(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· 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.
Groan re fishing joke!🤪
Jim Potter says
Today’s Philip is just as handsome as his father was in his high school yearbook. He also had help from his beautiful mother’s DNA. She was a beauty, too!
Réjeanne Smullen says
Your book looks very interesting, is it possible to get a copy and how much and where can I get it. Will love to hear from you
Jim Potter says
Réjeanne, good to hear from you! Thank you so much for your inquiry. So far, on this project, I’ve researched 23 of the 32 Reno County sheriffs. I research & write on the next sheriff in office each week. In a couple of months I’ll have rough drafts of 32 chapters. However, I’m also planning on a portion of the book being a “spreadsheet” on each sheriff where I’ll list information from date and place of birth, info on family, fraternities, and the death of the sheriff, etc. So, lots of work to do, but you’re first on my list to send you a published copy. Stay tuned & stay healthy. It’s a long process. Love & care, Jim
Philip R McDaniels says
We will be watching the movie “Wait Till The Sun Shines Nellie” this afternoon on Youtube. To me the 1955 movie “Picnic” best caught the feel and look of Kansas in the mid 50’s and the backyard scenes were just as I remember from our visit in 1951. Without all the drama of the movie of course.
Jim Potter says
Phil, the title sounds like a picnic in the park but, Wait ‘Til the Sun Shines, Nellie, is a dark one. I sent you the postcard photo of Hotel Stamey where some of the scenes occurred, including the parade.
Pat Bussen says
As a collector of movie posters, I like that photo of the movie poster that you included in your story. Those old movie posters had a certain style and flair to them back in the day.
Jim Potter says
Those were the days!
Marilyn Bolton says
This episode had such a tragic beginning with the murderous highwayman near Pretty Prairie. I hope that town with the lovely name continues in a tranquil way.
I was hoping you planned a book with all of these interesting chapters! What good research you have done, and now you have just a few remaining, (You probably don’t have a target date in mind for wrapping it up?)
Jim Potter says
Marilyn, thanks for your encouragement. I’ve written on 24 of the 33 sheriffs. I complete one a week, so I’ll be done with a draft of the stories in 9 weeks. However, I still plan on a speadsheet or database of the sheriffs with info on their terms of office, place of birth and death, maybe family members, fraternities, etc. That will take a bit of time to go back and check on all those particulars. (I plan to have photos of as many tombstones as I can get and there are many sheriffs with NO known personal photo. Darn.) Once I have a draft of the whole book, it could take another year. Best guess, if I do a printed book, it might be two years from now. It’s a slow process to do it right.
Stick around! Thanks for asking, Jim