25 Chapters
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One—“Stop right there or I’ll kill you!”

William T. Harper University of North Texas Press PDF

Chapter One

July 24, 1974 • Day One

“Stop right there or I’ll kill you!”

—Fred Carrasco, hostage-taker

Ronald (Ron) Wayne Robinson kept looking at his watch, anxious to get home for his daughter Sheryle’s eleventh birthday party that night. Aline V. House was kicking herself for forgetting to bring her bloodpressure medication to work. Bobby G. Heard kept looking through the doorway to see if his relief was on his way up to take his place as the only guard in the prison library. Ann Fleming was thinking about her eighty-year-old mother in a Nashville, Tennessee, nursing home. Novella M. Pollard was worried about getting her rent check in the mail on time. Elizabeth

Yvonne (Von) Beseda’s concern was the alteration of her daughter ’s University of Texas cheerleader uniform. All in all, it was just a routine day in

Huntsville, Texas.

That routine ended abruptly with the roar a .357 caliber Ruger Speed Six, blue Magnum revolver made as it was fired in the confined quarters of the thirdfloor library of the State Penitentiary in Huntsville,

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Twenty-five—“It’s Over.”

William T. Harper University of North Texas Press PDF


Eight hostages on the outside of the “buggy” maneuver it down the ramp while

Carrasco, his two henchmen and four civilian hostages are inside. (Photo courtesy of Robert E. Wiatt)

pressure hoses, topple it. In the resulting melee, they would disarm the desperados and save the hostages. Estelle took up a position on a small balcony on the third floor of the Walls’ Administration Building overlooking the Upper Yard, from where he could look right at the ramp.

He was, he said, “in walkie-talkie contact with Rogers. But,” he continued, “Pete being Pete, once the fire-fight started, he laid that damn radio down. He wanted two hands. So, I was out of contact. I could hear and see—but I couldn’t directly influence anything.”2

As the captives struggled to shove the box off its hang-up, Jack

Branch looked toward the doors where he saw the officers, wearing olive green-colored, camouflage ceramic body armor, and combat helmets. “I said ‘boy, we are saved now.’ I never was glad to see somebody in my life.”3 Ranger Captains Rogers and Burks, FBI agent

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Sixteen—“I have the four aces and the joker.”

William T. Harper University of North Texas Press PDF

Chapter Sixteen

“I have the four aces and the joker!”

—Fred Carrasco, hostage-taker

Fred Carrasco’s two-day media scheme met with

Estelle’s approval, in spite of the many things the frantic and misguided hostages told the reporters, some highly critical of him and the Texas Department of Corrections. The director felt as long as Carrasco was using the hostages for his propaganda purposes, they would be relatively safe. He was not using them for target practice. Then Cuevas instilled another huge dose of terror into the hostages. Their fear was heightened tremendously and its byproduct was a highly elevated sense of urgency in the hostages’ voices when they subsequently talked with their families and the media.

It started when Cuevas was still incensed following his animated telephone conversation with

Juanita Hernandez, his second wife and mother of the last four of his nine children, who called him from the Sheriff’s office in Pecos, Texas. Steaming over that apparent argument, the former farm laborer stormed over to Novella Pollard and Bobby Heard who were manning the barricade in front of the door. Pointing

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Seven—“He will kill those people.”

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Chapter Seven

July 25, 1974 • Day Two

“He will kill those people.”

—Father O’Brien, hostage

Somewhere around one o’clock on Thursday morning,

Father O’Brien made his last trip to the prison library.

Fred Carrasco offered to let him sleep at home, “Or, if he wants to sleep here, it’s up to him.” 1 O’Brien returned to the third-floor complex, bringing more sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, and minor medications such as aspirin and antacids. At least three times during the preceding twelve hours he had walked in and out, a courier of supplies and messages.

Each time he left, he promised the women he would come back. And each time he left, the wily Carrasco made the hostages move to another part of the library so the priest could not tell authorities exactly where they were. But the ever-suspicious Cuevas and

Dominguez were convinced that O’Brien was spying on them.

O’Brien was indeed giving the authorities as much information as he could. He told them more about

Bobby Heard, who was being constantly taunted by his captors with comments like, “Why don’t you run to the attic again, Heard?”2 He reported on the mirrors

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Two—“Let’s get the hell out of here.”

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Chapter Two

“Let’s get the hell out of here.”

—Steve Roach, inmate

The Texas Legislature created the Windham School

District in the Texas Department of Corrections in

1968. It was subject to the certification requirements and regulations of the Texas Education Agency and the State Board of Education. Its purpose was to provide educational and vocational opportunities for prison inmates that would help them when and if they returned to the general population. Attendance at once-a-week, six-hour classes was required for inmates having less than a fifth-grade education and it was voluntary for others. At the Walls Unit, the

Windham group of about fifteen teachers and librarians was housed on the 11,250 square-foot top floor of a rectangular, three-story building made of reinforced concrete faced with masonry bricks with steel roof trusses. It was, unintentionally, a fortress.

The 167-by-67 foot area was remodeled in 1972 from an auditorium into the educational facility. About fifty percent of the room’s interior was classroom, thirty percent was library, and the remaining twenty percent—which divided the two larger rooms—was

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