Tidbits of Shelby County History
Killer at the Casement:  A Texas Mystery

This week’s article is about the murder of Marlie Childs. The information is taken from various newspaper articles and an article written in “True Detective Mysteries” published in December of 1936. The main characters involved in this murder were Marlie Childs, who was crippled partially by an attack of infantile paralysis.His wife, Reable Sapp Childs of Timpson andReable‘s lover, Terrence Bramlett who she had met when he was 18 at a CCC entertainment in 1934 and then Shelby County sheriff, Jess Sample and District Attorney, Wardlow W. Lane.

Murder is a strange, uncanny business! It is planned for weeks, months, even years, with every last hazard anticipated. The time element is considered carefully; a fool-proof alibi is constructed. And then suddenly the entire structure collapse because some slight human equation has not been taken into account.

And it was on April 23, 1936, when Marlie Childs, one-time treasurer of Shelby County, Texas, died. Childs, 32, was a pitiful wreck of a man living in daily fear of the stroke that would end his life. He was a man’s man, one who had countless friends. Despite his infirmity he had succeeded in amassing forty thousand dollars in property and securities.

He owned a pretty, white bungalow in Center and in it, in 1930; he installed a young, small town belle, Reable Sapp of Timpson, as his bride.

She had dark, curly hair and sparkling brown eyes. Her face was heart-shaped with full, passionate lips. Craving gaiety, she wanted all of the brass rings of life’s merry-go-round and felt they were her rightful heritage despite the fact that she had been brought up in comparative poverty.  Men envied the crippled Childs for his home, his financial success. They said he was “a lucky dog” even though he never had known the joy of being young and whole and completely alive.

The political complexion changed and Childs left the office of county treasurer to enter the automobile business. He had ready cash, was a shrewd trader, and did a profitable money-lending business on the side.

His health had been failing for months. The doctors provided sleeping powders for Mrs. Childs to give to him when sleep would not come, and always a physician was within call. Because of his infirmity, Childs went out little in the evening. Mrs. Childs was with him constantly, ministering to him, trying to anticipate his slightest wish and need.  The night of April 23rd, was the night that brought death to him and changed the current of several lives.

Earlier in the evening, Childs had gone downtown.  Later, Mrs. Childs picked him up in her sedan and took him home. They sat in the living-room for awhile reading. Then Marlie arose and wincing from pain, went to the kitchen, took a glass from the cabinet on the wall, and started to draw a drink of water. His fingers neared the tap but they never reached it.

There was a tinkling of glass on the kitchen floor and the tumbler fell from Marlie Childs nerveless fingers. And, as though struck by some unseen force of terrific power, the former treasurer’s pain-racked body collapsed and crashed down amid the litter of broken glass.

Wardlow Lane, District Attorney, was working late that night when he received a phone call from Justice of the Peace Carroll, who told him that Marlie Childs had died suddenly in his kitchen.  Lane immediately called Sheriff Jess Sample and County Attorney N.D.B. Bailey and hurried to the Childs home.

They found Mrs. Childs white-faced and distraught.  Marlie was lying on the kitchen floor, his eyes wide in an expression of incredulity. Coroner Carrol knelt beside the body and touched the still face. He pressed the back of his hand against Childs’ cheek and that is when he saw a thin trickle of blood under the left side of the head.

The first thought was that Childs was “suicide” but there was no weapon beside.  Within moments a broken window –pane near the sink was discovered. Once outside everyone observed there was powder burns on the wire screen and a place on the ground where a large man or at least a man with large feet had stood. The earth was too hard to retain foot-prints, but it showed plainly the presence of an intruder.

“Murder!,”  Sheriff Sample said the single word grimly. It then registered on the faces of everyone the silent vow that we would not rest until Marlie Childs’ killer was on the way to the electric chair.

Bloodhounds were sent for immediately; they were taken to the spot under the broken window and put on the trail. The lead dog sniffed excitedly then set off on the leash, yapping eagerly at the still warm tracks. The trail led around some shrubbery, then straight across a vacant lot to a spot where tire marks and oil drippings showed a hard driven car had been parked.  There was nothing distinctive in the tire marks. They were old, of a standard make and there were no evidences of cuts or bruises to make them identifiable later.

There was little Mrs. Childs could tell us. She was shocked, unwilling to believe, when told it was murder and not a stroke that had claimed her husband’s life. She stated Marlie went to the kitchen to get a drink of water pulling the door to after him – that made it impossible for her to see what happed. When she heard the glass break she stated she thought he had had a stroke as they had feared for months. Mrs. Childs stated she had a morbid fear of dead folks, so instead of going to see what had happened, she went to the home of her neighbor, Mrs. Aaron Baldwin.  The Baldwins came back with her and Mr. Baldwin told her Marlie was dead. When asked if she was aware of any enemies, Mrs. Childs stated “Marlie didn’t have any enemies that I know of; it must have been some tramp.”Reable was questioned at the scene about their domestic affairs to see if there were any motives for murder on her part. She stated they never quarreled seriously.  Without further evidence the first order of business was to determine what car had parked in the next street and who its owner might be.  After questioning neighbors, no one had seen anyone carrying a gun or acting in a suspicious manner.  A citizen did the investigators he had passed the Childs’ home about eight or a little later and there was a green Chevrolet sedan parked in the shadows across from the funeral home.  The car was an old looking painted vehicle. This was a slender clue, but welcome; anything was important then.

Once the filling stations opened up, a search began for the green sedan to see if anyone remembered who might have been driving the car. At last a man was found who had serviced such a car several times in the last few months. It was driven by a good-looking young fellow who lived up toward Jefferson somewhere.

The bullet proved to be a .22 caliber slug, hardly large enough to cause death ordinarily. That went to prove, that there was a steady finger on the trigger in order to send the tiny bit of lead into a vital spot that would cause instant death.

The next step in the investigation was to see if the green sedan would be located so a trip to Jefferson was needed.  Stops were made at every filling station between Center and Jefferson and about nine miles from Jefferson in a small area called Woodlawn a filling station attendant said he knew such a car. It belongs to a kid who used to be at the C.C.C. camp. But the attendant didn’t know his name. He was described as a big, husky young fellow, with brownish hair and eyes and sorta good-looking and around twenty. He stated he had kinfolks in Jefferson, name of Morris or Morrison.

The investigators drove to Jefferson and slowly drove up one street and down another looking for the green sedan.  And at last they found the vehicle, grimy paint, shiny spot on the windshield and all. It was parked near a confectionery and newsstand but the driver was missing.  When a young clerk who was sweeping the sidewalk was asked if he knew who owned the vehicle he stated, “Sure do, that’s Terrence Bramlett’s old hoopie.  He was at the C.C.C. camp for awhile, and just lately he’s been working at the filling station down the street a couple of blocks. But say, you’re in luck; here he comes now.”

When questioned about the Childs’s murder, Bramlett stated he was in Jefferson on the day of the killing and he had four or five people who will tell you so under oath.  He stated he had worked all day at the filling station, he had gone from there to Lloyd’s Armstrong’s she repair shop at five o’clock; he had eaten dinner and then had gone to the home of Joe Bailey Stone, a sick friend, staying there until eleven P.M. when he went home. The investigators drove around Jefferson to verify his alibi.  Bramlett had definitely worked all day at the station. The shoe repair man remembered mending a pair of shoes for him and he had called at five P.M. for them, presumable on Thursday. The Stone boy said definitely Terence had spent the evening with him.  Apparently his alibi was standing up. The next question was if he had loaned his car to anyone on Thursday and he said, “No.”

On the way back to Center with Bramlett he disclosed how he and Mrs. Childs had meet and that they had become sweethearts.  Upon further questioning once the group got back to Center, Bramett said, “Yes, we wanted him to die so we could be married – but not through any act of ours. He was ill. His doctors feared a stroke; that was what we continued to hope would happen.”

In the meantime the officers had found four reputable Center citizens who had seen Barmlett in the green seadan on the night of the killing, and at no great distance from the Childs home. It was beginning to look like his alibi was false and was a series of circumstances used to cover him after the killing.

It was at this point, investigators began to look into Reable Childs’ person affairs. It was found she had her own car, her own bank account, that Childs lavished gifts on her and that she never had to account for the money she spent. 

(NOTE: There is much more details into the murder and investigation of Marlie Childs in the True Detective Mysteries of December 1936 but at this point of the story I will conclude with newspapers articles.)

The Marshall News Messenger (Mashall, Texas) 30 Apr 1936, Thu

Bramlett Confesses Firing Fatal Shot
Bares Plot to Gain Possesion of Cripple's Property

Center, Tex. - District Attorney Wardlow Lane said Thursday he had obtained a signed statement from Mrs. Reable Childs admitting that she and Terrence Bramlett, former C.C.C. worker, had discussed marriage plans before her husband, Marlie Childs, was shot to death last Thursday.

Childs, automobile salesman and form Shelby County treasurer, was killed by a bullet fired through the kitchen window of his home.

Mrs. Childs and Bramlett were charged with murder and huriedly taken to jail in other counties.

Lane said Mrs. Childs insisted at first, in oral statement, that she was innocent of any connection with her husband's death, but finally admitted Wednesday night in a signed statement that she told Bramlett that if her husband ever struck her again, she would kill him.

Land said an examining trail for the pair probably would be held within the next two or three days.

Bramlett's statement, made at 4 p.m. Wednesday after lengthy questioning by Lane, Sheriff J.B. Sample and Ranger Capt. J.W. McCormick, told of firing one shot from a small caliber rifle through the window of the Childs home.

Both admitted that they met two years ago while Bramlett, whose home is in Jefferson, Tex., was working at a C.C.C. camp near Center.

County Attorney, N.B.D. Bailey of Shelby County, told the News Messenger by telephone that Terrance Bramlett, Jefferson service attendant, had signed a statement admitting he killed Childs and implicated Childs' widow, Mrs. Reable Childs, 24

The statement detailed a plot he said, to murder the former official for possession of his estate estimated at between $20,000 and $30,000.

In it was disclosed arelationship between the couple of two years standing.

Mr. Bailey said the statement by Bramlett, who lives with his 78 year-old father seven miles north of Jefferson, detailed his visit to the Childs' home and the actual shooting.

Following the alleged admission Bailey said, Bramlett and Mrs. Childs were removed from Center because of high feeling existing there. He said because of this feeling a special grand jury will be asked to consider the case. The regular session of district court is scheduled for July.

Bramlett had steadfastly denied any connection with the case until Wednesday, Bailey said, when he broke down for the first time when confronted with the .22 caliber rifle.

Bailey said that Childs was shot to death with a bullet fired from a .22 caliber gun and that the bullet had been removed from the victim's head. He was shot while in the kitchen.

The county attorney stated that the rifle was found in the possession of a relative of Bramlett. He said the famer admitted ownership of the gun and that he had loaned it to Bramlett last week, but denied any knowledge of the case or for what purpose the gun had been borrowed.

Bailey said that in the statement, Bramlett told of meeting Mrs. Childs two years ago while he was a member of a C.C.C. camp at Center, their association, and finally the alleged plot.

On the night of the shooting, Bailey said the statement read, Bramlett parked his car near the Childs' residence after driving from Jefferson during the afternoon.

Armed with the rifle, the statement read, Bramlett approached the house and gave a signal prearranged between his and Mrs. Childs. Hearing the signal, the woman allegedly sent her husband into the kitchen for a pitcher of water. He was shot while drawing the water. The bullet took effect behind the ear.

After the slaying, the statement read, according to Bailey, Bramlett returned to his car and drove back to Jefferson, where he was arrested last Saturday night by Sheriff Jess Sample.

Bailey said Bramlett offered an alibi in the case and had reportedly asked six persons at Jefferson to confirm a statement made by him, if necessary that he "was in Jefferson Thursday from 4:30 until 11 o'clock." Bailey said he had seen each of the persons and they had admitted the youth had asked them to verify his presence in the city.

With Bramlett's statement, Bailey said the slaying of Childs, which had been a mystery, had been solved. Texas Ranger Capt. R.H. McCormick and Ranger Dan Hines, who had been detailed to Center to aid in the investigation, followed the case through until Bramlett's reported admission.

A trial was held in September 1936 in Carthage, Texas where testimony two state rebuttal witnesses testified Mrs. Reable Childs was not tall enough to have fired the shot through the window which killed her husband, as Bramlett, her sweetheart, accused her of doing. Prosecutors in the Bramlett trial had ask the jury to send the young C.C.C. worker to the electric chair, while defense attorneys asked for a suspended sentence. Bramlett was tearful but unshaken as he accused Mrs. Reablechilds, of firing the shot that killed her husband on April 23, 1936, in the Childs' home in Center. Bramlett stated he carried the murder gun to Reable because she wrote me a letter and asked me to bring it to her. He stated he had met her at the back of the house and when Childs came into the kitchen and turned on the light she fired the gun throug the window. Childs fell dead and she screamed, "My God! What have I done?" He further stated he confessed to killing Marlie Childs because he knew Reable was in the custody of the Rangers and was afraid of what might happen to her.

Reable Childs in an earlier trial on September 19th had been convicted of murder flinched only momentarily as she heard the verdict. Bramlett was convicted of murder and was given a 50-year sentence.

(Note: There is much more to this story and I will continue the story of Reable next week.)