I've published a short book on Kindle titled Lone Star Grotesque: The True Story of the Texas Slave Ranch How a Degenerate Ranching Family Got Away With Murder, available for purchase on Amazon
From the jacket:
“You’re digging your own graves,” one of the henchmen said. “We don’t bury them,” Junior said. “We burn them.”
“A Texas Trial: Tale of Death and Torture” KERRVILLE, Tex., May 29— Two Texas hill country ranchers and one of their workers are accused of kidnapping, enslaving, and torturing hitchhikers on an isolated 3,500 acre ranch in the scenic cedar-and oak-covered hills near here . . . [T]he trial of Walter Wesley Ellebracht Sr., 55 years old, his son, Walter Wesley Ellebracht Jr., 33, and a former ranch worker, Carlton Robert Caldwell, 21, is turning into a ghoulish glimpse of a dark, remote world that seems like the stuff of a low-budget exploitation film.
New York Times, June 1, 1986
Newspapers as far away as Moscow called it the “Texas Slave Ranch case.” This is the true-life account of how famed trial lawyer Richard “Racehorse” Haynes persuaded a West Texas jury to give his kidnapper/torturer/murderer client probation. Out of a dozen indicted, only two ever saw the inside of a prison.
If you have enough money, and the right lawyers, you can get away with murder.
I've always been fascinated at how the criminal justice system really works, compared to how it's supposed to work. More times than we want to admit, the innocent are punished while the guilty go free. Texas has a rich history of cold blooded killers getting away with murder, ably described by criminal defense attorney Bill Neal in his book, Getting Away With Murder on the Texas Frontier: Notorious Killings and Celebrated Trials. Human life could be cheaper than that of a horse on the frontier. If the defendant was a respectable, local rancher, and the deceased an undesirable, a good lawyer could get just about anyone off. The vestiges of this frontier mentality help explain what happened in the Texas Slave Ranch case, where a family of local ranchers and their henchmen enslaved, tortured, and in at least one instance, killed hitchhikers they picked up on the interstate. Out of a dozen indicted, only three went to trial. The patriarch got probation.
This is the first in a planned series of feature length articles about bizarre criminals in Texas, especially in the Hill Country, which is a target rich environment. Genene Jones, the pediatric nurse was continuing her career as a serial killer of babies at the same time as the evens related in this story. At the same time, the sheriff of next door Kimble County, Hal Bynum, and his wife Connie, were involved in some bizarre activities involving drugs and Rottweilers. In 1985, Bynum claimed he came home to the naked, mutilated body next to the dog pen. Although investigators thought he was the number one suspect, they let him go, only to find his body at a remote airstrip used by smugglers two or three days later. In the Slave Ranch case, a demented family of ranchers, led by Walter Wesley
Ellebracht, Sr., a “good Christian” father and grandfather, kidnapped, enslaved and tortured men they picked up hitchhiking on Interstate 10 west of San Antonio. At least one victim died, and his body was burned and the ashes scattered to the winds. Walter's borderline retarded son fancied himself an up and coming country and gospel singer-songwriter. He enjoyed tying women up, shocking them with a cattle prod while his wife watched, and raping them. In a real life nightmare version of the Stanley Milgram experiments and the Stockholm syndrome, many of the men the ranchers employed became willing participants in the torture and abuse of other victims.
When it all unraveled, Walter's 82 year old mother hocked the family ranch to hire Richard “Racehorse” Haynes for a million dollars. After a three month trial, the old man got probation, and Junior got a relatively light sentence of 15 years. They got away with murder.
You can probably see where I came up with the title for this series, Lone Star Grotesque, with a tip of my hat to Sherwood Anderson for Winesburg, Ohio.