Last Gangster in Austin: Frank Smith, Ronnie Earle, and the End of a Junkyard Mafia
Ronnie Earle was a Texas legend. During his three decades as the district attorney responsible for Austin and surrounding Travis County, he prosecuted corrupt corporate executives and state officials, including the notorious US congressman Tom DeLay. But Earle maintained that the biggest case of his career was the one involving Frank Hughey Smith, the ex-convict millionaire, alleged criminal mastermind, and Dixie Mafia figure.
With the help of corrupt local authorities, Smith spent the 1970s building a criminal empire in auto salvage and bail bonds. But there was one problem: a rival in the salvage business threatened his dominance. Smith hired arsonists to destroy the rival; when they botched the job, he sent three gunmen, but the robbery they planned was a bloody fiasco. Investigators were convinced that Smith was guilty, but many were skeptical that the newly elected and inexperienced Earle could get a conviction. Amid the courtroom drama and underworld plots the book describes, Willie Nelson makes a cameo. So do the private eyes, hired guns, and madams who kept Austin not only weird but also riddled with vice. An extraordinary true story, Last Gangster in Austin paints an unusual picture of the Texas capital as a place that was wild, wonderful, and as crooked as the dirt road to paradise.
By Jesse Sublett