The Legend of Tex McCord (aka Roger Caryl)

Mar 25, 2013 - by Kim Walker - 0 Comments

March 25, 2013

Roger Caryl aka Tex McCord

Roger Caryl aka Tex McCord

Roger Caryl was a tragedy in the making. Bullied in high school, he set off after graduation to become a cowboy in the Wild West. In short order he was broke and on the verge of being fired from the only ranch where he ever worked when he gunned down four people. A massive manhunt pursued him from Montana to Florida.                

by Kim Walker

Let me tell you the story of Tex McCord. He began life as Roger Caryl and early on became a denizen of Mount Zion, Illinois. The welcome sign at the village limits promised “a glowing past and a brighter future,” but not for Roger.

It was the same setting where nearly every day of high school Roger suffered the indignity of his books being jerked, thrown and kicked from his hands. Papers floated down three flights of stairs, sent careening kung-fu style, just like our TV hero, David Carradine.

Roger Caryl’s one yee-haw happy hey-day each year was the annual Fall Festival, where he insisted people call him “Tex” and he became sheriff for a day. He wore a badge and boots and had the power to arrest people and put them in a phony hoosegow. Tex quickly made up for lost time and exacted vendettas worthy of a Louis L’Amour novel. 

The night he graduated high school, Roger Caryl told his parents he was going camping in southern Illinois. Instead, “Tex” followed his life-long dream and moved west.

There he would re-invent himself on a dude ranch in Montana as Tex McCord, after a fabled 19th-century bandit. Seventeen-year old Caryl told people he was a Vietnam vet and a U.S. Marine. He claimed to be an experienced cowhand from a large ranching family in Texas. 

The Legend

The next time his hometown heard of Tex McCord was when four innocent people wound up dead one Sunday morning on the Whitetail Ranch outside Helena (TEENAGER SOUGHT FOR FOUR KILLINGS-HELMVILLE, Montana. UPI, October 9, 1973). 

According to sources, the bloodbath happened in the ranch house kitchen, where Tex returned home after several days on the range to find someone had “messed with his dog.” So he killed them.  In his home town paper, friends expressed surprise at the Caryl’s violent outburst.  “Roger loved everything.  He loved animals, and he loved trees…”But those accounts were only partly correct.   

The truth was that Roger Caryl was in trouble. He’d wrecked the ranch owner’s truck, and was ordered to dig a grave for the owner’s dog.  Caryl had shot and killed the owner’s dog – not the other way around – only days before he started killing people.  Tex was about to be kicked off the only ranch where he’d ever lived, and he was teetering on the edge. It was the last order John Miller would ever give Roger Caryl.       

When Tex strode into the ranch kitchen that morning he was carrying a shotgun and holding a revolver and had two knives in his belt. Tex’s employer, 23-year-old John Miller, was holding his baby. Miller shoved the baby onto a table and ducked under it. Tex shot Miller on the way down, and again in his hiding place while Miller’s wife, Roberta, watched in horror. When the cook, 62-year-old Ruby Judd, tried to wrestle the weapons from Tex, he shot her dead.  Roberta claimed Tex tried to kill her too, but missed. 

Two men already lay dead outside – Samuel Akins, 42, and his 18-year-old son, Stephen.

And this is where the story intertwines with yours truly. For you see, I was one of the boys who made “sport” of Roger, kicking the books from his hands and teasing him without mercy for wanting to be Tex McCord.

The Manhunt

In January of 1974, mere weeks after the killings, I was running sound on a film location in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The crew went to a local club one night, and on the way to the restroom I was shocked to find hanging an FBI wanted poster for escaped convict, Roger G. Caryl, aka Tex McCord.

The “legend” was growing. An ex-Eagle Scout, McCord had made his way across the Continental Divide with only a Buck knife. Highway checkpoints set every two miles across the rugged Rockies, and 140 volunteer “vigilantes,” were not enough to contain him. The FBI poster warned McCord was sighted in the Ft. Lauderdale area, and should be considered armed and dangerous.   

Back at Mount Zion High, friends of Tex were petitioning the governor of Montana, Thomas L. Judge. There must be some mistake. Roger was a good ole’ boy, and he must be taken alive, etc., etc.  

Roger’s father, James Caryl, said something else again, “If they have to shoot him, they just have to…  I hope they get him before he hurts anyone else...” 

But within days, as the dragnet was thought to be tightening around his boy, Roger’s father changed his mind. His dad now hoped Roger would live long enough to tell “his side” of the story.

Meanwhile, a small group of friends gathered in a dorm room at Watterson Towers on the campus of Illinois State University-Normal. Twenty-eight floors above the Illinois prairie, the towers were the highest dorms in the world, and freshmen who lived there were among the highest on earth – which in 1974 was saying something.

On this evening, an ominous storm cell crept across the western sky like black carpet-bombing of Cambodia. 

The students gathered that night were all graduates of Mount Zion High School. They knew Roger Caryl, and they knew Tex McCord. They knew he had escaped with six weapons ranging from a Derringer to a 7mm-magnum bore rifle with scope. Still, they sat smugly in their college dorm, “talking smart” and watching the storm from the safety of the towers.

Suddenly, heat lightening splashed across Dan Dagen (not his real name) in a dark corner, pulling his head off a horrendous bong hit. His long hair smothered in smoke, Dagen looked like a monk in self-immolation, drinking kerosene and smoking dynamite. 

The overhead lights glitched, and the towers shuddered in the wind, causing Dagen to sneeze, spew, and “oink” the dangerous ditch-weed in one snot-filled blast. 

“Aaarrrgh!” Dagen roared, coming up for air. “That fucker!”

For you see, Dan Dagen was the main tormentor of young Roger Caryl, now Tex McCord. The same crazy cowboy sought for killing four innocent people for much less; still loose after an FBI manhunt spanning several weeks and seven states.

And Dagen knew the score. No amount of marijuana could change that history, those facts, or that Karmic “debt.” Roger Caryl was coming for Dan Dagen – he was convinced.

Back-story

Dagen was my best friend from first grade. We grew up on streets where an actual lynching occurred – not while we lived there, but the vestige remained.

His sister was my babysitter. Dagen was a fan of Dare Devil comics, The Munsters, My Mother the Car, and my favorite, Top Cat.  I signed my papers “T.C.” in first grade and he signed his “Benny,” even though he was neither short nor chubby, naïve or especially cute. 

Dagen’s family was the first to have a color TV.  His dad, “Big Mike” Dagen, was our village’s first constable. Little Dan was not a bad sort—not at all – but he had a thing about Roger Karl that evolved into a blood feud. 

The Dagens lived next to the railroad track. No more than 12 feet from rails dissecting the farming and factory town of Mount Zion. Trains scrambled their picture of “Bonanza,” and made glass rattle in their gun cabinet. 

There’s a lot you might infer about pot-smoking having made Dan Dagen paranoid. I’d say that’s bullshit.

A known killer looking to settle a “score” from high school would scare some, but Dagen wasn’t easily rattled.  Still, it’s not like he could call home and tell his law-and-order pop what he’d done to “Tex” in high-school. There was no 9-1-1, and with a dorm-room full of pot, calling campus police was out of the question.

When they finally squared off in high school, the tension was palpable. In the interest of the historic record, this is from a recent correspondence with Dan Dagen.

Here is what I remember about Tex Carl.  He had done something to (a friend, Danny), can't remember exactly anymore what it was, pushed Danny, teased him about his hair, called him a name, but I had to stick up for him.  Tex was walking down the hall carrying his books and I came up behind him and knocked all of the books out of his hand, sending them flying across the floor.  He turned around and gave me a look that could kill (little did I know, huh?).  We had a mano-a-mano stare down.  Tex backed down, picked up his books and we went on our separate ways.

Across the Great Divide – The Code and the Trail to Crazy Man (sic)

Like many legends, crossing the Rockies with a Buck knife was both exaggerated and understated. 

The reality was worse. Tex was a teenager toting a large bore rifle with telescopic sights built to bring down big game. The 7mm weapon caused one deputy to say Caryl “could blow a man’s head off at 500 yards.” 

Sheriff David J. Collings worked one of the many outposts running north-south between U.S. 12 and Montana 200. He was the source of Caryl entering the kitchen of the dude ranch holding a shotgun on his hip, and a pistol and a couple of knives in his belt.  

Collings explained how Tex first shot the two men he shared a cabin with, then killed the ranch manager and the cook.  But, not till after McCord told his victims, “I have a few hellos for you and here's a hello from Tex McCord,” did he begin blasting away. Official accounts said John Miller either shoved his baby on the table or a chair.  Caryl shot Miller twice with a shotgun at close range, but the gun-blasts somehow missed the baby. The exact sequence of events was “confused,” even to witnesses, but McCord’s legend was already cold-blooded.     http://mt.findacase.com/research/wfrmDocViewer.aspx/xq/fac.19751212_0000213.MT.htm/qx

That night Roger Caryl slept in a nearby ranch house, but not until he’d cut the phone lines.  Deputies didn’t know why. Perhaps he wanted a sound night’s sleep.

Newspapers across the nation bugled that Caryl, an Eagle Scout, had escaped carrying six weapons. He was being chased by airplanes and tracking dogs. Deputies warned that McCord was a skilled outdoorsman and a crack shot. 

Two days later a truck was reported stolen near Helena, 30 miles due west of where Caryl disappeared into the mountains. Hotels in Helena filled to capacity when local ranchers chose to spend the night in town instead of coming face to face with Tex McCord.

Roger Caryl, aka Tex McCord, was finally caught in February of 1974 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  It was less than a month and barely a mile from my sighting of the wanted poster. Police were tipped by a citizen recognizing his poster from the local Post Office.

Roger’s father and friends got their wish. He was taken alive and would live to tell his story. 

The Trial

Roger Caryl pled not guilty by reason of insanity. His defense focused on the claim that he was not responsible for his acts “because of mental disease or defect.” 

Caryl testified that the night before the killings he drank some whiskey and took a "red" (i.e., a nonprescription drug), and got "bombed." He could remember nothing until days later, when he stopped at a motel in southern Montana.

Roger Caryl did not deny the killings. He claimed “a state of mind incapable of forming the specific intent required to constitute the crimes” (from court documents obtained online). 

So, the court was asked to consider testimony concerning Caryl’s sanity. This testimony consisted of “events, attitudes and relationships during his childhood and during his employment at the Whitetail ranch coupled with expert opinion evidence from psychologists, a social worker, and a psychiatrist concerning the presence or absence of mental disease or defect.”

Standard crime procedural. 

Roger G. Caryl was born on September 3, 1955 in Japan where his father was in the Air Force.  From an early age he became obsessed with the "Old West," cowboys and gunfighters. He wore western clothes, cowboy boots, and talked with a drawl. He became fascinated with early Texas history, southerners, and the Confederacy. 

In school, Caryl graduated with average grades. From time to time he became a “disciplinary problem” resulting in temporary suspensions. Through high school, Caryl spent progressively less time at home and became more isolated from his parents. 

When Roger left home in August of 1973, he headed west with a high school friend. It’s not clear whether they were bound for Texas, but they ended up at the Whitetail Ranch near Ovando, Montana, 75 miles northwest of Helena. He told them his name was Texana Jess McCord, “apparently from a television program,” that he was from Texas where his folks had a ranch; that he was an experienced cowboy; that he had been wounded in Vietnam while serving with the U.S. Marines; and many other “fantasies of the same general tenor.” 

Soon Caryl was considered a braggart and a liar by many of those at the Whitetail ranch. 

In reality, Roger Caryl’s family had a few small ponies on a five-acre plot of land in central Illinois. Testimony at his trial surfaced that Caryl was never paid for his work at the Montana ranch. He was behind in his car payments. He’d damaged his employer's truck when he ran it off the road. Caryl had been given three traffic citations in town, which were unpaid and further action was threatened. And, for reasons never published, he had shot his employer's dog.

Testimony revealed his employer, John Miller, was going to discharge him and have Tex removed from the premises. Everyone knew it, but it never happened. And it was the incident with the dog that hounded him…

Junk Science

According to his trial testimony, Caryl “began worrying” on the Saturday night before the Sunday morning shootings. He went to the bunkhouse and began to drink. The two Akins and a "long haired" friend appeared at the bunkhouse; the "long hair" gave Caryl a "red" which he swallowed. The defendant went outside "bombed" and does not remember anything further until a couple of days after the shootings.

After charges were filed, court records state Roger Caryl was extensively examined and tested over a four-week period at the Warm Springs State Hospital. Caryl was also examined and tested by a psychologist retained by the defense. 

The principal testimony on behalf of the state was given by Dr. M. F. Gracia, a psychiatrist at the Warm Springs State Hospital. His diagnosis of defendant was: “without mental disorder; episodic excessive drinking; passive-aggressive personality; drug dependence, psycho-stimulants (reds); social maladjustment; unsocialized aggressive reaction of adolescence.”

Perhaps Roger Caryl worried because he had much to worry about.  He might be headed to the hoosegow. When most young men wore bell bottoms and talked like Sly Stone, Roger Caryl had a drawl and looked like a cross-eyed Gene Autry. He insisted people call him “Tex.” And now, some shrink had just called him out on his “so-called mental disorder.” 

Dr. Gracia concluded on behalf of the State:

(1) that defendant had the capacity to understand the proceedings against him and to assist in his own defense; (2) at the time of the criminal conduct charged, defendant had the ability to appreciate the criminality of his conduct and to conform to the requirements of law; and (3) that the defendant possessed the capacity to have the particular state of mind which is an element of the offenses charged.

On the other side, the defense called Dr. Lester W. Edens, a psychologist, who gave his report and testimony on the defendant's mental state. On the basis of testing and examination, Dr. Edens concluded:  "…it is the impression of this examiner that this patient is characterized as a personality disorder of a non-psycotic (sic) nature.”

Specifically, the diagnosis would read personality disorder, anti-social personality type, Code No. 301.7 of the A.P.A. diagnostic and statistical manual of disorders. In addition to the primary diagnosis, it is the impression of the writer that there are underlying schizophrenic symtoms (sic) not yet characterized, that is, Mr. Caryl on occasion appears to present contaminated thought processes and inappropriate mannerisms and responses.

Additionally, with a tendency towards periodic disorganization of thought processes, his condition has been and will continue to be disabling, particularly when cornpounded (sic) with the induction of alcohol and/or non-prescriptive drug abuse." (Source: court documents obtained from the Internet unless otherwise indicated—all misspellings from the original). 

(http://mt.findacase.com/research/wfrmDocViewer.aspx/xq/fac.19751212_0000213.MT.htm/qx).

The near daily bullying and abuse from Caryl’s school days was absent from both reports.

The defense pleaded with the judge to consider Caryl’s “personal characteristics, his peculiarities, his habits, his declarations and statements, his actions, conduct and appearance, prior to, at the time of, and after the act charged…and any changes in his physical as well as his mental state, his temper, jealousy, shattered hopes, desires, and troubles of all kinds, together with the opinions of experts." 

In other words, your honor, please regard Roger Caryl as “bat-shit crazy.” And if that’s too nuanced, consider he recently killed four people for no good reason.

It did no good. 

Judgment Day

Caryl was sentenced to two life sentences, to be served consecutively.  Another 10 years was added for the wounding of the ranch owner’s wife from the shotgun blast, but Caryl was (strangely) never charged with the murders of the Akinses. 

Roger Caryl would be eligible for parole in 25 years – in 1999.

Perhaps the judge felt two consecutive life-sentences were enough. One source speculated that it was a strategy by prosecutors in case Caryl was acquitted of the murders of Miller and Judd.  http://helenair.com/news/emotional-hearing/article_6e3c7d3f-d370-51e1-b5ae-43d1a45d301f.html?print=true&cid=print

Caryl’s claim, that he was not responsible for his acts “because of mental disease or defect,” had not worked. The trail to crazy, though well-documented, was not sufficient. Experts could not agree on how to explain Caryl’s behavior, so the established defects, diseases and disorders would not be allowed to excuse it. 

People had died, and someone was going to pay. 

His claims of amnesia were ineffective, because “motivated forgetting” is viewed in the courts as too easy to fake. “My client has no memory of that, your honor…”  

And, because there was no proof of insanity, there would be no referral of Caryl for mental- health treatment. According to the presiding judge, the defense of insanity “must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence. Sections 94-119, 95-503, R.C.M. 1947.” 

Voluntary intoxication is no excuse for crime as long as the offender is capable of conceiving an intelligent design; he will be presumed, if the case is otherwise made out beyond a reasonable doubt, to have intended the natural and probable consequences of his own act.

The verdict was allowed to stand. Guilty act: guilty mind.

The appeal judge ruled that someone as heavily armed as Roger Caryl had a very strong intent to commit the killings. From the appeal, “premeditation and malice aforethought can be inferred from defendant's act of arming himself with deadly weapons, seeking out his victim(s), and shooting his unarmed victim(s) without provocation.” (Plural added).

Shooting unarmed people without reason didn’t sound crazy, or perhaps crazy enough, to a Montana judge. And if it did, it was no reason to avoid punishment.  

Haunted Again

On August 29, 2004, The Helena Independent Record published the story of Steve Foundation, who was 14-years old at the time of the killings, and was hiding upstairs at the Whitetail ranch during the shootings.

“I saw blood everywhere,” he recalled. 

Thirty years later, Steve Foundation still reported having trouble sleeping and waking up with gunfire ringing in his ears.  So, he was incensed to learn Roger Caryl was living in a Butte, Montana pre-release center outside prison walls. 

“When (the judge) says life, it should mean life,” Foundation said.     

But, in the case of Tex McCord, it didn’t. 

Epilogue

In 2006, Roger Caryl was transferred to Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he has lived and worked outside prison walls ever since.

What made a parole board decide Roger Caryl had been punished enough, or was now “well enough,” to walk among us? Perhaps the cost. His probation or parole costs $4.69 per day, compared with $90 per day for an inmate in prison (Montana DOC ISP Website, 4/25/12).

Caryl’s mug shot on the Montana Department of Corrections website shows no clear sign of guilt or remorse. 

The heroic activities of the Western frontier captured the American imagination to the extent it was often impossible to separate fact from fiction. Men settled conflicts with guns. Guns with names like Winchester and Remington became heroes. Zane Grey said if my gun is bigger, or my hands faster, I live and you die. 

Along with violence, Jeremy Agnew wrote that the incidence of alcohol and drug abuse was high in the Old West. Wyatt Earp’s younger brother, Warren, once challenged Johnny Boyett to a gunfight over a woman. Earp was so drunk he forgot he didn’t have his gun with him. Boyett calmly aimed and shot him in the chest.  (Source: Medicine in the Old West:  A History 1850-1900, p. 111.)

In this story of Tex McCord there is no effort to make him villain or victim, simply to state the facts of his life and incarceration. In the present telling there is no nostalgia for the Old West, or for “the simpler time” when a bully could badger, torment, and torture someone with little attention or rebuke. 

This account seeks to be as objective as possible, neither omitting the faults of its characters nor exaggerating their talents. But it is puzzling in many respects.

How high must a killer rank on a scale of depravity to be seen as insane? And, once locked away for three decades, what happens for someone to say they are “healed,” and can now be free? As someone who helped start those wheels in motion, I simply can’t explain it.

Today, Dan Dagen is a successful businessman and loving father, living in St. Louis and approaching retirement. He volunteers in the community and leads a bible study group. 

The author is a quiet, taciturn university professor, who writes obscure stories and maintains few close personal relationships. His most recent documentary is about a former student who stabbed and killed a man fighting over a stripper.     

Roger G. Caryl, aka Tex McCord, lives in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he is said to receive regular mental-health counseling and random urine tests. He is under electronic monitoring, and can be reached via his records officer: Robert Gunn, Northeast District Office, 3031 N. 32nd Street, Muskogee, OK 74401, (918) 680-6612.

Perhaps he can explain it.

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