History - A Visit to Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal
Helen Crawford, Retired
age 100, Helen Crawford still prides her long career with the U.S.
Marshals. On July 14, 2008, from the sitting room at an assisted living
facility, Bonner Place in Jacksonville, Texas, she related the most
exciting of times. One was in 1934, when she began her career in the
Eastern District of Texas, she remembered receiving one of her first
calls–to be on the lookout for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow–Bonnie and
Clyde! Within days of that call, Bonnie and Clyde died in a hail of
gunfire on a side road in neighboring Louisiana. Another was nearly
shooting a Nazi in the Gulf of Mexico for refusing to surrender to her
because she was a female. From 1934 to 1970, Helen served the U.S.
Marshals as deputy, chief, and when she had to retire from the
operational side, an administrator.
One of a set of twins, Ms. Crawford never settled for convention. Asked
how she lived so long, she jokingly referenced several factors relieving
stress, “I never married and never had children.” But she was a crack
shot with a pistol–and enjoyed going to Mexico for her vacations. On one
occasion in the early 1920s, she saw Pancho Villa in the same hotel. Her
choice of a career in law enforcement was unexpected. “I just figured
I’d become a school teacher,” she once reminisced to the Marshals
Monitor. “It wasn’t too long after I started that World War II came
along. Military Service took all the men from the district, so we worked
day and night for years–picking up whatever help we could.” As U.S.
Marshal John Moore stated, “she was Homeland Security during World War
It was these circumstances that led to her accession as chief deputy.
The workload was always heavy, and the conditions sometimes unusual. The
Eastern District of Texas had a sub-office in Texarkana, housed in a
building where half was in the state, and the other half in neighboring
Arkansas. The vast territory contained the suburbs of Dallas to the
coastline just east of Houston. When getting the call that a submarine
had been captured near Beaumont, and that civil authorities were
required, Chief Crawford took a number of deputies to take the German
occupants into custody. The captain of the vessel refused to surrender
to a female, chief or not. Not sure of his next move, she told him he
had no choice–and pointed her pistol at him. The officer acquiesced.
Chief Crawford worked for many U.S. Marshals during her tenure, but one
that stood out was Stanford C. Stiles. Marshal Stiles was the nephew of
Vice-President John Nance Gardner and served in the Eastern District of
Texas from 1937 to 1954. She recalled the occasions that they visited
Washington, D.C. and received the “red carpet treatment.” They never saw
President Franklin D. Roosevelt during their visits, but enjoyed their
time there. U.S. Marshal Stiles was followed by C. Peyton McKnight,
Jr.–who served but a short time in 1954 and 1955. McKnight, who was an
influential member of the Tyler business community, rejoined it after
his brief term. He was followed in office by U.S. Marshals Henry C.
Hudson, James Crawford, Jr., Tully Reynolds and J. Keith Gary. Once the
district office, which had floated between Tyler and Beaumont, again
moved to the latter, Helen retired in August 1970.
At Jacksonville, care giver Frances King and niece Carol Harris
remembered the many stories Helen told to them over the years. Only a
resident at Bonner Place since March, Ms. Crawford takes it in
stride–although she misses the Mexican vacations she once took. On July
15, 2008, U.S. Marshal John Moore and Chief Deputy David Sligh of the
Eastern District of Texas hosted a commemoration of Helen Crawford’s
100th birthday–which was two days earlier. A plaque and letter from
Director Clark made the day a special one.
U.S. Marshal Stanford
U.S. Marshal C. Peyton
There was an interesting end to the Bonnie and Clyde story–one of the
visitors to her birthday was a young girl at the other end of the tale
in 1934. Staying with relatives in Louisiana, she saw the famous
automobile containing the couple move down the dirt road to their
deaths. If Helen Crawford would have gotten wind of it, she would have
made short work of Bonnie and Clyde too.
Ms. Helen V. Crawford passed on June 29, 2010, just
two weeks shy of her 102nd birthday. Representing the
Eastern District of Texas at the service was former U.S. Marshal John
Moore and former Chief Deputy David Sligh. She was interred at
Cathedral in the Pines, Beaumont, Texas. She was an original and will
be greatly missed.