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February 4, 1977     The Texas Sun
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February 4, 1977
 

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6 Nobody ever suspected that a bungled dime- novel robbery .... attempt might lead to suspicion of so many high-level TravisCounty officials. Ed. Note: The story you are about to read is true. Only the bylines have been changed to protect the innocent. by Q~verty Uiop and Etaoin Shrdlu They're already calling it Austin's crime of the decade. The office down at the Austin Salvage Pool isn't much more than a shack. The windows are covered with chicken wire and plastic. A few splinters of the feeble December sunset slip through the many cracks in the wall. A mounted six-point buck looks down from over the desk, its head cocked to the right, the glass eyes riveted on the door as if mortified in apprehension. Back in December, as the bicentennial inched to a frosty finish, the room was a scene out of Mickey Spillane. The fifteen grand graced the desktop that day with the tingling glow of power that accompanies large sums of cash. It was certainly larger than any other amount of unsecured currency that had ever found its way into the rough shed. Austin salvage dealer and bondsman Frank Smith had dumped the money on the desk and departed into the December dusk only minutes before, but the uneasiness of its presence had already worried Isaac Rabb, owner of the salvage yard, into getting his wrecker driver to call the sheriffs office and request an escort to the bank. The driver was still on the phone when the door came open and a rubber-faced apparition crossed the threshold. Rabb's first reaction to the figure dressed in coveralls and a monster mask was that the stranger was funny looking. Then the arm holding the 9mm automatic swung in his direction and Rabb's reflexes jammed in automatic pilot. The first slug slammed into the adding machine as Rabb began his dive for the shotgun on the shelf above the desk. Another perforated the steel file cabinet and a third tore through the plastic- covered window at the rear of the office. Then Rabb got his hands on the shotgun and swung it around on the intruder. Rabb must have used up a lot of his luck that day, because the automatic was pointed directly at his body by the time he squeezed off his first round. The blast caught the robber just above the heart, and the second stream of duckshot hit him in the abdomen. As he went down, his finger futilely squeezed the trigger of the jammed pistol. Then he was dead. Outside, two accomplices fled on foot. Within the week, police had two Fort Worth men in custody and it seemed the crime was solved. .But within a month the American- Statesman, in a rare crusade, unearthed a scandal which discredited formd/, County Attorney Ned Granger, embarrassed Sheriff Raymond Frank, and raised enough questions about the doings of Frank Smith that Smith's bonding license was suspended, and on January 27 a grand jury indicted him in connection with the robbery. Not Simple Robbery Isaac Rabb's troubles began in earnest back on the night of October 18th, when arsonists set fire to his office and six wrecked cars in the Austin Salvage Pool. All of his business records, as well as his family's personal files, were destroyed in the blaze whicl~, left the mobile home office i~ a heap of twisted metal. Three days laterAustin bondsman Frank Smith, who runs a salvage yard of his own, filed a suit against Rabb in district court. Smith, who, at the time, was the premier bondsman in the county, filed the suit over the length of time ~involved in the transfer of automobile titles. One week later, Smith's salvage yard manager filed another suit, much like the first. Time passed and then on December 3rd the robbery attempt occurred. Despite his presence in the salvage yard near the time of the robbery, Frank Smith was not even questioned by members of the sheriffs office until two full weeks after the violence occurred, and then only after the question had been raised by the Statesman. On the day following the robbery attempt, a Fort Worth man was arrested in connection with the case. Another suspect, also of Fort Worth, was picked up several days later. By December 14th, both suspects were out on bond. Toward the end of the month a grand jury subpoenaed Frank Smith's bank records for the entire month. On the last day of the year, and on his last day as County Attorney, Ned Granger filed a state suit to close down Rabb's salvage yard. But the big event was ru in a front-page story in the Austi~ ._.merican-Statesman. The paper reported that Granger had completed a settlement with Smith by allowing Smith to pay only $7600 on a total of $70,000 in bond forfeitures which should have gone to the county. A week after Granger's coup de grace, the new County Attorney, Jim McMurtry dismissed the suit against Rabb on the grounds of insufficient evidence. Shortly afterwards, District Judge Mathews ruled against a move by Smith which would have forced Isaac Rabb to do business with the prominent bondsman. A break in the case came well into January when Daniel "Red" Holt was captured by the FBI in Oklahoma and held as a suspect in a sealed indictment. On the 15th, Sheriff Raymond Frank flew to Oklahoma and talked Holt into waiving extradition. Upon his return, the sheriff ran into a barrage of criticism for his move. A few days after his return, the sheriff was called before a grand jury. According to the Statesman, Frank was "privately criticized for persistent leaks from the sheriffs office on the armed robbery investigation." By the 20th of January, it seemed as if everybody was running scared. Attor- Is Illustrlltlon: Olin Hubig SC tr, S~ ; a: fo ITI r~ neys for Aymond Armstrong, one of the m holdup suspects, filed a motion to get statements for both Raymond Frank and Frank Smith. The attorneys asked if a relationship existed between the sheriff ot and the former bondsman which may tI have jeopardized Armstrong's ability to P~ receive a fair trial. Some sources have a] U guessed that this contention could have come from a blown :dbal wherein : S Armstrong was originally to have received bond from Smith, but lost that Sl option when Smith's bond license wash revoked. This, of course, is only speculation, but one source felt that Holt s decision to turn state s evidence may also have been influenced by Smith's loss of license. I~ That, too, is debatable, in view of District Attorney Ronnie Earle's January c c 25th decision to dismiss the charges h against Holt, obviously a'factor in Holt's testifying before the grand jury on the c day after his charges were dropped. As a result of that testimony, Frank Smith e was indicted on charges of aggravated '~ robbery and being a habitual criminal e {more than two felony convictions). The case is far from over. While Frank l: Smith prepares his trial defense, we can expect to see both Ned Granger and Sheriff Raymond Frank fending off suggestions of corrui)tion. Apparently : nobody ever suspected that a bungled dime-novel robbery attempt might lead to suspicion of so many high-level Travis County officials. The sheriff, under pressure from recent bad press, told the Sun, "Frank Smith never offered me anything or asked me to do anything that would even taint .of impropriety." When questioned concerning charges that the ~, sheriff's office had been slow in its handling of the case, Frank replied: "No, I don't think so. We went with deliberate ~:~:~ speed. You've got to do first things first." ( He paused a moment, and then thoughtf~flly added, "I don't know ... maybe we were slow. I think we did a good job on it."