Manhunt at Menard Creek

Surrounded by snarling prison dogs, a thief drowns in a muddy slough after a two-day chase. Lawmen swear it was an accident, but the U.S. Justice Department wants to make a federal case out of it.

  1. Long before they found Tommy Earl Haynes facedown in Menard Creek with a pack of hounds snapping at his body, it had seemed a safe bet that Haynes would never achieve a high public standing. His sister Elizabeth Martines hadn’t seen him in nearly a decade because, as she stated in a deposition, “I didn’t like to visit prisons.” The last time his legal wife, Billie Jean Haynes, had laid eyes on him was in 1983, when she observed Haynes driving a brand-new pickup and reported him to the sheriff for car theft. The only two men who ever spent much time with Haynes were two Tyler County officers who had made a virtual career out of arresting him. One of the last law enforcement officials to pursue Haynes, Hardin County sheriff Mike Holzapfel, appraised the lifelong criminal with a smirk and declared, “Tommy Earl Haynes was not an upstanding citizen, not a credit to society, and the world is probably better off without him.”

    He was a 48-year-old illiterate with an IQ of 70, a speech impediment, a swarthy look, and an uncomplicated manner—a man of few natural gifts. In fact, he had three, according to the lawmen who knew him best, former Tyler County deputy sheriff B. J. Vardeman: “He was a natural born thief—he couldn’t help it any more than he could help breathing. He’d get started on a binge and take the most ungodly things. Tractors. Kitchenwares. Once he broke into a campsite and stole a deer mount and a bunch of other crap he couldn’t use. It was just the way he was.

    “But,...

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