Sunday, February 17, 2013

Appendix: 'Texas Confidential' Travel Resources

Many of the subjects covered in Texas Confidential: Sex, Scandal, Murder, and Mayhem in the Lone Star State have sites that can be visited and this can be a fun way to experience them in a deeper way. Some places have a P.O. Box listed rather than a physical address but in all such cases provide detailed directions on their websites. Some sites do not have an official website and in such cases the best available unofficial site has been provided. Be sure to also keep your eye on this site and Texas Confidential Online for more detailed writeups on many of these sites, related articles, additional photos, and information about events like festivals and annual gatherings associated with them.

The Alamo
300 Alamo Plaza
San Antonio, Texas 78205
(210) 225-1391

“People worldwide continue to remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against impossible odds — a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason, the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.”

Aurora Cemetery
Cemetery Road (about a half mile south of FM 114)
Aurora, TX 76078

“This site is also well known because of the legend that a spaceship crashed nearby in 1897 and the pilot, killed in the crash, was buried here.” (For more photos, see The Aurora UFO Incident on Michael O. Varhola's TravelBlogue.)

Eastland County Law Enforcement Museum
210 West White Street
Eastland, TX 76448
(254) 629-1774

“Built in 1897, the old Eastland County Jail, contains many artifacts and memorabilia of Eastland County and Law Enforcement history.”

Enron “Old” Headquarters Building
1400 Smith Street
Houston, TX 77002-7311

Enron “New” Headquarters Building
1500 Louisiana Street
Houston, TX 77002-7311

Neither of these buildings, which are connected by a skywalk, is currently owned by what remains of Enron, and the “new” 40-story headquarters was sold off before the company could move into it.

International UFO Museum and Research Center
114 North Main Street
Roswell, NM 88203

In the summer of 1947, a UFO crashed near Roswell, New Mexico, and its remains were subsequently packed up and flown to Fort Worth Army Air Field in Texas. A good first place for anyone interested in delving into this incident is the UFO Museum and Research Center in downtown Roswell; the museum is fun and enlightening and the associated research library is a bona fide public service to anyone interested in doing any sort of in-depth study into the subject.

Jean Lafitte Home
1417 Avenue A
Galveston, TX 77550

All that remains of Lafitte’s home, Maison Rouge, is the foundation, located near the Galveston wharf.

Johnson Space Center
Space Center Houston
1601 NASA Parkway
Houston, TX 77058
(281) 244-2105

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center is NASA's center for human spaceflight training, research, and flight control and is a complex of 100 buildings located on 1,620 acres in Houston, Texas. It is home to the United States astronaut corps and responsible for training both U.S. and foreign spacefarers. It is often popularly referred to during missions as "Mission Control".

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park
P.O. Box 329
Johnson City, TX 78636
(830) 868-7128

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of the 36th U.S. president, from his ancestors to his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch.

Marfa Ghost Lights "View Park"
For as long as anyone around the west Texas town of Marfa can remember, they have seen strange lights burning at night on the Mitchell Flat, an otherwise unexceptional stretch of desert that runs along U.S. Highway 90. Today, a convenient viewing area has been established nine miles east of town.

Miss Hatties Bordello Museum
18 ½ East Concho Avenue
San Angelo, TX 76903
(325) 653-0112

From 1902 until 1952, one of the best-known and most successful businesses in the Concho district of San Angelo, Texas, was Miss Hattie’s Bordello. Today, it has been reopened to visitors as a charming and informative historic museum.

National Border Patrol Museum
4315 Transmountain Drive
El Paso, TX 79924
(915) 759-6060

“One of our Nation's best kept secrets is the National Border Patrol Museum. Here you can journey through the history of the U.S. Border Patrol from the beginning in the Old West, through Prohibition, World War II, into the high-tech Patrol of today. The museum exhibits uniforms, equipment, photographs, guns, vehicles, airplanes, boats and documents depicting historical and current date sector operations throughout the United States.”

Robert E. Howard Museum
Junction of Highway 36 (Fourth St.) and Avenue J
Cross Plains, TX 76443

"The Robert E. Howard Museum, located in the home of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. Howard lived in this home from 1919 until his death in 1936. Howard's home, restored by Project Pride, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and attracts hundreds of visitors each year."

Texas Capitol Visitors Center
112 E. 11th Street
P.O. Box 13286
Austin, TX 78711
(512) 463-5495

Texas Chainsaw Massacre House/“Junction House” Restaurant
1010 King Street (on the grounds of the Antlers Hotel)
Kingsland, TX 78639-5252
(325) 388-3800

“If the outside seems eerily familiar, then you've probably seen "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" because this 1900's Victorian house was featured prominently in the movie before it was moved to this location from Williamson County in the 1990's.”

Texas Prison Museum
491 Highway 75 North
Huntsville, TX 77320
(936) 295-2155

“The Texas Prison Museum offers an intriguing glimpse into the lives of the state's least-loved citizens. The museum features numerous exhibits detailing the history of the Texas prison system, both from the point of view of the inmates as well as the men and women who worked within the prison walls.”

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum
100 Texas Ranger Trail (Interstate 35 Exit 335-B)
Waco, TX 76706
(254) 750-8631

Treue Der Union Monument
High Street (between 3rd and 4th Streets)
Comfort, TX 78013

After the conclusion of the Civil War, the remains of many of the Germans killed on the banks of the Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers were relocated to the town of Comfort, where a monument to them was erected. It was dedicated on August 10, 1866, on the four-year anniversary of the Nueces Massacre, and is inscribed with the words Treüe der Union—“Loyalty to the Union.” It is the only German-language monument to the Union in the South where the remains of those killed in battle are buried and one of only a half-dozen burial sites where a U.S flag—an 1866 version with 36 stars—flies at half-staff in perpetuity. Contact information provided here is for the Comfort Heritage Foundation, which helped to restore the monument.

University of Texas Tower
Texas Union Hospitality Center
24th and Guadalupe (2247 Guadalupe)
P.O. Box 7338
Austin, TX 78713-7338
(512) 475-6633 or 1-877-475-6633

There is also a Tower Garden on the site “dedicated to the memory of all those who died and those whose lives were touched by the August 1, 1966 shooting.”

White Sands Missile Range Museum
Just inside the Las Cruces/Alamogordo Main Post Gate of White Sands Missile Range
Off U.S. Highway 70 between Las Cruces and Alamogordo, New Mexico
(575) 678-8824

“At the White Sands Missile Range museum you can trace the origin of America's missile and space activity, find out how the atomic age began and learn about the accomplishments of scientists like Dr. Wernher von Braun.”

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Man Fatally Shot at Canyon Lake

CANYON LAKE, TEXAS -- On Thursday the 17th day of January, 2013, at approximately 4:09 a.m., the Comal County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call about a possible Burglary of a Habitation in progress in the 100 block of Chapman Parkway, Canyon Lake, Comal County, Texas.

During the initial 911 call, the caller reported that there sounded like gunshots had been fired.

The Sheriff’s Office received a subsequent 911 call from a male, who had indicated that he had just shot a person in the 100 block of Chapman Parkway, who had confronted him at his residence and the individual was armed with a baseball bat.

Deputies from the Comal County Sheriff’s Office arrived at the scene as well as Emergency Medical Personnel from Canyon Lake Fire and EMS. There they found a white male lying on the ground between two of the residences that was unresponsive. Life saving measures were attempted but were unsuccessful.

Detectives from the Comal County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene to conduct the investigation. No arrests have been made, this is an ongoing investigation.

Comal County Justice of the Peace #1, William Schroeder pronounced the person deceased and an autopsy has been ordered. The autopsy has not been performed at the time of this release.

The name of the deceased will not be released until next of kin is located and notified.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Randy Travis Charged with DWI

SHERMAN, TEXAS — Tests show that country music star Randy Travis was legally drunk when he was arrested naked following a traffic accident in Texas and he has been formally charged with driving while intoxicated.

According to Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown, Travis had a blood alcohol level in excess of 0.15, nearly double the state's legal limit for driving of 0.08. This is a Class A misdemeanor and punishable by up to a $4,000 fine and two years in jail.

Travis was arrested on a DWI charge and freed on bond following a single-vehicle accident near Tioga, about 60 miles north of Dallas, in August 7. Travis also faces a retaliation charge for allegedly threatening officers. Brown said his office is involved in negotiations to settle the case.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Border Agency Denies Humanitarian Request

HOUSTON - U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have denied a Mexican couple's third and final attempt to obtain permission to visit their dying daughter in Texas for humanitarian reasons. (Sanchez is shown here with her husband and 5-year-old daughter Melissa.)

Maria Sanchez, 26, has an inoperable tumor on her spine and is being cared for by her husband in their Houston apartment during her final painful days. She hasn't seen her parents in nine years.

“Humanitarian parole is an extraordinary measure, sparingly used to bring an otherwise inadmissible alien into the United States for a temporary period of time due to a very compelling emergency,” a CBP spokesman said. The agency is not allow such parole to be used to circumvent the normal visa-issue procedures in this case, something critics say represents a profound flaw in the normal visa-issuing procedures.

According to The San Antonio Express-News, the parents' first request was denied because the woman's father, Jose Alfredo Sanchez, was deported 13 years ago for being in the United States illegally. A second and separate request from the dying woman's mother, Ninfa Sanchez, also was denied.

Luis Aguillon, Maria Sanchez's husband, has said that he will take his wife's body to Mexico following her death.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

America's Allied Wounded Warriors

Could there possibly be any significant connections between the Lone Star State and veterans groups in the Czech Republic? Yes, naturally, and this reporter recently discovered what they were! Among other things, they include the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio serving as the inspiration for the REGI Base veterans foundation in the Czech Republic; TIRR Memorial Herman in Houston being the ideal place for Czech veterans with traumatic brain injuries to receive treatment; and many Czech military personnel having received training at Lackland Air Force Base.

As a journalist, I have always been aware that the United States was not alone in the ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Knowing that in theory, however, does not necessarily make one think about the non-American troops that are not just serving alongside U.S. military personnel, but being killed and maimed like them as well. I was exposed to this largely unknown phenomena and gained some insights into it when I visited the Czech Republic in July. Since then, I have been moved to begin writing a book on the subject with the working title Allied Soldier and to begin telling the story of the things I saw and the people I met. (This is a monument to the Czech participation in World War II.)

There are, in fact, currently more than two-dozen nations serving with the United States in Afghanistan, including Great Britain, France, Germany, and the Czech Republic. This is, moreover, the first time the Czech Republic has been involved in hostilities since World War II and it faces many obstacles to providing adequate support for its soldiers severely injured as a result. One of these hurdles is that many of the nation's citizens do not understand the value of supporting either the war in Southwest Asia or the veterans wounded in it. Another is that the Czech government does not have either the resources or the breadth of experience of larger, wealthier nations like the United States, which can draw upon the lessons it has learned in the many conflicts with which it has been involved over the past six decades. (Shown here is a Czech soldier guarding the presidential palace in Prague.)

Two years ago, a number of concerned Czech citizens founded REGI Base Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing critical resources and support for wounded warriors that goes beyond what either the government or their families are able to do. Its centerpiece will be REGI Base I, a state-of-the-art medical facility currently under construction outside of Prague in the village of Svémyslice that, when it is completed, will be able to house up to 16 veterans undergoing treatment and serve the needs of up to 35 outpatients per day (the facility is shown here as it appeared during my visit). The intent of its founders is that it will include modern diagnostic equipment unavailable anywhere else in the region, be able to provide rehabilitative care onsite, and serve as a clearinghouse of information on physicians and clinics worldwide to which it can send wounded warriors in need of specialized care.

Inspiration for both the name of REGI Base and its mission is Chief Warrant Officer Jiří "Regi" Schams, a Czech special forces soldier who was horribly wounded on March 17, 2008 (shown here shortly before his injury). On that day, he was part of a 13-person multinational team that was conducting outreach operations to the civilian residents of a particularly dangerous province of Afghanistan when it was attacked by a suicide bomber. Four of the other personnel in the squad were killed outright, including two Danish civil affairs soldiers and the group's Afghani interpreter, and nine were wounded, including Schams, who was incapacitated by the blast. It initially appeared as if he had suffered some relatively minor injuries and a concussion. Before long, however, it became apparent that a piece of shrapnel had entered the back of Schams' head and burrowed its way through his brain almost to the front of his skull.

At first, there did not appear to be much chance that Schams would survive. But to the surprise of everyone — including his doctors and his family — the phenomenally tough special operations soldier managed to stabilize and pull through. That brought its own host of problems, however, for the injured veteran, who suffered extreme neurological damage and was thereby confined to a wheelchair, initially unable to speak, and plagued with vision problems that force him to perpetually keep one eye closed.

Following his return to the Czech Republic, Schams received the best medical care that his government could provide, and enjoyed the attention and support of his former comrades-in-arms and family members, particularly his mother. But resources available to him were inadequate for dealing with his condition, and his recovery was slow and very limited; for the first two years after he was injured, Schams believed he was in the middle of a nightmare from which he would eventually awake, something that severely retarded his progress.

In 2010, a Czech entrepreneur named Hynek Čech met Schams through a mutual friend and was horrified to discover that the wounded warrior was living alone in a high-rise apartment building that he could not even exit on his own (Schams is shown here with REGI Base co-founder Hynek Čech, right, and Kent Wills, author of a story about the wounded veteran titled a "A Soldier for Life").). His situation improved a little when friends would visit or take him somewhere, when he would stay with his mother on the other side of town, or when he would go for an annual two-week course of therapy at a nearby military hospital, but was still far from ideal. At both his and his mother's apartments, for example, the elevators are barely large enough to accommodate a wheelchair and can only be accessed via flights of steps — making it difficult for him to come and go even if someone is helping him. He also has trouble using the toilet or bathing without assistance.

Čech began looking into what could be done on behalf of Schams and other wounded warriors and soon came to the conclusion that the only thing that would work is a completely new, private organization that both supplemented the available treatment and services and went beyond them. It was this realization that prompted him to help conceive of and become one of the co-founders of the REGI Base Foundation. One of his inspirations and models for this project was, in fact, the Center for the Intrepid, co-located with Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio (show here). That institution is tasked with the mission "to provide rehabilitation for ... casualties who have sustained amputation, burns, or functional limb loss, to provide education ... on cutting-edge rehabilitation modalities, and to promote research in the fields of orthopaedics, prosthetics and physical/occupational rehabilitation."

One of the very first thing the fledgling organization did was to take Schams to a special neurologic clinic in the Black Sea city of Odessa, in the Ukraine, so that he could be tested by a top specialist in brain injuries (that doctor had, ironically, served in a Soviet military field hospital in Afghanistan from 1982-84, during that nation's ill-fated occupation of the country). After being examined and receiving additional CAT scans, the medical staff at the facility recommended that Schams be sent to a military rehabilitation center in the Ukrainian city of Saky. He spent six weeks at the facility and, as a result of the treatment he received there, his speech improved significantly.

That was the limit of what could be accomplished for Schams in either the Czech Republic or the Ukraine, however, and the staff of REGI Base realized they needed something better. So, in January 2012, Čech traveled to TIRR Memorial Herman in Houston, Texas (shown here), where a dozen Romanian soldiers had recently received treatment for traumatic brain injuries, and the costs for this had apparently been covered by the U.S. government. The best that hospital representatives were willing to do, however, was to give REGI Base a quote of nearly a half-million dollars to treat Schams — something that closed the door on help for this allied soldier.

Despite this frustrating setback, REGI Base has continued to move ahead in its attempts to provide help for both Schams and other critically-injured soldiers.

“Our fundamental idea is to create a unique complex that will combine rehabilitation, accommodation, and 24-hour assistance for soldiers who have returned from overseas missions but who cannot be adequately cared for by their families or friends," said Čech (shown here at his office in Prague). "Our first priority is to provide 365-day-a-year service to soldiers who cannot be fully treated at home or by the government. The Czech Republic currently has more than 500 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and, as something tragic can happen at any time, we need to be ready to provide special care when it is needed.”

Čech also emphasized that, once it is established, it is his intent that the facility will serve as a regional rehabilitation center that serves the needs not just of military personnel from the Czech Republic but other nations as well, including the United States and other NATO nations. Ultimately, he said he would like REGI Base to have branches worldwide and to established reciprocal agreements that would allow military personnel to receive the treatment most appropriate to them at facilities in any of the participating nations. And going beyond medical care, Čech is also actively lobbying in his country for legislation that would help provide jobs for discharged Czech veterans and working on a project to provide special insurance benefits to them.

During my visit to the Czech Republic, I met with Schams and his mother; Čech and his staff; Schams former commander, Major Pavel Ruzicka, currently second-in-command of the Czech military police corps; Special Operations Group members who served with Schams (most of whom cannot be mentioned by name or photographed because they are still on active duty and involved in classified operations), and Deputy Minister of Defense Michael Hrbata (who appears with me here in his office at the Ministry of Defense). Hrbata in particular has been a champion of REGI Base, as has his boss, Defense Minister Alexandr Vondra — who gave the initial "green light" for the veterans organization — and the two of them have done everything in their power to garner support for it from the government and amongst the Czech people.

What really struck me during my visit, in fact, was how everyone concerned was doing everything in their power to help Jiří Schams and soldiers in a similar situation, but how so much more was needed (Schams is shown below as he appears today). REGI Base has got a handle on what those additional measures are, and when I visited the site of the clinic under construction and heard about all the great things the foundation wants to do, my response was, "Let's get this done! What do you need?"

As with almost anything big and complicated in the modern world, of course, what REGI Base needs is funding. It has thus far raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for its facility outside of Prague and, in the course of moving ahead with it, has just added a third level to the main building. It needs millions more, however, to complete construction, purchase expensive diagnostic equipment, and get treatment for Schams at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston. In the meantime, the war continues, billions of dollars go every day toward its prosecution, and, every week, more soldiers, allied and U.S. alike, join Schams among those who will need a lifetime of care as the price for their sacrifices.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

3 Years Ago Today: High School Discovers Sophomore is 22!

Three years ago today, on April 27, 2009, Permian High School school administrators in Odessa, Texas, received an anonymous email message revealing that the person they had known as 15-year-old sophomore Jerry Joseph was really 22-year-old Haitian immigrant Guerdwich Montimere! Montimere had become famous as a standout basketball player for the high school team where, not surprisingly, he towered over and ran circles around his classmates. As his fame spread nationally, it was learned that he had already played basketball for another high school in Florida, and graduated from it, several years before.

On July 27, 2011, Montimere was convicted on three counts of Tampering with a Government Document and two counts of Sexual Assault on a Child and sentenced to three years in prison. He is currently serving his sentence at the Tulia unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Swisher, Texas, and is eligible for parole in May 2012.

Montimere is the subject of "Friday Night Lies," one of the chapters in the "Scandal" section of Texas Confidential: Sex, Scandal, Murder, and Mayhem in the Lone Star State!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

180 Years Ago This Month: Houston Beats Congressman!

In April 1832, 180 years ago this month, future "Father of the Texas Revolution" Sam Houston was in Washington, D.C., where he was working to expose frauds being perpetrated by government agents against Cherokee Indians in Arkansas. While he was there, Ohio Congressman William Stanbery gave a speech to Congress in which he accused Houston himself of corruption in the supplying of provisions to the Cherokee. When Stanbery declined to reply to Houston’s correspondence about these slurs, Houston confronted him on Pennsylvania Avenue and, even as the congressman tried to shoot him, proceeded to beat him into submission with a hickory cane.