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2017-09-21

Killings on Bandera's Main Street

By Raymond V Carter Research Historian ©2017

On the 4th of July in 1942, around 1 pm, Lieutenants Daniel J. Galate, James H. Marks, Charles A. Smith and Ward Benkelman left Duncan Field in San Antonio to spend a fun-filled holiday in Bandera. A few days later, Bandera would officially become “out-of-bounds” for military personnel.
Lt. Galate drove his car, stopping along the way three times for drinks, arriving at the OST Cafe around 3:15 pm. All four men went into the cafe, where Sheriff H.W. Burns took a liquor bottle away from Marks. At about 8 pm, Galate, Benkelman and their dates went to Schroud’s Dance Hall and Café. Around 9:30 pm, Benkelman and his date returned to the OST Café, while Galate and his date drove around for about an hour.
Then, Galate dropped his date off at the hotel, parked his car at the post office, and went to the OST Cafe looking for his buddies. He found Marks and Benkelman, who were now ready to go to Shroud’s Dance Hall and Cafe. Benkelman went out and got into Galate’s car. Galate met Smith as he walked out of the café. They stopped to talk while Marks walked on up the street.
While Galate and Smith were visiting, Marks walked up to the side of L.J. Edwards’ car and reached in and put his hand around Mrs. Edwards’ face or neck. Edwards was standing at the back of his car and saw Marks touching his wife. Mrs. Edwards pushed Marks’ hand back out of the window. After Marks repeated this offense three times, Edwards walked up to Marks and put his hand on Marks’ forehead and pushed him back.
It was about 10:30 pm when Deputy Sheriff Vernon Merritt took Marks by the arm and led him off down the street passing Galate and Smith, who were still visiting in front of the OST.
Galate walked up to the side of the deputy and asked what the trouble was. The deputy continued walking and said nothing, shoving Galate aside. Marks broke free and ran across Main Street and the deputy chased him.
Galate saw the deputy reach into his belt as though reaching for his gun, so Galate started yelling, "Watch out! He has a gun," and "Don't shoot!"
Marks ran towards the Chevrolet garage and then into the alley between the garage and the fire station. Edwards started running, too, following the deputy. The deputy and Edwards were in hot pursuit when Edwards tripped and fell. After getting up, he asked the deputy, "Why don't you let him go? … He has got away!"
Edwards left the deputy standing at the back of the garage and walked back to the front. A few seconds later, he heard a shot and saw Smith fall in the middle of Main Street.
Meanwhile, Galate had reached the back corner of the garage and also heard the shot. Smith came around the corner of the building in a crouched position. Galate asked him if he was hurt and Smith replied, "Yes.”
Galate ran around the corner and saw the deputy and an unidentified man standing up. It appeared to Galate that the unidentified man was holding Merritt's arm or was trying to take his gun away from him.
Galate looked around and saw Smith lying at the end of the alley in Main Street. Galate, Edwards and others went to him from different directions and helped carry the unconscious Smith to the corner drug store.
After Galate learned that Smith was dead, he went to his car to explain to Benkelman what had happened and finally located Marks in the back of the OST Cafe. Edwards returned back across the street to his wife.
When the deputy made his way out from the crowd, Edwards asked him what had happened. "Two soldiers got me down and nearly beat me to death," he said.
“I did not see cuts, blood or bruises on Mr. Merritt when I saw him after the shooting,” Edwards said. “He was holding his hand over his eye. It was too dark for me to observe him, except that his clothes, pant legs and short sleeves were soaked in something.”
On Wednesday, July 8, Bandera became officially “out-of-bounds” for military personnel.
Deputy Sheriff Merritt was arrested for murder and put under bond. "I acted only in self defense in firing the shot,” Deputy Sheriff Merritt said. “And before that, only in the performance of my duty as a peace officer."
His trial was moved to Uvalde, Texas, where, on Sept. 4, the jury found him guilty of murder without malice. An appeal was made for a new trial, which was overruled. The Court of Criminal Appeals released Merritt on a $1,500 appeal bond.
On Sunday, March 7, 1943, while awaiting the new trial, Deputy Sheriff Merritt died of a heart ailment at his home in Pipe Creek.