Strangest State: On the Lookout for Black Helicopters and Falling Prices


Patrick Michels

A version of this story ran in the June 2015 issue.

Strangest State is a recurring feature on local news you might have missed from around Texas. From profiles of small-town doctors to monstrous swamp creatures found by local kids, they’re stories that don’t fit… anywhere, really, but we want to be sure don’t go unnoticed. Got a local oddity or some small-town news to share? Tips are welcome at [email protected].

PARIS // Recent North Lamar High School graduate Tony Bost has found his calling as a “frustrations detective”—in other words, an inventor. Now that he’s figured out how to apply for patents, according to a Paris News profile, Bost is “prepared to amaze the world with the potential of his ambition.” So far, according to the News, Bost “has [had] well over 100 ideas and patented four.” They include the “Vapor Master,” the “Pack ‘N’ Push,” the “XtendAbend” and the “S.S.K.K.” (aka “Super Spider Korner Killer”). The last-mentioned device, Bost says, “pertains to eliminating spiders and any other insect that ever goes to any corner of a home or business.”

STEPHENVILLE // Bethel Baker discovered a copy of the Granbury News from 1938 while looking for something else in his cabinets. “Inside the yellowed newsprint,” the Stephenville Empire-Tribune reported, “was a fascinating glimpse into the world of journalism long ago. Noticeably absent was [sic] the Twitter handles and email addresses found below most journalist’s bylines these days.” Articles in the old newspaper included a piece on “practical, pretty designs” for women’s fashion, and a reminder to drivers not to hit children on their way to school. “Drive carefully and don’t be the cause of the maiming or death of any of these little ones,” the paper advised.

GRANBURY // “[W]ith adrenaline pumping through his 9-year-old veins,” D.J. Pritchett ran from his home after discovering a rattlesnake in the living room in late March. The scare happened just before April Fool’s Day, but the Hood County News reported that it was no joke: “April Fool’s Day tricks don’t usually have fangs, rattlers and a diamond-shaped pattern.” When first discovered in the house, the western diamondback “was stretched out, as if relaxing in front of the television”—at least until D.J.’s father dispatched the intruder with a shovel. “It managed to coil up one last time, for old time’s sake, before dying,” the News reported. “It was about 15 inches long.”

TYLER // While awaiting his murder trial in the county jail, James Calvert is alleged to have illegally counseled other inmates on their cases. After a county investigator searched Calvert’s cell for evidence of an unauthorized law practice, Calvert demonstrated his legal acumen by representing himself at a court hearing in April and calling on himself to testify. To help everyone follow along, he offered to raise his hand when he was “talking as an attorney.” According to KLTV, “Calvert questioned himself as a witness with a
monologue of back and forth questions and answers,” until the State interjected. “Objection, Your Honor. He’s leading the witness,” District Attorney Matt Bingham complained. Calvert apologized: “I’m sorry, it gets confusing.”

“Do not believe anything that Wal-Mart is saying; it’s a trick, part of the ‘Operation Jade Helm,’” he wrote, referencing a planned covert military training exercise in the southwestern United States.

GROVETON // Trinity County Sheriff Woody Wallace became the latest East Texas lawman to embrace the power of social media when, in April, his office alerted drug users that they were now eligible for a $500 reward in exchange for turning in their dealers. “Everybody watches Facebook,” the sheriff told KTRE-TV. The “Help Wanted” post on the sheriff’s office Facebook page promises respondents help entering a drug rehab program and a $500 bounty if the dealer is ultimately convicted. “Serious inquiries only!” the post reads. In February, the Rusk Police Department took a customer-service approach on its Facebook page: “Hey Everybody!!! If you have a drug dealer that is selling you bunk dope, stemmy or seedy weed, or generally providing low quality of service—WE WANT TO KNOW!!!”

MIDLAND/LIVINGSTON // The abrupt and coordinated closure of Wal-Mart stores in two cities left some savvy shoppers smelling conspiracy. The mega-retailer’s Livingston location announced its six-month “hiatus” in April with just a few hours’ notice, inciting a run on its steeply discounted perishable goods. Prices may have fallen, but in the eyes of some, the real reason for the closures remained just out of reach. Wal-Mart officials said the stores were closing for maintenance, but one Midland Reporter-Telegram commenter urged the newspaper to dig deeper: “There is clearly a lot more to the closure story and we are all being disrespected and lied to, with the kinderspiel cover story you were given.” Another wondered about “military vehicles” parked outside the Midland store, while a KHOU-TV commenter urged vigilance in Livingston: “Do not believe anything that Wal-Mart is saying; it’s a trick, part of the ‘Operation Jade Helm,’” he wrote, referencing a planned covert military training exercise in the southwestern United States. A national workers’ union has said the closures—which left nearly 900 employees in Texas suddenly without work—were a targeted retaliation in a labor dispute. Wal-Mart denied that claim.