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"Partners in Crime"
Sheriff and Professor Pen True Crime Novel

JB Smith and Dana Adams
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 contemplative.

“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 “Primetime Live.’’

“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.’’’

First Book
“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 prison sentence.

“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.’’

group photo
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 Texas Ranger.

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.’’

Teaming Up
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.

book“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 the title.

“It’s going to be even better than the first book,’’ said Adams. “I’m looking forward to working on it.

 

 
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