Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Big Bust

George Washington Owen, Jr. started life on August 14, 1925 as the son of a Texas couple near the Corsicana oil fields in small town Emhouse. They moved to the big city of Dallas while he was in high school, graduating from Crozier Tech, formerly Oak Cliff High, in the historic downtown area in 1947. At that point he moved up to playing college basketball for Southern Methodist University, also in Dallas, from 1948 through 1951. As the photo below indicates, his basketball team was successful, taking him all the way to New York to play in Madison Square Garden in his junior year. A guard, he was often there on the rebound and sometimes saved the game, at least according to the newspapers reporting the game results.

At least George was enough of a star at SMU to catch the eye, and for a time the heart, of Nell McGrew, country girl from Rotan, near Abilene. Perhaps she was impressed by the fact he was six years older when they married in their junior year in college; he had taken several years after high school to serve in the war. But the newspaper photos would not have impressed her. She already had a huge portfolio of her own.

They appeared to be the perfect couple by the time Candy Barr appeared on the scene in Dallas. The story we hear from all the reporters who talked to Owen is that he was a young, innocent boy when Pat Gannaway's men showed up at Candy's place and were about to haul George off to jail. They say he was the reason Candy took the bottle of weed out of her bra, for which she was later incarcerated after she lost all her appeals. But we have to realize this so-called innocent boy was every bit of 32 years old, a married man with two sons, creator of a chemical business in Dallas, although what type of chemicals he manufactured remains a mystery.

Capt. W. Pat Gannaway in charge of CI unit on narcotics matters. He had been busting Dallas' underworld for over ten years by the time he got Candy Barr for possession of marijuana in 1957. Eleven years earlier he was written up in Texas newspapers for arresting a preacher who was luring young girls up to his hotel room to take nude pictures of them.

Gannaway had gone from being a lieutenant in 1955 to a captain in 1959. In between those years was his arrest of Candy Barr. It was that big bust (no pun intended) which may have made the difference.

Candy Barr, who danced at the Weinstein brothers' high-class joint next door to Jack Ruby's Carousel Club, was the big time for Gannaway. He liked high-profile arrests. Every cop does, if the truth be known. Big arrests mean better pay, more power. Gary Cartwright's story was posted previously on this blog, but it is worth repeating.

Copyright 1976 by Gary Cartwright 
Texas Monthly (December 1976)

Juanita Dale Slusher encountered the joy of sex at age five with the aid and comfort of an eighteen-year-old neighbor named Ernest. She remembers that he was gentle, and not at all unpleasant. It wasn’t until she encountered the Dallas police force some years later that Juanita Dale associated sex with guilt. When she was nine her mother died and her father remarried: Doc Slusher, brick mason and handyman, a whiskey-drinking harmonica player and all-around rowdy, already had five kids, and right away there were four more, then two more after that. With all those Slushers around, you’d think the work would get done, but it never seemed to…. At age thirteen and painfully confused, Juanita Dale took her baby-sitting money and grabbed a bus out of Edna, an independent decision that would become socially acceptable, even laudable, to future generations, but an act worse than rebellion in those days: it was the act of a bad girl. For a while she lived with an older sister in Oklahoma City, then a year or so later moved to live with another sister in Dallas. The Dallas sister soon hooked up with a man, and Juanita Dale was on her own….

To be technically correct, it was the old Liquor Control Board (LCB) that first discovered the girl who would become Candy Barr. They discovered her posing as an eighteen-year-old cocktail waitress—the minimum legal age. She wouldn’t be eighteen for another four years, but girls from tough backgrounds develop early, or they don’t develop at all. She kept changing jobs, and the LCB kept discovering her. Once they sent her home to Edna, but she caught the next bus back to Dallas…. Candy’s first husband, Billy Debbs, was a graduate of Shorty’s academy. Billy was a good lover but a poor student. He went to the pen, got out, then got shot to death. Somewhere in there—she can’t fix the exact time—a pimp spotted her jitterbugging in a joint called the Round-Up Club and launched Candy’s movie career. She must have been about fifteen when Smart Aleck was filmed. The thousands (perhaps millions) who have seen this American classic will recall that she was a brunette then. Smart Aleck was America’s first blue movie, the Deep Throat of its era, only infinitely more erotic and less pretentious. It was just straight old motel room sex; the audience supplied its own sounds….

One of the fringe benefits of being in films was that Candy got invited to all the best stag parties. Several prominent and wealthy Dallas business and professional men, on my oath that their names would not be revealed, recalled a Junior Chamber of Commerce stag where Candy was the star attraction. One auto dealer told me, “She went for two hundred, three hundred, even five hundred bucks. There was a banker who paid five hundred every time he put a hand on Candy.” … The Colony was the Stork Club of Dallas, the Cocoanut Grove, the butterfly of the Commerce Street neon patch where Jack Ruby ran the sleazy Carousel and conventioneers intermingled with cops and hustlers and drug merchants.

…Nobody in the Dallas Police Department wanted to talk about a marijuana case from twenty years ago, and Pat Gannaway, who retired a few years ago to join the Texas Criminal Justice Division, wasn’t available for an interview. But I know this: Pat Gannaway spent a lot of man-hours bringing one stripper to justice. The confluence of these two forces—Candy Barr, desecrater of all that is decent, and Pat Gannaway, the terrible swift sword—is surely the quintessence of a morality frozen in time.

Captain Pat Gannaway was referred to in newspaper accounts of the time as “Mr. Narcotics.” As a lad he had been so eager to join the Dallas Police Department that he lied about his age. For twelve years, until he was kicked upstairs (he was put in charge of rearranging the Property Room) in the 1968 department shake-up, he ran the special services bureau as his private fiefdom. He reported only to the chief. “His passion,” reporter James Ewell wrote in the Dallas Morning News on the occasion of Gannaway’s retirement, “was police work, down on the streets with his men.”

He loved the Army, too. He served in Army intelligence and was an expert wiretapper. When he wasn’t swooping down on the vermin that afflicted his city, Gannaway and his entire force were making speeches to civic clubs, warning of the peril. Those recent 1,000-year sentences that made Dallas juries such a novelty may have been the direct result of Pat Gannaway’s tireless crusade. Gannaway told James Ewell: “It was always a good feeling to see someone on those juries you recalled being at one of those talks. We always told our audiences if you got rid of an addict or pusher, you were also getting rid of a burglar, a thief, or a robber.”

In the autumn of 1957 Gannaway assigned Red Souter (now an assistant chief) and another of his agents, Harvey Totten (now retired), to rent an apartment near Candy Barr’s apartment and establish surveillance. A telephone repairman would testify later that he discovered a “jumper tie-up” connecting Candy’s telephone to the telephone in the apartment occupied by Souter and Totten, but the jury either ignored this or didn’t believe it. A few days after the surveillance began, Candy received a visit from a friend, a stripper named Helen Kay Smith, who laid out a story about her mother coming to visit and asked Candy Barr to hide her stash—the Alka-Seltzer bottle of marijuana. Candy agreed and slipped the bottle inside her bra, next to her big heart. Two hours later, as Candy was talking on the telephone to a gentleman friend (and therefore obviously at home, in case anyone with a search warrant wanted to drop in), there was a knock at the door. Candy’s defense attorneys claimed the search warrant was a blank that Gannaway filled in after the arrest, but the court didn’t buy that either.

Candy’s gentleman friend, who asked to not be identified, told me what happened next: “Candy said hold on, someone is knocking at the door. I heard some noises and someone hung up the phone. All I could think of was she’s in some kind of trouble. I got over to her place. When I walked in I saw Gannaway, Totten, Red Souter, Jack Revill, and I think one other narcotics officer.

Gannaway picked up a chair and said something like, ‘Well, well, that looks like a joint on the floor.’ I swear to you, it was the first marijuana cigarette I ever saw. That’s when Candy, God bless her, said to Gannaway, ‘He’s just a square john kid. He doesn’t know anything about this. If you let him go, I’ll give you what you came for.’ She reached in and pulled out the bottle. Gannaway decided he would take me in anyway, and that’s when Jack Revill said, ‘Captain, if you do that, I’m turning in my badge.’ So they took her away.”

Candy’s four-day trial the following February was a farce, which didn’t prevent it from also being a sensation. 

In its year-end review the Dallas Morning News headline read: Candy’s Trial Led ‘58 Scene.
Judge Joe B. Brown, who would later make his mark as the buffoon judge in the Jack Ruby trial, borrowed a camera and during one of the recesses snapped pictures of “the shapely defendant.” Defense attorneys Bill Braecklein and Lester May realized from the beginning that their problem was much larger than a bottle of marijuana, although, as May explained, “In those days marijuana was worse than cancer.”

“It was a time when the pendulum had swung far to the right,” May told me. “If the police decided you were guilty of something, they made a case and you were found guilty. It was just that simple. Candy’s real crime was she wouldn’t cooperate with the vice squad.”

No, the real problem wasn’t the marijuana, it was Candy Barr herself. It wasn’t merely her reputation, though God knows that was strong enough to kill a rogue elephant, it was that combative stubbornness, that unwillingness to throw herself at the feet of the jury and beg forgiveness. Chief prosecutor James Allen offered her two years for a guilty plea, and if Les May hadn’t got her out of the room she would have spit in his eye, or worse.

They decided not to put her on the stand; without her testimony, of course, it would be almost impossible to challenge state witnesses: she was in possession of marijuana, regardless of Helen Kay Smith’s testimony. That mysterious cigarette on the floor, though, was something else entirely. The attorneys worked out a way to let Candy make a statement to the jury without actually testifying, which meant that she could not be cross-examined. No one remembers Candy’s exact words, but it must have been a stirring oration. When she had finished, the jury just retired and voted her fifteen years in the Big Rodeo. It was Valentine’s day 1958.
“She was a very naive young lady,” Braecklein recalled. “While we were waiting to come to trial, she was out in Las Vegas, doing her act. Just one week before we came to trial, I got word that she was going to be a bridesmaid in Sammy Davis, Jr.’s wedding [to a white actress]. Anyone who grew up in Texas knew …

Although they didn’t anticipate anything approaching fifteen years, the defense team had braced itself for a verdict of guilty. They had already drafted a list of reversible errors that would have choked the Star Chamber. The real shock came when they lost a 2—1 decision in the State Court of Criminal Appeals. In the eleven months that separated the trial from the appeals verdict, Candy had reinforced her public image by moving in with hoodlum Mickey Cohen: one assumes justice is blind, but just how blind is an open question.

… I offered her one of my cigarettes and asked about Mickey Cohen. Cohen had personally guaranteed her $15,000 bond while the marijuana appeal ran its course. In a cruel way, those were the peak years for Candy Barr. She lived in a villa in the notorious Garden of Allah on Sunset Boulevard in L.A. and earned up to $2000 a week stripping there and in Vegas. Simultaneously, a pack of lawmen and profiteers howled like hungry dogs in her shadow—FBI agents, CIA agents, treasury agents, IRS agents, L.A. cops, Vegas cops, Dallas cops. The pressure was so enormous that the El Rancho Vegas had her replaced with Nelson Eddy. She was also in and out of the hospital with hepatitis. Candy recalled that the first time she ever heard of Mickey Cohen was when he sent an orchid in a champagne glass to her hospital room in L.A., along with this note: “Don’t worry, little girl, you got a friend.”

I had heard from good sources that the reason that Cohen got rid of Candy was she was giving him a bad press. The vast majority of those agents were interested in Mickey Cohen, not his girl friend. Word came down from “the Eastern organization” that if Cohen didn’t drop Candy, they would. Somewhere between Catalina Island and Hawaii….


Aug 14, 1925 - Jul 20, 2000
Age 74. Born in Emhouse, TX, August 14, 1925 and passed away July 20, 2000. After graduation from Crozier Tech High School, Dallas, he served three years U.S. Army, First Infantry Division, including the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. He attended Arlington State, before transferring to SMU where he played varsity basketball and was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha. After graduation, he started Mustang Chemical and other business ventures. During the mid '60s, he was the Player Relations Director for the startup franchise, New Orleans Saints. Later, he was a commercial and residential builder in North Dallas before retiring.
He is survived by children: Mitchell Owen and wife Suzzane, of Dallas; Bart Owen and wife Sheron of Garland, Kyle Owen, Wynne Owen and Mark Owen all of Dallas, and grandchildren: Haley Owen, Jenna Owen, and Scott Owen.
SERVICES: Restland Memorial Chapel at 10:00 AM, Sat, July 22, 2000. Interment to follow in Restland Memorial Park. Family will receive friends from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM Friday, July 21, 2000 at Restland Funeral Home, located on Greenville Avenue, 1/2 mile North of L.B.J.

1 comment:

Roland Elledge said...

I knew George Owens and Candy Barr who lived here in Bwd., Tx. for many years. The cover of the book Juanita Dale Slusher aka Candy Bar which you show in your article I got from erbepublishingcompany.com. It is the real story of the facts of the JFK killing and many other things. A must read for everyone.