A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.





Monday, December 26, 2011

The Freddie Rush Murder Trial

The long, cold Scott County winter of 1965 was warmed considerably by the occasionally sizzling details of the Freddie Rush murder trial.  The trial in the old Scott County courthouse was heavily attended; my older brother told me that he went every day, and I even remember Mama stopping by one day with my sister and I in tow.  It was so crowded that we couldn't even get in; I just remember peering into the crowded courtroom up on the second floor of the old courthouse.  The event was so significant that at least one local teacher took her students there for a field trip.  Murder trials didn't happen very often in Waldron, and this one was better than any episode of Perry Mason on TV.

This was actually Freddie's second trial for the murder.  Freddie had been convicted of first degree murder a year or so earlier at Fort Smith, where the crime occurred, and sentenced to life in prison.  But his attorneys had argued for a change of venue, and on appeal the Arkansas Supreme Court had agreed, reversing the conviction and ordering a retrial, which was to be held in Waldron.

The victim in the case was Freddie's stepfather, Paul Rush.  Paul was a successful businessman who owned the Waldron Furniture Manufacturing Company and the Hardwood Plant, both Scott County businesses.  But he lived in Fort Smith, where he also owned a furniture manufacturing plant called V&R Sales Company.  The building is still there; it's the three story brick building down by the Arkansas River, next door to the Park at West End.  That's where Paul lost his life; in the darkened basement on the night of May 13, 1962.  It was Mother's Day.
The building where the murder took place,
as it appears today.

That night, Freddie and his wife and children happened to be driving past the building when Freddie noticed a light on upstairs.  This was unusual, since it was Sunday and normally all the lights were turned off.  So, he drove over to his stepfather Paul's house to report what he had seen.  They all then traveled back to V&R Sales Company to investigate.

At the trial in Waldron, Freddie's wife Charlotte was asked why they didn't call the police instead of going to investigate the matter themselves.  She said that Paul had instructed them to never call the police.  So, while Charlotte waited in the car, Paul and Freddie entered the building.  After a little while, she heard a scream.  Freddie then came running from the building, a gunshot wound to his shoulder.  Paul was not with him; he was lying on the basement floor, shot in the head.

Freddie later testified that when the entered the building, they didn't find anything suspicious inside the office where the light was on.  But Paul wanted to check the basement, and when they went down there they couldn't get the light to turn on.  Suddenly, in the darkness, two shots rang out.  Paul collapsed on the floor and Freddie, wounded, ran for his life.

The police interviewed Freddie in the hospital, but the trail soon went cold.  Freddie, after recovering from his gunshot wound, posted a reward for information about the shooting.  But, his personal life in disarray and his marriage over, Freddie left the area for the greener pastures of Houston, Texas.  He left behind a lot, including his longtime girlfriend, Pat Taylor.  That proved to be an unfortunate mistake. 

Pat was living in a motel in Fort Smith along with her cousin, Carolyn Brown.  Carolyn was dating a young man named Raymond Wood, who appears to have been Freddie's cousin.  Let me share a particularly pithy quote from the Arkansas Supreme Court's official citation of the Rush vs. State appeal:

Fred appears to be pretty much a libertine; although he was married and living with his wife, he was keeping Pat Taylor.  About nine months after the murder of Paul, Fred quit Pat Taylor and began to bestow his affections on one Louise Bromley.  Along about the first of February 1963, he left Fort Smith with Louise Bromley and Carolyn Brown.  They went to Houston, Texas, where they all lived together in an apartment.

About a month after Fred left for Houston, Pat went to the police and told them that Freddie, Raymond Wood, and Carolyn Brown had conspired to kill Paul Rush, and that the plans to carry out the conspiracy had been worked out in her apartment and in her presence. 

The arrest and conviction of Freddie Rush followed.  The state's case was pretty strong; they maintained the Freddie himself had gone by V&R sales company earlier that Sunday and turned on the light, so that when he and his family drove by later, it would be on.  Raymond Wood was waiting inside the building with a .22 rifle.  Carolyn Brown was waiting outside in a car, ready to drive Raymond away from the scene of the crime.  After luring his stepfather down into the basement, Freddie watched as he was shot in the head and killed, and just to make it look real, Freddie took a gunshot wound to the shoulder.  In case the police were on to them, earlier that afternoon Raymond and Carolyn had gone out and shot an old .22 pistol, so that they would have an excuse for gunshot residue to be on Raymond's hands if they were checked. 

Freddie was sentenced to life in prison, but in an interesting turn of events, both Raymond Wood and Carolyn Brown were found not guilty in separate trials later that summer.  So, when Freddie's request for a retrial was granted, that little twist would make things interesting.

So, and forgive me for taking so long to get to this point, we now arrive at the sensational trial in the Courthouse of little Waldron, Arkansas.

As soon as the state presented it's opening theory as to the particulars of the crime, the defense moved for an immediate acquittal.  Their position was that the State still maintained that Raymond Wood and Carolyn Brown were involved in a conspiracy to kill Paul Rush, and that two different juries had determined that they were innocent.  Judge Paul Wolfe did not agree, so the trial continued.

The rest of the trial was pretty much a rehash of the earlier trial in Fort Smith; the State maintained that Freddie, Raymond, and Carolyn had planned and carried out the murder.  The Defense presented five witnesses, including Freddie's wife and later his mother, who testified about the financial condition of the company.  Then, after final instructions from Judge Paul Wolfe, at 2:00 p.m. on January 29, 1965, the fate of young Freddie Rush was placed into the hands of the twelve Scott County residents who made up the jury.  The only issue before them was guilt or innocence of first degree murder.  It was a difficult deliberation.

At 8:00 p.m. that night, the jury announced that it was "hung."  The court asked about numbers, and the jury foreman responded "10-2."  After further deliberation that night, the jury was sent back to a local motel.  After a night's rest, they returned the next day, Saturday, at 9:00 a.m.  At 11:30 the jury again returned to the courtroom.  Judge Wolfe inquired as to their progress, and the jury foreman responded, "We are locked."  The jury returned to their deliberations, and broke for lunch at 12:45.  Returning for more deliberations, they again reported to the court at 3:50 that they were "hung."  Judge Wolfe asked the jury, "Are there any questions that you all have that you might properly ask the Court, or are there any questions pertaining to the law in this matter?"  Since there were none, the jury returned to it's deliberations.

At 6:00 p.m. that night, the jury again returned to the courtroom and Judge Wolfe, over the objections of the Defense, instructed the jury on second degree murder and manslaughter.  One hour later the jury returned with a verdict:  guilty of murder in the second degree.  They fixed the punishment at 12 years in the penitentiary. 

Freddie's attorneys filed notice of appeal, and Freddie was released on bond.  The Arkansas Supreme Court did not support the introduction of second degree murder as an option after 28 hours of deliberation, calling it "bargaining with the jury."  So, Freddie's conviction of second degree murder was reversed and a new trial, the third, was ordered.
Google Street View of the Rush Building

It is here that the historical record of this case grows cold.  I have found no evidence that there ever was a third trial.  Freddie evidently lived out his life as a free man.  He died in 1997 at age 60, after working as a computer analyst for Sperry-Unisys Corporation. 

The murder of Paul Rush was never solved. 


Couch and chair manufactured by Rush Furniture Co.

10 comments:

  1. You write the best damn stories! Too bad there's no definite conclusion. Intriguing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am paul rush's oldest grandchild. There were indeed three trials...two in ft smith and one in waldron....and the cast of possible murderers is large...and still the mystery goes on....I did quite a bit of research back in 2000....

    Joyce Faulkner

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you Joyce. It's wonderful to hear from someone so close to the actual people involved. Was Freddie found not guilty in the third trial?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes, he was acquitted in the third trial...He always claimed his innocence...and much of the evidence seemed pretty thin to me...it was based on one woman's testimony with nothing much to substantiate it. On the other hand, it's never been proven who actually did murder my grandfather...there are many different opinions out there...and many different possibilities...my grandfather was very anti-union and activists trying to unionize the factories could have been involved. Others thought that it was possible that he and Freddie stumbled onto a burglary ...and that's possible, some of his factories had had breakins with people stealing fabric...and there were rolls of fabric stacked up by the back door in the basement area where the murder took place...others think it had to do with business rivalries...others think it had to do with affairs that my grandfather was having...others think family antipathies having to do with money and his pending divorce. We all have our favorite suspicions even today. The murder fractured my family, as you can imagine -- and although we have tried, there's still no closure or healing. Perhaps because no one knows for sure what did happen.

    ReplyDelete
  6. AnonymousJuly 06, 2014

    According to people related to Fred Rush, whose wife left in south Texas pregnant with their third child to go home to her parents in Monterrey, nuevo Leon, Mexico due to Fred infidelity. Fred was in air force in s. Tx. And went back to Arkansas when he heard his pursestring from his Mom, Virginia was about to be cutoff by Mr rush divorcing her. So he planned to kill the man which adopted him as Virginias dalliance with a circus carne produced Fred and then she worked for Mr rush and he married his worker.
    O I may be wrong about Fred having not just his third child born in 1959. I believe Charlotte Rush, some girl he grew up with also produced a child with him that year too. So Virginia Rush then spent Mr Rush s money on support of her playboy son, Fred and his three murder trials which then she spent more by declaring his first wife crazy to get sole custody of their three children in San Antonio, Texas.

    The domestic violence this Fred rush taught his sons is outrageous and has been repeated just like their Dad whom is not nor ever will be a Rush by blood, only by cold blooded murder supported by the legal systems and then allowed sole custody in Texas by lying to mother in Mexico to meet there. These are not decent people, and I know firsthand now how my x learned his domestic violence tactics and practices. I have the same thing as the first first wife of Fred had false accusations supported by a broken legal system that supports domestic violence. This case of Mr. Rush makes it clear that it is not just against women. Yet when women seek help or report they are sent away, declared crazy and loose to heinous criminals like the non-blood related rushes. Evidently my x tried to make his first wife out crazy too, im second and if like his Dad, Fred will be married atleast a few more times. Beware of domestic violence and take Parr in awareness of it, we must all work together to rid society of domestic violence. These are sociopaths at best example.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the comment; I always learn more about this strange case when members of the family visit this blog. I wish you much happiness in your life; I think you deserve it.

      Delete
  7. Were you married to the electrician or the doctor?

    ReplyDelete