James Brockman rose from shady character to preeminent defense attorney in Houston, Texas by representing gang leaders, jilted spouses, wealthy storekeepers, drunken on-duty policemen, and more. His career gained national recognition, including his involvement in the most famous American murder case of the young twentieth century, when he himself was murdered leaving a dubious legacy.
Houston historian Mike Vance's book Getting Away with Bloody Murder examines Brockman, the criminals he defended, and the crimes they allegedly committed. In this episode, Vance shares several riveting stories from his book. As always on the show, he inserts one fictional detail. Try to identify what he made up, but be warned: it's not easy to know if something is fact or fiction.
Images and resources used in this episode can be found at factorfictionpodcast.com. If you enjoyed this show, please support the pod by giving it a five star rating, writing a complimentary review, or joining the Fact or Fiction Fan Club. Thanks for listening!
Fact or Fiction: Author Series presents Mike Vance
James Brockman Rose from shady character to preeminent defense attorney in Houston, Texas.
He represented clients including gang leaders, jilted spouses, wealthy storekeepers, and drunken on-duty policemen. These high profile true crime and murder accounts took place between 1895 and 19. They crossed racial lines revealing instances of separate and unequal justice in segregated Texas. These had a lasting effect on the city and the state.
His career gained national recognition, including his involvement in the most famous American murder case of the young 20th century when he himself was murdered, leaving behind a dubious legacy.
Hi there. Factor Fiction fans. I'm your host, Laura, and today I'm back with another installment of the Factor Fiction author series.
This is the series where a published author shares a little about themselves and their book, and then he tells me a mostly true story and challenges me to guess. The fiction inserted into our discuss.
Today's guest is Mike Vance. Mike is an award-winning writer, producer, historian, project strategist, voice talent actor, and comedian With four decades of professional experience.
Mike has published six books concerned with various aspects of Houston and its colorful history. In this episode, he's here to share the unbelievable story of a real character criminal defense attorney j b Brockman. As always on the show, Michael infuse his factual story with one fictional detail.
Will, I guess the fiction. Will you listen carefully because it is tricky to know if what you hear is fact or fiction ready to play.
. Hi Mike. Welcome to Factor Fiction.
Thank you so much for joining me today.
Thanks for having.
Oh, this is, this is gonna be a great story. Um, I read your, your bio there. Gosh, you do a lot of things. Um, I wanna learn a little bit about you before we talk about your book and, , you sure. Have a variety of skills.
Yeah. Um, just kind of followed whatever led me in a particular direction and sounded entertaining and, uh, tried to avoid any office job for my entire life. And that has mostly worked. The only offices that I ever worked in were radio and television stations, um, which it's a, a great environment for the most part, but you're also prone to, uh, be fired at any given moment for no reason whatsoever.
Uh, so I've been through that a few times, and, uh, Ran a museum for, uh, a while, worked at another museum doing programming, um, as you mentioned, did comedy and toured, uh, all over the English speaking world for 20 plus years, I guess
fun. So was your, was your comedy history based, obviously you're interested in history, did you?
No, no, I, I went to, uh, UT Austin and, uh, was a government and history major, and then immediately did nothing with that at all. Started performing and doing voiceover and, uh, from there went into media and I was working, doing a sports show at a television station in Houston and had always read history and visited history museums and, messed around with it, you know, just as a hobby.
And I went in and pitched a local history show. to the general manager at the station where I was doing sports, and he sat there, one of those guys that stared out the window and you're thinking, he's not listening to me at all. And then he finally turned around and goes, okay, let's do it. So I started doing this history show and then started writing history books and making documentaries and all kinds of fun things like that.
Wow. That, that sounds amazing. Um, that, that's kind of like a dream job, I think.
It was great.
yeah. Yeah. Oh, what, so what was your show called?
Uh, postcards from Texas.
Postcards from Texas. Is it still out there? Can we see it on YouTube somewhere?
I, it may, some of them may be on YouTube. Um, the station sold, uh, which is what Normally Happens, and everyone got fired and, um, they didn't want to share the, the product. They kept telling me they were going to do something with it, they never did. And so it's sitting in a vault somewhere.
But one of my producers, um, I'm sorry, one of my editors, I think put some stuff up on YouTube, so you may be able to see a few little pieces up there. , I've done a lot of short videos though, that are history videos through a couple of nonprofits that I had.
So if you're looking around YouTube, go to Night Heron Media or Houston, arts and Media, both of those have YouTube channels.
and have tons of video on Texas history and Houston history and fun stuff.
Wow. All right, so now are you from Texas originally?
And , born in Houston. Um, lived in Los Angeles for a little while, working during the comedy years and writing script, writing years and, um back in rural Texas where most of my neighbors are cattle.
Well, they don't talk back.
No, they do talk
They . They do . So that's fascinating. Um, so what was it that, that drew you specifically to Brockman's story? I'm guessing there's the Houston angle, but what else?
I was working on a book, , called Murder and Mayhem in Houston with a buddy of mine and , He had been a, a magazine writer, had written for, a couple of magazines in Texas. And, I was more of a history background, so I was doing the World War II and earlier kind of things, and he was doing the more recent ones.
And I ran across this story that is a chapter in the, in that book called, , the Heights House of Horrors. And it was a 1910 case that, , broke in the newspaper on St. Patrick's Day. And they had discovered the bodies of five people piled on top of each other in this little bitty house.
And it very gruesome, they were beaten to death.
Um, a family of four
and their border, and all of them very young. There were two very young, , kids there. And the. The story really never got solved. Nobody ever got convicted of this crime, and it's a, a fascinating story with all kinds of twists and turns to it. Um, 1910, they had certain technology like fingerprints that they never used.
In this case. , they talked about a bloody thumbprint being on the windowsill, and then they never examined the thumbprint, never tried to fingerprint anyone. Brockman was the attorney and they had charged a guy who was having an affair with the wife
and a long running affair. Uh, to the point that they had, the, the couple they were named, the Schultz's had been thrown out of the place they were living because the husband Gus would go to work and the boyfriend would show up, and the landlady found that.
Terribly unseemly and finally made them move.
And, , so they charged this guy, his name was Sandy Sheffield, and they charged him , with the crime and let him go. Within days. He did a little press conference, I guess you'd call it, on his porch, talking to the newspaper reporters, holding his own daughter in his arms, standing next to his wife
with the attorney there and said, you know, I, I knew that you would come looking for me because I used to run around with her, but that doesn't happen anymore.
Well, he had been at a party the Friday night, which was the last time these people were seen alive. They had no evidence. They let him go. And a year later, a guy steps forward and says he was an accomplice. They arrest him again. It turns out the accomplice, I mean this is a tangled web.
The accomplice, they finally let go after several months because the district attorney said we can't use anything he gave us with the implication being that the police had roughed him up on some level to get him to confess.
Sandy Sheffield sat in jail for almost a year, and they finally, in 1913, so three years after the event, they finally let him go.
instead of moving away, which you would think that , whether you did it or not, um, after you've been accused of five homicides, you would leave town and move somewhere else.
He stayed in Houston and lived there until 1970 when he died. , so Brockman was his attorney, and I kind of filed that away. Didn't even really mention Brockman much in that chapter. But as I'm researching other stories, I kept finding Brockman as this attorney. And the stories just got juicier and juicier and deeper and more involved, and it's just great stuff.
So I started holding those back for another book. And when I started working on the book and then found out the connection to some of these other cases and that all of this connected in one way or or another, , to Brockman's own demise, , it was just too good. So that's how I came up. That's a very long way of saying
no, it was fascinating. That's why we're here to hear about these stories. So, so the Sheffield, so did his wife stay with him all that time? Do you know?
I don't know. , Sheffield was working for Magnolia Brewery and he was a mechanic and they had to make ice and so. He was the guy that kept the ice machines going, and then prohibition came in and, , the brewery downsized a lot and he ended up going to a different ice plant and, uh like I said, stayed in the Houston area till he died in 1970.
So 60 years he would've been around Houston with at least some people knowing that he had been accused of killing five people.
that in a really horrific way. And so the five deaths that you said they were, was it, was it the wife and the husband and the children and the border? Is that correct? Okay.
that is correct. And, uh, the parents of the two, the wife and the husband had them buried in separate cemeteries, so they, they knew that this was not a happy marriage between the young couple. And, , it, it's just, it's a really sad but fascinating.
Exactly. I'm fascinated by these stories too. So, so, back to Brockman. So he wasn't originally from Houston, is that right?
He's from Georgia, uh, was born in Georgia, and one of the things about him is that he, throughout his life, made up his entire life story.
He always admitted that he was from Georgia. He didn't
change that, but depending on who he was talking to and he loved the press, he would, would love giving newspaper interviews, but he would say, yes, I was an attorney in New York City, or I was an attorney in Cincinnati, or an attorney in New Orleans.
None of which was true. , the story was that his dad had been killed during the Civil War when Brockman was a a little child, single digit child.
And his family had kind of scattered. He had one brother that stayed with him, throughout his life and they seemed to move from place to place. And I did a lot of research trying to pin down and follow these stories.
And most of what Brockman had told, the press was just made up to make himself look good. He had no legal training whatsoever. he had worked, they had lived in Pine Bluff, Arkansas for quite a while, and they had lived in, uh, the Dallas Fort Worth area, their stories. He showed up, he was arrested in Waco, Texas, um, while he was trying to climb out or into a hotel window in the middle of the night.
And he ran and the police shot him and apparently shot one of his fingers
and. So he had no background as an attorney whatsoever. He had tried tried passing himself off as a bridge engineer at one point and worked on a project. He got a job selling telephone service when it was relatively new.
So this booming tech industry, you can imagine he's selling telephones except the company he worked for was not the patent holder. And the Alexander Graham Bell Companies sued the other company the one Brockman was working for, and they won. And so Brockman was out of a job there. Um, he was in Fort Worth and, told people that he had this idea that was working in other cities, and I think sold a city on putting up street signs
like the Poles, poles and street signs that we have.
, and this would've been in the late 1880s, so he made a little money doing that. And he, he was always kind of a cross between an entrepreneur and a conman
and just a fascinating guy. And then he somehow segues into being this attorney.
So he must have been a pretty good attorney though. I mean, it seems like he was well known and if he got uh, Sheffield off, you know,
He won almost all his cases.
And, um, he was a really, really fast learner, I'll put it that way, because there are mistakes that he made early in his legal career,
Brockman would go to the courthouse.
and sit there and try to pick up clients. Um, see who was being charged with a crime and catch 'em at the back of the courtroom and go, Hey, sounds like you need an attorney. So that's how he got some of his early work. , but within, and this was about 1895. By 1902 thereabouts, he was doing appeals and people that had lost their court cases would come to Brockman and he would take their their, uh, case to the Court of Criminal Appeals, and oftentimes he would win.
No training whatsoever in the law,
never a member of the Bar Association
and. He was successful in appealing these rather complex cases. There was one particular small time criminal case that he did the appeal for, that seems to be his first appeal and he messed it up and he learned his lessons and didn't do that again.
So he was a smart guy.
Yes, he was a, a very, very smart guy.
Maybe not, uh, morally, uh, he had some kind of, uh, fuzzy morals. I'd say
I think that's probably true as well. Um, although there are indications that he had this personal moral code that he stuck. that was in some ways very admirable. He had a, he had a Jewish law partner at a time when the biggest firms in Houston, and this was true throughout the south, would not hire a Jewish lawyer.
I know that's true in Atlanta. I know it's true in Houston, in Dallas and in other major cities. Um, he had a guy named Henry Kahn that was his law partner, who was, uh, from ssas, Lorraine and had immigrated to the United States, ended up in North Texas. , just, he and his sister had fled there.
His parents had died. And so he ended up in Texas and, uh, was another smart guy and became an attorney. And Brockman took him in as his partner, and it was Brockman and Khan for. Several years until they added a third partner. But the top five firms for a long time, the biggest five firms refused to hire any Jewish lawyers.
And there was a guy named, uh, Dean Keaton that was running the University of Texas Law School. And in 1959,
um, so we're talking again half a century after Brockman and Khan, , Dean Keaton told all these law firms, if you want to recruit my law students at the University of Texas, which was by far and away the best law school in the state, then you're gonna have to start hiring Jewish lawyers or else I will ban you from coming on campus.
And it worked.
So Brockman was, in that sense, Brockman was half a century. Ahead of the big firms in Houston? , as far as his open-mindedness
Well, , what was his name? Khan
Yes. In recovery.
Henry Khan. So if he was talented and , he was actually a trained lawyer, I'm assuming he had actual legal background. So what a smart move on Brockman's part to hire a, a partner that had that legal background that he himself didn't have.
So, interesting. He's, he's a complex guy. Um, along that line, , did Brockman have a family?
he did. He had, uh, a wife and a daughter.
, the daughter after Brockman's death, , the wife really hung on to her identity as his husband.
So you don't see her show up a lot in any stories, but her actions after his death indicate that they were close because she continued even submitting him to these biographical vanity books that were popular at the time after he was gone.
Uh, and most of those people that, that submitted and paid that fee to be in those great men of Texas or whatever they're called, um, they did so because it was an advertisement for their business. There was nothing for her to gain by putting her late husband in there. And yet she did. She continued to be listed as Mrs.
James Brockman or JB Brockman for another 30 years in the phone book.
, the daughter was an interesting case. She had gone to the best schools. . But then she ended up meeting a guy that was an itinerant filmmaker that
when, if you could imagine when movies were new, um, there were all these people that would go around the country with a camera and show up in a, a city and say, we're gonna make a movie and we're gonna use all these local people.
And they would hold auditions and sometimes people would pay to be in the film, and then they would show the movie at a local movie house and leave town. And some of those still exist and they're of the quality that you would expect with untrained local people, being all the actors. But, one of the guys happened to marry Brockman's daughter, , who was a complete scam artist and bilked all of the money that he could out of her.
and left town. Come to find out he was probably still married to one and maybe two other women. Um, he was finally arrested and sent to prison somewhere in California. And it, it's, another, , interesting and sad tale ,
You know, the guy probably was this dashing filmmaker type. He was a, he was a, a Hungarian immigrant, , the filmmaker. So you can imagine that he had this interesting accent and showing up with. cameras, movie cameras, and she's dreaming of Mary Pickford and Doug Fairbanks and whoever the stars were at the time.
But she, she got taken for quite a bit of
Aw, that's sad. So, this was probably in the 1930s, 1920s when this
No, that was not long after it was, uh, like 1915.
1915. Okay. So, so when Brockman first came or to Houston, you said 1895. Can you tell me what kind of place Houston was? It, I mean, now it's this booming city , , tell me what it was like then.
Well, now, , Metro Houston has about 8 million people and back then the city population was about 45,000. , maybe double that in the surrounding. Area or maybe a little less than doubled that in the surrounding area.
Houston has always been very similar to New Orleans in a lot of ways because it's that Gulf Coast City. , so throughout its history, and of course New Orleans throughout most of that history was much bigger than Houston.
, But New Orleans has a lot of the same qualities as, as Houston does, and that was especially true then. , the Bayou that you hear about in Louisiana are Houston's, one of its nicknames is the Bayou City. And so it, it had these water courses that, , cut all, all through it. , it was a thriving city.
The thing about Houston that's interesting and that would've appealed to Brockman, is that it has grown exponentially every 10 years throughout, no matter what life through at it, Houston always grows, and there are three times that Houston's population doubled from one census to the next one, which is kind of mind boggling.
It really is. Yeah.
Um, and even during war time because of its port and rail, all these people moved to work in war industries and a lot of them stayed. So Houston thrived and it has always had this, this attitude that people can come and reinvent themselves
that would've appealed to Brockman and,
It sounds like he reinvented himself regularly.
So it really, it was the perfect place for him to come in, make up a story that he was this trained attorney and, um, in his case, he somehow made that work. It's really kind of,
So that actually answers , one of the other questions I, I submitted was, why was a town like Houston such a great place for somebody like Brockman? And you just said it's a place where you can , reinvent yourself, become somebody new. Now were people suspicious of him, or did he just have a manner that , that made everyone believe what he said?
If you're talking about it first, um, I, I think that he probably had a lot of friends in the legal community , and when he died, you know, that he had a lot of friends in the legal community because they closed the courts. , so he was a big deal. They closed the local courts for his funeral and there were all these testimonials at the same time.
And again, I'm probably gonna be answering another future question here, but, um, at the same time , various cases that he did, there would be an outcry from the public. And this was later on in his career because , they viewed him as getting criminals off. And that was probably true across most of America.
That criminal defense attorneys were not looked upon by the general public as being great people. And that was especially true with Brockman. There was a, the Heights House of Horror case that I was talking about, such an outcry that they were talking about this crime wave in Houston at the time, and there was a petition to stop him from practicing law because they just really didn't.
Think that this was serving justice, having an attorney that was that capable of getting in their, in the public's mind. The guilty set free
Yeah, I think that's an interesting point in our legal system ,
Yeah, it's an adversarial system. That's how it works. And you, the reader can read the book and, and they'll bring their own view into reading the book. So some of them will find Brockman a little more palatable than others, I'm sure.
So Well, , and then the whole time in the back of your mind, like he's lying about his training. So, you know, I'm sure that adds a little bit of seasoning to the stories.
There was a case in 1895 that is the first one that he was involved in, and it kind of gives a little glimpse as to how he might have learned enough about the law to start calling himself a lawyer at the time. And I had mentioned earlier that he was never a member of the bar.
You didn't have to be, , you had to basically convince a judge in any judicial level court in Texas that you were qualified. You would go to the judge and you would say, Hey, I want to become a lawyer.
And the judge would ask you some questions and that differed, I'm sure, from court to court. And he would say, okay, you seem to know enough. And, and now you're a lawyer. Brockman this case , uh, , the public knew it as the triple tragedy. And , there was a guy, a lawyer, , whose last name was Mitchell, and he came from a family of lawyers in a town called Richmond, Texas, which is one county to the southwest of, of Harris County where Houston is, uh, today it's all metropolitan Houston.
It's. people may have heard of Sugarland, Texas. It's where Sugarland is, Fort Bend County, Texas. And so the Mitchell family, , they were the big lawyers in this county and the one young son named Jim Mitchell, an attorney, showed up at the train station in Houston.
And if you can kind of think of that as the airport of the day, it's how people traveled between cities. And he sees a guy that he was feuding with and pulled out a gun. The guy that he was feuding with saw him and pulled out his gun and carrying weapons, by the way, was illegal. So both of them were in, they were in violation, uh, in both cases, but they start shooting at one another.
And Jim Mitchell. Kills the guy that he was aiming at and two other people that were in the group. It becomes evident, , from the little forensic evidence that they were actually trying to, , utilize and recreations of who was facing where that it was actually the guy that Mitchell intended to hit that killed the other two people.
Not, not Mitchell, it was the other guy shooting back that's spraying bullets everywhere. , he shot some little old woman that was, was there, , she did not die. Um, one of the people that did die from , the intended victim, shooting him was a, uh, horse-drawn taxi driver who was standing there and drinking and hanging out with his buddies.
Um, so he was one of the people that died. The Mitchell gets locked up and immediately starts saying, well, I didn't do anything wrong. You know, the other guy is the one that killed the bystanders, and he kept saying, I'm an attorney. I, I can't do anything wrong. So there's, as you can imagine, there's this army of lawyers that are involved on all the sides and way down at the sixth chair is James Brockman.
Brockman had lived in Richmond and apparently knew the Mitchells and I looked through all of the cases in Fort Bend County, could not find anything where he's the attorney of record in Fort Bend County, but they had him there, so it, they were probably training him somehow. and Houston's the big city. So that's where he moved.
And it all coincided with this triple tragedy. There was also a guy that was brought in to be an attorney from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where Brockman and his brother had lived 20 years earlier. So chances are good that they knew one another. So he may have had this idea that he was going to become a lawyer for a while,
even while he was doing these other things.
Um, that's the best evidence I have as to his path to the law. The Jim Mitchell case, he got bailed out and let go. The trial got postponed and then there were two other killings in other towns, , where it's revenge. Somebody wants to shoot somebody else and Mitchell's brother. Killed somebody else that was part of this feud going on.
And then ultimately somebody else shot Jim Mitchell and killed him in Richmond, uh, before he could come to trial.
So it sounds like there were a couple openings for law positions.
Yes. Yes. I think the ranks of lawyers in Richmond, Texas got rather decimated over that. Yes.
So, so was the, was the man that, that Mitchell shot in the initial triple tragedy, was he a lawyer also?
No, he was a constable, um, that another town called Eagle Lake, um, again, southwest of Houston. And this, although it never really fully got explained, I think some of this had to do with a woman. Mitchell had been, um, married
to a woman who left him like within months, and the constable had kind of taken her in.
The constable was married himself and said, you know, I'm just, we're just helping this. Young woman out, but there may have been more to it and there's insults and accusations going back and forth.
Yeah, the feuding in that, that era was, was actually pretty common. Um, and it was, , it was frequently, it was the prominent people, the lawmakers, and the lawyers, and the constables, and a, and it's a little disturbing when we consider that our, our laws, a lot of them were, were made by these people who would get angry when somebody called them an impertinent puppy and angry enough to kill somebody.
I think a lot of it had to do with the way you said that. And if you kinda laughed it off, they might laugh with you if you had a certain look on your face, they. Take real offense at it. One of the stories in here is another feud in another county that is, , down here called Waller County, Texas, tiny little county, and, uh, still is today.
And there was, , a US congressman and he was shot, , in a major shootout inside the county courthouse in Waller County.
, over arguments about prohibit.
and because that was before national prohibition came along, there was this 40 year period of, of counties going dry and wet. And it has a lot of racial elements to it because one of the, the people involved, his brother had been out to threaten a black church and tell those people not to come vote because he knew they would vote against prohibition and there was this big shootout and um, the congressman was right in the middle of it and, um, got shot and killed.
Brockman later was involved defending cuz this feud kind of kept going.
And Brockman was later one of , the attorneys defending one of the, the parties in another shootout.
Oh my goodness. So now is this in, this is in the book, right? Or is this just okay. I mean, it seems to me like you've got this encyclopedic knowledge of Brockman that, um, I could see you easily just throwing something out that's just an extra thing that didn't make it in, uh, . So, so what was the case that actually made his name?
Tough to say. , they're levels of name, but in the late 1890s, um, like I said, he was scrambling for cases and he even later on, it's not like he turned somebody away because of a moral high bar. Um, but he was defending a guy named Sid Preacher, who was a very young gang leader, is what it amounted to.
And, , Sid Preacher about maybe 19 or 20 years old, had killed three African-American, , young people as well. Let me back up for a second here. The divisions racially, and this is not unique to Houston, but it's throughout the south certainly and probably northern cities as well.
Segregation in a lot of cases, , was most rigid where wealthy or middle class people were. And when you got to the lower economic strata, things were less segregated. And there was this theater that they called, so it's a bar, and they put on shows like a burlesque kind of thing, and it was integrated and , it's in Houston and so.
The best evidence suggests that Sid preacher was hitting on this black woman and one of the other guys, one of the black men did not appreciate that they got into an argument. The guy pulled out a knife and cut Sid Preacher on the ear. Sid preacher ran to this other store, , that was owned by an Italian immigrant.
And he rounded up his, his boys, you know, his posse more or less to go back to confront the African American group that's hanging out in this, it sounds like a big oversized alley behind this, uh, theater.
And uh, they've armed themselves.
At this point, preacher kills three people and shoots them in this alley and. Then his gun is unloaded and he's just about to be killed in return when these two cops show up, , both African American who were patrolling this neighborhood and basically pulled him out of there before they would kill him, Brockman becomes preacher's attorney and gets him off for all three of the killings.
Even though it's very clear evidence, um, there's probably this police threatening behavior, uh, that's involved because the witness statement changes by the time it gets to court.
Where we saw this, some evidence disappears again, probably thanks to the police force. , so Sid preacher gets off and he's emboldened and now becomes this gang leader, and, um, .
There's all kinds of stories. He branches out into some other cities in Texas, , doing these robberies. There's a great episode in there that , takes a place in LaGrange, Texas made famous by the Zizi Top song. Not the story the town of LaGrange for a different reason, but, ,
I was like, I dunno, that
So at any rate, , that involves a guy named Foot and a Half Butler because he had lost half his foot in something or other, which is one of the great nicknames. Um, but Preacher ultimately is, defended by Brockmann and, and Brockmann will call him as a consultant to sit there when he is defending these other gang members.
And it's, it's really seedy. You know what Brockman's doing? . Ultimately, Sid Preacher gets in a gun battle with two Houston police officers on the streets in downtown Houston, and all three of them are killed. They're shooting at one another. So preacher kills these two police officers, and as one of them is laying in the gutter dying, he manages to get his gun and kill.
Preacher Brockman is charged with murder because,
wait. Rock. Oh, okay.
so the police, the Houston police are so outraged by all of this that they go and they charge Brockman with murder for allegedly telling Sid Preacher that if anybody from the police tries to arrest you without a warrant, That's the accusation. So Brockman is thrown in jail on a murder charge
and, um, ultimately they let him go, but he stays there for about four or five
So he talks his, he talks his way out of it, I guess, then.
Well, the other, the other attorneys, the district attorney basically talked down the police chief that had had him thrown in jail.
Okay, so the police at that time, I'm assuming were a little corrupt from what you're telling me.
Yes. Again, not unique to Houston,
No . Exactly.
but yes, they were very corrupt and very racist and, um,
Well, it sounds like you said even the black police were. on, uh, Sid Preacher side against the other
well, I think they just wanted to stop the killing at that
okay. Okay. I can maybe , uh, SU suspect the answer, but why do you say Brockman was the best criminal lawyer in Texas.
Well, it wasn't, it's not my saying. It was the New York, the New York Times said that,
um, and this goes back to the William Marsh Rice case.
William Marsh Rice was the guy who posthumously founded Rice University, which is one of the
most esteemed academic institutions in the United States. , , rice was a supremely rich guy.
If you, and let me preface this by saying one of my absolute pet peeves as a historian is the term in today's dollars because, That's the biggest crock you can ever come up with. It's just not possible to do. Anyone who does that doesn't know what they're talking about. Eggs, for example, that cost $4 and 25 cents.
Now, perfect example because if you try to do this one graph of how things have changed, well, eggs were a dollar and a quarter, five years ago,
so that makes no sense. You know, they were, if you go back 10 years, they may have been $2 and 50 cents. If you look at the price of a loaf of bread, , in 1850 and use that graph, then bread should be about $38. so, you know, it's absurdities. Having said that, William Marsh Rice would've been a billionaire by today's standards. He was from Springfield, Massachusetts, and, um, moved , to Houston and made his fortune and the Civil War broke out and he tried to play it on both sides.
He didn't wanna lose all of his investment, which was now in the Confederacy. So he moved to Madam Moros in Mexico and directed his operations, still making all of his money through cotton and shipping and retail in the South. But he's living in Mexico and he was smart enough after the Civil War ended to say, you know, the economy down here is not gonna be strong. So I'm moving to New York City.
Which he did. Although he continued to own everything in the South and continued investing in things in the south and continued making more and more money, he became a very old man living in New York City, and he was not in great health and he died. And his valet, a guy named , uh Charlie Freeman Jones, , was accused of, of killing him and conspiring with this attorney named Albert Patrick.
It became what was known as the trial of the century, even though the alleged murder took place in 1900. So technically it wasn't even in that century, but, uh, it, it was this enormous trial. You could not. Pick up a newspaper anywhere in America without front page stories about the William Marsh Rice trial.
And they were accusing, , Charlie Jones of having killed him with chloroform, holding it over his face. All of these people came out, these experts, medical experts and said, that's not possible. , there's so many holes in the story . Charlie Freeman said he threw the chloroform rag into the stove, the wood stove, and it combusted.
All these experts say, doesn't happen. Chloroform won't do that. Um, the stove, by the way, had all of the ashes in there and nothing that indicated there was a rag in there. So all of the experts today
say that rice probably was not murdered.
The other side of the story. is that Patrick, the lawyer, was trying to defraud this old man and tricking him into signing things so he could steal large chunks of his fortune.
The das in New York never charged Charlie Jones with this murder. They only charged Albert Patrick with murder as part of a conspiracy. , Charlie Jones made a statement and then disappeared. The lawyers hit him away, and part of this was being pushed by the group of lawyers in Houston who were trying to set up Rice University and did not want this money to go away because that was the endowment for this, this university.
So they're working with all the district attorneys in New York City and Manhattan. It became this enormous trial. Ultimately, Albert Patrick is convicted of murder, sentenced to death, and sent to Sing Sing.
so he's there, there are these different, , intrigues that, that uh, he had a very wealthy, , brother-in-law who spent a lot of money on good lawyers, and
ultimately Brockman was brought in to find Charlie Jones that has been hidden away somewhere, and he's tasked with being paid by Patrick's brother-in-law. Mind you finding, finding Charlie Jones and getting him to recant the statement that he made,
and in all of that, , the New York Times referred to him as the best criminal lawyer in Texas.
Wow. Oh, what a tangled. Tangled story.
it's, it gets even more so, and, um, has to do with, and I don't want to dwell on this, I want people to buy the book and read. It has to do with Brockman ultimately being killed himself.
Ooh. So, so Brockman was murdered. Right.
Okay. And that maybe that that's related somehow to this whole William Marsh Rice, rice University, Albert Pa, maybe, oh man, you're leaving us hanging
Well, I, it's, it's, there's nothing definitive, so you'll, you know, you'll need to weigh the statements and weigh the evidence. Um, Albert Patrick, by the way, did ultimately get out of prison. And , I've mentioned that the modern experts do not think rice was murdered. . , they do think that Albert Patrick forged his signature on a bunch of things to steal the money.
So the, the conspiracy was real.
just that rice died of natural causes and one of the theories of the natural causes, he was not in good health. Rice had a fascination with keeping regular,
and he had, he had eaten, um, a more than dozen bananas and started having all of these cramps and all of that.
And so the, one of the theories going around is he was killed by eating too many bananas.
Death by banana. All.
So I had a couple more questions, but I think, you know, we're already at, at 12 o'clock. Um, is there, just real quick, is there anything else that you wanna add before we go to the fiction
yeah, let me, let me add one other thing here. Um, I mentioned at the outset that Brockman had his own moral code. He defended a lot of black defendants throughout his career and fought just as hard that includes in the appeals process. And that was one of the things , that he regularly did. But it goes farther than that. There was a black attorney, , one of the few named, uh, Vance Lewis.
Louisiana born trained at a law school in Chicago that, , ended up in Houston and Jay Vance Lewis was winning all these cases and the white lawyers didn't like it. So they, they fabricated this charge against him and took away, and this is kind of telling, they didn't take away his entire law license.
They banned him from practicing in the criminal courts. So he did a whole bunch of divorce cases while this ban went on. They kept postponing the hearings on this and Brockman became his attorney and ultimately vindicated him. And j Vance Lewis wrote a memoir, , toward the end of his life and called JB Brockman, one of his best friends and the savior for getting him restored to practicing criminal law.
, So there's, there are these things that really recommend Brockman, and then there is other behavior that you go, wow, , you know, that's not too defensible.
You talked about a lot of lawyers that, uh, you know, were officially trained and, and they were pretty bad guys. Like the Patrick Albert, Patrick trying to
Oh, yeah, he, Albert Patrick was a conman and, uh, a thief and all of that. , he ended up, I don't know if you ever read a book called, uh oh, is it The Flower Moon? ,
About , the Osage and their oil in Oklahoma.
And Albert Patrick , was out there trying to buy up these leases and involved in it. So he's not one of the main guys.
And gently, he was probably one of the guys trying to make money off of these, these Osage tribal members that owned oil leases after he got sprung outta prison in New York. So not a lot to recommend. Albert Patrick is a great guy.
No, no. Wow, wow. This is some interesting stuff. Um, and, and every time I, I do one of these interviews, I, there are so many things you could have made up in that story, um, . Um, so, alright Mike, I think it's time for us to play factor fiction , but before we do that, let's pause a moment for a word from our sponsor and then we'll be right back.
, welcome back listeners. I am here with Mike Vance, the author of Getting Away with Bloody Murder, and he has just shared an unbelievable but mostly true story about criminal lawyer JB Brockman. And he's agreed to give me four details from the story, one of which is a complete fabrication.
. I'm ready. Let's hear it, Mike.
Okay, first, um, during the Sid preacher gang era, there was a guy that was, uh, defended by James Brockman, whose name was Foot and a Half Butler, because he had lost half of his foot.
Oh, . That has to be true. Okay.
Two. Brockman was so successful at getting. Criminals freed that there was a petition to have him removed from practicing law. Three. Brockman's daughter ended up getting married to a conman filmmaker and fleeced for all of her money.
Four. William Marsh Rice died because he was so devoted to staying regular that he ate too many banana.
Oh wow, okay. These are really good, good choices so, okay, I don't, I, I never know what's true and what's not, so I'm just gonna pick the ones that I want to be true so, um, man, I really love this idea. The first one that there was a, a man that he defended that was called fit and a half or foot and a half tall.
What was his name again?
Foot and a half Butler.
Foot and a half butler because he lost half of his foot . That's just awful. Um, but I'm gonna say that's true just because I want it to be true. . Another one I want to be true is that William Marsh Rice died because he ate too many bananas. So I'm gonna say that's true. So it's down to the, uh, petition and the daughter. Ooh, okay. I think he did, I think his daughter did run off with a conman. So I'm gonna say that your fiction was that they tried to remove him from law practice.
Maybe I need to be a better liar because you're correct.
were amazing. So, so he really did this theory is he died cuz he ate too many bananas trying to
That was, that was one of the theories. Um, they also had discussed poisoning him with Mercury. And the experts were saying the amount that he may have been given, it would've taken years, uh, you know, for that to actually have any effect. Um, the chloroform thing was completely discounted by every expert that came into court.
There was also a maid who was the witness to this, and keep in mind, we're talking New York City here because she was black. They did have her on the stand briefly, but they never made a big deal out of her testimony. They kind of discounted it, uh, because she was not a white witness.
Oh my goodness.
So the modern, uh, all the modern signs point to that William Marsh Rice died because he was old and sick. , , he was always a very diminutive man, but at the time he weighed, I, I wanna say 90 pounds or 85 pounds or something. He was this tiny little man who was in his eighties and withering away.
Um, so it's, it's hardly a stretch to say that he died of natural causes
While they were trying to cheat him out of all his
right, right. That's so sad. I, I wanna learn more about him actually. He sounds. . Interesting. Um, that's, I could go, I could send all my time like going off on little, uh, rabbit holes on all these interesting
Well, the rabbit holes are the fun part.
They are, I think so too. Well, well, Mike, I have had such a good time talking with you and, um, thanks for participating on my show.
, everybody I've posted a link to Getting Away With Bloody Murder on Factor fiction podcast.com, as well as on the Factor Fiction Facebook page. , absolutely you need to, you need to check this out because you wanna know, at least I wanna know how , JB Brockman was murdered. That sounds so fascinating.
Could be the most, could be the most involved and twisted tale of all of them. , and hopefully the link is to send people to my website Mike Vance writer.com. And it has a store and they can buy it through there, that book and other books, and future books and all kinds of.
Oh, okay. Definitely.
And, um, I have actually taken this entire brockmann getting away with bloody murder stuff and am starting to turn that into a fictional series.
So try in my hand at historical fiction. And, um, I'm about a fourth of the way through book one, but I've identified 22 stories that will hold up for book length if I really wanna do this. And if they're success.
Oh, that sounds awesome. I would love to read that. As you were, as you were describing it, I kept picturing that it would make an amazing, uh, screenplay, .
I think so too. If anybody wants to buy the, the screen rights, me know.
Well, , uh, I'll plug that there with the, with all the information about you. But thank you so much for doing this. And then if, you know, if you wanna be back on to talk about another book, that would be great. Maybe you can fool me that time,
Yeah, yeah. Cuz obviously I failed miserably at
Oh, you did great. Those were great choices. Thanks again, Mike. I really, I had a great time talking with you,
Thanks a bunch.
All right, well, we'll talk later and, uh, all right. Bye.
Have a good day.