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Clay Coppedge
Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Monroe Fisher's
Higher Calling

by Clay Coppedge

On a hot August day in 1926, a man named Wiley Fisher parked his car in front of Eads Undertaking Parlor in downtown Belton. He and his wife had attended a viewing of a neighbor who had recently died in a car wreck. Fisher went to the passenger side to help his wife into the car just as Albert Bonds pulled up in a Model T and opened fire with a shotgun.

Witnesses said Fisher realized what was about to happen to him just before it happened and he shoved his wife into the car a second before Bonds pulled the trigger. Three children of the neighbor they had come to view were already in the car. Wiley Fisher died, but no one else was injured.

"Bonds' car was running slow," one witness later recalled. "Just as Fisher got his right hand on his pistol, that shotgun started firing. He pulled the trigger and kept on pumping that shotgun. He fired three loads of buckshot into Fisher."

Fisher, who was chief of police in Temple when he died, left behind a wife, ten children and a reputation as a tough but honest and fair-minded lawman. Bonds had served as the county's sheriff for four years but lost an election to John Bigham in 1924. He ran against Bigham again in 1926, and lost again.

A couple of weeks before the 1926 election, Fisher had put out a newspaper ad that accused Bonds of not cooperating with Temple police and protecting moonshiners. He also insinuated that Bonds had been involved in an alcohol-related car crash. Bonds blamed his loss to Bigham on Fisher and threatened to kill him. There is no doubt that he did just that, right across the street from the courthouse and directly in front of the undertaker's office.
Bell County Courthouse, Belton, Texas
Bell County Courthouse in 1939
Photo courtesy TXDoT

Bonds went on the run after the shooting but returned to Belton a couple of months later in the company of Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, best known as the man who tracked down Bonnie and Clyde and led the ambush that killed them. Bonds posted bond but didn't act like a man who had just surrendered. He strapped on a pair of Colt .45s and started haunting the courthouse square in Belton, keeping an especially close eye on the north door.

"From then on, six days a week, Bonds was downtown, mostly in the 200 block of East Central, the scene of the killing," witness John Surghnor recalled to Dallas Morning News columnist Ken Biffle in 1986. "He always stood so that he could see the north side of the courthouse. He sat in his car or stood with his back to the wall."

One day Bonds found Sheriff Bigham and his chief deputy sitting on the north steps of the courthouse and called out to them from his Model T. Bonds then dog-cussed Bigham and the deputy up one side and down the other, daring them to go for a gun.

"Before this is over, it looks like I'll have to kill the sheriff and his deputies," Bonds snorted, and drove away.

A nervous citizenry waited to see what would happen next and soon observed county law enforcement officers mostly avoiding the north door of the courthouse .

Bonds, who was awaiting his own trial, was usually off the streets by dark, but on Dec. 2, 1926 he stuck around to serve as a possible witness in an evening court session. He parked his car in front of the courthouse just as another car passed. The driver of the car seemed to recognize Bond and swerved across the street to get closer, tires squealing. Bonds looked behind him just as somebody poked a shotgun through a back window and pulled the trigger. He ducked.

"When the shotgun went off, instead of taking the top of his head off, it shot the right eyeball out of its socket," Surghnor recalled.

A bystander drove Bonds to the hospital, where he was treated, bandaged and released. He was back on the street the next day "studying the courthouse with his remaining eye."

Monroe Fisher, Wiley Fisher's oldest son, was charged with the shooting but not indicted. He faced a new murder charge in May of 1927, a month before Bonds' scheduled trial date, when somebody shot Bonds to death in downtown Belton, just a few yards from where Wiley Fisher had died. Monroe and his 19-year old brother Johnnie were charged with the murder. Only Monroe stood trial, and a jury of his peers quickly turned him loose. Several newspapers reported that the jury reached their decision after just one ballot.

Surghnor told Biffle that he believed Bell County's elected officials were afraid to prosecute Bonds. "I believe those elected officials helped plan Albert Bonds' death," he said.

Legal scholars today see the Monroe Fisher verdict as an obvious case of "jury nullification," where a jury might suspect or even know a defendant is guilty but returns a not guilty verdict because the jurors don't like the law or they believe the victim needed killing. Defense attorneys, especially in the early days, often invoked a "higher calling of family honor" when defending an obviously guilty client. That seems to be the case here.

Monroe Fisher went on to serve a stint as a Bell County constable in spite of the fact that he might have killed a former sheriff-or maybe because of it.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" September 23, 2019 column

Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Temple's International Man of Mystery 8-27-19
  • Rocket Mail 8-1-19
  • James Brock's Honesty of Purpose 7-16-19
  • William Burroughs in Texas 6-28-19
  • Daniel Edwards: Hero or Hoax 6-13-19

    See more »

  • Related Topics:

    Texas Small Town Sagas

    Outlaws

    More Columns
    Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Temple's International Man of Mystery 8-27-19
  • Rocket Mail 8-1-19
  • James Brock's Honesty of Purpose 7-16-19
  • William Burroughs in Texas 6-28-19
  • Daniel Edwards: Hero or Hoax 6-13-19

    See more »


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