Book Review: Book of fiction zeroes in on intriguing 1950s HPD ‘suicide’ at 61 Riesner

M. D. Beale Jr.

Forgotten and Dishonored

By Larry and Carolyn Watts

Copyright May 2016 by Larry Watts

Larry Dean Watts Publishing, Dickenson, Texas

Can anything be done about it today?  That’s the bottom line question.  It’s an HPD mystery from the mid-1950s that comes to you in the form of a novel. Get a copy of the book and make up your own mind about what happened to an HPD narc. Did he commit suicide or was he murdered?

I bought my copy Thursday, Jan. 12, at the HPROA meeting from Larry and Carolyn.  They autographed my copy – the first signed copy in history.  I think the best way to order yours is from Larry’s website (www.larrywatts.net ) or you can contact him via the publishing address, 2874 Morning Pond Lane, Dickinson, TX  77539.

I read this book in one sitting.  Couldn’t put it down. That’s a rare thing for me.  It took the afternoon and a little of the early evening but I didn’t notice too much.  I didn’t realize exactly what I was doing until I was through.  That pretty well tells you how good I think the book is.  Trying to sort out exactly what I think and feel about what happened is a totally different proposition.

The fiction in this book is pretty much in how the story is told.  It’s not in the basic discoverable facts of what happened in 1953 and 1954.  See the website for more of the “back story.”

I joined HPD in 1968 as part of Class 38 and retired in January of 1991.  I was a street cop for seven years before going to the Vice Division for a year then promoting to Detective in the Robbery Division in 1975 where I spent the rest of my HPD career.  I suffer from no illusions at all about police officers or police procedures.

Over the years I had heard a few comments about this officer’s death and those were from very senior officers and detectives who were loath to talk about it.  Now I understand why.

A fundamental truth:  Times change.  It is a very grave error, in my not so humble opinion, and one of utmost unfairness – to apply another era’s standards to any given incident.  You have to judge the “rightness or wrongness” of past events in the social context in which they happened.  That does NOT mean you don’t learn and change things in the decades between the 1950s and today.

To try to understand or judge past events using current social conditions, mores and morals is a mistake.  What today are totally unacceptable actions were then considered to be proper and the right thing to do, given the specific circumstances in which they happened.

For instance, to condemn the practice outlined in the story of using captured contraband (dope) in order to make the absolutely necessary informant system work is wrong.  In a social, political and administrative situation where there was no way to pay informants, officers were faced with choosing whether or not to fight the narcotics trade at all.  There was only the one solution available to officers all across the nation and they took it.  Almost all of them did it following the unofficial but “correct” guidelines established.  They did the best they could with what they had to work with at the time.  The few that didn’t – as usual – screwed it up for everybody else.

Having said that – murder, especially for profit, is dead wrong (pun intended) – in any time or situation.  The killing of a  police officer in the police station raises it up there to a whole new level.

At first glance at the pages of this book, it would appear that Detective Martin Billnitzer was murdered in his office on the second floor of the main police station at 61 Riesner Street.  The declaration of the killing being a suicide seems like a blatant cover-up.

Almost all of the folks that ever mentioned it around me talked of it as a suicide involving a federal narcotics investigation.  That was the “public” version.  However, a couple noted that he was shot twice.  They didn’t think a suicidal person could shoot himself twice.  It’s extremely rare but it’s possible.  There’s at least two that have occurred in Harris County.  The key, I think, is in exactly where the wounds were in the chest/heart area.

Many years after I retired a good friend of mine (now deceased) mentioned to me something that happened at the time of the killing.  A friend of his (who was deceased at the time he was tell me the story) had been nearby when the shots were heard and had seen another officer (now deceased) heading down the back stairs just around the corner from where the killing took place. Why was he going in the wrong direction?

There is still a Homicide case file somewhere, I guess.  Chief Breashears supposedly had it looked at when he was acting chief and decided that there was nothing that could be done about changing the status at that time.

Forensics change every day. But one must ask: who has any forensic evidence in this case?

So, we’re back around to the bottom line question:  Can anything be done now about a case that unfolded more than 60 years ago?  If Billnitzer was murdered, he certainly deserves to be included in the Line of Duty roster, I think.

There’s a whole lot more to the story.

Get a copy of the book and see what you think.