The Murder of Iron Drawers Shaw

The Murder of Iron Drawers Shaw

Thursday, 1 July 2010

With his Cadillac and colourful stories, he was what central casting would think a Texas gambler looks like, and he loved it.

By Johnny Hughes

After 55 years of poker, I'm getting used to gambler's funerals, but this was different. Before the services started, the hard, old West Texas gamblers stood in small groups smoking and talking with emotion running high: grief, anger, sorrow, and fear. Dorman "Iron Drawers" Shaw, 79, had been murdered in an armed robbery, a daily fear many of us had lived with all our lives. There are many poker game robberies in Texas. Most of the gamblers at this funeral had been robbed before at a poker game, including me. When I first met Dorman, I was 19. A fellow steered me to a room in the Hotel Lubbock where a dice crew was going to take off Pete the Greek. Dorman was doing a demonstration of throwing two fives time after time after bumping the dice off a soft surface. I politely declined.

Dorman had one withered hand from childhood polio and one over-sized hand you better watch in a poker game. I first faced him across a poker table at the Shop, Lubbock's legendary large poker game, for 35 years. Dorman would help pay off the chips at the end of the day. Was he in on the joint? I never asked. The Boss Gambler and owner, Ed "Poor Ol' Ignorant Ed" Bradford was Dorman's best friend. He had died, but the men waiting for the funeral all agreed that Ed would have "taken care of the killer", a young guy we knew and played poker with.

Dorman got the road name Iron Drawers because he was a very tight, patient poker player who never tilted in his life. He came from Fredonia, Texas, which still has only one dirt street. He was an all-around professional gambler and, as far as I know, had never worked. Dorman scorned nine-to-fiving and often joked about maybe he'd look for work. He'd say, "Next Tuesday, I'm gonna look for work."

He was expert at dice, poker, horses, sports and golf, and you could bet them all with him. Over time, he ran poker games, dice games, and booked all sports and horses. There are few people who carry themselves as he did and seem so absolutely delighted to be who they are. I just loved him. Our life was always jokes, and occasionally he would break into a country song at the Shop and I'd join him.

At 79, Dorman was one the last of the old-style Texas road gamblers. He was always dressed up in a wide-brim $400 John B. Stetson hat, an expensive sports coat, a monogrammed starched shirt, a diamond ring that looked as big as a Cadillac hubcap, matching slacks, and expensive endangered species boots. With his Cadillac and colourful stories, he was what central casting would think a Texas gambler looks like, and he loved it.

The Shop was open to crossroaders, outlaws and rounders from all over. Many came licking their chops and limped away licking their wounds. It was a very tough poker game. Some years ago the game ran all night but latterly, the Shop was open from early morning to exactly six o'clock Monday to Friday, an hour later in the summer. It was an old abandoned auto repair shop with a concrete floor and nothing fancy, and there was always a lookout with access to a shotgun.

Decades ago, the police raided a few times. A couple of police detectives came around Christmas for drinks. In the mornings, in a mysterious ritual I never quite comprehended, the old ones would play dominoes for modest sums, one dollar or five dollars. They would yell and scream at each other for mistakes and appear deeply angry, but this was some type of act, kind of like professional wrestlers. Dorman loved these cheap domino games. He and Ed would shout in fury at each other. Strangers feared a hot score. On an average day, Dorman would ride around town collecting, play morning dominoes, and afternoon high-stakes poker. He wore a pager that would ring with a three number code for the customer. His booking partner would also get the page and return the call. This is called front-office-back-office in a booking operation. I know he laid off some sports bets to Ed Bradford, a bigger bookie and a loan shark.

Dorman would also go out to the night poker games with all the new players created by the poker boom, and that got him killed.

In the early days, boosters came to the Shop selling varied types of stolen goods, or goods they said were hot. My favourites were the guys who sold fruit for 15 cents a pound. Then one day, the thieves were barred and I never asked why. You never asked people's business, home town, last name, or where they got that money. A few years back, time finally began to take such a heavy toll in illness and death that the game broke up when Ed died.

Dorman could sit and sit and sit until he got big cards. Dorman and his best friend Ed would drink a Coca-Cola in a bottle with peanuts poured down the neck together every single afternoon around four. This was a ritual as certain as the morning dominoes. Dorman would ask for a double shot of V-O Whiskey in the late afternoons and would always, always say, "It is five o'clock somewhere." Since he had gotten so old, he often went to sleep or pretended to go to sleep at the poker table. Way too often to be chance, when they woke him up, he would come out betting on two aces.

His family called him "Papaw" Shaw and it said in the newspaper that he told colourful stories. When he would finally win a big pot after all that waiting, he would say, "The sun don't shine on the same dog's ass everyday." When I was pulling my most deceptive acting, coffee-housing and fancy poker play, Dorman would say, "Don't give me that watermelon conversation."

If Dorman did lose his first buy-in or pullout, he would produce a big fat wad of money wrapped in a rubber band and drop it on the poker table as his new buy-in, announcing dramatically, "I am dropping the big pea." This means in Texan that he will and can cover any bet in this table stakes game. This was supposed the make him look upset and "on tilt" and fool someone into thinking he might alter his winning ways. He never ever went "on tilt”. Dropping the big pea might have been what got Dorman killed.

At every gamber's funeral there is this awkward time, where some preacher he didn't know reads the obituary from the newspaper, calls him a "businessman", reads a most obscure Bible passage, and someone sings Amazing Grace while everybody joins in. I always want to say something about the deceased and his friends being gamblers. The family always sits up front, and the "other family", the West Texas gamblers, sit in the back.

On January 2, 2004, Dorman Shaw called 911, the emergency number from his home, to report that Larry Weber was beating, robbing, and killing him. The Lubbock police began to roll. It appears that Weber, 29, had left Dorman to search the house and Dorman called 911. He returned to shoot Dorman four times, the most serious wound being to the neck. Dorman never regained consciousness.

Corporal Bloodworth saw Weber running a block from Dorman's house where Weber had stashed his car. The officer turned on the patrol car lights and ordered him to surrender. Weber cocked and pointed a .25 automatic pistol at the police officer and walked toward him saying, "You will have to kill me."

The officer shot him three times. As he lay on the ground, Weber asked the officer to kill him. His wounds were very serious, but he recovered to stand trial.

The funeral was very different. There was no preacher, and members of the family told loving stories. Dorman was also called "the Cowboy" and he loved all things from our Texas cowboy culture. He always wore the boots and big hat. They handed out copies of The Old Chisholm Trail, and we all sang:

Come along boys and listen to my tale / I'll tell you of my troubles on the old Chisholm trail / Come a ti yi yippee, come a ti yi yea / Come a ti yi yippee, come a ti yi yea / Oh, a ten-dollar hoss and a forty-dollar saddle / And I'm goin' to punchin' Texas cattle / Come a ti yi yippee, come a ti yi yea / Come a ti yi yippee, come a ti yi yea / I wake in the mornin' afore daylight / And afore I sleep the moon shines bright.

Finally his brother-in-law said Dorman was a gambler and acknowledged the group who always sit in the back. He told of how, on his first visit to Lubbock after World War ll, Dorman took him to a dice game at a lumber yard and the Texas Rangers raided the game. He told us of the murder, paid tribute to the Lubbock police and said they were treating it as a serious homicide investigation.

After the funeral service, I talked to the family. They knew who I was from Dorman's stories. His brother-in-law and I agreed that the unanswered question would be how did Weber get the drop on Dorman? Why did Dorman let him in the house? The police found a stun gun. Maybe that was it. A neighbour saw exactly what Corporal Bloodworth said happened. Another neighbour saw both Dorman and Larry in the doorway and then Larry closed the door. Did Dorman let him in the house?

Earlier in life, I thought there would always be a place like the Shop where I was comfortable swapping stories with these absolute gambling legends like Iron Drawers. The colour picture on the front page of the newspaper showed him with his hat cocked back and that all knowing, all cynical, disdainful, stone-cold poker face look. I cried.

The police said Weber got a substantial amount of cash, what Dorman had on him, "The Big Pea”. He didn't get the end of the rainbow pot of gold that he must have thought Dorman would have laying around some closet instead of in a lockbox.

Larry Weber was charged with capital murder, which in Texas means the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Lubbock County District Attorney Matt Powell said, "We hope what we've done is reserve that ultimate penalty for the ultimate defendants ... If you feel, based on the evidence, on the crime and the individual ... that the individual would kill again, then that warrants the death penalty." In this case, capital murder would apply because the murder was done in the commission of another felony, robbery.

It was two years before the trial. The defense painted Dorman "Iron Drawers" Shaw as an evil gambler, often arrested for misdemeanours. Larry Weber was depicted as a sad young man who had embraced gambler's ruin. Larry said he owed Dorman a lot of money from betting sports and poker, and Dorman was making threats. He said Dorman had attacked him and that it was self-defense. Dorman was 79 and had a withered hand; Larry was 29, and built like a football fullback. He also had a gun. Larry parked his car a block away from Dorman's house. There was the recording of the 911 call. The newspaper quoted the defense attorney as saying this was, "the same as a drug deal gone sour”. Both were poker players. Outlaws in these parts.

Larry was found guilty and given eight years in prison. Lubbock's gambling community was shocked, but not too surprised. With time served for the time in jail awaiting trial and double time for good behaviour, that would be five years in prison. He may be out already.

by Johnny Hughes, author of Texas Poker Wisdom.

Tags: johnny hughes, columnist