By JESSIE HORTON
ERATH COUNTY (September 23, 2015) — It was an unassuming, rainy Saturday afternoon, but those gathered in the school house on the Stephenville Historical Museum Grounds are anything but unassuming. They are the people who survived three days and nights of terror in Erath County in August 1974.
Local author Sherri Knight, whose sold out book – Death List: Trail of Terror – details their stories, sits at the head of one table signing and passing down the line each of the 100 collector’s edition hardback books. The collector’s edition books were individually numbered and signed by those interviewed by Knight for the book.
But the real feat was gathering these fine folks together. The rain poured down on the parched ground outside as we sat around two tables and a piano listening as each person took a turn introducing themselves and recounting their stories. As each one took a turn, the scene unfolded and the rainy afternoon turned to hot, black night.
Three escaped convicts from the Colorado State Prison crossed three states headed for Mexico. But they took a detour, a trail of terror and vengeance that led to Erath County. Using backroads and taking advantage of remote houses, the three managed to remain at large for three days and two nights. Along the way, they broke into six houses and held county residents hostage, looking for weapons and vehicles.
Well into the third night, the three convicts banged on Gladis Parr’s door. Parr told those in the school house she thought her kids were trying to scare her into coming into town when the three first harassed her.
“But then he stepped forward, into the light coming from inside and I could see those eyes…” Parr recalled. “There was violence in his eyes, in Dalton Williams’ eyes, and I knew they weren’t kidding.”
A few of the officers who were involved in the shootout with the trio recounted kissing their wives goodbye, knowing they would be gone for “at best 48 hours or so, maybe never, we didn’t know.” More than 200 law enforcement officers invaded Erath County and closed in on the convicts.
Knight spent months researching for the book, interviewing each and every one of these people gathered and so many more. She even sat down with the woman Williams raped. The woman trusted Knight so much she gave the author a handwritten note Williams gave her to give to his mother. Knight donated the note, along with all the rest of her research, to the Stephenville Museum where she hopes generations of historians can benefit from it.
Knight joked the book, which sold out the first printing and the collector’s edition print, wrote itself, but someone in the group said it another way.
“Sherri did all the work bringing us and the information together and maybe the story was thrilling, yes, but she’s an artist of people and of retelling their stories just right.”
Today, Knight, who grew up around Lingleville and was a child at the time, still lives in Stephenville with her husband, Arden. She volunteers as Stephenville Museum Director and on the Erath County Historical Commission.
She said this was an informal, preview to the Sundown on the Square event the Stephenville Museum is hosting on October 10. There will be more to come on The Flash about Sundown on the Square, which will benefit the museum and coincide with By-Gone Days.