On the morning of October 26, 1943, Littlefield, Lamb County, Texas awoke to learn of the brutal murders of residents Dr. Roy Elwin and Mrs. Mae Franks Hunt. Dr. Hunt had been killed by a gunshot at close range and Mae had been killed by at least one blow to the head from an object not found at the scene. Their bodies were found by the couple’s five year old daughter. The couple was buried a few days later following their funeral at Littlefield’s First Methodist Church, attended by an overflow crowd.
Dr. Hunt was thirty-six years old at the time of his death. His wife Mae was twenty-six. Dr. Hunt was born in 1907 in Lubbock to Alvan George Hunt, a grocer, and Lillie May Green Hunt. Dr. Hunt grew up in Lubbock, was one of four siblings and had graduated from Lubbock High School in 1924, serving as class president. He then enrolled at University of Texas before transferring to Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) and had graduated from medical school at University of Texas Medical School in Galveston. He and Mae had met in Houston where they both had been working and had married in 1937. Dr. Hunt had moved to Littlefield to become a partner in a medical clinic a year earlier. The couple had settled in to live in West Texas and had begun raising their family by having two daughters.
The murders may or may not have been related to another case involving Dr. Hunt arising from an incident just seventeen months prior. In that incident, Dr. Hunt had said that he had been in route to a call on the highway at 1:00 a.m. in May, 1942. Shortly after he parked his car on the highway, he was shot in the shoulder and abdomen by a person known to him, he said. He eluded the shooter until the assailant left the scene. He then drove himself to the hospital, checked himself in and said that he had been shot at four or five times by someone he knew. The alleged assailant was a former medical school classmate and physician W. R. Newton of Cameron, Texas.
Investigation of the shooting would state that the alleged assailant, Dr. Newton, had believed that Dr. Hunt had been romantically involved with Newton’s wife. It was further noted that Roy Hunt and W. R. Newton had both dated the same woman during their time at medical school. She was a nursing student named Ruth Nichols (Newton’s future spouse). In time, Ruth married Newton and the young couple moved to Cameron, Texas where Dr. Newton practiced medicine. As noted above, Hunt had moved to Littlefield where he married Mae.
On the evening of May 21, 1942, Dr. Hunt and his wife were entertaining friends playing bridge at their home. Dr. Hunt received three telephone calls summoning him out to various locations on the Clovis Road. Once he arrived, Hunt said that a person he named as Newton stepped from behind the car and fired at Hunt, hitting him in the abdomen and again in the shoulder. In the darkness, Hunt escaped to a plowed field, fell to the ground and hid between the rows. The Newtons were alleged to have searched for Hunt for a while before returning to their car and driving away. Dr. Hunt also would testify that he had not seen Dr. and Mrs. Newton for a number of years and that he knew of no reason why Dr. Newton would want to do him harm. Dr. Newton would testify that he was hundreds of miles away heading for Houston when the incident occurred. Dr. Newton was tried and convicted of attempted murder in nearby Olton, Texas, then the county seat. Newton received a seven year sentence. In 1944, the State Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a new trial for Dr. Newton on the grounds that a delay had been denied the defendant. Had the requested delay been granted, the defense had contended that a certain witness would have been able to testify to Dr. Newton’s whereabouts elsewhere when the incident had occurred.
In the second trial, Dr. Newton was again convicted in 1947 for the assault. Throughout his trials and after his second conviction, he denied any involvement in the assault. Following his conviction, Dr. Newton wrote a letter to the governor, Beauford H. Jester, maintaining his innocence but consenting to serve the two year sentence.
In the meantime, as previously noted, the Hunt murders had occurred back in 1943. The murders were investigated by local law officers and Texas Rangers. A newspaper article from 1944 said that Texas Ranger Maney Gault, stationed in Amarillo, and Potter County Sheriff Bill Adams had searched a stream eight miles north of Amarillo on the Dalhart Highway looking for a possible murder weapon. Jim Clyde Thomas, the main suspect, had been on parole from a prison sentence. As a condition of his parole, Thomas was to have been confined to Galveston County but could be placed in Littlefield on the day of the murders. He was apprehended in Galveston, Texas and transported to the Lubbock County jail. A witness, A. M. Veazey, said that said that he had gone deer hunting and was out of town when the murders occurred but had allowed Thomas to stay at his home, attached to a filling station/garage. Veazey also said that after he returned home, concerned that Thomas may have had something to do with the crime, so he had tossed a pistol from his home into the stream. He also had loaned his car to Jim Clyde Thomas the night of the murders. The investigation revealed that the tires on the Veazey car generally matched tracks around the Hunt residence, although the two front tires had been switched, left to right and right to left. A pair of basketball shoes in the witness’ home also generally matched impressions made from tracks around the Hunt home, but the actual shoes had been buffed on the sole, perhaps by a device used to patch inner tubes and tires. The state presented a possible time line for the murders.
The suspect Thomas had previously served time for felony theft, bank robbery and attempted murder. His first of three trials for the Hunt murders affirmed that he could be placed in Littlefield at the time of the murders. Thomas testified that he had indeed been in the area, but that he had gone out with a married woman and declined to identify her. The state presented its mostly circumstantial evidence. Thomas was convicted of the murders in three different trials in Hale, Dawson and Nolan counties for which he received death sentences two different times and a sentence of life in prison once. However, each conviction was appealed and reversed by the State Court of Criminal Appeals. Accordingly, Thomas had never served any time for the alleged murders of the Hunts.
Ironically, Thomas suffered a fatal gunshot wound in 1951 while he was residing in Durant, Oklahoma, thus ending the Texas cases against him for the murders of the Hunts. Thomas’ alleged killer was Hubert Deere, a Durant truck driver and truck dealer. Deere testified that Thomas had loaned Deere a drill a month prior. When the two met on the street in Durant, Thomas accused Deere of either selling the drill or hiding it from him. Deere said he told Thomas that he had taken the drill to Midland, Texas and given it to one of Thomas’ associates. The was a second issue involving a truck that Deere had sold Thomas for $1,250. Thomas complained that the truck was missing its tire chains and that the battery was bad. Deere would testify that Thomas gave him two hours to produce the drill or he would find him and give him a beating. Thomas later went to Deere’s home, forced his way inside and struck Deere. Deere picked up a shotgun and discharged it twice, killing Thomas. The trial of Deere began on November 15, 1951 and ended the following day with a hung jury. Deere had pleaded self defense. A new trial was set to begin in 1952, but as of this writing, we have not been able to find a record of the second trial.
Thomas’ death likely eliminated the best chance of ever solving the Hunt murder case. The killing of Thomas also put to rest his possible involvement in other crimes, including the bombing of Fort Worth gambler Nelson Harris and his wife. Thomas had also been a suspect in the earlier bombing death in Dallas of Herbert “The Cat” Noble and the gangland-style slaying of Lon Holley, a Fort Worth liquor store and cafe owner, although Thomas was not charged with either crime.
Dr. W. R. Newton died in June, 1982 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Cameron, Texas. His former wife, Mrs. Ruth Nichols Newton died in 1980 and is buried in Denton, Texas. Hubert Deere died on October 6, 1979 and is buried in Highland Cemetery in Durant, Oklahoma.
The Hunt murders remain officially unsolved.
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