Houston Babylon: The 1970s Shotgun Death of Bonnie and Clyde Assistant William Daniel "Deacon" Jones
Houston Babylon, the feature that came out earlier this week, dissects a few of the creepiest and most chilling events in Houston history. In coming up with four of those tales, we stumbled over many more -- too many to fit the print edition.
All this week we'll bring you some extra, online-only stories. Check out Part 1 about Avenging Angels: A Failed Revenge and Part II: Early Victorian Houston and Texas: Suicide City for the Elite. Part III: Dean Goss: Jackie Gleason or Blue Beard or Both? Part IV, The Sad, Murky Death of Lois Marie Gilbert...And here is the last in our series...
"Deacon" Jones's last gun battle wasn't much of a fight. Unlike in his Depression Era stint in Bonnie and Clyde's gang, Deacon Jones was not armed this time around.
Harris County Sheriffs Office W.D. "Deacon" Jones, pictured here after a 1973 arrest.
You could say he was loaded, though, with booze, downers and lead -- a machine gun bullet was lodged in his chest, birdshot in his face, and buckshot in his chest and arm, all souvenirs of the infamous multi-state crime sprees of his youth.
In the wee hours of August 20, 1974, Jones and a female companion arrived at the northside home of a man named George Jones. (No relation to Deacon.) Deacon demanded that the woman be allowed to stay for the night. George Jones said no. Deacon restated his desires more forcefully. George Jones responded with three 12-gauge rejoinders, and Deacon Jones collapsed dead in the driveway with wounds to the groin, armpit and thigh.
George Jones was charged with murder, but the case was later dismissed. He said he feared Deacon's reputation and knew that he was often armed with a knife or gun. George said that Deacon was a nice man when sober, but Deacon was apparently anything but sober on the night he died.
So ended Deacon Jones's life of poverty, infamy, addiction, late notoriety and shame.
Jones was born in Henderson, Texas and raised in the same squalid, extremely poor Trinity River Bottoms of west Dallas that produced Clyde Barrow and blues guitar legend T-Bone Walker. In 1921, Jones was five and living in a squatter's camp when he met Barrow, who was then 11. A year later, Jones's father, sister and one of his five brothers all perished in a flu epidemic. His mother Tookie and four of his brothers survived.
Beaumont Police Department Jones at 15, about a year before joining Bonnie and Clyde's gang.
By 1931, the teenage Deacon Jones was a known police character -- a car thief of increasing ability. The next year, on Christmas Eve, Bonnie and Clyde stopped in to see him on their way through Dallas with the police in hot pursuit. The gang had a vacancy. They needed an assistant. Jones signed on, and the very next day, in an attempted carjacking, the gang killed a 27-year-old Temple, Texas man. Exactly who fired the fatal shot is unknown, but Jones later said that Barrow convinced him that he had done it in order to bind him to the gang. "Boy, you can't go home," Jones remembered Barrow telling him. "You got murder on you, just like me." (Jones was indicted but not tried for the murder.)
A few weeks later, Barrow killed a Tarrant County deputy sheriff after the gang was ensnared in a trap set for other criminals. The trio then headed east into Arkansas and Missouri, where they briefly kidnapped a Springfield cop, whom they released unharmed six hours later. (They relieved him of his fancy Russian gun. Years later the cop allowed his daughter to bring him to show-and-tell at her school.)
In March, the gang posed and shot those famous roadside pictures that were later captured by police. April found them heading up Route 66 to Joplin, Missouri, where they killed two cops in another gun battle. Jones took a bullet to the side; Parker used knitting needles to pry open the wound, and then dumped rubbing alcohol inside him. Somehow Jones survived.
A few weeks after that, Jones had had enough of the gang life. He escaped from the gang in Ruston, Louisiana, and headed back to Dallas. About six weeks later Bonnie and Clyde found him there and, in Jones's telling, more or less forced him back in.
More gunbattles, more blood, more death. An Arkansas farmer shot off two of Jones's fingertips in one fight. Clyde's brother Buck was killed in another. Bonnie Parker's leg was disfigured after it was scalded with battery acid after a car wreck. The 16-year-old Jones wanted out again, for good this time.
In Clarksdale, Mississippi, Barrow told Jones to gas up a car they'd stolen and gave him a couple of bucks. Jones tanked up the car and hightailed to Houston, where Tookie had moved. Here he chopped cotton and picked vegetables and hoped to lay low, but he was betrayed by an acquaintance and turned over to Dallas County lawmen. For the murder of the Tarrant County cop, Jones was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He served six.
Jones was in the Dallas County Jail when he heard that Bonnie and Clyde had been killed. He told reporters that he was relieved.
After his parole, in or about 1941, Jones moved to Houston. He tried to volunteer for the Army at the onset of World War II, but they would not accept him because of all his wounds. (He also said he was missing a piece of his lung.)
He settled into a quiet life at 1519 Hendricks, a little house off Hardy. He lived next door to Tookie for many years. He reportedly became addicted to a concoction of paregoric mixed with Jack Daniel's at some point and spent a few months of the last year of his life in a federal prison after he was caught with 3,000 barbiturates. (In 1972, he went to county jail for a stretch after forfeiting his bond in a DWI case.)
The house where Jones lived.
After the 1967 Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway film came out, Jones was thrust into the spotlight. (Michael J. Pollard's "C.W. Moss" character was partially based on Jones.) He gave an interview to Playboy. Some TV reporters took him to a Houston screening at a drive-in. Jones was not impressed. "[It] made it all look sort of glamorous," he said, "but like I told them teenaged boys sitting near me at the drive-in showing: 'Take it from an old man who was there. It was hell.'"
He told Playboy that the only scenes that were not "plumb silly" were the gun battles. "Them was real enough to almost make me hurt," he said.
He later unsuccessfully sued the producers, claiming the film had maligned his character by portraying him as a gung-ho, willing participant in the crime spree.
The house where Jones died.
Jones is buried in Brookside Memorial Park on the Eastex Freeway.