Episode 1: Donnie, This is it. They’re Going to Kill Us.

Episode 1: Donnie, This is it. They’re Going to Kill Us.

In February of 1971, deputies from Dallas and Ellis Counties converged on a house in West Dallas to serve what should have been a simple arrest warrant for the burglary of a home. What ensued was a night of terror and one of the biggest manhunts in recent history in North Texas. What happens when five lawmen are met by two criminals with nothing to lose?

It’s February 15, 1971, and Wendell Dover went to work as he had for years with the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office. Ellis County is one county south of Dallas. Sheriff Dover went to work that day with his partner, A J Robertson. This was Sheriff Robertson’s 29th year in law enforcement. He was a family man, making 606 dollars a month back then; Robertson went to work that day a husband, a father and a grandpa. Sheriff Dover and his partner were called to investigate a burglary at the home of a James Davis off Slate Rock Road. If you were to follow the Trinity River for about 30 miles from Downtown Dallas in between I-45 and 175, you’d hit Slate Rock Road in a town called Bristol. Dover spoke with the homeowners – saw that there were pry marks on an entrance, noting that among other things, a gold flowered pillow case was missing. It was pretty obvious that other property was missing, and that the pillow case could have been used to carry the property away. Sheriff Dover interviewed a young boy at the home, and got a good lead – a description of a ford including a license plate number: LZY 284. The car came back to a man that matched the description of the burglar, a man named Jose Sanchez Benitez. Benitez lived at 2810 Ingersol in Dallas Texas. 

Based on this information, Sheriff Dover swore out an arrest warrant in front of a  Waxahachie Justice of the Peace named Herschel Smith for the offense of Burglary of a Residence. He and his partner, Sheriff Robertson, headed for Ingersol in Dallas. When officers from one jurisdiction go to another, they will often call in for local help. On the way to Dallas, Dover called the Dallas Sheriff’s Office for assistance, and reached Dallas Sheriff Samuel Infante. Sam as he was known, had been in law enforcement for 10 years, was married and had a family. Dover, Robertson and Infante gathered in their DSO Squad cars and headed for Ingersol, arriving about 10 minutes later. They noticed a Ford Fairlane parked in the front yard occupied by two Hispanic males. Infante introduced himself, and identified one of the occupants as Rene Adolfo Guzman; the other as Leonardo Ramos Lopez. Infante asked them basic investigatory questions – where they lived, who else was in the house, those sorts of things. He took notes in his notebook. Meanwhile, Ellis County Sheriff’s Dover and Robertson go around the side of the house where they find a Ford, License Plate LZY 284. They alerted Infante that they found the car they were looking for.

Infante asked if they could all go into the house for further questioning. Everyone did. There, the investigation turned more accusatory – Infante asked the two men about their whereabouts that day, telling them that the car around the side of the house was seen and described by a burglary victim in Ellis County just hours earlier. They both claimed to be home all day, and that their friend brought it home hours earlier. Infante asked if he could take a look around, and the two men agreed. Infante and Robertson looked in a bedroom and found a pillowcase that matched those from James Davis’s burgled home off Slate Rock Road. Infante wanted to get consent to search the house and seize the pillowcases, but didn’t have any of the forms in the car with him. Meanwhile, Robertson had gone down the street to check for witnesses or to see if anyone knows Jose Sanchez Benitez – their original suspect, the for which the warrant was procured – and whether anyone saw him. Robertson meets back with Infante and goes back in the house to use the phone – Infante needed to call DSO to get a consent form.

While Robertson was interviewing witnesses and Infante looking for the consent forms, Dover, being very suspicious of the suspects’ story that the Ford had been there for several hours, knew of a very easy way to tell if they were lying – he’d check the radiator. If it was hot, they were lying. He went around the side of the house, opened the hood, felt the radiator, and it was indeed hot. The men were lying. Just about the time he closed the hood, he felt a gun in his back – it was Rene Guzman:  “Get in the house. I’m going to kill you.” As he was led into the house and into the living room, he had to give the man his .38 service revolver. Infante and Robertson were sitting in the living room. Lopez had .380 in one hand and a snub nosed Smith and Wesson six shooter in the other. Lopez and Guzman demanded money – the lawmen take out their billfolds. Guzman leaves Lopez with the guns trained on the lawmen, coming back momentarily with a roll of plastic covered wire. Robertson bargains with the men – take the money and the guns and just leave. When they declined to do so, Infante said to his colleagues, “They’re going to kill us.” The men were tied up and sitting on the couch when everyone hears a knock on the door.

AD McCurley was married for 26 years, and a proud member of the Dallas Sheriff’s Office. He was with his friend and colleague Don Reese when they received a phone call from Sheriff Sam Infante requesting that they bring consent to search forms to 2810 Ingersol. Reese drove McCurley the short drive from DSO to Ingersol – the same drive taken by Dover, Robertson and Infante. McCurley arrives, seeing the two squad cars already in the front yard. With consent forms in hand, they knock on the door. “Come on in,” replies a male voice. Reese went in first, then McCurley. As soon as McCurley got in, he felt a gun on his side. It was Lopez. Lopez took McCurley’s .45 Colt Commander from his coat; Guzman disarmed Reese, taking his 9 millimeter automatic.

Guzman made McCurley tie up Reese’s hands. McCurley did – making a big deal about how tight he was doing it, but in reality, he tied him up loose enough for Reese to escape. Lopez then tied up McCurley while Guzman kept the gun trained on the other lawmen. There were now 5 Peace officers, commissioned by two sheriff’s – 2 from Ellis County, 3 from Dallas County – tied up, disarmed, and at the mercy of two men. But who were these two men? Where did they come from? Unbeknownst to the 5 bound and gun-less lawmen, Guzman and Lopez had been down the road of being suspected and accused of committing burglaries before. They must have surmised that they were running out of grace from the criminal justice system.

Rene Guzman went to prison for the first time in June of 1961 after his probation for Assault with the intent to rob in Hidalgo County was revoked. He was also convicted twice for Burglary out of Jim Hogg County. He was sentenced to 2 years. A short time later, he was sentenced to 10 years for 2 additional burglaries in 1964, one out of Swisher and the other out of Hall. Leonardo Lopez was first convicted and sentenced to prison for Burglary out of Nueces County in March of 1964. He paroled out, and very quickly was convicted of another burglary in the same county in November of 1964 when he was sentenced to 5 years in prison. These are the two men holding 5 Deputy Sheriff’s hostage in the living room of 2810 Ingersol on Feb. 15, 1971.

Guzman cuts the wire tied to Deputy Infante’s wrist, and leads them all outside to the Ellis County Sheriff’s car. Infante is ordered to the driver, Reese in the back, McCurley next, Robertson then Dover. When Guzman goes back into the house, the officers plead with Lopez for their lives – “Now is the time to leave, he’s gone in the house. We can leave and get away and you won’t have any problems compared to what you will.” Lopez simply shakes his head no. He is in the car with his back to the dash, knees on the seat, guns pointed at the men. Guzman comes in, sits the same way and orders Infante to drive.

At gunpoint, Infante heads down Ingersol to chalk hill road, turn left and then left on Singleton. Infante tries to ram a car, to cause a wreck, hoping that whatever the men had planned could be interrupted somehow. Lopez screamed, stuck him forcefully with a gun. They took a right on Bernal, left on Pluto, right on Canada to Westmoreland, a street with a bridge that goes over the Trinity River. They turned left and drove down about 1/2 a mile on a dirt road on the running alongside the Trinity. Infante is ordered to stop the car. Guzman gets out first. Don Reese asks, Sam (that’s Samuel Infante) what are they fixing to do? Infante replied, Donnie this is it, they’re going to kill us.  You’ll remember that McCurley loosely tied Reese’s hands; on the short 10 minute journey, Reese got his hands free unbeknownst to his captors. Reese got out of the back seat after Guzman got out of the front seat. Reese was followed by McCurley and Robertson, then Dover. Infante and Lopez got out of the front seat. Everyone was outside the squad car now. Reese, now untied, took a swing at Guzman, but he missed. Guzman fired and shot Reese, knocking him back 6 to 8 feet. Infante ran away, while Lopez was directly behind him. Robertson and Dover ran down towards the river, hands behind their back. They heard gunshots. They tried to run faster. Robertson turns and sees that they were getting in the car, “they are going to run us down,” he screamed to Dover. They separated, Dover towards the bank, Robertson to his left. He saw the car chasing Robertson, and heard Robertson say, “Run Dover! Run!” Lopez fired, Robertson fell. Dover turns and starts up the bank. But he tripped and fell to the ground. Lopez catches him and shoots him one time square in the chest as he lay on his back. He pretended to quit breathing. He hears moaning, then shots, then several more shots. Then the squad car drove away. He passes out, left for dead.

When he comes to, he sees Robertson, face down, laying on his right side, his right arm extended and checks for his pulse. His partner AJ Robertson, Ellis County Deputy Sheriff with 29 years of experience, a husband, father, grandfather, is gone. Dr. Walter Hofman performed the Autopsy, and would testify that Robertson was shot and killed with own gun. He had 4 gunshot wounds. Gunshot Wound Number 1 was located in the back, shoulder height, exiting through the collar bone, a through-and-through. Number 2 was an inshoot wound to the left chest, exiting through the right chest wall, through the left lung, aorta, right lung and out of the body. This wound would have been fatal. Number 3 went into his hip, the bullet coming to rest just above the pubic bone. It was recovered. Number 4 entered through his hand, and the bullet was recovered just above his thumb.

Dover, still bleeding to death but conscious, next finds Don Reese. William Don Reese was 31 years old, a 7 1/2 year veteran with DSO. He was laying on his back, as if he landed face up and slid down. His clothing slid up revealing his stomach. His holster was on his side, empty. He was mortally wounded, no pulse. Dr. Charles Petty  – the same Dr. Petty who would work with Dr. Elizabeth Peacock on Mary Pratt’s autopsy in the Charles Albright case 20 years later – would testify that Deputy Reese had an inshoot wound to the left side of his chest that traveled through his aorta, right lung, and 12th rib. Exiting near the shoulder blade. The second gunshot wound entered his upper stomach area, went through his liver, and exited through the right side of his chest. The range of fire was estimated to be about 2-3 feet.

As Dover continued down the edge of the river, he saw Samuel Garcia Infante on top of some garbage, bleeding from the nose, obviously deceased. Dr. Hofman would testify that Infante had marks on his wrist consistent with ligatures. He was shot in the back, the bullet traveling through his lung and his heart, and exiting the body. He was 32 years old and in otherwise good health.

Dover then sees a Dallas Police Department (DPD)squad car driven by LD Martz, and A.D. McCurley got out. DPD collected the wire from his wrists and took Dover to Parkland. Dover survived his gunshot wound to the chest, and would be the second witness in the trial.

When Dover and Robertson took off in one direction after Reese tried to hit Guzman, Infante and A.D. McCurley took off in the other. He ran right in front of Sam Infante, being chased by Lopez who was firing at them. McCurley dove over the bank towards the water. He would have slid into the water, but was luckily stopped by a tree. He heard lots of shooting, and got up and ran as far as he could to Westmoreland. He had to rest, and laid down there a minute when the shooting started all over again, but this time it was further away. He heard several more shots, more hollering, more screaming, then more silence. After a brief instant, he got up on Westmoreland. He tried unsuccessfully 3 times to stop drivers passing by showing his badge. They just drove right around him. He then got in front of a car, a boy was driving. He ordered him to stop, got in the front seat and drove to Canada and Westmoreland, and ran inside a service station and called DPD. He asked the man that ran the gas station if he had a gun. He did, and gave it to Deputy McCurley. It was a .22 caliber. The boy in the car waited on him while he made the call and armed himself, and then took him back to where he originally picked him up. He heard a siren from DPD, and got into the car. He noticed a person in a field adjacent to the road – it was Dover. Even though he was shot in the chest and was bleeding, Dover took them back to where the bodies were. He told the officers what happened and was taken to Parkland. Investigators were dispatched to the crime scene at Ingersol, and they collected evidence from the Trinity River bottom. The bodies were taken to the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences for Autopsy.

Dallas Police Department Officer Gonzalo Gonzales processed the crime scenes. At the Trinity River Bottoms, he measured 318 feet between Sam Infante and Don Reese, and 18 feet between Don Reese and AJ Robertson. Crime scene investigators also found Infante’s notebook, the warrant for the arrest signed by Justice of the Peace Herschel Smith, and a .380. At the nearby intersection of Pluto and Canada in the parking lot of the Zales building, Police found the Ellis County Squad car, a Plymouth, the one Dover and Robertson used.  Lopez’s fingerprints were found on the right rear door, the left rear door, and a chrome piece surrounding the left front door. 3 prints lifted from the Ford, the one used in the Ellis County Burglary, matched the defendants: 2 matched Lopez, 1 matched Guzman. Back at 2810 Ingersol, DPD collected a set of handcuffs belonging to one of the officers, some wire similar to that discovered on the deceased officers wrists, and 3 wallets belonging to the officers. Based on interviews with the surviving officers, Gonzales pieced together the travel route from the Ingersol house to the trinity river.

More pressing than all of that, Investigators were looking for 2 men responsible for killing 3 Deputy Sheriff’s. The story gained national attention, and for 4 days, the two men avoided detection and apprehension. But on February 19th, 1971, based on information from informants and from surveillance, DPD Homicide Detective G.F. Rose had good reason to believe that Lopez and Guzman were together in apartment 4 at 4627 San Jacinto in Dallas. A female answered the door, telling the officers she sees, “they are in there, they’re going to shoot, get me out of here.” Using his flashlight, Rose enters and finds Guzman in the bathroom, armed with a .32. Guzman throws the gun down, and tries to run out. He is caught and arrested. Lopez comes out of the dark armed with a .38 snub nose revolver. The officers heard a click. The gun misfired. Upon examination, one of the rounds had an indentation in the primer cap. Later Forensic testing revealed that the The .32 Guzman had was Ellis County Deputy Wendell Dover’s gun; the .38 snub nose recovered from Lopez was Dover’s deceased partners, Deputy Robertson.

Once arrested, the police took Rene Guzman in for questioning. And at 2:10 AM, Guzman was interrogated by Detective Gus Rose, and said this after being read his rights: I have lived with my mother and step-father for about 4 months.

A Few Days later on 2/23/1971, Detective Poe interviewed Leonardo Lopez at the Dallas Sheriff’s Office. After being read his rights, he said this:

By the time Lopez signed his statement on February, 23, 1971, 3 officers were murdered: AJ Robertson from Ellis County, Sam Infante and Don Reese from Dallas County. Wendell Dover was critically injured, but would live. As would A.D. McCurley. Both would prove to be the State’s key witnesses in the upcoming trial.

Lopez and Guzman were both indicted for quote, “voluntarily and with malice aforethought” killing Sam Infante, Don Reese and AJ Robertson. According to the law applicable at the time of the trial, “Malice Aforethought” included all those states of mind under which the killing of a person takes place, “without any cause which will in law justify, excuse, or extenuate the homicide. It is the doing of a wrongful act intentionally, without just cause or excuse. It is a condition of the mind which shows a heart regardless of social duty and fatally bent on mischief, the existence of which is inferred from acts committed or words spoken.” The possible punishment was either Life in prison with parole or death.

On May 12, 1971, a few months after these indictments were handed down, the Presiding Judge of the 195th Judicial District Court, Judge R.T. Scales, granted Lopez’s and Guzman’s change of venue motion. When McCurley and Dover testified, it would be in a town called Belton in Bell County, Texas, a town nearly 150 miles south of Dallas, or nearly 120 miles south of Slate Rock Road in Bristol where this whole thing started. Belton is in between Austin and Waco, just East of Killeen. The trial would be heard there in the 27th Judicial District Court.

End of Episode–