Lock of Bonnie Parker's Hairby
|In 1963, I formed
a strange friendship with this old gambler named Soft Shoe O' Shea, or just Shoes.
He was a regular fixture around the lobby of the Adolphus Hotel, the fanciest
hotel in all of Texas. The lobby was a beehive of
activity and a real power center. There were several lush, leather couches that
sat beneath these huge oil paintings of western scenes. There were often big oilmen
there looking at maps, trading leases, or listening to another story from Shoes.
The oilmen wore the big hats and boots. Soft Shoe O' Shea was always nattily dressed
in an older suit and tie, french cuffs and cuff links, a dress fedora or pork-pie
hat, and highly-shined, often two-tone shoes. Very often, he had a rose bud or
white carnation in his lapel. He was a tall man, too thin for his suits, very
agile and athletic. He was eighty and seemed to know everyone in downtown Dallas.
I was only twenty-three, and that age difference became the reason for our friendship.
Sometimes when he'd walk up, one of the oilmen would sing out, "It's Soft Shoe
O'Shea." He'd do a few dance steps.|
Hotel in Dallas|
|Shoes had been an
early partner in a dice game with Rowdy Martin, who got big rich as a wildcatter.
Rowdy was chasing oil in the sky, but his two sons, Little Rowdy and Sonny, with
more money than good sense, seemed to keep Shoes in money. They ran a big poker
game weekends in a plush suite in the Adolphus Hotel. They'd chippy there too.
I got to playing lucky there, even though it was over my bankroll. Shoes never
played, but he would be up there telling stories while we waited to get our first
hole cards of the day. Once the game kicked off, he mummed up. The Martin boys
both had displeasing personalities, even for nouveau riche Texans. They often
Once, Little Rowdy asked Shoes to "tell that story about
Bonnie and Clyde." There were four us waiting for enough to start the poker game.
Shoes pulled his chair up closer to the poker table where we were sitting. He
hitched up his trousers. His watery, blue eyes began to shine. He took off his
black fedora, exposing a full head of snow-white hair. I'd never seen him so excited.
"Well, I was working the stick at a crap game on the north edge of Dallas
around Christmas of 1933. One night the boss said we was gonna stay late and fade
this high player. About one o'clock in the morning, Clyde
Barrow and Bonnie Parker and two other guys show up. Clyde and the boss went
way back, so Clyde knew we wouldn't snitch them off, and we hoped they wouldn't
rob us. Clyde goes to shooting and drinking whiskey. We didn't have nothing to
eat but Vienna sausage, crackers, cheese, and onions and he ate his own self two
"They was real famous and in the newspapers and all robbing
them banks, when banks were unpopular. I asked Bonnie for something to remember
her by. We didn't have a pencil for an autograph. She pulled this little pair
of scissors out of her purse and gave me this....a lock of her hair." Shoes leaned
up on one cheek and pulled out his ancient billfold. Inside a piece of hotel stationary,
there was a lock of brownish, dry hair. He passed it around for everyone to see.
"It was just a few months later, the Texas Rangers shot them down like dogs on
the street. Don't seem legal, the Texas Rangers ambushing folks in Louisana."
Little Rowdy was rolling his eyes and mocking Shoes.
After that, Shoes
and I sat in the lobby and talked nearly every time I played in the poker game.
He had a key to the suite, and we go up there and make coffee some mornings. Sometimes
he would be in the lobby in the middle of the night. I thought he lived at the
Adolphus, but he lived in a residential hotel a.k.a. flop house where old men
paid by the week and you heard coughing all night. Shoes could sign for room service
up at the suite, and he often got a chicken-salad sandwich or egg-salad sandwich
to go. He'd drink half a beer in a glass, and put the bottle back in the suite's
refrigerator. One night late, I ran into Shoes in the lobby when I had $84 left
in the world and dark, low feelings to match the occasion.
ain't got no home." he said. "When I was young, every time I pumped a healthy
bankroll, I never dreamed that I would get broke again, but I did lots of times.
If you ain't got enough character to be broke, go to nine to fiving it. Get a
job. Be a square John, 'cause a gambler has to know how to be broke in style.
Yessir, in style."
Jack Ruby was a regular in the Adolphus lobby, walking
around fast, giving away passes to his strip club. Ruby and Shoes seemed to be
absolutely best friends. When Ruby came in, Shoes would walk toward him, and they'd
often laugh or do a little dance. Shoes gave conventioneers passes to Ruby's joint.
I heard at the poker game, but Shoes never told me, that Shoes ran football bets
for Ruby, who was a bookie.
One time, Jack Ruby got in a fist fight in
the Adolphus' big fancy Burgundy Room and was arrested. Folks were talking about
that big time, and Little Rowdy guessed we'd not see Ruby again in the hotel.
The next day, there were Shoes and Ruby strutting around the lobby as if nothing
Another night, I ended up bigger behind than a cotton patch
spider. Shoes wanted to talk and I didn't, at first. He told me that he once had
a big joint on the Jacksboro Highway in Ft.
Worth during World War Two.
They had three dice tables and sometimes a roulette wheel. Then the Texas Rangers
raided. "That was the best bankroll of my life, but every shiny dime went for
crooked lawyers and crooked politicians. I barely stayed out of the pen." He said.
Kennedy was assassinated, I was playing poker in Hot Springs, Arkansas. When I
saw a familiar figure, Jack Ruby, blasting away at Oswald on TV, I headed for
Dallas. It wasn't as if I had a boss,
or a budget, or a schedule. I went straight to the Adolphus, figuring Shoes would
tell me all about it. Only I never saw Shoes again. Not ever. Neither did anyone
else, best I could tell. As the days passed, even the Martin brothers showed concern.
I found the fifty-cent limit poker game in the back of a pool hall that Shoes
had told me about. No one had seen him. I found the Dallas Arms, the flea bag
where he had lived for some years. They had carefully boxed up his impressive
wardrobe, but no one had seen him since the assassination.
didn't take any convincing to file a Missing Person's Report. The police checked
the morgue and hospitals and found nothing.
The bellhops at the Adolphus
were these old, Black men, in maroon uniforms. I had often seen Shoes talking
to them. I asked one of them if they had heard any thing about Shoes.
He said, "The F.B.I. and the Dallas
detectives asked around about Jack Ruby and about Shoes, but we haven't seen him."
I told the man that if he found old Shoes, to ask him to show him the lock of
Bonnie Parker's hair."