Murder at Thousand Pines Ranch

Murder at Thousand Pines Ranch
Crime Behind the Pine Curtain

 
 
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GROVETON — Back in 1960, two sisters in their 60s lived quietly on a 1,100-acre ranch about nine miles north of Groveton. The sisters, Lily and Hattie Bauer, seemed to treasure the big spread, mostly for the quiet and privacy.

They ran 70 head of cattle on the property, a flock of chickens and a garden. Their nearest neighbor was three miles away and the pair only occasionally had visitors. They were self-sufficient, but their nephew Marvin Bauer, 30, lived in a separate house on the ranch with his wife, Rosa, and teenage stepson.

Bauer told Trinity County Sheriff Lynn Evans he found the bodies of his two aunts on Dec. 27, 1960 after returning from Houston, where he spent Christmas with his wife’s family.

Bauer drove to the Trinity County Jail and found Deputy Lloyd Pruitt as he was leaving the courthouse the afternoon of Dec. 27, 1960, according to reports published in the Bryan Daily Eagle.

“Mr. Lloyd, there’s something awful happened out at the place,” Pruitt said on the witness stand.

When Pruitt went to the ranch, he found Lily Bauer lying on her back on the front porch wearing pajamas with a jacket and leather moccasins. Hattie was in bed in her nightgown.

The day after the bodies were found, Marvin gave a statement to Trinity County Attorney Albert Hutson III and it was witnessed by Evans

After gathering evidence, Evans believed Marvin Bauer killed the two women. The man’s defense team told jurors that Lily Bauer had been diagnosed with manic-depression and had frequent angry outbursts. The defense’s theory was that Lily killed her sister and then committed suicide.

In that first survey of the crime scene, the deputy found a full cup of coffee on the kitchen table, as well as an empty one on the arm of the sofa in the living room. A turkey had been left to thaw on the kitchen drainboard.

A box of young turkeys was beside an unlit heater. Some of them were dead.

Two dogs were also in the house.

It appeared as if the women had been killed before their holiday meal was prepared.

Lufkin Pathologist Dr. Jack Pruitt told the jury that he examined the two bodies at a funeral home in Groveton under court order.

Dr. Pruitt found a burn on Lily Bauer’s left palm.

The pathologist was questioned closely regarding his finding that the gun was one-fourth to one-half inch away from her body when the shot was fired. The written report made at the time described it as a contact wound. He also believed they had died sometime on Dec. 25.

Paraffin tests of Miss Lily’s hands showed no nitrate burns from firing a gun, but admitted the imprints were in poor condition when he received them from Trinity County authorities.

The murder weapon was a 20-gauge shotgun that belonged to Marvin Bauer.

A firearms expert testified that no usable fingerprints were found on the gun.

Maxie B. Eaves, a highway patrolman on leave to serve with the U.S. Army at Fort Riley, Kansas, identified a 20-gauge shotgun as the murder weapon.

Eaves said he and Deputy Sheriff Freeman Brown of Groveton took the gun from the scene and had it examined at the Houston Police Department crime lab.

Defense attorney Charles Tessmer pointed out that fingerprints had not been collected from the gun before it was removed.

Marvin Bauer spent the night with his aunts Christmas Eve, reportedly because he became ill that evening and went to bed at their house early in the evening.

The aunts gave him two cartons of cigarettes as a gift, then everyone went to bed.

He planned to leave for Houston at 4 a.m. Christmas Day. Lily offered to make the defendant breakfast, but he declined.

In a second statement given to investigators, Bauer said he had been outside feeding, but it was still dark when he went back into his aunts’ house.

He called out to Aunt Lily, who he could see sitting by the fire.  Lily came to the door and opened the wooden door. When she unhooked the screen, Marvin opened it with his left hand.

He held the shotgun in his right hand and he laid the barrel of the gun across his left arm and pulled the trigger, the statement said.

Rosa Bauer testified that Marvin stayed home to feed the cows, and that it was her idea to visit her family for Christmas. She said he behaved normally during the Houston trip.

By the time the case came to trial, Rosa was also pregnant.

She also spoke about the night of Marvin’s arrest. A story that was echoed by Percy Foreman who also took the stand.

Foreman said he had known the defendant since he was 18 months old, and knew the defendant’s father well.

He learned about the impending arrest while at the Houston Police station about 1 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 31, 1960.

He called the defendant’s mother’s house before noon and made arrangements to meet Bauer downtown.

Bauer was arrested while en route to the meeting with Foreman. Bauer’s wife called and told Foreman of the arrest.

Foreman said he placed numerous phone calls looking for Bauer from the time he met Mrs. Bauer until after midnight.

He called Texas Ranger headquarters at least six times and said the person who answered denied any knowledge of Bauer.

Marvin Bauer was arrested on a Houston street at 5 p.m. Dec. 31, 1960. He was questioned in the Texas Rangers’ Houston office and then taken to Groveton to his aunts’ home.

During questioning that followed, he signed a second statement admitting the crimes at 4 a.m. New Year’s Day.

Testified that he feared for his life if he didn’t confess after his arrest New Year’s Eve. He claimed that Evans and the Rangers “talked rough” to him.

“I was going to confess to these killings or he was going to arrest my wife and boy (his stepson Roy Kaase). He had as good a case against them,” Bauer told Ranger Harvey Phillips of Woodville.

Bauer told jurors he could see the large pool of dried blood on the floor from where he was seated at the house, and that she drowned in her own blood, as a result of my shooting.

A hearing on the admissibility of that second statement included testimony from Texas Rangers Ed Gooding, Mark Jones and Hollis Sullivan, Trinity County Deputy Sheriff Freeman Brown, Houston Post Reporter Gayle McNutt, and Joe Thorpe, a criminal investigator with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

The officers said Marvin Bauer was not mishandled during the 11 hours they detained him.

They said he was offered food, but refused. He was allowed to smoke as much as he wished.

Evans said Bauer did not ask to call a lawyer, but that he would have allowed him to make the call.

Bauer believed he had a secret weapon to help him escape a murder conviction — legendary defense attorney Percy Foreman.

Shortly after the murder, both Percy and Zemmie Foreman signed on to defend Marvin. They had known their client since he was 18 months old. Later it was reported that a distant relative of the Foreman brothers had been questioned as a suspect.

It’s not clear when Zemmie Foreman moved on to other cases, but Percy’s departure drew plenty of press, and a rebuke from the judge. He resigned just two days before the trial was set to begin.

“I don’t consider an attorney like that worthy of being held in contempt,” said Judge John M. Barron. “Any attorney who abandons his client … and withdraws — runs out on him, if you please — is not worthy of appearing in any court in this State. Marvin Bauer ought to be glad also that a man like that withdrew from his case.”

Just before jury selection was to begin, the defense asked for a continuance since they had not had time to interview some witnesses due to Foreman’s departure just before trial.

The defense also objected to R.C. Musselwhite’s participation as a special prosecutor, since he also advised an attorney representing members of the defendant’s family who have filed a civil lawsuit against the defendant.

Musselwhite had been hired by John Bauer to be represent him in a civil lawsuit against Marvin Bauer.

Jo Ann Fogarty of Houston, a legal secretary who had helped the sisters prepare their wills, testified that each sister left her share of the ranch to Bauer, with the exception of the house they lived in and the acre of land it stood on.

The survivor of the two sisters would continue living in the house, but it would go to Bauer when both had died.

Two of the strongest defense witnesses were a woman who had lived with Lily Bauer for 15 or 16 years, and a Houston neurosurgeon who treated Lily for over a year for “an obvious depression” in 1938 and 1939.

Mrs. John Allen Martin said Lily claimed she was 27 when she rented a room in Marvin’s Houston Home in 1938. After Lily’s death, Martin learned that she was actually 10 to 15 years older than that.

Miss Lily’s mother had told Martin not to allow Lily to use gas stones.

About a week after she moved in, Martin opened the door to the room and found it filled with gas.

Lily claimed she had tried to turn on the stove because she was cold.

Martin found Lily crying on a side porch shortly after she moved into the home.

Martin suggested Lily see a doctor, but she did not know why she was crying.

The woman testified that Lily ‘had a nervous breakdown’ while at her home and was away for several months.

She added that Lily had a ‘very bad temper’.

“I liked her, but I kept out of her way,” Martin said.

Dr. Greenwood described Lily’s illness as a form of manic-depression, adding that he had only seen her in the depression phase of the illness.

The doctor said that Lily wasn’t released from his care, but rather didn’t come back for further treatment.

During cross-examination, Greenwood said patients have a 50-50 chance of recurrent “attacks” of the illness.

Louise C. Bauer, 75, the sister of the two dead women, was called but refused to answer one of Musselwhite’s questions and gave “peppery” answers to others, the Eagle reported.

Louise said she did not get along with her sister, Lily.

“I was scared of her,” she said. “Lily had a terrible temper.”

Louise also testified that Lily shot “many a chicken hawk with the 20-gauge shotgun.

Two of Marvin’s first cousins, Calvin and Roger, testified about Marvin’s good character, and Aunt Lily’s quick temper.

Roger Bauer testified that he stayed with the aunts for three or four weeks while painting their house at the Thousand Pines Ranch, and they did not speak to each other the entire time.

Roger Bauer said he had been questioned by Ranger Harvey Phillips, who “talked a little rough now and then” during questioning.

Other witnesses testified that Roger was in Houston on the night of Dec. 24, 1960 and the following morning

Alternatively, the defense suggested that an unknown third party killed the two women and Bauer’s confession was obtained under duress.

Jurors also heard from the plant manager of the Fort Bend Telephone company, who brought microfilm records of incoming and outgoing calls for Dec. 25, 1960.

Those records showed a call from the defendant’s mother to the Highway Patrol in Houston at 4 a.m. that day.

A collect call from a “Morgan” Bauer in Trinity was also placed to Mrs. Bessie Bauer in Katy.

Records show the call was made at 5:40 a.m.

A Trinity telephone operator also testified that the call was placed from a toll booth in front of the phone company’s Trinity office.

Mrs. Bauer, the defendant’s mother said her son appeared normal when he arrived at her home about 8:30 a.m. Christmas Day.

When Musselwhite questioned why she kept the telephone tickets from that day, she said she had every telephone ticket for about two years at her home.

The case finally went to the jury at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday March 20, after nine days of hearing evidence. At 2:40 p.m. the next day, they returned a guilty verdict.

Marvin Bauer was sentenced to life in prison. He was paroled in 1972. He died Aug. 14, 2000 in Austin.

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