"Partners in Crime"
Sheriff and Professor Pen True Crime Novel
Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith (left) and Dr. Dana Adams, UT Tyler senior lecturer in English, recently published the first in a planned series of true-crime novels.
What do a Texas sheriff and an English
professor have in common? Not much in
terms of personality, Sheriff J.B. Smith says
in reference to himself and Dr. Dana
Adams, a UT Tyler senior lecturer.
Smith is rough and tough, bold and
adventuresome. Adams is reserved and
“Dr. Adams is so dignified, so intellectual;
and I’m like a poodle on steroids,’’ said
Smith. “We’re different as day and night.’’
They may be opposites, but when the two
UT Tyler graduates team up, the presses roll.
The duo created a media stir in 1976 when
Smith made history as the first Republican
to be elected sheriff in Smith County. With
Adams as his campaign advertising consultant,
Smith ran for sheriff after completing
his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at
UT Tyler in 1975.
Over 30 years later, the presses are rolling
again. This time, the sheriff and the professor
are doing the writing.
Smith and Adams, a 1989 graduate, are coauthors
of “The Christmas Day Murders: A
True Crime Novel, Texas-Style,’’ released in
late 2006 by Brown Books Publishing
Group. It is the first in a series the coauthors
are planning about the most compelling
murder cases worked by one of the
longest tenured sheriffs in Texas.
Continuously elected sheriff for three
decades, Smith has overseen scores of murder
cases, some of which have made national
headlines. As a result of his department’s
success in solving high profile cases, Smith
has appeared on programs such as “CNN
Live with Larry King,’’ the “CBS Evening
News with Dan Rather’’ and the “NBC
Nightly News with Tom Brokaw.’’ His
department also has been featured on ABC’s
“We’ve worked 156 murder cases since
1977 and that’s a lot of cases,’’ Smith said,
noting that his department has solved 80
percent of those cases, a success rate 20
percent above the national average. “These
murder cases have been interesting over the
years. That’s why Dr. Adams and I decided
to write about them,’’ the sheriff said,
jokingly adding, “We’re calling ourselves
‘partners in crime.’’’
“Christmas Day Murders’’ presents an
in-depth account of the investigation
into a double homicide that occurred in a
quiet rural neighborhood in 1999. After
Stephen and Carla Barron were found
shot to death in their home on the morning
of Dec. 25, an intense investigation led to
shocking discoveries and the arrest of the
Barrons’ teen-age daughter on murder
charges. Shortly before she was to be tried
by jury, Stephanie Barron entered a guilty
plea in the case. She is serving a 75-year
“This was definitely a compelling case, an
emotional case,’’ Smith said. “It also was an
unusual case – a 17-year-old murdering
her own biological mother and father while
they were asleep on Christmas morning.’’
|Dr. Dana Adams (center) and Sheriff J.B. Smith visit with Dr. Barbara Hart, chair of the UT Tyler social sciences department. Dr. Adams consulted with Dr. Hart and other UT Tyler experts in criminal justice to increase his knowledge of violent crime issues.
The book provides insight into the
Barron girl’s descent from an honor roll
student to a gang associate. Smith hopes
it will serve as a warning to parents about
drug abuse, violence and gang activity
among teens. “There are warning signs
that parents should watch for. Failing
grades and certain changes in behavior
and attitude are signs that may indicate a
problem,’’ Smith said. “I’m convinced
that the Barron murders stemmed from
gang-related activity and illegal drugs.’’
Two other murders were solved during
the investigation. The Barron murder
weapon was traced to a Tyler residence
that was burglarized and set on fire in
October 1999. The fire spread next door
to the home of Shelley Rae Haynes, a UT
Tyler staff member, and her young
daughter. Both died later in the hospital
as a result of the fire.
During the Barron investigation,
Stephanie Barron’s boyfriend, 17-year-old
Denario Jones, confessed to the residential
burglary and arson. Jones admitted stealing
the gun in the burglary but claimed he
and Stephanie sold it prior to the Barron
murders. Jones is serving a 70-year prison
term on two counts of murder and arson
in connection with the residential fire.
Investigators suspected Jones may have
participated in the Barron murders but
no charges were brought against him, due
to a lack of concrete evidence.
Although coined a “Texas-style’’ novel,
the book provides a glimpse into the
world of a not-so-traditional Texas sheriff.
Smith admits he is a “cowboy at
heart’’ who occasionally wears his
Western boots and hat, but says he broke
with tradition when elected sheriff.
The sheriff states in the book, which includes
flashes of the homespun humor that has
made him a sought-after public speaker:
“Back in 1976, my opponents wore white
hats, white Western shirts, cowboy boots
and black-string ties. Now there’s nothing
wrong with that here in Texas because that’s
the image … but I brought to the rodeo
some new ideas in a pin-striped, three piece
suit. I wanted to bring Smith County out of
the good-ole-boy mentality and into the
age of technological crime detection with a
new vocabulary, which I’m proud to say has
been accomplished, by and large. Yes,
there’s still some of that back-slappin’ stuff,
but it’s not like it used to be.’’
UT Tyler Serves as Resource
Reflecting Smith’s interest in the study of
human behavior, the book discusses the
psychology of the criminal mind and credits
Dr. Wade French, UT Tyler adjunct
lecturer in criminal justice, as one the
main players in the Barron investigation.
A licensed professional counselor and
licensed marriage and family therapist,
French is highly experienced in evaluating
defendants in criminal cases, Smith said.
“Dr. French’s many insights into the
mind of the psychopath contributed to
bringing this case to an end,’’ the sheriff
states in the book. “Although I’ve had my
share of observing criminals, he’s the
expert and source for many of my comments
on the psychopath.’’
UT Tyler criminal justice faculty also
served as a resource for Adams. Preparing
for the book project, Adams increased his
knowledge in the area of violent crime by
consulting with professors including Dr.
Barbara Hart, chair of the social sciences
department. “At UT Tyler I am surrounded
by experts in criminal justice,
and they’ve been very helpful and
encouraging. I’ve bounced ideas off of
them and they’ve come right back with a
wealth of information,’’ said Adams. His
preparative efforts also included independent
research and taking an FBI-certified
course conducted by special agents in
charge of the Tyler office, Pete Galbraith
and Jeff Millslagle, who is included as a
character in the book. Adams also passed
an Investigation of Homicide and Death
course taught by Sgt. Frank Malinak, a
UT Tyler student Lauren Davis provided
vital information for Chapter 7, which gives
an account of the EMS response to Ms.
Haynes’ call for help during the house fire.
“In one of my classes I talked about the
book I was writing,’’ said Adams. “I mentioned
being unable to get information
about the EMS call because it’s very difficult
to get information from a hospital.
After class, Lauren informed me that she
was on the EMS team that responded to
the call. She allowed me to interview her
and that is how Chapter 7 came to light.
It’s probably the best chapter in the book.’’
A humorist and 12-year veteran of the
National Speakers Association, Smith entertains
audiences with witty tales of his experiences
as a Texas lawman. He’s a master at
oral storytelling but says he’s not a writer.
“Dr. Adams is the key to putting my life
stories on paper,’’ the sheriff said.
“For the last 20 or 30 years, people have
told me, ‘You have so many stories to tell
about robberies, murders, burglaries …
you should write a book.’ I always wanted
to publish a book but I needed someone
to pen the story,’’ Smith said. “I had all the
knowledge, all the facts for a story but I
needed someone who could write ‘it was a
dark and lonely night.’ ’
Adams recalled the day in the summer of
2005 when Smith approached him with
the book idea.
“I was teaching summer school and was in
my office when the sheriff called and said,
‘Hey, you want to write a book?’ You know
he can be blunt,’’ Adams said with a laugh.
“I told him I’d think about it. In a day or
two I called him back and said I’d do it,
because I had been studying true crime. It’s
a popular genre,’’ the professor added.
“The sheriff came to my house and brought
a stack of information about 13 to 14 inches
thick, including crime scene reports and
all kinds of written testimony. He just gave
it to me and said, ‘Go for it.’ Of course, we
worked closely on the project. He talked to
me a lot and we made trips to Dallas and
various places. I always carried my notepad
and took notes,’’ said Adams.
“I also worked closely with Joe Rasco, the
lead detective in the Barron case, and I did
a lot of interviewing. I went to the
Gatesville prison with Smith and Rasco to
interview Stephanie Barron. That was
interesting. I learned a lot with this project,’’
Adams said of his first venture at
writing a book.
Smith said Adams put his heart and soul
into the book. “The man did an outstanding
job putting this book together. I cannot
think of anyone who could have done
a better job.’’
A Tyler native, Adams worked as graphic
designer, advertising copy writer and illustrator,
winning more than 100 awards for
his work. A decline in the Texas economy
led him to change careers in the late 1980s.
Adams returned to school, earning a master’s
degree at UT Tyler and a doctorate at
the University of North Texas. He has
taught literature, grammar and writing
courses at UT Tyler for more than 17 years.
During a recent book signing and presentation
at UT Tyler, Smith entertained the
audience with a colorful account of how
he enlisted Adams to work on his election
campaign in 1976.
“When I decided to run for sheriff, someone
told me the best advertising specialist
in East Texas was none other than a man
named Dana Adams. He was the guru of
advertising,’’ the sheriff said.
“I found him on a weekday morning, sitting
in his very quiet studio on South
Broadway. He was painting while listening
to soft, classical music. And I came busting
through the door saying, ‘Deputy!
What’s happening!’ He must have
thought, ‘What is this?’ ’’ Smith recalled
with a laugh.
“I explained everything that I wanted to
do. I told him, ‘Look, you’re the guy who
can do this, we can do this. He looked at
me and said, ‘I must ponder that.’ ’’
A few days later, Adams presented Smith
some outstanding ideas for the campaign.
“He showed me some of the greatest work
I’d ever seen in my life. It just blew me
away,’’ Smith said. “With the help of
Dana Adams, I won that election and I’ve
been winning for the last 30 years.’’
Born in Sumpter, Ark., Smith has worked
in law enforcement since 1965 and is a
man of varied interests. Active in community
service, he co-founded the East Texas
Crisis Center, a safe haven for abused
women and children. Along with his public
speaking, he is a rancher, a licensed auctioneer
and chili cook-off judge. He has
been a ballroom dance instructor, a country
DJ, and the list goes on. “I’m always
looking for new things,’’ the sheriff said.
There’s no telling what Smith’s next idea
will be for a joint project with the professor.
As for their book series, they’ve chosen
the next topic: the case of Michael Tabb,
the Troup, Texas, minister convicted for
the 2002 murder of his wife. “Holy Ghost
Murder’’ will be
“It’s going to be
even better than
the first book,’’
said Adams. “I’m
looking forward to working on it.