Ronnie Earle was a Texas legend. During his three decades as the district attorney responsible for Austin and surrounding Travis County, he prosecuted corrupt corporate executives and state officials, including the notorious US congressman Tom DeLay. But Earle maintained that the biggest case of his career was the one involving Frank Hughey Smith, the ex-convict millionaire, alleged criminal mastermind, and Dixie Mafia figure.
With the help of corrupt local authorities, Smith spent the 1970s building a criminal empire in auto salvage and bail bonds. But there was one problem: a rival in the salvage business threatened his dominance. Smith hired arsonists to destroy the rival; when they botched the job, he sent three gunmen, but the robbery they planned was a bloody fiasco. Investigators were convinced that Smith was guilty, but many were skeptical that the newly elected and inexperienced Earle could get a conviction. Amid the courtroom drama and underworld plots the book describes, Willie Nelson makes a cameo. So do the private eyes, hired guns, and madams who kept Austin not only weird but also riddled with vice. An extraordinary true story, Last Gangster in Austin paints an unusual picture of the Texas capital as a place that was wild, wonderful, and as crooked as the dirt road to paradise.
Jesse Sublett is an author, musician, and painter in Austin. This is his fourteenth book. He last wrote about the Austin underworld in 1960s Austin Gangsters: Organized Crime That Rocked the Capital. Other notable books include Armadillo World Headquarters: A Memoir (with Eddie Wilson), and his memoir Never the Same Again: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Gothic.
A rookie district attorney. A wily, backslapping multimillionaire bail bondsman. And one of the biggest criminal investigations in Austin history. Jesse Sublett’s book is both a riveting crime story and a character-rich study of Austin, Texas. It’s smartly crafted and excellently researched.
~Skip Hollandsworth, author of The Midnight Assassin: The Hunt for America's First Serial Killer
Once again Jesse Sublett proves that the Lone Star State's capital lives up to its mantra: Keep Austin weird. Enjoy this romp back in time to the era when Ronnie Earle ruled at the courthouse and Frank Smith in the salvage business.
~Kathryn Casey, best-selling author of In Plain Sight: The Kaufman County Prosecutor Murders
Jesse Sublett is a first-rate writer and researcher. Once again, he dives deep, exposing the creeps and bottom feeders of Austin’s criminal past to create an engrossing portrait of district attorney Ronnie Earle at the dawn of his long and legendary career. Last Gangster in Austin is a great read.
~W.K. Kip Stratton, author of The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film
A vividly detailed and stylishly written portrait of an Austin long gone by.
Take a nostalgic trip back in time to the Austin of the 1970s in this gripping account of corrupt leadership, crime, power, and Texas-sized personalities.
[Last Gangster in Austin] is one of the most egregiously Texas stories, nay, one of the most remarkably Austin stories one could read...fantastic, an often wildly entertaining look at Austin when it really was a bit of an outlaw place.
~Joe Gross, Austin Chronicle
Here's a true-crime story that's every bit as compelling as your favorite pulpy, fictional counterpart...It's a tale replete with genuine heroes, repellent villains, and a slew of supporting characters any self-respecting crime novelist would be proud to have created on the page...Sublett constructs the story with a sharp eye and a hard-boiled flair.
~Jay Trachtenberg, Austin Chronicle
If you pick up just one new Texas history this summer, make it Last Gangster in Austin...Sublett's riveting true-crime story reads like a classic noir novel.
Author’s Note. A Deep Dive Introduction. Junkyard Owner Shotguns Robber: Was It a Setup? Chapter 1. Baptist Preacher’s Son Chapter 2. The Eagle Scout Chapter 3. Texas Package Chapter 4. The Big Hassle Chapter 5. Best Job He Ever Had Chapter 6. The Two Franks Chapter 7. This Is War Chapter 8. He Can Always Go Step on Bugs Chapter 9. A Is for Arson Chapter 10: The Robbery Chapter 11: Power Chapter 12. Star Time Chapter 13. The Trial Chapter 14. Aftermath Acknowledgments Notes Photo Credits Index
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