A Murder in Littlefield, Texas
by: Bobby McDonald
When most of us think of the small town of Littlefield, Texas, in the Texas Panhandle, we think of it being the hometown of Country and Western Icon, Waylon Jennings, who grew up in the town and rose to national prominence for his music. But, another happening in the town, helped to establish the town in the "national spotlight" back in the 1940's, as a young doctor and his beautiful young wife were murdered in 1943, in a brutal murder that swept all across the national headlines and unfolded in a drama that spanned the entire state of Texas.
Located on the Texas High Plains, Littlefield is in one of the richest cotton producing regions of the state and was once part of the Giant XIT Ranch, a part of the 3 million acres that was awarded for the building of the Texas State Capitol Building, in Austin. In 1901, Major George Littlefield purchased 312,000 acres of the giant ranch, known as the Yellow House Division, for $2.00 per acre, and began "breaking up" the acres into farms for settlement. He hosted a "Grand Opening" on July 4, 1913 and by 1915, the town of Littlefield had a population of 250 residents. Today, the town boasts a population of close to 6500 people and serves the agricultural region of the state with goods and services.
But, it was on October 23, 1946 that the small farming community was shocked with the brutal murder, in the middle of the night, of their young town doctor, Roy E. Hunt, and his beautiful wife, Mattie Mae Franks Hunt, whom he'd married, in 1937. The popular young couple were found bound together in the bedroom of their home, on the morning of October 26th, when their five year old daughter, came across a vacant lot next to their home and alerted the neighbors that "something bad" had happened in their home, while she and her little sister had been present. Lawmen from all across the Texas Panhandle converged on the small farming community and began combing the property for clues to the murderers, as two days later over 1500 local residents attended the funeral of Dr. & Mrs. Hunt in the Littlefield Methodist Church.
The year before, in 1942, Dr. Hunt had been shot off "Clovis Road," the road going from Clovis, New Mexico, to Lubbock, Texas (Now known as Hwy-84) but survived being shot twice, as he ran and hid in the furrows of a plowed cotton field. The young doctor had implicated a classmate and fellow doctor, Dr. William R. "Billy" Newton, and his wife, Ruth Nichols Newton, who ran a medical practice in Cameron, Texas, as the shooters. A "high profile" trial had ensued and Dr. Newton was convicted of the shooting, but was released on appeal.
Immediately, law enforcement considered Dr. Newton as connected to the murder of Dr. & Mrs. Hunt and another round of investigations and trials were scheduled to connect the Cameron doctor and his wife to the crime. Some felt the connection was a "love triangle" from when the doctors "crossed paths" in Galveston, Texas, at the University of Texas Medical School, where Dr. Hunt had admitted to dating Dr. Newton's wife, Ruth Nichols Newton. Was it jealousy? Was it some other motive?
Investigators charged Jim Thomas, a noted "gangster" with the killing of Dr. and Mrs. Hunt and repeatedly tried to find a way to connect the gangster with Dr. & Mrs. Newton, in Cameron, Texas.
The "plot" thickens as several members of both the Newton and Hunt families were prominent in both medical and politcial endeavors, as well as the attorneys for both sides. It was a series of trials that transpired the landscape of Texas, long before mass media and computers brought the crimes of the world into the homes of Texas.
Dana Middlebroooks Samuelson, a Littlefield, Texas, native, along with her husband Dr. Robert Samuelson, have written a detailed book about the 1943 murder of Dr. and Mrs. Roy Hunt and the many, many connecting pieces of evidence that were produced in the high profile case. The book is entitled Clovis Road and is a must read for anyone interested in Texas history and the intrigue of crime.
This is a great read, that keeps you "glued" to the pages, as the 170 page manuscript reveals the findings in the trials and investigation of this brutal crime on the Texas High Plains.