Billie Sol Estes, the famous Texas conman died Tuesday, age 88 in his home in DeCordova Bend about 60 miles southwest of Dallas, Texas. Estes was a name that conjured up images of schemes that could only have been hatched in Texas; the state with the “biggest” of everything.
Estes, who was accused in 1962 of stealing from a federal crop subsidy program became well know as the man who has Texas size dreams combined with greed and corruption.
Billie was considered the “king” of the Texas conmen. When he was at the peak of his career, he even had songs written about him and his exploits. He even got his picture on the cover of Time magazine, who called him “a bundle of contradictions and paradoxes who makes Dr Jekyll seem almost wholesome.”
The Time article went on to say that, “He considered dancing immoral, often delivered sermons as a Church of Christ lay preacher. But he ruthlessly ruined business competitors, practiced fraud and deceit on a massive scale, and even victimized Church of Christ schools that he was supposed to be helping as a fund raiser or financial adviser.”
Estes gained the pinacle of his infamy in a scandal that erupted while President John F Kennedy was in office. It involved fake financial statements and a fertiliser tanks that did not exist. When he got “found out” several lower tier governmental officials resigned and Biller went to prison for awhile.
His daughter, Pamela Estes Padget said on Tuesday that, “I thought he would meet a very violent end. We worried about him being killed for years. But that was not to be, she related that her father had died peacefully in his recliner, with chocolate chip cookie crumbs on his lips.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who took over the office when Kennedy was assassinated, was often linked to Estes’ but the late president’s associates said their relationship was never as close or as sinister as Estes implied.
Estes went to prison for the 1962 looting of the federal crop subsidy program being convicted in 1965 for mail fraud and conspiracy to defraud. He was finally released in 1971.
But his freedom from incarceration did not last long. New charges were brought against him in 1979, and later that year he was convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy to conceal assets from the Internal Revenue Service. He was sentenced to 10 more years but was freed a second time in 1983.
Former Associated Press correspondent Mike Cochran, who followed and covered Estes’ trials and schemes throughout the 1970s and `80s, could recall writing about how Estes made millions of dollars in non-existant fertilizer tanks and noted, “how many city slickers from New York or Chicago can make a fortune selling phantom cow manure?”
Cochran went on to say that, “Billie Sol was a character’s character. I spent literally years chasing him in and out of prison and around the state as he pulled off all kinds of memorable shenanigans.”
Estes, in 1983, decided he knew what his problem was and why he continued to do the things that he did. In a statement made just before he was released from his second prison term, Estes declared that his whole problem stemmed from compulsiveness.
He went on to say that, “If I smoke another cigarette, I’ll be hooked on nicotine,” he said. “I’m just one drink away from being an alcoholic and just one deal away from being back in prison.”
In 2003, Estes co-wrote a book published in France that linked ex-President Lyndon Johnson to John F. Kennedy’s assassination, an allegation that has been rejected by prominent historians, Johnson aides and family members.
Estes always admitted to being a conman or a swindler, but he always portrayed himself as a sort of “Robin Hood” who wanted to be remembered for using his money to feed and educate the poor. He was an advocate of school integration in Texas long before it was fashionable.
Estes’ wife Patsy died in 2000. He later moved to Granbury, a town southwest of Fort Worth, and remarried.
Services for Estes are set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Acton United Methodist Church in Acton, east of Granbury.
By Michael Smith