Local

Footprints of Fayette

A Historical Column From The Fayette County
Historical Commission and Fayette County Judge’s Office

A Dangerous Situation in
Ellinger, Texas
By Norman Wied

“Tightest spot I’ve ever been in” – these words were used by an old Texas Ranger to describe an Indian fight he had been in during frontier times. These are also words that Fayette County Sheriff Will Loessin may have used a few times in his law enforcement career that spanned from 1895 to 1946.
Some of his most dangerous situations took place in Ellinger. The towns of Ellinger, Plum, Winchester and Carmine were frequently the victims of criminal activity, because they were quite a distance from the Sheriff’s office in La Grange, did not have full-time city marshals, and were served by railroad lines that brought in various vagabonds.
The following paraphrased account was told by Sheriff Loessin to Ben F. Harigel, editor of the La Grange Journal: At 12:30 on the night of Thursday, May 23, 1946, Mr. Loessin’s telephone rang.  On the phone was Mrs. Frank Hruska of Ellinger, telling him that the store’s burglar alarm had gone off.  Mr. Will, as he was called, picked up his chief deputy, Bob Koenig, and made a mad dash for Ellinger.  Upon arriving, the officers drove down present-day Grover Street, stopping at the corner of Grover and Main streets at the location of the old Meyer Store, where the sheriff got out of the car.
The Meyer Store, previously known as the C.W. Ehlinger Store, had also been the scene of a very dangerous shootout for Sheriff Loessin in 1926, when the officers exchanged a fusillade of bullets inside the small store.  Mr. Loessin was 54 years old at that time.
On this particular night in 1946, the previous scene from 1926 may have replayed in the mind of the determined sheriff. As Deputy Koenig drove down Main Street, he turned their car into the alley that ran down the middle of this block. This alley allowed for delivery wagons and later trucks to serve these businesses. It was also a place where customers could park to enter these businesses. Deputy Koenig parked the car in this alley and trained the spotlight on the back of the old Hruska Store.
As this was taking place, Sheriff Loessin cautiously crept along the front walls of the buildings facing Main Street. These businesses had awnings that hung over their respective front doors, allowing the Sheriff to remain in a darkened area. Mr. Loessin stated that he heard a noise behind him. The La Grange Journal described the scene: “Mr. Loessin wheeled around just as someone – who later proved to be Willie Thornton Jr. – also wheeled around with automatic .32 pistol in hand. But the officer was quicker on the draw, and the load from his shotgun hit Thornton squarely in the chest, killing him instantly.
“Moments later there was another shot from the rear of the building. It was fired by Deputy Koenig. Koenig saw a figure dash by, commanded him to halt, but when he failed to stop, shot in his direction with the buckshot load from his shotgun. In a search for this second individual, Sam Lauder, age about 36 years, no trace was found, and a call was made for blood hounds from the prison farm at Sugarland.” 
The Journal further stated: “When this proved fruitless, at 5:30 a.m., a posse started search, and Lauder’s body was found about 150 yards away under a fig tree, a .38 pistol by his side. A later check showed Koenig had hit Lauder in the back with one buckshot pellet at 46 paces.” [Lauder had tried to conceal himself inside a chicken house on the property of the Ellinger Grain and Produce Co. on Grover Street.]
The two, Thornton, about 35 years old, and Lauder, both from Waco, were described as “dangerous characters” by the chief of police of that city. Both had served state penitentiary terms, one of them having been a three-termer. They had piled approximately $2,300 worth of merchandise near the back of the Hruska Store for pickup. [Today’s value – about $40,000.]
Mrs. Hruska, according to the newspaper article, “told the officers that her husband, Frank Hruska, had worked in the store until midnight. She said she saw a car parked nearby for a while but gave it no thought until about a half hour after they returned home, when the burglar alarm sounded. She added  that it was exactly 23 minutes from the time of the alarm until the first shot [the sheriff’s] was fired.”
The pair were linked to other burglaries in the area. Sheriff Loessin later stated that he forgot his flashlight and if he had carried it, he would have been a perfect target for Thornton’s pistol. “The Lord was with me once more,” the sheriff observed. 
It should be noted that Sheriff Loessin was 73 years old at this time, and that he had announced several months prior that he would not be seeking reelection for county sheriff. He was working without the body armor commonly worn today by law enforcement, and in his style, he went to this dangerous situation himself with only one deputy.    
Today, all the major players in this situation are gone, including the old Hruska Store in downtown Ellinger. However, our brave law enforcement personnel are still waging a battle against the criminal element, and some of these may still be musing about the “tightest spot I’ve ever been in.”
Sources: 
 La Grange Journal; May 30, 1946
Oral histories by Ellinger residents – mostly deceased

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