My 2 Year Old Has A Rash On His Face Willis Newton Interview – 1979

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Willis Newton Interview – 1979

Willis Newton was Texas’ longest-living outlaw who robbed more than 80 banks and trains. He and his band of outlaws stole more than Jessie James, the Daltons, and all the rest of the Old West outlaws combined. Their biggest haul occurred in 1924 when they robbed a train out of Rondout, Illinois, making off with $3,000,000. They still hold the record for the largest train robbery in US history.

In 1979, I interviewed Willis Newton at his home in Uvalde, Texas. A few months later the outlaw died at the age of 90.

When I went up and knocked on Willis Newton’s door there was no answer. After a minute I heard a rough grunt, “It’s open. Come in.”

Entering the dilapidated clapboard house with the cleared yard, I saw a small, wizened old man peering at me from his rocking chair. “What the hell do you want?”

“Mr. Newton, I’m the guy who called you yesterday and I wanted to ask you some questions.”

“I’m not talking to anybody about my life. I’m going to sell that to Hollywood for a ton of money.”

I knew then that interviewing the old outlaw was going to be a tough nut to crack. As best I could, I reminded him of our phone conversation the day before when I asked him to give me some details on how to rob a bank or a train. I told him I was writing a paperback novel (which was true) and needed help portraying a factual description of how the robberies occurred (which was also true). After a few moments of thought, he motioned to a chair in the small living room and agreed to answer “just a few questions.”

In contrast to the cold weather outside, it was warm and stuffy in their crowded living room heated by a small wall-mounted gas heater. I quickly unloaded my tape recorder and after a brief conversation with Willis, handed him the microphone. I asked him how to organize a bank robbery and what it involved robbing a train. Then, like lighting a wind up toy, Willis began to tell me his life story. Occasionally, I managed to ask additional questions, but for the most part he ransacked the well-rehearsed accounts of his life in machine-gun fashion, rationalizing everything he had done, blaming others for his incarcerations, and repeatedly claiming that he had only robbed “others thieves”.

I had no idea what to expect when I walked into his little house that day, but what I found was the quintessence of the criminal mind. Everything I had done was justified by external forces: “No one ever gave me anything. All I got was hell!” As I listened with rapt attention, he sat center stage speaking in a high-pitched husky voice, pontificating on a variety of subjects of his choosing. Lacing his speech with copious amounts of profanity, vulgarity and racial slurs, Willis was quite articulate in telling his stories: a master of fractured grammar. Sometimes he would go into mythological story-telling mode where he would talk about killing rabbits and camping while on the run from law enforcement. Then, with a little push, he would get back to the basic facts of his story.

In the process, he told me how he was raised as a child and how he was first arrested for a crime “they knew I didn’t do.” He detailed his first bank robbery, how he “greased” a safe with nitroglycerin, robbed trains and eluded the law enforcement officers who came after him. Willis described the Texas bank robberies in Boerne, San Marcos, New Braunfels and Hondo (two in one night). He also reported on the double bank robbery in Spencer, Indiana and went on to report bank robberies in a multitude of other states.

Finally, he recounted the events of the Toronto Bank Clearing House robbery in 1923, and finally the great train robbery out of Rondout, Illinois, where he and his brothers made off with $3,000,000 in cash, jewelry and bonds. He went into great detail about the beatings he and his brothers received from the Chicago police when they were later captured. As he told the story his face reddened and his voice rose to a high-pitched squeak until he had to pause to catch his breath. Then, lowering his voice, he described how he managed to negotiate a shrewd deal with a postal inspector to reduce prison terms for him and his brothers by revealing where the loot was hidden.

He spoke of his years in prison in Leavenworth and the illegal businesses he ran in Tulsa, Okla., after he was released from prison in 1929. He complained bitterly about being sent back to prison in McAlester, Okla., for a bank robbery. he didn’t,” in Medford.

After returning to Uvalde, Texas, after his release from prison, Willis swore he “never got in trouble with the law after that.” When I asked him about his older brother’s botched bank robbery in Rowena, Texas in 1968, he exploded, “They tried to catch me as a getaway driver, but hell, I was in Laredo, over 400 miles away! I had 12. witnesses. who they said was there the night old Doc and RC were caught.”

At the end of the interview, I asked him to comment on the Rondout booty buried in Texas by his brother, Jess. He said he knew where he was buried, but not exactly where because “Jess was drunk on whiskey when he hid it.” Looking at the frail old man dressed in a worn union suit and stained trousers, Willis didn’t look like he had any loot left from any of his robberies; although, it was rumored locally that he would occasionally spend money that appeared to have been printed during the 1920s or 1930s.

Finally, I turned off the recorder and thanked him for helping me with the details I needed for my paperback Western. Walking back to my car, my mind was reeling from the stories I had just heard. The idea of ​​writing a book about the old outlaw had never crossed my mind and I was very frank in telling him that I was a writer of fiction and not a biographer. But what a story he told!

The following week I put the cassette tapes in a safe deposit box thinking the information might be useful for a future writing project. A few years later, I transcribed the tapes, added my notes, and filed the interview. Then while working on another book I came across the interview file and knew I had to write his story, but the full story, not just what Willis had told me in the interview. As I discovered this was a much bigger project than I had anticipated. I tracked down several hundred newspaper and magazine articles about Willis and his siblings, court records, and police reports. Then, where I could, I interviewed the few remaining people who knew and had first-hand knowledge of Willis Newton.

Along the way, I discovered some surprising evidence that dispelled the myth that Willis and his brothers had never killed anyone in the commission of their numerous crimes. It is the first time that this fact has been brought to light.

When I finished the research, I knew I could write his story. With a little editing, removing some of the blatant racial references and an abundance of profanity, I tried to keep his words to me intact. I do not approve of derogatory racial terms regarding any ethnicity of people, whether Irish, Jewish, Hispanic, African, Italian, or other obsolete peoples.

In some cases, I had to restructure their accounts to gain clarity. He spoke in rapid-fire prison prose using a wide range of criminal jargon that was sometimes difficult to follow. Whenever possible I have endeavored to preserve his colorful phraseology, using the common expressions of the day.

In writing Willis Newton’s book, I omitted most of his repeated self-justification of his actions in which he went to great lengths to paint himself as a gallant criminal, in the vein of Robin Hood. It is true that he stole from the rich but gave very little to the poor. In some of his accounts, he did describe giving the “hard money” (silver coin) to some poor, downtrodden farmer who had helped him. In addition, he repeated the idea that he never meant to hurt anyone in the robberies; “All we wanted was the money.” There is no doubt that Willis Newton was shaped and marked by the harsh economic conditions of the Southwest in the late 1890s and early 20th century. However, at the same time, there were hundreds of thousands of people who strived to work hard and become solid citizens of their communities. It was his choice to go after the “easy money”.

As I sifted through hundreds of newspaper reports and magazine articles, I was struck by how much the story varied from what Willis had told me, sometimes substantially. At the same time, I found that the newspapers, in their haste to publish their story, misspelled names, got their facts wrong, underestimated or overestimated the dollar amounts of loot, and had a very hard time keeping the names of the brothers. Straight Newtons. -Willis and Wylie (aka Willie or Doc) gave them fits.

A few weeks before Willis Newton died, he was admitted to the hospital in Uvalde, Texas, for tests on a multitude of physical problems. After he had been there several days, I passed by his room and visited the old outlaw. I knocked on his door and he got a weak, “Come in.”

When I entered his room, I saw a very emaciated version of what I had seen in March of that year. Rail thin and covered with a crimson rash on his legs, Willis cocked his head to the side and asked, “Who are you?”

I kindly reminded him that we had spoken at his house before and that he had given me advice on robbing banks and trains. He nodded and looked up at the ceiling, “Yes, I remember now.”

I told him I was sorry to see him sick and in pain. He replied by saying: “Yes, I’m going to the gutter of the bar. The doctor says everything has gone mad inside me. I know I’m a missing person and I wish I could kill myself but I can’t, because still. Only mad people kill themselves, but I don’t I’m crazy.”

Realizing that his time was coming to an end, I asked him if he had any regrets or regrets about anything he had ever done in his life. He cocked his head to the side and lifted his head off the pillow looking at me. “Hell no,” he yelled at me. “I’d still be doing things to them, but my body is done with me. If I was 20 years younger, I’d be crossing the border into Mexico and bringing drugs back! Nobody gave me but hell and I’m not ashamed of anything that I did!”

So much for contrition and redemption.

I did not know how to answer and remained silent. After a moment he looked up at the ceiling again and added, “All I feel is that the $200,000 those cowards left in that bank when they got scared. They said, “We have $65,000 in bonds and we’re. get out before we get caught. Heck, we left $200,000 sitting there on that counter. Damn shame, I told them I always wanted it all!”

The next day Willis was taken to a hospital in San Antonio where he died on August 22, 1979. Fierce and defiant to the bitter end, he died as he had lived, as an outlaw.

During my 1979 interview with Willis, he went into great detail about his time in jail or prison. Describing his first time in prison, he said: “I was incarcerated for 22 months and 26 days and then sent to Rusk (prison) for two years. Every motherfucker knew I was innocent. They knew I didn’t break any laws. !” Then over the years he spent over 20 years incarcerated in some form of penal confinement. I never got around to asking him the question: was it worth it?

I guess the answer would have been a resounding, “Hell yes!”

Spending a quarter of your 90 years behind bars hardly seems worth it to me.

When I left Willis Newton’s hospital room for the last time I saw his doctor who was a personal friend of mine. I asked him about Willis’ condition and he confirmed what the dying man had told me. Then with a twinkle in his eye he asked if I wanted to see an X-ray of Willis’ spine.

Of course, I had no idea what to expect.

We went to a nearby viewing room and he threw a film on the lighted board. There was a very distinct spot located near the spine. “That’s a German Luger slug that’s been around for 30 years. Some old man shot it in Oklahoma.”

As he looked at the picture, the doctor finished by saying, “And damn that old outlaw isn’t going to be buried with him!”

I guess you could say that was a fitting compliment of sorts.

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