Lon Evans: The Longest Arm of the Law

On Christmas Day 1911 the stork upstaged Santa Claus and brought Lon W. and Mary Evans Sr. a nine-pound baby boy.
Young Lon Worth Evans Jr. grew up in Sycamore Heights on the Dallas Pike (Lancaster Avenue) listening to the clang and clatter and chug of the nearby Crimson Limited on the interurban tracks and the Sunshine Express on the Texas & Pacific tracks.

Lon Sr. was part-owner of the Subway Bar, a saloon in the basement of 808 Houston Street.
But his wife, daughter of a Baptist minister, disapproved, and Lon Sr. sold the saloon and bought two drugstores. Lon Jr. made deliveries for the stores on his bicycle. After work he played in Sycamore Park, drank Paul Hollis’s Poly Pop, and watched the Cats play at the old Panther Park.
He attended the Tandy School on Purington Avenue and the original Dillow School and the second Poly High School on Nashville Avenue.
At Poly High he played baseball, threw the discus, and was a drummer in the school band.

But he soon found his real talent in football. In 1927 he was a “promising rookie” under coach “Rube” Leissner. (In 1964 Leissner was still coaching—at William James Junior Highthirty-seven years after coaching Lon Evans at Poly High.)
Lon Evans graduated from Poly High in 1928.
After a brief enrollment at Texas A&M with a football scholarship from coach D. X. Bible, Evans enrolled at TCU in 1929 and at six foot two and 220 pounds played on the freshman team as the varsity team won the Southwest Conference.

Evans played tackle in 1930.

In 1932 he was an all-conference lineman as TCU again won the Southwest Conference championship with a 10-0-1 record.

In 1933 Evans signed with the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League.

Evans began the 1934 season with a change of marital status. On August 25 he married Marion Pace of Cleburne. They honeymooned in Chicago during the World’s Fair before going to Green Bay. They would be married fifty-eight years.

Evans played five seasons with Green Bay.

He was named to the All Pro team in 1936 and 1937. Another 1930s TCU football star named to the 1937 All Pro team was Sammy Baugh.

During his Packers career Evans spent two off-seasons acting in bit roles in Hollywood movies, usually cast as a tough guy.
He appeared in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), where he met its stars, Clark Gable and Charles Laughton.
But most of his scenes as a swashbuckling mutineer ended up on the cutting room floor, and his role was uncredited, but in that he was in good company: Other actors with uncredited roles in the movie included James Cagney, Ray Corrigan, Mary Gordon, Jon Hall, Dick Haymes, and David Niven.
While making other films Evans met John Barrymore, George Raft, and a young actor named “Reagan” whom everyone called “Dutch.”

Evans also appeared in Pigskin Champions, a 1937 film that starred the Packers in an exhibition of football skills. In 1936 the Packers had a 10-1-1 record and won their fourth NFL championship by beating the Boston Redskins 21-6.
The film played locally at the Majestic Theater.
After retiring from football Evans worked for a few years in sales (lingerie, sporting goods, kitchen equipment). After Pearl Harbor, a shoulder separation suffered while playing football kept him from enlisting in the Army, but he worked at the bomber plant.

Meanwhile Evans continued a shadow career in football that had begun in Fort Worth. Always a student of the game, early on he mastered the rules and began to officiate games while he was playing at TCU and continued through his Packers career and afterward, officiating games in the Southwest Conference and NFL. He officiated his last game in 1961.

In 1958 Evans entered the field of law enforcement, hired as an investigator by the new district attorney, Doug Crouch.

Two years later Evans ran for the office of sheriff.

Campaigning was hungry work.

Evans won the election and in 1961 was sworn in, becoming Tarrant County’s thirty-fourth sheriff.
The job of sheriff is largely administrative: Evans lobbied county commissioners for more funding, more deputies and patrol cars, and better jail conditions while prioritizing the county’s fight against drug crime, property crime, and violent crime.

Nonetheless, many high-profile tasks fell to Evans as sheriff. On November 21, 1963 Evans rode in the lead car as President Kennedy’s motorcade drove from Carswell Air Force Base to the Hotel Texas. At the hotel the next morning, November 22, Kennedy shook Evans’s hand and thanked him for his role in crowd control. Evans’s car then led the Kennedy motorcade back to Carswell for the short flight to Dallas.

Two days later, November 24, Evans was in the room with Marguerite Oswald when she was asked where she wanted her son to be buried. Lee Harvey Oswald had just been shot to death by Jack Ruby.
Mrs. Oswald said she wanted her son to be buried in Arlington Cemetery.
“You mean Arlington, Texas, Mrs. Oswald,” Evans said.
“No, the Arlington Cemetery where the president is being buried.”
Her son, of course, was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, which is much closer to Arlington Cemetery than to Arlington National Cemetery.

Ten days later, after thousands of people had visited Oswald’s fresh grave, United Press International reported that Evans was concerned that people might desecrate or even rob the grave. Evans also voiced concern over “long range problems” of Oswald’s burial.

The next year Evans escorted Doris Jean Bowman and boyfriend Clifford Darrell Carroll to their arraignment on charges of murdering Bowman’s two-year-old daughter.
Bowman was sentenced to fifty years in prison. Carroll was sentenced to death.

In January 1965 attorney Robert Maclin had been stalking District Attorney Doug Crouch. After Maclin shot DA investigator Earl Sanford outside Crouch’s home, Maclin was charged with assault to murder.
On the night of May 16 Maclin, free on bond, had just parked his car on the parking lot of the Ramada Inn at 5645 East Belknap in Haltom City. After he got out of his car, he was shot dead by someone in a passing automobile.
Evans, after receiving reports that Maclin was carrying $15,000 cash on the night he was killed, whereas only half that amount was found on his body, theorized that Maclin had paid half the money to a hitman, who then killed Maclin and fled.
The assassination of Robert Maclin was never solved.

In 1966 Evans and his deputies investigated the murders of three teenagers—Edna Louise Sullivan, Robert Hugh Brand, and Marcus Dunnam—south of Fort Worth.
“It looked like an execution,” Evans said of the killing of the two boys after the bodies were found August 7.

Evans was on the scene the next day after searchers found the body of Edna Louise Sullivan.
Kenneth Allen McDuff Roy Dale Green were charged with murder.
After Green turned himself in and McDuff was apprehended in Falls County, Evans escorted the two suspects back to Fort Worth to stand trial.
After McDuff was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, Evans escorted him to Huntsville prison.

In 1978 one of the best-known criminal defendants in Texas history checked into the Hotel Evans.
On the night of August 2, 1976, an intruder had entered Cullen Davis’s Stonegate Mansion and shot to death twelve-year-old Andrea Wilborn and Stan Farr. The intruder wounded Davis’s estranged wife Priscilla and Gus Gavrel Jr.
Davis was tried for the murder of Andrea Wilborn and acquitted.
In 1978 Davis was arrested again, this time for allegedly hiring a hitman to kill both Priscilla Davis and the judge overseeing their ongoing divorce litigation.
Lon Evans said that Davis would receive no special treatment while he was in custody in the county jail awaiting trial.
Again Davis was acquitted.

On the lighter side of crime and punishment, Evans as sheriff was the face of county law enforcement. One of the peaceful perks of the job was greeting celebrity visitors to Fort Worth, including Don Knotts, Jimmy Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, and Jack Benny.

Diabetes led to the amputation of one leg in 1977.

And the other leg in 1983.

Fifty years after his football career ended, in 1978 Evans was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

Evans decided to retire in 1984 and on January 1, 1985 passed the badge to Don Carpenter.
Evans had served as sheriff for twenty-four years—the longest tenure in the history of the office.
In 1990 his life story, entitled The Purple Lawman, From Horned Frog to High Sheriff, was published.

Lon Evans died in 1992 at age eighty.
“Lon was a breath of fresh air,” Tarrant County Chief Deputy John Pempsell remembered. “He took away, not all the cowboy, but most of the cowboy out of the department. Shoes had to be polished; hats had to be square on the head. He brought professionalism to the sheriff’s office.”
The Star-Telegram wrote that District Attorney Tim Curry said Evans was a dynamic courthouse figure when Curry began practicing law in Tarrant County.
“Lon was kind of a legend in his own time,” Curry said.
Curry said Evans turned an ill-equipped sheriff’s department into an efficient big-city department.
“I think he kind of brought the office into the twentieth century. Before Lon it was kind of run in an old West fashion.”
Evans was credited with modernizing the department with computers, microfilm, a photo lab, a helicopter, and improved radio communication.

Lon Worth Evans Jr. is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

In 2012 a new corrections center was named for Tarrant County’s longest arm of the law.

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4 Responses to Lon Evans: The Longest Arm of the Law

  1. Griff Murphey DDSl says:

    Amazing collection of history. So much for the image of the 1950’s as being another episode of “Leave it to Beaver!”

  2. Josh Wright says:

    In response to: “Evans reportedly was the first Texas sheriff to hire an African-American deputy.”

    I hate to be “well, actually guy”, but … well, actually Sheriff Harlon WRIGHT, Lon Evans’ predecessor, deputized an African-American named Wesley Hardeman in September of 1955. (see WBAP news script 9/27/55 link below)

    Evan’s many shining years as Sheriff can easily overshadow Wright’s accomplishments in office (of which the greatest might have been simply surviving a daily battle with Tarrant County’s bloody underworld for much of the 1950’s).

    Everyone seems to agree that Evans was the better Sheriff, so giving Wright the rightful credit here seems like the right thing to do. right? Thanks for all you write. I love your blog!


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