Six Girls in a Chevy (Part 1): “A Childish Prank”

The year was 1961. Sixty-two years ago. In 1961 the Beatles first performed as “the Beatles.” The Barbie doll got a boyfriend: Ken. Six Flags Over Texas opened. George Clooney was born. Gary Cooper died. John F. Kennedy was president.
Popular songs included “Hit the Road, Jack” and “Where the Boys Are.”

Popular movies in 1961 included West Side Story and The Guns of Navarone. But on the night of February 4 six Arlington teenage girls piled into Marilou Goldner’s Chevy to go see instead a year-old film playing the drive-in circuit: BUtterfield 8.

Fast-forward a couple of hours. The six teenage girls had just watched Elizabeth Taylor’s character, driving at high speed, hurtle to her death over an embankment. The movie was over, and it was a Saturday night. The six teenage girls, being teenage girls, were cruising the back roads of the river bottom between Fort Worth and Arlington.

Sixty-two years ago the river bottom was a no-man’s-land of gravel pits, the Trinity River, and a few poorly maintained roads. It was an isolated, lawless area forsaken by all but lovers, drag racers, underage drinkers, and target shooters.

Among the six girls in the Chevy, Jo Ann Anderson was new to Arlington, and the other five girls were showing her the local sights, including the “haunted” river bottom.

On the night of February 4, 1961 the six girls found the river bottom to be deliciously dark, misty, and foggy.

Perfect setting, perfect weather for a scary story.

The Star-Telegram in 1980 wrote about the six girls as they drove through the river bottom on Arlington-Bedford Road that night in 1961: “They whispered a haunting tale about a man with a hook for a hand and giggled nervously as the car continued along the dark tree-shrouded road.”

That urban legend about the man with a hook for a hand had appeared in the syndicated “Dear Abby” newspaper column only four months earlier.

As the six girls shivered and giggled about the man with a hook, they had no idea that they, too, were about to become an urban legend.

About 10 p.m. the girls were parked on the side of Arlington-Bedford Road. Not a light in sight. Not a human sound except the horn of a train on the Rock Island track approaching the crossing to the north.

Then, as the girls sat beside the road, a car passed them going north.

That car was driven by Bill Young, eighteen. Bill and his girlfriend were on a date. After Young passed the parked car he approached a wooden bridge over a drainage ditch that ran parallel to the Rock Island railroad track. Just beyond the bridge was an uncontrolled grade crossing where Arlington-Bedford Road crossed the railroad track. Young stopped his car at the approach to the wooden bridge. In the illumination of his headlights and the headlamp of the approaching engine, he saw that the bridge had been destroyed—by fire. The opposite bank was forty feet away, the ditch at least ten feet deep.

Young recalled in 1980: “My front wheels were no more than one and a half to two foot from the dropoff.”

Young knew that the parked car he had passed might also drive north toward the burned-out bridge. He turned around and drove back to warn the occupants.

The six girls watched as the car that had passed them now approached them from the north. The car was traveling fast. The driver was honking his horn and flashing his headlights. This was no hook-for-a-hand urban legend. On the dark, lonely road, the girls became for-real frightened.

Young stopped and rolled down his window to warn the occupants of the parked car.

But before he could speak, the car sped away. Marilou Goldner accelerated north, away from the stranger, away from danger.

After the six girls in a Chevy fled from Bill Young he turned his car around and followed the girls’ car through the fog to try to flag them down. But they were going too fast. He later estimated that the girls’ car was traveling at forty-five to fifty miles an hour when it reached the burned-out bridge. Marilou Goldner’s Chevy soared through the air and smashed into the opposite bank.

When Young reached the bridge, all he could see through the fog were the Chevy’s taillights in the ditch below.

As his feet skidded down the icy embankment, he could hear one girl whimpering.

He told her: “I’m coming down. I’m going to help you.”

In 1980 Young recalled: “It was all still inside the car. I could see the driver. She was a very pretty girl, not a mark on her. They were all pretty girls.”

Young drove to the Hurst police station and returned to the accident scene to help with the rescue.

Young in 1980 said that his only regret was that his attempt to warn the girls instead had frightened them, causing them to flee and speed toward the burned-out bridge.

Tarrant County Fire Marshall Mason Lankford coordinated the rescue effort that night.

“It was a very rough operation,” Lankford recalled in 1980. “It was cold, and there was sleet coming down.”

State troopers and police from Arlington, Euless, and Hurst freed the girls from the car and moved them up the slippery embankment to six waiting ambulances.

But rescue came too late for driver Marilou Goldner and passenger Claudia Jean Reeves.

Passenger Kathleen Fleming also was dead on arrival at a Dallas hospital. The other three passengers were seriously injured but survived.

All six girls were popular juniors at Arlington High School.

Jane Robin Ellis, who in 1961 was choral director at the school, recalled in 1980 that the girls were not party girls.

“These were naive, innocent kids,” she recalled. “They were cream-of-the-crop kind of kids.”

Ellis recalled that the days after the accident were filled with sadness at Arlington High School. Snow had fallen, she recalled, and students began the ritual of visiting the injured and attending funerals in ankle-deep slush.

“We just trudged through the snow,” she said. “I know we stayed dressed and going to funerals for a week.”

Marilou Goldner, Claudia Jean Reeves, and Kathleen Fleming were buried in Moore Memorial Gardens in Arlington.

Ellis recalled that finally, after the school’s flag had flown at half-staff for a week, Principal John Webb said, “Let’s get that flag up, and we’ll begin again.”

An investigation into the accident revealed that on January 27 four Arlington teenage boys had stacked straw on the wooden bridge and lit the straw with a match as a “prank.”

The next day the county road department was notified that the bridge had been destroyed. County workers erected barricades in front of the burned-out bridge, and the Rock Island railroad, which owned the bridge, began drawing up plans to replace the bridge with a fireproof concrete or steel culvert.

But fate moves faster than corporations.

Before the bridge could be replaced, someone removed the barricades.

And then came February 4.

When the four boys learned of the fatal accident, they confessed to a minister, who notified police.

A grand jury declined to indict the four boys. Grand jury foreman Marshall Kennady said the grand jury “felt that no good would come of blighting the entire future of a group of bright, conscientious, and religious young men.”

“What was done,” he said, “was done on the spur of the moment, a childish prank if you will. At the time, the boys did not fully realize the consequences of their act.”

Kennady said the grand jury thought the four boys deserved “a new chance to make good, and we all feel that they will do so.”

The boys denied removing the barricades.

The four boys, all of whom were or had been students at Arlington High School, knew the six girls. One of the boys had dated victim Kathleen Fleming.

The wooden bridge over the drainage ditch was located on Arlington-Bedford Road, now named “Greenbelt Road.” The bridge was east of the Bell Helicopter plant and south of Mosier Valley Road. The yellow circle shows where the bridge was located at the east-west railroad track.

This 1957 aerial photo shows the bridge over the drainage ditch.

The yellow circle shows the location of the bridge. A ditch on each side of the railroad track channels water to Sulphur Branch creek, which flows into the Trinity River east of the crossing. The stretch of Arlington-Bedford Road along the yellow line has been decommissioned. Arlington-Bedford Road was rerouted to end at Trinity Boulevard. Trinity Boulevard passes safely over the drainage ditch and railroad tracks.

And what of the three survivors of the accident?

In 1980 one survivor, Donna Post Galbraith, said she felt a haunting uneasiness every February 4 and pondered the question of fate. As the girls had left the drive-in theater that night, Donna had exchanged seats, from the front seat to the back seat, with Claudine Reeves, who was killed instantly.

And a seventh friend, Kathy Dormier, in 1980 also pondered fate when she thought of the accident. She would have joined the other six girls that night, but her parents would not allow her to see BUtterfield 8, which was considered risqué for its time.

And now the rest—or at least more—of the story. In March 1962 a sailor stationed in China Lake, California confessed to an officer that he had removed the barricades from the burned-out bridge just hours before the fatal accident. In May he was indicted for misdemeanor negligent homicide.

After interviewing the sailor, Tarrant County investigators reopened the case, and the four boys who had been no-billed by a grand jury in 1961 were indicted for the felony of burning a bridge. But I can find no disposition of those four indictments, and Sheriff Lon Evans said in 1962 that the county usually did not extradite misdemeanor suspects such as the sailor.

Those are the facts of February 4, 1961—sixty-two years ago today.
And then came the legend:
Six Girls in a Chevy (Part 2): Screaming Bridge

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8 Responses to Six Girls in a Chevy (Part 1): “A Childish Prank”

  1. Stacy says:

    Thank you for clearing up a lot of misinformation. When I was in high school over a decade later, kids swore the Screaming Bridge was where Davis sort of dead-ended into a culvert as you drove south. After reading your report, I was made to realize that Dorothy Ibsen was the daughter of my kindergarten teacher (Lucia Jane Ibsen) at St. Alban’s Episcopal Day School. I had never made that connection. Family lore has it that I’m related to one of the girls who perished, but I’m still figuring that out. As always, your research is amazing.

    • hometown says:

      Ah, that’s right, Stacy–you’re an Arlington gal. I indeed did work my mouse to the bone on this one.

  2. Christy says:

    Whata gripping story that I have never heard. How terrified those young girls must have been. Thank you for your hard work ans sharing this history.

  3. Incredible stuff new friend – I have been looking into this for days – I now know exactly where everything happened and it just so happens I drive over it twice a day to and from my office. Thank you for clearing up all the misleading articles written by youtubers and horror/ghost bloggers! I will now be reading all of your stuff and sharing – appreciate it

  4. That’s such a sad story. They were all young and had no clue the consequences of their ridiculous actions. The girls in the Chevy had worked themselves into a terrified frame of minds. The boys had definitely not considered the obvious consequences of bunting the bridge, the sailor on the other side should have known better. I’m sure his action rendered him a dishonorable discharge. Great find Mr. Nichols. Next time can you find the reports of the Poly boy Jerry Boone they wrecked his car & was killed when he hit a tree. He had 5 who’s first names started with a “J”. Joe, Jerry, Janice, Judy, Jane & Johnny. They were family friends. Janice died from breast cancer, about 20 years ago. Dad Jerry & mom June died before Janice. They were a happy funny family.

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