Who shot the sheriff?: The South Plains trial of the century

Editor’s Note: Jack Becker is the editor of Caprock Chronicles and a librarian at Texas Tech University Libraries. He can be reached at jack.becker@ttu.edu. Today’s article on the South Plains “Trial of the 20th Century” is the first of a two-part series by regular contributor Chuck Lanehart, Lubbock lawyer and historian.

Dickens County Sheriff Bill Arthur.

In the winter of 1935, two trials dominated the South Plains headlines. The celebrated New Jersey trial of Richard Hauptmann for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindberg baby became known as “The Trial of the Century.” But on the South Plains, coverage of Hauptmann was overshadowed by the Lubbock trial of Virgil Stalcup, charged with the murder of the Dickens County Sheriff.

Stalcup was born in New Mexico in 1907. He was small – six feet tall and 140 pounds – with light skin, green eyes and balding light brown hair. Described as “pug-nosed”, he sported a gold-covered front tooth and smoked constantly. He married at the age of 20 and the couple had a daughter. Stalcup found work as a car mechanic, but soon embarked on a more lucrative, short and intense crime life.

His specialty was armed robbery, stealing from victims in the Southwest. At age 23, Stalcup ended up in Texas prison, where he served 125 years for robberies from Wilbarger, Potter, and Wichita counties.

The 1909 Dickens County Jail, where Sheriff Bill Arthur was murdered in 1934.

On April 13, 1934, Stalcup escaped prison and made his way to his father’s home – OB Stalcup – near Lawton, Oklahoma. There he met 38-year-old Clarence Brown of Snyder. They have committed a series of robberies in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

As authorities approached OB’s home on June 17, there was a shooting. Stalcup was shot in the shoulder and his 54-year-old father was killed. Two police officers were injured by gunfire.

Comments are closed.