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The He rb 13W I ir “Best place to cure what ails you” Explore our Oasis of Earthly Delights! extensive array of natural health and bodycare products WOW, comprehensive collection of herbs great gift ideas and much more! o ft M n .-Frt 200 West Mary 444-625 1 Sat 10-5 10-630 THE TRIAL RECORDS, WHICH I FOUND AT THE FEDERAL ARCHIVES CENTER IN FORT WORTH, PROVED TO BE A WRITER’S COLD MINE. THE DAILY TRANSCRIPTS ALONE RAN TO 7,000 PACES. THERE WERE EYE-POPPING CRIME-SCENE PHOTOS, SURVEILLANCE REPORTS, ALL KINDS OF GREAT STUFF. maker in the 1960s. Twenty-six years later, as those headlines blasted out at me from the dim screen of a funky microfilm machine at the University of Texas Center for American History, I knew the story would make a great book. And I’d be just the guy to write it. Schnautz was bumped off a few hours after the gang-style murder of Joe Soriano, another veteran Austin hood and junkie. Police suspected that Soriano, like Schnautz, was associated with former members of the Overton Gang. Despite being dismembered by a massive federal conspiracy trial in 1968 and the murder of their titular head, Timmy Overton, in 1972, the now middle-aged hoodlums were apparently still a source of mayhem and semi-organized crime long after their heyday. The newspaper recounted the history: They were white guys, old-school thugs. Safecracking and prostitution were their mainstays, but they also had a hand in various other criminal opportunities abundant during that era in the River City. I started my career as a crime novelist a little over 20 years ago with Rock Critic Murders, followed by two more Austinbased novels, a crime-and-music memoir and a handful of short stories and novelettes. Yet I’d never come across this chapter of local crime history. I was so fired up about making this my next book project that I may have failed to take sufficient note of the date on that newspaper clipping, Friday the 13th. In retrospect, I think that may have been an omen. j ames Timothy Overton was born in 1940 and grew up in a rough, working-class neighborhood in East Austin. At school, the west-side kids taunted guys like Timmy with epithets of “cedar chopper” and \(\(poor white trash”the n-word equivalent for poor whites. But he gained their respect with his charisma and his athletic abilities, notably football and fighting. He was a Golden Gloves champ and one of the top bare-knuckle fighters in town. He graduated Stephen F. Austin High School in 1958 with a football scholarship from UT, where Darrell Royal had just taken over as coach. To a kid like Overton, in a football-worshipping state like Texas, that scholarship represented a ticket out, a brass ring. Instead, he chose the path of a Beat-era Texas Tony Soprano. At UT, he supplemented his scholarship with pimping, drug sales, and burglary. Halfway through his second year, Royal gave him the boot. The university followed suit. Timmy’s friends claim that Royal could’ve done more to help, that foot ball players were routinely released from police custody after a visit from someone with the Longhorn athletic department. They say Timmy never forgave Royal for turning his back on him. True or not, those rumors are part of the legend, and they seem to illuminate what made Overton tick. He was still basically a jock, but without the gridiron or the boxing ring, he had to find some other way to continue receiving the affirmations he obviously craved. Look at his yearbook photos: You see a tentative young man, unsure of his place in the world. Then look at the photos of him standing on the courthouse steps, flanked by Texas Rangers, cracking wise for reporters. He’s beaming, he’s on top of the world. More accurately, he’s onstage, playing a role he enjoyed: Austin’s white trash godfather. By 1963, a lot of Timmy’s teammates and high school running buddies had finished college. Former teammates Mike Cotten and Johnny Treadwell were entering law school, as was Dick DeGuerin, today one the country’s best-known criminal attorneys. Back in high school, DeGuerin was a wannabe tough guy and fellow party animal. Among the fond memories DeGuerin has of running with Overton, he told me, was crashing parties and participating in the infamous Halloween riot of ’56. Timmy started 1961 with a stay in Huntsville penitentiary for his role in a safecracking operation. By the spring of ’63, he had settled into his new role in the Austin underworld. Wherever he went, he trailed an entourage of usual suspects: burly thugs, hookers, used-car salesmen, domino hustlers, paper-thin junkies, and the cleverest, crookedest barristers that UT Law School ever turned out. One of Timmy’s best pals was a rich kid from Laredo who JULY 11, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31