The Sheriff is a new, six-part podcast series from The Northwest Florida Daily News and The Gannett Company. The complete first season is currently available to download on Apple, Spotify and Google.
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PART 4 OF 6: MATTIE LEE
Mattie Lee Lucas left Crestview at the beginning of September 1940. She‘d lived in the tiny town in the Florida panhandle for just nine months, but that was all she needed to decided it wasn’t anywhere she wanted to stay.
Back home in Andalusia, Alabama, she quickly met and married a man with the last name of Taylor, and the two moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where they lived until 1956, when Mr. Taylor committed suicide. That same year, she married a man with the last name of Boeck and the two moved to San Antonio, Texas.
Over the years, Mattie Lee used different last names at different times. Sometimes she'd be Mattie Lee Lucas Taylor. Others, she'd be Mattie Lee Taylor Boeck. She dyed her red hair blonde and kept it that way. She‘d also had extensive cosmetic work done to her front teeth - changing them from enormous buck teeth to a clean, perfect smile.
The point of all this was to hide, in some way. She didn't want old friends to look her up. She didn't want reminders of where she‘d been.
So when two men knocked on her door early in 1958, they appeared such a curious duo — the tall, lean, well-dressed man in a pristine cowboy hat and cowboy boots and the short, squat man in the suit and tie — she couldn't help but listen to what they had to say.
And when they asked her if she'd come back to Crestview, a place she‘d vowed to leave permanently in the rear view mirror, to her own surprise she agreed.
The news of the arrests of Jesse Cayson, Doyle Cayson and William Dorace Brown for the 1940 murder of Okaloosa County Sheriff's candidate and former Crestview Chief of Police Lester Wilson spread like wildfire. In Northwest Florida and beyond.
Newspapers all over the United States picked up the story about Lester's son, Ray, returning home to become Sheriff, the office Lester had hoped to attain, and of famed Pensacola Police Department Investigator Walter Steinsiek investigating teaming up to investigate the case.
Jesse, 56, was a local liquor store owner and former Justice of the Peace in Crestview who looked much older than his age after years of heavy drinking.
Jesse's younger brother, Doyle, 51, was a local produce vendor and known around Crestview as a man with a drinking problem and more prone to follow his brother‘s lead than anything else.
Even less was known about Brown, 49, who went by his middle name, Dorace, and was a civilian employee at Eglin Air Force Base.
The men were held in the Panama City jail, where Steinsiek administered polygraph tests to Doyle and Brown, who both failed. Jesse refused to take the test, first citing his failing health then later saying he did so at the advice of his attorney.
Ferrin Campbell was hired as Brown's attorney, and filed a motion to have his trial held separately from the Caysons, which was denied. Campbell was a well-respected attorney in the area who'd been elected to the state legislature before he even graduated from law school at Florida State University.
The Caysons were represented by Thomas Beasley, a gruff, aggressive, fast-talking lawyer with a reputation of being unafraid to get dirty, so to speak, if it meant helping his clients.
The state was represented, initially, by State Attorney Ed Wicke, out of Pensacola. Wicke been personally taken off the case by Governor LeRoy Collins after he flubbed the wording of the indictment so severely that the case was almost tossed before it even began.
Wicke was replaced with venerated State Attorney William Hallowes III, out of Jacksonville, and joined forces with Assistant State Attorney Gillis Powell, whose specialty was jury selection, and Pensacola attorney Forsyth "Buddy" Caro, who was able to try the case after Ray Wilson offered to pay for his services out of his own pocket.
On Aug. 9, Judge Erwin Fleet, just 30 years old and the youngest Circuit Court Judge in the history of Northwest Florida, announced he'd been selected to preside over the trial. Escambia County Sheriff Emmett Shelby had been named Special Elisor — Substitute Sheriff — for the trial. Shelby selected five Deputy Elisors from his department as well.
Fleet, who is 92 years old and lives in Shalimar, still has a sharp memory of the trial — the immaculate notes he kept during testimony are in mint condition. One of his first orders was to ban photos from being taken of anyone to do with the trial — in the courtroom, anywhere in the courthouse or on the courthouse lawn.
"I could see that the trial was getting national attention and I wanted to avoid it becoming a circus," Fleet said. "I can't emphasize enough that I did not want any distractions from the seriousness of the trial. To me, that was of the utmost importance."
In the wings, Ray's attention from the trial was diverted.
In the weeks leading up to the trial's start, threats had begun to filter their way to Ray, who paid close attention to who and where they were coming from.
It was one in particular that set him on edge — a letter that promised to kill he and wife Virginia's four-year-old son, Stuart, should any guilty verdicts be returned.
In secret, Ray sent Stuart to Orlando with a contingent of family members — led by his brother Alma — and to not return until he gave word things were safe.
Virginia refused to leave Ray's side.
"The threat on my life, I would come to find out, was very, very real," Stuart said. "They specified. First-born son would be killed. It didn't leave much to the imagination."
Lawyers for both sides spent three days picking the jury, touching on a variety of topics — mainly if they knew or had spoken with any of the defendants about the murder, what they knew about the 1939 killing of Murray McArthur and what their views were on capital punishment.
After two days, 12 jurors had been selected, including one woman, which was notable because she was just the third woman ever to sit on a jury in Okaloosa County and the first to sit for a murder trial.
On Nov. 19, the case started in earnest before a packed courtroom.
The prosecution opened the case by saying that it was just now coming to trial because key witnesses had been kept in fear for most of the last 20 years, and now, finally, they felt safe to come forward.
They also disclosed, for the first time, they believed it was Jesse Cayson who pulled the trigger.
The defense argued that 25 state witnesses couldn't be believed. That the sheer amount of time that had passed made their memories impeachable, and some witnesses who‘d testified in the 1940 and 1952 grand juries had changed parts of their testimonies.
Beasley, in particular, told the jury they couldn't believe the testimony of one witness specifically — Mattie Lee Boeck.
The first three witnesses called to testify for the state were members of Lester Wilson's family — his widow, Bama, and sons Woodrow and Alma.
Much of Bama's testimony was perfunctory — she established how long the Wilsons had been living in Crestview. That Lester was Crestivew Police Chief from 1929-1931. That he ran for Sheriff and lost in the 1932 and 1936 elections, finishing second in the latter.
She established the house they lived in was at 748 Long Drive in Crestview, that Lester had returned from work at the family's taxi service on the night of March 15 around 8 p.m. and was sitting and listening to the radio when the attack occurred. She said that only two of their six children, Velma and Ray, had been home at the time.
Bama said she saw Doyle Cayson for the first time that night, in her home sometime after the murder, among a packed crowd that had come to check on the family.
The prosecution also began to establish the role, or lack thereof, of the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Offices role in the investigation. Specifically that of Okaloosa County Sheriff Johnnie P. Steele and one of his constables, Joe Adams. Bama testified that until her son had become Sheriff in 1956, she'd never once spoken with law enforcement officials, on any level, about the killing of her husband despite being in the room with him when it happened.
Woodrow testified that he was 23 years old in 1940 and helped his father operate the taxi service, alternately driving both days and nights depending on when his father could work.
Woodrow testified Lester was going to run for Sheriff in 1940 and that the night of the murder he'd dropped Venie Davis off at her home on Long Drive, just two houses down from the Wilsons, then dropped his father off before heading back to downtown Crestview to work some more.
He testified that late in the afternoon of March 15, 1940, he'd seen Brown and the Cayson Brothers at the Sun Ray Cafe, which was adjacent to the taxi stand and where calls were sent to hail taxis. Woodrow said Jesse and Constable Adams both had taxis that operated out of the same taxi stand in Crestview and that at the time Adams, who died a few years previous, was driving a black, 1938 Ford with a spotlight and a radio. He said, at that time, Doyle drove a black, 1934 Ford with red tires, Brown drove a black 1937 Ford and Jesse drove a 1938 Chevy.
Woodrow, like his mother, testified that he'd never spoken with law enforcement officials, on any level, before his brother had been elected Sheriff in 1956.
Woodrow said he'd returned home to find his father with his "head half blown off" and that Lester was still clinging to life when he got to him.
He also said when he returned to work at the cabstand one week after the funeral, he'd been approached by two women who said they'd seen a car following his the night of the murder, with its lights off, and gave him the car's tag number.
It belonged to William Dorace Brown.
Curtis Davis was 16 years old in 1940. He was the younger brother of Venie Davis, who Woodrow and Lester had dropped off in their taxi just minutes before Lester was shot.
Curtis had been making the mile-or-so walk home to Long Drive from downtown Crestview along the Laurel Hill Highway, which is also known as U.S. Highway 85.
Curtis was about a quarter-mile from Long Drive when he heard the shotgun blast, but continued walking. Within a minute, Curtis was approaching a filling station and saw three cars come off of Long Drive. The first two turned toward Curtis and he stepped quickly into the shadows off the side of the road. They zipped by at about 70 miles per hour and he recognized the first of the two cars — the 1938 Ford with the spotlight and radio belonged to Constable Joe Adams.
The third car, going about 50 miles per hour, went directly across the Laurel Hill Highway and onto a dirt road. Curtis said he recognized this car as Doyle‘s.
Curtis‘ older sister, Venie, testified after she’d been dropped off by the Wilsons she sat in her living room and watched two cars come down Long Drive, off Laurel Hill Highway, with their lights off. They each did the same thing, slowing down in front of the Wilson's house, turning around at the end of the dead-end drive, then speeding back toward the highway. She stepped away for a moment, then when she came back to the living room she noticed a car parked in front of her house, it's back bumper facing her front fence and the front of the car facing the highway.
After she heard the gun shot, then Bama's screams, Venie and her father sprinted toward the Wilson's house. As she went up the stairs, she'd been blinded by the headlights of a vehicle, then heard a car door slam.
Later, inside the Wilson's home, she'd been approached by Doyle, who asked her if she wanted to come out to his car to see his fishing equipment, but declined. She told Doyle had she been more attentive, she'd have been able to get a clear look at the killers as they ran away.
"Well that's a big 'if'," she said Doyle told her. "And maybe it's probably better that you didn't see anything."
In January of 1940, Mattie Lee Lucas was a 27-year-old widow living in Andalusia, Alabama, with her parents when she received a visit from a childhood family friend, Lucille Wilkinson, who lived in Crestview. Wilkinson told Mattie Lee she had part of a house rented in downtown Crestview, on main street, and she could help Mattie Lee get work at a shirt factory in town if she wanted to move to Crestview.
Mattie Lee, who was listless after her husband's death, decided to make the move. Mattie Lee was a redhead who had one very distinct feature — she had pronounced, front buck teeth.
When she moved to Crestview with Lucille, who died several years before the trial, the two lived in a home in downtown Crestview that was just steps away from the Sun Ray Cafe. The house was set up as a duplex, essentially, with the back door serving as the entrance for Mattie and Lucille, next to where they shared a room and a bathroom. The front entrance was for a small family, the Scarbroughs, who had two rooms on the other side of the house.
Within days of moving to town, she met the Cayson brothers and began being courted by both of them.
Soon after, she began having sex with both men.
On several occasions, Mattie Lee heard the Caysons talking about Lester Wilson's candidacy for Sheriff.
One conversation stood out at Mar-Camp Tavern, during an afternoon of drinking not long after she'd arrived in town.
"They all were saying pretty much the same thing," Mattie Lee said. "They kept saying the election wasn't going to go the way the 'son of a bitch Wilson' thought it would."
It wasn't the only time Mattie Lee heard the Caysons talking about Lester Wilson's candidacy for Sheriff, testifying she'd heard them talk about it on "numerous" occasions — a statement that was essentially catnip for defense attorney Thomas Beasley, who quickly objected on the grounds that Mattie Lee needed to recall specific conversations and that if she referred to them vaguely she needed to refer to them not at all. Judge Fleet gave Mattie Lee the offer to elaborate and Beasley's gamble backfired.
Two weeks before Lester's murder, on March 1, Mattie Lee said she, Lucille Wilkinson and several of their girlfriends had Woodrow Wilson drive them to MarKamp for what she called a "Stag Night" — none of the girls took dates and went to the bar to just drink and dance. While dancing with another man, Mattie Lee saw people begin to rush to the windows of MarKamp overlooking the front of the bar — she rushed over to see what was going on and she witnessed Doyle getting beaten up, badly, by another man that she didn't recognize, then saw Jesse and Brown pull up, quickly, hop out and break up the fight. Mattie Lee went to the bar to order another drink but within minutes Jesse came in, grabbed her by the arm and pulled her outside, saying he was doing so on Doyle's orders.
Mattie Lee got in the car with the three men — Doyle was sitting in the backseat, bleeding profusely from his nose. While Mattie Lee wasn't exactly who was saying what, she said that as the four of them drove to Niceville, the three men in the car spent the entire time "yelling" about Lester Wilson and with the same refrain — "the election wasn't going to go the way that son of a bitch thought."
On March 15, 1940, Mattie Lee worked the day shift at the shirt factory, then came home to have dinner with Lucille Wilkinson.
At 7 p.m., she walked to the Sun Ray Cafe, began drinking beer and when she went to put some nickels in the jukebox, noticed Jesse and Brown drinking beer together at a table and joined them. At around the same time, she remembers the phone ringing at the Sun Ray Cafe and Howard Grantham, who ran the Sun Ray, yelling out "WOODROW" and getting no reply.
At the table, Jesse and Brown began discussing "doing the job" that night and figuring out how they could lure Lester Wilson somewhere via a fake call for a ride in his taxi. Around 7:30 p.m., Doyle rushed into the Sun Ray and sat down at the table with Jesse, Dorace and Mattie Lee.
"Boys," Doyle said. "The plans have changed. We're doing the job tonight. At the house."
Doyle instructed Mattie Lee to get up and follow the men outside, where they walked over to Brown's 1937 Ford. Doyle pushed Mattie Lee into the front seat and immediately she saw two shotguns — one on the floor in the front seat that she accidentally put her foot on and one in the backseat, propped up against the front seat.
An argument quickly ensued between Jesse and Doyle, over Mattie Lee being there. Mattie Lee asked Doyle if it was OK if she just stayed at the Sun Ray amd he nodded his head as a car engine cranked up down the street — it was Woodrow Wilson, Lester Wilson and Venie Davis in the Wilson's taxi, leaving downtown. Mattie Lee got out of the car and Doyle told her to stay at the Sun Ray and not leave until he got back. The three men got into the car and took off in the same direction, with the lights off.
Back then, Mattie Lee had a game she liked to play — one that was very much in line with the 1940s, because there weren't many cars in Crestview. When she saw one making some sort of traffic violation, she looked at the tag, often telling the person when she saw them, teasing, "hey, I got your tag number" and reciting it to them.
That night, she saw Brown's car make the illegal u-turn with headlights off, and memorized his tag number.
Mattie Lee walked across the street and back into the Sun Ray Cafe at approximately 7:45 p.m. Within minutes, Woodrow Wilson popped his head into the Sun Ray and asked Mattie to tell anyone who asked for a taxi that he was working that night.
Shortly after 8 p.m., Fox Wilson rushed into the cafe, looking for Woodrow and saying that Lester had been shot. Woodrow came in almost immediately after that. Mattie Lee and others relayed what Fox said and he took off.
Panicked, Mattie Lee left the Sun Ray right after Woodrow and went home. She jotted off a quick letter to her mother and walked directly to the post office. As she walked, she noticed a car circling in the distance — it was Brown.
When she exited the post office, the car pulled up and screeched to a halt in front of her — Mattie Lee tried to walk around the car and back home, but Brown got out and forced her into the front seat. They drove a short distance and picked up Doyle, who was holding a small package, and began making the 30-minute drive south, to Niceville, in silence. Somewhere along the way, Brown pulled over and Doyle got out.
Brown, who was married, then drove Mattie Lee further out into the wilderness, to a dead end road, where she says he forced her to have sex with him.
As Brown drove her back toward the way they came, he told her she needed to not say anything about what had just happened and that she was just going to need to forget about everything that happened that night, anyway.
The car came to a stop and Mattie Lee turned to face Brown, with her back to the door in the front passenger seat. Within seconds, the door opened and someone reached in, grabbed Mattie Lee by her hair and yanked her out of the car, dragging her along the ground for a short distance before commencing to beat her with some type of small, hard, barbed object.
Brown never got out of the car.
After the beating, he dragged Mattie Lee back into the vehicle. She asked him who beat her, he said he didn't know and he suggested, once again, that she forget everything that she'd seen or experienced that night. She said she was bleeding from where the "knots on the club" had punctured her skin and volunteered to show the court the scars, but Hallowes said it wasn't necessary.
Around 10 p.m., Brown dropped her off at home and Lucille helped Mattie Lee out of her clothes, into a bath and into a nightgown. Around midnight, Doyle began beating on the window. Terrified he might wake the family at the other side of the house, they let him in. Doyle told Mattie Lee she needed to come with him and she refused. He forced her to get dressed and told her and Lucille that if anyone asked, he'd been "fishing that night" — he was drunk on whiskey. He walked Mattie Lee away from the house and to a secluded area by the railroad tracks, where he forced her to have sex with him. They stayed there until 3 or 4 a.m. as Doyle continued to drink and rambled about "killing and shooting.“ Mattie Lee, terrified, asked what he meant, and he would tell her to just forget what he'd said ... then start in on it again.
The last time Mattie Lee said she was ever alone again with Doyle was at the end of the summer.
He picked her up and drove her to a baseball field, where they had sex in his car. Doyle was drinking whiskey and began rambling, again, this time about how bad he felt for Bama Wilson.
He said he couldn't shake the look on Jesse's face when he got back in his car after shooting Lester and Doyle, who had been perilously broke before the shooting but come into quite a bit of money afterward, offered to pay for Mattie Lee's ticket if she left town.
Within days, Mattie Lee left town without telling anyone.
Mattie Lee said she'd been approached by law enforcement officers in the weeks following Lester's murder, but the conversations had been generally one-sided.
"They'd ask me a question, then they'd answer it for me, too," she said.
In 1952, she'd been located and sent a summons to come back to Crestview to testify before the grand jury being convened by then-Sheriff Alta McArthur.
She admitted, in 1958, that she'd only told part of what she knew during that testimony for several reasons — one being fear of her own life. She said her husband's car had been shot at during their trip to Crestview in 1952.
The other reason was that her husband at the time was an intensely jealous man and had no idea she'd had sex with multiple men during her time in Crestview, even though she eventually told him the truth.
Beasley, on cross-examination, accused Mattie Lee of being a prostitute, which she denied outright and was brought up despite no evidence to support Beasley's query.
Several more witnesses, Martha Grace Helms and Jean Wright Speer, testified they'd heard Doyle drunkenly confess to having a role in Lester Wilson's murder over the years.
Another witness, Marie Slaughter Coker, testified she'd heard Doyle's voice on the phone line, calling from the Standard Service Station to the Sun Ray Cafe on the night of March 15, around 7:30 p.m., and ask to see who was driving the Wilson taxi that night. She also said, several weeks later, that Jesse had come in and told her it was best if “she forgot about what she‘d heard.”
Marjorie King testified she and her husband, Grover, were living next door to the Jesse James Cayson Sr. and Katy Jean Cayson, Jesse and Doyle's parents, in 1943.
Marjorie said that Katy Jean would occasionally ask for help with household chores, and that on one day, knowing Marjorie was taking classes to become a nurse, asked if she'd come with her to check in on Jesse, who she said was suffering from an "illness."
Marjorie found Jesse in a prolonged state of alcohol and morphine withdrawal, sweating through his sheets every few hours, moaning in pain and hallucinating.
In a room adjacent to Jesse's, Marjorie was folding laundry when she heard a group of men enter the Caysons' kitchen and talk shortly with Katy Jean. They entered Jesse's room, and Marjorie looked and listened through the door, unbeknownst to the men.
"I was eavesdropping, sure," she testified in 1958. "Eavesdropping and folding laundry."
The three men told Jesse he had to go check into the Florida State Hospital, immediately, and that when he got out, they would take care of him. They told him he had to go because he'd been running his mouth all over town saying he'd killed Lester Wilson.
They said they‘d send someone, soon, to take him to Chattahoochee, where he'd be committed for an unspecified amount of town.
Jesse's mother entered the room after the men left, and he told her he was going to the hospital. She was upset and wanted to know why he had to leave.
Jesse came unglued.
"Because they‘re saying all over town that I killed Lester Wilson!" He screamed.
"Well," his mother asked, "did you?"
Jesse began to weep uncontrollably, burying his head in the pillow.
Marjorie knew the three men who came to visit Jesse well. As did everyone else in Okaloosa County.
It was Sheriff H. Isle Enzor, former Sheriff Johnnie P. Steele and Constable Joe Adams.
PART 5: DIG TWO GRAVES