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Texas | Columns | "They shoe horses, don't they?"


The Tragic Death of Little Lucy Maynard

Camp Swift
Bastrop County

by John Troesser
Thousands of men came and went through Camp Swift, Texas during its brief wartime life span. Of all the Army training camps in Texas, Swift was by far the largest, even without counting the attached Prisoner of War barracks.

The law of averages dictates that out of the thousands of men stationed there, some of the trainees had to have been criminal, insane, or both. Such was the case with 38 year-old George S. Knapp, a former gunsmith from Minnesota who had been in a mental institution in St. Paul before his induction into the U.S. Army.

Bastrop was an incredibly busy place throughout the war. By the time the weekend rolled around and passes were issued, thousands of troops were eager to leave the confines of the post. Kerrville Bus Lines had seventeen buses per day that shuttled between Bastrop and Austin. The soldiers got a free ride back from Austin on army trucks - but to get to Austin, they had to pay. The overworked, multi-patched and rationed tires frequently blew out and left stranded soldiers all along the highway. But civilians driving into Austin would almost always stop and transported the stranded troops the rest of the way in.

Bastropians also frequently invited soldiers into their homes for Sunday dinners. This was a tradition in the home of Judge C. B. Maynard, who was also a Major in the Judge Advocate General's Office at Camp Swift.

ne day the Judge's little daughter, Lucy failed to return home from school. Since the school was only two blocks from her house, a search was immediately ordered and MPs at Camp Swift were notified of the missing girl.

Later that evening in Austin a man gassed up a Lincoln Zephyr at the Gulf gas station at 29th street and Duval and drove off without paying. Since the thief was in uniform, the license number was reported to the Austin police and the police, in turn, called the MPs at Camp Swift.

Pvt. Knapp showed up at the Camp Swift gate behind the wheel of the stolen car and was immediately placed under arrest. The car had been reported stolen earlier that day by the car's owner, a Camp Swift Captain.

Knapp, was confined, but slept warm and comfortable, while Lucy Maynard lay unconscious and exposed to the October chill with a crushed larynx. On the afternoon of the next day, her body was found in a pasture three miles from town. Despite the efforts of Dr. Gordon Bryson, the family physician who delivered Lucy into the world nine years before. she died at 4 a.m. the next day.

Knapp was questioned about any involvement with the girl. He admitted that he saw her walking home from school and offered her a ride. "Come on, little sister, and I'll ride you home," he reportedly said. His story expanded and he told how he drove around Bastrop for some time. When the little girl became frightened and started screaming, he strangled her with his hands and then threw her into the pasture where she was found.

A court martial was ordered and his confession helped convict him. Psychiatrists were split on his mental competence, because of his time spent in the Minnesota mental hospital. The vote was 2 to 1 in favor of his standing trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang. But due to the fact that he was in uniform, a decision to carry out the sentence of the court had to come from the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces - the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt.

Today in the Camp Swift file of the Bastrop Historical Museum, a copy of a telegram sent from Washington D.C. to Judge Maynard shows the terse message: "Confidentially, matter is ending to your satisfaction." There was no signature.

The condemned man was held in the stockade at Fort Sam Houston, although the sentence was to be carried out at "an undisclosed location."

The Maynard family was notified that the execution was to take place at Leon Springs Military Reservation, 20 miles NW of San Antonio. They were asked to come early if they wanted to attend. On the morning of March 19th, 1943 a lone Maynard family member stood with other witnesses on a platform about level with the gallows that had been constructed 75 feet distant. George Knapp spoke with his guards as he climbed the traditional 13 steps. He looked in the direction of the witnesses and said clearly: "Say, folks, I didn't rape that girl - I want you to know that."

In a light drizzle, the drop was sprung and George Knapp departed this earth. Although he was hung in uniform, protocol dictated that all insignia be removed from his uniform. The brass military buttons had been replaced by plain civilian ones.

The hanging took place a short five months after the crime and newspaper coverage was very limited compared to the type of attention it would receive today.

The Maynard family moved from Bastrop, leaving behind a large family plot in Bastrop's Fairview cemetery - including little Lucy's marker. The former Maynard house is one of the many architecturally significant homes in Bastrop and was recently used in a 1996 movie - (The Whole Wide World) standing in for the home of Texas author Robert Howard - creator of Conan the Barbarian. - TE
The Whole Wide World
John Troesser
"They shoe horses, don't they?" April 11, 2004 column

Sources: Newspaper clippings, typewritten sheets and telegram from the Camp Swift file at the Bastrop County Historical Museum.

Related Topics:
Texas Murders | People | WWII

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