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1960s Austin Gangsters: Nihilists with Cadillacs and Elvis Hair

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Over cocktails at Austin’s Townes Van Zandt Hotel I was captivated by writer Jesse Sublett’s tales of the Texas capital’s not-so-distant criminal past.

The hotel provided a suitably counter-intuitive venue; the brilliant, troubled Van Zandt died a premature death in penurious circumstances far removed from the hotel that bears his name’s upper level poolside bar overlooking a city undergoing wide scale development and gentrification

 

Fugitives caught at Mobeetie 1966: Jerry James, Fred Hedges, Hank Bowen, William Brown and (in back) Tim Overton

Fugitives caught at Mobeetie 1966: Jerry James, Fred Hedges, Hank Bowen, William Brown and (in back) Tim Overton

 

And so Sublett’s chronicles of the dastardly deeds of a group of “nihilists with Cadillacs and Elvis hair” in his gripping book 1960s Austin Gangsters serve notice on a violent and criminal past and no doubt present some would rather went unacknowledged.

The key pitfall Sublett adeptly avoids is romanticising the individuals grouped around the Overton Gang who burglarised banks and ran smuggling and prostitution rings all over the state.

And Sublett pulls this off in the face of considerable odds.

The gritty milieu, audacious acts and the photographs – in particular of the Overton Gang arraigned in jailhouse overalls – convey an undeniable dark glamour, but Sublett’s tough-talking text and precise research (which includes scrutiny of FBI reports under the US Freedom of Information and Privacy Act) portray the antics of a less-than-admirable group of sociopaths.

 

Jesse Sublett with his book in the Townes Van Zandt foyer

Jesse Sublett with his book in the Townes Van Zandt foyer

William Brown Austin, Texas Hank Bowden Austin Texas

 

Hattie Valdes, a friend and business associate of the Overton Gang, ran a well-known brothel on South Congress Avenue at a roadside motel called M&M Courts. Tim Overton’s favorite gal was the place’s star attraction.

Hattie Valdes, a friend and business associate of the Overton Gang, ran a well-known brothel on South Congress Avenue at a roadside motel called M&M Courts. Tim Overton’s favorite gal was the place’s star attraction. Via

James Gang

Jerry James, Chester Schutz, Hank Bowen. After James made the FBI Most Wanted, the Overtons were often referred to as The James Gang.

hattie-valdes

Judy Cathey Austin, Texas Berry Joyce Dabbs Austin, Texas Harvey Elwood Gann Texas, Austin

 

Still and all it’s a fabulous-looking book as well as a mighty read crying out for a film treatment. I recommend it highly.

 

austin-gangsters-organized-crime-that-rocked-the-capital

1960s Austin Gangsters: Organized Crime That Rocked The Capital is published by The History Press and available here.

Visit Sublett’s website here.