Friday, August 13, 2010

A Legend of Law Enforcement Passes Away

I was saddened to learn this morning of the passing of one my childhood heroes, former-FBI Agent, Brazos County District Attorney's Investigator, and head of the Texas A&M Police Department, Bob Wiatt. The article about him in my hometown paper can be found here and the Chronicle's article here.

To say that Mr. Wiatt (I could never actually get to the point of feeling myself worthy to call him by his first name) had a legendary career
would be a massive massive understatement.

As a rookie FBI Agent, one of his first cases was doing some of the legwork on the Kennedy Assassination. He later went on to work on the murders of three Civil Rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi that was more commonly known as the Mississippi Burning case, and he was there when they discovered the workers' buried car.

In 1969, he assisted in the rescue of Texas DPS Trooper Kenneth Crone, who had been kidnapped by Robert Dent and Ila Fae Holiday. He and the local sheriff both fatally wounded Dent during the rescue. The incident was later the basis of Steven Sielberg's first movie, The Sugarland Express. Goldie Hawn played Ila Fae.

During the 1974 Huntsville Prison Riots led by Fred Gomez Carrasco, he was brought in at the request of the Governor and helped break up the riots, getting himself shot in the process. Harris County's own Bert Graham would become the special prosecutor on the surviving inmates who had committed capital murder during the riots.

When I first met him, I was just a kid, and I idolized him. He knew that, and I think it amused him.

Some kids worshipped NFL or MLB players. I worshipped a retired-FBI agent.

When I was in college, he let me interview him for a history paper about his career in law enforcement, and it was probably two of the most interesting hours I ever spent. I think I still have the micro-cassette recording of it in my lockbox.

He was an amazing man who had an amazing career. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to know him.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Keep that tape, and consider donating it to A&M's oral history department, if they have one. If not, Baylor does, and they would love to have it.

Baylor also has thousands of recorded oral history on the Branch Davidians, and it was a Godsend in understanding the group when they went ape-shit.

The Fishing Musician said...

Bob was a very nice man. Thanks, Murray, for recognizing him and for your memories. I had forgotten some of his exploits in younger days.

There are not many folks left from that time of great social change, 1960's. Talk to those who are still around while you can. You can learn some amazing history that you won't find in a book.

Anonymous said...

I was privileged to be a prosecutor in the Huntsville Walls Prison shootout case as Murray mentioned. Shortly before the shootout occurred after 3 inmates had held and terrorized 14 hostages for about 11 days, it was learned that the 3 desparate inmates would exit their lair attached to hostages inside a homemade shield made of blackboards on wheels covered with law books. It was known the inmates would be carrying .357 magnum pistols and would not hesitate to kill hostages and anyone in their way. The decision was made that they could not be allowed to leave the walls. All hostages knew this was the TDC policy when they were hired as teachers and agreed to teach the inmates inside the walls. Four were tied inside the shield to the inmates and about 10 were tied to the outside. Knowing a confrontation was imminent, the authorities formed a team of about 4 or 5 elite lawmen to take on the desparados as they knew the shield would come within 10 feet of the lunchroom door as it rolled down the ramp from above. Bob Wiatt volunteered to be on that team. The plan was to hit the shield with high pressure water from fire hoses from inside the lunchroom thereby destroying the shield and exposing the inmates with their hostages. Bob and his compadres would then charge the shield and attempt to save the hostages. Unfortunately the shield withstood the water and remained intact. The inmates began shooting the hostages and so Bob and his team from about 10 feet away charged into the teeth of a hail of .357 bullets in an effort to save the hostages. I recall Bob testifying that as he charged, he saw a big round yellow flash and he suddenly was flying backward until he hit the inside wall of the lunchroom which apparently knocked him out. Turned out he had been shot in the chest from about 6 feet away and was propelled back into the place from which he came. Luckily he had on his protective vest which saved his life. We could see the slight abrasion it left on the vest. You can see this action on the video that was made of the shootout and introduced into evidence. Bob is there heading toward the shield one second and the next he is gone.

Two brave women hostages who had volunteered to be inside the shield were killed (one is kin to Larry Standley) but two inside the shield survived, and the 10 outside survived.
Two of the inmates were killed in the shootout and the third finally was executed in 1990.

Bob Wiatt was a man of uncommon bravery indeed.

Bert Graham

Anonymous said...

I was privileged to be a prosecutor in the Huntsville Walls Prison shootout case as Murray mentioned. Shortly before the shootout occurred after 3 inmates had held and terrorized 14 hostages for about 11 days, it was learned that the 3 desparate inmates would exit their lair attached to hostages inside a homemade shield made of blackboards on wheels covered with law books. It was known the inmates would be carrying .357 magnum pistols and would not hesitate to kill hostages and anyone in their way. The decision was made that they could not be allowed to leave the walls. All hostages knew this was the TDC policy when they were hired as teachers and agreed to teach the inmates inside the walls. Four were tied inside the shield to the inmates and about 10 were tied to the outside. Knowing a confrontation was imminent, the authorities formed a team of about 4 or 5 elite lawmen to take on the desparados as they knew the shield would come within 10 feet of the lunchroom door as it rolled down the ramp from above. Bob Wiatt volunteered to be on that team. The plan was to hit the shield with high pressure water from fire hoses from inside the lunchroom thereby destroying the shield and exposing the inmates with their hostages. Bob and his compadres would then charge the shield and attempt to save the hostages. Unfortunately the shield withstood the water and remained intact. The inmates began shooting the hostages and so Bob and his team from about 10 feet away charged into the teeth of a hail of .357 bullets in an effort to save the hostages. I recall Bob testifying that as he charged, he saw a big round yellow flash and he suddenly was flying backward until he hit the inside wall of the lunchroom which apparently knocked him out. Turned out he had been shot in the chest from about 6 feet away and was propelled back into the place from which he came. Luckily he had on his protective vest which saved his life. We could see the slight abrasion it left on the vest. You can see this action on the video that was made of the shootout and introduced into evidence. Bob is there heading toward the shield one second and the next he is gone.

Two brave women hostages who had volunteered to be inside the shield were killed (one is kin to Larry Standley) but two inside the shield survived, and the 10 outside survived.
Two of the inmates were killed in the shootout and the third finally was executed in 1990.

Bob Wiatt was a man of uncommon bravery indeed.

Bert Graham

Anonymous said...

Someone should do some recorded histories with Bert Graham. He knows a lot about the CJ history here in Harris County.

Anonymous said...

I have been a Texas Peace Officer for 30 plus years and have known Bob since the mid 1970's. Law Enforcement has changed over those years. Bob was all the good things that a cop needed to be and not much downside. A doubt there will ever another lawmen as well respected as he was. Anybody who worked in the Bryan/College Station area will remember Bob stopping by to visit or to help, often in the middle of the night.He was someone I always looked up to. In addition to all his other attributes he was a great teacher/instructor.

Mark W. Stephens said...

I never had the opportunity to meet this great Texas lawman, but thank you Murray and Bert for the stories and memories. Truly he was the epitome of "the real police." Sadly, it seems to be the passing of an era in law enforcement.

-Mark W. Stephens