Friday, February 8, 2008

Sheriff Jerry Hicks

Sheriff Jerry Hicks has done a lot of the cemetery census for Bailey County (and others). Here's an interesting (undated) article I found, in something called Texas Association of Counties:

Ghostbusters 'R' Us: Sheriff stirs media frenzy with spooky tale

Story by Graham Baker

Bailey County Sheriff Jerry Hicks didn't go looking for celebrity. When he first heard the rumors of a ghost haunting the county lockup, he figured the prisoners had too much, well, time on their hands. They persisted and he told Muleshoe's weekly paper about what he thought would be an entertaining local interest story. That's as far as he ever expected this ghost story to go, so how did he find himself in major newspapers and on radio stations across the country?

Sheriff Hicks doesn't believe in ghosts, but he accepts that his prisoners think that something strange is going on back there in the jail. When Bailey County Jail regular Vicente Daniel arrived in February to begin serving six months for failure to pay child support, Hicks braced himself. Even the district judge apologized to Hicks for jailing him. Daniel, a state penitentiary-educated writ-writer, had a reputation for working the system, spending his days filling out requests to see the doctor, complaining about jail conditions, and encouraging others to make trouble. But this time, he was a model prisoner, so Hicks investigated.

"That thing got a hold of him," was the answer. Daniel won't talk about it publicly, but he told other inmates that he awakened to find himself held fast to the cot, his sheet drawn tightly across his body, terrified and unable to cry for help.

"They said he thought the devil had him. I guess it scared him straight," the sheriff said.

Inmates say they can see a shadowy figure move along the walkway around the cellblock and disappear into the wall. They've reported the shower curtain fluttering when no draft was present, and several others have claimed to have been held down to their cots.

More unusual than the ghost story to Hicks is that he and his staff had never heard about it before, although once it surfaced with Daniel's story, he learned that inmates had been talking about it for years. Some talked about a man who killed a girl and hung himself in his cell. Jail records show that 25-year-old Fernando Torres Alvarado hung himself in his cell April 16, 1979 after being picked up for investigation of murder. Alvarado had pushed his girlfriend from the back of a pickup truck into the path of an oncoming eighteen-wheeler.

"It's a bad, wicked spirit. There have been a lot of wicked souls in here lately," jail trusty Thomas Yanis said, who claims to have seen the ghost on several occasions. He was arrested for the seventh time last summer on alcohol-related charges. Now he leads the jail's Alcoholics Anonymous and Bible study groups as part of his spiritual rebirth.

"It's a message that we need to change," Yanis said.

"One thing I've noticed back there," the sheriff said, "is there is a lot more Bible-reading going on. I've had other sheriffs call me and want to borrow my ghost."

The sheriff is eating lunch at Leal's, a popular stop in Muleshoe for Mexican food and socializing, when Constable Curtis Hunt comes over to our table. He teases the sheriff about his ghost and wants to know when "60 Minutes" is coming to town. A few tortilla chips later, Hunt's father-in-law, Joe Rhodes of Joe's Boot Shop, is ribbing the sheriff.

"I've been listening to the radio all day. I guess they're giving you a break," Rhodes laughs. Before the waitress brings the check, half a dozen people will inquire about the ghost.

The Muleshoe Journal's initial story appeared Sunday, March 16, and the Amarillo and Lubbock papers carried it the following Tuesday. That should have been the end of it. Then Paul Harvey's national radio broadcast took the ghost from coast to coast. In late June, Hicks was still getting calls from radio and television stations in every part of the country. The 200-station USA Radio Network, based in Dallas, interviewed him on the air. The Associated Press carried the story as did The Dallas Morning News and Newsweek. TV stations in Lubbock, Austin, and Amarillo sent cameras and talking heads to Muleshoe.

"When this thing first started, I couldn't get any work done for the phone ringing," Hicks said. "Then I'd think it was over, and it would start up again. It's been a zoo."

On a busy morning shortly after the story gained national attention, the frustrated sheriff snatched up the phone: "Ghostbusters 'R' Us."

"Good morning, sheriff, you're on the air in Boise, Idaho," the disc jockey told him.

He tickled funny bones in Rochester, New York, too, when the DJ asked him how many Hicks are in Texas.

"About half of us in Texas are hicks," he said.

"I've kind of enjoyed it, because no one has taken it too seriously," he told The Muleshoe Journal. On his desk is a gift from the telephone co-op employees, an aerosol can with a hastily made label that reads "Ghost Spray."

"The next time I'll think twice about telling anyone anything," Hicks said, but it's obvious he doesn't mean it. And besides, it's too late to do anything now.

Hicks quipped to one newspaper that he would have to check with the Jail Standards about whether the inmate counts as an inmate, because it would have put him over capacity. Guess who read the paper.

"Before we look at that, we need to see if Sheriff Hicks has proper commitment orders and whether he's feeding this inmate three squares a day," said Texas Commission on Jail Standards Deputy Director Robert Dearing. "They're probably about due for an inspection."

Graham Baker is Staff Writer at COUNTY Magazine.

Link to this article:

The TAC produces a magazine, called The County, issues archived in pdf format here.

Sheriff Hicks also tells the story about a terrible 1926 murder in Parmer County. A man named George J. Hassel married his brother's widow, and killed her and eight children.

More of that murder here.

And an article from the Amarillo Globe about Sheriff Hicks' retirement in December 1997.

And another article from Lubbock Online about Hicks' retirement (he plans to write a book about Bailey County Sheriffs).

And yet another article from Lubbock Online that mentions Hick's plans to write a book about Bailey County Sheriffs. The story, though is about Cecil Davis, a long-time Bailey resident who Hicks says, "'He knows so much about so many things around here,'' Hicks said. ''There is no way to compare him.''

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