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Texas | Columns | "They shoe horses, don't they?"

“Witch’s Gate”

In Cold Blood:
Clay County, Texas 1975
A needless killing
for a fortune that wasn’t there.

by Johnny Stucco
Editor’s Note: The photo below was sent in by Vicki Cheatham in January of 2007 with the request that we share what we knew of the burned-out shell of a house near Jolly, Texas. It was an easy question to answer since we knew nothing. Forward to October of 2007 – when a sharing reader from Midlothian sent a link which had the entire story. The link was to an article, which had appeared in the October, 2004 issue of the Wichitan, the newspaper for Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls. It was from that article that the following facts were gleaned (See also corrections from Chief Deputy of Clay County):
"Witch's Gate" off Hwy 287 near Wichita Falls Texas

The silhouette of the Keith Brother’s house stands off Highway 287, between Wichita Falls and Henrietta.
Photo Courtesy Vicki Cheatham, January 2007

On a Saturday night in mid-July, of 1975, brothers Jim and Keneth Keith (61 and 70, respectively) were preparing for bed. Jim had never married, and Kenneth was divorced. Both men raised Hereford cattle, as their father had done before them. Neither man had any heirs and lived alone in their ranch house which was described by the Wichita Falls Record News as “sumptuous.”

It’s not known if it was an assumption of wealth or the size of the house that caused rumors to circulate about a fortune in rare coins and guns. Whatever the reason, at least two men entered the house that summer night looking for treasure and were determined to have it.

Kenneth heard voices coming from his brother’s room, and, as he approached, heard a gunshot. He found his brother in a pool of his own blood, shot in the back. The killer then tied Kenneth Keith to a chair, releasing him briefly to open a safe and then retied him.

A second man appeared and after cutting the phone line and ransacking the house, they left about 3:00 a.m.

Kenneth managed to free himself and drove to the Jolly truck stop where he phoned police.

The headlines on July 14th shouted: “Clay County Rancher Murdered” but at that time there was little information.

Twelve years later reporter Judith McGinnis wrote a follow-up story for the paper which was, by then, the Times Record News. The later article had more facts and named names. There were four men indicted (Clyde Theron Burns, William Leon Pinson Burns, Alton Woodruff Fanchier, and Lonnie Dale Lloyd.

William Pinson Burns was identified as the triggerman. The severity of the crime demanded a special prosecutor for the case. According to the court records, the men had planned the theft of a coin collection which had been featured or advertised in a coin magazine.

The sad irony was that, while there actually had been a collection, Kenneth Keith had donated it to a museum the previous year.

Kenneth Keith had moved in to a neighbor’s house after burying Jim and the brothers' former home sat vacant. But in February of 1976, when Clyde Burns was arrested, the house was torched. It was almost certainly arson, but there was never a formal investigation.

The three others were given 20 years for their guilty plea. Evidence was produced that confirmed that “Pinson” Burns had shot through a window screen and killed Jim Keith as he attempted to run.

A Clay County jury took six minutes to deliberate – just enough time to sit down and vote. Pinson Burns was sent to Kansas’s Leavenworth Penitentiary – for what everyone had thought was a life sentence.

But ten years later, after being released for “poor health,” Pinson Burns moved to New Mexico. He was apprehended on charges unrelated to the Jolly murder and sent to Huntsville where he died in 1983.

He outlived Kenneth Keith by six years.

As with many abandoned houses or ruins, stories spring up about ghosts, and ghostly happenings. When a particularly red sun sets on the horizon, it can appear that the Keith Brothers home is again on fire, but as for a haunting, it’s just local youth claiming a story that they can “own.”

October 11 , 2007 Column

More "They shoe horses, don't they?"

Subject: In Cold Blood: Clay County, Texas 1975

There are/were several mistakes in the article you posted on the Kieth Brothers. Clyde Burns was arrested after he broke back into the Kieth Home to steal the antique Clock collection and set fire to the house.

Penson Burns was sent to Levenworth on a federal charge and was released by a federal Judge and was fighting extradition to Texas to serve his Life Sentance at Huntsville. He did not move to New Mexico, he went there to attend a funeral and was picked up by the local Sheriff who happen to know that he was wanted in Clay County, Texas. Sheriff Jake Bogard personally went to New Mexico and transported Burns to Huntsville on the Murder Conviction.

At the time I was Chief Deputy of Clay County.
- Dexter Parnell, August 06, 2011

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