A vividly detailed and stylishly written portrait of an Austin long gone by.

LAST GANGSTER IN AUSTIN

FRANK SMITH, RONNIE EARLE, AND THE END OF A JUNKYARD MAFIA

How a creepy Texas crook with lots of friends was taken down by a valiant public servant and a dogged newsman.

Sublett, a revered Austin musician and mystery author, found the seeds of his latest nonfiction book on Austin-related topics when researching his affecting memoir Never the Same Again (2004), in which he recounted the 1976 murder of his girlfriend by a serial killer while he was out at a gig. The author kept encountering news stories about a guy named Frank Smith, who turned out to be "Don Corleone as reimagined by Hee Haw.” As Sublett describes him, Smith’s “criminal record and unsavory associations did no apparent harm to his wrecking yard business. He thrived on being quoted in the media, and reporters happily accommodated him. He was a six-foot-two, XXXL loose cannonball of contradictions….The son of a Baptist preacher, he often quoted the Bible, even in response to a message that a murder-for-hire contract had been fulfilled.” Among other misdeeds, Smith engineered an outrageous crime against the Rabbs, a sweet family who ran a junkyard, paying them $15,000 in cash for a group of vehicles and then sending gunmen over to steal the money back. The hero of Sublett's narrative is the late, great Ronnie Earle, longtime Travis County district attorney. Even though he held many left-leaning beliefs, “Earle was no coddler of criminals, and he came down on Frank Smith like a ton of bricks, using every weapon at his disposal." Also integral to the pursuit of Smith was Austin American-Statesman journalist Bill Cryer, whose crime reporting Sublett quotes admiringly and to great effect. This may seem more like fodder for a magazine article than a book, and there is more repetition of the facts than necessary, but readers interested in Austin history and quirky true crime will find plenty to enjoy.

A vividly detailed and stylishly written portrait of an Austin long gone by.

Pub Date: May 17, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-4773-2398-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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IN COLD BLOOD

"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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