transferred from the Baytown Sun society section to the news desk,
I looked forward to writing my first big crime story - one that would
be picked up by the wire services and would turn printer's ink green
with envy on those scoop-hungry Houston
Managing editor Preston Pendergrass, reflecting the mindset of the
times (the 1950s), took a dim view of this "soc" transferee. A woman's
place was in the home, he always said, but if she wanted to be a newspaper
reporter, her place was in society news.
Give me the police beat, I told Preston. I can do it.
Ignoring my suggestion, he went on to say that I would be writing
obits, checking the weather, covering Kiwanis, Rotary …
Before he could continue with the labor-intensive list that clearly
did not include the police beat, I interrupted.
"Police beat: Pleeeze."
Finally, he agreed, adding he didn't think it was a good idea. "But
Soon after I became a police reporter, a driver zoomed down busy Texas
Avenue in Baytown,
breaking the speed barrier, heading west. He appeared to be veering
Big Oak Tree, the city's historic and most beloved landmark, but
officers stopped him just in time.
After jailing the suspect on a DWI charge, they told me he claimed
to be an FBI agent.
And he said he was driving fast in pursuit of a criminal.
I wanted to talk first-hand to with this fast driver but by the time
I arrived at the jail he was sound asleep.
I couldn't wait to contact the FBI about it. What if he really were
an FBI agent and there really was a criminal at large wanted by the
FBI. I had to investigate.
Back at my desk, I dialed the FBI number in Houston.
"This is Wanda Orton at The Baytown Sun, and a man in jail here says
he is an FBI agent …"
A real-life agent on the phone asked me to repeat my name, also where
I worked. Then he told me he had gone to Baylor with Sun publisher
That's nice, I thought. We're off to a good start that covered where
and when I was born, names of my parents, name of my husband, how
long I had worked at The Sun and myriad other biographical material.
He didn't ask me anything about the man who said he was an FBI agent.
With my desk facing the side-door entrance, I could see people entering
the Baytown Sun building, and believe me, I was always on the lookout.
In a few hours after my call to the FBI, here they came through the
side door - two men in suits plus he Baytown
chief in uniform, heading straight toward the newsroom.
I didn't tell Preston where I was going. I just got up quietly and
quickly, escaping through the door of the classified ad department
and then the front entrance to the building. Free at last, I left
a trail of empty coffee cups at every lunch counter in every drug
store and café downtown. Finally, as the hour of sundown approached,
I went back to work.
"They're gone," Preston announced. "Been gone a long time, got tired
of waiting for you."
Come to find out, no charges would be filed against the driver for
impersonating an FBI agent. When he woke up in the jail cell, sobered
and sorry, he didn't even remember his "excuse" for driving fast.
He did pay the price, though, for driving while intoxicated.
Meanwhile, Preston found my fear of the FBI to be amusing. So did
Chief Montgomery and probably the FBI agents did, too, especially
Mr. Hartman's former college classmate.
Anyway, after waking up and asking the suspect questions, the chief
and agents had dropped by the newsroom for a friendly visit. We could
have all gone out to coffee together.
© Wanda Orton
Baytown Sun Columnist
15, 2016 columns
Texas Towns | Texas
Counties | Columns | People
| Texas |