the Wall The Men Behind the 1934 Death House Escape
Patrick M. McConal
Eakin Press, 2000 Reviewed by John Troesser
welcome addition to the library of crime in 1930s Texas - Over the Wall
delivers much more than is promised in the title. The author pays homage toJohn Neal Phillips' book Running with Bonnie and Clyde - a book that
focused on the members of the Parker-Barrow gang that didn't get top billing.
Both Phillips and McConal have managed to flesh out these lesser-known personalities
without inflation, puffery or glamorization. Just the facts - but with rich details.
The reader may wonder what all the fuss was about Bonnie and Clyde - after
reading about "Whitey" Walker and his gang. Walker and Company were much more
successful than the Barrow-Parker gang, for one thing. Maybe it was their early
start in the Texas Panhandle in the 1920s. Less impulsive than B & C and firm
believers in prior planning, Walker and Company cleared nearly as much swag per
job than B & C did during their entire career. They also employed some innovative
tactics for buying get-away time at bank robberies. Looping leather belts around
people's necks and nailing the ends of the belts to the bank floor was one.
Through interviews with people who were actually there - McConal touches
on topics as varied as the parole policy of the Fergusons, the day-to-day brutality
of the prison system and the "golden-rule" policy of the criminals who refused
to lock bank-robbery victims inside air-tight vaults.
the reader is treated to how Palestine got its one-way streets, the art of wrapping
thumbs with copper wire and a practical joke that a morning newspaper played on
it's afternoon rival.
The book also mentions forgotten historical tidbits
such as Confederate veteran's checks being taken in holdups, and the primitive
conditions of the roads of the era. The scarcity of automobiles allowed police
to block the highway in Temple for infractions in Waco.
pleasure may be enhanced by having maps of Oklahoma and Texas near at hand. Just
J. B. French alone was born in McAlester, Oklahoma, moved to Atoka and then Oklahoma
City and then on to Denison, Texas. He stole a car in Pecos and was caught in
New Mexico. After a stint in what was then a reformatory at Gatesville he spread
himself thin over Grayson, Hunt and Lamar Counties. These men might've been criminals
- but they certainly knew their geography.
Born William Jennings Bryan
Walker, "Whitey" partnered with Irvin "Blackie" Thompson. They should've been
famous for their matching nicknames alone. Working hard at their chosen field
from the mid and early 20's, the gang broke free of the depressing lifestyle of
tourist courts, marathon gin rummy and take-out sandwiches. They briefly enjoyed
the good life by driving to Miami (Florida).
Their "working vacation"
was cut short by a foolish mistake and then punctuated by a shotgun blast.
After presenting the detailed bios of these men - and a few others in other
gangs, the book covers the breakout mentioned in the title and then follows the
men as they leave the stage - either suddenly or slowly.
poignant thank-you letter to his captors - requesting that they attend his execution
as "friends" is published for the first time and there's 60 photographs including
some rare shots taken by a prisoner and smuggled out for developing by guards.
The inmate, Hugh Kennedy, missed his calling as a photographer since the well-composed
snapshots could easily pass for photos taken by Federal photographers documenting
Other photographs were provided from albums of the principal