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Books by
Clay Coppedge
Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Life and Times of
Whitey Walker

by Clay Coppedge
If nothing else, the Whitey Walker Gang should have been famous for their names - Whitey, Blackie and Ace. A Hollywood scriptwriter couldn't have come up with better names.

The gang's namesake was born in Rogers in 1897 but left home at age 18 to pursue his calling, which turned out to be a life of crime.
Whitey Walker is perhaps best remembered in Texas history as one of the men who didn't quite make it "over the wall" during a breakout of the "Death House" at Huntsville's Wall's Unit on July 22, 1934.

Walker's exploits -daring, deadly and dumb alike - are chronicled in the book "Over The Wall: The Men Behind the 1934 Death House Escape" by Patrick M. McConal.

The book presents the first detailed, documented account of the Whitey Walker Gang, otherwise known as the Fishing Hole Gang, for reasons that will be revealed later.
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More remarkable than Walker's series of crime sprees - and he was clearly a criminal who didn't know when to quit - was the number of times he was released on parole or given easy opportunities to escape. He was sent to an Oklahoma prison in 1922 for auto theft but served less than eight months of a five-year sentence.

In 1925 he was sent to the Texas State Penitentiary for burglary and felony theft. Fortunately for Walker, he was incarcerated during the first term of Miriam A. "Ma" Ferguson, who granted more than 100 pardons per month in that time. One of those pardons was of Whitey Walker, on Christmas Eve, 1926.

Walker hightailed it to the Panhandle town of Borger with his brother Hugh where he met up with Blackie Thompson, Ace Pendleton and other like-minded individuals. They robbed a bank in Pampa on the last day of March, 1927, and got away with more than $32,000. He returned to Borger and was arrested in connection with another crime. He made bail - bank robbers were often able to do that - and skipped town.

In late 1927 and into 1928 Walker and his gang went on a prolific seven-state crime spree that entailed a lot of bank robberies and shootouts with police. The gang ended up in Buffalo, New York where he was arrested and sent back to Texas. (His brother, Hugh, was sent to Huntsville for a 99-year sentence but was released after three years.) Texas sent Walker back to Oklahoma, where he was again sentenced to prison. One hot August day in 1933 he and a few of his buddies were granted permission to go fishing. They went but they never came back. People started calling them "The Fishing Hole Gang."

The "fishing trip" was followed by a six-month crime spree in East and Central Texas that ended when Walker was arrested and put in the Montgomery County jail. He escaped, was recaptured and - no kidding - made bond and disappeared again.

Walker and his gang made use of their time by robbing banks in Buckholts, Palestine and Marlin along with a Bryan jewelry store thrown in for good measure. Criminals have always loved Florida, even then, and these guys headed to the Sunshine State with their ill-gotten gains.

In Florida, one of the gang members flashed a $5,000 wad of cash and paid $1,500 for a Cadillac with some bills that traced back to Waco and Marlin banks. Arrested as Howard Peoples, the fingerprints returned to one Irvin "Blackie" Thompson.

Meanwhile, Whitey took a shotgun blast in the shoulder during an aborted bank robbery in Tallahassee. He and Roy Johnson were taken into custody and returned to Texas. The state asked for the death penalty for the whole gang, but Blackie Thompson was the only one sentenced to the chair; Walker and Johnson were given life sentences.

The entire gang was sent to the Walls Unit in Huntsville where Whitey Walker took it upon himself to see that his friend Blackie would not be electrocuted in "Ol Sparky" at the Huntsville Death House. It wasn't like desperados hadn't been busted out of a prison before. Bonnie and Clyde had busted their old confederate, the notorious Raymond Hamilton, out of the Eastham Unit along with Joe Palmer, Hilton Bybee, James Mullins and Henry Methvin. The incident was a huge embarrassment for the state's prison system and proved to be the beginning of the end for Bonnie and Clyde.

At Huntsville, Walker enlisted the aid of a man named Charles Frazier to help in the escape attempt. Frazier was, as McConal notes, a man more prone to reaction than thinking. "What he may have lacked in brains he made up for in sheer guts," McConal wrote. Frazier, whose real name was Eldridge Roy Johnson, escaped and was recaptured from prisons in Louisiana and Texas eight or nine times. Combined with a parole granted him in 1922 and a 15-day furlough from which he didn't return, Frazier spent enough time on the outside to pick up another 20 or so years for burglary and robbery along with a murder charge in Arkansas.

He was eventually sent to the Walls Unit in Huntsville, where he tried three times to escape, failing each time. Frazier had more gunshot wounds than he had escape attempts. He considered getting shot part of the deal. He didn't seem to mind it too much.

This was the man Whitey Walker enlisted to help him bust Blackie Thompson out of the Death House on July 22, 1934.

With help from a prison guard who arranged to have guns smuggled into the prison, Frazier pulled a gun on one of the guards and ordered a steward to release Thompson, then Charles Palmer, then Ray Hamilton, who had been part of the Eastham escape.

As they ran from the Death House, Whitey Walker, Roy Johnson and Hub Stanley joined them, but guards caught sight of the men and opened fire as the escape was taking place. Thompson, Hamilton and Palmer made it over the wall.

Walker wasn't so lucky. He had climbed about halfway up the wall when he proclaimed, "God, it looks like we're gone" just as a bullet fired by guard W.W. Roberts passed through both of his lungs, killing him instantly.

Frazier was shot four times - just another day for him. He didn't die, but he wasn't able to make it over the wall. He was thrown into a death row cell and not allowed to shave or get a haircut; guards wanted to be able to recognize him the next time he tried to escape.

Eventually he was sent to Louisiana where he received a life sentence for the Angola prison escape.

Frazier again tried to escape - to no one's surprise - and was shot six times during the process. He lived. Shortly after, he converted to Christianity and spent the rest of his life preaching.

The three who escaped were recaptured or killed, but they stopped by Rogers to pay their respects to Walker. The Houston Post estimated that about 500 people dropped by to pass by Whitey's casket.

Walker is buried in a family cemetery where he is identified on the headstone as Bryan Walker.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" May 1, 2007 Column

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