The world will always have con artists – men and women who seek to cheat the system and gain wealth illegally. In recent years we have had people like Bernard Madoff and Kenneth Lay (Enron) highly profiled on the evening news and some contend our own President, Barack Hussein Obama is the biggest and most successful con man of them all. Certainly the art of the con plays a major role in politics, but long before any of these were even known to the American public, a man from a small town in West Texas made a name of notorious notoriety for himself. That name was Billie Sol Estes.
I’ve always been fascinated with Billie Sol Estes – I’m sure because of my very close family ties which are multi-faceted and far-reaching. In fact, my family has a three-pronged connection to the notorious con man. My father worked in the anhydrous ammonia business for Sol Estes, just one of Sol Estes’ many scams where he was buying and selling non-existent fertilizer equipment. Dad helped my Aunt Carol secure a job as a bookkeeper for Sol Estes, and the man who would later become my uncle and my Aunt Carol’s husband, Mike Pappas, was a government auditor who helped uncover the whole cotton allotment scandal along with Henry Marshall in 1960. Marshall was murdered before the case went to trial, but more on that later.
In 1958 the Department of Agriculture began to control the amount of cotton that could be produced. This was an early example of government interfering with the free market and as is often the case – paved the way for corruption. When the government began controlling cotton production, Billie Sol Estes partnered with the most powerful Texas politician of the time, Lyndon Baines Johnson. We will never know the extent of LBJ’s involvement in the cotton allotment scandals, but Billie Sol Estes had been a huge and influential financial backer of LBJ and as is often the case in politics, favors must be repaid.
I want to state for the record, LBJ was never indicted for any illegal activity connected to the cotton allotment scandal, but you can be the judge of that. I mentioned earlier about the murder of Henry Marshall – Henry was only days away from testifying against both Billie Sol and LBJ when he was found dead on his farm near Bryan – College Station, TX. He had been shot five times with his own .22-cal. Single shot rifle. Robertson County Sheriff Howard Stegall ordered the Coroner to rule the death a suicide. Political power and influence, even in rural Texas, can be far-reaching. Upon Billie Sol’s release from prison and long after the death of LBJ, he testified that Henry Marshall had been murdered because he was about to testify against who was then the Vice President of the United States.
There were other “suicides” surrounding the Sol Estes and LBJ testimonies. – enough so that even at my young age at the time, I feared for my father’s life, who would later turn state’s evidence against Sol Estes. My aunt also gave testimony in the case. After the case, Uncle Mike married Aunt Carol and he always joked, “I put her boss in prison so I had to marry her.”
Billie Sol Estes died on May 14, 2013. With him went no telling how much additional information and testimony about all sorts of criminal activity up to and including the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Sol Estes privately and quietly contended LBJ had Kennedy assassinated and he was one of the few confidants close enough to LBJ to have known for certain.
If you would like to learn more about Billie Sol Estes, one thing I recommend reading would be his biography; Billie Sol: King of Texas Wheeler-Dealers, written by his daughter Pam Estes. Several years ago, I read and reviewed the book and include that review here for you now.
Several years ago, someone who knew that my father had once worked in the fertilizer business for Billie Sol Estes, gave me this book written by his daughter, Pam Estes. Since the author is the daughter of Billie Sol Estes, I didn’t give it much chance of being an objective and unbiased work. Well, I recently dusted the book off and finally got around to reading it, and I owe Pam Estes an apology. I was truly impressed with her work.
The Estes family has long been known to be big financial supporters of Texas Democrats. Billie Sol Estes never lost that loyalty. I thought the author might hold that same loyalty, but found rather, that she was brutally honest. She never paints her father as an innocent man, but successfully portrays him as a victim of Democrat backstabbing. When it became apparent that Billie Sol Estes was going down, people who had benefited greatly from his contributions and who had enabled him to do the things he had done, such as Ralph Yarborough and Lyndon Johnson were not about to go down with him. The author even firmly suggests a theory which I have long held, that LBJ was the one man in America who had the motive, power and ability to successfully have JFK murdered without being caught. LBJ was no longer needed for the southern vote and would not have been on the 1964 ticket with JFK. He knew that and wasn’t about to lose his power.
Pam Estes is also honest about her father’s short comings. While it is obvious that her love for her father never wavered, she lets the reader know in subtle ways, that life with Billie Sol wasn’t always easy. For example, she talks about a man who had been making advances towards her mother and how those advances had gone unnoticed. She concludes, “After all, if you’re married to Billie Sol Estes, you don’t have time for any more problems.”
The story of Billie Sol Estes is not the story of a crooked Texas wheeler dealer. It is the story about an ambitious man who found himself on the wrong side of a game of political chess. His is the story of what kind of power and destruction is wielded by the federal government and how the government can destroy a family anytime, anywhere and for any reason. All in all, this is a very enjoyable read. I’m sorry I waited so long to read it.
- Famed Texas con man Billie Sol Estes dies (foxnews.com)
- Famed Texas con man Billie Sol Estes dies (federaljack.com)
- Billie Sol: King of the Texas Wheeler-Dealers – Pam Estes