|The downtown alley where the shooting of A. J. Parker took place.|
At 4:30 in the afternoon on Friday, June 4, 1937, shots rang out in the alley between the R. S. & P. office and Haney’s drug store. The mayor of Roscoe, Arthur J. Parker, was hit three times, once through the shoulder, once in the chest, and once in the back. Not felled by the shots, he ran up the alley and out of the line of fire as eyewitness W. A. Sloan approached the shooter, Bill Dawson, and asked for the gun. Dawson refused, but former city marshal X. B. Sanders then walked up and without resistance took the .32 pistol from Dawson’s pocket.
Seeing Dawson disarmed, Parker returned to the scene on his way to the Young Hospital a half block away, and, as he staggered past, told Sanders to call Sheriff Tom Wade. Dawson, seeing Parker still on his feet, told Sanders to give him his gun and let him finish the job.
Dawson then apparently went through the back door to Haney’s into the drug store, where he gave himself up to Deputy Sheriff Pat Mayes. He was taken to the Nolan County jail in Sweetwater and charged with assault with intent to murder, and bond was set at $5000.
In the meantime, Mayor Parker walked to the hospital and immediately began to receive treatment from Dr. J. W. Young. Initially, Dr. Young expressed optimism about the mayor’s recovery, giving him a 75% chance of survival. That night he operated, removing a bullet from Parker’s chest while allowing another to remain just above the stomach. Unfortunately, the mayor’s condition continued to worsen on Saturday, and on early Sunday morning at about 3 a.m., a day and a half after the shooting, he died.
His funeral was held on Monday, June 7, at the Community Tabernacle in Roscoe with Sam Young of Sweetwater delivering the funeral oration. He praised Parker, a Methodist, as a good citizen, an advocate of law and order, and a churchman who often expressed his belief in religious principles. Others speaking included Methodist minister Rev. W. B. Swim, Baptist pastor Rev. J. N. Easterwood, and former Baptist pastor, Rev. G. W. Parks. Pallbearers were City Council members Barna Haney, R. E. Harwell, W. E. Kirkland, and Turner May; City Secretary W. P. Copeland; and Hark Haney.
Born in Alabama, Arthur J. Parker, 51, had lived in Roscoe all his adult life and had been the city’s mayor for fifteen of the previous seventeen years. First elected to the office in 1920, he had served continuously thereafter except for one term, 1933-1935, in which he had not run. During his tenure, the city had passed bonds for street and waterwork improvement, paved the downtown streets with bricks, extended the water system to include the entire town, installed the city sewer system, purchased the first fire truck, and made natural gas available, along with other civic improvements. He was an insurance agent and realtor.
In 1922, he married Ora Parks, the daughter of the town’s Baptist minister, Rev. G. W. Parks. They subsequently had two children, Arthur, Jr., 14 in 1937, and Shirley Ann, 11. The Mayor’s father, J. J. Parker, had been one of the original city aldermen when Roscoe was incorporated in 1907.
Bill Dawson, 58, was a cowboy and rancher for twenty years in Tom Green and Coke Counties before moving south of Roscoe six years earlier to ranch with Bob Scott of Colorado City. He won third place in the old man’s calf roping contest at the 1934 Texas Cowboy Reunion in Stamford and later won first place in several other rodeos. In November 1934, two and a half years earlier, he became Roscoe’s nightwatchman, a position that made him the city’s principal law enforcement officer after the sun went down. He was married, and his wife ran a café in downtown Roscoe.
Bad feelings had existed between Parker and Dawson for some time. Dawson was initially hired as nightwatchman at a salary of $60 a month but had recently been forced to take a cut in pay, which he apparently blamed on Parker. According to Laura Fay Duncan, both he and Parker were hot tempered, and Dawson had publically accused the Mayor of dishonesty.
The day before the shooting, Dawson received a letter from the Mayor informing him that he had been fired by order of the City Council and replaced by City Marshal Leslie Butler, but Dawson refused to step down, saying the firing was unauthorized. (City Councilman Barna Haney told the Abilene Reporter-News that the council had met the previous week before the firing and had not been in session since.)
At the court hearing held on June 19, two weeks after the shooting, Mrs. Dawson testified that Parker had come to her café earlier in the day and asked her what her husband was going to do about the letter, saying that the city wasn’t big enough for both of them. She also said that City Commissioner Ralph Henson told her that Parker had said, “The town is not big enough for both of us. While I’m mayor, I’ll run the town to suit me, if it don’t suit anyone else. Dawson will leave, or I’ll put his light out.”
Roscoe farmer O. J. Beinhauer testified that Dawson told him in the café he “wasn’t going to stand for the canning—that it would be different if the city commission had done it, but that he would sooner kill one man than let him get by with such a thing.” Beinhauer also quoted Dawson as saying, “If I killed him, he wouldn’t have enough friends to carry him off the street.” Mrs. Dawson testified that right after the shooting her husband said to her, “I shot ‘Red’ Parker, Mother. I had to do it. I wasn’t going to let him beat me up.”
The hearing resulted in District Judge A. S. Mauzey setting Dawson’s bail at $10,000 and charging him with the malicious murder of the mayor.
On August 3, Mrs. A. J. Parker was elected Mayor of Roscoe to succeed her deceased husband. She ran unopposed.
On Tuesday, September 28, the trial began in the 32nd District Court in Sweetwater with Judge Mauzey presiding. The prosecution was led by E. T. Brook of Abilene, while Dawson’s defense counsel was Temple Dickson, who later became a state representative.
The prosecution argued that Dawson had killed the mayor in cold blood and appealed to the jury to assess the death penalty, citing Dawson’s expressed hatred for the mayor. Brook argued that testimony indicated the trouble that led to the shooting had been brewing in Dawson’s mind for some time. He emphasized that Dawson’s request to X. B. Sanders to give him the gun so he could finish the job clearly indicated his murderous intent.
Dickson, on the other hand, based his case on self-defense, citing threats made by Parker, including one right before the shooting in which he said he would give Dawson a “licking.” Dickson also argued that Dawson was unbalanced and fearful since an earlier altercation with a group of drunks who beat him up when he attempted to apprehend them. Referring to Dawson’s advanced age, he told the jury, “Any sentence you may impose on the defendant means death as he will not live long if sent to prison.”
The jury deliberated for seventeen hours before reaching their verdict of guilty, and the judge sentenced Dawson to fourteen years in the state penitentiary. I have not been able to find proof to verify it, but Laura Fay Duncan remembers that Dickson’s prediction was correct and that Dawson didn’t live long after being sent to Huntsville.
CADEN SMITH QUALIFIES FOR STATE MEET IN TWO EVENTS
Roscoe Plowboy Caden Smith returns to Austin for the third straight year in the shot put and the discus throw after winning first place in both events in the Regional II-A Track and Field Meet at ACU’s Elmer Gray Stadium on Monday.
His winning throw in the discus of 169’7”, his second best distance of the year, was over 15 feet farther than the 152’1” effort by L. J. Collier of Munday that took second place. Smith won the shot put with a toss of 53’2”.
The state meet will be May 13-14 in Austin.