A character in Larry McMurtry’s novel “Lonesome Dove,” and later in the television miniseries, infamous 19th-century outlaw Bluford “Blue” Duck, wreaked havoc across Indian Territory. In 1884, while drunk near in what is now eastern Oklahoma, Blue Duck and a cohort emptied their revolvers into an unsuspecting farmer, killing him. The two were quickly caught, convicted of murder, and sentenced to life in prison. Blue Duck, a romantic love interest of famed female Old West outlaw Belle Starr, died in 1895. He is buried in his home town of Catoosa, in northeast Oklahoma.
In 1978, Catoosa, the home and final resting site of Oklahoma’s infamous 19th-century killer was itself the scene of a noted murder in the Sooner State during the 20th century.
The small town which produced a “Lonesome Dove” character experienced the murder of its lone lawman, Police Chief J.B. Hamby.
Oklahoma distributed automobile licenses through privately owned franchises called Tag Agencies in the 1970s. The agencies kept little cash on hand at their offices, but they were still frequently targeted by robbers who trafficked stolen vehicles. One Tag Agency office was in the small town of Catoosa, a suburb of Tulsa.
Two women were working in the Catoosa Tag Agency building on the morning of September 1, 1978. Shortly after 8:00 a.m., two hooded men entered the building with guns drawn.
One woman was on the telephone at the time and, before she was enslaved by one of the gunmen, told the caller they were being robbed. That person called the police, and Catoosa’s only lawman, 24-year veteran Chief J.B. Hamby, responded to the call.
As Chief Hamby entered the agency, he was greeted by the sound of gunfire. A shootout commenced between him and the gunmen. Twenty rounds of ammunition were exchanged through the small office in a matter of seconds, several of which struck J.B. He managed to stagger to the next door laundromat where customers summoned help. The chief, however, died before paramedics arrived.
One of the robbers, Jackie Young, was killed at the scene. Reports conflict about how he died: some say he took his own life; others say he accidentally shot himself to death; some state he was killed by the ricochet of the hail of bullets.
Miraculously, despite the barrage of bullets, the two women clerks were unharmed.
The second robber was shot several times in his leg and groin but managed to escape. He was identified as 25-year-old David Smith, the son of prominent professors and described as the “All-American Boy.” The incident was the Stillwater native’s first brush with the law.
Smith was apprehended two hours later while being treated for the gunshot wounds at a nearby hospital.
Smith’s physical wounds healed, but his good-boy image was permanently scarred. He was charged with murder after ballistics tests proved the bullet that killed Chief Hamby had been fired from Smith’s gun.
Smith took the stand in his own defense at his trial, claiming he participated in the robbery only because of death threats from Young.
Smith testified Young was his neighbor at his apartment complex and that they had worked on cars together. Smith claimed he and Young planned to defraud Young’s insurance company by claiming Young’s car was stolen, collecting the insurance money, and selling the vehicle. He said Young paid him $500 to participate in the scam by moving his car to a hidden locale.
Smith claimed he only learned of Young’s plan to rob the tag agency while they were moving the car. After he refused to participate, Smith claimed Young pulled a gun on him and threatened to kill him and his fiancé if he did not do so. Smith claimed he only committed the robbery out of fear of Young.
Smith’s defense team also tried to dispute the ballistic determination that Smith had fired the fatal shot that killed Chief Hamby.
All of Smith’s arguments, however, were unsuccessful. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving 15 years.
In 1982, after three years as a model prisoner, Smith was given trustee status, meaning he had significantly more freedom. He attained the highest level of trust as he was approved to live and work outside of the prison.
Smith was assigned to live and work alone at a small water pumping station where his job was to monitor equipment at a nearby lake. Guards assigned to check on him regularly found him always at the station performing his duties.
The imprisoned Smith married his fiancé, Jo Beth McNary, on June 26, 1982. He remained a model prisoner for three more years, until October 28, 1985.
That morning, a prison guard stopped by for his regular 1:00 a.m. check of Smith’s sleeping quarters at the lake. To his shock, the trusted inmate was not there.
Prison officials believe Smith walked from his sleeping quarters at the lake to the nearest highway, approximately one mile away, where Jo Beth was waiting. Authorities determined the couple mailed two letters from Macalester, a mile away.
It was also determined that Jo Beth had closed out her bank account, sold her furniture, and borrowed $1000 from friends during the previous week. She told her travel agent she was going to Mexico, but investigators found no evidence the fugitive couple traveled south of the border.
Instead, in February of 1986, the two were seen at a convenience store in western Arkansas, only 90 miles from where Smith had escaped five months earlier. The police were notified, but by the time they arrived, the duo had vanished.
David Smith eluded detection for eight years.
“Unsolved Mysteries” profiled Smith’s case twice. After the second airing in March of 1993, the Tulsa FBI office received an anonymous tip saying Smith was working as a service manager at an automobile dealership in Spearfish, South Dakota. Local authorities, along with the FBI, arrested him at the dealership.
In December of 1993, over eight years after he walked away from “prison” Smith was sentenced to an additional four years for escape on top of his previous life sentence.
Charges filed against Jo Beth in South Dakota for accessory to a felony and impersonation to deceive law enforcement were later dropped. I could not find any source stating if charges were filed against her in Oklahoma for aiding the escape of a prisoner, nor could I see if federal charges were filed against her.
Jo Beth Smith died in 2003 at age 49.
The now 66-year-old David Smith remains imprisoned at the Lexington Correctional Center in Lexington, Oklahoma. He has not regained his trustee status but, perplexingly, is still eligible for parole, as records state he was denied parole in 2008.
Smith’s appeal to have his conviction dismissed was denied by the Tenth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals in 2010. Current Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was then a Circuit Judge on the Tenth Circuit, wrote the summary and opinion rejecting the appeal.
Similar to Blue Duck in the 19th century, Catoosa’s most infamous 20th-century outlaw appears out of luck.
• Claremore Daily Progress
• JUSTIA US Law
• KOTV-DT Tulsa CBS Affiliate Channel 6
• Los Angeles Times
• The Oklahoman
• Rapid City (south Dakota) Journal
• Tulsa World
• Unsolved Mysteries
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Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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