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Execution set for Wednesday in 1998 Jasper hate crime
John William King, one of the three men convicted of the
horrific death of James Byrd Jr. of Jasper, has a date with death Wednesday.
Barring any a last-minute stay, King will be strapped to a gurney in the
execution chamber in the Huntsville unit and given lethal injection.
On Monday, his appeals to the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals and the Board of Pardons and Paroles were denied.
Lawrence Ruzzell Brewer was put to death in 2011 and Shawn
Berry is serving a life sentence.
The Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear King’s
case when the current session opened in October 2018.
Jasper police found the dismembered body of James Byrd on Huff
Creek Road in Jasper early Sunday morning, June 7, 1998. His torso, legs and
left are were found in front of a church. The rest of his body was found 1.5
miles down the road.
At King’s trial, a forensic pathologist found that Byrd’s
injuries were consistent with being dragged by a vehicle by a chain wrapped
together by a chain.
Investigators followed the blood trail down the road to an
area where it appeared a fight had occurred, court records show.
Police recovered a cigarette lighter engraved with “KKK” and
“Possum”; three cigarette butts, a can of “Fix-a-Flat”, a CD, a pack of
Marlboro cigarette, beer bottles, a button from Byrd’s shirt, Byrd’s baseball
cap and a wrench with the name “Berry” etched in it.
Byrd had been at a party on the night he was killed. He left
around 1:30 or 2 a.m., walking alone.
At around 2:30 a.m., an acquaintance saw Byrd pass, riding
in the back of a primer-gray pickup truck. Three white men were in the cab.
On Monday morning, a Jasper officer stopped a primer-gray
pickup. The driver was Shawn Berry.
In the bed of the truck found tools matching those left at
the grassy area. Dried blood splatter was found under the truck and on a tire.
DNA testing proved the blood was Byrd’s.
DNA testing of cigarette butts showed one was King’s.
Other evidence indicated the cigarette lighter belonged to
King. Possum was a nickname he had in prison.
The state produced evidence showing that King developed an
intense hatred of black people while in prison. He had been released a year
before Byrd’s death.
King was the leader of a white-supremacist gang, the
Confederate Knights of America.
He had numerous tattoos that featured images popular with
white supremacy groups including the Ku Klux Klan.
HE had written letters to friends in prison indicating he
planned to make a name for himself and was planning something big for July 4.
A gang expert testified that the location of Byrd’s body,
near the church, was intended to spark terror among the black community in
In a letter to the Dallas Morning News, King claimed he was
innocent. He said Shawn Berry was responsible for Byrd’s death.
King said Berry had dropped off he and Brewer prior to the
The state refuted that by testimony from friends of the trio
as well as Byrd’s blood on one of King’s shoes.
During the mandatory appeal, King claimed ineffective
assistance of counsel. He said the attorney did not offer evidence that could
have provided him an alibi.
The appeals court rejected each of the points of error
raised by King’s defense team.
Shawn Allen Berry is serving a life sentence in protective
custody at TDCJ’s Ramsey unit. He will have a parole review in 2038. Following
the punishment phase of Berry’s trial in 1999, jurors said they did not believe
Berry was a continuing threat.
While it’s likely that this ordeal is likely to come to an
end for King on Wednesday, the trauma will continue for Byrd’s family, the
Jasper community and East Texas will remain.
In 1939, Lillian’s luck ran out. She’s indicted by a federal grand jury in Shreveport for 11 counts of mail fraud. She was accused of writing 11 phone checks for $1,792 using the alias of Helen Maulin. Seven of those checks were on banks that didn’t exist., others were written on bogus accounts. Each of the checks ranged between $5 and $500.
Arthur Temple Jr. told Bowan that in the late ‘30s, she owed Temple’s companies $5,000. She went to Arthur Temple Sr.’s office and gave him a check much larger than the $5,000 and asked him to give her the difference. He did and the check bounced. She went to jail after the senior Temple filed charges. Several members of the Temple family had unnerving experiences with Lillian. Henry Temple ran the Diboll operations. He told a story about waking up several mornings and looking outside and saw Lillian walking around his yard, waiting for him to wake up so she could ask him for money. In September 1939, Lillian’s youngest child took her own life in Beaumont. The 19-year-old had been deeply affected by her grandmother’s murder. Compound that grief with her distress over breaking up with a boyfriend proved to be too much. Lillian was unusually subdued when the appeared in court on Nov. 17, 1939. She changed her plea to guilty. The judge was sympathetic, ordering her to remain in jail for treatment and delayed sentencing. She was ultimately sentenced to 5 years in prison and an additional 3 years of probation. She was take to a West Virginia facility for women.
Lillian wrote Henry Temple from prison, asking for gifts for fellow inmates. The items were lipstick, stockings and makeup. Henry complied, mostly out of concern ro what Lillian would do to him when she got out. She was released from prison almost a year early, and reportedly only had one disciplinary action during her confinement. Now we jump forward to 1957, In March, Chicago attorney Edward J. Barrett is getting a haircut. The barber tells him about an older lady who has been in the Cook County jail for four months on a phony larceny charge. The barber explains the his friend, Margaret Costello, was being prosecuted under her real name — Lillian Knox. He had another friend, Rose K. Moir, the wealthy widow of a owner of a prestigious Chicago hotel. Mrs. Moir lived in the hotel and used a wheelchair. She needed around the clock help. A friend of Moir’s had introduced her to Margaret (Lillian), a trained nurse. Barrett described Margaret/Lillion sa 5-4, 160 pounds, with short straight hear, dyed henna orange, but fading to white. She had coarse features and spoke with a country twang., but she had a commanding manner and penetrating look. Lillian had been arrested in NYC in October 1956 on an Illinois warrant for grand larceny. Lillian was accused of making off with $53,000 in bearer bonds belonging to Raise Moir., and perjury for lying in probate court about the location of the bonds. She had been in jail for nine months. Lillian claimed to have received the bonds as a Christmas gift from Rose shortly before her death, but she did not open the gift until after the probate hearings. The jail was loud — too loud for Lillian and her lawyer to hear each other, despite being in a booth away from the other offenders. She began sending Barrett stacks of letters. Much of it had nothing to do with her case, but Barrett devoured it looking for details that would help her case. She dropped in and out of his life for nine years. Here’s what he learned about Lillian and Rose: After leaving prison, Lillian assume the Margaret Costello alias. She had occasional nursing jobs. She was still strong enough to meet the physical demands of lifting patients. She mostly lived in inexpensive hotels on the north side of Chicago. One of those hotels was owned by Lol McElroy who introduced Margaret/Lilian to Rose and the barber in the morrison hotel where Rose lived. Rose was in poor health, but was mentally sharp. In July 1952, McElroy called Margaret and said Rose had been “kidnapped” and placed in a suburban mental hospital by her longtime attorney. Rose called McElroy pleading for help, and she called on Margaret for help. Margaret showed up at the lawyers office and using her well-honed powers of persuasion, gets Rose released. Margaret and Rose spend two weeks together, with Margaret/Lillian providing around the clock care. Exhausted, Margaret leaves Rose with a new practical nurse, and returns to the Castle hotel. In four or five months, the new nurse leaves and Margaret and McElroy arrange for Rose to enter a nursing home. Rose gets frequent visits from the barber, McElroy and Margaret/Lillian. Lillian gets a cash windfall when Minton sent her a check in early 1953 for just over $11,000 with “Hemphill property” in the memo line. In September, Rose decides the wants to leave the nursing home and asks Marget to move into another apartment hotel with her. They remained there until Rose’s death on December 16, 1953. Margaret charged Rose $80 a week to stay with her, and stipulated it had to be in cash. Rose later raised her pay to $150. That money may have been well-earned if there’s any truth to Lillian’s statement that Rose was demanding and incontinent. Rose and Margaret received a lot of visitors, including a few from Rose’s adopted son, who was now middle aged and reportedly lived on Skid Row. Barrett — one of Bowman’s co-authors — said he has bene on both sides of estate controversies. He believes that the prevalent scam out there was between elderly people and those that care for them. Rose’s attorney claimed that Margaret persuaded Rose to sign blank checks to several pre-selected stores in their neighborhood, then Margaret would purchase items Rose needed. When Margaret filled out the checks, she fill-in amounts much larger than the purchase and pocketed the difference — and possibly splitting the cash with the merchants. Among the purchases was enormous amounts of canned good, which were stacked to the ceiling in Rose’s apartment, It’s not surprising that several families in Hemphill began receiving huge boxes of canned goods. Although the shipments were a godsend for those Hemphill families, ROse’s lawyer claimed that Lilian received around a quarter million dollars between the canned goods scam and the forgeries. It was never clear where all that money went. Barrett learned that Rose apparently sent Margaret and McElroy to empty her safety deposit box of stocks and bonds in January 1954. When they delivered the stack of bearer bonds to Rose, she got angry and send them back to get stock certificates. Then Rose apparently endorsed all stock certificates in blank. Those securities remained scatter through the apartment among the bartends of food stacked to the ceiling in every room. She reportedly planned to tear up her will and establish a trust fund for her son. She never gave those instructions to her attorney, tho. In November 1954, Rose told McElroy that she gave Margaret enough to live on for the rest of her life. Margaret also wrote to Barrett, saying that Rose have her two gifts in early Nomber. OOOne a check for $35,000, and detailed how split that money between $20,000 for herself., paid attorney’s fees, send $10,000 to her son in Brazil (but he never got it) and put $10,000 in Kentucky bonds. The second gift was a small box and Rose instructed Margeret not to open it until Christmas. Rose also reportedly showed Margaret a robe in the box, and wrapped it in brown paper. Supposedly, Lillian didn’t know that $53,000 in bearer bonds were tucked inside the robe. Rose died Dec. 16. Lillian called attorney Herman Fischer to report the death. Fischer found the torn-up will, and saw the cartons of food for the first time. He ordered Lillian out of th those. She left, but took $200,000 in endorsed stocks to the funeral home. Only three people attended Rose’s funeral. Her son isn’t one of them. Fischer was pointed the administrator to collect for the Moir Estate. He pursued the missing bonds and other assed with zeal. Lillian (as Margaret) was summoned to court to testify about the bonds. She claimed she didn’t have any of Rose’s assets, but no one believed her. Then Margaret/Lillian disappeared. The court froze all her assets, most of while were held in assumed names. Eventually Fischer locates $530,000 in stocks, bonds and government notes. Margaret eluded police for 22 months. She adopted a new alias, Hazel Berry, and went to New York City. She cashes a few coupons from the bearer bonds she keeps hidden in a locker at Grand Central Station. Those coupons lead investigators back to her hotel room at the Woodstock hotel, where she lived with a Greek sailor who had jumped ship. Lillian was flown back to Chicago, handcuffed to a female officer. That officer also delivered the remaining bonds to the State Attorney’s office. As Barrett dove into Lillian’s defense, he spoke with Rose’s maid Ethel Turner. She confirmed the christmas present story and said Lillian had provided excellent care for the old woman. Lillian’s trial was worthy of a Perry Mason episode. When the state presented its evidence, they failed to prove that Rose still owned the bonds at the time of her death. Since prosecutors had not proved they had a case, the judge directed the jury to find Lillian not guilty. So without putting on a single witness, Lillian walked free. She returned to Lola McElroy’s hotel and resume using the Margaret Costello alias. With this legal battle Lillian disappears again. After her stint in federal prison, she was obsessed with secrecy. Barrett had won a $5,000 settlement off for Lillian but he could not contact her. He sent letters to her sister and a friend Lillian had mentioned in their conversations. Both went unanswered. When Barrett appeared in court and told the judge he couldn’t locate Lillian, the judge ordered the Moir estate to up the offer to $10,000 and gave Barrett 10 days to find his client. Barretttalked to the son of John Minton, Lillian’s former attorney in Hemphill. Minton urged Barrett to come to Hemphill. The two one to the home of Henrietta Green. Green was now a widow, but had once been a member of Lillian’s household staff. Barrett described Greens house and spartan, but clean and warm. Despite the fact that the structure was a one room with a dirt floor. He also saw cartons of canned goods stacked. Ms. Green acted as a mail drop for Lillian. Hazel placed mail addressed to Lillian in preaddressed envelopes and sent them on to a Chicago address. Barrett found Lillian in a first-floor apartment with a middle-aged couple. Lillian was their nurse. In the corner, cartons of canned goods were stacked. Lillian signed the release that would allow Barrett to accept the $10,000 settlement. Then Lillian told Barrett she wanted to sue Chester Collins, but should couldn’t define the grounds for a lawsuit, so it wasn’t filed.. That inability to gather her thoughts grew into greater cogiitive issues. When she visited her children they reported strange behavior. Hiram and his wife took turns staying up when Lillian was in their home. Her grandson, Mark Knox described some strange incidents during a 1963 visit at their San Antonio home. “She locked herself in Mark’s room, eating peanut putter and watermelon. She spit the seeds, and some stuck to the wall. Mark also said she stuffed some of the seed in a large pair of ladies’ panties and hid them behind his dresser. BeforeHiram died he gave a video interview. He declined to talk about his grandmother’s death, but said he had forgiven his mother for most of her misdeeds. One of the most painful of those was the theft of his A&M memoriabilia, including his senior boots. “When Geraldo Rivera was opening the Al Capone vault on TV in Chicago, I expected to find some old Knox belongings. ON the 80th anniversary of Lillian’s husband Hiram’s death in Hemphill, there were fear reminders of the couple that ran the multi-million dollar lumber empire. “Lady Bountiful” died in 1966 of heart disease while living in the Kankakee State Hospital, south of Chicago. None of her family members were present and she was buried in the hospital’s weed-choked graveyard. There once was a numbered post marking grave # 4608, but even that had disappeared by the time Bowman wrote his book.
Chester Collins became one of Texas’ most famous criminal defense attorneys in the 1930s.He moved to Fort Worth in 1927 after successfully defending the Rev. J. Frank Norris, a fundamentalist Baptist preacher.Norris was charged with shooting D. C. Chipps, a friend of Fort Worth Mayor H. C. Meacham. Collins employed some of the same methods used in Lillian Knox’s hearing in Hemphill. Norris was acquitted after jurors determined the act was self-defense.In the 1960s, Lillian told others she blamed Collins for the downfall of Knox Lumber Company. When the treasury department got after the Knoxes for taxes, she said Collins wasn’t aggressive enough in protecting their interests … “Because I quit him,” she added. “My good husband could not endure the heartache.”As she grew older, she claimed Collins had a “fine legal brain.” But she quickly added, “he tried to kill me twice.” Eck Prud’homme worked for Temple and often acted as Lilian’s messenger boy.In the 1920s, Collins’ wife, Cloe Mantooth Collins, asked Prud’homme to deliver a message to Collins at the Knox home.He found Collins sprawled out on a feather bed on a large sleeping porch. Collins was wearing silk pajamas.Another of Collins’ friends said he was a ladies man who woe $1,200 suits.There’s no documents that show Lillian was ever married to Collins, but common law marriages were common in early East Texas.Their relationship certainly caused friction with Chloe, and she and Collins divorced.But before the split, Chloe took aim at a full-length portrait of Chester Collins that Lillian had commissioned from a Kansas city artist.She fired a series of shots from her pistol that outlined Chester’s body in the painting.Chloe died in 1958, but Chester still visited her grave. By the middle of 2000, all of Lillian’s children were dead.
Young Willie Knox is shown with a friend before his death in 1911. Merton Knox family photo | Mystery of Lady Bountiful
William Hiram “Bill” Knox
Retired Air Force paratrooperDied in Houston June 14, 1986. • His twin brother John died in 1912 at 3 months old. • Lillian and Grace, another set of twins born in 1913 supposedly died in 1914, on the same day, but the details are unknown. • L. Marcene “Mark” Knox — died in Houston in the 1980s. Served in the Army during WWII. Reportedly the military mayor of Stuttgart. • Mary Lillian Knox aka Sister Mary Clement Knox died in a Shreveport convent Jan. 25, 1988. • Hiram William Ambrose Knox — died July 12, 2000 in Auburn, Calif. one month short of his 90th birthday.