The Bloody Spring of ’65 (Part 2): Vendetta

As the year 1964 ended, District Attorney Doug Crouch was irritated. Someone was targeting him (see Part 1). District attorneys accept the fact that being targeted simply means they’re doing their job well. But this someone was aiming at Crouch’s pocketbook, not his jugular: Since August someone had been denting Crouch’s car—by night at his house and by day on the parking lot of the Criminal Courts Building.

Finally Crouch assigned two of his investigators to watch his house. He also had the house illuminated with floodlights.

One night in November investigators were watching Crouch’s house at 5728 Tracyne in Westworth Village when a car drove slowly past. The investigators stopped the car. After questioning the two teenage occupants, the investigators released them but noted the car’s license plate number.

A records check revealed that the license plates belonged to a different car—a car rented by Robert Maclin. Maclin, thirty-nine, was a former Fort Worth attorney who now lived in Wichita Falls, where he owned nursing homes. Maclin’s ex-wife Shirley—described by Star-Telegram writer Bob Schieffer as “willowy, auburn-haired”—was one of Crouch’s assistant DAs.

With that license plate number Crouch now had a suspect in the demolition derby campaign against him.

Then Maclin removed any doubt. He began to telephone Crouch.

“Bob Maclin here. I want to talk to you.”

When Crouch refused, Maclin threatened to cut off the heads of Crouch’s two children.

Crouch withdrew his children from school and took his family into hiding.

In December at Crouch’s farm in Hood County, four of his fences were cut, and his farmhouse was destroyed by fire. In the ruins Crouch found a jar that smelled of gasoline. Arson was suspected.

The demolition derby continued: By January Crouch’s car had been dented thirty times.

DA investigators continued to watch Crouch’s Westworth Village house as the new year began.

Just before dawn on January 7, 1965, as investigator Earl Sanford hid behind a tree, two men in a car approached Crouch’s car parked on the street. The car backed into Crouch’s car—twice.

Sanford stepped from behind the tree and confronted the two men. The driver of the car fired shots at Sanford, hitting him once. Nonetheless, Sanford emptied his pistol at the fleeing car and got the license plate number of the car.

Again a license plate number paid off. The car was later spotted and stopped. Its occupants were Robert Maclin and a male nurse of one of Maclin’s nursing homes. The frightened nurse told all to investigators: As he and Maclin had approached Crouch’s house, Maclin said the house was illuminated by floodlights because “a coward lives there.” Then Maclin said, “Let’s do some fender bending” and rammed Crouch’s car twice and was preparing for a third ram when Sanford shot at them. The nurse said Maclin fired several shots at Sanford and told the nurse to wipe fingerprints off the car interior as they fled the scene.

The Star-Telegram wrote that investigators found Maclin’s Cadillac to be a “rolling arsenal”: bayonets, meat cleavers, a battle ax, a book on torture. Five pistols. Two rifles. One thousand rounds of ammunition. Five Molotov cocktails. And a Samurai sword.

Investigators also had discovered that just before Crouch’s farmhouse burned, Maclin had used credit cards to buy gasoline from stations near the farm.

With that information, Maclin was charged with assault to murder in the Sanford shooting. He was charged with possession of explosives. He also was charged with arson in the farmhouse fire.

While Maclin was in jail, two fellow inmates later told investigators, Maclin hatched a plot for the three of them to kill Crouch after they were released from jail. The trio discussed ways and means. Kill Crouch with a shotgun, dynamite, dum-dum bullets (see below). Stuff Crouch’s body down a chimney and pour lime over the body after extracting the teeth to prevent dental records from being used to identify the body. Escape by private airplane. Maclin told the two inmates that the three of them would benefit financially from Crouch’s death and form a crime ring with Maclin as the head. The two inmates said Maclin told them that he knew who would replace the late Doug Crouch as DA and that the trio could expect “special favors.”

But the trio’s plot never materialized because one of the inmates was not released from jail.

Unlike that inmate, Maclin was released from jail—to his eventual regret.

Crouch and Maclin were vague about why Maclin had a vendetta against him. Maclin’s attorney, former DA Al Clyde, said Crouch knew the reason for the vendetta and dared Crouch to go public with it. Clyde hinted that the vendetta was related to Maclin’s “domestic situation.”

Meanwhile Maclin’s ex-wife resigned her job as assistant DA and on January 15 told Star-Telegram writer Roger Summers that she believed her ex-husband was mentally ill and had encouraged him to submit to a mental examination. She said he refused.

Maclin, still free on bond in March, told reporters that Crouch was not the only person who had been targeted. He said twice his car had been run off the road as he drove on Jacksboro Highway.

“I have to protect myself. They’ve already tried to kill me twice,” he said in explaining the arsenal found in his car.

Fast-forward to May 16, two months after the Chock Parrish car-bombing (see Part 1). Robert Maclin, still free on bond, came to Fort Worth to visit his children at his ex-wife’s home. After dark he left her home and drove to Haltom City. Just before 10 p.m. Maclin parked his car in a space of the parking lot of the Ramada Inn at 5645 East Belknap in Haltom City. Maclin always stayed at the Ramada Inn when he was in town. Then he got out of his car.

A guest unloading luggage in a nearby motel room heard “a popping noise.”

When the guest ran outside to the parking lot, he saw a late model Chevrolet speeding away. Maclin was lying in a pool of blood beside his own car, the trunk open.

He was dead, shot four times. On the pavement near his outstretched hand was his .38-caliber pistol loaded with dum-dum bullets, which splatter on impact. The gun had not been fired.

Investigators theorized that Maclin’s killer had followed him from his ex-wife’s house to the motel.

Maclin was thought to be traveling with as much as $15,000 ($120,000 today). The Press reported that no money was found at the scene.

But police did find in Maclin’s Cadillac blasting caps, an M-1 rifle, and the tools to make dum-dum bullets.

Maclin and his ex-wife shared the front page of the Press with Ruta Lee.

As investigators began to look for the killer, Texas Rangers Captain G. W. Burks said “our best suspect” was Finis Blankenship, an ex-con and occasional police informant who had told Crouch that Maclin wanted Crouch dead. Blankenship owned a car that matched the description of the getaway car.

He was arrested but later released.

In June this classified ad appeared in the Star-Telegram.

The Maclin murder case fell out of the news until 1968. That’s when Blankenship, on trial himself for a fatal robbery, made two startling claims: DA Crouch had paid Captain Burks $15,000 to kill Maclin, and Blankenship had watched Burks kill Maclin. Nothing came of these claims.

In 1977, twelve years after Maclin was killed, Captain Burks returned the favor, saying he believed that Blankenship had killed Maclin. Blankenship responded by claiming he had paid Burks “thousands of dollars” over the years for “special favors” and repeating his claim that he had been “watching through field glasses” when Burks shot Maclin.

And with that cross-accusal the case went cold.

The assassination of Robert Maclin, like the car-bombing of Chock Parrish in the bloody spring of 1965, remains unsolved.

 

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