By 1958 the Old Guard of Fort Worth’s underworld was gone, killed off one shallow grave, one abandoned well, one bloodied Cadillac at a time.
For example, in 1955 underworld overachievers Cecil Green, Tincy Eggleston, and Edell Evans had been rubbed out. In 1957 the body of Sid Foley (an associate of Green and Eggleston) had been found near Lake Worth in a dump ground that the Press called “gangland’s Boot Hill”; police had gunned down “madman” Pete Norris after a high-speed chase on Jacksboro Highway; and nitro expert Jack (“The Bomber”) Nesbit had been shot to death by his girlfriend with a gun he had given her.
Into that vacuum stepped the New Guard of hoodlums, young men who, like their predecessors, would form uneasy alliances to gain control of vice in Fort Worth.
Just after 8 p.m. on August 11, 1958 Carol Ann Pettigrew, fourteen, was inside her home on Galveston Street on the near South Side when she heard gunshots outside. Fearing for the safety of her dog Butch, who was in the back yard, she grabbed a flashlight and ran out to get him.
Carol’s aunt, Mrs. C. E. Glasscock, later told police: “A minute later she [Carol] came running back in with blood dripping from her face. I asked her what happened. She said, ‘I don’t know.’”
Carol had been hit by seventeen shotgun pellets. She would recover. Butch was unharmed.
Carol Ann Pettigrew had been caught in the crossfire of an ambush, an early clash between two New Guard factions battling for control of vice, especially prostitution, in Fort Worth.
The ambushed: Richard Hannie Garcia, twenty-three, and Larry Wade Gunsolus, twenty-two. Garcia and Gunsolus were members of one New Guard faction. Garcia and Gunsolus had gone to the home of Gunsolus’s girlfriend in the 300 block of Daggett Street, around the corner from the Pettigrew home.
The ambushers: Bobby Ray Foote, twenty-six, and Johnnie Green, twenty-five. Foote and Green constituted the other New Guard faction. Foote and Green had hidden in an alley behind the Pettigrew house and had fired a shotgun at Garcia and Gunsolus.
Garcia later told police that he had spotted the two assailants lying in wait as Garcia and Gunsolus left the Daggett Street address.
“Hell,” Garcia shouted to Gunsolus, “that ain’t no policemen hiding back there in the dark.”
Both men dived for cover.
Carol Pettigrew later told police that from her back yard she saw the ambushers run down the alley. One of the men stopped, she said, and fired one final shot in her direction, hitting her with shotgun pellets.
Gunsolus later told police that in self-defense he had fired “one or two shots” from a .45-caliber pistol at his assailants.
Foote and Green escaped by car. Gunsolus and Garcia were unharmed. They were arrested soon after and jailed for questioning but refused to name their assailants.
But Fort Worth homicide detective A. C. Howerton termed the ambush “the battle of pimps.”
Homicide Captain O. R. Brown agreed that the ambush probably was Foote’s revenge for a recent beating by Donald Kenneth Gauntt, twenty-three—a third member of the Gunsolus faction.
Gauntt had pistol-whipped Foote and told Foote to get out of town.
Fast-forward eight days.
On the night of August 19 Foote and Green were in hiding again, this time outside the Buckhorn Recreation Club at 3202 Mansfield Highway, planning to ambush Gauntt, who was a regular at the tavern.
But, Green later recalled, “My shotgun jammed. Bobby fired four or five times. I was ambushing him [Gauntt] because of Bobby . . . he was looking for Donald because of the whipping Donald gave him a couple of weeks before.”
Two ambushes in eight days. The Gunsolus faction would not turn the other cheek.
The feud spilled first—and fatal—blood the next day.
On the afternoon of August 20 a car was parked at the curb in the 1800 block of Arch Street in Poly. It was a quiet, middle-class neighborhood south of Rosedale Street. In the car were Larry Wade Gunsolus, Donald Gauntt, and another member of the Gunsolus faction: Garrett Milton Ramsey, twenty-four.
(The fourth member of the faction, Richard Garcia, had a prior commitment: He was in jail.)
The three men in the Gunsolus car were watching the house at 2009 Arch Street. Bobby Ray Foote lived there with his mother and stepfather.
About 3:30 p.m. Foote and Johnnie Green came out of the house and got into Foote’s car. Ever since the feud with the Gunsolus faction had flared up, Foote and Green had traveled together for safety.
These six men—five of them grouped in two cars on a quiet residential street in Poly—were the six little panderers of the New Guard of Fort Worth’s underworld who were battling to control the call-girl racket.
These six men had lived in Fort Worth all or most of their lives. As young teenagers they had popped hubcaps and shoplifted cigarettes. By the time they were older teenagers, all had arrest records. Some had been in reform school. As adults, on August 20, 1958 most of the six were free on bond awaiting trial for earlier offenses. Johnnie Green, for example, was free on bond on a medley of charges: committing aggravated assault, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and stabbing a man to death in a bar on Riverside Drive.
On Arch Street on that hot August afternoon, Bobby Foote started his car and began driving north toward the parked Gunsolus car.
Johnnie Green later said: “I knew we were in trouble as soon as I saw that car. I hollered to Bobby to watch it. They started shooting before they even pulled away from the curb.”
Green and Foote grabbed their pistols. Of no use to the two men was Green’s shotgun. It was under the front seat, still jammed after the ambush attempt of the night before.
On Arch Street the Foote car headed north, the Gunsolus car headed south. A game of chicken with sidearms.
The Gunsolus car rammed the front of the Foote car, forcing it to stop.
Foote and Green got out with pistols drawn and began shooting as the three men in the Gunsolus car got out and continued shooting.
Green recalled: “Bobby went one way, shooting his pistol. I ran another way. I was really moving.”
Green said he emptied his pistol as he fled on foot.
As alarmed neighbors watched, the ambushers and the ambushed fired fifteen shots. Foote was hit twice.
The Gunsolus car backed up the street and sped away, Johnnie Green vanished on foot, and Bobby Ray Foote, bleeding, crawled on his hands and knees to the front porch of a house at 4101 Avenue L. There he collapsed. The resident recognized him and ran down Arch Street to notify Foote’s mother.
Foote’s mother rushed to her son and cradled his head in her arms. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Star-Telegram Collection.)
Before he could tell his mother who shot him, Bobby Ray Foote died.
And then there were five.
But Bobby Ray Foote had left behind for his mother a list of names of his enemies.
Three of those enemies had been in the ambushing car.
Johnnie Green called the Gunsolus faction a “new syndicate” trying to take over the call-girl racket. He said the new syndicate had killed Bobby Ray Foote because Foote had refused to capitulate.
Fort Worth police detective Grady Haire described the two clashes between the two factions as “a bunch of little old panderers here trying to grow big.”
All five surviving members of the two factions were charged with various offenses stemming from the Pettigrew and Foote ambushes.
Johnnie Green “fingered” Ramsey, Gauntt, and Gunsolus as the murderers of Bobby Ray Foote. After they were arrested and charged, Green hightailed it to California for his own safety.
He would find that there is no safe place from oneself.
Johnnie Green wasn’t the only person who was nervous. An anonymous caller told the wife of one of the policemen who had arrested Ramsey and Gauntt that her husband would be killed in the next outbreak of gangland violence. Residents of the Arch Street neighborhood where Foote was killed worried that they, too, would be targeted for retribution after identifying the three suspects in a lineup.
Meanwhile, although the five surviving panderers faced various charges, local law enforcement cracked down on other known criminals, especially prostitutes and lesser panderers.
Sheriff Harlon Wright said, “This thing of police characters trying to take over Tarrant County has got to stop.” He said his deputies had orders to pick up all police characters who were not gainfully employed.
“We’re not out to ride anybody, but these police characters that are just hanging around, not working and not showing any visible means of support, will be arrested and held for investigation every time we see them.”
Police Chief Cato Hightower likewise ordered his officers to round up all suspected underworld characters. “If the hoodlums give you any trouble,” he told his officers, “use whatever force is necessary. If they go for their guns, bring ’em in feet first.”
The primary targets for the crackdown were taverns, pool halls, and nightclubs along Jacksboro Highway and the “Jacksboro Highway of southeast Fort Worth”: Mansfield Highway.
The year 1958, with the murder of Bobby Ray Foote, had severely weakened one faction in the war of the panderers. The year 1959 would winnow both factions.
And the winnowing began early. On New Year’s Day faction leader Larry Wade Gunsolus was fighting for his life at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Just after midnight on New Year’s Day he had been found under the East Belknap Street viaduct. His throat had been cut, and he had been shot in the head. Police said underworld enemies of Gunsolus apparently attacked him, dumped him in the river bottom, and left him for dead.
The district attorney’s office would drop the charges against Gunsolus in the Foote murder: Gunsolus was paralyzed with a bullet in his brain.
And then there were four.
Johnnie Green, who had fingered Gunsolus, Gauntt, and Ramsey in the Foote murder and then had fled to California for his own safety, had murdered a woman in San Jose. In April 1959 he was sentenced to life in prison.
And then there were three.
In May, Donald Kenneth Gauntt went on trial for the Foote murder. He claimed that he had shot Foote in self-defense after Foote threatened him.
The jury was not convinced.
Gauntt was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison.
And then there were two.
In July, Richard Garcia was sentenced to life as a habitual criminal.
Our scorecard so far: Bobby Ray Foote was dead; Larry Wade Gunsolus was bedridden with a bullet in his brain; Donald Kenneth Gauntt and Johnnie Green were in prison, and Richard Garcia was on his way.
And then there was one.
Garrett Milton Ramsey was the last panderer standing. With his competitors and his colleagues eliminated by (1) one killing that he took part in, (2) one paralyzing assault, and (3) three convictions, Ramsey had established himself, if only by attrition, as the Cowtown capo dei capi.
But he still faced a murder charge in the Foote killing. The district attorney sought the death penalty.
At Ramsey’s trial two witnesses to the shooting on Arch Street identified Ramsey as one of three men shooting at Foote and Green on August 20.
Ramsey, like Gauntt, pleaded self-defense, claiming that Foote had threatened him.
Testifying for the defense, Paul English (who would become Willie Nelson’s drummer) said that on August 19 at the Clover drive-in restaurant on East Rosedale Street, Foote told English that he intended to kill Ramsey and Gauntt.
English warned Ramsey.
Another witness for the defense testified that she had seen Foote shoot at Ramsey on the night of August 19.
The next day Ramsey contributed five of the shots fired at Foote and Johnnie Green.
It took two trials, but in April 1960 Garrett Milton Ramsey was acquitted of killing Bobby Ray Foote.
Ramsey had outlasted the rest of the two New Guard factions, but as Cowtown’s new capo dei capi, he had new enemies.
Fast-forward to June 18, 1960. Ten weeks after Ramsey was acquitted of killing Bobby Ray Foote, Ramsey was living at 3700 Sandgate Street, a home owned by his friend Paul English in southeast Fort Worth.
About 2:30 a.m. Ramsey answered a knock at the front door.
“This fellow threw down on me with a pistol,” Ramsey later recalled.
The uninvited guest ordered Ramsey to sit in a chair. As Ramsey did so, someone kicked in the back door, which opened into the kitchen. The man with the pistol ran into the kitchen.
Ramsey heard a gunshot from the kitchen.
Ramsey saw his chance: He ran the other way—out the front door.
And into a hail of gunfire. He later recalled that two or three men crouching behind a parked car fired at him about six times.
Ramsey ran back into the house, where he found the man with the pistol lying on the kitchen floor, shot once in the head.
Ramsey heard his outside assailants flee in a car.
Ramsey asked the wounded man if he wanted to go to a hospital.
The injured man gasped, “No.”
So, Ramsey wrapped the man in a blanket, carried him to a 1958 Cadillac, and put him in the trunk.
Ramsey drove toward the back roads southwest of Kennedale, an area he knew well. On the way he stopped to telephone Meissner Funeral Home and report that a man had been injured in an auto accident at the Village Creek bridge on Everman-Kennedale Road.
Ramsey then drove to the Village Creek bridge on Everman-Kennedale Road and left the man, still alive, in a ditch.
Ramsey then washed the car. He also woke the two other occupants of the Sandgate Street house, who had slept through the shooting. The three of them cleaned up the bloody kitchen.
Meissner ambulance drivers responding to the phone call could not find the body at the Village Creek bridge.
After an anonymous caller told a sheriff’s office dispatcher that Ramsey had shot a man, police went to 3700 Sandgate Street about 4:30 a.m. and found Ramsey and the two other occupants of the house apparently asleep.
Ramsey led police to the body, lying in tall Johnson grass in a ditch.
The dead man was Royce Leon Herd, twenty-eight.
Herd was a truck driver. He had attended Tech High School, was a Korean War veteran. He had been arrested eleven times in 1959 and three times in 1960, mostly for drug peddling and pandering. At the time he was killed he was free on bond after an arrest for possession of a dangerous drug.
Sleeping in the Sandgate Street house at the time of the shooting were Bobby Lott, twenty-eight, and Cynthia Martin Pack, nineteen. Lott had been out of Leavenworth prison, sentenced for white slavery, only five days. Pack was serving a suspended sentence for smuggling a pistol to her boyfriend, J. A. Avery, in the Gregg County (Longview) jail.
Ramsey, Lott, and Pack were arrested.
Ramsey, along with Lott, was charged in Herd’s murder.
Ramsey claimed he did not know Royce Herd. Further, Ramsey told police that he believed that he had been the intended target of a hit-gone-wrong: Herd and the outside gunmen had meant to kill Ramsey, but the gunman in the kitchen had mistaken Herd for Ramsey.
Ramsey demanded a paraffin test and a polygraph test to prove his innocence.
Contrary to the headline, Lott and Ramsey did not “flunk” their polygraph tests. Indeed, Lott passed his; Ramsey’s was inconclusive. He asked to be given a second test. He passed the second test, indicating that he had not pulled the trigger to kill Royce Herd.
But District Attorney Doug Crouch charged Ramsey with murder anyway.
“Ramsey knew all about it and had enough to do with it to convince us he was a principal to the crime,” Crouch said, although he admitted that the evidence against Ramsey was thin despite Ramsey having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Indeed, charges against both Lott and Ramsey were dropped. (In 1964 Lott would be sentenced to life in prison as a habitual criminal.)
District Attorney Crouch also filed an injunction to get the Sandgate house closed as a public nuisance. The Star-Telegram wrote, “Crouch alleged the residence is a hangout for criminals, that prostitutes operate there and that an abortion was performed within its walls” recently.
The Star-Telegram reported that a “well-known police character” was charged with performing the abortion, which left the patient in critical condition with “massive internal infection.” At the residence police found a shoe box that contained an “abortion kit.”
The district attorney’s office referred to homeowner Paul English as “a pal of Ramsey.”
Soon after, the “completely redecorated” house was for sale.
As with the other five New Guard hoodlums in the two factions of panderers, most of the crimes that Garrett Milton Ramsey committed were committed while he was free on bond posted for other charges. And Ramsey was free on bond most of the time between the day he was charged with Foote’s murder in August 1958 and the day charges against him were dropped in the Herd murder in early 1961.
During that time he had been arrested more than twenty times, mostly for vagrancy and pandering.
In October 1960 the police department ranked Ramsey second on a list of ten most “undesirable characters.”
And the Star-Telegram used several dubious superlatives to describe Ramsey. My favorite is “head cheese of Tarrant County ratdom.” Now that’s writin’!
So, who was this “head cheese” who had outlasted his allies and his enemies in the New Guard? Garrett Milton Ramsey was born in Shreveport in 1934 to Myron and Effie Ramsey, but the Ramseys had lived in Forest Hill since at least 1940. Ramsey grew up in Forest Hill, later lived around Kennedale, knew the area’s back roads and beer joints and ditches where one could dump a dying man. As a teenager Ramsey had drag raced along Mansfield Highway and later worked at the auto salvage yards that lined the highway.
His first run-in with the law had occurred in 1952 when he was accused of passing a forged check while still in high school.
Ramsey fought in Golden Gloves for about four years, in 1950 was featherweight champion.
In 1953 Ramsey was a senior at Tech High School and a member of the school’s boxing team.
Seven years later he was “head cheese of Tarrant County ratdom.”
But his reign did not last long.
Increasingly Ramsey turned to burglary, especially safecracking, instead of pandering.
For example, in 1961 he cut a hole in the roof of a supermarket in Hereford, cracked the safe, and scooped up $9,000.
Police in Hereford found a wallet near the hole in the roof. It contained the driver’s license and hunting license of Garrett Milton Ramsey.
He was arrested the next day in Fort Worth.
Ramsey said he did not know how his wallet got on the roof of a supermarket three hundred miles away.
He was sentenced to eight years.
And in 1962 “Fort Worth’s No. 1 bad boy” was convicted in California for nickel-and-dime stuff. Literally. Ramsey was leader of a gang who rifled coin boxes of pay phones and self-laundries. Ramsey was sentenced to fifteen years and assigned to a maximum security cell in San Quentin.
Fast-forward forty-three years. In 2005 the “head cheese of Tarrant County ratdom” died. No friends or family came forward at his death. He was buried—at taxpayer expense—in a plain wooden box in a pauper’s unmarked grave at Skyvue Cemetery five miles from the ditch where he had dumped Royce Herd.
His burial was witnessed only by his gravediggers.
I can find no public notice of Ramsey’s death except a column by Bud Kennedy.
The small world of Garrett Milton Ramsey:
1. Childhood home
2. Arch Street
3. 3700 Sandgate Street
4. Village Creek bridge
5. Pauper’s grave
And then there were none.
(Thanks to Roscoe Snyder for the tip.)