The month of August came and went in Stephenville, Texas, without mention of an event that terrified every resident of Erath County in 1974 more than 45 years ago when three Colorado prison escapees went on a murderous rampage of revenge killings and murdering witnesses from their court trials.

Terrifying might be an understatement as the trio’s escape was straight out of a Hollywood movie. The event sparked one of the biggest manhunts ever in Texas and involved more than 200 peace officers.

Two days after their escape, one of the killers would hover over his victim and tell him he was there to kill him for his trial testimony. Further adding fire to the flames of terror was how the men left people alive with instructions to tell police why they had done their crimes and that they were not finished with their revenge.

When word reached Stephenville that Dalton Williams, Jerry Ben Ulmer, and Richard Mangum had murdered Gordon resident Lena Ott things reached a fever-pitch as Erath County District Attorney Bob Glasgow was said to have been one of the names on a list dropped by the men at a murder scene in Rotan.

There may not have been an Internet in 1974, but it’s hard to imagine word could have spread much faster as the “granny-network” lit up, and party-line telephones went to blazing.

Those who had firearms were out patrolling, and many who didn’t have the “right” shooting iron made their way down to at the Western Auto Store on the courthouse square where business boomed. There were stories of pickups with 2-3 men each in them at various spots across the county. Some folks elected to set just off the road in the bushes protecting their families, and each passing hour brought some new horrifying detail of the murders committed.

The three men had fashioned “mannequin” like figures in their bunks and made their way over two walls and razor wire before stealing a car outside the prison. Later they would obtain firearms when they burglarized a home and headed into New Mexico toward their destination of Texas.

Dalton Williams had been serving a prison sentence after being convicted of assault, robbery, and conspiracy in Colorado. His conviction came about mainly based on the testimony of Rotan, Texas rancher T.L. Baker.

Jerry Ben Ulmer was out on bond, appealing a burglary conviction of the home of Gordon, Texas residents Ray and Lena Ott when he killed a man in Colorado. For unknown reasons, Ulmer believed Mrs. Ott to have been responsible for his murder conviction. Mrs. Ott did testify against Ulmer in the burglary trial, and perhaps he blamed her for his entire predicament.

Richard Mangum was a Denver resident and had no ties to Texas, but he was a talented car thief, and it was through him the trio was able to make their way to Texas so easily. Mangum was in jail for a two-year stretch and made a fatal mistake when he decided to join forces with Williams and Ulmer.

Using a series of stolen cars, the three men made their way to outside Albuquerque, NM, and kidnapped two young women raping them over and over as they made their way to the Baker ranch two days later.

On a Saturday morning before sunrise Williams and Ulmer crawled through the dew-filled grass to about 35-45 yards from the front of the Baker home. When T.L. Baker made his way out to begin his day — it was the last thing he ever did.

Williams shot Baker, and as he lay dying on his front porch the killer walked up and poked him with the barrel of a .303 rifle.

“Mr. Baker, do you recognize me?” Williams asked. “I wanted you to know why I killed you. I told you I was going to do it.”

As Baker’s dog was licking his face, Ulmer shot it, and then the two men tied up Baker’s son and stole more weapons and fled with their female hostages. They instructed Baker’s son to tell everyone in the country that “they were back.”

Later in the day, the trio decided the women “were more trouble than they were worth,” they showed their only act of humanity and put them on a bus back to New Mexico.

That night the men arrived at the Ott home in Gordon firing through the front door and severely wounding Ray Ott.

After entering the home, Ulmer found Lena Ott and shot her dead. Ulmer is rumored to have left the same message of “being back” with the wounded Mr. Ott.

By this time, law enforcement across the state had been alerted to Baker’s murder, and rumors were running wildly about the men’s “death list” that included Glasgow – some even saying Ulmer has penned the list and included Glasgow’s name in capital letters.

The District Attorney had flawlessly hacked through Ulmer’s defense at trial, and after police found the killer’s car smashed into an embankment — roadblocks went up on every road leading into Erath County.

Texas Ranger Captain GW Burks was quoted in a UPI story as saying, “They’d just as soon kill anybody that gives them any trouble whatever.”

Glasgow and his family were placed into protective custody, and deputies were dispatched to warn people who had served on the jury during Ulmer’s conviction.

Few people slept over the next 30 hours as more than 200 police officers used everything available to track the men. Helicopters buzzed through the air, and deputies took to horseback and Jeeps to look through tree and brush filled terrain.

Rumors ran a dime a dozen, and a person couldn’t buy a firearm in Stephenville at any price as gun dealers were sold out.

Over the next two days, the three escapees were involved in running-gun battles just outside of Stephenville, and it wasn’t only law enforcement officers they were exchanging bullets, which made law enforcement officer’s jobs that much harder as they had to worry about scared citizens making an error and possibly shooting each other by mistake.

The situation needed to be handled quickly before innocent lives were lost.

On August 26, west of town officers Larry Brandenburg, Jim Elmore, Freddie McDonald and Richard Trail caught up with the escapees, and began exchanging fire with the men who were “running from hedgerow to hedgerow.”

A barrage of shots followed the men, and Mangum was hit in the jaw with a high-caliber bullet that was reported to have, “blown off his face.” His two fellow criminals were shocked by the destruction of their friend’s head and threw down their weapons and raised their hands in surrender.

Williams and Ulmer were later sentenced to multiple life terms missing a date with an executioner because the death penalty had been ruled unconstitutional two years earlier.

24 thoughts on “45-years ago Erath County lived in terror”
  1. Apparently those clowns went right by my house at one point that morning. We lived at the end of Pigeon Road at that time. I was just out of the army and had come home from Vietnam just the year before, I was feeling pretty safe until then. I woke to helicopters flying low just outside my patio door I was still in my underwear. There was a knock at my front door at the same time, it was the Sheriffs Deputy. He told us what was going on and we were out and about. We went to town to stay with family that night, I did not have any weapons at that time.

  2. This group came through Mineral Wells on their way to Stephenville. Officers Brandenburg, Elmore and McDonald were out of Mineral Wells Police Dept. I believe the other officer was from Stephenville, but not certain. I was a dispatcher at MWPD at the time.

  3. Oh yes! Even though all of us at Tarleton State University were instructed to stay inside, most of us were out riding the roads looking for these criminals! It was high anxiety and fear throughout that final night. A huge crowd formed outside the police station to witness them being brought in. The criminal that was shot and killed laid in an ambulance in the parking lot. Horrible sight.

  4. The convict who was killed was Richard Mangum, not Magnum. Unusual name. I was a teenager then, and we lived out in the country there. These men pulled into our driveway that first night after stopping at the Ott’s. Our neighbor had already called us because law enforcement had shown up to search their barn, so my dad was awake and turned on the exterior lights when the car turned into our drive, causing them to back out and drive away, they wrecked their car just a mile or two away and were on foot after that. We were lucky. Interesting time.

  5. My Dad was a Texas State Trooper then in Stephenville and Mother and I were scared for all the law enforcement at that time. We lived at the end of Neblett St 3 houses from Lingleville hwy. If you walked down to Lingleville hwy from our house, we were across from Dorris Vet..Mother and Dad still live there.

    1. You mentioned the Lingleville Hwy. My son, John Lingle (a descendant of the Lingle that Lingleville was named for) is now a Texas Ranger. I am so glad that we have men and women who hold the line against the this kind of evil.

    2. Hey Lynn – I remember that going on too. I have tried to find you on FB. How are you doing ole child hood friend?

  6. I was a Sophomore at Tarleton, standing in the registration line with everyone scared that they would come to campus for vehicles or hostages. My family lived halfway between Dublin & Stephenville. It was the first time in my dad’s life that he had ever locked doors.

  7. I remember all this-I was only 13 at the time but my mom, Vivian Coppedge;, was a classmate of Bobby Glasgow. We were so glad when all of this was over and done. I do remember my parents laying out a rifle, 12 gauge shotgun and a pistol on the kitchen counter and showed us how to use each one in case the criminals invaded us. Roy’s asst. mgr. at Safeway had to leave her house with her baby and hide out in the brush during the night that these men came through. We couldn’t get ahold of her cos we wanted to get her out of there and maybe stay with us but she had already left her house to hide with her baby. I think her name was Lana. She came out of it safe and sound. But me and my two little sisters, Debbie and Lajauna, were scared to death during all of this. We all were so relieved when it was all over.

  8. My dad, P.E. (Jack) Hunter, was a state trooper in Palo Pinto county then. He and his partner tried to stop them as they were south bound in 281 at fm 1195 south of Mineral Wells. They shot at my dad who was driving, barely missing his head, hitting the windshield just above the rearview mirror. God was looking out for him that day.

  9. I’m Freddie McDonald my first name was misspelled in the above article and was misspelled in the book about event. They had first spelled with a y. The book of this was written by Sherri Knight, “Deathlist, Trail of Terror”

  10. I was 10 when this happened. I can remember every detail mine yesterday. My 2 sisters and I were woken up in the wee hours of the morning and told to get up , get your clothes on and don’t turn the lights on. Mom rushed us into the living room only to see dad sitting at the window with a shotgun. Mamma told us what had happen at the Fulfers and the Mccans were missing . They rushed us to the truck where we drove a mile and half to the Hannibal store. We stayed there 2 nights along with about 80 other people. The evening before we went to bed we heard a large amount if gunfire on the highway. We lived right at the intersection of 1188 and 108. Daddy gets his shoes on and gets a spotlight and drove up there because he figured someone shit his cows. They were gone , but apparently there was a shootout there with the Texas Rangers. It was something our little community won’t ever forget

  11. I also remember this like yesterday. I was 9 years old and we lived in Santo right on FM rd 4 south of downtown. My sister was babysitting across town and she was only 12. My mom went and pick her and the four kids she was watching and made them get down in the floorboard of the vehicle and brought them back to our house. I remember being very scared. The escapees drove down through Santo right down FM rd 4 shooting up several things including one of my classmates parents gas station. Everyone in town were protecting their families with guns. Probably the most terrified I had ever been in my entire life. So glad that these guys doing do more than they did. So many more people could have been murdered. Praise God for their apprehension.

    1. I also remember this like yesterday. I was 9 years old and we lived in Santo right on FM rd 4 south of downtown. My sister was babysitting across town and she was only 12. My mom went and pick her and the four kids she was watching and made them get down in the floorboard of the vehicle and brought them back to our house. I remember being very scared. The escapees drove down through Santo right down FM rd 4 shooting up several things including one of my classmates parents gas station. Everyone in town were protecting their families with guns. Probably the most terrified I had ever been in my entire life. So glad that these guys doing do more than they did. So many more people could have been murdered. Praise God for their apprehension.

  12. I was just thinking I was 11 not 9 so that would have made my sister 14. Just wanted to make these corrections but it was to late to edit because I had already posted

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *