Sunday, January 15, 2017

Charles "Tex" Watson's Texas

Both George and I had travels through the Metroplex within a month of each other. My foray to Copeville was only for an afternoon. George had the good fortune to be able to spend more time. The first part of this post is mine. The majority is George. Hope you enjoy it:


In October I was in Austin, Texas on business. As long as I was there I decided to make a side trip to Copeville to check out the Watson homestead. From Dallas you can make it in about a half hour or so. I did so with a heavy heart as it was the day after learning of our own Robert Hendrickson's death.

I was met there by my friends Cielo and Tom H. Most of you know of Cielo from his top-notch TLB site Tom H has been a silent contributor to the blog over time and is well versed in TLB, Tex Watson and the East Texas area surrounding Copeville. There have been a few times during my TLB-related journeys when in retrospect I wished we had had a video camera recording the conversation. One of those was that day in Copeville outside a convenience store, leaning against cars while Cielo explained all of the tribulations, government stalling and doublespeak surrounding the Tex Tapes. Tom talked about the area's history, the Watson/Montgomery families and Collin County. It was a terrific hour or so...

We checked out the house:

I was surprised to see that the house is occupied. There were children's toys lying around and kittens pouncing about. It's much smaller than I had anticipated. Really small for the family of five that were the Watsons.

The building that served as Denton Watson's gas station/grocery store is locked up. The pumps are gone and grass grows through the cracked & broken concrete. There is a security fence surrounding the rear portion of the former store and the metal building adjacent to it. Inside the fence was a large dog. We could hear music coming from within the metal building, but no one responded to our knocks. It was a tad spooky.

Tom says that the street was once a happening place with cafes, stores and other businesses. Copeville is surrounded still to this day by thousands of square miles of farm land. Farm vehicles roll slowly on the streets and everyone you pass gives that forefinger salutation from the steering wheel.

Copeville is located in Collin County. The county seat of which is McKinney, where Watson was held while fighting extradition to California. When he was arrested, his second cousin Tom Montgomery was the County Sheriff. Another cousin, Bob King was the jailer who oversaw him for nine months. Mr. King is still alive and was recently interviewed by Tom H. Here is the sound file. Nothing earth shattering but it's another piece of the story that's now documented. Enjoy:


Inspired by Matt's post above about his recent trip to Copeville, Texas I decided to visit some locales relevant to Charles "Tex" Watson's life in the area on my own during a Thanksgiving-time trip to Dallas.

The first place I stopped was at the Thompson Cemetery in Lavon, Texas. This is the final resting place of Watson's parents, Clarence Denton and Mary Elizabeth Watson. I was really surprised by what I found there. Rose bushes have been planted by the graves in such a way as to almost totally obscure the two headstones on them. No other graves in the 800-plus graves cemetery had such a landscaping feature, and I've never seen such an arrangement at any other grave in any other cemetery. I can only speculate on what the presence of the bushes means, but it's almost like the parents didn't want to be found and recognized in death.

The Thompson Cemetery in Lavon, Texas

The names of the families buried in the cemetery have been rendered in the metal fencing surrounding it. Charles Watson's parents are the only two Watsons buried there, although there are numerous Montgomeries (Mary Watson's family). The parents' grave site is visible left of center.

Rose bushes have been planted in front of the graves, 
almost totally blocking the names on the headstones. 

Another view of the rose bush planting

Looking back towards Texas Highway 78

You can only read the headstones by approaching them from the far side 
and reading them upside down. 

Charles "Tex" Watson and his parents during a post-conviction prison visit, from 
Will You Die For Me?  His father looks very pained. 

Water tower near Copeville

The next place I went was to the Copeville Community Methodist Church, the site of Watson's early religious training. As we poked around the property, took pictures, and tried the locked front door, a Collin County sheriff's deputy pulled up and parked in an adjacent parking lot. But just as I was going over to him to introduce myself he drove away.

Above, the Copeville Community Methodist Church as pictured in Will You Die For Me?  
Below, the church today

A painted rock on the front stoop of the church

The church is within easy view and walking distance of the former Watson residence and gas station. 

View from the church to the former Watson home and gas station/store

The Watson gas station/store in December, 1969 (Thank you Tom H.!)

"By late the next day [after Watson's arrest], the story had hit the wire services, reporters had started calling my parents at home, and photographers and newspeople were descending on McKinney in droves. My parents had to fight their way through a large crowd to get into the jail.

"It was front-page news. Los Angeles Police Chief Edward Davis gave a press conference to announce that warrants had been issued for the arrest of Patricia Krenwinkel, Linda Kasabian, and Charles Watson (Charlie, Susan and Leslie would be named later) for the murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski, Steven Parent, Rosemary LaBianca and Leno LaBianca. He told the two hundred reporters from around the world that the crime of the decade had been solved.

"A few days later my father painted over the WATSON on the front of the store he'd taken half a lifetime to build." -- Charles Watson in Will You Die For Me?

The gas station area today

View from the gas station area to the church

The Watson house in Will You Die For Me?

The Watson house today. The front door was ajar, but I didn't knock. 
(Notice how much the tree in the front yard has grown.)

Watson attended high school in Farmersville, just under eight miles to the north. Farmersville High is where Watson's infamous theft of four typewriters occurred during a fraternity initiation when he attended the North Texas State University in Denton, Texas, another 20 miles to the west. I knew that the old high school had been completely torn down, so I made no effort to locate or photograph the new school. But I did want to see what the town and surrounding countryside looked like, so we went through there on the way to McKinney. On the way we passed Lavon Lake. Watson took a girl there for an afternoon of recreation on the day that he was arrested for the Tate/LaBianca murders. 

Lavon Lake near Copeville, where Watson spent his last  hours of freedom

"On November 30, I took a drive with my rediscovered girl friend. We had a quiet day at a nearby lake, sitting on a blanket, talking. For some reason, I felt I could relax around her, and we even wove fantasy plans of running away to Northern California together. She was very bored with Texas, and California had the same allure for her it had once held - it seemed like an eternity ago - for me. It almost seemed possible that there might be a future.

"When I got home that afternoon, my father and my mother's brother, Maurice Montgomery, were waiting for me. As soon as I walked into the dim, musty light of the store and saw the two of them together, my father's weathered face staring at me in pain and disbelief, I knew what had happened. The running was over." -- Charles Watson in Will You Die For Me?

The approach to Farmersville from Copeville

Although there is much post-1969 sprawl in greater Farmersville the downtown hasn't 
changed much from when Watson attended high school in the town.

The closed movie theater features movie posters from the town's favorite son, 
World War Two hero and B movie star Audie Murphy.

After Watson's arrest he was taken to the county seat of Collin County, McKinney, where he was housed in the old county prison. 

The Collin County Prison, where Watson was held during his fight against extradition to California

"When we got to the sheriff's office in the big stone jail, just off the main square where the Collin County Courthouse punctuates the low-slung town, my second cousin, County Sheriff Tom Montgomery, called California again for more information but was told nothing except that I was to be held until Los Angeles detectives got to McKinney and that I was dangerous. As he led me to a cell with an embarrassed, apologetic grin, my cousin Tom said, “I think we'll be able to clear all this up quick enough. We know for sure you didn't commit no murder.” I walked into the cell without answering him." --  Charles Watson in Will You Die For Me?

Plaque on the old Collin County Prison

The building has been completely remodeled inside to accommodate an accounting firm, 
but the rear entrance to the structure betrays its former function.

Google Maps view of central McKinney showing the old courthouse (top center) 
and the Collin County Prison (bottom left center)

Watson successfully fought extradition to California for nine months. He attended his legal proceeding in McKinney at the courthouse in the center of the old town square. 

The old Collin County Courthouse. It now houses the local Center for Performing Arts.

Although artwork now decorates the interior, the building still has very much of a courthouse feel. 

Sign indicating the way to the former courtroom, now converted into a theater

The courtroom/theater today, complete with segregation-era balcony al la To Kill A Mockingbird
A theater troupe was having a rehearsal while we were there. 

Charles Watson also spent several years in Denton, Texas, attending the North Texas State University. While there he tooled around in a 1966 Dodge Coronet 600 until he totaled it while running a yellow light during one of his nightlife forays into Dallas. 

A 1966 Dodge Coronet 600

Watson had hoped to pledge the Epsilon Delta chapter of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at NTSU when he stole the typewriters from Farmersville High. Fate intervened however (he got caught) and he never made it into the frat. Today PKA still has a chapter at the former North Texas State University (now called the University of North Texas). The fraternity's website declares that "Pi Kappa Alpha’s members at the University of North Texas strive to be Scholars, Leaders, Athletes, and Gentlemen, and they seek excellence in everything they do."  "Tex" Watson certainly excelled at what he did. 

I was not able to determine whether PKA currently had a frat house, so we didn't drive the additional 30-some miles from McKinney to Denton to check it out.