HPD History: Detectives with empty guns borrow one from confrontational Hotel manager to help arrest rapist on White Oak Bayou

Earl Musick

As Houston Police Officers, we used whatever resources we had available in arresting the bad guys. A recent newspaper article from late 1974 brought back memories about three Homicide detectives who were down to their last three bullets after a chase and shootout with a suspected rapist.

On Friday at around 3 p.m. a teenage girl was shopping at the Northline Shopping Mal, in her father’s new white over red Grand Torino. While at the mall, she was abducted and taken to an abandoned house in the 3200 block of Mansfield, where she was robbed and raped. After raping this teenager, the abductor tied her up and left her in a trashed-out abandoned house. The suspect then left in the victim’s car.

Homicide detectives Larry S. Ott and his partner Van C. Knox were assigned the investigation and they talked with Detective Carolyn L. Stephenson about the case. The three detectives theorized that the rapist probably lived in Acres Homes and would be showing off the car to his friends, since it was Saturday night. With these thoughts in mind, they drove out to the area looking for the car.

Just as the detectives had theorized, the suspect was showing off the stolen car to some friends at a local beer joint off Desoto. When they spotted the car, the suspect was in the driver’s seat and there were two or three males standing nearby. Van was driving the unmarked police car with Larry in the front passenger seat and Carolyn in the back seat on the passenger side.

The decision was made to attempt an arrest and Van pulled into the parking lot beside the stolen car. Larry and Carolyn identified themselves as police officers and pointed their guns at the suspect, demanding he step out of the car. Looking down the barrels of two pistols, the suspect chose to flee in the car, going west on Desoto at a high rate of speed.

Van said the chase was very short, since the suspect lost control of the car and crashed into a ditch in the 3700 block of Desoto, near White Oak Bayou. Van remembered it being very dark and the suspect immediately came out of his car and fired four shots at the pursuing officers. They returned the gun fire using all their bullets except for the three, which were in Van’s pistol. As the suspect disappeared into the dark woods both Larry and Carolyn were out of bullets.

The gunfire attracted the attention of Marshall Williams, the manager of a nearby motel, who believed Larry and Van were attacking Carolyn. Mr. Williams got his own pistol and confronted the detectives. After being shot at by the suspect, the detectives now had a second person pointing a gun at them demanding they drop their guns. If Larry and Carolyn were not out of bullets, this case could have turned out badly.

The three detectives were eventually able to convince Mr. Williams they were police officers attempting to arrest a suspected rapist. Although the suspect had evaded arrest, they soon learned his identity and where he lived. His house was very close and the detectives wanted to see if the suspect had run home. The problem was, they had two empty guns and Van only had three bullets left in his gun.

Feeling it necessary to immediately check the suspect’s home, the resourceful detectives persuaded Mr. Williams to lend them his gun. They found the suspect at his home and he was arrested without further incident. The suspect was later identified by the victim and charged with aggravated robbery, sexual assault and attempted capital murder. Van could not recall the suspect’s name and unfortunately Larry and Carolyn have passed away after having outstanding careers in the Houston Police Department.

Larry’s widow Betty Ott had an old copy of a newspaper article about this incident, but it did not name the suspect. At the time of this incident, Van was a new detective assigned to the Homicide Division and he remembers in detail that Saturday night, which he believes was in late October or early November of 1974.

Van recently drove out to the area of this incident and the old motel and beer joint are no longer there.