· Walter Leslie Dixon (1894-1965)
It’s Saturday, August 18, 1951, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Walter Dixon, 57, wakes up and looks at the clock. It’s 1:25 a.m. The room is quiet except for his wife’s breathing.
He’s been dreaming, or remembering. Four years earlier, in 1947, he and Ruth were sound asleep when the phone rang and Walt answered it . . . at 1:25 a.m.
“Sheriff Dixon,” said the caller, “this is Milton Stucky of rural Pretty Prairie, there’s been an unusual accident.”
Dixon learned that 24 year-old, Clarence Krehbiel, was dead, lying in the road 18 miles south of Hutchinson, and one mile east. Krehbiel’s 1936 Terraplane coupe was at the intersection, its motor running, lights on, with the driver’s door partially open.
It was a hot August night. On the drive south, Dixon considered two hijacking reports he had been investigating that were first reported to his office by the uncle of Krehbiel’s fiancée. Subsequently confirmed by Clarence Krehbiel, the late-night highjackings had occurred around midnight on Krehbiel’s way home after he visited Helen Schwartz.
According to Krehbiel, he’d been stopped by a vehicle along the road, then robbed of cash by three unknown men. On July 30, the first time, they demanded $20, and warned him to come back the following week with more money. The second time, on August 3, they took $100.
Walt remembered Krehbiel’s body lying face down in the sand, and confirming that the popular Pretty Prairie farmer was dead, three bullet holes in his chest. Five feet away was Krehbiel’s .22 automatic rifle. Nearby were three empty cartridge jackets.
Two buttons, torn from Krehbiel’s shirt, were found at the scene, the only sign of a struggle. Krehbiel’s empty wallet was inside his car.
As additional officers arrived and examined the crime scene, they all agreed that it was not a suicide. Sheriff Walt Dixon proclaimed, “It was a case of murder.”
“You didn’t sleep well last night,” commented Ruth to Walt.
“I dreamed of Clarence Krehbiel’s murder,” responded Walt.
“I’m sorry,” said Ruth. “No longer being part of the sheriff’s office, doesn’t mean you can stop thinking about it.”
“I thought the phone was ringing, looked at the clock, and remembered the phone call we received four years ago,” said Walt.
“Are you okay now?” asked Ruth. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“I know the case is in the hands of the KBI,” said Walt, “but I’m well aware they don’t have the time or the manpower to investigate old cases that never had good leads in the first place.”
“Not every case can be solved,” said Ruth.
“I can’t control my nights, but I can control my days,” said Walt as he got out of bed.
“Would you like to go to Castleton with Aliene and me to watch more filming of Wait ‘Til the Sun Shines, Nellie?”
“I thought your long day yesterday, outside the Stamey Hotel, had done you in,” said Walt.
“It was a scorcher,” said Ruth, “but we got to see the star, Jean Peters. Today we’re hoping we can examine the buildings in Castleton that were built for the movie scenes. Of course, their red-brick railroad depot is always inviting.”
Click for more information on the movie Wait ‘Til the Sun Shines, Nellie
“Bob and I are going fishing at Kanopolis Lake,” said Walt. “If you want, we’ll take Philip along. He likes drowning worms.”
“Will Philip be wearing a life belt?” asked Ruth.
“Yes, of course,” answered Walt.
“Sounds good,” said Ruth. “We’ll take David with us.”
“Walt, how’s the real estate business?” asked Bob McDaniels, 31, Walter Dixon’s son-in-law, married to Aliene.
“I’m getting closer to being a realtor,” answered Walt. “Once I’m let loose, I’ll have a business card to hand out to everyone who asks me that annoying question: ‘Now that you’re retired from being sheriff, are you enjoying loafing?’”
“Do you miss law enforcement?” asked Bob.
“I miss fishing, hunting, and visiting my grandchildren, not working,” said Walt.
“We’ve had great times fishing,” said Bob. “San Diego Bay, with its spotted bay bass, and the Rio Grande River with rainbow trout, are special locations,” said Bob.
“With special memories,” added Walt. “I’m looking forward to today’s fishing on Lake Kanopolis. The rain has stirred up the fish. I’ve heard they’re eating berries off the top of submerged trees.”
“Maybe we should reconsider our bait,” said Bob.
“We’ll have an opportunity to show Philip the Indian writings on the cliff at the mouth of Horse Thief Canyon,” stated Walt.
“Once he sees the petroglyphs, he’ll want to meet the nearest Indians,” said Bob with a laugh.
“Philip’s a precocious child,” added Walt. “He doesn’t just ask ‘why?’ He listens to your answer.”
“He has a fishing joke to tell you, but he’s going to wait until we’re out on the water,” advised Bob. “But I’ve got one for you right now.”
“Go ahead,” said Walt.
“A customer walks into a fishing shop and asks, ‘Can I have a fly rod-and-reel for my son?’”
“Sorry sir,” the shop owner replies, “we don’t do trade-ins.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.