued prohibition:

The votes were gathered and tallied, and by the evening it was announced that the “wets” had won the day.  Tulsa World reporter, Gene Curtis, wrote that “more than 700,000 voters cast ballots, and the state’s growing urban centers flexed their political muscle. Tulsa County provided the largest margin for the wets’ victory — 86,600 to 23,700. Oklahoma County voters approved repeal by a vote of 81,000 to 48,000.”

At long last, prohibition was over … but not everyone was happy about it.

Curtis reported that “a Dallas bootlegger told a Tulsa World reporter: ‘Just like that. It happens just like that. After building up my business for years, those damn Oklahomans go to the polls and vote to make me a bankrupt.  I tell you, it just ain’t right,’ he added.”

Meanwhile, liquor store owners happily began stocking all kinds of spirits:


After Lindsey was officially declared dead, his young widow, Mary Lou stayed in Cisco, Texas, near her mother and Lindsey’s previous wife, Stella.  She remarried around 1958 and had a daughter with her second husband.  She spent the rest of her life in the area and died in 1993.  Stella, who had to be the unluckiest women in the world when it came to finding love in all of the wrong places, died in 1964.

The beautiful Western Hills Motel in Fort Worth where the Cubans were robbed burned to the ground in 1969, and a collection of ugly, nondescript buildings occupy the lot today.

As for the Cubans, their efforts to reinstall deposed President Carlos Prio Socarras ultimately failed, and the former leader died in exile in Miami in 1977. The man who overthrew him, Fulgencio Batista was himself overthrown when Communist-backed Fidel Castro seized the country on New Year’s Day, 1959.  Sadly, Socarras later and very aptly stated, “They say that I was a terrible president of Cuba. That may be true. But I was the best president Cuba ever had.”

Another of Lindsey’s many underworld associates, longtime Dixie Mafia hood George Fuqua, met a bloody end.  Fuqua was one of the guys who helped Lindsey run other bootleggers off the road and stole their stock, remember?  Anyway, in 1968, the 45-year-old gangster and his 28-year-old girlfriend, Doris Sorrells Grooms, were found murdered, their bodies tossed into a ditch along what is now Spring Creek Parkway in Plano, Texas.  Both had been shot in the head several times.  Interestingly, there’s a connection between George Fuqua, the man who supposedly killed him (but was never arrested for the murder), George McGann, and the Kennedy assassination.  Read all about it here.

Here’s Fuqua’s death certificate:


And here’s a photo of his beautiful but unfortunate companion, Doris, in earlier days:


While many of the gangsters in this story ended life in a very dramatic and bad way, a few like rum running kingpin Grady King, survived into old age.  King, who, along with Norris, may have been the one to fix the hit on Lindsey, diversified his interests while still a bootlegger.  He invested in oil companies in the region and was able to easily make the transition to a legitimate businessman after the end of prohibition.  He died in Edmond in 2009.

Another of the bad guys in this story lived a long life.  Although he received a 700-year sentence that was meant to keep him behind bars for life, Gene Paul Norris’s elder brother, Pete, was released on parole in 1960. During his long years in prison, Pete took advantage of every educational opportunity he could and studied agriculture, law, psychology, and painting.  He told one reporter that education changed him and said, “If I hadn’t changed, I’d be a stark, raving maniac.”  He married, tended to the family farm in Healdton (where Lindsey was supposedly murdered and initially buried), died there in 1974, and is buried in a nearby cemetery.

And that’s it for the meandering saga of Lindsey Chambless.  Believe it or not, during my research journey into his crazy life, I met a lot of characters that I didn’t introduce here.  So, you may be seeing more stories of Oklahoma during prohibition in the future — yay!

Finally, I found a few resources that I thought I’d share with you in case you want to do further reading:

The bars and clubs along Jacksboro Highway in Fort Worth were big-time havens for members of the Dixie Mafia, and you can read more about the illustrious history of the highway here.

Go here to read the full Tulsa World article about the end of prohibition that I quoted above.

Read more about the history of prohibition here and here.

The book, Oklahoma Tough: My Father, King of the Tulsa Bootleggers is a fascinating account of the life of one Tulsa bootlegger.

Here’s a brief history of Cuba in the 1950s.


In the Rearview: The Life and Times of OKC’s Most Notorious Bootlegger — Part 4

Posted by on Sep 12, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Photos from the Oklahoma History Center unless otherwise stated.


The life and times of bootlegger, Lindsey Chambless get much crazier in this, the fourth installment of the series.  To read previous installments, go to Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.)


The Flame of Gunfire

On October 25, 1952, just a few weeks after his return from testifying in Fort Worth about the Cuban incident at the Western Hill Motel, Lindsey, Mary Lou, and their two sons were enjoying a rare Friday night together in their tidy Village home.

The young boys had been sick and slept all day and when they awoke late in the evening, their parents agreed to let them stay up to watch the late show on the family’s new television set.  Shortly before midnight, Mary Lou was in the kitchen, the boys were on the floor glued to the TV, and Lindsey sat on the couch in front of the picture window taking in the domestic bliss when, suddenly, a single shotgun blast shattered the suburban quiet.

Sitting just 12 feet from the picture window, Lindsey was struck in the chest just above the heart, his right leg, and his groin with .00 gauge buckshot from a double-barreled shotgun, but it could have been much worse.  Just ask the TV, which received the brunt of the blast and likely saved the bootlegger’s life.  Here’s what a new TV from 1952 looked like:


After the ambush, the injured bootlegger stumbled into the kitchen to get to Mary Lou and collapsed on the floor.  The kids weren’t injured, but Mary Lou later lamented the loss of their new gadget, “Well, I guess it didn’t hurt him (Lindsey) too bad. But it certainly ruined our new television set.  And we hadn’t even made a payment on it yet, either.”

As she spoke those shockingly callous words, Lindsey was recovering at Mercy Hospital at NW 13th and Walker after undergoing surgery to remove the buckshot in his chest.  Here’s what Mercy Hospital looked like around the time of Lindsey’s stay:

By Saturday afternoon, an armed guard stood outside Lindsey’s hospital room door, but that didn’t stop the victim from chatting with eager reporters.  When they asked the bedridden man if he was surprised by the previous evening’s events, Lindsey replied, “If I had been expecting them to get me, I never would have sat in front of a picture window with the lights turned on…. It caught me by complete surprise.  The first time I knew something was up was when I noticed the orange flash from a gun outside the window.  Then I was hit.”

Although Mary Lou believed that the assassination attempt was made by a rival bootlegger who recently got into a fight with her husband at a local nightclub over her affections, both the police and he quickly dismissed that notion. Lindsey told reporters, “She was just popping off.  She don’t know anything about this Fort Worth deal at all.”

It definitely looked to everyone besides Mary Lou that the true culprit was a professional hitman associated with someone involved in the Cuban robbery a few weeks before.  Lindsey summed up the situation when he claimed, “an international gang is trying to get me.”  With several of the bandits from the Fort Worth heist still on the run, it certainly seemed like a probability.

Rounding Up the Robbers

While Lindsey was recovering from the shooting, the police were still working on the case against a group of suspects in the Fort Worth robbery.  One of them was a notorious gangster named Gene Paul Norris.

(Oklahoma Today)

The 31-year-old Oklahoma native was known throughout the Sooner State and Texas as a real bad guy who may have been responsible for murdering upwards of 50 men.  In fact, the short and thin man with searing brown eyes and wispy caramel-colored hair was so prolific at killing that one Texas Ranger, Ed Gooding, claimed that there were old water wells all over the state that Norris had stuffed bodies into.

Decades later in a Texas Monthly article, writer Gary Cartwright recounted a meeting he had with Norris, who was known as “the Smiling Killer” for his charming ways.  He recalled:

The first killer I ever interviewed was Gene Paul Norris, a notorious badass in Fort Worth in the mid-fifties. He had been hauled in on some vague charge and had requested to talk to a reporter, any reporter. I was a cub on the police beat for the Star-Telegram, raw as a lamb chop, but I was the only guy available in the pressroom. Norris was a high-profile player in what was known as the Dixie Mafia, and every newshound in town would have given his trench coat for an interview. Envisioning a page-one byline, I grabbed a fistful of notepaper and rushed to the holding cell. Norris was seated in a chair, the only piece of furniture in the room, and he smiled and offered me his seat.

In his mid-thirties, Norris was an angular, rawboned man, taller than his mug shots suggested, more cordial than I had expected, and far less menacing. His cat-gray eyes had a soothing effect, and he talked with such apparent sincerity that I ran out of paper before I could ask a question. Later, when I reviewed my notes, I realized that the only straight thing he’d told me was a telephone number to call, with the message that he was back in jail. An older and more experienced newsman eventually informed me that I had fallen for a scam Norris regularly pulled on young reporters. It was his way to get word to his lawyer. (In those days, the Fort Worth police weren’t big on civil rights).

Norris was known far and wide as a gangster, so authorities weren’t too surprised when the Cubans identified him as the man they were playing cards with at the Western Hills Motel.

(Ridgelea Historical Society)

Police arrested the career criminal, who quickly bonded out, but they still couldn’t find the money.  Leaked underworld gossip was that the loot was buried somewhere, but police weren’t so sure.  They were looking for one more suspect, a man who posed as a candy maker but who had a long criminal record dating to 1930.

Forty-year-old Floyd Allen Hill had been in trouble with the law most of his life.

Much of his adulthood had been spent in various penal institutions – Oklahoma State Prison (twice), Alcatraz (twice), and Leavenworth.  It seemed that every time he was released from jail, a new robbery crime wave hit whatever town he decided to call home.  Like Norris, the burly, 6’ 2” Hill was known as a smooth talker who could charm the ladies, but he also had a horrible temper.  According to a newspaper report from 1953, “one of the grim mysteries about Hill involves his ex-wife.  The woman vanished in August 1952, reportedly after sadistic treatment at his hands.”

Hill was definitely not a good guy.

Just a few weeks after Lindsey was shot, Hill was captured just outside of tiny Azle, Texas on November 3rd.  A tipster, who was later identified as Hill’s latest wife, Juanita, told police that they could find the robber’s share of the money buried in a clearing in some woods just off of a country lane.  While one cop shadowed Hill in nearby Ft. Worth, a group of lawmen drove to the site and started digging.  Soon, they uncovered a gallon milk thermos and an olive jar filled with money.  Not only was $128,000 of the Cubans’ cash recovered, but also another $4,250 in government bonds that had been stolen from a wealthy rancher in Kilgore the previous August.

The police removed the evidence, filled in the hole, and staked out spots surrounding the clearing in anticipation of Hill’s arrival, which Juanita had told officers would be later that same evening.  Just like she said, a car pulled up to the scene at around 3:00 a.m., and a large man exited the car with a garden hoe in his hand.  As he was walking toward the spot where the loot had been buried, cops pounced and arrested the thief without incident.

Hill was taken to the Tarrant County Jail and booked as the suspected trigger man in the robbery at the Western Hills Motel.  Now, the police believed they had all of the robbers identified and charged, even though half of the money was still missing.

Another Jail Break, the 10 Most Wanted, and a Trial

Floyd Allen Hill languished just a few weeks in jail when he and several of his fellow inmates hatched a plan to escape.  In unison, the prisoners attacked their guards on the morning of February 18, 1953 and fought their way out of the obviously poorly secured jail.  A couple of prisoners made off in stolen cars, while others just ran for it.  Officers shot and captured some of the escapees, but 10, including Hill, got away.

Just over a month later, all of the convicts had been recaptured, but Hill was still on the loose.  The FBI added the career criminal to their 10 Most Wanted List on March 30, citing that “his ruthlessness and brutal exploits incite fear and terror in the underworld itself….  (He is) surly, violent, and goaded by a ‘persecution complex.’”

While Hill was on the lam somewhere in Texas or near his home in Duncan, police believed, Gene Paul Norris was the first of the suspected robbers to go on trial.  Even though the Cubans positively identified the gangster as the man who played cards with them that night in the cabana then assisted in holding them up, the notorious gangster produced a witness who testified that Norris was with him in Oklahoma City and couldn’t have been in Fort Worth.  Shockingly, the jury sided with Norris and exonerated him of the crime on April 10, 1953.

Meanwhile, Hill’s time as a free man was about to end.  Just nine days after Norris’s verdict, police on a stakeout of Hill’s known associates produced results.  They found him at a friend’s house outside of Dallas.  According to a later report, “he (Hill) was taken completely by surprise on a planned raid by FBI agents, sheriff’s officers, Dallas city police, and Texas Rangers.”  He didn’t resist arrest and was placed under close guard until he could be tried for the robbery.  Ultimately, Hill pled guilty to the robbery and the Tarrant County Jail breakout and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Lindsey was never tried in the case, and the fourth suspect, Sam Brown Cresap, was acquitted for lack of evidence.

I don’t know if the rest of the Cubans’ money was ever recovered.

Lindsey Gets Into Trouble Again

You would think that, after being involved with such violent criminals and nearly being shot to death, Lindsey would have wised up and decided that maybe the criminal life wasn’t for him, but, as you may have guessed, that didn’t happen.  As soon as he was well, the scrappy bootlegger was back in business, but maybe a little more savvy than before because he, Mary Lou, and their kids (now including a baby daughter) were on the move around the Metro and never stayed in one place very long.  He also kept his name out of the papers … at least for a little while.

On October 19, 1954, a local liquor runner named Albion H. Potts, Jr., reported to the Highway Patrol that, on his return from a liquor run in Texas, bandits in a souped up Lincoln chased him at 100 miles per hour then shot out the back tire of his car as he turned onto a farm road near Lawton.  Here’s a photo of Mr. Potts:

And here’s a 1953 Lincoln Cosmopolitan:

(Custom_Cab on Flickr)

The highwaymen continued shooting as Potts stopped on the side road, escaped the car, and hid in front of it to avoid the gunfire.   With nowhere to go, the bootlegger meekly surrendered to the bandits, who forced him to help transfer 50 cases of liquor valued at $5,000 from his car to theirs.  Then, they scurried back to the Lincoln and took off, leaving a bewildered Potts to fend for himself.

The following week in a similar incident, police found a wrecked car three miles west of Mt. Scott in the Wichita Wildlife Refuge.  According to the Oklahoman:

Trooper John Duke and an ambulance were dispatched to the scene after an unidentified motorist reported the accident.  When Duke arrived he found a wrecked 1952 or 1953 model Pontiac with a Missouri tag which contained about 10 cases of liquor.  The car was so badly wrecked officers couldn’t be certain of the model. 

Evidence at the scene indicated the car had been travelling at a high rate of speed and overturned on a curve.  There were also indications someone had been injured.  But a check of all hospitals and clinics in that area failed to locate the injured man.

Troopers, who say rum runners are usually careful drivers, especially when they are hauling liquor, think the car was being chased by a liquor bandit and was wrecked.

Rumors soon began swirling in underworld circles that Lindsey, another bootlegger named George Fuqua, and two others were the culprits in these Comanche County robberies.  Meet George Fuqua:

According to the Thisandthat blog at, “Fuqua was reputed to use a red hand spotlight to impersonate a patrol car, to stop his victims. Around Christmas of 1954, someone impersonating a trooper attempted to stop a northbound vehicle between Gainesville and Thackerville, but the driver did not stop and was run off the road into a tree with fatal results. Turned out he was the owner of a truck line, speeding north to the scene of an accident involving one of his trucks. It was widely speculated that Fuqua was involved in this but it was never proven.”

Police believed the rumors, and Lindsey, Fuqua, and their pals were charged in connection with the Potts case.  During a preliminary hearing, Lindsey claimed that he was in his Oklahoma City home at NW 50th and Meridian (then a rural area of quiet farm houses, now part of Dolese Park) playing canasta with his family, including his ex-wife and now mother-in-law, Stella.  He was released on a $15,000 bond.  As for George Fuqua, he was laying low in Texas and fighting extradition to Lawton to stand trial.

Why would Lindsey resort to stealing from fellow rum runners?

According to the Oklahoman, “the situation was created when a few bootleggers with criminal records were ‘too hot’ to conduct retail business in ‘dry’ Oklahoma.  They banded together and began stealing liquor from runners working for other bootleggers, then selling their contraband to still other rum dealers.  The runners started fighting back and the war was on.”  Police also got really worried when the bootleggers began terrorizing innocent highway drivers on the road between Dallas and Oklahoma City.  Several ordinary citizens were targeted by these nefarious bandits as possible rum runners, chased, pulled over, and beaten up.  One terrified innocent was even killed when he crashed his car into a tree during a high-speed chase with a marauding bootlegger.

After several delays, Lindsey finally went on trial for the Potts robbery in October, 1955.  The career criminal vehemently denied being a part of the robbery, saying, “I’ve been guilty of a lot of things, but I’m not guilty of this.”  At one point during the trial, reporters found a visibly shaken Lindsey out in the corridor weeping because he was worried about what all of this was doing to his young wife and three children.

Back in court, Mary Lou and Stella backed up his alibi that he was in Oklahoma City the day of the robbery, but the 12 jurors didn’t buy it and returned with a guilty verdict a mere 30 minutes after they began deliberations.  Lindsey quickly appealed and remained out on bond, but the law wasn’t finished with him yet.

In early 1956, the police busted Lindsey again, this time for running a retail liquor store without a federal stamp out of his home.  Mary Lou also was charged for taking customer orders over the phone.  Court documents stated that Lindsey, Mary Lou, and another bootlegger in their gang earned $12,315.05 in just a two week period in December 1955 when they were being monitored by police.  Police stated that the group delivered “five cases to a large architectural firm, two cases to a public utility firm,” and several cases to other reputable companies around town.  (Wonder which firm was the boozy recipient, don’t you?)

Once again, Lindsey posted bail and yet another trial was scheduled for the troubled bootlegger.


Next week, the Lindsey’s brutal end, the death of Prohibition, and more sordid stories.  Read the final installment here.

In the Rearview: The Life and Times of OKC’s Most Notorious Bootlegger — Part 3

Posted by on Sep 6, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Photos from the Oklahoma History Center unless otherwise noted.

This week, Lindsey gets into all kinds of trouble.  (If you’ve missed past posts, go to Part 1 and Part 2.)

Lindsey Marries Again

It was 1947 and Lindsey Chambless was now married to the widow of the man he had recently murdered with his deer rifle during a drunken brawl.  Here, Lindsey (center) is being arraigned for the murder of fellow bootlegger, Bill Eltzroth:

Maybe Lindsey married Eltzroth’s widow, Stella so that she couldn’t testify against him during his upcoming murder trial.  Or maybe she told him that he could atone for his sin by meeting her at the altar.  Whatever the reason, between the marriage and the murder, Lindsey was trapped … and he didn’t like it.

Soon after the wedding, 32-year-old Lindsey took up with his wife’s now 18-year-old daughter, Mary Lou, who became pregnant with the couple’s child. The following year, 1948, was a busy one for Lindsey — Mary Lou gave birth to their son, Lindsey and Stella divorced, and the bootlegger kept it all in the family by marrying the mother of his baby.

During this time, Lindsey was also convicted of manslaughter in Bill’s death.  Here’s a photo of Lindsey’s deer rifle being investigated by County Attorney, Warren Edwards and his deputy, George Lipe during the trial:

Still out on bail, he appealed the case and continued his bootlegging ways until his case could be heard.  Not long after his near-bust on September 7, 1948 by the Longacre twins at Tulakes Airport, Lindsey encountered the determined lawmen again.  On November 29, 1948, the lawmen were on hand when two planes landed on a dirt airstrip located at NE 63rd and Bryant in rural Oklahoma City.  They witnessed four men unloading cases of whiskey onto a truck and into a car and busted them as they left the field.  The scene may have looked something like these busts captured by the Oklahoman:

When he was being arrested, Lindsey glibly offered the brothers 35 cases of whiskey “to forget they ever saw him,” but the incorruptible officers refused and added to Lindsey’s existing troubles by booking him for bootlegging.

His streak of bad luck continued when, the following summer, the “Flying Bootlegger” cracked up one of his planes as it came in for a landing, and he left it empty and abandoned in a ditch just off of the field at the old Wiley Post Airport:

 “City Plane Skids Into Limelight Again. Plane belongs to Orville Lindsay Chambless, city bootlegger. This plane is well known to Oklahoma county law enforcement officers. They have tried to seize it several times because they said it was hauling whiskey. It cracked up early Wednesday at Wiley Post airport.”

In what sounds a lot like this incident, OKC native, Jim Shaw recalled:

I remember one incident (I think I was still in grade school), when a bootlegger overloaded his plane & attempted to takeoff to the south after dark.  He got off the ground, but failed to clear the line of trees on the south side of Britton Road.  Word spread throughout the neighborhood like wildfire & all the dads rushed to the scene….  Everything that wasn’t broken was cleaned out before the police arrived. I don’t know what became of the bootlegger.

At the time, the airport was located at Britton and May — here’s the view looking from May toward Lake Hefner:

(Photos from the website)

To give you an idea of what the airport and surrounding area was like back in the late 1940s and into the ’50s, one Squadder who grew up in the area at the time recalled, “Back then, it was all country out here.  Dirt roads, tumble weeds.  … my friend, Betty, and I were at the airport a lot. Her dad owned it.  My brother and I went there often, also, to climb around the war surplus airplanes scattered on the field.  I have no idea how many planes were there, but we sure had fun climbing up in the cockpits and facing off against each other in our own plane and playing like we were shooting each other down.  I can remember, yelling at the top of my lungs, ‘take that, you dirty Jap.'”

Two months after Lindsey’s plane ran off the runway, he and one of his pilots, Pete McGinnis, discovered that another of the bootlegger’s planes had been slashed to pieces, likely by a rival gang.  That’s our bootlegging pal on the left in the photo:

Lindsey’s bad luck didn’t change when, in March of 1950, the bootlegger learned that he had lost his appeal and had to serve his three-year manslaughter sentence.  Like Corky before him, Lindsey decided that running away was a better idea than facing the law, so he jumped his $3,000 appeal bond and took off to Mexico, leaving Mary Lou and his now two young tots behind.

Authorities posted a $1,000 fugitive bond and guessed that Lindsey had gone to Mexico City to settle yet another of his troubles involving a plane.  One of his frequent pilots, Oklahoma City barnstormer, Al Guthrie was languishing in a Mexico City jail after being busted for “smuggling $12,000 worth of lace on which duty had not been paid.”  Guthrie argued that he just stopped in Mexico City to refuel on his way to Guatemala where he planned to pay for the lace, but authorities didn’t buy his story.

Lindsey wasn’t the generous friend the authorities thought he was, however.  Instead of fighting to save his friend in Mexico, police found and arrested him in Fort Worth in April and returned him to Oklahoma City:

Finally, three years after he aimed his deer rifle at Bill Eltzroth, Lindsey was serving time for the crime.

Two years later, in May of 1952, Mary Lou and her toddlers excitedly greeted Lindsey when he was released from prison.  Instead of learning his lesson and going straight for the sake of his family, however, the career criminal was soon back to smuggling whiskey and anything else he could think of.  Within a few short months, the “Flying Bootlegger” would encounter a more sinister kind of trouble than he had ever known before, trouble that would culminate in murder.

Lindsey and the Cuban Connection

The wild story began when legally elected Cuban president, Carlos Prio Socarras was deposed by U.S.-backed military dictator and former Cuban president, Fulgencio Batista in 1952.  Here are photos of Socarras (above) and Batista (below):

Socarras fled to New York City, where he holed up in an upscale Manhattan hotel and plotted his triumphant return to power.  To get the ball rolling, the former leader invited three fellow refugees and loyalists, Candido de la Torres (49), Manuel Fernandez Madariaga (38), and Jose Duarte (33) to meet at his hotel.  Once there, the four men hatched a plan.  Socarras gave his cohorts $240,000 (over $2.2 million today) to purchase as many arms as they could.  The dissidents would then distribute the guns to fellow loyalists and together, they would return to Cuba and take back the presidency for Socarras.  The far-fetched idea sounded good … at least in theory.

After leaving Socarras, the three refugees travelled to Mexico City, where they connected with a group of American “businessmen” (i.e., gun dealers) who promised to provide them with the munitions they requested.  The group agreed to meet at the classy, newly-built Western Hills Motel in Fort Worth in a few weeks to make the exchange.

The large, W-shaped inn along busy Camp Bowie Boulevard in posh Ridglea Hills was a local hot spot for nice suburban lunches that probably involved lots of gelatin, cocktail parties where well-coiffed guests discussed the latest gossip, and, surely, illicit trysts that kept suburban life lively.  Here are some of the images that popped up when I Googled the motel:

What a fabulous looking place, aye?

For those trysts and other private tête-à-têtes, guests could rent one of the private cabins that surrounded the motel:

It was in one of these cabanas that the Cubans and their American dealers arranged to meet.

Two of the Cubans, de la Torres and Fernandez Madariaga, arrived at their nicely appointed cabana and were soon joined one of their American friends.  While waiting for the other Americans to arrive with the munitions, the three men decided to count the Cubans’ money to make sure it was all there.  Satisfied that the amount was correct, the waiting men passed the time by playing cards.

As evening faded into late night, the three friends were still playing cards when they heard a noise just outside the door.  Without further warning, the cabana door burst open to reveal two armed men, who quickly stormed into the room. The surprised victims drew their pistols, but their paltry arms were no match with the machine guns the bandits aimed at them.  Still trying to process what was happening, the Cubans turned to their card-playing American comrade and saw that his pistol, too, was pointed in their direction.  Knowing they were beat, the Cubans meekly dropped their arms.  The robbers ordered one of their victims to the ground and kept the other at bay while they gathered the $240,000 and an additional $8,000 that one of the counter-revolutionaries had on hand “to buy his wife a station wagon.”  (That would have been quite a car considering that $8,000 in 1952 would be nearly $75,000 today.)

The thieves stuffed the money, which was all in $100 bills, into a leather pouch and fled into the dark night.  Just as quickly as they arrived, the Americans were gone and all was quiet except for the sounds of distant traffic on Camp Bowie and other guests swimming and socializing in the motel pool.

Once they got over the shock of what had just happened, de la Torres and Fernandez Madariaga called the police to report the robbery.  Within hours, the Cubans’ initial contact man, used car salesman Sam Cresap, was in jail and a warrant was issued for Lindsey’s arrest in the theft.

Almost as soon as he learned about the warrant, Lindsey turned himself in to Oklahoma City authorities.  Although Lindsey admitted to making several trips to Mexico and knowing the Cubans, he adamantly denied any involvement in the robbery, claiming that, “the whole thing is a frame-up.  Sure I was offered a proposition, but I turned it down.  I’m not going to get tied up in anything with international complications.”

Lindsey claimed he could prove that he wasn’t in on the robbery, too.  “I have been in bed sick for two or three days and was in Oklahoma City when that robbery was supposed to have taken place.”  He even offered to call his doctor to the police station to vouch for him, then angrily stated, “I’ll make those guys (the Cubans) catch a rabbit when I get back to Fort Worth.  There’s something rotten someplace.  I think I know what they did with the money.  They’re not going to make me the goat.  This is one time I’m not guilty and I’m going to yell like a panther.”

Once again, Lindsey claimed that the “deal was too big for me” as he was led off by FBI agents to be charged with being the trigger man on the job.  However, after a long interrogation in which the bootlegger told all he knew about the arms deal gone awry, the authorities released Lindsey on a $5,000 bond and the case against him soon collapsed.  He ended up going to Fort Worth to testify before a Texas grand jury and then he was free.  Here are the Cubans at the same hearing:

Apparently, ole Lindsey was innocent after all … but no one likes a squealer.


Next week, in Part 4 of our series, Lindsey goes missing and there are all kinds of suspects.



In the Rearview: A Look at the Life and Times of OKC’s Most Notorious Bootlegger — Part 2

Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Photos from the Oklahoma History Center unless otherwise stated.

This week, we continue our series about notorious Oklahoma City bootlegger Lindsey Chambless with the sad story of one of his loves, for whom he committed murder.  Go here to read Part 1:

From Bootlegging to Murder

On the chilly Tuesday evening of January 7, 1947, “salesman” (i.e., bootlegger) Bill Eltzroth, 43, and his bride of five years, 35-year-old Stella, left apartment B of their charming, ‘20s-era building on NW 18th:

(Oklahoma County Tax Assessor)

The couple drove down the street to a party at Lindsey’s house located at 2914 NW 17th:

(Oklahoma County Tax Assessor)

By the time they got there, Lindsey and his other guests were imbibing large quantities of the bootlegger’s product, namely whiskey, and Stella and Bill joined in the fun.  As the hours – and drinking – wore on, a more-than-tipsy Lindsey decided that he was going to drive to Kansas City to bring in a load of whiskey, and Bill opted to go with him and introduce his fellow bootlegger to his contacts in his hometown to the north.  But, they nixed that idea in favor of staying at Lindsey’s cozy abode and drinking even more.

At some point in the evening, the two men began arguing, perhaps over the beautiful but luckless Stella.  The fighting quickly escalated and Lindsey staggered to retrieve his deer rifle, which he aimed at Bill’s chest.  Suddenly, the entire room exploded in blood and gun smoke, and when everything cleared, Bill was laying on the floor, mortally wounded.  He was taken to Wesley Hospital, where he died the following morning.

Lindsey was arraigned for Bill’s murder and released on $20,000 bail.  While he was out on bail, Lindsey and the newly widowed and obviously impulsive Stella ran off and got married.  Stella was no stranger at visiting the altar; Lindsey was her fourth husband.

Poor, sad Stella was not the best judge of men.

Stella and Her Earlier Marriages

Stella Pearl Embry was her parents’ late, perhaps not-so-welcome Christmas present when she was born on December 28, 1911.  Clint and Luvena already had seven children when they left their ancestral farm in Kentucky and moved to Chandler, Oklahoma just two years before statehood in 1905, where two more children were born before Stella came along.  Here’s a photo of Stella’s parents that I found on


It wasn’t easy feeding 10 children on rented farmland, and the hardship was compounded when Clint died in 1926 at the age of 58; Stella was just 15.  Although she had uncles who were prominent lawyers in Chandler, they could hardly afford to care for their dead brother’s kids, so Luvena struggled to find a way to manage in the aftermath of Clint’s death.  Perhaps it’s no surprise that Stella left her sad surroundings as quickly as she could.

A young girl with little education had few avenues for escape in the 1920s, so Stella followed her mother’s lead and got herself pregnant then married in quick succession.  Lucky husband number one was Leland Smith, who was 10 years Stella’s senior and a farmer like her dad.  They married in December of 1928, and their daughter (and Stella’s only child), Mary Lou, was born the following May when the young mother was barely 17 years old.

The marriage wasn’t a happy one.  Perhaps Leland was bossy, abusive, or not in love with his wife or perhaps Stella got bored with the endless chores and duties associated with farm life and craved some fun and adventure.  Whatever the cause, by 1935, the attractive young mother with dark hair and forlorn eyes had left her husband and daughter, was working as a full-time waitress in Shawnee, and living at 512 N. Bell:


During her time in Shawnee, Stella met husband number two, Courtney “Corky” Orrell, a stocky man with strong arms, wavy dark hair, and a ready smile who labored as a rough neck in the nearby oil fields.

Corky was born on June 10, 1910 in Ft. Pierce, Florida to Raymond and Ethel, who quickly had three more boys in the next four years.  Like Stella and Lindsey, Corky lost a parent when he was young.  His mother died when he was just six, and overwhelmed with the situation, Raymond placed the four “interesting and handsome” little Orrell boys in the Christian Church Widows and Orphans home in Louisville, Kentucky.  They spent at least a few years there but got a reprieve from institutional life when their maternal grandmother took them to her farm to spend the summers.  Although he was moving around the country for work, Raymond also appeared to spend as much time as he could with his nearly orphaned children.

In early 1930, Corky enlisted in the U.S. Navy and headed to Illinois for training.  While there, tragedy struck the family again when his youngest brother, John, died back home in Kentucky at the age of 15.  Corky went home for the funeral then returned to training and served four years in the Navy in California before being honorably discharged in 1934.  The following year, he was living with Stella and her young daughter, Mary Lou, in the quaint A-frame cottage on Bell Street in Shawnee, and the two married in 1938.

Apparently, theirs was a rocky marriage, perhaps because Corky, who now labored long hours in the hot and mucky oil fields of Central Oklahoma with one of Stella’s brothers, Dewey, was a heavy drinker … and when he was drunk, ole Corky wasn’t a very nice guy.  After one particularly big battle in the summer of 1941, Stella kicked Corky out and moved to Oklahoma City and in with her brother to get away from all of the negativity surrounding the debacle that had become her second marriage.  She found a job as a waitress at a nearby café, and tried to start life anew.  Here’s where she and Mary Lou called home:

(Oklahoma County Tax Assessor)

Unfortunately for a lot of people, Corky wasn’t quite ready to let go of his beautiful wife

On Sunday, August 17th, Corky drove into Oklahoma City to cajole Stella into returning to him.  When she balked at his attempts at seduction and desperate pleas, Corky hit the bottle – obviously, he had his own bootlegger like just about everyone else in the state.  Who knows, maybe it was Lindsey who supplied the fuel that got Corky started that day.

The more he drank, the more Stella resolved to end the marriage, and the more angry Corky became.  After not getting anywhere in the fight, a dejected Corky left Stella’s late in the evening and drove her brother to work at an oil well near Guthrie.  He dropped off his brother-in-law at around 11:00 p.m.  Still drunk and upset by the day’s events, Corky started up his brand new maroon 1941 Ford Super de Luxe coupe and headed down Route 66 back to Chandler.

(Google images)

Corky Meets Billie Grayson

Oklahoma in August can be hellishly hot, and even more so in the days before air conditioning.  For 18-year-old Billie Grayson, the sweltering hot month was a chance to get away from her position as a domestic in Elk City and spend a few weeks with her favorite aunt on her farm in tiny Warwick just west of Chandler.  Here’s a photo of Billie:

Dressed in a “gay print dress and pink slip” cinched with a black braided belt and wearing blue anklet socks with her shoes, the former high school choir singer was walking through her friend, Helen Grandstaff’s property one quiet Sunday afternoon when the 12 year old invited Billie to go swimming with her at a friend’s pool on a neighboring farm.  Eager to escape the heat, Billie readily agreed and the two girls headed off for a chance to cool off and have some fun.  Afterward, they were returning to Helen’s when the teens made an impromptu decision to walk four miles into Warwick to attend evening services at a church there.

On the way to church, the girls met up with a friend of Helen’s named John Terrell, who invited the girls to ride with him to Chandler to pick up a watermelon.  That sounded like more fun than church, so the girls skipped the service and hopped into their friend’s truck for the seven mile drive down Route 66 to Chandler.  They got the watermelon and headed back, where John dropped off the girls along Route 66 between Wellston and Warwick.  Helen thought her dad might be in Wellston, so she and Billie started hoofing west to find him.  They walked to the Pioneer Camp, a motor court and restaurant east of town (now home to the Butcher BBQ Stand)…


When they arrived at the camp, the girls decided that they were too tired to proceed into Wellston and turned around, heading back to Helen’s house to spend the night.  A couple waiting for a friend to arrive by bus at the Pioneer Camp saw the two girls turn around and head east on Route 66.  A few minutes later, they saw a dark colored car pull up next to them in the distance.

By this time, it was around 11:30 and the girls were tired and ready for bed.  They started walking along the dark and lonely stretch of highway punctuated by the zoom of a car here and there.  Perhaps they were chatting about their favorite movie stars or the thrilling and terrifying “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which had been released just days before:


Or maybe they were gossiping about their latest crushes or their feelings about school and work starting back up the next week.  Whatever they were chatting about was suddenly interrupted when a man driving toward them in a two-door maroon Ford pulled up next to them and said, “Don’t you know you girls shouldn’t be walking on the highway?  You’d better get in with me.”

Helen thought the man was a Highway Patrolman and perhaps Billie did, too.  Billie would certainly have obeyed a Highway Patrolman’s order since her step-father was a member of the force in Chickasha.  So, always taught to listen to their elders, the girls jumped into the car; Billie got in first and scooted next to the driver, then Helen followed and claimed the space by the front door.  After walking for miles throughout the day, they were probably grateful to have this nice man chauffeur them the rest of the way to Helen’s house, just a few miles up the road.  When she got into the car, Helen noticed the time on the man’s dashboard clock: 11:30.

The three listened to the country music playing softly on the man’s radio as he drove east on Route 66 back toward Warwick.  Suddenly, he pulled off the highway and started driving south down a dirt road (likely FM 3370) and over a bridge at the Deep Fork River:


The man broke the silence by commenting on how far apart the homes in this area were, then he pulled his Ford coupe over to the side of the road, parked under a large pecan tree, and turned off the engine.

The same scene today:


Everything was deadly quiet for a few seconds, with the only sounds coming from the chirping cicadas and croaking frogs outside.  Then, without warning, the man “grabbed Billie and they began to fight,” according to Helen:

(Philadelphia Inquirer/

“I knew then what was happening and I jumped out of the car.” Helen stated.  She continued, “Billie tried to get out, too, but he grabbed her and pulled her back.  Then he started his car.  I had one foot on the running board and I began to run after them.  I wanted to help Billie get out.  But I couldn’t keep up with them and he drove on up the road.  I could hear Billie screaming until the car disappeared.”

Desperate to save her friend, Helen ran a quarter of a mile to the nearest house, which was owned by farmer Luther Poole.  Unfortunately, Poole didn’t have a phone or working car and Helen was too terrified that the man would come back for her to try to make it to another house.  So, she stayed there and no one reported Billie missing.

The next morning at 8:15, Buster Devins, the caretaker at the Oak Park Cemetery in Chandler, was mowing the the grass when he caught a glimpse of something strange in the distance.  He walked through a few rows of headstones and stopped cold in his tracks when he came upon the sight of a naked girl laying on a grave with her head propped up on a tombstone.  “Even in death and with the unmistakable look of fright upon her rigid features, she was beautiful.  Her unseeing eyes were gray; dark curls framed a face that once must have been piquant.  Now a necklace of bruises grimly told the story of how she had died.”

The girl’s shoes had been carefully placed under her head as a pillow, various items of clothing were strewn around her, and it looked like she had a bloody nose.  Devins also noticed scuffs on the poor girl’s knees and forehead.  Here’s where she was found:

Devins immediately called the police, who retrieved the body and took it to the mortuary in Chandler.  With nothing to identify the girl, the mortician carefully laid out the body in the main room of his parlor, and soon, over 200 curious townsfolk lined up to view the morbid scene.  After two hours of steady traffic through the funeral parlor, the girl still hadn’t been identified, but all of that changed when a man from nearby Wellston stopped at a barbershop in Chandler to get his hair cut.  Of course, the main topic of conversation centered on the young girl now being ogled at by housewives, kids, and men looking for a macabre diversion on this already-hot Monday morning.

The visitor told the barber that his niece and her friend had some trouble with a man the night before, and the barber and uncle immediately put two and two together and called the police.  Surprisingly, even though Helen’s uncle knew about what had happened the night before, no one had reported Billie’s abduction to the police by mid-morning that balmy Monday, which is why she wasn’t identified sooner.

By that afternoon, the hunt was on for the “Chandler Graveyard Murderer”.  Helen was interviewed by police:

The girl gave a good description of the suspect because even though it was dark when Billie was taken, she said she could see the man by the dashlight of the car.  She also provided details about the car itself – a newer red or maroon Ford with a clock on the dash and a manual gearshift on the steering wheel.

(Google images)

As police got to work in search of the killer, Billie’s body was examined.  The coroner concluded that she had a broken neck and had been strangled with a rope.  The girl’s braided belt was missing, so they assumed that it was used to cause the ligature marks around her neck.  Her underwear were also missing, but there was no sign of rape.  After the examination, Billie’s remains were given to her grieving father:

The beautiful teenager was quickly laid to rest — so long, beautiful and fun-loving Billie:

Amid the frenzy, reporters looked for a new angle to the story.  One wrote this, “Could the killer have been an acquaintance who repented after she was dead and fantastically sought to atone for his deed by giving her a solitary funeral with himself as the only mourner?”

On the Run

Corky was in a panic when he pulled into Stella’s driveway at around 1:00 a.m.  that Monday morning.  He banged on the door until she wearily answered.  Still drunk and obviously desperate, Corky begged his estranged wife to run away with him so they could “start all over again.”  They could go anywhere – up north, California – but they had to leave Oklahoma tonight.  When she refused, Corky became angry, twisted her arm, and tried to drag her from the doorway to his car. Stella later said that Corky was “crazy drunk” and threatened to kill himself if she didn’t go with him, then he stormed into her bedroom and violently pulled the clothes off of her closet rack and raced to the car.  Stella chased after him to try to reason with him, but he threw the clothes in the back of the Ford, hopped into the driver’s seat, and took off for the second time that day for Chandler.

Stella tried to make sense of what had just happened then called the police to report the incident.  But before they could do much to help, her mother, who lived in Chandler, called Stella to let her know that a repentant Corky came by her house and dropped off Stella’s clothing and then headed out of town.

When Corky didn’t call in or show up for work on Monday, August 18th, his brother-in-law and other co-workers didn’t worry too much – maybe he was depressed about his failing marriage and had gone on a bender.  But by Wednesday when he was still nowhere to be found, they grew concerned and put the word out that they were looking for him.  Soon, Oklahoma County and Chandler police heard about the missing man with the maroon Ford and started investigating him.

On Wednesday, August 27th, Lincoln County Sheriff, Marvin Roberts issued a warrant for the 30-year-old’s arrest for the murder of Billie Grayson, and the press got the story three days later.  Roberts said, “I don’t think he had (murder) in mind when he picked the girls up.”  He also stated that the State had a “mighty fine case” against Corky.  Now, all they had to do was find him.

The same day that the press learned about him, Corky sent a letter from Boston to Stella in Oklahoma City.  It is a sad and rambling missive that provides a lot of insight into their relationship and his state of mind in the days after Billie’s murder.  Here it is:

Boston, Massachusetts

August 30th 1941

Dearest Stella Pearl-

I’ll bet you never expected to hear from me from this section of the country did you? I’m just aimlessly wondering around looking for something to do and have several things in mind that if they pan out everything will be O.K. I hope. I have worried and wondered about you ever since I left Oklahoma City. How are you getting along and how are you lined up at present. I’d give a months pay right now to talk to you for just one hour. I’m going to show you that I can make good just because I know you think that I can’t. I know that I’ve been an awful heel and have let you down plenty but if I can ever make the grade at all it will be now and if you haven’t already broken faith with me permanently by the time you get this I’ll be on my way to doing something right for a change.

My main idea for getting in touch with you is to straighten out some financial deals for me. I have twelve days pay coming that I want you to get from Poalie and make that $31.50 bank payment. Then you can get that $15.00 relief check from Chandler and give it and $36.00 to the O.K. Furniture Co. and get rid of them. In case the G.E. people haven’t already repossessed the ice-box ask Dude if he’ll pay that up and let me know what amount is necessary to get back in good standing with them. If you can take care of this for me I would appreciate it a whole lot for I’m not in a position to present myself just now. Tell Poolie that as soon as I’m located I’ll get in touch with him and that although things look bad right now that I don’t intend to let him down. I’m sorry that you are not out of the reach of my creditors for I know how they are going to pester hell out of you, I’ve firmly resolved to pay all my debts as quickly as possible and if I get the job I’m working on it won’t take very long to get on top again.

Did you ever file any more papers or withdraw that complaint that you had in against me? I hope so for I want to see you before too long. In case I get a job at $70.00 per week that will last quite a while would you leave Oklahoma to live with me again. School will be starting next week and I’m just wondering what you are going to do with Mary Lou. Every time I see a girl about her age or size I get the funniest feeling I’ve ever had. I know that she has a hell of an opinion of me but although most of it is justified I know I still have hers and your interest at heart.

Really Stella, I love you more than anything in the world and would like to make you the happiest girl in the world but I know that things can’t go on like they have and while I know your attitude on apologies I’m willing to apologize and try to start over where I got off on the wrong track if you will only let me. I’m only going to ask you for one more chance for I need your companionship and love to work for and I’m sure if you’ll let me try again I’ll profit by my mistakes and make you a good husband in every sense of the word. I’ve been so lonesome for the past two weeks that I’ve several times thought that I couldn’t got on but I want to hear from you again and see how you feel about things.

My present plans call for me to fly to Kentucky as soon as I hear from Marvin and meet him there for a couple of days and talk over a business deal so if you’ll write me a letter addressed to Courtney D. Orrell, c/o Marvin C. Orrell, Rye Beach, Huron, Ohio, I’ll get it with only about two days delay. That is, if you write back right away. I would give you my address here but I’ll only be here two more days and then I’m going to head south again. I haven’t any money to enclose in this letter but I’ll send you some just as soon as I can.

Tonight is Thursday night and I’d give anything to tune in KVOO and hear Bob Wills and the gang but my radio won’t get them up here. This Ford is getting to be a pretty poor hotel and I’ve slept so much in the front seat that I feel like my skin is just about as rough as the seat covers. How are Dude and Belle getting along. Tell Belle that I’m going to write her a letter before long. Please write to me honey and tell me all the news for I’m practically lost up here by myself and there are lots of things you could tell me. Goodnight and I want you to remember that regardless of how bad I have behaved that I still love and honor and cherish you and want you to come home and make me a home and let me show you that I can be as much of a man as you are a woman. Thanks a lot and with all the love that a man can bestow on a woman I am still as you would like for me to be.

Yours forever,


The comment in the letter about Stella’s daughter, Mary Lou is particularly creepy, especially when considering she was the same age as Helen Grandstaff.  Also, Corky never went to Boston – he had a friend mail this letter from there.  This effort to mislead Stella would come back to haunt Corky in the months to follow.

With their prime suspect on the lam, Sheriff Roberts notified police precincts around the country to be on the lookout for the missing man.  On September 4th, they caught a break when police who had been staking out Corky’s brother’s home 1,100 miles from the crime scene in Sandusky, Ohio, spotted a maroon Ford with Oklahoma tags pulling into the driveway.  They watched as the man went into the house, and they waited.  A few hours later, he exited the house and got into his car and pulled away.  The man drove to a nearby ice cream parlor and went inside.  When he exited a few minutes later, ice cream cone in hand, the police pounced and arrested him without incident.  A few days later, Sheriff Roberts and Oklahoma County Sheriff, Bob Turner, drove to Ohio and returned with the suspect to Lincoln County, where Corky was locked up on the top floor of the 10-story jail behind the Courthouse.

When Stella heard that her estranged husband was back in Oklahoma, she hopped in her car and raced the 45 miles up Route 66 to Chandler to see him.  Reporters were on hand to record the heartfelt and tearful reunion:

An Oklahoman reporter wrote this about the Stella and Corky’s first moments together:

Mrs. Orrell, maintaining her belief that her estranged husband did not murder the Grayson girl, met her husband with open arms as he stepped through the barred door….  (Corky) held her in his arms and kissed her repeatedly, then they went to a corner of the jail corridor. 

‘Honey, tell me you didn’t do it,’ said his wife.

Orrell kissed her.

‘Tell me,’ she urged.

He kissed her again.

‘Tell me you didn’t do it,’ she repeated. 

‘I didn’t do it,’ he whispered, and kissed her again.

The Trial

Corky’s trial got underway just a few months after Billie’s murder.  The case was pretty much a circumstantial one, but one where all of the various pieces appeared to add up to the oil field worker being the culprit.  The sheriffs who picked him up in Ohio testified that they found newspaper clippings about the murder under a floor mat in Corky’s car, and the defendant tried to mislead Stella into believing he was in Boston when he was really in Sandusky when he wrote her the letter.  Also, in spite of the defense’s vigorous attempt to discredit Helen, she steadfastly identified him as the man who picked up the girls on that sweltering August night.

However, the defense claimed that Helen had to be told who Corky was before she could successfully identify him.  Also, Bill Taylor, Chandler’s chief of police, testified that Corky was a respected man in town and enjoyed a good reputation among locals there.  Finally, Stella supported her husband’s story that he was driving around all night in preparation for a move to Ohio the next day and that he was certainly not “crazy drunk” as she had reported earlier.

After closing arguments, the jury began their deliberations.  Hours then days passed with no verdict, until finally, on November 23rd, the judge announced that the jurors were deadlocked and declared a mistrial.  Corky was released on bail and tried to reunite with his relieved wife, but even though she supported him during his trial, Stella was finished with Corky for good and filed for divorce.

Seven months went by, during which time the United States entered the war after Pearl Harbor.  In June 1942, Corky’s second trial began.  During the trial, Corky “divided his attention between the jurors and a large banner behind Judge Kenneth Jarrett.  It read: ‘God Bless America – Life, liberty, and justice for all.”

While Corky remained calm and quiet, the Oklahoman stated the courtroom was aflutter with activity and people, “sitting in windows, standing in aisles, craning their necks for a glimpse of the dark-haired, handsome man with the big jaw…. Women held babies in their laps, men in overalls held larger children on their knees, a woman nonchalantly crocheted through the more tedious testimony, and outside in the corridor, a tired mother deposited her baby on the concrete floor.”  I imagine the scene looked something like the small-town courtroom scene in one of my favorite movies, “To Kill a Mockingbird”:


During opening arguments, Assistant State Attorney General and the case’s prosecutor, Sam Lattimore got things off to an emotional start when he declared that “the body of Billie Grayson lying there in the cemetery calls not for vengeance but for justice.”  Here’s a photo of Mr. Lattimore that was taken the year before the trial:

Defense lawyer, Jim Embry (who was Stella’s uncle), countered that “the Grindstaff (sic) girl was road-running that night.  Don’t angelize her.”  (I had to look up the term road-running, which the Urban Dictionary defines as “driving around the city making money; doing anything to make money fast from sun up to sun down.”  I imagine that the definition was pretty much the same back in 1942.)  He also claimed that, “every time she has talked, she has changed her story.”

The Oklahoman begged to differ with that assessment, however.  According to the newspaper, when Helen was called to the stand, “the farm girl, wearing white cowboy boots, a red sweater, and a blue skirt, her hair in yellow ringlets, was definite and positive in her identification (of Corky as the man who abducted her and Billie).”

The State also offered up the testimony of two of Corky’s cellmates from the Lincoln County Jail, Silas Lowery and Howard Anderson.  Both men stated that Corky admitted to taking Helen and Billie out but tearfully denied killing anyone.  He claimed that Billie killed herself by flinging herself out of the car while he was driving at full speed.

In closing arguments, Corky’s defense attorney claimed that the state “is trying to build a house by erecting the roof first ….  The roof has been crashing down into a bunch of theories of inconsistency.”  But, the defense once again appealed to emotion when the prosecutor called Billie’s murder “one of the greatest atrocities ever committed in the state of Oklahoma.”

This time, when the jury — which consisted of nine farmers, one garage operator, and a car dealer — adjourned for deliberation, it didn’t take long for them to declare that Corky was guilty.  Now a convicted murderer, the former oil worker was sentenced to life imprisonment.  He unsuccessfully appealed and was sent to McAlester to serve out his term.

When he was up for parole in 1957, Corky admitted to murdering Billie Grayson.  “I make no attempt to deny responsibility … but I was convicted for murder.  I always believed that murder was for killing someone violently with the intent to do it.  I never had any intention of harming her.”  While Corky wasn’t released from prison after that particular hearing, he was eventually paroled and lived the rest of his days quietly near family in Cleveland then Savannah, Georgia.  He died an old man at the age of 81 in 1991.

As for Helen, she spent most of her life in the same area where all of these events occurred.  During World War II, she served in the Women’s Army Corp and worked as a jet engine tester.


Isn’t she lovely?  Helen married and had three children, and her obituary says a lot about her scrappy personality, so I thought I’d share the last part of it with you:

Helen was feisty and ornery and was known for her practical jokes. She loved to fish and watch fishing programs, and enjoyed playing music with her late husband…. Helen was a great cook, Thanksgiving was huge for her – she’d start preparing food 2 weeks ahead.

As for Stella, her bad luck with men continued when she hastily married salesman and bootlegger Bill Eltzroth in Oklahoma City around the time of Corky’s conviction in June 1942.  The two and Stella’s now-teenaged daughter, Mary Lou, settled into life in the flat on NW 18th Street, and all was quiet until Bill and Lindsey Chambless’ deadly quarrel on January 7, 1947.


Quotes about Billie’s death scene and Corky’s defense came from this fascinating article about the murder and trial from 1942 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

You can also read more about this sensational case in book, The Lonesome Death of Billie Grayson, and Other Killings in Early-Day Lincoln County by Wayne Pounds.


Next week in Part 3 of our series, Lindsey marries again, gets caught up with Cuban Revolutionaries, and continues his bootlegging ways.

In the Rearview: The Life and Times of OKC’s Most Notorious Bootlegger — Part 1

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Photos from the Oklahoma History Center unless otherwise noted.

As you may know, I love a good true crime story, and when I learned about an Oklahoma City bootlegger named Lindsey Chambless, who operated in the Metro throughout the 1940s and 1950s, I decided to do a little Mod Blog post devoted to him and his activities.  Well, my research opened a Pandora’s Box filled with interesting characters and fascinating stories that turned my intended short article into a giant tome that uncovers more twists and turns than a meandering Oklahoma back road.  Over the next few weeks, you’ll learn all you ever wanted to know about Prohibition in the Sooner State and some of the people who made the time after World War II such a lively period in our history.


On a chilly, rainy November night in 1957, three lawmen made their way to the Rowland farm along the South Canadian River, not far from the Municipal (now Will Rogers) airport.  Oklahoma County Sheriff Bob Turner, Deputy Sheriff E.A. “Boots” Capshaw, and the head of the FBI in Oklahoma City, D.A. “Jelly” Bryce plodded through weeds and overgrowth and sloshed through mud to a large tree near the river bank.

That’s where an anonymous tipster may or may not have told them they could find the body of a long-missing bootlegger named Lindsey Chambless.

Sure enough, after they uncovered less than a foot of earth, the men came across the badly decomposed remains of a man still dressed in a brightly patterned shirt and casual slacks.  In the corpse’s pockets, the men found corroded nail clippers, a watch, two sets of keys, and several loose coins.

In the coming hours, the sky cleared and the site around the tree became a hub of activity as more investigators arrived, along with news-hungry reporters and photographers eager to get a juicy story for the next edition of the Oklahoman.  Amid the controlled chaos, the body, which was no more than a skeleton bound by disintegrating clothing, was removed to the Coroner’s office and the surrounding area was inspected for further clues.  Just before the sun began to rise to awaken the day, people began clearing out to interrogate witnesses and file stories, and once again, quiet claimed the landscape for itself.

Lindsey’s Early Years

Orval (sometimes known as Orville) Lindsey Chambless was born on January 30, 1916, near the flat, dusty West Texas town of Plainview, where his father, Hiram, had recently transplanted the family to work as a farm laborer.  Working in West Texas with no family around couldn’t have been easy, so soon after Lindsey was born, the family packed up and headed back home to the lush, rolling hills of East Texas in Red River County.  There, Hiram went to work on his parents’ farm while Lindsey’s mother, Edna May tended house and looked after Lindsey and his two older siblings, Van and Zelma. Sadly, just as they were settling into their new life, Edna May died at the age of 25, leaving two-year-old Lindsey and his brother and sister motherless.

Ten years later in 1928, 40-year-old Hiram married a young girl of 18 named Cordie.  She was just six years older than Lindsey, and Van and Zelma may have disliked this new living situation because when the family moved to Oklahoma City soon after the marriage, Lindsey’s siblings didn’t go along for the ride.  In the city, Hiram found work as a distiller for an oil refinery, and the couple with a teenaged Lindsey in tow moved frequently from one cheap flat in the southwest part of town to another.

A year after their marriage, Cordie gave birth to Hiram, Jr., but the celebration was short lived when, in 1930, Lindsey’s older brother, Van, died.  He was just 20 years old and left behind his 17-year-old wife, Verda, who was nine months pregnant, and a one-year-old daughter.  More sadness came when, after Cordie had a second child, she and Hiram called it quits.  Cordie moved to a farm in rural Oklahoma with her youngest child, but she left young Hiram with his dad.

Marriage number three seemed to be the charm for Hiram.  In 1933, he wed another young woman, 20-year-old Lula, who would go on to bear two children when Hiram was in his 60s.  Here’s the couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in 1958:

At the time of Hiram’s third marriage, Lindsey was 17 and already proving to be quite a trouble maker.  In 1934, he was arrested for second-degree burglary and was sentenced to serve 14 months in the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite, which at the time only housed inmates under the age of 23.

The Reformatory, “Mother” Waters, and Escape

The Oklahoma State Reformatory opened in 1910:

When Lindsey arrived as an inmate in 1934, the place was run by Clara Waters, the first female warden in charge an all male prison in the U.S.

Waters was appointed to the position in 1927 after her husband, George, suddenly died while serving as warden.  The mother of eight, she ran the reformatory as an efficient, spic-and-span household, where “lewd pictures and suggestive inscriptions were ordered removed from the walls” and where inmates had to take off their hats in the presence of women, refrain from reading paperback novels, and use clean language.

Waters believed she could truly reform the young men in her care, so she created the first “fully accredited, behind-the-walls secondary school (Lakeside School) in the United States.”  She also started a popular boys’ band, invested in a library, and set up religious programs at the institution.  Here are photos of the band and the “Negro quartet”:

The matronly warden was always on hand to give her beloved “boys” motherly talks instead of harsh punishment.  When that didn’t work, the warden had some very interesting ways of punishing prisoners who got out of line.  Instead of confining them or beating them as was common in other institutions, Waters had them dress up in women’s clothing and paraded them in the Rotunda, where visitors and other inmates could laugh at and ridicule them.

Lindsey’s arrival coincided with a couple of interesting events at the reformatory.  First, while Waters had easily weathered two previous administrations, she was coming under unprecedented scrutiny by newly-elected governor, Ponca City oilman E.W. Marland, who took office January of 1935.

A former inmate had reported Waters for extreme cruelty, and Marland, who apparently had little respect for the female warden, was using that as an excuse to replace her.  Just as that was happening, the second event unfolded on February 17, 1935, when 31 inmates made a spectacular and bloody break from the reformatory.

According to the Oklahoman, armed with a couple of smuggled arms, two of the inmates threatened to shoot a guard if he didn’t turn over his keys.  He did and the inmates added to their ranks as they ran down halls “howling insanely.”  Then, “the mob of plotters ran upstairs in the administration building to the visitors’ room where 15 or 20 women and children” were waiting to visit loved ones.

The inmates used the women and children as human shields as they made their way through the reformatory to the entrance.  There, one of the armed escapees murdered a tower guard who was about to take aim at them while others scrambled into nearby two parked cars and made their getaway.  The rest of the gang made a desperate mad dash for the highway that ran next to the reformatory just as Clara Walters ordered her surviving tower guards to open fire on her once beloved boys.  This is where a lot of the fire came from:

“Slugs from … (the guards’ guns) … ripped into the flesh of eight convicts.”  They and two others were immediately captured, but the rest of the convicts made it to the road, hijacked unsuspecting drivers, and took off.   Eighteen young men were able to get away but most of them were quickly captured and returned to prison.

The three ringleaders of the break were the last of the bandits to be caught.  W.L. Baker, Jr., was an 18 year old serving 15 years for manslaughter, Dale Stamphill, 22, was at the reformatory after receiving 20 years for armed robbery, and 21-year-old Malloy Kuykendall was serving 75 years, also for armed robbery.  After breaking out, the three blazed a spectacular trail through rural Oklahoma and Texas that began when the trio robbed the Seiling First National Bank just 10 days after escaping from the reformatory in Granite.

Kuykendall injured his hip in the robbery, so the men tracked down and kidnapped the local doctor, Fred Myers, and forced him to treat the desperado’s wounds and drive them over the state line into Texas.  After they thought they were safe, they released the doctor, saying that his car was too slow and they needed a faster one.  But, for some reason, the not-so-bright boys didn’t get another car and instead hiked through fields and farms back into Oklahoma.

On Tuesday, March 5th, lawmen got a tip that the young men were hiding out in a ditch at the John Jester farm 15 miles west of Fairview.  A posse of over 100 men and an airplane scout descended on the farm and surrounded the escapees, who were hiding in an earthen dugout.  “Trapped in a hole like so many rats,” the three men emerged with guns a’blazing.  Kuykendall was shot and wounded by one of the officers, and the other two fugitives, seeing that there was no way out, quickly surrendered.  Here’s a photo of Stamphill, Kuykendall, and Baker soon after their capture:

All of the escapees were back in custody and several of them, including Kuykendall, Stamphill, and Baker, were tried and convicted for the murder of the prison guard and received life sentences to be served at the Oklahoma State Prison in McAlester.  In addition, the three ringleaders were brought up on federal charges for the bank robbery and kidnapping of Dr. Myers.  Once again, they were convicted and since they were known escapees, the men were sent to Alcatraz:

Here are Kuykendall’s orders to go to Alcatraz and his file there (photos here and of inmates from the Alcatraz archives):

I’m not sure what ended up happening to Baker, but Kuykendall, whose first arrest was for stealing chickens when he was a young teen, was now inmate #434 at “the Rock”.  Because he had two escapes to his credit (the first was when he broke out of a Tecumseh jail a few years prior to the reformatory incident), he was placed on 24-hour watch at his new home on the craggy island.  He would serve two stints at Alcatraz and time in Leavenworth…

… before being released in the early 1960s.  Now that he was older and wiser and a free man again, Kuydendall opted to live a quiet life and married and had children.  He died in 1967 at the age of 53.

Dale Stamphill became prisoner #436 at Alcatraz:

The restless young man didn’t like being locked up and even though he, too, was closely monitored at Alcatraz, the criminal with more gumption than brains attempted another brazen escape in 1939.  In the middle of the night on January 13th, Stamphill…

… and four of his buddies, Arthur “Doc” Barker (son of the notorious Ma Barker),

William Martin,

Rufus McCain,

and Henri Young…

… used saws and benders to open up the window bars in the supposedly secure D Block isolation unit.  The five men pulled themselves through the windows and ran through the chilly night to the water, where they gathered wood to construct a makeshift raft.

Suddenly, the prison siren blared and tower lights searched back and forth before resting on the men, who were in their underwear by this time because they had been using their clothing to tie the wood pieces together.  Shivering in the brutal cold on the shore, Martin, McCain, and Young immediately surrendered, while Barker and Stamphill still thought they could make a getaway if they just put a few more pieces of the raft together.

A series of shots pierced the quiet night.  “Doc” Barker was shot in the head and lay mortally wounded, and Stamphill was wounded in both legs.  One bullet nicked an artery, nearly killing the Oklahoman, and he survived only to be placed, along with his fellow escapees, in solitary confinement for 22 months.  (Read a much more detailed version of the prison break here.)

After the wannabe escapees’ release back into the general prison population in 1941, Young killed McCain by plunging a spoon handle into the man’s neck.  Young’s story and the resulting trial were the basis of the 1995 movie, “Murder in the First.”  Stamfield remained in prison for at least another 25 years, but he was ultimately released, got married, and lived out the rest of his days in Kansas, where he died in 1998.

As for Clara Waters, the reformatory break out back in Granite was the last straw for her nemesis, Governor Marland, and his cohorts, one of whom stated, “… there is a bad moral condition out there (at the reformatory).  A woman just can’t manage it.”  She was removed from her position of eight years the day after the breakout and replaced with a man, who I’m sure did a much better job … at least in the eyes of Marland.

She didn’t let that setback stop her, though.  Not at all.  In fact, this trailblazer ended up serving at the vice-chair of the state’s Democratic Party and was tapped by Franklin Roosevelt to head the Oklahoma women’s program of the National Youth Administration.  She lived to the ripe old age of 89 and died in Stillwater in 1977.

Perhaps because he was due to be released in a few months, anyway, Lindsey Chambless didn’t participate in the reformatory escape.  In fact, he uncharacteristically stayed out of trouble during his stay under Mrs. Waters’ care and was released later in 1935.  Unfortunately, her motherly talks didn’t make much of an impact on Lindsey.  Perhaps he enjoyed dressing up in women’s clothes or maybe he just liked the thrill of living on the edge; either way, he was soon committing crimes again, which landed him in federal prison for two stints in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Lindsey Becomes the “Flying Bootlegger”

By 1947, Lindsey was 31 and one of the best known bootleggers in Oklahoma City.

The Sooner State had been dry ever since statehood in 1907 when prohibition was included in its constitution.  Even after national prohibition was repealed in 1933, Oklahoma remained mostly dry – the only exception was a law passed the same year that legalized low-point beer because it was deemed non-intoxicating.

From 1936 to 1949, Oklahomans voted three times to repeal prohibition, and it failed each and every time.  According to the Oklahoman, that didn’t mean that the state was comprised mostly of teetotalers.  On the contrary, “the referendums may not have accurately reflected Oklahomans’ views on the issue.  Because liquor was not regulated by the state, drinkers could buy smuggled alcohol cheap and were not excited about paying state taxes.  As long as they could get their alcohol, Oklahomans had little problem with the law.”

With so many eager buyers on hand, bootlegging was quite a profitable business, and citizens from every socio-economic background had their favorite bootlegger, who could easily supply bourbon, whiskey, or any other spirit and surreptitiously deliver it to their door … their back door, of course.  Here’s a bootlegger’s card I found at a flea market a few years back:

Lindsey and his adventurous cohorts made all kinds of money during the celebratory and carefree days after World War II, and while they may be raided on occasion…

… for the most part, luck was on their side.  For example, Lindsey was one of the first to use planes to smuggle in his contraband from surrounding wet states, which earned him the title of the “Flying Bootlegger.”  In September 1948, according to a 2008 Oklahoma Today article,

Oklahoma County officers got a tip that a plane carrying whiskey was flying into Tulakes Airport in Bethany.  The local police and two Oklahoma Highway Patrolmen positioned themselves at the airport to make a bust.  Chambless arrived to wait for the plane, along with an accomplice, William Jefferson Hutto.  According to police, Chambless learned of the stakeout by listening to the Highway Patrol wavelength on his radio and ran onto the airfield to wave the plane off.  Bethany policeman Chester Longacre and his twin brother, Lester, a Nichols Hills constable, were hiding inside a hangar almost a mile away and attempted to block the plane’s takeoff with their car.  As they raced onto the runway, the plane took flight and escaped, narrowly missing the top of the Longacres’ vehicle.  Police only were able to charge Chambless with driving without proper license tags.

Lindsey was likely very happy to escape this incident with such a light charge because he was already in trouble for a much more serious crime – murder.


Next time, Lindsey is accused of murdering his lover’s husband and she has a pretty sad history with men.  Go here to read Part 2.


Tulsa Takes to Glass Walls: Lortondale in House + Home

Posted by on Aug 15, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.

One of the best MCM neighborhoods in all of Oklahoma is surely the gloriously mod Lortondale in Tulsa.  The unique homes in this great area were designed by local architect, Donald Honn, appeared in the January 1954 issue of House + Home magazine, and ultimately won numerous design awards.  He even built a home for himself in Lortondale (you’ll see it in a minute).  Here’s the fascinating article about this beloved neighborhood:

And here’s a great photo of Lortondale that I found in the Oklahoma History Center archives:

Today, Lortondale looks pretty much the same, with new homeowners restoring and loving these classic modern designs as much as original owners did 60 years ago:

Here’s the home that Honn designed for himself (he later moved to this swank abode that we profiled on the Mod Blog a few years ago):


More Lortondale goodness:

Honn is also responsible for developing the Dollie-Mac neighborhood in Tulsa, as well as similar neighborhoods in Lubbock and El Paso.

If you’d like to see more vintage photos of Lortondale, check out the neighborhood’s website.

And, as an extra bonus, Robyn found this spread about another Honn-designed home in the January 1961 issue of Better Homes & Gardens:

Back to School, Mod Style

Posted by on Aug 9, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.

Kids are bummed but parents are thrilled to get back into the school routine, so to celebrate, here are some vintage images from the OPUBCO collection at the History Center of school days of the past.

New desk set up at John Marshall High School, 1950:

These guys skipped out on six and a half months of school in the mid-1950s — no wonder they look so glum at being caught and sent back to the halls of academia:

Playground fun — who didn’t love tetherball?:

You’ve got to love those desks:

Riding the bus to school — that wasn’t a lot of fun during the days when kids were driven all over the place and far from home as part of busing:

Oh how I hated those ankle socks with the ruffles that slipped down to the bottom of your heel during recess:

School fashion for 1967:

Here are some of the mod buildings these industrious students gathered at every day:

D.D. Kirkland, 1958:

Douglass High School:

Herbert Hoover Junior High under construction:

Ridgeview Elementary:

West Nichols Hills Elementary:

Have a great school year, kiddos!

Herb Greene Visits Norman and His Prairie House

Posted by on Aug 3, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

text and photos by Lynne Rostochil (unless otherwise stated).

Certainly, one of the biggest highlights of 2017 so far was getting to meet the genius behind the Prairie Chicken House in Norman and the Cunningham House in OKC, the one and only Herb Greene.  He came to town way back in April to meet with Brent Swift and Hans and Torrey Butzer, who plan to faithfully restore Greene’s iconic house on the prairie just east of Norman.  While he was here, Greene also gave a talk at OU about architecture, Bruce Goff, and his creative process:

It was fascinating and Herb was funny, charming, and a great story teller.  Luckily, someone recorded it, and you can view the entire chat here.

The following day, a gaggle of us accompanied Herb and his lovely niece, Lila, to the Prairie Chicken House for a little look-see before restoration work begins.

For years, I’ve pretended to be lost and have pulled up in the driveway to supposedly turn around … while really straining past the giant No Trespassing signs to sneak a peek at this glorious creation.  Once, I even parked the car and braved beyond the clearly stated warnings and my fears of being chased off by a shotgun blast to knock on the front door.  The barely visible house was surrounded by untended overgrowth, but I snapped a few shots of the home while waiting for someone to answer.  Soon, the door creaked open to reveal a very sweet elderly woman who wasn’t terrifying at all.  In fact, she was very friendly but refused to let me inside for a tour.  So, when I finally got a chance to tour Herb Greene’s masterpiece and hear his stories about the home, it was like Christmas Day.

When Julius Shulman photographed this house in 1961 (as it was nearing completion), he stayed in the “eye” of the house for four days while he captured this one-of-a-kind abode on film.  He said that it was so amazing to look out this window and see nothing but tall grass everywhere and the strong Oklahoma wind making it dance.  Here are some then and now exterior views of the eye:

(Julius Shulman)

Shortly after it was completed, Greene opened his new home for a tour, where one incredulous observer asked in all seriousness if the place had been hit by a tornado.  I’m sure that all of the curves and angles were a mental stretch for a lot of people, but just a few moments in the glorious space surely changed their minds.

In his book, Generations, which he co-wrote with his niece, Lila Cohen, Herb talks more about the Prairie Chicken House:

My objective was to emphasize the importance of bodily and mental experience through metaphors such as the curved half circle of the west window, which can suggest a sun as well as an eye.  I project feelings of pathos or tragedy from the looming “wounded creature” look of the Prairie House.  

Feelings of protection are expressed by the sense of an enveloping coat and the cave-line interior.  The soft textures, human scale, war color, and lifelike rhythms contribute a feeling that the house is in some way living; mixing cues of sharp and piercing forms with others that are soft and gentle, in the context of the wounded creature, suggests pathos….  I juxtapose that which is vulnerable with that which is protective, sheltering, and comfortable.

That’s EXACTLY how this house feels — vulnerable, protective, cave-like, womb-like.

Here, Herb walks into the home for the first time since he left Oklahoma for good in 1964 to become a professor at the University of Kentucky:

The floor in the entry hall …

… and a fireplace greet visitors:

Once inside, all of the warm-hued shingles direct your eye up, up, up to take in the full drama and delight of the organic goodness of this amazing space:

This house is SO incredibly photogenic — there’s not a bad angle anywhere.  Here, Herb makes his way up the first staircase to the living area…

… while another visitor ascends the second-level staircase to the rooftop deck:

Herb beautifully describes the interior of the home in his book, Mind and Image:

If a combination of rhythms can be harmonized in an image, the result is like a dialogue or conversation in which one rhythm informs, supports, or offers contrasts to the other.  The value of rhythmic dialogues is that they allow and encourage us to organize complex groups of contrasts much in the manner of orchestration in music.  In the interior of the Prairie House, there are several rhythmic systems in dialogue.  One is in the shingled walls; another consists of the lines formed by the intersections of walls, floors, and ceiling; a third is provided by the stairway.  

The walls are covered with wood shingles.  They speak of human scale, warmth, softness, and vibratory activity.  They suggest feathers, scales, nests, baskets, ebb and flow, and life and motion.  The lines made by intersecting surfaces suggest animate gestures and give a feeling of recovering one’s balance with the vertical.  The lines lead inward and then outward, as they close the space and open it.  The stairway presents a contrast of “the straight away” with the surrounding curves.  It also sets up contrasts to the sense of enclosure one reads into the space.  We feel that there is an escape, a place beyond.  

Everything about Herb Greene is poetry, from his writing to his art (yes, he’s an artist, too, and a good one) to his architecture.

The home wouldn’t have received nearly the national and international recognition it has if not for the efforts of Julius Shulman.  Throughout his long career, Shulman often ventured inland from his base in California to check out what was happening in architectural design in other regions of the United States.  During these trips, which spanned over 30 years, he frequently stopped in Oklahoma and photographed some of the state’s most innovative modern architecture.

Mr. Shulman (I never could call him Julius, for some reason, so he was always Mr. Shulman to me) told me that upon his return to New York City from this particular Oklahoma trip, he was chided by his colleagues and editors, who said, “Why would you want to go to Oklahoma?  There’s no good architecture there.  All of the great architects are on the coasts, so you should spend your time there.”  Knowing better than that, Shulman gave them a confident Mona Lisa smile and told them to wait until he developed his batch of images from the Sooner State.

When he returned, Shulman and his curious editors gathered around a light table.  One by one, Shulman laid out his slides of Herb Greene’s masterful creation on the windswept prairie.  With each image he placed on the table, the editors grew more and more excited.  They were stunned, delighted, humbled, and enthralled with what they saw and immediately decided that the images had to go in the very next issue of Life magazine, which dubbed this fascinating piece of Organic Modernism the Prairie Chicken House.  Shulman’s photos made Herb Greene known to many far beyond the small college town of Norman, Oklahoma, and gave his career an enormous boost.

Greene and his family lived here just a few short years.  After that, he rented it to a couple who later finished the teepee’d Magyness House in Norman.  Then, in 1968, Greene sold his “wounded creature” to local business woman and nightclub owner, Janie Wilson, who loved and lived in the house for the next 50 years.

Today, the new owners are working with Greene and Hans and Torrey Butzer to figure out ways to not only restore the house but to also make it better.  For example, Greene recalls that he could never get the temperature above 58 degrees during the cold months, so Brent Swift and his team will work to insulate the home better.

This little guy has some plans of his own, too:

I hope that one of the changes is some kind of railing around the rooftop deck — yeah, that’s the mom in me coming out:

Lila and Herb share a moment on the deck …

… while taking in the spectacular views:

Also, during our time at the house, KFOR’s Galen Culver arrived to interview Herb:

Here’s Herb waxing poetic about the place during his sit-down with Culver:

Check out Galen Culver’s interview — it’s very interesting:

The Prairie House architect comes home to see his famous structure for the first time in more than 50 years.

And here are a few more interior shots, including the eye where Shulman slept:

That light!  I haven’t touched up these photos at all because I didn’t need to.  The light and warmth are just perfect.  Here’s Lila taking in the view:

Finally, you can’t help but want to have the full tactile experience with the shingles:

So, restoration work will begin soon on the home, and the Mod Squad will try to schedule a tour when it is completed.  You won’t want to miss seeing this insanely stunning home in person!